I believe that confidence in social situations usually stems from a lack of introspection. The more you think about any given topic, the more you become convinced that you cannot truly know anything about it. Even the supposed constants of modern physics cannot really be proven to be constant. A particular phenomenon may indeed behave in an identical way over and over again, but how can we know that this has not only been true for the period in which we have been observing it? The universe is under no obligation to make sense to us and gives no consideration to the “laws” we so arrogantly ascribe to it. We insist that the universe should behave in the way we want it to, and ignore any evidence to the contrary that arises. Our overwhelming desire to be the masters of our own destiny again manifests itself. The idea that there are forces beyond our control—let alone beyond our understanding—is too terrifying for most people to stomach and is rejected with self-righteous indignation.

Science, or rather the scientism so fiercely and passionately clung to by the masses of contemporary society, inspires such CONFIDENCE, and yet it is extremely compartmentalized. No one, either in the laboratory and certainly not among the readers of popular, public-consumption science, has a wholesome picture. Everyone is a specialist, working in narrower and narrower sub-fields. Everyone takes each other’s word for it, citing again and again the rigorous peer-review process of repeated experimentation which seldom actually takes place. They are like workers on an assembly line, producing “facts” that are not facts at all. It is a faith most foul.

Like the university, the scientific establishment—the self-appointed gate-keepers of reality—are subject to financing interests. If you do not have independent means of funding your research, you cannot have independent results. How many scandals do we need to see related to pharmaceutical companies, genetically-modified agriculture firms, and medical research malpractice do we need in order to recognize this? Science is a method, a tool, a means to an end, but when has this end ever been philanthropic in the history of humanity? It always serves the financial, political, or social interests of the powers that be at any given time. And so, the human tendency is to either ignore inconvenient data or to over-think things to the point of paralysis.

In our own personal lives, we can also see this manifest. Let us take social paranoia as an example. Just as a child playing with a chemistry set is liable to make dangerous mistakes mixing chemicals, so too adults are liable to make mistakes in social situations. If you truly feel empathic toward those around you, even strangers, you will begin inevitably to consider how your every word and interaction will impact them. It is only those who care primarily (if not solely) for themselves that can be cool and confident while the center of attention. Therefore, being introspective can feel like something of a curse, preventing you from naturally interacting with people the way you constantly see in movies.

Being this sort of hyper-aware person, I fumbled what seemed like an invitation to return to the coffee bar closer to closing. When you truly realize the extent of your own shortcomings, you sometimes feel the desire to keep them to yourself, rather than to spread them to others. What may feel only like emptiness or inadequacies to you can manifest in the lives of those around you as stress, pain, and emotional turmoil. Is it not better to simply keep this inside?

No is the short answer, for this line of thinking brings one into the self-pitying trap I eluded to earlier. It becomes the “moral masochism” described by Freud, or the “martyr complex” more commonly known in parts of the world not yet alien to the Christian life. It is possible to become addicted to the emotional ups-and-downs that come with this kind of emotional turmoil.

I suspect that paranoia is, deep down, a well-disguised form of vanity. I am so important that my actions will have profound consequences, a butterfly-effect on a cosmic scale. I am so important that they must be out to get me. Indeed, there may really be important consequences of your actions that you cannot anticipate, they may really be people out to get you, but this is irrelevant to the emotion stimulation you receive from paranoia.

“Ah!” a wise man interjects, “but what about the Saints! Those who grew so close to God that His Spirit filled them at all times; surely they can be cool and calm at the center of attention without being egotists!”

Indeed, you are correct in saying this, but look around you: how many public figures in our time meet this description? Precious few. We should count each one of them as a blessing but not take their presence among us for granted.


I returned home in a somewhat melancholy mood, the high of a positive social interaction giving way to the more powerful sensation of soul-searching (or just the dopamine crash, but that sounds too mundane). As I said, my place was a decent-ish one, populated by decent-ish people. My neighbors, who I have properly never met, gave me little cause to complain, thus sparing me the opportunity to feel righteous in complaining. It’s interesting to me how those who constantly want to “change the world” (presumably) for the better often do not get to know their own neighbors. That those who want to participate in charities around the world will not simply go a few neighborhoods over to do the same. Those who most desperately seem to want to help “refugees” will never open their own households to them. The whole #refugeeswelcome mess is just another example of virtue-signaling, another opportunity of getting to feel noble and to get the favorable attention of others. They are like the public fallagiators of medieval Europe, who would whip and bemoan themselves in public: “See what a great sinner I am!” Yet their objective was to be well-regarded by their peers, not actually to be penitent before God. We are trying to fill the emptiness we feel inside by those things which stroke the ego, but this will always be impossible.

G.K. Chesterton made the observation that every man who has ever knocked on the door of a brothel was actually there looking for God. He has gone there, unaware of it consciously, looking for comfort, acceptance, and companionship, something to fill the emptiness he feels inside. This is more than seeking mere “validation,” as contemporary psychologists belittle it. Ultimately, physical pleasure is only a means to another end: the profoundly human need to feel needed by others. There is nothing more natural to us. I suspect that our other desires discussed here—seeking attention, emotional stimulus, a sense of control, and so on—may be manifestations of this need-to-be-needed by your tribe, your extended family.

But, by definition, finite things can never fulfill this need. Their returns will only lessen and lessen overtime, just as the high provided by other substances will inevitably decline. Only that which is truly inexhaustible can fill this gap. Only the divine. Only living a life centered on God. You may not even need to believe this literally to see that it is true for our psychology.

Yet, this does not mean that all of our problems are magically fixed overnight. We may always struggle with the same weaknesses, passions, addictions, and struggles as we live with now. The Christian life, as understood by Orthodoxy, teaches you how to live with suffering, rather than serve as another form of escapism. As described by C.S. Lewis:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness—-they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.

This is not a very appealing message by any means, but it is the truest answer to living life that one can find. Taken in this context, suffering becomes infused with meaning. It becomes a growing pain, the strain on an exercising muscle, the fire in which the pearl of great price is forged.


Entering my apartment, I was once again reminded of the ever-present loneliness which spawned my adventure just half an hour before. And this is when the struggle with the solitary vices began.

The ancients regarded sex like they regarded fire. If properly led and directed, it can be fuel for constructing meaningful love, true intimacy, and drawing a family into Creation. Left to its own inclinations, however, it threatens to burn its own host from within. And sex with your own mind becomes the ultimate threat, physical as well as mental and emotional. The cycle of self-indulgence, frustration, and desperation is a terrible one, and one which seems inescapable for many young men today, who are rejected and mocked by the modern culture.

Self-indulgence is the coward’s way out of this situation, yet it is terribly addictive, especially as an adolescent: just think of the unlimited possibilities your mind can conjure! Any woman who strikes your fancy can become yours in your own mind. What is more, a woman in your imagination can never disappoint you, unlike those in the real world. Your imagination is a perfectly safe home for your pride. It shelters your ego from its every fear: of being vulnerable, wounded, exposed, or found wanting. Yet it prevents you from actually stepping out of your own head and finding that which you are really looking for.

“O what proceeds from a self-love that hates all!” —cried by St. Theodore of Edessa, Evagrius Ponticus, and St. John of Damascus alike. Such imaginations are a sweet-smelling poison, but the antidote is hard to find.

Is it a matter of willpower? Or have you developed a true chemical dependency? Just as an alcoholic’s brain will literally become rewired after years of adaption, so too can visual aids have a similar effect. Not for nothing does the Gospel say that “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” No man prior to the Internet age (with the possible exception of Chinese Emperors, Turkish Sultans, or Indian Kings) could even conceptualize the sheer volume of beautiful women now available to him via the proxy of Internet porn. The human mind simply is not built to cope with it. We have all become rich, as it were, in our access to desires.

And the real joke of it all is that these are healthy instincts! If you are in good health and see a member of the opposite sex is likewise good health, it is perfectly natural to feel material attraction. The trouble is, since the Fall, we tend to only see the physical aspect of another person, and not the soul and spiritual qualities which the Saints tell us are inseparable from the body. To be human is to be both spiritual and physical at the same time, thus joining two otherwise distinct levels of Creation. St. Gregory Palamas, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Irenaeus of Lyon and others all call this to our attention. We were not intended to live as we do now, nor are we condemned to it. “Heaven rejoices more at the redemption of a single soul than it does over the admission of countless souls without need to repentance.” There is not a single human being beyond redemption, but we must align the desires of our bodies with the desires of our souls, to live completely. This is easier said than done.

St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us “…not to be troubled or sad. The Lord sometimes allows people who are devoted to Him to fall into such dreadful vices; and this is in order to prevent them from falling into a still greater sin—pride. Your temptation will pass and you will spend the remaining days of your life in humility. Only do not forget your sin.” In my case, I certainly hope this is true.


You can see that I am having a hard time coming to the point, and perhaps that is because I do not have a simple conclusion to give you. I’m not even entirely sure who you are.

It was as I was looking down at my coffee cup (“something else :)” still looking back at me) that I first decided to write some of my reflections. I don’t suppose anyone will see them, but I felt compelled to do this all the same.


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

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1