Saving A Democratic Man

confess2Everywhere he goes, he meets his equals. All of the world is open to him, bidding him enter in, take what he wants and go his way. Early on he learns to negotiate his way through competing crowds of others, jostling for position, asking for attention, making his way forward. His direction is a matter for decision – first this way and then that. He migrates at will, following an inner guide that says, “Go there. Take that. Move on.” He becomes what he wants to be and learns what he wants to know. He chooses his mate and negotiates his marriage, contracting for his happiness. If he chooses, he will have children. If not, he has none. He will turn back disease, and even replace parts and improve his lot in life.

This is the Democratic Man.

Can such a man find God, or even be saved?

That may sound like a strange question, but it lies at the heart of the modern religious crisis. For God is not a choice. He is not just one more product waiting to be consumed or ignored. He is decidedly not democratic. This is a difficult problem, for the habits of the democratic man are utterly unsuited to the spiritual life. In the true spiritual life, you cannot have what you want, or simply go where you would. You cannot choose what you will become or even say just anything. You are free but with a freedom that is a stranger to democracy.

The modern Christian is generally a democratic man. It is a habit of the heart formed by the culture we live in. It forms and shapes us for unbelief and the god of unbelievers. The democratic man cannot believe in God.

He cannot believe in God because the democracy of his heart has no place for true faith. He has the mind of a consumer and wants to choose his faith like he chooses everything else. But we cannot choose to believe or what to believe. Faith is not a choice.

The encounter with God is an encounter that is beyond us. God cannot be known unless He makes Himself known. Faith cannot summon Him or make Him appear. He cannot be managed or made to behave. Even when democratic man convinces others to join in his cause and unite their collective will, God will not be theirs.

The various denominations often represent nothing more than the natural forces of religious democracy. A God whose teaching and revelation morphs and changes and shifts with the culture, now this, now that, and always more accessible and accommodating, is no God at all. He is merely the good god who obeys mankind.

I was recently in an Orthodox Church that was very “old world.” Its habits were formed and shaped in centuries devoid of democracy. The splendor and solemnity of hierarchy were everywhere. Quietness reigned. Certain precincts were off limits. Behavior took on the ritual of a royal court and the hiddenness of certain things was palpable. And strangely, the presence of God was obvious.

“Didn’t you feel it when you first walked in?” A woman whispered to me as we stood in the nave. Yes, I did. And not for the first time. Entering this wonderful cathedral called for leaving democracy at the door. In a few minutes a priest came to me and told me to follow him. I went “into the altar,” passing through the iconostasis that separates the nave from the Holy Place. It is a privilege given to priests – to enter the altar and to serve. But it is never a privilege that can be assumed or demanded. I have no rights. Once in the altar, the priest directed me to his Archbishop, who blessed me and told me that I would be taking part in the service and that I would serve “in English.” He did not ask, he directed. I obeyed.

The democratic heart cannot obey and cannot know the “obedience of faith.”

Christians in the contemporary world struggle with these contradictions. It is clear to most that God cannot be their own invention, and yet they have great difficulty overcoming the inventiveness of their hearts. Where tradition and custom are overthrown, only democracy can reign, and the hardness of the heart begins.

I recall that in the process of my conversion to Orthodoxy – God loomed large, and in a way He never had even though I had served as an Anglican priest for 18 years. The strange conundrum was that every spiritual path in my Anglicanism was still “my” spiritual path, a private “spirituality,” an expression of my Christian style. I was always forced to assert a “position.” I defined myself. Self-definition is an exercise in solipsism, which always excludes God. I could hope that my choices and my style were pleasing to Him, but they were always first and foremost, pleasing to me!

And then came Orthodoxy. But even there the democratic heart finds room for itself. If it were crushed, it would be oppressive. These habits we always find little ways in which to indulge themselves even when they are hedged about with greater boundaries. I sit with fellow priests and share stories of our parish life: “war stories” – battles with parishioners, battles between parishioners, redoubts and trench works dug deeply. Wherever a choice can be made or the ego accommodated, the spirit of democracy will find its way, and there God will be harder to find.

I noted earlier that the democratic man cannot believe in God, because it is an oxymoron. The first thing to know about God is: “You’re not Him.” And because He will not accommodate or yield to our democratic demands the democratic heart cannot believe. It must first  cease to be democratic, to accept that this – This – is simply what must be accepted and yielded to. It is not a choice but a necessity. To believe in God is to belong to God. He cannot belong to us. To believe in God requires that we renounce the democracy of the heart: I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth…” and I’m not Him.

My salvation comes with the increasing loss of my democracy. Wherever my democracy goes, sin reigns. With my neighbor in my parish, my home, my job, I can assert my democratic rights and privileges and create an area where God cannot be known. For in a democracy, I am always god. On the other hand, every encounter can become the Holy Place – that Place where I cannot enter of my own will. There the neighbor can invite me, and I can yield, and so find God.

O, sweet salvation!

78 comments:

  1. I know what you mean, Father. I was baptized in that cathedral forty-eight years ago. Glad to see it still has that effect on people.

  2. I find it a curious grace that I have been drawn to the Orthodox faith despite the fact that religious leaders and almost all writings on religious topics (like this, forgive me, Father!) trigger the heck out of me. Glory to God! I should be chrismated soon. 🙂

  3. This post is fantastic, Father! I have noted many times that our [democratic] society is against God, but regularly hear back about “MY god, MY faith, MY…etc…”. It is so depressing, this blind spot that hides our own selfish foundation from ourselves. How deeply it is ingrained in our society and our people makes me wonder if it will ever be overcome to God’s glory….

  4. I am in some ways heartened to see that my journey to Orthodoxy was not unique. I felt so alone outside of Orthodoxy – always trying to invent Orthodoxy in my own life but in a church that was not Orthodox. It led ultimately to conflict and even harm. I espoused things that were awfully wrong, misconceptions and misunderstandings found in Orthodox authors (sometimes even your own writings, Father, for which I am deeply sorry).

    The healing did not come until after my life in Orthodoxy, and not then for some time – when I could finally start just being silent in the face of those who stood in the Tradition, doing (feebly and imperfectly) what they directed me to do, even when it felt odd and I was confused. It was incredibly disconcerting at first. I wanted to make rational decisions that I could understand. My mental constructions are what I’m most comfortable with.

    But I have not been led wrong, and I see now that it was disconcerting because I was (am) like a blind man being led along new paths. My consolation is that my guides are good, they’ve traveled the path a long time and led many over the years, and one of these days I believe I’ll see the light, even if I don’t fully understand how that will be or how the continual abandonment of my own “rational” choices will make that possible…

    Thank you, Father, for being one of those guides.

  5. Father Stephen, thank you for your wonderful blog. The points you make about the democratic mentality and God are very interesting. As a convert, I empathize with the struggle of moving away from “my” faith. At the same time, I am wondering, how you are defining democracy? I’m reminded of the many ways in which the New Testament and early Christian Church made use of quasi-democratic processes via discussion, meetings and councils. At what point do these things become “democratic” and detrimental?

    Building on this, I’d have to ask what you think is the real enemy here: democracy or secularism? I fear that to place the blame on democracy and the mentality it breeds risks closing off larger and more valuable discussions. Especially since other forms of government–while with yielding beautiful cathedrals and an appreciation for hierarchy–have brought their own problems to the arena of faith. As tyrannical as democracy’s “freedom” can be, despotic governments–by denying basic rights and human freedoms–breaks people’s spirits all too often.

    Thank you, your blessing.

  6. Yesterday on Facebook I countered the modernity project´s ´liberty, equality, fraternity ´ with the rebuttal of ´agape, hierarchy, Eucharist´. Though in the third position would have better been ´ecclesia’. Perhaps. Sorta the same thing you are getting at?

  7. Nicole,

    I don’t think Fr Freeman is addressing politics here, so much so as an attitude of the heart.

    That said, I always wonder how a religious passive/submissive stance aids and abets the political status quo – I do think it has an effect, and for which Christians often are shown to side with the privileged. On the other hand, perhaps passive/submissive is not an accurate description of the “non-democractic man” (for want of words – perhaps Fr Stephen would clarify?).

    But be forewarned – and alas – “human rights and freedoms” are understood here by many as cyphers for modernity.

  8. Democracy by its very nature is evil. Always there is a group which is disenfranchised, and here that group swings from left to right. Thanks be to GOD we have a monarchy !. . .for all. Ken

  9. Nicole, et al,
    I have no bone to pick with democracy – it has its good and bad points. I’m far more interested in the inescapable reality of the habits of the heart that those of us living in modern democracies acquire. And secularism is, of course, a huge issue, but is really just another name for the same set of habits.

    It’s not simply that we are democratic – but we have adopted a democratic mind. All people should be treated in a just manner, for example, and the modern slogan for that is “all people are created equal.” But, of course, it’s not true. We’re not only not equal, we’re not even comparable. We are unique. In the Kingdom of God, there will be greater lights and lesser lights. The hosts of angels are arranged in hierarchies, etc.

    But the habit of the heart, formed in the crucible of democratic culture, often rankles at this – we don’t like it. It doesn’t “feel” right. We resent it and are afflicted with envy. The excellence of the other disturbs us.

    There is within the democratic heart, a need for “leveling,” to make everything be the same. Indeed, one of the early radical Reform groups in England were called the “Levelers.” Democracy needs mediocrity.

    But God in His infinite goodness, loves excellence, and He begrudges none of us. There are so many aspects to this that it would be hard to know where to begin and where to end.

    I wrote the article as something of a “word poem.” I hope it will serve that way for our thoughts together.

  10. Nicole,

    The Church is and was conciliar in nature. Democratic and conciliar are two very different things. Democracy means we all get a vote, and the majority wins. Conciliarity means that we all share the same mind, the mind of Christ, being brought to a holy consensus with Him. There are no categories of winners versus losers, with coalitions to broker power. Democracy means the imposition of the wills of the majority on everyone. Conciliarity means we are conformed to God’s image and likeness, laying aside all thought of privileges we “own,” and receiving our true selves from God.

  11. There is a difference between an egalitarian philosophy and a democracy. A further difference between either of those and a republican form of government. But that is really beside the point. All government tends to corruption and tyranny as they are increasingly run by those who seek and want to exercise power whether those people are ‘elected’ or not.

    Now, what most people think of when the word democracy is used is really much closer to egalitarianism. Egalitarianism refuses philosophically to recognize any difference in people any hierarchy of talent, virtue, values or morals. It does not even, as Fr. Stephen points out, recognize God.

    In practice such a philosophy has always led to reigns of terror and tyranny because we are naturally hierarchical and the built-in hypocrisy of egalitarianism requires a tyranny to enforce and to make order . The French Revolution was the dark side of our own.

    Egalitarianism and hedonism are closely related. The passions become the rule. Whatever I want is good, therefore no one can legitimately keep me from what I want OR even criticize what I want or that is a personal attack on me. It is discrimination! It is insanity. But that is the world in which we live.

    Freedom does not lie in the continuous exercise of individual choice, let alone the continuous and unchallenged exercise of our desires but in allowing your minds and hearts to be conformed to the mind of God. Such ideas, let alone any effort to realize such through obedience makes the insane hate us with a demonic fury.

  12. Thank you to all for your responses. Father, I appreciate your distinction between political / cultural structures per se, and the habits of the heart which form around them. Your description of the “democratic man’s” resentment towards the “excellence of the Other” has given me a context to understand a bit of what goes on in my own heart at times. I only wanted, in my above comment, to say that just as we struggle with certain habits of the heart (in post-capitalist democratic societies), other cultures/societies/political systems can and do exert their own harms on the spirit. So many of our Orthodox brothers and sisters have fled tyrannical regimes and find comfort in the safety/freedom of western democracies–despite their ills. It (= government and its role in shaping the attitudes of its constituents) is a complex struggle, full of brokenness I think. Thank you for helping us to understand some of this!

  13. Thank you all. Fr Patrick, may I quote you on that distinction between conciliarity and democracy?

  14. Robert, human rights and freedoms are only present in a Godly culture. Politics, no matter how will intentioned or seemingly well intentioned cannot help to create such freedoms. It always deteriorates into an ideological battle of might makes right. Always. That is because we have no rights and our freedom lies only in our obedience to God. That is the lesson of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Adam and Eve exercised their rights and freedom. Look what that got us. Mary and Jesus in their own ways said, “Let it be done unto me according to thy Word.”

    Expecting or demanding ones “rights” simple creates a bitter, hate filled soul far from God.

    For the Christian the proper course is not choosing a political ideology that seems to sorta fit and engaging in that manner. Ideology always kills truth and compassion.

    For the Christian it is to live a thoroughly sacramental life (anything but passive) and from that speak and act prophetically; to witness to one’s faith in small and great ways as the opportunity arises in deeds and words. Many, if not most, of these acts of witness will only be seen by God and the people directly involved. That is as it should be but such a way of living is not passive, neither is it submissive in the pejorative sense of that word.

    However, because they are founded upon the sacramental reality of the Incarnate Christ and His presence everywhere and in all things, such actions are transformative. But sacrament demands the clear realization of the fact that we are not all equal except in the fact that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God and that all glory is to God alone for the gifts He give us.

    Sacrament is always Eucharistic. The transformative power of genuine thanksgiving even in the face of injustice is amazing.

  15. Katherine,

    Surely. I am merely trying to express ideas from brighter minds than mine anyway.

  16. “So many of our Orthodox brothers and sisters have fled tyrannical regimes and find comfort in the safety/freedom of western democracies–despite their ills. It (= government and its role in shaping the attitudes of its constituents) is a complex struggle, full of brokenness I think…”

    This is true, at least in the recent past and for now, but I wonder for how much longer. Western Europe (France, England, etc.) are starting to reveal themselves to be places where Jews and traditional Christians are not all that welcome or tolerated, and even killed (albeit in small numbers for now). We are a bit better off in America, but even that is beginning to change. Living in a small city I have grown to depend on Angies List over the last few years. I had to cancel my membership this morning as a matter of conscious. The customer rep tried to convince me it’s ok as they have only put their “business expansion plans” in Indiana “on hold”. I thought, “so, it’s ok because you are trying to decide whether it’s ok to persecute traditional Christians and anyone else who does not agree with you – not that you are doing it now?”

    I think it’s time we all realize we live in a democracy that Fr. Patrick Fodor describes, and the power is shifting from those who even if they don’t agree with classical anthropology, at least “tolerated” it. Modern man does not in fact tolerate classical man. I don’t think our western societies are in fact a refuge for those who live under “tyranny” (e.g. middle eastern Christians), or if they are they will not be for much longer…

  17. We Christians have always been called to the Cross and the rather brief respite (of sorts) in Western secular democracies is nothing but that–a respite. Those who govern always seek power. Eventually, the Christian’s understanding of God overall will come into conflict with that power. The only reason, IMO, that it has not done so more quickly in the west is because of the adaptation of Christian doctrine to the ways of the world.

    Sooner or later, however, such adaptation and abandonment stops.

  18. The other thing is that we don’t need to be “a number one, king of the hill, top of the heap” as Frank Sinatra sang, in order to be happy. The only way to be happy is to be childlike in the Kingdom of Heaven.

  19. Dear Fr. Freeman,

    First of all, let me say how much I admire your writing and the insights you offer. I read your posts regularly and they are very rich and well nuanced. As I read this piece I couldnt help but wondering why you believed it important to stress “democratic” man. I can’t say I disagree with any part of what you wrote but only wonder if it might have been more to the point to say “egocentric” man. “Democratic” is certainly more provocative but given the many connotations of the word might its use simply muddy the waters? As I was reading it, the thought that kept coming to mind is the reactive response readers will probably have and dismiss it out of hand without grasping the nuances (captured even more clearly in your follow up comments).

    Thank you again for your wonderful work

    Fr. David

  20. “As I read this piece I couldnt help but wondering why you believed it important to stress “democratic” man. I can’t say I disagree with any part of what you wrote but only wonder if it might have been more to the point to say “egocentric” man. ”

    Well, for me, “egocentric” man does not quite put the question to “choice” and “self” (and thus our relationship with God) in quite the same way. Indeed, in our culture one can be “selfless” and quite “democratic” in the same breath. It is an unexamined presupposition by 99.999% of those in our culture that democracy=good, and thus our own internalized “democracy” is also a good. “egocentric” simply implies the wrong choices, where as to question “democracy” puts the question to choice itself…

  21. Christopher: very well put. But is this internalized democracy simply a reflection of the increasing narcissism of modern man – a narcissism that arises out of the fundamental breakdown of of modern culture itself. Perception of reality itself is being undermined and as a priest I’m beginning to witness a growing prevalence of psychosis in individuals where the question of choice is a secondary issue.

  22. I suppose I tend to look at this from the opposite view, in that I’m slanted towards believing that people generally need to be seeking *more* freedom and choice in their lives than they typically settle for.

    All the existentialists can’t be wrong. . . we do actualize ourselves through authentic choice making, and many of us maybe never even begin that journey. I suppose the paradox is that to be real this movement needs to be in the direction of genuine being, which is *given* and not something that we invent or create, as you have often written, Father. It’s truth, something we bring ourselves into harmony with as we learn to recognize it.

    But even to get that far, it seems to me one needs to learn to trust oneself and one’s ability to recognize truth when encountered– and to believe in one’s right and freedom (which is also a duty) to make fearless choices towards alignment in that direction.

    Do most people ever get even this far? I’m not sure we are really such individualists in America. Maybe we are mostly dominated by unconscious collective values, and very subject to manipulation. Do people in this state need to learn obedience to a different authority as much as they need their capacity for perception, discernment, and authentic choice making rehabilitated?

    I might not actually be disagreeing with anything that has been said here. Just thinking out loud and carefully trying to make sense of my complicated reactions on the topics of obedience and authority.

  23. Jane, speaking for myself (but it is a common story I have found): It is when I stop choosing and just follow Jesus that two things happen: great blessing is brought into my life that I could not imagine and I find other areas of my life where choice is far too active.

    It is the process of salvation I think.

  24. Talk about hard truths. The only God the modern man believes in, is the one he can put in a box. The thousands of denominations are merely the number of egos claiming to be God. The unbelievers are just extra egos who believe in one less God (ego).

  25. Fr. David Abernethy,

    Not being a pastor I am not sure this will address what you said, but my first thought is that to be modern narcissist (and a concious or unconscious “believer” in what the modern culture is selling you about yourself, man, God, etc.) is a choice, even if you don’t quite look at it or speak of it in those terms. Now, to get to the point with such a person where they themselves realize that there is a different choice, a different way of looking at the world, is another thing entirely and so it may not make sense to speak of or work pastorally using the “democratic man” metaphor – particularly with those who are particularly diseased in such a way that the term “psychosis” becomes operative. Still, I think the concept has merit if nothing else for those like yourself who have to find a way to penetrate this modern psychosis and bring a word that is effective and can be a hook for such persons to see things by a different light (i.e. God’s Light). It might help you “define the lay of the land” as it were…

    Jane,

    You say much of interest, but I only want to comment on your question:

    “Do most people ever get even this far? ”

    I used to think not. Now, as I get older and more experienced, I see that even those I judged in the past as being largely “victims” of their circumstances and oppressed thinking have in fact made crucial and conscious decisions along the way. I guess I am saying that the existentialists are too pessimistic about people, and that while they are largely “dominated by unconscious collective values, and very subject to manipulation” they also have had moments of clarity and “authentic choice” where they have chosen otherwise…

  26. Fr. Abernethy, I agree with this: “…I’m beginning to witness a growing prevalence of psychosis in individuals where the question of choice is a secondary issue.” We’ve come to the point where everything the individual desires is considered a “right” (or an “entitlement” although that has negative connotations in our society so it’s not often used) and “choice” is now reserved for the religious sphere.

    The reason for this, in my humble opinion, is because the word “choice” is much less affirming and concrete–it implies that the choice made can be taken away or redirected; “rights”, at least in the eyes of society, cannot. I believe we are fast approaching a time when we will no longer have a “right” to religion, it will only be a “choice” we make. As such, it will be required to both conform and cater to the general society or, if it does not, society will look to punish it (which is already beginning to happen). Just my thoughts.

  27. Fr. David,
    The hazard of writing is in finding the right word. If I say “egocentric” man – everybody agrees immediately and feels confirmed in what they think they already know. I chose Democratic, particularly because it has a “good” connotation. And it is important for me to link this in to a particular cultural aspect. Our culture creates a certain egocentricity simply by convincing the individual of certain things about himself that are not true. I also wanted to capture the sense that this is not a very conscious thing – etc

  28. Jane said:

    I’m slanted towards believing that people generally need to be seeking *more* freedom and choice in their lives than they typically settle for.

    All the existentialists can’t be wrong. . . we do actualize ourselves through authentic choice making

    Fr. Stephen, I remember you writing a while ago (not sure if an article here or a comment thereto, or even in Everywhere Present) that one of the best things a person can do for their salvation is to regularly make a genuine, authentic choice in their everyday lives. Based on the context and what I recall of the commentary afterwards, the power of that choice definitely was not best associated with the kind of “freedom” implied by “democracy”.

    Rather, it seems we’ve got two kinds of choosing (and hence freedom to choose):where we embrace each action, whatever it is and whatever the reason, and do it deliberately with intent towards its fulfilment; versuswhere we ascertain a range of options, deliberate on the merits of each, and then pick the best candidate.

    The first is reflected in much of what is called “mindfulness” in one’s everyday life, and has no inherent political content or implications at all; the second is what the world calls being rational, the Tradition calls the gnomic will, and maximizing one’s chances to engage in it is the cornerstone of political liberty and democracy as understood in the Enlightenment West.

    Under the second, to “choose life” would mean simply a question of whether to kill yourself (or your unborn child or the convicted child molester, etc.), while the first presupposes that you (or the other under your power) are alive and no change to that status might even be contemplated – and the major difference is your response to the life already given.

    Applying that to a political situation may be analogous to, say, voting for someone who promises X and then doing nothing else politically (except posting the occasional outrage about not-X on Facebook every news cycle or so), versus… I suppose actually being one of the politicians, or otherwise doing everything you can within the existing legal framework to make sure X happens anyway.

    Am I at all within the ballpark here?

  29. More correctly formatted that paragraph should read:

    Rather, it seems we’ve got two kinds of choosing (and hence freedom to choose):

    1. where we embrace each action, whatever it is and whatever the reason, and do it deliberately with intent towards its fulfilment; versus

    2.where we ascertain a range of options, deliberate on the merits of each, and then pick the best candidate.

  30. Thanks for the clarifications, some very good input from all.

    A few thoughts:

    – Equality does not negate uniqueness. We are unique, endowed with different and more or less gifts, whilst also equal in important aspect. Equally human, made in the image of God, regardless of wealth, position, status, endowments etc. We have to be careful then not to tarnish equality and make it a cypher for modernity. It is not. It is a deeply Christian and Patristic concept.

    – I don’t see how one can “stop choosing and just follow Jesus” – the proposed cessation is an act of the will, and furthermore, following Jesus is a lifelong process, a continuous and continual series of choices. So that seems to be a non-starter.

    – We have to be careful not to create a false set of opposites, a false set of choices, as if freedom is against “following Jesus”, or self-determination is opposed to following Christ.

  31. Robert,

    I think you incidentally brought up the crux of the “free will” argument again. It is this:

    True freedom is not about choosing “whatever I want”, but rather “what I was created to choose”. A dichotomy exists in this world because we are disordered. We are bent and broken and therefore find ourselves choosing things that are contrary to our nature.

    When we choose to follow Christ, we also are by default choosing to live according to our nature. Granted we don’t know or understand much of this at the time – by the very virtue of the fact that we bent and broken and therefore don’t know what to choose.

    The way Christ asks us to live, that is how we would naturally choose to live if we were free to do so, that is, if we were not bound by sin. It is true of course that He has freed us from our bonds, but the “old man” is still in the habit of living in bondage and has to intentionally choose to live in this “new” way.

    When a person “stops choosing and just follows Jesus”, it means that they try to stop making all the judgments that would normally fall to God and simply practice obedience to Christ. So isn’t a cessation of the will, but a continual day-by-day, decision-by-decision submission of our choices to Him and His way of living.

    One quote that comes to mind from St. Theophan the Recluse: All troubles come from a mental outlook that is too broad. It is better to humbly cast your eyes down toward your feet, and to figure out which step to take where. This is the truest path.

  32. I’ve edited and removed some comment that were heading down a trail that I would prefer to ignore for the moment. Apologies.

    But, Robert,
    On choice. I went back and searched. Am I correct that you’re the first here to suggest that someone is saying, “stop choosing and just follow Jesus”? I though you were quoting, but I can’t find it…I assume it’s your paraphrase, or caricature, to be more accurate.

    There is always a problem using the language and anthropology of the Liberal state (in the classical sense of the term) as though the words mean what they do in the Orthodox and Patristic sense.

    “Choosing” most of the time in our culture, is what the Fathers (Maximus) term “gnome”. It is not the free-will about which the Church theologizes. It’s the confusing opinions that color our lives as we experience our fallen, inner selves.

    The “will” in its proper sense, is our nature’s will. It does not work like choice. Many times, it feels more like obedience.

    My article, indeed, is something of a word poem on the paradox of the choosing man versus the natural man. We cannot, through our choices, arrive at the natural man (our proper human self). The choosing man (the Democratic man) is trapped by his own illusion of freedom.

    In no way do I suggest, nor have I suggested anything about the political world in which we live. Only that our hearts, as they have come to believe and internalize the false constructs of that political world, experience a delusion that prevents their union with God. It is an irony.

    I think your statements reflect a different use of terms than I use. “Self-determination” etc. It’s like you’re trying to create (or have created) a synthesis of Liberal thought (again, the classical sense of the word) and Patristic thought. That would be a very odd thing. They are not at all commensurate.

  33. “…that were heading down a trail that I would prefer to ignore for the moment….”

    Ok, but what is the purpose of this fiction:

    “…Liberal thought (again, the classical sense of the word)…”

    There really is nothing at all classical – unless you assume that this modern thought is simply a continuation, the child of as it were, of the classical. I can think of one or two classical Liberals that would object…

  34. Fr Stephen,

    I quoted Michael Bauman, from his comment above, no caricature intended or implied. Such language is confusing and misleading at best.

    The issues as I see it is that political language (“democratic man”) is used without clarification. But we know nothing political is meant, but which further raises the question as to the Christian’s participation in the political realm. Are we led to believe there is no such role, or if there is, in the light of “following Christ”, what may such political participation look like? We already know that human rights, freedom, equality and such are all bad code words, properly belonging to the modern project. I hope I am wrong, and I hope you see what I am struggling with here.

  35. Michael, I didn’t mean to single you out and I think your meaning is understood, there’s just so much irony in speaking about choice and the democratic attitude, and then this bit about the cessation of making choices by following the Lord. Anyways, I get it.

  36. Fr Stephen,

    You wrote, “our hearts, as they have come to believe and internalize the false constructs of that political world, experience a delusion that prevents their union with God. It is an irony.” I wholeheartedly agree, and this is quite profound and revolutionary IMO.

    What I am left with – and this is what concerns me – is a perception (by reason of silence) that the political world is merely made up of false constructs and delusions. This is isn’t so – on the contrary – politics is vitally important and ever so necessary. You’ve shot down the modern political project with it false notions of equality, choice and freedom. Great. But what do you envision shall we put in its place, what political system shall we use? What language should be employed?

  37. Christopher,
    Excuse me? “Liberal” try wikipedia.

    Classical liberalism, a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.

    I was trying to use the proper word to describe the general political philosophy that marks the world since the Enlightenment. It is called “Classical Liberalism” as in John Locke, etc. I defined it so that it would not be confused with the present terms “Conservative and Liberal” both of which are subsets of Classical Liberalism.

  38. Robert,
    We obviously use the system that’s in place. I’m no revolutionary. And it has a relative importance. Not an ultimate importance, but merely relative. I vote. I belong to a political party. But I don’t believe my party’s rhetoric or even its vision of the world. They all believe they’re building a better world and they are not.

    But I work for small things and things that may not be compromised. Some things are even worth dying for or certainly going to jail for. At least 2 of my friends went to jail for the unborn. And they were right and it was worth it.

    But it is necessary to relativize the State and politics because they exalt themselves to the place of God. And they are not. The rhetoric of the Modern Project (which is ultimately Utopian in its goals) are geared to make them seem increasingly important and worth our deepest loyalties. They are not at all worth that.

    As Stanley Hauerwas noted, the Modern State abolished religious wars, Catholics and Protestants killing each other. Their improvement was the ability to get Protestants to kill both Catholics and Protestants and vice versa. All in the name of the State.

    Of course the political world is largely made up of false constructs. They are all under the power of the evil one. All of them. Didn’t you know this?

  39. “I defined it so that it would not be confused with the present terms “Conservative and Liberal” both of which are subsets of Classical Liberalism.”

    But classical liberalism is not where your interlocutor is coming from. Besides, modern social/political “liberalism” has a very problematic claim on “classical liberalism” and is very rapidly moving away from what little claim it has left (it is now firmly grounded marxist/dialectical materialism). Most flavors of modern social/political “conservatism” have a better claim, though with problems. Modern “libertarianism” probably has the best claim. Any good classical liberal would deny parentage of modern liberalism, reluctantly grant that modern conservatism is a bastard child, and might leave modern libertarianism in the will if he cleaned up his act…

  40. Risky though it may appear, I found the word ‘democratic’ truly ingenious -the way it is used in the article- to depict the Maximian ‘gnomic’ illusion of ‘freedom’ (which in truth is slavery)…

  41. A truly remarkable example of how “democracy” has affected “modern Christianity” is how many of the protestant denominations resolve matters of faith, dogma, or their church teaching — by taking a vote!

    The Episcopal Church USA decided in the 1970s to begin ordaining women by a “vote”! More recently (to the shock of absolutely no one), the Presbyterian Church USA assented to same-sex “marriage” by — that’s right — a vote!

    The democratic process is elevated to a “holy” state to the modern, Western man. “If it is confirmed by democracy, then it must be true” may as well be a dogma. Compare this to traditional Christianity, which believes that ‘the democratic heart cannot obey and cannot know the “obedience of faith.” ‘

    To an Orthodox Christian, deciding matters of faith and church teaching by taking a vote is ludicrous and makes absolutely no sense. This could why, to most “democratic” Westerners, the traditional Christian faith is the most bizarre thing in the world. And also why many Orthodox Christian Westerners feel that their compatriots do not understand them and never will.

    But for the “democratic” Westerners who claim to be Christians, the vast majority them do not practice Christianity but instead Moral Therapeutic Deism.

  42. Drewster. You said it better than I did. Thanks.

    Robert, I don’t look at what happened/happens to me as a “choice” except in this fashion: Jesus called. I experience that as an imperative. The “choice ” I have is to follow or resist–try to do it my way.

    What the modern idea of choice contains are the concepts of self-determination; self-actualization and autonomy. The irony is that the choices we are supposedly given by the world are false choices. So-called choices are presented but the options are often the same just different packaging.

    There is only one choice : obey or disobey. Life or death. Christ or the nothing.

    In obedience the exercise of the will is without conflict or disorder. One just acts and blessings follow in abundance. Any resistance one meets is clearly from the old man or from the evil one. Follow those suggestions and you are right back in the world of good and evil; pleasure and pain; ego and force; scarcity and greed; crime and punishment.

    It is in this world that the democratic man acts and fails.

  43. In the desert,

    The democratic process is certainly a part of the Orthodox Church. Perhaps not in matters of faith and dogma, but definitely in matters of policy, governance, councils, etc. In fact, even the councils of the church had to wrestle with how to explain the apostolic revelation of Christ.

    With that said, this is not the purpose of the article. Father Stephen defines “a democratic man” at the outset. He is not making a case for another process of group decision making. He is speaking to the mind of man and the inclinations of the heart. As a democratic man I take what I want and leave the rest behind…this is not Christianity.

  44. Amen Fr. Stephen! I have usually defined democracy as 4 wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The will of the people does not decide truth, health, or goodness. Those things already exist, but we still need to obey and choose wisely. 🙂

  45. ajt,
    Yes. I am grateful that the democracy we have in the Church is often mitigated and consensus is used instead (agreement). For example, in the upcoming Great Council that the Patriarchs are scheduled to have in 2016, they decided to use consensus (agreement) for everything, rather than some form of majority. One reason, of course, is that coercion of even one by the majority could result in schism. And we are presently in communion. If schism would be required to resolve any of our present problems, then the problems aren’t worth it. Better to wait and solve them when we can come to a common mind.

    Majority vote is obviously necessary in many things when something “must” be done and there is no way to wait for consensus. But it is always coercive. Of course, every form of political power is inherently coercive.

    It is part of the paradox of the faith that God is not coercive. He leaves us free, even though we yield everything to Him. That aspect of our lives is a kind of “dance” I think.

  46. Excellent point. Certainly the “democratic process”, if we can call it that, in the Orthodox church is not the same as in our government. However, I simply wanted to point out that God, in his infinite wisdom, does actually allow people to come together and make decisions for the benefit of the kingdom of God. These are generally not dogmatic in nature, though a prime example of dogma would be in Acts and then later church councils. One might even say this points to the incarnation that God allows humanity to participate the process of revelation rather than giving us a document from a cloud in heaven. But, again, not the point of this article.

  47. Michael said, “I don’t look at what happened/happens to me as a “choice” except in this fashion: Jesus called. I experience that as an imperative. The “choice ” I have is to follow or resist–try to do it my way.” This has brought a theological question to my mind concerning the gnomic will vs the natural will (the natural will being the human will that Christ possessed);

    Adam was not created with a gnomic will, but still had the ability to choose between God and himself. We have gnomic wills and choose between God and ourselves all the time, but the difference between us and Adam is that we choose in a state of ignorance and confusion about God being our true good, while Adam chose in a state of knowledge, without ignorance and confusion of God being his true good. Jesus is different than both us and Adam in that He, being Goodness Itself, does not choose in either of these manners. St. Maximos the Confessor explains that Christ still chooses as a human to obey the Father, such as in the garden of Gethsemane, but at the same time, since He is a God, and therefore Goodness Itself, He cannot choose evil. Its impossible for Him to choose evil, not in the sense that some outside force prevents Him, but simply by virtue of Him being Goodness Itself.

    So, here is my question: When we do as Michael has said, recognizing Jesus’s call, and thus choosing either to follow or resist, are we choosing in the way that Adam chose, in that we are not confused about the call from Jesus as being our true good? Or do we fallen humans hear Jesus’s call, and are yet still able to be a little hazy in ignorance about Him being are true good, and then ultimately choose from a gnomic will whether to follow or resist?

    Maybe we start our journey choosing from a gnomic will, until graduating to a will like Adam’s, until finally reaching by grace the natural will of Christ? As if the gnomic will fades away by degrees into a more and more perfect will, until finally reaching perfection. If so then it seems anytime we choose against God in favor of ourselves out of the gnomic will we were born with, then we are less blameworthy than the one who choses themselves over God out of a knowledgeable will like Adam’s.

    Like when Jesus says,

    “But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, ‘The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you.’ But I say to you that it will be more tolerable in that Day for Sodom than for that city.
    “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades. He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.”

    The lesser condemnation falls upon Sodom, and Tyre and Sidon, because of their ignorance. But the greater condemnation falls upon those who witnessed God Himself in their midst.

    These days God is in our midst through the presence of His Holy Church, so those who are more ignorant of His Church are less blameworthy than those with direct knowledge of the Church. But does that mean that those within the Church necessarily no longer choose from a gnomic will? Does the presence of God, or the presence of God in His Church, automatically rid persons of this gnomic will without qualification?

  48. I wrote ,”since He is a God” concerning Jesus, but meant to say, “since He is God.” Lousy typos.

  49. Father,
    I am always made somewhat terrified by the prospect when I encounter discussions of forcing the emergence of an American Orthodoxy for precisely the reasons you’ve outlined here. Do you have greater hope for that project than I do?

  50. Michelle, with me it is not so much that I am in confusion about who Jesus is and that He is the only good: some of it laziness, habit, forgetfulness or pure cussedness. All of those things are linked to wanting my will to be supreme even though I know how stupid that is and the consequences will not be pleasant for me or anybody else.

    I don’t know what the theological words are other than sin.

  51. Michelle I would say that the gnomic will is ‘trained’ in the Church (through ‘obedience’ – as the term is understood in monasticism) to be ‘transformed’ until it attains to becoming the same as the natural will – which ultimately is God’s will…

  52. Does anyone have any recommendations as to an introduction/explication in english of St. Maximos thought?

  53. Dino,

    According to Jesus the difference between Sodom, and Tyre and Sidon from the other cities that He and His disciples did “mighty works” in is that the former would have “repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes,” while the latter did not because they lacked such humility. The clear presence of God is the factor that was missing for the former, allowing their ignorance to excuse them. But this factor was not missing for the latter, making their unrepentance inexcusable.

    Does monastic obedience equate with making (through training the gnomic will)God’s presence clear to us so that we can then have the same repentance and humility that Sodom, and Tyre and Sidon would have had?

    The thing is, is the manifestation of the presence of God is the factor that would have caused the repentance in the one, while revealing the hardened, condemned heart of the other, rendering one excusable, and the other inexcusable, precisely because ignorance would have been diminished in both, making them equals in judgment. Is monastic obedience an attempt to diminish our ignorance of God’s presence? Is it an attempt to make God manifest to us? If so, then it seems monastic obedience does not secure repentance and humility for us, just like the presence of God in the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum did not secure humility and repentance for them, but instead it may just end up revealing us to be hardened hearted and condemned, as it did with them.

    Or is it that monastic obedience is an attempt to create good judgment within ourselves, so that when we do find ourselves in the presence of God we are humble instead of prideful? This would help secure our salvation.

    I’m not quite sure where I’m trying to go with this, but there is a question in here somewhere. Maybe my question is why is one humble, but the other prideful when encountering God? And if I am prideful in His presence, how can I change that?

    I’ll bring this back around to the topic of choosing too; Is whether I find myself to be humble or prideful in the presence of God based on a choice, or choices, I have to make, which would ultimately be choices of the ignorant, gnomic will, because it is God’s presence that diminishes the gnomic will? And its God’s presence that will condemn me if I find myself still prideful instead of humble, so these choices that my ignorant, gnomic will seem to be of the utmost importance.

    I wish I could state my concern more clearly, but I’m having trouble getting it out. Sorry about all the rambling.

  54. Because the thing is, its highly doubtful that Sodom and Gomorrah were preparing themselves for God’s presence through any kind of obedience that would resemble “the monastic understanding of obedience” in their down time from all the debauchery. Instead it seems that glorious goodness of God’s presence would have simply made it undeniable that all the debauchery they had been enjoying was horribly evil in comparison, which in turn would cause them to turn to a life of ascetical obedience (sackcloth and ashes) out of love for God.

    The prideful cities were probably the one’s practicing obedience to the law, with fasting and prayer. They thought they were holy because of it, and thus thought of themselves as gloriously good, until the presence of the One who is truly glorious and good came along and showed them up, probably pricking feelings anger and jealousy towards God.

  55. As a side note, I’m not accusing monastic obedience of being Pharisaic. I think it must equate with the asceticism of love that I described above concerning Sodom and Gomarrah, but that kind of asceticism seems to come after humility, and love for God, not before.

  56. This discussion has taken me back to the simple promise of Psalms 50 …. ‘God will not despise a broken and contrite heart’

    How do we move from the self centered choice of my gnomic will to the God centered choice that is natural.

    We experience our brokenness and we seize our shame and we realize experientially that we are lost in the wilderness of our exercise of the freedom God has granted us so unconditionally

    And then we turn to God in the clarity of our tears and ask him to ‘have mercy on me O God in thy great mercy’

    It’s beautiful that as we are about to arrive at this destination of who we are without Him; our Lenten journey is nearing it’s end.

    And that in this clarity we ask Him without reservation to ‘create in me a clean heart’ and ‘to restore unto me the joy of thy salvation’

  57. Christopher,

    There was a good podcast series on Maximus on Ancient Faith Radio a year or so ago. Can’t remember which one.

  58. Michelle,

    Your last posts reminded me a bit of Sr. Vassa’s “Living Tradition in the City” talk on youtube. Sometimes, I get a sense from both Dino and Fr. Stephen that they tend toward a “soft” version of what Sr. Vassa argues against in that talk (namely, that monasticism is the “highest”, and thus the “truest”, form of Christian living and being). No offense intended to Dino or Fr. Stephen, it’s just that sometimes you both say things in a way that would appear that you at least lean in that direction. Forgive me if I have it wrong (probably the case, no doubt).

  59. Christopher,
    Actually, I do not really make a distinction between monasticism and life in the world. There are only one set of canons for the Orthodox life, not one for monastics and one for the rest of us. All Orthodox life is ascetic in nature. Monasticism practices all of the same things but in a more rigorous form. And we learn things that are of value from looking at that more rigorous form. But it is because it is one and the same life that we can draw from the one in order to help the other.

  60. Father Stephen,

    I think I understand the big picture of what you are saying , but when I read sentences like:
    “The encounter with God is an encounter that is beyond us. God cannot be known unless He makes Himself known. Faith cannot summon Him or make Him appear. He cannot be managed or made to behave.”
    I can imagine my friends of a Reformed persuasion nodding their heads and thinking “Just like ol’ Calvin said…”

    Can you flesh this out so that it doesn’t sound to people like me as if you were endorsing a sort of monergistic predestination? Perhaps the answer is that God does ultimately reveal himself to all men, so that all are without excuse?

    Forgive me if I’m missing the forest for the trees…

  61. Tim,
    Yes. I see the point…it had not occurred to me. Essentially, it is not to deny that we contribute in our relationship (encounter) with God. Only to assert that God is free, and is not subject to us in any way – He may not be reduced to the status of a commodity.

    In the thought of Charles Finney (2nd Great Awakening), God’s desire for our salvation, essentially reduces Him to a static force. We may always count on His will for “revival.” Thus, Finney taught that we may use any number of human techniques to bring about conversion, etc. Oddly, his work also gave birth to the early forms of modern advertising, and certainly to advertising theory. And it worked (in a human manner).

    That same theory has tended to reduce God to a religious commodity in American culture (increasingly world culture). The truth is that Finney shifted the ground under Protestantism. The classical forms (Reform, etc.) are actually out of date with what is happening on the ground. And Finney reigns supreme. His was a Christianity that was yet more suited to the American Democratic Anthropology. But the God encountered in this manner is often delusional, a product of the imagination and emotions.

    Obviously, classical Reform thought overplays the sovereignty card. I don’t know their God either.

    I can certainly come to God as a penitent, as a supplicant, as a seeker, all of which are valid and of use. But He comes to us as God, the first point of which being, “You’re not Him.” We remove our shoes. We say, “Yes.” We beg for help and His kindness and mercy. Of course, He is more ready to give than we are to receive. But we receive from Him as God, and not in a manner that we can “manage.”

  62. Thank you, Father,

    This is very much true of me, I’m a democratic man and it is humbling to read how this affects my relationship with God. It could have been written about me and my family, my choices. I have been fortunate (blessed) to visit Constantinople (Istanbul) for Easter and walk the streets of the Byzantine Empire. Stand where the Emperor Constantine and the Patriarch would have stood to pray to the Virgin Mary.

    This is a far cry from the democratic life I lead. I am the last one rushing into church on a Sunday. I am the poor misguided fool who thinks he believes in Christ. I am reminded that I believe in myself. This is true, painfully so. The question is how does one get over and out of himself.

    I have been given several answers, the most fitting one being through “humility”. As I approach the Services of the Holy Week late and scattered with secular concerns, I pray that Jesus will receive me on the 11th hour as those who have struggled from the 1st.

    Amen.

  63. Thank you, Father. Your response is helpful, as was rereading the post again on a different day. I see that you are emphasizing God’s “God-ness” and not His inaccessibility. He remains “everywhere present” but we only see Him as we enter into the paths that He has opened for us–humility, prayer, repentance, etc.

    I find it curious that despite the frequent emphasis on a “personal relationship with Christ,” Finneyism offers little in the way of a truly personal encounter with God. One cannot personally know someone who is really just an extension of one’s own mind and feelings.

  64. Can someone with long experience in the Orthodox faith please comment on obedience and setting aside democracy when it comes to reigning in corporations and capitalism? I feel like if I stop attempting to assert myself in the means provided in a (nominally) democratic society, I feel like I am turning a blind eye to grievous environmental injustices that will destroy this world. When people say “It’s God’s will”, I think of that story about how a drowning man turned way a helicopter, a life raft and something else and then died — met God and said “Why did you abandon me?” and God asks why he didn’t take advantage of the all the help He sent. I can’t get past the feeling that abandoning democracy is an abdication of an onerous duty that responsible citizens are meant to struggle through.

  65. Bija, our obedience to God requires that we dress and keep the earth. That has many facets and the particulars of fulfilling the commandment are unique to each person. The components are the same however: love, mercy, Eucharistic sacrifice and God’s grace to give the increase.

    As Father Stephen has said, we are not responsible for history nor are we responsible for saving the earth. Our Lord has taken care of that.

    However we are responsible for allowing God to transform our being, knowing that all we can do will be insufficient.

    Learning and practicing the discipline of thanksgiving in thought word and deed will lead us into the sacramental life to which we are called and the specific acts of mercy we can accomplish will be shown to us close at hand.

    The evil in the world is also in my own heart. Any work I do there helps to heal all evil. It is a distraction to look for it and try to “make a difference” out there somewhere.

    The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

    Very small and very undemocratic.

  66. Okay, thank you.

    “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    and also within?

    I think this has deep meaning / many permutations. I’m not sure what you mean exactly. Is it an Orthodox koan? 🙂

  67. (I intended a mild smile, not a goofy grin there)
    Why the Kingdom of Heaven will be small and undemocratic?

  68. Bija,
    I would not have said “small,” other than the fact that we might experience the Kingdom of God as small, familiar, even cozy. 🙂

    Undemocratic, certainly, in that it is not a place of individuals asserting their private wills and jostling for this or that.

    But on your previous question. It is certainly possible to exercise our “democratic” rights within our culture in an effort to bring about various just causes. But there are many, many pitfalls in such a life. First, you have no control over outcomes and the end does not justify the means.

    The philosophy called “Utilitarianism” espouses the “greatest good for the greatest number” and often justifies evil actions because they will achieve some greater good. Such an approach should never be taken by a Christian. It is the devil’s path.

    But my original thoughts within this topic have been to make us look inside ourselves and see how our democracy-driven self-conception effects our inner life. It makes us assume things that are not true (like controlling the outcome of history) and teaches us a habit of willfulness and the exercise of coercive power.

    The Christian path is to embrace the commandments of Christ first and foremost. And I would caution us to beware of the typical turn of mutating Christ’s commandments into a political agenda.

    Keep the commandments above all else and forgive everyone for everything. In this we save ourselves (by grace) and thousands around us as well. There is no environmental issue that is not addressed by keeping the commandments of Christ. The world is polluted because we do not love God or our neighbor.

  69. Okay. This is food for thought.
    So much of what I’ve read about Orthodoxy feels profoundly right, including this reply.
    Thank you for taking the time to respond.

  70. Michael, Would you contact me at fsamford9 at g mail. I have a question regarding a comment you made about Egalitarianism and hedonism. It was a great response and I have a question on this topic.

  71. Note to Bryan whose comment I have removed…

    You seriously don’t understand the article. It in no way opposes democracy as a form of government. Monarchies have plenty of problems as well (just different ones). The point of the article is that certain ideas inherent in democracy have been internalized by many Christians and applied to their spiritual life. The Kingdom of God is not a democracy, and those internalized ideas create problems for us within our spiritual lives.

    You have misunderstood. And in your misunderstanding you have imputed some pretty dark things to me and been fairly rude. Re-read the article and re-think your comments.

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