Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/30/2009

A Whisper from Outside the City Wall

Orthodox: 1581, from L.L. orthodoxus from
Gk. orthodoxos “having the right opinion,”
from orthos “right, true, straight” + doxa “opinion, praise.”

On Wednesday a word of good news came from outside the city wall (see my post of Oct. 28).

Intermittently the Orthodox (those who “have the right opinion”) act in ways that appear positively pagan. Wednesday’s word of news is not grand, but it needs reporting because it represents a tiny, tiny, tiny crack in the fortress wall of Orthodoxy—not for any of us Pagans to think of crawling into the city, but perhaps to give some Orthodox person hope of escape.


Which side the Pagus?

Yesterday in a run-of-the-mill minor American courtroom, a judge ordered an end to deportation proceedings against a kind, industrious, faithful gentle man born in Mexico—who has lived in this country illegally for more than twenty years and has worked, paid his taxes, bought a home, and raised a family as Americans do (thinking the whole time he was legal because a scam artist set him up with a Social Security card years ago; I know because I know him). He will remain with his five American-citizen children and continue his life as a good neighbor and friend. 

One cannot overstate the importance of this event. If I could still play the piano with accuracy, I would break out Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen—the consummate performance of the entire work –the “Important Event” is the sixth of the pieces —is at

One judge, in one of the hundreds of “immigration” courts in America, gave the imprimatur* of personhood to one man. In one instance regarding one life out of 350,000 “illegal” lives (the number deported last year) one Orthodox person has acted naturally—almost as a pagan. In one instance out of 350,000, Orthodoxy can, apparently, act with understanding that it is not the center of the universe: 

             Throughout much of human history and in many human cultures [American among them], Earth (or that part of Earth where a given cultural group lived) was believed to be at the center of the universe, but advances in science have relegated Earth to orbiting a minor common G-type star in a distant suburb of an unremarkable galaxy. (1) 

Ah, yes. Of course! That part of Earth where American Orthodoxy lives is “at the center of the universe.” The night skies over America have not changed appreciably since 1776, so this part of Earth must surely be at the center of the universe: 

            Within the span of a single human lifetime, the relative positions and seasonal patterns of the stars do not change by any perceptible amount…and so the relative positions and seasonal patterns of many stars have a phenomenological permanence. Once early [Americans] became aware of their own mortality, they could have associated changes  involved with life and death with other changes in their terrestrial environment, and then drawn the conclusion that immortality required a permanent or unchanging environment. (2)

solar system

Our G-type Star

Does the immigration judge consider himself part of the Orthodoxy? He obviously does, or he would not be in a position to pass sentence on pagans. How could he, then, make such a dangerous pro-pagan decision? Michel Foucault explained the dangers associated with favoring a pagan. The highest danger (at least an “orange alert”) is that, should the word get out that the judge made a ruling from the pagus instead of from Orthodoxy, his days are numbered. Federman et al interpret Foucault saying that “the concept of the dangerous individual involved a shift in focus from the criminal act to the character of the actor, permitting layman and specialists to see the signs of danger and illness everywhere…” (3). 

Of course, Foucault is writing about the “Psychopath,” the “serial killer,” not an immigration judge. But the judge’s pagan ruling carries in it the seeds of criminality, an infinitessimal step toward the recognition that America is not the center of the universe, which is the most dangerous kind of thought for the Orthodox. Unfortunately, the likelihood is that the judge’s pagan act will be immediately absorbed into Orthodoxy. What is one against 350,000? The lifework of Orthodoxy is to swallow up the pagan. 

The process of turning the pagan to the Orthodox is an old one. Pope Gregory I, according to the Venerable Bede, who wrote in 731 AD, said 

               …we have come to the conclusion that the temples of the idols…should on no account be destroyed. The idols are to be destroyed, but the temples themselves are to be aspersed with holy water, altars set up in them, and relics deposited there. For if these temples are well-built, they must be purified from the worship of demons and dedicated to the service of the true [Orthodoxy]. (4) 

Orthodox or Pagan?

Orthodox or Pagan?

Pope Gregory hoped that, if the pagans saw that their houses of worship were not destroyed, but only their idols, they would come inside the city walls, stop roaming in the pagus (and causing trouble). What neither popes nor judges know is that the most dangerous “idols” of the pagans cannot be destroyed—the understanding that 1) Earth is but one tiny planet “…orbiting a minor common G-type star in a distant suburb of an unremarkable galaxy..” and 2) that the “part of Earth where [Americans live]” is not a permanent or unchanging environment. 

The pagus and the city are separate. Period. One fair decision for one deserving, “illegal” family isn’t a reason to think pagans will win the day. The pagans are too busy “roam[ing] in places where city-folk would never dream of roaming. Ill-defined spaces where one may or may not be safe, spaces of physical, mental, or spiritual danger” (5) to be of any real threat. Our “expeditions are solitary events.” So the judge’s decision will not long be dangerous. In fact, the Orthodox will hardly notice it as they absorb it.  But those of us wandering around out here in the pagus rejoice at even the smallest fragment of victory over Orthodoxy. Some of us are here because our brain’s chemistry simply will not allow us to be cramped inside the city wall. Some are here because they have been given the gift to understand the place of humanity in the cosmos. They are the lucky ones. They understand without needing Cassandra to shout her dire messages. By some miracle they understand that 

            Copernicus removed the privileged place of Earth, and coupled with Darwin’s subsequent removal of the privileged place of humanity, effectively changed Western culture’s view of human nature from humans as a special and unique creation to humans as an ever less important and insignificant part of the cosmos. (6)  

In our insignificance our place as pagans is humility. No matter how we came to live outside the wall—whether through a birthright such as bipolar disorder or epilepsy or migraines or cancer, or through a miraculous gift of choice through understanding—we are not afraid of our “ever less important and significant part of the universe.”  

* imprimatur: (impress: c. 1374, “to apply with pressure, make a permanent image in,” from L. impressus, pp. of imprimere “press into or upon, stamp.”  Imprimatur: 1640, from Mod.L. “let it be printed,” the formula of a book licenser, third person singular present subjunctive passive of L. imprimere “to print”)
(1)  Hubbard, Timothy L.. “The Inner Meaning of Outer Space: Human Nature and the Celestial Realm.” Avances en Psicología Latinoamericana 26.1 (2008): 52-65.
(2)  Ibid.
(3) Federman, Cary, Dave Holmes, and Jean Daniel Jacob. “Deconstructing the Psychopath: a Critical Discursive Analysis. Cultural Critique 72 (Spring 2009): 36-65.
(4) Bede, The Venerable. A History of the English Church and People. 731. Trans. Leo Sherley-Price. Rev. R. E. Latham. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1955. Quoted in: Hallissy, Margaret. “Christianity, the pagan past, and the rituals of construction in William Golding’s The Spire.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 49.3 (2008): 319.
(5)  Sum non rabidus, Blog posting, 10-28-2009.
(6) Hubbard.


  1. I can not express in words at this point what the experience of the emigration issue with my neighbors has done to my heart. I witnessed the terror on the face of the 5 year old who peeked around from the legs of her mother who was sobbing in spanish that her husband had been arrested. From that moment, my now deceased husband and I became determined to stand with the family no matter what the cost. One federal judge in the department of justice had the choice in his hands. Thank God he had a heart as well as a mind.



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