What Is Man?

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? (Psalm 8:4).

The question, “What is man?” written perhaps a thousand years before the coming of Christ, is the bedrock of true humanism, the only form of dignity that can sustain human life. Our modern world continually re-imagines our nature, but God alone sustains it. I can think of nothing more assuring than the speculation, “What is man?” in a heart of wonder. I can think of nothing more terrifying than the same speculation in the cold calculus of the modern state.

Human dignity is among the youngest thoughts on earth and far from universally subscribed. We are daily exploited, murdered and used for unworthy ends. Individuals fail to see their own worth and give themselves over to evil ends. “What is man?” indeed, and why should we consider ourselves to be of any particular value?

To declare that I am valuable because I am myself – is simply a statement of  self-interest – an instinct shared by most living things. To acknowledge the value of another because it helps preserve my own value is the same instinct extended through a community. This instinct, surely a part of human life from its beginning, has never demonstrated the ability to lift man above his basest desires.

The question, “What is man,” is an echo or a corollary of the question, “Is there a God?” For if there is no God, then the question, “What is man?” has only the emptiness of an echo for an answer. Human dignity is not self-evident. With reference only to our biology we can say that we are carbon-based life-forms that have self-awareness. We cannot assume that other life-forms do not have self-awareness. The question, “What is man?” is thus no more interesting than the question, “What is a bacterium?”

But the question is itself an inherent part of our self-awareness. We want to know if there is anything of transcendent worth in our existence or is it as simply one thing among the many that exists. The question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is similar. Does that which exists have any transcendent meaning – anything beyond the ephemera of its ill-fated billions of years (“ill-fated,” for regardless of how you run the numbers, it will cease to exist).

There are many ways to answer the question, “What is man?” All religions do this in one way or another, and the answers are not at all the same. In Buddhism, self-awareness is simply one of many ephemera – having no bearing on the meaning of existence itself.

But the Christian answer is the primary claimant of the modern world’s attention, whether the modern world acknowledges the source of the answer or not. That we are created in the image and likeness of God, and that God Himself has become man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is the basis of all thought of human rights – the language of consensus in the human community. The assertion of human rights is commonly made today without reference to God. It is thus nothing more than assertion. Human beings have rights because we say they do. Such unsupported assertions only have force when they are asserted by the strong to the weak. This is very much the state of human existence in a secularized world. Rights exist only because a controlling authority enforces such rights. Rights which are denied by a controlling authority have no existence.

Assertions by the West of various human rights, when heard by some non-Western cultures, do not sound like truth claims, only like cultural imperialism. Should women be allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia? The answer depends solely on who is speaking.

World culture at present is not grounded in a civilization. There is no consensus of transcendent values, no true common agreement. The secular triumph of a common Europe, the post-War’s version of the tower of Babel, presently stands ready to collapse as the Eurovision confronts the reality of the Euro. “We share a common currency and a bureaucracy in Brussels,” is an insufficient answer to the question, “What is man?”

Modern, secular culture is derivative. Its values are largely drawn from the treasure of earlier Christian values, regardless of their present distortion. Human rights are contingent upon human dignity, itself contingent upon the creation of man in the image of God. Remove the source and the contingencies collapse (in time). Human rights have already begun their collapse. The concept of rights remain, but they exist only as those in power define them. Thus the rights of women (as defined by the state) or the rights of those with minority sexual orientations (as defined by the state) or other state-defined groups have rights that frequently supersede those of other groups. These rights are arbitrary and represent nothing more than the present state of political reality. As such, they do not represent rights, but assertions of power.

The language of rights continues to have the cachet of the earlier imago dei, but one in which the deity is no more than a function of government bureaucracy (of which the courts are but an arm). The great weakness of our present cultural existence is its lack of foundation outside the bald assertion of power. The two most distorted examples of such power-based cultures were Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union. These two cultures continue to strike most moderns as distorted when they are compared to our cultural memory of the imago dei.  But their distortions were justified in the same manner as today’s secularist assertions. Only the present direction of the winds of power stands between modern culture and state terror. The slightest change in that wind can revisit the world with a renewed holocaust. The regime is the same: only the victims change.

The belief that man is created in the image of God yields its own corollaries. As the image of God, human beings are endowed with infinite worth. A human life has value derived from its very Divinely given existence. Our value is not a gift of the state or the result of our own assertions. No one life has greater value than another. Neither usefulness nor talent add value to that given by God.

States (as well as the quasi-states of ecclesial institutions) have sought to reduce these corollaries over the course of the Christian centuries. Thus some have been given greater rights by reason of birth, wealth, race, gender, creed, etc. Each of these assertions of greater rights represent departures from the givenness of the imago dei and a distortion of the Christian faith.

If one human being exists in the image of God, then all human beings exist in the image of God. None of us is more fully the image than another. In Christian teaching, Christ Himself is the definition of the image of God. To the question, ” What does it mean to be human?” Christ is the answer. In Christian understanding, Christ as incarnate image of God is celebrated from conception (the feast of the Annunciation) to His ascension to the right hand of God. No quality of Christ (sentience, wisdom, volition, race, age, gender, etc.) defines or establishes His place as imago dei. He is the image of God. In the same manner, our own unqualified existence establishes us as the image of God.

Only in this fully Christian understanding of man are the value, and thus rights of each human being guaranteed. Only in a culture in which this understanding is agreed and accepted is such value safe and secure. It is perhaps the greatest treasure given to us by God.

There are many modern Christians who have been lulled to sleep by the language of the larger culture, accepting that those who speak of “rights,” actually accept the imago dei. Many Christians have abandoned the public defense of man as God’s image in exchange for a place at the bargaining table of the state’s assertions of power. The state’s ability to assert various perceived rights is not a defense of our humanity – it is its destruction. Our acceptance of the state’s assertion is a capitulation of the gospel. Nothing less than the Divine value of every human life is worthy of the Christian gospel. Those Christians who do not accept such a value have departed from the faith and made common cause with those who would destroy us.

O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the moth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou maddest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! (Psalm 8)

Comments

  1. dinoship says

    Thank you, Father Stephen!

    An interesting (very eschatological) thought of Saint Maximus (which ties in with his “Logoi of beings” and comes in at a slightly different ‘angle’), concerning “What is Man?” is that we can only ever ask the question “What will Man be?”…

    Yet another interesting thought of his, connected to the above, is that Man’s worth is infinite and unique, because God Himself sees everyone of us as a totally unique “view” of the entire Cosmos…

  2. Bruce says

    Father Bless!

    Powerful thoughts. Thank you. So much of our delusion is this idea that Life, Truth, and Goodness can exist without God. You capture this well with:

    The state’s ability to assert various perceived rights is not a defense of our humanity – it is its destruction. Our acceptance of the state’s assertion is a capitulation of the gospel.

    When we find ourselves believing we can change the world without Christ, we are deceived and lost in a mistaken belief…a lie. We must acknowledge that without His Goodness to lead us, the promise of our future (despite all of what we believe are its advances) is and will be dust. We must also accept that we must follow Him and be ‘not of this world’ as we see through a new eyes illumined in the Light of Christ…choosing Him over what is not of Him.

    Like my generation of the 60’s, when we attempt to give away what we don’t have(peace, love,etc.)…we fail. And without Him, we have and are nothing…no thing. Perhaps, this is the most important lesson the the 20th century…the failure of science and our material advances to overcome the evil which comes from detachment from what is Good and Life Giving in God.

    Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered; let those who hate Him flee from before His face (Ps. 68:1)
    As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish; as wax melts before the fire (Ps. 68:2a)
    So the sinners will perish before the face of God; but let the righteous be glad (Ps. 68:2b)
    This is the day which the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Ps. 118:24)

  3. says

    “Only the present direction of the winds of power stands between modern culture and state terror.” I appreciate this and the rest you’ve said so well here. My only addition would be that there is worldwide terror taking place in the silent holocaust of legal abortion.

  4. Chris says

    Fr.
    What is the history of the uses of the terms rights, duties, privileges, perogatives, ect. because I do not trust the Enlightenment’s absolutizing or total negation of these things?

    I never trust the assertion of rights these days because as you point out they are simply the assertions of power, and not of dignity and on these grounds tend to reject rights as too confining of language for love and the complex reality of human interconnectedness.

  5. says

    Father bless! I appreciate much of this, especially the sentiment behind it. But I question some of its implications. I also wonder at some of the sources behind this post. This sounds deeply influenced by John Milbank or maybe David Bentley Hart (who are in some ways almost the same person). Perhaps with a touch of Hauerwas? I hope you don’t mind my asking. It will help me better understand your point.

  6. says

    Father, bless.

    Thank you for this fine meditation on the true dignity of humanity. We are pressured from many sides to set aside the biblical understanding of the contingency of our dignity upon God. I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about the connection between power and the assertion of rights. This is helpful.

  7. PJ says

    In our decadent culture, every sinful impulse is legitimized and protected as a “right”: abortion, homosexuality, intoxication, and so on. No doubt polygamy will follow same-sex marriage, as euthanasia will follow abortion. This is the inevitable result of losing sight of the proper end of man, and so profoundly confusing the nature of freedom. Legitimate liberty facilitates and encourages the perfection of the imago Dei. All else is license, which leads inevitably to death, disorder, and decay.

  8. says

    It was only last night that Chrissy and I were discussing the scariest thing I ever encountered in atheism. Without repeating the crude details, it involved the reduction of the value of a human being to a line of logic in a larger deduction. It was this very moment that I realized, although I still did not believe, that we NEED God. Regardless of the status of His existence. In a hard, logical universe we are doomed. With the recognition of the existence of God, we have the introduction of Love. With the recognition of God as the Sustainer of our existence, we have the introduction of Love being the core of our logic. Love sustains us. That may or may not relate to your direction in this blog post but as I read it I could feel a parallel. Out of the pathetic few posts I’ve read of yours, this one hits me the hardest. Thank you fr.

  9. simmmo says

    It’s a wonderful Psalm and one that the Apostle Paul draws from so often.

    The Protestant emphasis on the “total depravity of man” is one reason why the definition of humanity as an image bearer of God has been lost. I noted that on one Protestant blog site, Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way was quoted saying that this Protestant doctrine seems to destroy the notion that we remain image bearers of God despite the brokenness of humanity. The blogger noted that Ware misunderstood what Reformed theology was saying. I think he was playing word games. To be “totally depraved” is such strong language. It suggests, in fact, that we are something which is not human. It is the language of iconoclasm, for if we are totally depraved, in what sense can we be said to be “very good” as Scripture describes humanity? “Totally depraved” is the language of destruction. The legalistic word games of the Reformed just won’t work here I’m afraid. And many people, intuitively, know that humanity is not completely depraved. It just isn’t true to our experience. And to continue to force people to believe in a legal fiction has absolutely no traction with non-Christians – in fact, it just confirms in their minds that Christians are fundamentally dishonest. And now all Christians suffer because of this false perception of what Christianity is.

    I would say that the secular emphasis on human rights is not surprising. Indeed, if we are all made in the image of God then it’s not hard to explain why non-Christians innately know that we should treat others with dignity and respect – even if they can’t give reasons why it is they want human rights themselves. Much of what these human rights activists do is good and true and should be supported. The plain tragedy for me is that many Christians are sceptical of and even oppose human rights. For me this is expressly because the theology of the image is completely lacking in their traditions. Further, these Christians have made Christianity into an ideology to polarize and divide for their own benefit – “us versus them”, “the totally depraved versus the saved”, “the elect versus the non-elect” etc. I want to say, lets support whatever is good, no matter who is doing it – without passing judgment on their motives. We can make meaning critiques of secularism. But no one will be listening if we adopt the approach of the stultifying conservatives. And let’s call out ideologically-based Christianity for what it is – making god in their own image. That is what they really want. They try to make God agree with them. This is idolatry.

  10. PJ says

    One time, when I was still an agnostic, a Christian friend confronted me with the matter of euthanasia.

    Since my support for abortion was rooted in the fetus’ apparent lack of “personality” — emotion, intellect, etc. — she wondered if I also supported “mercy killings” for the mentally and physically disabled.

    I said, “Of course I object,” and proceeded to spit out some insipid explanation, but inside I was troubled: deep down I recognized that my objection was groundless and utterly capricious.

    That was one of the first times I seriously reflected on the consequences of my agnosticism. Needless to say, I emerged from my meditation disturbed and unsettled.

  11. says

    David,
    The primary thought on “secularism” is rooted in A. Schmemann’s work, particularly an essay appended to his book, For the Life of the World. He argued (and this in 1970’s) that secularism was a heresy (particularly in the manner in which he defined it, which definition I adhere to) and the most dangerous heresy (even the defining heresy) of the modern era. I’ve written at length about this in the articles on Christianity in a One-Storey Universe and in the book, Everywhere Present.
    I appreciate Hart’s work, though I have some significant differences with him and have never read Milbank. I studied under Hauerwas at Duke in the late 80’s and early 90’s in the Doctoral program. I am certainly indebted to him for many things – mostly for certain methodologies in how to think about some things. He was a very clarifying influence. My thoughts on culture would likely not be the same without him.

    If it makes a difference, I was writing like this when Hart was still in grad school. :) Hauerwas himself seems oddly confused. He has an excellent penchant for analysis and critique – he is the most formidable individual I’ve ever encountered in a seminar-debate. On the other hand, I cannot comprehend some of his life choices – particularly his ecclesial choices, given what he actually says he thinks about ecclesiology. I wondered when I studied with him why he did not become Roman Catholic or Orthodox. His protestantism baffles me – and I never heard him defend it.

    My time at Duke was clarifying – indeed – by the time I was finished there – my conversion to Orthodoxy was a certainty in my mind (getting the heart there took a little longer).

    What implications do you have questions about in the article?

  12. says

    stump,
    I very much understand the parallel. What a moment of grace to understand the necessity of God even prior to belief. Dostoevsky is quoted as saying, “If there is no God, all is permitted,” though no one can ever quite find it exactly so stated.

    I have come to have a great deal of sympathy with young atheists – I’ve purposefully engaged some over the years on the blog. They are often very different than the atheists of my generation. I have a sympathy because I think I understand them – but I grieve because they are asking for a world that will ultimately destroy us all (if the “Christians” don’t do it first).

    There is a very existential approach in some strains of Orthodoxy – Dostoevsky being one of them – Bulgakov, Sophrony, Yannaras being others. My life experience has found their approach to be deeply helpful. I am a “modern” man, a child of my century with all of the thoughts and doubts that afflict us. We are a frightful lot, actually being able to contemplate the beginnings and the end of the universe – unravelling the very genetic code of our existence. We know so much and know absolutely nothing. We are champions of human rights to a degree never known in history, and yet productive of one of the most vapid and depraved cultures as well. Such an enigma.

    We need God. We need the right God – the one, true God. So many of our gods have failed us and left us staring at their rubble.

    Pathetic might accurately have both meanings. :)

  13. says

    Chris,
    Rights, etc., are rooted in the early Germanic law-code, and come to have force particularly in German and English thought, brought to a new place in the Enlightenment. “Rights” are not a particularly Biblical or Patristic term. I accept it lest my thought be lost in a grammatical quibble. If “rights” are rooted in the Imago Dei, then Christians are on solid ground. In the American Declaration of Independence it is stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…” I find that statement to be theologically sound – it may be among the most sound “political” statements of the modern world. Our culture has moved far from that fundamental understanding. Many conservative Christians like to cite this phrase, but do not thoroughly understand or believe it. It has become a political weapon in the hands of some, when it ought to be a profound guiding light.

    If our American culture would simply agree that those words are true, or that we would live and govern ourselves as if they were true (thus including non-believers as well), then my article would likely become moot. A lot of water has flowed beneath the American bridge since 1776.

    I agree that “rights” should also be balanced with other things, such as love. If rights are rooted in the Imago Dei, all of this becomes possible. If not, as I pointed out, then rights are simply descriptions of raw power.

  14. says

    I like the work of Fr. Schmemann very much. I guess I do not see the same (what I take to be) political implications of the liturgiogy articulated in FLW as you do, Father. The references to power sound very Milbankian, but Hauerwas was tending in the same direction as well. (I critiqued both in my dissertation.) My reservations regarding your posts implications involve what a Christian concept of “rights” looks like “on the ground.”

  15. PJ says

    ” I cannot comprehend some of his life choices – particularly his ecclesial choices, given what he actually says he thinks about ecclesiology.”

    Can you elaborate on these points, Father?

  16. PJ says

    Have you read this interview: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Christianity/2005/03/Why-Have-You-Forsaken-Me.aspx?p=2

    Some of his statements here are pretty strange.

    “One of the most challenging chapters was the one on the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You say the words “shatter our attempts to understand God in human terms.”
    It shows that Christ does experience the darkness of being completely alienated from the Father.
    So one person of the Trinity could feel completely alienated from the other?

    Yes. And that means there is a time when we cannot approach God through Christ, because Christ was completely abandoned. That is a chilling, chilling notion: that there is a time when we cannot reach God through Christ. I think that’s what that means.”

    Seems to take the kenotic aspect of the incarnation and the cross to almost heretical lengths, no? It almost circles all the way ’round to a wrath-Father theory of satisfaction.

  17. says

    I was typing from my phone last night and accidentally hit the “Post Comment” button. Wanted to add that I believe Hauerwas actually is Catholic now, fwiw. A few years ago he was a kind of “visiting theologian” to the Cathedral of the Incarnation here in Nashville.

    As far as his ecclesial choices go, I am not terribly surprised. I think it correlates to his consumerist view of the church. But I am basing that only on his writings. I have never had the occasion to speak to him directly.

  18. says

    PJ,
    I had not seen this interview – and it would seem to have pushed something too far. Christology and Trinitarian work are outside of Hauerwas’ normal range and would put him, I think, in a very odd place. His thought is useful in its right place – but I don’t think he’s grounded sufficiently in the Tradition to venture into Christology. It’s there that his Protestantism would betray him.

  19. says

    Glad to hear he’s Catholic – it would seem a likely conclusion. It would do little to correct him in some places – but it’s better than where he was when last I was with him. I would not have thought of him as a consumerist – but it would take a lot longer conversation to know what you have in mind in the comment.

    In my experience, he is a very kind man – wonderfully combative in theology – but possessed of a good heart. He was very kind to me. My work at Duke was in Systematic theology and I wrote on the theology of icons.

  20. Michael Bauman says

    The big problem with the rights thesis, even in the
    Declaration of Independence is that it comes from a throughly Deist point of view. So we were cursed with a 2 storey approach in our country right from the beginning. Given the rather large potential real and potential power invested in the central government by the Constitution, a secular approach was almost inevitable. There is a sense that the Declaration of Independence was not just about freedom from the king of England, but the King of All too.

    “Thank you God for what you’ve given us, now its our turn” That is the only way in which we can speak of ‘rights’ IMO.

  21. PJ says

    Some of the most prominent founding fathers were indeed deists, but the majority of the signers — and the majority of the congresses and constitutional assemblies — were orthodox Protestant Christians. Tom Paine’s fall from favor after the Revolution has much to do with his affinity for Continental rationalism.

  22. says

    Michael,
    The weaknesses you note are certainly there – but I’m willing to work with them as a Christian – pulling “rights” towards a grounding in the imago dei. I’ll take the founders (including TJ the Deist) at their word that we were created and given “rights” to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I would state it differently if I were writing a theological position, but I can work with their language.

  23. says

    David,
    The language of “rights” is not particularly Christian, it’s simply what we have been given to work with in the modern culture. If by “rights” we understand what is given us in the inherent dignity of being created in the image of God. At the most fundamental level it would mean that we would agree not to kill each other – including children in the womb. The great danger that I note, is the present concept of rights that generally seems to be flowing only from the assertion of power (or simply the assertions of a constitution). In the arena of raw assertions, “rights” is simply another name for “winners.” Little wonder that the weakest in our society (the unborn and the elderly) are in the greatest danger of being murdered by their fellow citizens.

    I have little thought that societies will be reformed by Christians – I don’t think our present trajectory betokens that. Thus, I write with a view to helping Christians to think carefully about the language that surrounds us (the talk of “rights”) and to consider prayerfully what it means to be created in the image of God. Should we be given an opportunity to influence change, it will have been thought worth taking. If not, then our martyrs will know better why they’re dying.

  24. Andrew C says

    simmmo,
    You make some reasonable points regarding the “total depravity” of Protestant thought, but again, I am not sure you can lay all modern ills at the door of the Reformers’ theology. I suspect the choice of that phrase deliberately over-eggs the pudding in order to avoid the alternatives: partial depravity or no depravity at all. The second of these alternatives is, I would contend, the current mode of thought today: can anyone actually be accused of doing wrong? (Have you come across the weasle-word “inappropriate” to describe bad behaviour? As though in some other setting the same behaviour might be “appropriate”.) As for “partial depravity”, that is also worrying: it leads directly to a rather splendid opinion of oneself “at least I am not as depraved as old so-and-so”.

    Similarly, the “us and them” attitude [to the saved and the lost] is hardly unique to Reformed Protestants: see Old Testament Israel and the surrounding tribes; see Islam (“we do not worship what you worship”, etc.).

    Over the last four hundred years, the Western world has been uniquely influenced by scientific – rationalist, materialist, mathematical – thought. Why that is the case is not in my understanding but we can point to a familiar list of the greats: Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, Hooke, Franklin, Lavoisier, Volta, Laplace, Legendre, Galois, Priestley, Dalton, Faraday, Boltzmann, Darwin, Maxwell, Poincare, Planck, Bohr, Einstein, Dirac, Feynman, Gell-Mann, etc., etc. The list just *utterly* dwarfs any comparison with contributions from the rest of the world.

    The success of these people in explaining, with unparalleled clarity, how the material world works is why we, in the West, struggle to have any truck with religion of any form. It is all so much mumbo-jumbo. It so happens, that the major form of religion to be rejected was Protestantism. The anti-clericalism which was manifest at earlier times – see for instance Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale, a pre-Reformation tilt at superstition and abuse of religious privilege – just had nothing with which to back it up. I don’t know if anti-clericalism ever had any takers in the East, but Kazantsakis’s Christ Recrucified is a modern expression of the idea (for which he was excommunicated, if I remember aright).

    Now, of course, we do find that the scientific world view is wanting. As Fr Stepehn says, we know so much and at the same time know nothing. So, we are trying to put Humpty together again: but cannot do so by embracing what was already rejected (Western Christianity) and instead plump for the exotic – Buddhism, Islam, New Age. I wonder if Orthodoxy, too, has an appeal owing to its exotic appeal to the Western mind.

  25. Michael Bauman says

    The dangerous phrase in the rights trinity is ‘prusuit of happiness’ which at the time meant living a virtuous life. I often wonder what our culture would be like if Mr. Jefferson had stuck with his original language: Life, liberty and property, instead of prusuit of happiness.

    Clearly Jefferson was attempting to give a justification for disobedience to the state and the king and placing the individual conscience over the authority of the state in the person of the king.

    The understanding of a conscience formed by God and the moral consensus of the community/culture has eroded. The prusuit of happiness has come to mean anything except the discipline that leads to virtue. Suddenly the state and the law (often) is used to punish virtue and its pursuit while turning against life and liberty(the combination of freedom and responsibility to one another). No wonder many legal proceedings have begun to take on the appearance of trial by combat and the expression of belief in God, even in tepid ways, is challenged.

  26. Michael Bauman says

    simmo says: “Now, of course, we do find that the scientific world view is wanting. As Fr Stepehn says, we know so much and at the same time know nothing. So, we are trying to put Humpty together again: but cannot do so by embracing what was already rejected (Western Christianity) and instead plump for the exotic – Buddhism, Islam, New Age. I wonder if Orthodoxy, too, has an appeal owing to its exotic appeal to the Western mind.”

    simmo,while there may be some of the exotic appeal, my experience personally and observationally is that the scientistic worldveiw creates a hunger for something deeper and more meaningful and alive. People go looking. Some are attracked to Islam because of its prayer discipline/ascetism which they see lacking in Chrisitianity, same with Buddhism plus the possibility of much deeper spiritual experience than commonly espoused in American Christianity.

    Many are amazed that such things even exist in a Chrisitan tradition. The hunger for communion with God and community with the saints is awakened in many the first time they step into an Orthodox Church. Of course, proper cathechism and spiritual direction is most helpful in keeping that hunger alive and focused.

    Reading a statement from Augustine last night in Wilken’s book on the early Chrisitian mind that (paraphrased) said that in order to find God, the seeker must be changed. That remains the block for many. We know our rights, our priviledges and a whole lot more. It is tough to let go of our ‘knowledge’ and simply, lovingly enter into God’ presence. As God is the only lover of mankind, we are created to be lovers of God. In the end that is the only true knowledge.

  27. PJ says

    “The dangerous phrase in the rights trinity is ‘prusuit of happiness’ which at the time meant living a virtuous life. I often wonder what our culture would be like if Mr. Jefferson had stuck with his original language: Life, liberty and property, instead of prusuit of happiness.”

    Precisely.

    At the moment, our culture is in a state of deeply schizophrenic. You can’t pray in schools, yet the courts administer an oath to God. What sense does that make? A godless democracy quickly devolves into an anarchy of the passions.

  28. Karen says

    Fr. Stephen writes to David: “I have little thought that societies will be reformed by Christians – I don’t think our present trajectory betokens that. Thus, I write with a view to helping Christians to think carefully about the language that surrounds us (the talk of “rights”) and to consider prayerfully what it means to be created in the image of God. Should we be given an opportunity to influence change, it will have been thought worth taking. If not, then our martyrs will know better why they’re dying.”

    Thank you for saying that (and for this entire post), Father. These words resonate poignantly in my own heart.

  29. says

    Reading this reminded me so much of Simone Weil’s essay on “rights,” which changed my life and which I have read and re-read hundreds of times over the years, as I shall yours today Father– perhaps the best essay on the meaning of life I have ever read. Thank you, and God be blessed for you.

  30. dinoship says

    PJ,

    I totally agree with this, and, was, in fact just saying the same thing to a friend the other day:
    ….”In our decadent culture, every sinful impulse is legitimized and protected as a “right”: abortion, homosexuality, intoxication, and so on. No doubt polygamy will follow same-sex marriage, as euthanasia will follow abortion. This is the inevitable result of losing sight of the proper end of man, and so profoundly confusing the nature of freedom.”

  31. Crossbuck says

    “Rights”, “privileges” “individualism” “freedom” “privacy” “property” “self-determinism” etc., etc., etc., come not from gods or spirits or any other theistic hocus-pocus. I have no “right” to exist, as I had no part in my presence on this planet. Now that I find myself here for a time, however, I hope to be able to hold onto the very fungible concepts which all who post here enjoy, largely by being lucky enough to be alive now, in this place, in this time. Throughout the history of human existence, we have struggled to find our places not only in nature but also amongst our fellow humans. We have tried many different methods and systems, all of which are flawed, of protecting ourselves mentally and physically. At times religion has aided us in this quest, at times hindered us. We continue the experiment of finding our way through our individual and collective existence, but meaning is not a gift from another, or from an invisible something. Meaning is what we put into life, whether it be as basic as procreation, or as ethereal as building a monument to some god or other. Humans are on a quest, and sometimes that quest is spiritual, but it need not be for all or even most of us. To live for the human next to me rather than for some unknowable thing is what is important. To live for spouse or child or neighbor or parent or stranger when in need, that is meaningful. I find no deficit in that, it is not empty.

  32. Michael Bauman says

    Crossbuck, if as Christians believe and we Orthodox Christians most strongly that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and that God became man in order to restore us to our true place in communion with Him, then whatever we do for the one next to us or fail to do is done to Him and for Him (or not).

    Is it wrong or misguided not to be aware of our real state and work to maximize our love through increasing communion with Him? Is it wrong to share such insights and experiences (for they are not just mental constructs and God is not altogether invisible) with others?

    As a certified crumudgeon myself who is grudgingly being loved out of that state by an incredible wife who knows God in so many ways I do not, forgive me if I observe that you seem a bit grumpy.

    True faith in the living God has never hindered us in our quest to know ourselves and maximize who we are–just the opposite. That is part of Fr. Stephen’s point, I think.

    Bad theology expressed and lived ideologically hinders us, not the experience of the Person of Christ.

  33. Michael Bauman says

    Father, would you agree that one of the defiing characteristics of the modern heresy of secularism is to define man as either a creature of the state or a creature of his own will and passions?

  34. PJ says

    Crossbuck,

    Living for the Other is the very essence of the Triune God and the very heart of Christian life. You don’t even realize that your presuppositions are fundamentally Christian!

    That said, I must press you on one point: You say there is no “right to exist.” If this is true, and if it applies to all men, then there is no reason to decry the Holocaust. If we are but trousered apes, then wiping out 6,000,000 Jews is no more objectionable than wiping out a colony of termites.

  35. dinoship says

    There is a kind of secret “law” from the Fathers (for instance, in St. Barsanuphius and John, as well as most others though…):

    IF AVOID BEING CRUCIFIED, I AM CRUCIFYING (there is no 3rd option)

    An example, out of myriads: I don’t want a child that has a difficult (for ME, to be honest) defect and I give it away, or kill it in the womb…

  36. Crossbuck says

    There is nothing wrong with pursuing happiness through the practice of spiritual or religious faith, of course not. It is however wrong (IMO) to ascribe meaninglessness to the actions and beliefs of others, simply because you do not agree with them. PJ – My “presuppositions” came into existence long before Christianity presumed to claim them for its own. This is the essence of hubris; to presume that a particular belief system somehow may lay claim to all that is good, honest, just, moral, ethical, and right. Further, your invocation of the Holocaust argument has no basis, as it again presupposes your own prejudices. I have no right to exist, as my existence, and all trace of it, could be snuffed out in a moment by a whim of the cosmos, and with it the entire panoply of Christianity and all other supernatural folly. But my DESIRE to exist, and the desire of those 6,000,000 humans for continued existence, is made no more or less genuine and valid by your presumptions. They lived and died and feared and suffered for all your holy protestations. God did not make them, God did not save them, God did nothing to them or for them. Man is of course responsible for that horror, but Man is also capable of remembering it, perhaps even learning from it. Humans made the Holocaust, happen, Humans ended the Holocaust. I am a trousered ape, and I will forever object to such actions.

  37. dinoship says

    Sorry for the typo, (i forgot the I in):
    IF I AVOID BEING CRUCIFIED, I AM CRUCIFYING

  38. dinoship says

    Crossbuck,
    your thoughts on God’s providence, or lack of it, seem to presuppose a total lack of an ‘afterlife’, (or a serious consideration of one), without a view of the “other side”, you speak one language and PJ a totally different…

  39. dinoship says

    Where one sees a pitiful looser (in a Martyr, for instance) the other might see a gloriously heroic winner

  40. Crossbuck says

    Dinoship – you are correct. Whether we agree on an afterlife or not, this is my point; I don’t believe that a life spent in the pursuit of religious or spiritual truth is meaningless, or a waste. However I continually hear it from the mouths of “believers” that any life not spent in such pursuit IS meaningless.

    I find this utterly judgmental. And at times that does render me grumpy.

  41. dinoship says

    Crossbuck,
    I see your point. On a deeper level, presupposing eternal being/afterlife: true meaninglessness (total) or meningfullness will only ever be found and proven at our eternal state…

    P.S.:
    That happens to also be a near perfect definition of Heaven and Hell from an “existential” perspective.

  42. Crossbuck says

    I don’t know from existentialism. I have a motto, it goes thusly; “Don’t obsess. Just live.” Humans obsessively obsess, and obsessively presume to know better than others. Out of obsession comes strife, oppression, prejudice, war, unhappy death.

    I mean to live, and for me the meaning of life is to pursue happiness without treading on others. I will not be trodden on, and I will not stand by while others are trod upon. In this way I hope to be respected, as I respect others. If others would adhere to this philosophy, what it means to be human could be elevated. And it’s an easy system, there’s already a rule well-known to all which embodies it. It’s enough for me.

    As far as the question asked at the beginning of the above article, it is a red herring, as the ultimate discussion revolved around belief rather than the issue of being Human. We are what we are, neither more nor less. Some of us are good, some of us are bad, but we are all huMan. We make of it what we will, or not. What is Man? Man is the single most obviously self-aware and thinking animal on the planet, capable of taking abstract thought and making from it material objects or social constructs. It should be impossible for anyone to observe the long history of Humanity and not see it as the clear progression from ignorance towards knowledge.

    Man is an animal in pursuit of knowledge. Man is an animal in search of truth, and health, and safety, and happiness. Man is an animal covetous of wealth and power, who can only be finally constrained from excess by Man himself. We are animals covered with warts and full of holiness. An enigma, a miracle, a folly.

    We are what we are. Don’t obsess, just live.

  43. dinoship says

    The pursuit of Joy however, can easily be hindered (and eventually, for our ultimate good IS hindered) when “I hope to be respected” or do anything else in a self-centred way. I will, at the very least “be constrained”…

    What I mean to say is that if I have not God as my God, then I will inevitably have my ego as my god, there are no two ways about it…

    If one follows this through logically, however, including the inevitability of death in this equation, one can only arrive at the existential certainty that without God, (if I am truthful) there is no meaning whatsoever in existence…
    Ofcourse, our culture, our mind, our ego, will avoid such equations… It welcomes distraction to such an incomprehensible extent, (any distraction) from deep existential questions. As these questions, when truthfully asked and not avoided, arrive at such impasses (from an atheist point of view), that one realises: “I need Him”

  44. Crossbuck says

    Dinoship – To find meaning, each person must define first what (to that person) is important.

    If you must believe in God for life to have meaning for you, then you have stated that God is most important to you.

    If I must believe that my purpose in life is to help those around me to the best of my ability, then that is what is most important to me.

    If we both have something important to us which gives our lives meaning, it is odd then for one to say to the other, “Your life has no meaning!”

    This is foolishness, as to be other wise is to dictate to another what is important or meaningful, and in that way we lose our own freedom and fall under the dominion of another.

    To say “There is no meaning but mine!” is hubris.

  45. PJ says

    Crossbuck,

    You misunderstand the Christian critique of atheism. It isn’t that life is meaningless without God, but rather than there is no ultimate, transcendent, and eternal meaning. Nothing really matters in the long run, for all is dust and ash and even the dust and ash will one day disappear. In the godless cosmos, “meaning” is just another word for “distraction.”

    This is why the most honest and most philosophically rigorous atheists are all nihilists, in the order of Sartre or Arthur Schopenhauer. “Strut, fret, and delude ourselves as we may, our lives are of no significance, and it is futile to seek or to affirm meaning where none can be found” (Donald Crosby).

    And again: Given your description of the world, I see no reason why I shouldn’t tread on others. Many men apparently achieve great wealth, success, peace, and happiness by treading on others, by thinking only of themselves, by valuing their interest above all else.

    I furthermore see no valid basis for an ethical system in your universe. Why not murder, rape, and steal — so long as they yield profit? What basis is there to penalize those who commit such activities, beyond pure pragmatism? Is then all life boiled down to practicality, necessity, and convenience?

    Your motto: “Don’t obsess, just live,” betrays your position of privilege. It is supremely western. It is the product of a culture that is rich, well fed, and well supplied. Elsewhere, it is less persuasive. Try telling your motto to an impoverished Indian child who digs through landfills for his breakfast. Or a mother of five starving children in some war-stricken country. Or an AIDS-ridden orphan in Africa. Or a crack-addicted street prostitute in Bangkok.

    The world needs the Gospel. It demands the Gospel. But You do not see this because you profoundly misunderstand what exactly the Gospel is.

  46. PJ says

    Crossbuck,

    “To say “There is no meaning but mine!” is hubris.”

    But this is precisely what you say! That’s the grand irony of relativism.

    Look, your position is logically fallacious. The very denial of objective and absolute truth/meaning is itself an objective and absolute claim.

  47. Crossbuck says

    I’m afraid there is no misunderstanding. You feel that your belief is the ultimate truth, and without your ultimate truth, there is no meaning, no point, no goals, no guides, no rules, no ethos, no nothing.

    That isn’t what I believe. I have no problem finding truth, meaning, reason, goals, guides, rules, ethics, empathy, sympathy, love and substance. Without a god.

    You need a god to find these things. I do not.

    You believe that anyone who does not believe as you do… has no beliefs. This is clearly false, I’m here to tell you so, yet you don’t wish to hear me. I condone none of the things you claim I stand for…. Why do you persist in this falsehood?

    You can deny what I say, as you wish.

    So long as you do not force your truth on me, and I don’t force mine on you, we can live together. This is my “ultimate truth”.

  48. dinoship says

    Crossbuck,
    as stated earlier, the undeniable fact of one’s own DEATH, makes what PJ says, (as well as what the nihilist philosophers say), seem as actually “facing THAT truth”. That same undeniable fact however,makes the “just live” western relativist world outlook that we privileged westerners can afford (for now), seem like “avoiding that truth” (concentrating on other stuff…). Doesn’t it?

  49. says

    Crossbuck,

    I think most of us do not believe that to be the case, which indicates that a misunderstanding still exists. Of course there is meaning, purpose, goals, guides, rules, ethos, etc. The point is that they are self-assigned. A man can rationalize any desire by approaching it from a specific perspective. The idea behind having the correct perspective is that one comes to the correct conclusions.

    I also don’t believe it is impossible to come to find value in the virtues you described without God. Religions not associated with God have been doing it throughout human history. Such values are built into us. Orthodoxy recognizes that man is created good, but we are damaged. This does not mean we do not strive to be good.

    No one, and I mean no one, stated that atheism is without belief. You are asserting a specific world view and one requires beliefs to do that. To say that we do not believe that you have beliefs is to create a straw man that has no meaning to us.

  50. Crossbuck says

    The truth is that we will all die. Rich, poor, East, West, Orthodox, Hindu or Atheist. That is one thing that all Humans have in common, like it or not. How we deal with death is not at all something we have in common, but deal with it we will, all of us individually. Every Human will. That’s just the way it is.

    I’m not worried about what comes after, that is for me a waste of time. I acknowledge that everyone I will ever meet will one day die. My mother, my father, all of my siblings, my wife, my children, everyone. How is that avoiding the truth?

    Death is inevitable. Nothing lasts forever, not the good, or the bad.

  51. Crossbuck says

    Stump – Of course someone has claimed that without God there are no rules. It’s thrown out as a claim all the time. See what Dino said –

    “And again: Given your description of the world, I see no reason why I shouldn’t tread on others. Many men apparently achieve great wealth, success, peace, and happiness by treading on others, by thinking only of themselves, by valuing their interest above all else.

    I furthermore see no valid basis for an ethical system in your universe. Why not murder, rape, and steal — so long as they yield profit? What basis is there to penalize those who commit such activities, beyond pure pragmatism? Is then all life boiled down to practicality, necessity, and convenience? ”

    I have heard this argument dozens of times. It is on its face fallacious, yet it fits the prejudice of the “believer” against the “unbeliever”.

    And for the record I’m not an Atheist. I’m a Scientific Humanist. No doubt the difference would escape most.

  52. dinoship says

    I must admit that it seems to me that PJ hit the nail on the head when stating that the grand irony of relativism is, essentially, its inability to admit its own hubris when claiming that “absolute truth cannot be”, “that is hubris” (…)

    There is a serious problem here:
    This relativism/Pluralism characterizes modern secular man; it prohibits any faith to declare the fullness of truth and claim to be the only way of salvation…

    Proclaiming the the one absolute Truth, (as possibly indisputable), is “not allowed”. Doing so brands the proclaimer a “totalitarian”, a “fundamentalist”. It is seen as ‘preaching’ (in the modern denigrating understanding of that term); preaching something inconveniently (and inherently) absolute, which is a threat to all other accepted notions. No matter how politely said it remains a threat due to its absoluteness.

    Relativism would attempt to denigrate any uniquely singular and unparalleled apocalyptic revelation. For example: that of Christ (“I am the truth, the Light, Life…” etc), to the conventional level of the legion of ordinary human religious experience (this is in essence Theosophical Syncretism).
    It was correctly observed that Pluralism (or relativism) advocates the dispute of all ideologies except for its own. (“intolerance in the name of tolerance”)

    If, instead of looking at the inevitability of death, which I mentioned earlier, we look at Jesus’ absolute claims, we are truly stuck…
    Christ’s absolute claims only allow for one of two positions, (a third is mathematically impossible):

    1) you either accept that He is what He says He is (the True God, the only Way, the Truth, the Light, the Resurrection and the Life – Whom you are commanded to love above all and to the point of total sacrifice – unbelievable ‘demands’…),

    or
    2) you are “stuck”, unable to explain away his historical existence, since describing Him as something any less than what He claims (as, for instance, a great ‘Philosopher’, a ‘Prophet’, a ‘Mystic’ etc. etc…) axiomatically doesn’t stand to any reason: it automatically makes Him the greatest and most demanding liar in existence…!

    So, in order to avoid going down this unavoidable dead-end, the modern pluralist -hell-bent on never accepting position (1) along with its inevitable consequences- circumvents this disquieting stalemate and alleviates his concsience through the all-pervasive vehicle of constant distraction. Distraction, therefore, is welcomed…

    Pointing this out is obviously a problem as this would be proving the delusion to the deluded. Even time to think on such issues is, in fact, undesirable – just like the Pharaoh piled more work on the Israelites in order to not even have time to think of God, man does this to himself, since, to be left completely undistracted could allow this “threat” to re-emerge.

    I am sorry to go into this type of reasoning, it is very possibly not properly Orthodox, when considering that it is the ‘example’ of true love that wins over, not reasoning. It’s all we can do on blogs… Sorry.

  53. Crossbuck says

    Stump – We assume the beliefs and values, rules, laws, morals and ethos of the culture in which we are reared, or the culture to which we feel drawn. Most people’s beliefs are not “self-assigned”, or at least they could not have been self-assigned until the modern era. Before now it was far too dangerous, and it still is too dangerous in some parts of the world.

    Someone once asked why there are no Atheists in the Bible? And the answer is, because they wouldn’t have been suffered to live. There weren’t any self-professed Atheists most anywhere in the world for much of the history of religion.

    I go back to the original question above, “What is Man?” Man is an animal which continually strives to think. An animal which is also without doubt much stronger in group than by itself.

    We take on the beliefs of the group we belong to, in order to survive. And so there is relativism in the Human world, and there always has been. Relativism is what makes it possible for Humans to live together at all. It’s also known as “compromise”.

  54. dinoship says

    A long one, but extremely worthy one:

    One morning, the holy Elder (”Geron”) Epiphanios Theodoropoulos (1930-1989) was in a conversation with 2-3 visitors at his home. One of them was an ideological atheist and a communist. Suddenly, someone from outside came rushing in, and informed them that the city of Athens had been flooded with photographs of Mao Tse Tung, with the inscription “Glory to the great Mao”. It was the day that the Chinese dictator had died.
    Geron:
    That’s the way things are, my child. Atheists do not exist. Only idolaters exist, who take down Christ from His throne and in His place they enthrone their own idols. We say: “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. They say: “Glory to the great Mao”. You pick and choose which one you prefer.
    Atheist:
    You also choose your drug, grandpa. The only difference is, that you call it Christ, others call it Allah, or Buddha, etc. etc…
    Geron:
    My child, Christ is not a drug. Christ is the Creator of the entire universe. He is the one Who governs everything wisely, from the multitudes of infinite galaxies, down to the minutest particles of the microcosm. He has given life to all of us. He is the One Who brought you into this world and has bestowed you with so much freedom, that you can actually doubt Him, and even deny Him.
    Atheist:
    Grandpa, its your right to believe in all of those things. But that doesn’t mean they are true. Do you have any proofs?
    Geron:
    You think all of this is just a fairy tale, don’t you?
    Atheist:
    Naturally.
    Geron:
    Do you have any proof that it is a fairy tale? Can you prove that what I believe is false?
    Atheist:
    ……………….
    Geron:
    You didn’t reply, because you don’t have any proof either. Which means, you believe they are fairy tales. I spoke to you of believing, when I referred to God; you, however, although rejecting my belief, essentially believe in your faithlessness, since you cannot back it up with proofs either. However, I must tell you that my belief is not something “out of the blue”; There are certain supernatural events, upon which it is founded.
    Atheist:
    Just a minute! Since we are talking about believing, what would you say to Muslims or Buddhists for example? Because they also talk about believing. And they too have high moral standards. Why is your belief better than theirs?
    Geron:
    So! The criterion of the truth is supposedly judged by this question of yours? Because the truth is most certainly one; truths cannot be many in number. The thing is, who is the possessor of the truth? That is the major question. Hence, it is not a matter of a better or worse belief! It is a matter of the only true belief!
    I agree, that other beliefs also have moral teachings. Naturally, Christianity’s moral teachings are incomparably superior. But, we do not believe in Christ because of His moral teachings. Or for His prompting to “Love one another”, or for His sermons on peace and justice, freedom and equality. We believe in Christ, because His presence on earth was accompanied by supernatural events, which was a sign that He is God.
    Atheist:
    Look, I also admit that Christ was an important philosopher and a great revolutionary, but let’s not make Him a God now……
    Geron:
    My dear child! All the great disbelievers in history were snagged by that detail. The fishbone that stuck in their throat, which they just couldn’t swallow, was exactly that: That Christ is also God.
    Many of them were willing to say to God: “Don’t tell anyone that You are God incarnate; Just say that You’re an ordinary human, and we shall be more than ready to deify you. Why do You want to be an incarnate God, and not a deified human? We are willing to glorify You, to proclaim You as the greatest among men, the holiest, the most ethical, the noblest, the unsurpassable, the one and only, the unprecedented… Isn’t that enough for You ?
    Ernest Renan –he was the head of the chorus of deniers- thunders out the following, with regard to Christ: “For tens of thousands of years, the world shall be uplifted through You”, and “You are the cornerstone of mankind; if one were to wrench Your name away from this world, it would be like shattering its foundations” and “the aeons shall proclaim that amongst the sons of men, never was there born anyone that could surpass You”. But this is where Renan and his likes stop. Their very next phrase is: “But a God, You are not!”
    And those poor wretches cannot perceive that all of these things constitute an indescribable tragedy! Their dilemma is inevitably relentless: Either Christ is an incarnate God, in which case, He is indeed, only then, the most ethical, the holiest and noblest personage of mankind, or, He is not an incarnate God, in which case, He cannot possibly be any of these. In fact, if Christ is not God, then we are talking about the most horrible, the most atrocious and the most despicable existence in the history of mankind.
    Atheist:
    What did you just say ?
    Geron:
    Exactly what you heard! It may be a weighty statement, but it is absolutely true. And I will tell you why.
    Let me ask: What did all the truly great men say about themselves, or what opinion did they have of themselves ?
    The “wisest of all men”, Socrates, proclaimed that “I came to know one thing: that I know nothing”.
    All the important men in the Old and New Testament, from Abraham and Moses, through to John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, characterized themselves as “earth and ashes”, “wretches”, “monstrosities”, etc…. [1]
    But, strangely enough, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite! And I say strangely enough, because it would have been natural and logical for Him to have a similar attitude. In fact, being far superior and surpassing all others, He should have had an even lower and humbler opinion of Himself [2]. Ethically more perfect than any other, He should have surpassed everyone and anyone in self-reproach and humility, from the moment of the world’s Creation to the end of Time.
    But, the exact opposite is observed!
    First of all, He proclaims that He is sinless: “Who among you shall check Me for sin?” (John, 8:46). “The lord of this world is coming, and he can find nothing in Me.” (John, 14: 30)
    He also pronounces very high ideas of Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John, 8, 12); “I am the path and the truth and the life” (John, 14: 6)
    But, apart from these, He also projects demands of absolute dedication to His Person. He even penetrates the holiest of man’s relationships, and says: “Whomsoever loves their father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. and whomsoever loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”. (Matthew, 10: 37). “I came to turn man away, against his father, and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew, 10: 35). He even demands a life and a death of martyrdom from His disciples: “They shall deliver you to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you shall be dragged before leaders and kings for My sake…. And brother shall deliver his brother to death and the father his son, and the children shall revolt against their parents and shall put them to death…. And you shall be hated by everyone, for my namesake…. And he that shall endure to the end, he shall be saved…. Do not fear those who destroy the body….. Whomsoever shall deny Me before mankind, I too shall deny him…. Whomsoever has forfeited his soul for My sake, shall recover it.” (Matthew, 10: 17 onward)
    And now I ask you: Has anyone ever dared to demand for himself the love of mankind, forsaking their very life? Has anyone ever dared to proclaim his absolute sinlessness? Has anyone ever dared to utter the words: “I am the truth”? (John, 14: 6) No-one, and nowhere! Only a God can do that. Can you imagine your Marx uttering things like that? They would take him for a lunatic and nobody would be willing to follow him!
    Now, just consider, how many people sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake, even their very life, having believed in the veracity of His words regarding Himself! If His proclamations about Himself were false, Jesus would have been the most despicable character in history, for having led so many people to such a huge sacrifice! What ordinary man – no matter how great, how important, how wise he may be – would deserve such a tremendous offer and sacrifice? Well? No-one! Not unless he were God!
    In other words: Any ordinary man that would demand such a sacrifice from his followers would have been the most loathsome person in history. Christ, however, both demanded it, and achieved it. Yet, despite this ‘achievement’, He was proclaimed by the very deniers of His divinity as the noblest and holiest figure in history. So, either the deniers are being illogical when they proclaim this most loathsome figure as “holiest”, or, in order to avoid any illogicality, and to rationalize the co-existence of Christ’s demands and His holiness, they must concede to accepting that Christ continues to remain the noblest and holiest figure in mankind, but, only under the condition that He is also God! Otherwise, as we said, He would be, not the holiest, but the most loathsome figure in history, being the cause of the greatest sacrifice of all ages, and in the name of a lie! Thus, Christ’s divinity is proved by His very deniers, on the basis of those very characterizations of His person!
    Atheist:
    What you just said is really very impressive, but it is nothing but speculation. Do you have any historical facts that would confirm His Divinity?
    Geron:
    I told you at the beginning, that the proofs of His Divinity are the supernatural events that took place while He was here on earth. Christ did not rest on the proclamation of the above truths alone; He certified His statements with miracles as well. He made blind people see and cripples walk; He satisfied the hunger of five thousand men and manifold numbers of women and children with only two fish and five loaves of bread; He commanded the elements of nature and they obeyed; He resurrected the dead, amongst which was Lazarus, four days after his death. But the most astounding of all his miracles was His own Resurrection.
    The entire edifice of Christianity is supported on the event of the Resurrection. This is not my speculation. The Apostle Paul said it: “If Christ had not risen (from the dead), our faith would be futile”. (Corinthians I, 15: 17). If Christ is not resurrected, then everything collapses. But Christ was resurrected, which means He is the Lord of life and death, therefore God.
    Atheist:
    Did you see all of this? How can you believe it?
    Geron:
    No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.
    Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it? I, as an honest man, will believe him.
    Atheist:
    I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology. Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?
    Geron:
    You said it yourself. Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.
    It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.
    The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1) [3]
    Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.
    Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected. [4]
    And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.
    The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.
    Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.
    I should also stress something else here: The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments. They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one. They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another. They let the events speak for themselves.
    Atheist:
    Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death? The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.
    Geron:
    My poor child! I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again: “O faithless ones, you are not actually disbelievers; indeed, you are the most gullible of all. You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny the miracle!”
    No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.
    Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.
    Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again? If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!
    As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.
    Atheist:
    Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples. Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples? Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection? If so, then I will also believe what you say.
    Geron:
    You poor child! You don’t know what you’re saying now! If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc. How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian? You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings! It just can’t be done !
    I will remind you though – because you are asking for historians – of what I said earlier: that the only true historians are the Apostles.
    Nevertheless, we do have testimony of the kind that you want; and it is by someone who didn’t belong to the circle of His Disciples: it was Paul. Paul not only wasn’t a Disciple of Christ, he actually persecuted Christ’s Church relentlessly.
    Atheist:
    They say that Paul suffered from sunstroke and that it was the cause of his hallucination.
    Geron:
    My child, if Paul was hallucinating, the thing that would have come to the surface, would have been his subconscious. And in Paul’s subconscious, the Patriarchs and the Prophets would have been top ranking. He would have hallucinated about Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and not Jesus, whom he considered a rabble-rouser and a fraud!
    Can you imagine a faithful old granny seeing Buddha or Jupiter in her dream or delirium? She would most probably see Saint Nicholas or Saint Barbara, because she believes in them.
    One more thing. With Paul, we have –as Papini notes- the following miraculous phenomena: First of all, the abruptness of his conversion. Straight from faithlessness to faith. With no intermediate preparatory stage. Secondly, the steadfastness of his faith. No wavering, no doubts. And thirdly, his faith lasted for a whole lifetime. Do you believe that all these things can occur after a case of sunstroke? They can in no way be attributed to such a cause. If you can explain how, then explain it. If you can’t, then you must admit the miracle. And you must know that for a man of his time, Paul was exceptionally well-educated. He was not your average little person, who was totally clueless.
    I will also add something else. We today, my child, are living in an exceptional era. We are living the miracle of Christ’s Church.
    When Christ said of His Church that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower Her” (Matthew 16:18), His followers were very few in number. Almost two thousand years have passed, since that day. Empires vanished, philosophical systems were forgotten, world theories collapsed. But Christ’s Church remains indestructible, despite the continuous and dramatic persecutions it has undergone. Isn’t that a miracle?
    And one final thing. In Luke’s Gospel it says that when the Holy Mother visited Elizabeth (the Baptist’s mother) after the Annunciation, she was greeted with the words: “blessed are you amongst women”. And the Holy Mother replied as follows: “My heart magnifies the Lord. Behold, from this moment on, all generations shall call me blessed” (1:48).
    What was the Holy Mother at that time? She was just an obscure daughter of Nazareth. How many knew her? And yet, since that day, empresses have been forgotten, distinguished women’s names have been extinguished, the mothers and wives of great generals went into oblivion. Who remembers, or even knows, Napoleon’s mother or Alexander the Great’s mother? Almost no-one. But, millions of lips across every length and breadth of the world, throughout the ages, venerate that humble daughter of Nazareth, the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”. Are we, or aren’t we –the people of the twentieth century– living in this day and age the verification of those words of the Holy Mother?
    The exact same things are observed in a “secondary” prophecy of Christ: While He was staying at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him and poured her expensive fragrant oil over His head. Christ commented: “Amen, verily I say to you, that wherever this gospel will be preached in the world, it will also mention what this woman did, in her memory” (Matthew, 26: 13). Now, how large was His circle of followers at the time, so that one could say that they outdid themselves in order that their Master’s prophecy be fulfilled? Especially a prophecy such as this one, which, by today’s world standards, is of no importance to most people.
    Are they or aren’t they miracles? If you can, explain them. But if you can’t, then admit them as such.
    Atheist:
    I have to admit that your arguments are pretty solid. But I would like to ask you one more thing: Don’t you think that Christ left His work unfinished? That is, unless He deserted us. I can’t imagine a God that would remain indifferent to mankind’s suffering. We are down here toiling, while He, up there, remains apathetic.
    Geron:
    No, my child. You aren’t right. Christ did not leave His work unfinished. On the contrary, He is the one unique case in history where a person has the certainty that His mission was accomplished, and had nothing further to do or to say.
    Even the greatest of philosophers, Socrates, who discussed and taught during his whole lifetime, and towards the end composed an intricate “Apology”, would have even more to say, if he had lived.
    Only Christ – in the time bracket of three years – taught what He had to teach, did what He had to do, and finally said (on the Cross): “It is finished”. Another sample of His divine perfection and authority.
    As for the abandonment that you mentioned, I can understand your concern. Without Christ, the world would be a theatre of insanity. Without Christ, you cannot explain anything: why are there sorrows, why injustices, why failures, why sicknesses, why, why, why…. Thousands of monumental “why”s.
    Try to understand! Man cannot approach all of these “why”s with his finite logic. It is only through Christ that everything can be explained. All these trials merely precondition us for eternity. Perhaps then, we might be honored by the Lord with a reply to some of those “why”s.

  55. dinoship says

    One morning, the holy Elder (”Geron”) Epiphanios Theodoropoulos (1930-1989) was in a conversation with 2-3 visitors at his home. One of them was an ideological atheist and a communist. Suddenly, someone from outside came rushing in, and informed them that the city of Athens had been flooded with photographs of Mao Tse Tung, with the inscription “Glory to the great Mao”. It was the day that the Chinese dictator had died.
    Geron:
    That’s the way things are, my child. Atheists do not exist. Only idolaters exist, who take down Christ from His throne and in His place they enthrone their own idols. We say: “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”. They say: “Glory to the great Mao”. You pick and choose which one you prefer.
    Atheist:
    You also choose your ‘drug’, grandpa. The only difference is, that you call it Christ, others call it Allah, or Buddha, etc. etc…
    Geron:
    My child, Christ is not a drug. Christ is the Creator of the entire universe. He is the one Who governs everything wisely, from the multitudes of infinite galaxies, down to the minutest particles of the microcosm. He has given life to all of us. He is the One Who brought you into this world and has bestowed you with so much freedom, that you can actually doubt Him, and even deny Him.
    Atheist:
    Grandpa, its your right to believe in all of those things. But that doesn’t mean they are true. Do you have any proofs?
    Geron:
    You think all of this is just a fairy tale, don’t you?
    Atheist:
    Naturally.
    Geron:
    Do you have any proof that it is a fairy tale? Can you prove that what I believe is false?
    Atheist:
    ……………….
    Geron:
    You didn’t reply, because you don’t have any proof either. Which means, you believe they are fairy tales. I spoke to you of believing, when I referred to God; you, however, although rejecting my belief, essentially believe in your faithlessness, since you cannot back it up with proofs either. However, I must tell you that my belief is not something “out of the blue”; There are certain supernatural events, upon which it is founded.
    Atheist:
    Just a minute! Since we are talking about believing, what would you say to Muslims or Buddhists for example? Because they also talk about believing. And they too have high moral standards. Why is your belief better than theirs?
    Geron:
    So! The criterion of the truth is supposedly judged by this question of yours? Because the truth is most certainly one; truths cannot be many in number. The thing is, who is the possessor of the truth? That is the major question. Hence, it is not a matter of a better or worse belief! It is a matter of the only true belief!
    I agree, that other beliefs also have moral teachings. Naturally, Christianity’s moral teachings are incomparably superior. But, we do not believe in Christ because of His moral teachings. Or for His prompting to “Love one another”, or for His sermons on peace and justice, freedom and equality. We believe in Christ, because His presence on earth was accompanied by supernatural events, which was a sign that He is God.
    Atheist:
    Look, I also admit that Christ was an important philosopher and a great revolutionary, but let’s not make Him a God now……
    Geron:
    My dear child! All the great disbelievers in history were snagged by that detail. The fishbone that stuck in their throat, which they just couldn’t swallow, was exactly that: That Christ is also God.
    Many of them were willing to say to God: “Don’t tell anyone that You are God incarnate; Just say that You’re an ordinary human, and we shall be more than ready to deify you. Why do You want to be an incarnate God, and not a deified human? We are willing to glorify You, to proclaim You as the greatest among men, the holiest, the most ethical, the noblest, the unsurpassable, the one and only, the unprecedented… Isn’t that enough for You ?
    Ernest Renan –he was the head of the chorus of deniers- thunders out the following, with regard to Christ: “For tens of thousands of years, the world shall be uplifted through You”, and “You are the cornerstone of mankind; if one were to wrench Your name away from this world, it would be like shattering its foundations” and “the aeons shall proclaim that amongst the sons of men, never was there born anyone that could surpass You”. But this is where Renan and his likes stop. Their very next phrase is: “But a God, You are not!”
    And those poor wretches cannot perceive that all of these things constitute an indescribable tragedy! Their dilemma is inevitably relentless: Either Christ is an incarnate God, in which case, He is indeed, only then, the most ethical, the holiest and noblest personage of mankind, or, He is not an incarnate God, in which case, He cannot possibly be any of these. In fact, if Christ is not God, then we are talking about the most horrible, the most atrocious and the most despicable existence in the history of mankind.
    Atheist:
    What did you just say ?
    Geron:
    Exactly what you heard! It may be a weighty statement, but it is absolutely true. And I will tell you why.
    Let me ask: What did all the truly great men say about themselves, or what opinion did they have of themselves ?
    The “wisest of all men”, Socrates, proclaimed that “I came to know one thing: that I know nothing”.
    All the important men in the Old and New Testament, from Abraham and Moses, through to John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul, characterized themselves as “earth and ashes”, “wretches”, “monstrosities”, etc…. [1]
    But, strangely enough, Jesus’ attitude is quite the opposite! And I say strangely enough, because it would have been natural and logical for Him to have a similar attitude. In fact, being far superior and surpassing all others, He should have had an even lower and humbler opinion of Himself [2]. Ethically more perfect than any other, He should have surpassed everyone and anyone in self-reproach and humility, from the moment of the world’s Creation to the end of Time.
    But, the exact opposite is observed!
    First of all, He proclaims that He is sinless: “Who among you shall check Me for sin?” (John, 8:46). “The lord of this world is coming, and he can find nothing in Me.” (John, 14: 30)
    He also pronounces very high ideas of Himself: “I am the light of the world” (John, 8, 12); “I am the path and the truth and the life” (John, 14: 6)
    But, apart from these, He also projects demands of absolute dedication to His Person. He even penetrates the holiest of man’s relationships, and says: “Whomsoever loves their father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me. and whomsoever loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me”. (Matthew, 10: 37). “I came to turn man away, against his father, and the daughter against her mother and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew, 10: 35). He even demands a life and a death of martyrdom from His disciples: “They shall deliver you to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you shall be dragged before leaders and kings for My sake…. And brother shall deliver his brother to death and the father his son, and the children shall revolt against their parents and shall put them to death…. And you shall be hated by everyone, for my namesake…. And he that shall endure to the end, he shall be saved…. Do not fear those who destroy the body….. Whomsoever shall deny Me before mankind, I too shall deny him…. Whomsoever has forfeited his soul for My sake, shall recover it.” (Matthew, 10: 17 onward)
    And now I ask you: Has anyone ever dared to demand for himself the love of mankind, forsaking their very life? Has anyone ever dared to proclaim his absolute sinlessness? Has anyone ever dared to utter the words: “I am the truth”? (John, 14: 6) No-one, and nowhere! Only a God can do that. Can you imagine your Marx uttering things like that? They would take him for a lunatic and nobody would be willing to follow him!
    Now, just consider, how many people sacrificed everything for Christ’s sake, even their very life, having believed in the veracity of His words regarding Himself! If His proclamations about Himself were false, Jesus would have been the most despicable character in history, for having led so many people to such a huge sacrifice! What ordinary man – no matter how great, how important, how wise he may be – would deserve such a tremendous offer and sacrifice? Well? No-one! Not unless he were God!
    In other words: Any ordinary man that would demand such a sacrifice from his followers would have been the most loathsome person in history. Christ, however, both demanded it, and achieved it. Yet, despite this ‘achievement’, He was proclaimed by the very deniers of His divinity as the noblest and holiest figure in history. So, either the deniers are being illogical when they proclaim this most loathsome figure as “holiest”, or, in order to avoid any illogicality, and to rationalize the co-existence of Christ’s demands and His holiness, they must concede to accepting that Christ continues to remain the noblest and holiest figure in mankind, but, only under the condition that He is also God! Otherwise, as we said, He would be, not the holiest, but the most loathsome figure in history, being the cause of the greatest sacrifice of all ages, and in the name of a lie! Thus, Christ’s divinity is proved by His very deniers, on the basis of those very characterizations of His person!
    Atheist:
    What you just said is really very impressive, but it is nothing but speculation. Do you have any historical facts that would confirm His Divinity?
    Geron:
    I told you at the beginning, that the proofs of His Divinity are the supernatural events that took place while He was here on earth. Christ did not rest on the proclamation of the above truths alone; He certified His statements with miracles as well. He made blind people see and cripples walk; He satisfied the hunger of five thousand men and manifold numbers of women and children with only two fish and five loaves of bread; He commanded the elements of nature and they obeyed; He resurrected the dead, amongst which was Lazarus, four days after his death. But the most astounding of all his miracles was His own Resurrection.
    The entire edifice of Christianity is supported on the event of the Resurrection. This is not my speculation. The Apostle Paul said it: “If Christ had not risen (from the dead), our faith would be futile”. (Corinthians I, 15: 17). If Christ is not resurrected, then everything collapses. But Christ was resurrected, which means He is the Lord of life and death, therefore God.
    Atheist:
    Did you see all of this? How can you believe it?
    Geron:
    No, I didn’t see any of it, but others did: the Apostles. They in turn made this known to others, and they actually “signed” their testimony with their own blood. And, as everyone acknowledges, a testimony of one’s life is the supreme form of testimony.
    Why don’t you likewise bring me someone, who will tell me that Marx died and was resurrected, and that he is willing to sacrifice his life in order to testify it? I, as an honest man, will believe him.
    Atheist:
    I will tell you. Thousands of communists were tortured and died for their ideology. Why don’t you embrace communism in the same way?
    Geron:
    You said it yourself. Communists died for their ideology. They didn’t die for real events. In an ideology, it is very easy for deception to seep through; and because it is a characteristic of the human soul to sacrifice itself for something it believes in, this explains why so many communists died for their ideology. But that doesn’t compel us to accept this ideology as something true.
    It is one thing to die for ideas, and another to die for events. The Apostles didn’t die for any ideas. Not even for the “Love one another”, or any of the other moral teachings of Christianity. The Apostles died for their testimony of supernatural events. And when we say ‘event’, we mean that which is captured by our physical senses, and is comprehended through them.
    The Apostles suffered martyrdom for “that which they heard”, “that which they saw with their own eyes”, “that which they observed and their hands touched” (John I, 1) [3]
    Just like the clever speculation by Pascal, we say that one of the three following things happened to the Apostles: either they were deceived, or, they deceived us, or, they told us the truth.
    Let’s take the first case. It is not possible for the Apostles to have been deceived, because everything that they reported, was not reported to them by others. They themselves were eye and ear witnesses of all those things. Besides, none of them were imaginative characters, nor did they have any psychological inclination that made them accept the event of the Resurrection. Quite the contrary – they were terribly distrustful. The Gospels are extremely revealing, in their narrations of their spiritual dispositions: they even disbelieved the reassurances that some people had actually seen Him, resurrected. [4]
    And one other thing. What were the Apostles, before Christ called them? Were they perhaps ambitious politicians or visionaries of philosophical and social systems, who were longing to conquer mankind and thus satisfy their fantasies? Not at all. They were illiterate fishermen. The only thing that interested them was to catch a few fish to feed their families. That is why, even after the Lord’s Crucifixion, and despite everything that they had heard and seen, they returned to their fishing boats and their nets. In other words, there was not a single trace of disposition in these men for the things that were to follow. It was only after the day of the Pentecost, “when they received strength from on high”, that they became the teachers of the universe.
    The second case: Did they deceive us? Did they lie to us? But then, why would they deceive us? What would they gain by lying? Was it money? Was it status? Was it glory? For someone to tell a lie, he must be expecting some sort of gain. The Apostles though, by preaching Christ – and in fact Christ crucified and resurrected – the only things that they secured for themselves were: hardships, labours, lashings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, nakedness, attacks from robbers, beatings, incarcerations and finally, death. And all this, for a lie? It would be undoubtedly foolish for anyone to even consider it.
    Consequently, the Apostles were neither deceived, nor did they deceive us. This leaves us with the third choice: that they told us the truth.
    I should also stress something else here: The Evangelists are the only ones who recorded true historical events. They describe the events, and only the events. They do not resort to any personal judgments. They praise no-one, and they criticize no-one. They make no attempt to exaggerate an event, nor eliminate or underestimate another. They let the events speak for themselves.
    Atheist:
    Are you excluding the possibility that in Christ’s case, it was just an incident of apparent death? The other day, the newspapers had written about someone in India whom they buried and three days later they exhumed him and he was still alive.
    Geron:
    My poor child! I will recall the words of the blessed Augustine again: “O faithless ones, you are not actually disbelievers; indeed, you are the most gullible of all. You accept the most improbable things, and the most irrational, the most contradictory, in order to deny the miracle!”
    No, my child. It was not a case of apparent death with Christ. First of all, we have the testimony of the Roman centurion, who reassured Pilate that Christ’s death was a certainty.
    Then, our Gospel informs us that on the same day of His Resurrection, the Lord was seen talking with two of His disciples, walking towards Emmaus, which was more than ten kilometers away from Jerusalem.
    Can you imagine someone, who could go through all the tortures that Christ underwent, and three days after His “apparent death”, spring back again? If anything, he would have to be fed chicken soup for forty days, in order to be able to open his eyes, let alone walk and talk as though nothing had happened!
    As for the Hindu, bring him here to be flogged with a scourge – do you know what a scourge is? It is a whip, whose lashes each have a lead chunk or a piece of broken bone or sharp nails attached to their end – bring him here, so we can flog him, then force a crown of thorns on his head, crucify him, give him bile and vinegar to drink, then pierce his side with a spear, put him in a tomb, and then, if he comes back from the dead, then we can talk.
    Atheist:
    Even so, but all the testimonies that you have invoked belong to Christ’s Disciples. Is there any testimony on this matter, that doesn’t come from the circle of His Disciples? Are there any historians for example, who can certify Christ’s Resurrection? If so, then I will also believe what you say.
    Geron:
    You poor child! You don’t know what you’re saying now! If there had been such historians who had witnessed Christ resurrected, they would have been compelled to believe in His Resurrection and would have recorded it as believers, in which case, you would again have rejected their testimony, just like you rejected Peter’s testimony, John’s testimony, etc. How can it be possible, for someone to actually witness the Resurrection and yet, NOT become a Christian? You are asking for a roasted fowl, on a waxen skewer, that also sings! It just can’t be done !
    I will remind you though – because you are asking for historians – of what I said earlier: that the only true historians are the Apostles.
    Nevertheless, we do have testimony of the kind that you want; and it is by someone who didn’t belong to the circle of His Disciples: it was Paul. Paul not only wasn’t a Disciple of Christ, he actually persecuted Christ’s Church relentlessly.
    Atheist:
    They say that Paul suffered from sunstroke and that it was the cause of his hallucination.
    Geron:
    My child, if Paul was hallucinating, the thing that would have come to the surface, would have been his subconscious. And in Paul’s subconscious, the Patriarchs and the Prophets would have been top ranking. He would have hallucinated about Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and not Jesus, whom he considered a rabble-rouser and a fraud!
    Can you imagine a faithful old granny seeing Buddha or Jupiter in her dream or delirium? She would most probably see Saint Nicholas or Saint Barbara, because she believes in them.
    One more thing. With Paul, we have –as Papini notes- the following miraculous phenomena: First of all, the abruptness of his conversion. Straight from faithlessness to faith. With no intermediate preparatory stage. Secondly, the steadfastness of his faith. No wavering, no doubts. And thirdly, his faith lasted for a whole lifetime. Do you believe that all these things can occur after a case of sunstroke? They can in no way be attributed to such a cause. If you can explain how, then explain it. If you can’t, then you must admit the miracle. And you must know that for a man of his time, Paul was exceptionally well-educated. He was not your average little person, who was totally clueless.
    I will also add something else. We today, my child, are living in an exceptional era. We are living the miracle of Christ’s Church.
    When Christ said of His Church that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower Her” (Matthew 16:18), His followers were very few in number. Almost two thousand years have passed, since that day. Empires vanished, philosophical systems were forgotten, world theories collapsed. But Christ’s Church remains indestructible, despite the continuous and dramatic persecutions it has undergone. Isn’t that a miracle?
    And one final thing. In Luke’s Gospel it says that when the Holy Mother visited Elizabeth (the Baptist’s mother) after the Annunciation, she was greeted with the words: “blessed are you amongst women”. And the Holy Mother replied as follows: “My heart magnifies the Lord. Behold, from this moment on, all generations shall call me blessed” (1:48).
    What was the Holy Mother at that time? She was just an obscure daughter of Nazareth. How many knew her? And yet, since that day, empresses have been forgotten, distinguished women’s names have been extinguished, the mothers and wives of great generals went into oblivion. Who remembers, or even knows, Napoleon’s mother or Alexander the Great’s mother? Almost no-one. But, millions of lips across every length and breadth of the world, throughout the ages, venerate that humble daughter of Nazareth, the “more precious than the Cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the Seraphim”. Are we, or aren’t we –the people of the twentieth century– living in this day and age the verification of those words of the Holy Mother?
    The exact same things are observed in a “secondary” prophecy of Christ: While He was staying at the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him and poured her expensive fragrant oil over His head. Christ commented: “Amen, verily I say to you, that wherever this gospel will be preached in the world, it will also mention what this woman did, in her memory” (Matthew, 26: 13). Now, how large was His circle of followers at the time, so that one could say that they outdid themselves in order that their Master’s prophecy be fulfilled? Especially a prophecy such as this one, which, by today’s world standards, is of no importance to most people.
    Are they or aren’t they miracles? If you can, explain them. But if you can’t, then admit them as such.
    Atheist:
    I have to admit that your arguments are pretty solid. But I would like to ask you one more thing: Don’t you think that Christ left His work unfinished? That is, unless He deserted us. I can’t imagine a God that would remain indifferent to mankind’s suffering. We are down here toiling, while He, up there, remains apathetic.
    Geron:
    No, my child. You aren’t right. Christ did not leave His work unfinished. On the contrary, He is the one unique case in history where a person has the certainty that His mission was accomplished, and had nothing further to do or to say.
    Even the greatest of philosophers, Socrates, who discussed and taught during his whole lifetime, and towards the end composed an intricate “Apology”, would have even more to say, if he had lived.
    Only Christ – in the time bracket of three years – taught what He had to teach, did what He had to do, and finally said (on the Cross): “It is finished”. Another sample of His divine perfection and authority.
    As for the abandonment that you mentioned, I can understand your concern. Without Christ, the world would be a theatre of insanity. Without Christ, you cannot explain anything: why are there sorrows, why injustices, why failures, why sicknesses, why, why, why…. Thousands of monumental “why”s.
    Try to understand! Man cannot approach all of these “why”s with his finite logic. It is only through Christ that everything can be explained. All these trials merely precondition us for eternity. Perhaps then, we might be honored by the Lord with a reply to some of those “why”s.

  56. Crossbuck says

    Dino – I never met a “true-believer” who wasn’t absolutely certain that his way was the only true way.

    Surely more is necessary than an emphatic claim of truth?

    All the major religions can point to their own pile of “proof”.

    Every Man believes something which is not true. I guess that’s at least one other thing besides death we all have in common.

  57. says

    A scientific humanist is capable of being an atheist or a deist (and possibly a myriad of other things). With the possible exception of agnosticism, if it exists, when it comes to your belief in the existence of God it is a ‘yes or no’ answer. If the answer is ‘no’, you are an atheist regardless of your humanism. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the question is whether God desires that we live a certain way. Simple deductive logic.

    You can deny what I say as you wish, but denial never effects the truth of a statement. Regardless of what is your preferred “ultimate truth”.

  58. Michael Bauman says

    The irony is that God will bless the person who lives in accordance with the law of love even if they deny God’s existence. Those who recognize God’s presence and life are held to a higher standard.

    Certainly there is meaning in a world that denies God because God is still there/here. Available to the heart of a believer and un-believer alike.

    However for the obedient student the treasures are far greater both in this life and the next as they move from glory to glory.

    Crossbuck errs in thinking we are trying to stamp everyone with the same stamp of legalistic truth. Of course we have some who do that, but that is not a proper example of the faith.

    To quote Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory: “Truth is not just an abstract idea, sought and known with the mind, but something personal—even a Person—sought and loved with the heart, Jesus Christ”

    We would all do well to remember that reality.

  59. Michael Patrick says

    I can live with Crossbuck’s axiom that we live and let live. I also appreciate the reminder to stress and obsess less, just live! This is excellent advice though too hard for my troubled mind, especially in youth, to achieve. I could never just live existentially. I tried and have always needed reasons to live.

    The most important lesson I’m getting here from Crossbuck is to live for others. As someone said, this excellent advice is consistent with Orthodox Christian faith.

    Asking about a universal deontological ethic make a fun debate with atheists who claim to be ethical, but I don’t think it’s a good way to find common ground with a Humanist. More meaningful questions are:

    Is living thankfully related to the meaning you find in life? How deep and vital to your core being are gifts you’ve received from others? To whom are you thankful for those gifts? Are there any ideal persons in your world? Who is closest to ideal? Why? Are there any persons who have given enough to all mankind to be worthy of thanks by all other persons? Again, why?

  60. says

    I’ve been around a while and had many conversations over the years. I’ve been present at around 400 or more deaths. Crossbuck is right, we all die, rich, poor, etc. I’m not sure why you are offended at being told that someone perceives your choices or world-view as meaningless. Obviously it has meaning for you. But someone’s statement that your ideas are essentially meaningless is simply saying that they disagree with you.

    What is hubris? Thinking that you are right? Then everyone’s guilt of such hubris. Or is hubris only thinking someone else is wrong? Then right and wrong don’t mean anything – and we’re back to observing that your view of the world seems meaningless. I don’t even suggest that meaningless is wrong. If there is no God, nothing that transcends existence as we know it, then, I observe everything has no transcendent meaning. That’s simply obvious.

    But perhaps you are right. If so, then one should embrace the meaninglessness and get over being upset that others think your personal meaning lacks transcendence. But “meaning” is a religious category, a reference to transcendence. It’s quite possible to live a life without transcendence – but don’t complain that someone thinks your life has no reference to the transcendent. I think you’re obsessing rather than living.

    That the observation of your belief in a lack of transcendence bothers you (which your complaint and bothering to take time to post here indicates), then maybe you’re not so comfortable with the lack of transcendence.

    If you do not trod on others and you help see that others are not trod upon – you’re doing well. If you actually live that way you’re doing better than many Christians. But you are a child playing in the ruins of a great civilization and many of your ideas (like not treading on others) are the legacy, an echo of that civilization. You have an instinct for kindness, but that very instinct is a legacy of a Judaeo-Christian ethic. I’m glad it’s working for you. Your children and grandchildren will not be so fortunate, as the legacy begins to wane. There is already a quiet and tolerated holocaust going on around us, but, hey, we all die.

    No civilization has existed without transcendence. Even Carl Sagan was looking for extraterrestrial substitutes for the transcendent before he died. Hitler had his racial theories that served as his transcendent. Stalin claimed to be following Marxist theories of history. Our grandchildren will find something if it’s not God. Their “gods” may not be so kind – time will tell. By then you’ll be dead so it won’t actually matter.

    For myself, I believe that meaning is dependent on something outside itself – something that transcends it. Those who do not think this are treading on the safety of my children and my children’s children. Their self-referential cultures have murdered nearly 100 million in the 20th century. So, no thank you, I do not agree to stop suggesting that the lack of transcendence is meaningless and that meaninglessness results ultimately in mass murder. Seen it all before. No thank you.

  61. Crossbuck says

    Stump – AFAIK, scientific humanism (scientific realism) has at its center the scientific theory for any basis belief rather than spirituality, religion or superstition. It would therefore leave no room for deism. I don’t believe in gods or devils or goblins or pixies or ghosts, etc.

    The article is entitled “What is Man?” I believe that Man is an animal which is stronger in a group than it is individually, and so Man can make many concessions to the beliefs of a group in order to belong.

    Man is the ultimate “relativist”. Man can and has been convinced by whatever group seems most persuasive at the time to believe most anything imaginable.

    “Truth” is terribly subjective, I’m afraid. We can be convinced that most anything is true, if we are also convinced it will somehow aid us in our survival.

  62. says

    Crossbuck,
    Do you have a question? There’s nothing in your conversation that most have not heard before – they are the tired canards of a modern non-believer. You really don’t understand religious belief, but compare it to your own thoughts and assume it is the same. You assume that the experience of a religious man is no different than your own and that he’s made his commitments on the same basis on which you reject them. You are mistaken.

    If you have a question, ask away.

    I am deeply offended, by the way, that you do not believe in pixies.

  63. dinoship says

    From a purely scientific point of view, Scientific realism fails to see that it actually “believes” in 95% of what it thinks it “knows”.
    It is a interesting that astrophysics, for example, has reached a level where one can clearly see that one astrophysicist’s beliefs (scientific ones I mean) affect the results he obtains to a massive degree…

    You can be sure of one thing: a person who doesn’t believe in what he defines as gods, devils, goblins or pixies, definitely believes (possibly unawares) in some “other types” of gods, devils, goblins or pixies…

  64. dinoship says

    Crossbuck,
    So, how does a relativist scientific humanist explain away Jesus’ absolute claims? I was hoping for the answer that they can never provide. They ALWAYS circumvent that question, or belittle it relativistically…
    If He is not what He said He was (the Truth, Life, the Only God) -remember: this is not human claims about someone ‘else’, about god, like other religions, it is revelational self claims, found nowhere else- then what is He?

    To reiterate: describing Him as something any less than what He claims (a ‘Philosopher’, a ‘Prophet’, a ‘Mystic’ etc) doesn’t stand to reason: it automatically makes Him the greatest and most demanding liar in existence…! He is either who He says He is and His ultimate demands stand, or He would have to be the worst tyrant in existence.

  65. Margaret says

    “Every man believes something which is not true. I guess that’s at least one other thing besides death we all have in common.”

    There is birth. I guess we all agree that at some point we were born into this world or this life, I mean, we are all able to make posts on this blog, right?

  66. dinoship says

    Three Kinds of Men
    C. S. Lewis
    There are three kinds of people in the world. The first class is of those who live simply for their own sake and pleasure, regarding Man and Nature as so much raw material to be cut up into whatever shape may serve them. In thesecond class are those who acknowledge some other claim upon them – the will of God, the categorical imperative, or the good of society – and honestly try to pursue their own interests no further than this claim will allow. They try to surrender to the higher claim as much as it demands, like men paying a tax, but hope, like other taxpayers, that what is left over will be enough for them to live on. Their life is divided, like a soldier’s or a schoolboy’s life, into time “on parade” and “off parade”, “in school” and “out of school”. But thethird class is of those who can say like St Paul that for them “to live is Christ”. These people have got rid of the tiresome business of adjusting the rival claims of Self and God by the simple expedient of rejecting the claims of Self altogether. The old egoistic will has been turned round, reconditioned, and made into a new thing. The will of Christ no longer limits theirs; it is theirs. All their time, in belonging to Him, belongs also to them, for they are His…
    The price of Christ is something, in a way, much easier than moral effort – it is to want Him. It is true that the wanting itself would be beyond our power but for one fact. The world is so built that, to help us desert our own satisfactions, they desert us. War and trouble and finally old age take from us one by one all those things that the natural Self hoped for at its setting out. Begging is our only wisdom, and want in the end makes it easier for us to be beggars. Even on those terms the Mercy will receive us.

  67. dinoship says

    Stumbled across this:

    Twins, a sister and brother were talking to each other in the womb. The little sister said to the little brother: ‘I believe that there is life after birth!’ Her brother protested: ‘No, no, this is all there is. This is a dark and cosy place, and we have nothing else to do but to cling on to the cord that feeds us.’ But the little girl insisted: ‘There must be something more than this dark place, there must be something else where there is light and freedom to move.’ Still she could not convince her twin brother. Then…after some silence, she said hesitantly: ‘I have something else to say, and I am afraid you won’t believe that either, but I think there is a mother!’ Her little brother now became furious: ‘A mother, a mother, what are you talking about? I have never seen a mother and neither have you. Who put that idea in your head? As I told you, this place is all we have so let’s be content.’ The little sister finally said: ‘Don’t you feel this pressure sometimes? Its really unpleasant and sometimes even painful.’ ‘Yes,’ he answered, ‘what’s special about that?’ ‘Well,’ the sister said, ‘I think this pressure is there to get us ready for another place, much more beautiful than this, where we will see our mother face to face!

  68. says

    Dinoship,
    Thank you for the story of the elder and the atheist.

    I have removed the last three posts from “Crossbuck.” It’s a conversation that I’m simply not interested in pursuing. There is a great deal of room for conversation between belief and unbelief (I have it every day). Glory to God for All Things is ultimately, a private blog with moderated comments (not a forum). Not all conversations fit. I’m sorry if my moderating interrupted conversations for others.

  69. Karen says

    Dinoship, thanks for those gems from some of the great Christian apologists of our era. I, too, love that story from Elder Epiphanios!

    I will confess I am not as virtuous as Crossbuck. It is not likely that without a belief in the ultimate reality revealed through Christ, I would have even attempted to live for others. I confess the world would still completely revolve around me, and I would resent anything and anyone in my life that did not serve me and my ego and comfort. This poem from C. S. Lewis sums up who I would be without any vision of Christ:

    I am mercenary through and through.
    I regard you all friends merely to serve my turn.
    Peace, reassurance, pleasures are the goals I seek.
    I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin.
    I talk of love (a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek), but self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

    .

  70. John says

    Father, there’s much mention here of a story dinoship posted about an atheist and an elder, but I cannot find it among the comments. Perhaps you mistakenly removed it along with Crossbuck’s last comments? If so, I wonder if you could retrieve it and post again, as I would love to read it!

  71. dee says

    Sorry that I double-posted that story while waiting for it to show up: the fruits of impatience :-)

  72. PJ says

    Crossbuck,

    “Stump – AFAIK, scientific humanism (scientific realism) has at its center the scientific theory for any basis belief rather than spirituality, religion or superstition.”

    Even the likes of David Hume realize that this philosophy, what you call “scientific humanism,” is dependent upon blind belief, and is thus a form of “superstition,” no different from any religion or spiritual school.

    That the world can only be known empirically is itself a proposition that cannot be verified empirically. This is why, again, all honest and intellectually rigorous atheists retreat into skepticism or nihilism. Heck, Hume was so confounded by the problem of induction that he said we can’t even be confident that winter will follow autumn, or that night will follow day. Agnosticism — “without knowledge” appropriately describes the godless, for they are trapped in an epistemic nightmare.

    Karen,

    It is my experience that people don’t realize their inner darkness until they perceive the Light, the Dayspring from on high. In my own case, until I knew Christ, I did not realize how wicked and selfish I was. I considered myself a “nice guy,” but in reality every second of the day was about me-me-me. Now, I’ve beat the old man into submission, and spend just every other second thinking about me-me-me. I’m heading in the right direction — slooowly. :-)

  73. dee says

    PJ,
    I reckon you ARE a nice guy. I also reckon we are all constantly thinking about me-me-me. It only stops when Grace takes over, and then we are all back to indescribable self-centred-ness. It is often subtle beyond our imagination, as well as blatant. I thank God He is capable beyond that all…

  74. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Great posting as usual! Again thank you for your efforts. When you get the opportunity, please email me at email hidden; JavaScript is required. I have some questions to ask that are not appropriate here.
    Thanks again & In Christ,
    Rhonda

  75. Chris says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for the reply. Is the difference between the use of “rights” int he Greco-Roman world different from the Germanic and medieval?

    I think the problem with the statement of Declaration of Independence of men being created equal is that in a very obvious sense we are not created equal. As Lossky points out we are all one in human nature, but many hypostasises (sp?), and I think TJ’s phrase sort of confuses essence an personhood, but I suspect that is a problem much of the West has struggled with under Western Trinitarianism.

  76. says

    Chris,
    Rights is not a particularly Graeco-Roman concept. A Roman citizen had “rights” but I do not remember them being called by that name. They had, if you will, certain protections based on the fact that they had “citizenship.” But there was utterly no sense of the inherent value of a human being. Even the Greek pagan world, with Prtotagoras’ “Man is the measure of all things,” has to be balanced against Aristotle’s advice that if someone would not agree to the proposition of non-contradiction, “Kill him. He is a barbarian.” (this is a story I learned from Stanley Hauerwas). Israel has a very peculiar treatment of the “barbarian,” the gentiles. There is a clear distinction between Israel and the Gentiles, but there is a commandment governing the treatment of “strangers” in the land (resident aliens), for “you were once strangers.” It was radical for its time.

    Only with the advent of Christianity and the development of Christology, does the concept of “personhood,” develop, and along with it, the idea of a human being having inherent worth as made in the image of God. You’ll notice that there is no development or use of a theology of “image” in the Old Testament. Thus, although Genesis is read, it is not until Christ, “who is the image of the invisible God,” that a theology of the “image,” develops and becomes a dominant point in classical Christian doctrine. Without this intellectual development, there is no cultural development of human “rights.”

    In Germanic law, the notion of rights was largely based on property rights. A man had a “wergeld,” a value determined by his station in society. If you killed a man’ slave, you had to pay him the wergeld, the value of the slave. There is something similar in the OT.

    Our concept of “rights,” something that seems simply inherent to us, is, in fact, a cultural artifact and not something that is “self-evident,” as TJ thought. It is theologically evident based on the teaching of the New Testament (“there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, etc.). We are not “equal” as in the “same,” but are equal in terms of value. We are all of infinite worth. Regardless of beauty, talent, etc., we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, and unique and unrepeatable. It is part of the intrinsic tragedy of the modern cult of abortions – a flagrant denial of the worth of each human life.

    Many other notions of modern justice depend on the concept of inherent value. There has been a shift in cultures embracing post-modern theories, in which membership in a “group,” confers special “rights,” and privileges not enjoyed by other groups. Of course, everyone belongs to many groups. It is membership in politically preferred groups (determined by no criterion other than the will to power of those who determine such things). It is under this concept of law that Christians are being forbidden to wear crosses in work places in Great Britain (protecting the “right” of secularists not to be bothered by your religion). There is no apparent right for a religious person not to be bothered by a co-worker’s secularism, with the false idea that secularism is neutral and non-offensive. Beware. Under this guise many of us will eventually stand in danger of prison.

    It is this raw assertion of “rights” with no grounding in a theory of transcendence (such as inherent worth and value) that I warn about in this posting. If the US supreme court ever adopts clear case law that favors such post-modern theory (the superior value of certain groups) then mark your calendar for you will come to rue the day. Those who are willing to argue for such a theory are a danger to the well-being of our entire society. I don’t know how to state this more strongly.

    It is the equivalent of “four legs good, two legs better.” or “All animals are equal. Some animals are more equal than others.” Both from George Orwell’s work of genius, Animal Farm.

  77. simmmo says

    I realise that we must state things strongly when necessary. Unfortunately, in American discourse, when religionists state things strongly, there is a tendency to provoke, even encourage, violence – which completely undermines what sincere Christians are trying to do (I am not implying that you are doing this, but many other Christians do). And this only feeds the secularists’ notion that they are right – and they are partly right, for violent religion is bad religion. When we see the language of hate and fire and violence coming from religion, reasonable people will react against this. Should we put up with racist bigotry? Of course we shouldn’t. For many secularists, the same line of reasoning applies to religion – and, from the behaviour of many who profess Christianity, who can blame them? So for them, the cross functions in the same way as the swastika – Western Christianity, particularly the radical Reformation, functions as an ideology just like facism. And when you have an ideology, it’s very easy to rationalize violence and destruction (iconoclasm anyone?). As I have stated before, one of the reasons that secularism has taken hold is because of the violence of religious people – particularly Christians and Muslims. (Surely the insufficient secular notion of “tolerance” is better than religious bigotry and hatred. Of course “tolerance” is a very poor substitute for the Christian “agape” love, but the simple fact of the matter is that agape has not been something which Western Christianity has been practising – probably since scholasticism took root there – turning Western Christianity into a “cold piece of business” as one Anglican scholar puts it – the Western doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is a prime example of this “cold piece of business” and surely a main reason as to why many in the Western world leave the faith and turn to secularism)

    The answer is to take up your cross, endure hatred and persecution, stand up for what is right, but do so lovingly and gently – an answer that is simply too hard and repugnant for many Christians (myself included – being a Christian is not meant to be easy). The answer is surely not to start a shouting match where people simply talk past one another and never the twain shall meet. I think it’s clear from the teaching of Scripture and the testimony of the early church, that to be meek, humble and peaceably co-exist with others as much as possible is the right path to take. And we must work with people of goodwill, whether they be secular or otherwise. I see the Ecumenical Patriarch as being a prime example of this. The Patriarchate is persecuted minority in Turkey and has been for years. But they have patiently endured persecution with love and sensitivity. And this is real persecution – unlike those in the comfortable Western world who imagine that secularism is persecuting them. Often this is nothing more than getting their feelings hurt by others who don’t agree with their particular world view. The image of the suffering Ecumenical Patriarchate is an image worth imitating – and our circumstances are a lot easier than theirs are.

    I am optimistic however. I do think what Christianity is the only genuine way of living. Humanity is an image of God and I do think that most people will recognise this – if only we had a people who were a like the light that Jesus spoke of in the Gospel. I see the geopolitical changes in the world as a positive development. With the dominance of the US economically and culturally fading away, false representations of Christianity (which are almost uniquely and exclusively an American phenomenon) will also lose traction. Secularists are right in to regard such forms of Christianity as suspicious and potentially dangerious. Also now, with the emergence of the Orthodox East after communism, there is a real hope for a more “ontological” (or real) Christianity to cut through the “legal fictions” of Protestantism. And after the failures of modernity and post-modernity, I think there is a hunger for genuine spirituality. Genuine Christianity offers what most people who have turned to secularism have always wanted – to place infinite value on all of humanity and to honour the created order. It’s there for Christians to rediscover and reassert at the present time and once again become the light of the world.

  78. dinoship says

    I can only agree in essence with both Father Stephen and Simmo, it is the discernment that comes after a long struggle in the spiritual life and ample humility that ultimately points to the right reaction at each given situation…

  79. says

    Simmmo,
    You are in Australia which means that what you see of American religion is what is portrayed in news reporting. The vast majority of news reporting is slanted against religion, and particularly against the religion of political conservatives. Though there is a strain of “hate” within an extreme minority of American popular religion – so extreme that were it not reported on the media, most would never see it. American popular religion (evangelicals) are generally very patriotic and conservative politically, but are among the most active in charitable giving and action. Those who talk the most about the needs of the poor, neither give their money nor their time – they give their opinions, which they hold in extreme high regard. Even those parts of Christianity that have various “legal fictions” are kinder and gentler than their cultured despisers. Secularism celebrates “tolerance” but is exceedingly intolerant. Give me a Bible thumper any time. At least you can reason with a believer.

    As for racism, I am old enough to remember the “Jim Crow” laws of the South and witnessed the Civil Rights movement firsthand (stories for another day). Today, inter-racial marriage is extremely common and accepted within all economic strata of society (I live in the socially conservative South and it is quite common here – even among the so-called “red neck” portion of our culture). There are instances of racism, of course, but overt racism is far more common in parts of Europe than in America, but less likely to be reported internationally.

    Believers everywhere, Orthodox, Protestant, Catholic, should learn that there is a media bias against believers across the world. It is not caused by the misbehavior of believers. It is caused by a media that acts as a self-appointed “watch dog.” Perhaps the watch dog part is good. Incidents of overt anti-religion are almost never reported. Those of us who write about the problems of secularism are largely not believed and are considered “alarmists.”

    I glad there are optimists out there. I’m not one of them. There underpinnings of Western culture have shifted. The re-emergence of Christianity in the East is a testimony to how firmly rooted they were. With the fall of the Communists state, there were few cultural choices to be found. The only institution in Russia that had pre-revolutionary roots was the Church – it certainly helped its reemergence. The other choice was simply to copy the Western states which seemed less desirable to an extent. The West still seems quite bitter about this, and more than a little willing to demonize the result.

    Those in Christ are indeed the light of the world, according to Christ’s own word. However, “this is condemnation…that light has come into the world and men preferred darkness because their deeds were evil…” The outcome of history is in the hands of God. In our hands is our obedience to the gospel and our love for Christ and one another.

    “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain.” Phil. 2:14

  80. simmmo says

    I have lived in the US. I spent two years living in Philadelphia. I can vouch for the fact that Americans are very hospitable and generally good people.

    Unlike many Americans however, I have a passport and have travelled extensively in third world countries. In fact I currently live in a third world country . The fact of the matter is that other people just don’t see things the way evangelical Americans do. I am very wary of the whole idea of a political spectrum, yet you can bet your bottom dollar that Christians in most other countries would hold positions to the left of American Christians on just about any issue. Dare I say many Hispanic and Black Christians would have a very different view of politics. Just listen to any given lecture by the Ecumenical Patriarch on the environment or poverty and you’ll quickly recognise that he is saying things that would make many American Christians uncomfortable philosophically speaking.

    I do think this is because religious right in the evangelical subculture has tried monopolise God. “God said it, I believe it”. What they are actually doing is saying that God agrees with me and that’s all there is to it. They’ve turned Christianity into an ideology. The religious right have become overgrown and are actually quite ridiculous. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh… these are staples for many American Christians. Reasonable news outlets like the BBC are branded as “liberal”. These people have become “Crazy for God” as one author put it. Perhaps a certain level of conservatism is healthy. I think what we have in America has certainly gone a long way beyond this. If these are a minority, as you suggest, then they are particularly noisy and have many rich friends (as an Australian, I have to apologise for Rupert Murdoch!!!). And I know that many Americans are not of this persuasion. I’ve lived in Philly. It’s like most other big cities – pretty much secular. Yet you look at the state of politics in America and you just scratch your head and ask “what on earth is going on there?”

    With all due respect, I completely disagree with the notion that conservatives give the most and others who advocate for the poor don’t. Secularist Peter Singer gives away one third of his income to charitable causes. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett… the list could go on. Many others do put their money where their mouths are – this is not the exclusive domain of evangelicals. Further many of these American evangelical Christians are quite wealthy. Hardly any skin off their noses giving money away. In any case, it’s far harder to actually be an advocate for the poor than to simply throw money at a problem – often it is the economic and social structures themselves that need to be rethought. It is a hard process – just ask Martin Luther King. Americans have a political and economic philosophy that essentially says that you are helping the poor by not helping them. Many unabashedly subscribe to and even promote the philosophies of atheists FA Hayek and Ayn Rand. Is this compatible with the Gospel?

    As I alluded to above, the whole idea of a political spectrum is misplaced and essentially divides people unnecessarily. It is an Enlightenment invention. The top and the bottom of is that people of goodwill have different views about things, and we probably need each other. The current secular political set-up (which many Christians have colluded with as I have stressed here) tends to absolutise certain ideological positions – whether from the right or the left, and never the twain shall meet. Is this what we were created for? The world needs peacemakers, not polemicists (I should take this advice sometimes!). I am optimistic. It was our Lord who said, right after the resurrection, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He didn’t say “will be given to me”. He didn’t say “all authority will be given to the books you chaps are going to write”. Jesus is King and Lord of the world already. This is incredibly hopeful! I don’t think anyone on the political spectrum has a monopoly over his Kingdom. At the end of the day we need each other. What we are actually doing now is demonising each other.

  81. says

    Simmmo, if I may:

    Not sure if you’ve seen this. It is an interesting interpretation of one of Plato’s better known stories. In the Christian hermeneutic, the fire (rightly so) is the actual person of God.

  82. says

    Fr Stephen wrote, “Those who talk the most about the needs of the poor, neither give their money nor their time – they give their opinions, which they hold in extreme high regard.”

    I live in Vancouver, Canada. I was raised politically left; my parents have always been deeply commited to social justice, restorative justice, and peace. My parents looked for a church like this- the found a very leftist Mennonite church.
    There, people talk a great deal about the needs of the poor- and they give their hearts out, Father.
    For years I was involved in political activism, and social justice causes in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver (the poorest part of Canada- I currently live just on the edge of this demographic).
    People lived simple lives, gave their shirts off their backs, and held very strong opinions. Everyone in these circles is radically leftist.

    Where are the Christians on the political right? They are telling the bums to clean up their lives, get a job. Telling them that they’ve made bad choices and simply need to take responsibility- or worse, accept Jesus into their hearts.
    The closest thing to ‘politically conservative’ that operates in the DTES, is the Union Gospel Mission.
    There, people cant cuss (these are people beaten nightly), and must sit through an evangelistic sermon before they are allowed to eat.

    Father, perhaps Canada is different. Perhaps my experience is unique.
    But it is what it is– only those leaning Left have really done anything sacrificial, compassionate, and sustained to love Christ in the DTES. (Yes of course there are manifold problems within these leftist circles! Finding a consistent ethic for life is very hard; many support women’s choice to abort. Many see inclusion of the homosexual praxis in the church as part of their ’cause for justice’… the problems can be multiplied. But, they are poor, passionate, outspoken, and putting their livelihood, blood, and guts where their mouth is).

    -MB

  83. hilary says

    A couple days ago, I was going to comment after reading all the other comments (whew!) that I often wonder if the American churches (writ unfairly large) are simply jealous of how secular organizations can seem to champion causes “better” than they can. Need mosquito nets in Africa? Young Hollywood to the rescue! Not quite, well, what we’d consider “mission work.” But why not?

    So Simmmo prompts me to write that I, too, am optimistic. Whenever my country’s politics and churches do whatever they do that get worldwide attention, I don’t try to apologize for it. The newsworthy things are newsworthy because they’re rare. And fleeting. And they’re clickable stories. A rattlesnake preacher dies by the rattlesnake. Click. Ad dollars. His father also died by the rattlesnake? Click. Ad dollars. “Christian Right” supports a marriage-is-this-or-that Constitutional amendment? (First of all, when you support an amendment, you’re basically telling me you know that whatever you need an amendment about is presently unconstitutional, sooo… But that’s a different topic.)

    Anyway. I’m optimistic. I was optimistic when we were full-bore into recession. How many people finally were without so many things that they soon learned weren’t necessities anyway? How many people figured out what really mattered? I, for one, did. And I’m optimistic when churches fail because I don’t want anyone worshiping an institution or a celebrity pastor or a certain group of specific people. The last thing I’m worried about in economic or religious upheaval is that these downturns make atheists (and I am 90% sure I know a lot more atheists than any of your readers) out of believers. Because I’ve only seen the opposite. Give us a real crisis and we stop being preoccupied about *which* front-loading washer-dryer set to buy. Give us a real crisis and we might finally realize that this life isn’t really ours at all — which leads to hope at some point.

    I support a strict separation of church and state not to keep “society” secular but to keep churches out of having to make politics personal. I don’t care what society does, because it’s always so newsworthy and fleeting and clickable/ ad-dollarable. I wouldn’t want someone in a collar literally preaching at me about how some law is unBiblical, either. If you’re a Bible expert, be one. Don’t also say you’re a political expert because that, to me, is a simple lie. (I mean this generally speaking.) The hardest thing Americans seem to come up against here is that our stalwart sense of justice simply has no place in the Gospel. Justice is what courts and popular opinion do, then there’s the only thing I can say I do because I am a Christian: forgive. I don’t have to be a Christian to donate for mozzie nets, or to give a billion dollars to charity. I can be a jerk with a midlife crisis and do more “mission work” support than all the churches in my town put together that year. So if that’s true, maybe the thing is just that as long as our churches are having some crisis, they’re growing up and disintegrating and planting and leaving and going and figuring that out on their own in their own time.

    A couple days ago, I was just going to chime in with something like “Isn’t the truth that everyone is sacred simply because they are here? I am sacred and you are sacred not because of belonging to some legal protected class but, well, just because. That’s the kind of reason I’d expect from a father.”

  84. dinoship says

    “Secularism celebrates “tolerance” but is exceedingly intolerant.”
    “The outcome of history is in the hands of God. In our hands is our obedience to the gospel and our love for Christ and one another.”
    I am so delighted everytime I hear such truths from you Father…

  85. says

    Simmmo,
    On the matter of giving money, I would have to go back and dig up my sources, but I was citing documented fact about “who gives.” I applaud the wealthy giving away money (though some of the causes are fairly suspect). Microsoft does not allow any of its charitable giving to go to religious institutions, for instance.

    I’m simply talking about the average guy here, not the TV evangelicals. There is much with which I find fault, but these people are unfairly portrayed (easily caricatured). I suggest nothing more. I come from blue-collar Southern roots (i.e. I was raised as a bona fide “red neck” complete with NASCAR and the whole thing). I was “educated” out of my life station, but I know who I am and where I came from. The media (Murdoch included) use us all for the sake of their Masters (who are on the left and right). We do well not to pay them much attention (“these are not the droids you’re looking for”).

    BTW, Philadelphia is not a place to gain much knowledge of evangelicals in America (sorry). Try Atlanta or Dallas. Better yet, try Pumpkin Town, South Carolina, near the birthplace of my ancestors. :)

  86. says

    Mark Basil,
    Your parents chose well. Mennonites are extraordinary in their sacrificial action. They are, of course, too few. Oddly, the state of the Union that has the highest per capita charitable giving in America is Mississippi, the poorest state. Perhaps my experience is colored by my Southern experience where evangelicals are the dominant cultural force. They have a very strong work ethic here. But the poor are actually in their churches and in their homes, for the poor are evangelical Christians (in this part of the world). I have my theological problems with the evangelicals, but I do not find them to be callous or hard-hearted. Liberal Christians in America (who tend to be more materially well-off and educated) will care about, and even give to a cause. But if a young girl or a former prostitute needs a place to live – you’ll probably find her in an evangelical home. But these things have many cultural factors that surround them. Perhaps I have generalized too much from my own experience.

    American politics (the Media version) is like a TV show and everybody seems to watch. At present (and I read a lot), I don’t know the names of the Prime Ministers in Canada, Australia, etc. I’m not even sure which party is in power (it’s not in our news here). I know the prime ministers of Germany and France (it’s been in the news) and have some sense of their internal politics. I usually try to keep up with Britain, but it’s been a bit topsy-turvy there in the past few years. I know the President in Prime Minister of Russia (it’s easy. they just keep switching jobs :) ).

    I’m glad for the optimism that others have expressed. I am optimistic in the short term. Things, both good and bad, move at the pace of a life-time. Most of the things I have written or warned about will not be too difficult in my lifetime if I am right. My writings will not survive my lifetime. If I have done well, then my good work will survive in some lifetimes to come.

    I am an ultimate optimist. I believe that all things “work together for good for those who love God…” And I think creation has a “happy ending” (happier than we dare dream). Obedience to the truth of God in Christ is the task of the moment and in every life. The outcome belongs to God.

    Forgive my defensive posture with regard to the evangelical conservatives. They’re my kinfolk.

  87. Michael Bauman says

    It seems that one of the major dilemma’s we face when we ask the question: “What is man” is not the general understanding but how that specifically works out in life. In other words, it is one thing to say, believe and even know that a man is made in the image and likeness of God, quite a different thing altogether to determine how my particular image and likeness should respond in any given circumstance.

    Being fallen, we tend to get in arguments about such things and often ‘winning’ becomes more important than the truth. Certainly in politics such is the case.

    Fr. Alexander F.C Webster wrote in his book, “The Pacificist Option” that the more detailed we become, the more ideolgical we tend to become. So, Christ commandment to tend the poor too often becomes tend the poor MY WAY or you are not doing it.

    The commandment to dress and keep the earth becomes for some a mandate to use all of the techology at our disposal in any way we see fit, while for others it can become just the opposite.

    It is from this descent into our own will that the political spectrum is derived and false dicotomies reign. Perhaps one of the most obvious symptoms of the two storey universe.

    We judge intent more than the actual results.

    The intent of government progams to help the poor is often good, but the results are not because the programs get consumed by their own bureaucracy. Similarly, the ‘get a job’ cries are also similarly well intentioned. What they both lack is the actual human contact.

    Human to human contact and proper response to is always harmed by ideology because our ideologies become our idols.

    It is one of the foremost temptations of fallen humanity, as St. Paul points out in Romans Chapter 1, to worship the created thing more than the creator. Modern idol worship is the worship of our own minds, thoughts even our own bodies as things in themselves.

    It is more difficult than we commonly recognize to be free of such idolatry. Perhaps the only way is to follow the title of this web site and give glory to the incarnate God/man for all things. The humility required to actually do that crushes idols.

    As I am sure everyone recognizes, I am a long way from there, but reading and contemplating Fr. Stephen’s words over the last 5-6 years has moved me a little bit in that direction. At least I no longer rage at the very idea.

    Thank you Father.

  88. says

    “Forgive my defensive posture with regard to the evangelical conservatives. They’re my kinfolk.”

    I understand. Likewise with me, for those on the left and far-left.
    It was helpful to hear that Evangelicals where you are are poor and are the ones to take in the needy. I think this is more American than Canadian interestingly. In Canada everyone is more liberal. We’re a more secular country, and our politics rarely inflame over “Evangelical concerns” or religious interests. We are more secular (in the common meaning), yet our government traditionally had little trouble funding religious and faith-based initiatives and social programs.
    Interesting.

    And btw, in Canada we have a Conservative Goverment (that is wreaking harsh destruction on social programs). Stephen Harper is an intelligent, cold, calculating, driven Prime Minister. You should look at several of his pictures online- look closely at his eyes and you will see everything.
    This government is ideologically driven against anything compassionate and ‘social welfare’ it seems. It is the scariest political time I have known, and I believe my parents would say the same thing.

    My father has worked as director of M2W2, a small, bible-belt prison ministry that has existed for 6 decades.
    It is simply about befriending those in jail, and keeping friendships when they get out. Here the Evangelicals did shine, btw. The constituency is dominantly Evangelical (but the organization started out in a blaze of Evangelical theology, ethos, etc.). Now 95% of the supporters have grey hair, tragically.
    But the real threat is our current government. After 60 years of consistent funding of these programs, that make a real difference at the ‘grass roots’ level, the Harper goverment has coldly withdrawn all funding.
    They did the same to the Catholic conterpart to my dad’s organization. It is chilling. And, to give you a sense of ‘Canadian Evangelicals’- this is Harper. His support base is the Canadian Evangelical contingent. They want to be tough on crime; they want the american prison system; they want people to pay for what they’ve done. It is old retributive justice, that ‘western christian’ way, not genuine restorative Justice (God’s shalom).

    So there’s a wee look into my Canadian life, and government, and social issues. :)

    I will do my father a kindness, and ask all you Americans, if you want to put your money somewhere remarkably good, please visit:
    M2W2: Restorative Christian Ministries.
    http://m2w2.com/wp/

    In the irresistible love of Jesus the Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  89. says

    MarkBasil,
    Thank you for your thoughtful words. I had to smile at your comment about your Prime Minister’s eyes.

    About 13 years back, my family and I were in a restaurant after church services one evening (I was dressed as usual in my cassock). A lady approached me in the restaurant (turned out she was a BaHa’i religionist). She said to me, “I could tell you were a religious man – – it’s the eyes.”

    It was all my kids could do not to burst out laughing. “It’s the eyes…” as though it had nothing to do with the cassock I was wearing.

    Ever since, we have a family joke, “It’s the eyes…”

    I remember as well one summer that we participated in a program that brought youth from N. Ireland over (both Protestant and Catholic) to the U.S. Building bridges of peace. A young Catholic teen stayed in our home. One night, a Protestant Counselor began talking about life back home. I commented on the fact that the people of N. Ireland are essentially the same people (despite the Scot history of some of them). She said. “I can tell them from one another on the street immediately – it’s the eyes!” (this should be spoken with a very thick, N. Irish brogue).

    The window of the soul…

  90. Michael Bauman says

    Hilary, a couple of quibbles about your post: when you say that supporting a Constitutional amendment means that whatever the amendment says is currently un-Constitutional–That is not necessarily so; particularly in our current situation. These days it is often because what was once assumed is no longer assumend and the supporters of any given amendment feel the necessity to codify the old or new assumption.

    The marriage amendment is a case in point. No one prior to the last 20 years or so in all of U.S. History would have ever assumed that marriage was anything but between a man and a woman. End of story. Since it was already codified in the hearts and minds of the people, it did not need to be codified anywhere else. Amendments are also used to specifically limit the use of governmental power to a more proper role.

    I’d also like to ask you what you mean by a ‘strict separation between Church and state’? That is another of those potentially ideological minefields that needs further defintion.

    To keep it on topic, assuming that we humans are made in the image and likeness of God and that we are made to both worship God and seek communion with HIm in all that we do, how can there be any such separation?

    Keep in mind that the writers of the U.S. Constitution wanted people to be free to express their faith without government interference. Thus they said, “The Congress shall make no law…..” It was added as an amendment originally because it was felt that the Constitution proper granted too much power to the Federal government. The Bill of Rights was specifically proposed and adopted to curtail that incipient power.

    So, I read “Congress shall make no law…” as saying that the Federal governement cannot make any law restricting anyone’s expression of his/her faith (there were not many loonies then who would think that killing someone was a part of their faith).

    With the extension of the Bill of Rights to the States under the 14th amendment, it restricted the authority of the states in the the same manner.

    Unfortunately, the ‘sepration of Church and State’ has become a tool for suppressing the expression of faith and allows government to mandate what is and what is not appropriate in such matters.

    The secular always results in legalism because it atomizes people and tends to destroy commonly held values and principals.

    I pray that I have not egregiously violated my own post immediately preceeding this one. I honestly want to know how you look at it and the benefits you see from such a separation in the context of what it means to be human?

    Of course, if it is too much of a digression, Father can always delete.

  91. Michael Bauman says

    markbasil,

    To simplify and reiterate, political ideologies (left, right, center) tend to define the human being in ways that the Gospel does not while often purporting to be in service to the Gospel. It is a shame that actually caring for the poor, those in prison and attempting to influence the larger culture to be more compassionate toward them is looked upon as ‘leftist’. Any more than attempting to structure the economy in a manner that allows people to be less bound by economic constraints and the wishes of others is somehow ‘rightist’

    In fact most of it boils down to the gaining of and protection of power at the expense of others whether the politicians label themselves as ‘left’ or ‘right': tryanny is tryanny.

    Utilitarian ethics dominate both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, what the government gives, the government can take away. The reliance on the government to fund and take care of everybody is always problematic IMO. But that’s the debate isn’t it. It does really start with the nature of man, our inate desire to both form community and our need to regulate the communities we form.

    We, both American and Canadian, have lost the consensus of what it means to be a nation and thus greater and greater legalism comes in. With the growth of legalism, the ability to gain and exercise power ideologically becomes more important. The winner take all mentality. Don’t you think?

  92. PJ says

    A government-funded charity is no longer a charity: it is an extension of the state, a government organ funded through taxation, not voluntary giving.

    Cutting social spending is often necessary. I typically support efforts to do so. I don’t believe it makes me any less compassionate than a socialist. It simply means we have different ideas concerning the relationship between civil society and the state.

    A welfare state isn’t any more Christian than the night watchman state. Indeed, it may even be less Christian.

    At least that’s the opinion of this conservative, for what it’s worth.

  93. Michael Bauman says

    PJ, for me the effort needs to be channeled into avoiding any form of utopianism when it comes to the state and retaining the eschatological vision and reality of Christianity.

  94. PJ says

    I pretty much agree. I am not all that interested in politics, except when public policy begins to directly influence the life of the Church. Sadly, this is increasingly the case in the western world. In the near future, I expect that all Christians will be forced to make tough political decisions, whether they want to or not.

    Anyway, my inclinations are ill-suited for American politics. My conservatism is of the old Tory variety: traditionalist, localist, protectionist, interested in social order and harmony between the classes, suspicious of bigness in general, both corporate and governmental. I’ve always liked Chesterton’s line, “The patriot never, under any circumstances, boasts of the largeness of his country, but always, and of necessity, boasts of its smallness.”

  95. Michael Bauman says

    Sooner or later the state, any state, will seek to oppress those who give honor and worship to a transcendent God because such honor and worship is a challenge to the state.

    While the state has a God-ordained purpose to order and protect, that does not mean that it will ever be holy. Holiness is a personal, human attribute that is the result of an intimate commuion with God. While it can be shared to some extent by the communities such people inhabit, it can never be transfered to a created corporate entity.

    The Church is holy only insofar as she is expressing the will and person of Jesus Christ. not in and of herself.

    Tryannies whether of the ‘left’ or the ‘right’ or ‘religious’ simply want to inforce the ideological will of the ruling elite. We have experienced and continue to experience two great tryannies in the last 100 years: communism and fascism. To the extent that we model either, we are not free to serve God as we should.

    We don’t serve the poor because they are poor (for that would make them an idol). We serve the poor because they are fellow human beings and we can and we need to for the benefit of our souls (poor and not-so-poor alike). It is not to rid the world of poverty (that will not happen as Jesus reminds us).

    PJ is correct to transfer such service to the state in any manner and further entrench such service as an ‘entitlement’ is to destroy the Chrisitan virtue of such acts, they are no longer personal or kenotic. Often such ‘entitlement’ merely creates a permanent underclass of so that the bureaucracy and the power it establishes can continue.

    markbasil, please do not take my words as against the work your father and his fellows do. Quite the contrary, but we do need to be quite careful about how much power, authority and veneration we give to any government.

  96. hilary says

    Michael, I really don’t mean to create any minefields but can see how your quibbles arise from what I wrote previously.

    My umbrella statement about church/state is a very quiet one that I don’t think about all that much. When I have to talk religion or politics, it seems to be mostly about personal stories and personal beliefs and personal pocketbook-hitting possibilities (legislation or, well, church business.) So I try to avoid these minefields as I can, not being an expert on either topic but content to cheer people up who are bogged down in either.

    But on to “TJ” et al. *pulls on lawyer cap* Whenever anyone uses “writers of the U.S. Constitution” preceding a statement about the long-ago intent of the law, I can get stuck with my own idea that those men never intended for us to have a full-time federal government. I am a huge fan of “Congress shall make no law” in the First Amendment but I certainly don’t think the US Supreme Court should be involved in the details of any establishment/ free exercise debate. I would think — ideally, and yes we’re long past this — the Supreme Court would stop any query at “did Congress [or a state, etc] make a law here? It’s explicit, the Constitution says they ‘shall make no law respecting’ these things.” Yes or no, period. Ideally, the meat of any law wouldn’t matter, just that the law was made and Congress is prohibited from doing so.

    But we have jurisprudence that instead makes nine people who are usually looking at due process out of criminal courts once in a while have to consider if, for instance, a city ordinance banning animal sacrifice was discriminatory against the one church in town that had such practices. The court has to get into the meat of the law, and it seems the question of “was a law respecting free exercise made?” is beside the point. Because the majority-thought in the country was something akin to “no one prior to the last 20 years or so in all of U.S. History would have ever assumed that” religion included chicken sacrifices within a municipal jurisdiction. But be careful. Popular opinion was all “heck yeah, come down hard on those chicken sacrificers, that’s just WRONG!” Well, ok, but that opened a legal door for all manner of previously-assumed-to-be-widely-held “morals” (can’t think of a better word) to have to go all the way up to the Supreme Court to be heard and defined. And it gets ugly in the national media-driven consciousness. *takes off lawyer cap* It sparks rallies and yelling and petitions and anger and paranoia and all of these loud crisis-creators simply distract from what I think we were made to do: worship. Worship besides all these things that happen/don’t happen and know that this is a very small blip of time when we can decide to fight about ephemera as if the world had two storeys (ping!), or we can realize it’s all kind of an illusion. For lack of a better descriptive.

    I absolutely agree that there is no actual separation between anything we do and who we worship. When I say “actual,” though, I don’t mean that-which-is-seen. Sorry, but any placard-holding protestor, no matter how saintly, I don’t think is doing Lord’s Work just for being there at a rally. The rally, to me, is not actual. Maybe that’s where I diverge… The rally is just a thing that happens, it kind of doesn’t matter. How the attendees’ hearts are postured before God in those heated moments — as in all moments — matters. Yeah?

    Anyway, that’s why I sidestep plenty of minefields. Maybe it’s among my own shortcomings that I can’t yell at someone and tell them they’re wrong, then go home happy that I was acting out of holy righteousness. Whenever I think someone’s “wrong,” I pretty much have to go sit in a corner and get over myself for a while. So I avoid it, the thinking someone’s “wrong” part. I get to say “I don’t know” a lot. Which is rather freeing.

    Yeah, I think I should apologize for going this far afield. Sorry, Father!

  97. Michael Bauman says

    PJ,

    I like your politics except for the class aspect of it but perhaps that is my own ideological bias. And it seems to apply to the Church and our acts as Christians just as well as the nation.

    That is what true hierachy achieves–order so that we poor human beings are as free as possible to practice virtue and work for holiness with one another regardless of class, position or worldly power.

    Communism is a Christian heresy and fascism its evil twin. One philosophically rejects hierarchy altogether while, in practice, establishing a ruthless one to make sure ‘everybody is equal’. The other estabishes a hierarchy based on purity, power, and the size of the purse. In either case each human person becomes simply an adjuct of the all-powerful state and the state is deified.

    Sergianism is a heresy but so is the creed of Al Capp’s old chacter, General Bullmoose the corporate greedmeister incarnate: “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA”.

  98. Michael Bauman says

    Hilary, thank you for your reply. I can certainly understand your sentiments. Pardon if my love of U.S. History gets in the way. There has been such and entertwining of my experience of God and my study of history over the years.

    I will make one last observation. It seems to me that your approach is a tad bit Buddhist. The Incarnation puts certain burdens on us (which we each bear differently) to be “in the world” even though we are ‘not of this world’.

    That is the existential dilemma of being a Christian or even being human I think.

  99. says

    PJ, I invite you to put your money where your mouth is. Kindly donate to my father’s now-without-gvmt-support-and-dying Ministry to Christ in prison, here:

    http://m2w2.com/wp/donations/

    Please invite all the Christians with money to do likewise. They really are in desperate need (employees of decades service were recently laid off. My father has been cut back to 1/2 time, and this to keep rudimentary programs open with donations, which have been coming in much stronger thanks to those white-haired, bible-belt Conservative Evangelicals).
    We do see government support differently, you and I. I am Canadian: I like our unverversal healthcare, our socially funded libraries, firemen, etc.
    What our goverment does here in a democrasy is an expression of our own voluntary choices- we choose to pay taxes in Canada as long as our Government is funding the programs we love. If I see a Chrstian person giving generously, I can be inspired to give myself. Where I see my government giving generously, I can be inspired to give myself. It is a milieu, an ethos.

    Love;
    -Mark Basil

  100. says

    Markbasil,
    I think you hit the nail on the head – “it is an ethos.” In the nations of Europe, Canada, and some other places, there is generally a common agreement viz. things like socialized medicine. That ethos is largely non-existent in the U.S. for rather local reasons. There is a consensus here about some things (though it feels as though it is about fewer things). I’ve lived on college campuses where the medicine was “socialized” in a sense. We paid fees when I was a student at Duke, and we had a medical clinic and doctors (some of the best) and that’s where you went. I liked it and it felt normal. Of course, we were all young and healthy, so I don’t know much. :)

    I know that America has a consensus that people should not be denied health care. That would seem quite wrong to us. What the consequences of that should look like is where the consensus breaks down.

    Ethos is a very useful way to understand this. Thank you.

  101. says

    I will admit I’m having some trouble avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to some of your comments, simmmo and markbasil. You are making generalizations based on limited exposure and self-admittedly left-leaning perspectives. Thanks, Father, for trying to stick up for us poor, benighted, right-winger non-orthodox. :)

    I live in a small mid-Western city, with a fruit salad mix of Protestant, Evangelical, Anabaptist and Charismatic congregations. The population tilts solidly toward Republican politics and conservative “issues”, yet – Lo! – the churches work together on all kinds of ministries to the poor, the homeless, the under-educated, the unborn. The amount of volunteer time and money poured out on behalf of people in need is astounding.

    Please, guys, I’ll recognize that my view of life in the Big World is incomplete and distorted if you’ll do the same.

  102. says

    Agreed, Bill.
    Elder Porphyrios was asked about politics once, which party to support, and he said (to the best of my memory), that we have birds of so many different colours- they are all beautiful and can all sing together, or they can fight.
    But they are all beautiful, and they can learn to sing together.

    Thanks for your voice;
    -Mark Basil

  103. says

    Bill,
    I am reminded of the story of the Harvard professor who in 1972, after the massive landslide victory of Nixon over McGovern, saying, “But I don’t understand. Everyone I know voted for McGovern.” :)

  104. Michael Bauman says

    ….and before that it was attributed to those who supported Barry Goldwater so it’s likely an apopcrphal story but instructive nonetheless.

    I think part of the ethos in the United States vs Canada is the we revolted against the king, Canada did not, despite our efforts to entice them. I would put part of the ‘socialization’ in Canda at the feet of being a left over of monarchical authority. There is a distinct difference in ethos between a monarch and socialism. Of course it is all pure speculation.

  105. says

    Michael,

    Many political theorists have offered similar theories to explain the differences between the United States and Canada. Monarchy is fundamentally paternalistic. When combined with democratic elements, it leads inevitably to socialism. As a Tory, I’m not necessarily opposed to certain aspects of paternalism, but when fused with mass democracy it can result in rampant welfarism. It must be checked by republican or aristocratic conservatism.

  106. says

    Michael and PJ,
    I do not subscribe to such theories. America’s founding and Canada’s founding are so distinct in many ways. The time of the settlement, who settled, etc., have very large roles to play. America’s British history is interestingly studied in Albion’s Seed (I found it interesting). America is historically a cooperative effort between very disparate groups. My ancestry is largely Scots-Irish, a group who have marked large parts of the South (especially the Appalachian parts that are my home). They never liked England or the crown. Historically, they haven’t liked Washington much either (the Whiskey Rebellion – the first armed rebellion against the American government after the Revolution – was largely a Scots-Irish event). English patricians (like Washington) and descendants of the Puritans in New England (the real Yankees) were quite snobbish towards the unwashed Scots-Irish. They talked funny and were difficult to govern. Albion’s Seed is a good read.

  107. says

    I’m familiar with the folk-ways theory, though I have yet to read Albion’s Seed. I don’t think that ethnic composition accounts for the difference in its entirety. Likely you Scots-Irish have something to do with our pioneer bravado, though. ;-)

  108. says

    Lets be careful here lest we have to fly the Dixie flag again, haha! That is surely the case, Philip Jude. Curiously, the unwashed proletariat can be rather snobbish toward the bourgeoisie as well. It is a matter of pride to be self sufficient and the Scots-Irish were used to listening to what the crown had to say and living the way they wished anyway. Arguably, the Appalachian folk could be said to have been leading the way in Freedom, even if the weren’t Independent ;)

  109. hilary says

    Michael, I know nothing about Buddhism. Sorry.

    Everyone, I love your discussion!

  110. dinoship says

    Very entertaining….! and they say it is the Greeks that can talk politics until the cows come home…. (I better resist this powerful temptation)
    :-)

    One way or another, the Lord is ultimately at the wheel. Always and in every situation. And, according to one of my favourite quotes of Father Stephen quoting scripture: “with a secret hand He fights Amlek”

  111. Drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have only been reading your blog for about a year, but I’d have to say that this one is one of the best. And I’d like to note that you didn’t mention the word “Orthodox” once! Like much of C.S. Lewis’ work, your article had the rare quality of universality to it that allowed it to reach further and deeper. AND of course your words were pulsating with the truth of the Spirit.

    Thank you once again for your mission work to the world.

    P.S. You’re too hasty when you suggest that your words will not last past your lifetime. They are yours to sow but others are responsible for the harvest. I suspect the seeds have gone deep and will bear much good fruit…but don’t let that trouble you! (wink)