Speaking of Reality


pigsheadThe idea that certain realities are “social constructs” is in the process of becoming mainstreamed with its popularization in the culture’s discussion of sex and gender-related issues. The argument is that various aspects of reality are only perceived in a certain manner because of a social agreement – a sort of collective prejudice. We see and we label because we have been taught to see and to label. And what can be taught can be un-taught. Thus the un-teaching and the re-teaching become a mode of social change.

These notions are rooted in a popular appropriation of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida – both generally described as Post-Modernists. Certain aspects of their ideas have roots in Marxist theory and both owe a great deal to Post-Structuralist literary theory.

But the popular appropriation has not so much read Foucault and Derrida as simply borrowed a few ideas and techniques and pushed them into the mainstream conversation of the culture. I consider it the single most amazingly successful example of French philosophy, in that its ideas are currently being espoused by children in Middle School. Sartre never had it so good!

The most essential proposition within this philosophy is that reality itself is a “social construct,” that is, our experience of the world is formed, not by the world itself, but by the social interactions and agreements by which we agree to name and describe the world. The world is what we think it to be.

Secondly, and of major importance, there is a political theory attached to all of this. The reality we experience is not grounded in the world itself, but in social interactions and agreements, and those interactions and agreements are politically-driven. That is, all socially constructed reality exists to serve somebody’s desired result. Our perceptions are the result of the exercise of power, with politics being understood as the exercise of power. 

Taken together, this approach suggests that the perception of reality is a constant struggle between various power structures. Thus, the art of persuasion and rhetoric become the most important tools of reality. The tools of that persuasion are married to the use of power.

If a student from Middle America enrolls in today’s university, he or she may quickly discover that certain ideas on campus are not only unacceptable, they are considered dangerous or a form of hate. They may be quickly bullied or enticed into changing their speech, and learning to become part of the controlling mainstream of campus reality. This is the world of American Post-Modernism on the University Campus. It is not found everywhere, but it is found in many (perhaps most) places.

I was in a University setting in the late 80’s at Duke University, where Post-Modernism was becoming all the rage. It had not yet become the dominating force of campus life, but it was beginning. It felt like an echo of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. I had a fellow student (a woman) bring charges against me for calling her “dear” in the course of a doctoral seminar. If the circumstances had been slightly different, I would have been suspended. She is probably still suffering from the intolerable pain of the “insult.”

Of course a socially-based construct of reality requires a heavy dose of social interaction. The close quarters and isolation of a University’s culture provides a cocoon of sorts, an incubator for the practice of “political” theory. But the rise of social media (which, interestingly, had its beginning in the university setting) has broadened the playing field. Today, social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is deeply integrated into the larger media experience (news outlets in all forms). With it, the world becomes a college campus, “reality” is socialized and shaped by media.

It is this role of social media and its prominent (even “all-consuming”) role in youth and Millennial culture that has enabled the sudden shift of public opinion on sexual politics over the past decade. If perceptions and labels are social constructs, then the way to change them is to overpower them. Our public perceptions and politics have not changed through a careful exchange of ideas and rational discourse. They have been “over-powered” through a Post-Modern-inspired social campaign that sometimes bullies, “flames,” and simply overwhelms. The response and participation of the larger media in this process has ratified a new “social construct” and marginalized discussion and dissent.

Of course, reality is not a social construct. Social media is a social construct. So long as the world of human interaction is generated in the context of social media, the techniques of Foucault and Derrida will seem like reality for many.

The Cultural Revolution in China came to an end. It collapsed for a variety of reasons. Reality has a way of persisting and social constructs have a way of dissipating. One is real, the other ephemeral. In such a contest, the ephemeral is at a disadvantage in the long run.

William Golding gave a classic treatment of social constructs in his book, Lord of the Flies. Children from a boys school survive a plane crash only to be marooned on an island. The book traces a very dark evolution of social reality as some boys become tribal and others become victims. The result is brutal murder and the triumph of darkness. But, more eerily, when they are rescued, the ephemeral mist of delusion disappears. The darkness of their deed is revealed.

At the time the book was written (1954), it was treated as a study in human nature and the common good versus the individual. But it is equally prescient as an example in the politics of social constructs. I believe that it will prove to be equally prescient in the eventual failure of the present reigning paradigm.

For reality (such as sex and gender) is not a construct. True gender is fertile, productive of human offspring. It is birthed and replicated time and again, written into the most fundamental level of our DNA. Doubtless, how it is manifested in a culture varies and it can certainly be distorted through disease and defect. But it does not vary to the degree of re-definition or social re-construction. A woman and a man in America will also be a woman and a man in New Guinea. They are primal, foundational realities.

There is a very interesting relationship between reality and our names for reality. It is not a hard and fast thing. For example, some languages value certain sounds, and their speakers can hear those sounds clearly. Other languages that do not value the same sounds have difficulty hearing them (or replicating them). This results in foreign accents. But the inability of a speaker/listener to hear the sounds of another language does not mean the sounds are not real. Sound is not a social construct – language is.

But the social construct that is language is not divorced and removed from reality. If it were, translation would be impossible. And though translation is sometimes very difficult (bearing witness to the power of social constructs), it is not impossible (bearing witness to the nature of reality itself).  The word for the color blue in Russian, will have an equivalent in Arabic. There may be a highly developed vocabulary for shades of blue, where such words are needed. But no words can turn the reality of blue into the reality of red or make the colors look the same (There are, of course, theorists who want to argue otherwise, but they are champions of social constructs, and need a science to validate their argument).

Modern scientific techniques are able to create alternate, even distorted, forms of reality. The dystopian future displayed in Huxley’s Brave New World (1931), in which procreation has been relegated to a purely laboratory production system, is replicated in small ways through various modern techniques. But the ability of two women to have their own child through a sperm donor (or technologies yet to be invented) does not create or redefine reality. It creates a distance between human beings and the givenness of reality. It is a dystopian attempt to re-create and re-define reality.

Christian theology, rightly done, is not a social construct. At its heart, it is a proclamation about reality. We believe that everything that exists reflects the Word by whom it was made. Christians should have no fear of reality or examining it carefully and soberly. There is a profound call to resist social distortions:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2)

This faithful adherence to reality as the revelation of the Word is the heart of theoria, the contemplation of God. It is enjoined in these words:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy– meditate on these things. (Phi 4:8)

148 comments:

  1. Tangentially to the thrust of this post: “post-modern” seems to be one of those terms that in the end is an attempt at self promotion, in that what is actually “post-modern” is simply the latest modernism. I have a (limited) understanding of the philosophical definition, and it appears to me to be above. Am I missing something? Of course, I hold the “progress of modern philosophy” and “the modern world view” together more tightly than do modernists themselves – they like to proclaim their (false) “progress”.

    This is important:

    “Secondly, and of major importance, there is a political theory attached to all of this. The reality we experience is not grounded in the world itself, but in social interactions and agreements, and those interactions and agreements are politically-driven. That is, all socially constructed reality exists to serve somebody’s desired result. Our perceptions are the result of the exercise of power, with politics being understood as the exercise of power. ”

    As C.S. Lewis noted all those years ago in Abolition of Man, the “Conditioners” will of course be those exercising the (political) power for their own preferences (all morality/truth is only a “preference” to the Conditioners and their followers). In our society, they are the elites of “Corporate America” and government (they are one and the same people of course), and they showed themselves and their real power in unusually raw form (they are better at masking it most of the time) in the recent corporate/media (both “traditional” and “new)/government triangulation to kill of religious freedom in Indiana and Arkansas in a matter of days (4 in Indiana, 3 in Arkansas if memory serves)….

  2. This is a wonderful piece–much appreciated… It ignores one thing, however–or at least minimizes it –namely, the way in which institutional churches and dominant “Christian” culture(s) have used social constructs to secure, preserve, and augment their power (bullying, oppressing, and ignoring “reality” in the short-run). I would argue that they have done that through their representation of scripture as inerrant; through the teaching of eternal conscious torment of individual souls who were born under Adam’s sin and whose salvation presupposes the grace of God; through foreign policy (in the US); and, too, in the condemnation and marginalization of homosexuals who, as result, have been forced to express their sexuality in putatively perverted ways (e.g. through promiscuity, prostitution, bathhouse trysts, etc.). Like the oppression of Jews, through the centuries, this has seemingly resulted in a certain genius on the part of homosexuals as a group (art, creativity, insight, and, now, political power). As with all revolutions, the pendulum may, in fact, be swinging too far as we over-compensate for past injustices and find ourselves nitpicking about unisex bathrooms and dealing with some obviously wrong-headed intuitions about gender identity. But perhaps it is over simplifying the issue to ignore previous injustices perpetrated by “Christians” when the balance of power swung the other way.

  3. Wayne,

    I think perhaps you missed something important. It’s not the fact that people (many of whom were Christians to some extant at least) have used and abused political/societal power for wrong ends (“wrong” by their own self understanding, let alone their victims) in the past, it’s the particular *kind* of power that is a being employed in the pursuit of establishing the New Anthropology today. Behind that particular power are “post-modern” ideas of what it means to be a human being. These “ideas” are merely delusions (the delusional thinking of a person worshiping the false god of the SELF) that have no reference to what makes us truly human (thus C.S. Lewis rightly describes them as “abolishing man” and those who truly hold to these ideas as not even being human).

    Thus, revisiting the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, or western racism (remember, THE central myth of the modern homosexualist movement is that it is the heir of the civil rights movement of the 50-60s) or any other laundry list of historical iniquities is all quite besides the point…

  4. In its more well-thought out forms, postmodernism seems to me to be something of an ally to Christian thought. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the notion of the interpretive community, which is in many ways an echo of St. Ireneaus. Further, St. John of Damascus could be (and has been) said to be a forerunner of death of the author thinking (as he was a compiler rather than an author, with his originality and freshness being found in the ways he compiled tradition). The dangers of current postmodern thought are certainly real. However, I see the philosophical foundations of the movement as being a reaction to the so-called Enlightenment, which makes postmodernism, in many ways, the enemy of my enemy, so to speak. Unfortunately, the political motivations of postmodernism are not in line with the philosophical foundations, but they are rather an extension of much of Enlightenment thought; it is a strange marriage (or whatever word would be preferred/allowed) indeed.

  5. Fr Stephen,

    It seems to be that it is a reaction to (the abuses of) western Natural Law theology, which is quite unsustainable from the perspective of the Tradition and the Fathers. Perhaps you would care to elaborate on that.

  6. Wayne,
    If it comes to one social-construct versus another, then there really is no hope, only raw power. Instead, the Christian understanding of reality, and the gospel’s reflection of reality, serves as a constraint on Christianity when it engages in false constructs. Thus, anti-Semitism is today recognized for its era – not because of a power play, but because it clearly contradicts Scripture and reality. The “persecution” of homosexuals is actually fairly modern and not so much the product of Christianity, as misguided science in the hands of secularists. Christian Tradition (certainly in the East) has always known about homosexual acts. The canons are very familiar with it, and meet it appropriately. It is not stoned or kicked out of the community. It was disciplined as a fairly normal phenomenon in human behavior.

    But the paradigm of perception as social construct is an invitation and surrender to Nietschean ethics. He was very popular, by the way among campus Post-modernists.

  7. I encountered this claim of “socially constructed realities” quite often while in undergraduate studies at a notoriously anti-religious liberal arts school. The usual topic was gender, that gender and gender roles are “social constructs” used by “society” (whatever that means) to oppress and subjugate certain people (usually women and homosexual/”transgendered” people). Once, when the topic came up in an introductory anthropology conference class setting, someone made the usual claim that gender roles are “social constructs” and thus had no basis in reality and should be discarded. I responded that by the same criteria their critique of gender identity was also a social construct, had no basis in reality, and should be discarded. They had no response to that.

    It does, indeed, seem to come down to power: whoever has the media power (in whatever form it takes) can influence how people perceive reality. Sometime a while back I read a lengthy article about how Christ/His Church is the one force that transcends this reality, but I cannot remember who wrote it (I could have even been you, Fr. Stephen!).

    Perhaps it is that the “lens” we look through and use to perceive the world is supposed to be the lens of Christ, and it is constantly being ground and polished by the Holy Mysteries, prayer, virtues, lives of saints, and spiritual practices prescribed by the Church, making it clearer and more precise as we continue our journey to salvation (I would imagine then, if this is the case, that sinful acts, thoughts, and inclinations serve to cloud or muddy our “lens”).

    How do Christ and Christianity transcend the conflict of power over social perception? This is a question I have contemplated at length, and I would love to hear what others think, if they have an answer or a direction to look in for an answer.

  8. I definitely saw enough of this, being an English major in university. There wasn’t an actual thought police, of course, but the vibe of the classroom (where everyone sits in a circle) was such that you definitely knew, just KNEW, what kind of comment passes or doesn’t. Most people don’t have gnosis, so of course they’re going to squander the most important intellectual climate of their lives, to write third-rate, by-the-numbers papers about “gender in [insert literature piece here].” The perfect way not to rock the boat in any way. My “African American literature” class was the worst of it: no comment incompatible with apex leftism ever heard, none tolerated. The African-American students in the class, besides being a small minority, were the least radical or pretentious people in the class, while a few whiter-shades-of-pale types sometimes even argued amongst each other, secretly over who gets to be the most PC one of all. I hated that class, and not just because I couldn’t begin to enjoy tacky, imagination-less literature whose value was more relative to 20th century equality politics, than transcendent. I hated the class because now it was SO obvious what I was dealing with. OF COURSE the prophets got stoned.

    “Friend of God’ is sufficient, and I am no respecter of persons. It doesn’t matter if you think my reading preference is too heavy, or if you haven’t heard of a d**n thing in my music library; I will go for authentic every time.

  9. When I recently encountered Middle School students bantering in campus PC-speak about “gender-bending” fashion, I was both revolted and amused. I also noted to myself that when an idea begins to take root in Middle School its death knell is being sounded. It is like the relationship with Rock and Roll and Bubble Gum music. The Middle School treatment will quickly render the whole thing so trite that it will soon repulse everyone. Sic transit gloria mundi.

  10. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

  11. The relationship between words and the reality to which they refer is, of course, a very difficult thing to describe. There’s tons of philosophical ink that has been spilled on the subject. But of all the dead-ends that have ever been offered, the notion of “social-construct” is among the weakest. Even at its worst, when real prejudice is driving perceptions, those prejudices usually have some basis in reality, however distorted.

    The Christian Tradition makes certain claims on its relationship with reality. It is a set of beliefs that can be examined somewhat empirically, i.e. by experience. They are not ideas floating in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

    The failure of certain things to jibe with reality make them inherently questionable within Christian theology. For example, a Young Earth exposition of Genesis simply fails the test of reality. In that understanding, the whole Universe is a deceiving social construct created by God, deceptively arranged to appear old.

    The Christian faith rightly subjects itself and its teachings to examination. It allows, for example, for historical analysis of its Scriptures and deals with those results, at least acknowledging the appropriateness of the conversation. This is not at all true of Islam, for example, where historical analysis largely dissolves many of the claims made about the Koran. The same would be true of Mormon claims about its “Book.”

    The nightmare of the social construct is its admittance that the reigning speech simply represents the most aggressive use of power. It is Mao’s “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” And it is not surprising that those who support the social construct theory also support laws against “hate speech,” or other labeled communications. They know that only such raw power can create their reality.

    Marxism constantly re-wrote history. But history has now re-written Marxism. We’re in a bit of a dark time at the moment, but I think this fashion will fade. I would like to live to see it.

  12. In response to your initial statement concerning the inherent propositions in this philosophical argument, I would argue- albeit semantically, as I don’t find contention so much with your stance or the direction you take your argument- that to say ‘this philosophy is that reality itself is a “social construct,”’ seems to me misleading in-so-much as I would argue (having come from reading Nietzche and other such “profoundly skeptical” points of view before my conversion) that the main concern of people subscribing to such a world view- perhaps merely my own concerns as this is admittedly something I still struggle with- is not with REALITY being a social construct, but concerning the process of being around other people, wherein one is prone to delusion in midst of the conflicting interests of people and many superficial or seemingly arbitrary social prerequisites- as you alluded to- in order to “save face” or maintain one’s success/relevance or the exercise of power when confronted with possible conflict, even in the most trivial of matters- at least personally I find this contributes to many of my own “pebble sins” that I pick up throughout the week without notice- the compulsory desire to satisfy another’s person, rather than seeking to do what is pleasing to God.
    It makes me think of psalm 115 wherein David says
    “As for me, I said in mine ecstasy: every man is a liar.
    What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?”

  13. Just a note about power:

    It is worth remembering that a big part of the power in this case is the ability of those in power to make everyone believe their agenda. As Fr. Stephen referenced awhile ago, it is the whole fairy tale of the emperor’s new clothes. The “truth” that seems so forcefully put across is often transmitted that way because it is in fact so flimsy and ever anxious of being discovered for the sham that it is. All that’s needed is an innocent to blithely pronounce his majesty’s true state of nakedness.

    The point I’m trying to get across is that though there is much visibility to this idea of social constructs, it is being touted by the vocal minority. The postmodernist denies that 2+2=4 because he’s decided on a whim how to define 2, but the teller at the bank has no problem with that equation – nor the individual figuring out her monthly expenses. For every person freeing their ego with the idea of social constructs, there are a thousand simply not interested in such nonsense. I’m not saying that this ideology isn’t the hell-spawn it appears to be, just that it isn’t as big and widespread as certain social circles would make it out to be. It’s posturing big time.

    Also…

    There is a reason for everything – even if we don’t know what it is. There must be a reason the idea of social constructs is so attractive. In this case, power for the powerless. My life sucks. Wait a minute….I can remake the world instead of allowing myself to be remade? This has possibilities!

    Quick fix formulas have always drawn in a lot of suckers before the snake oil salesman was driven out of town. I believe the same will happen here, though I don’t know how much havoc will be wreaked before we get relief. However, I do think that besides power, the true motivator behind this plague is the lack of love. Don’t stop me from looking for love – wherever I may choose to find it. Somewhere deep inside I know I need love as much as oxygen. No cost is too high.

  14. I very much appreciate your use of the word REALITY throughout this post.

    The word TRUTH (which could rightly be used in place of the word REALITY throughout your post) has become so ‘relativized’ and ‘religiousized’ in the common understanding of the language that it no longer communicates what its actual meaning is.

  15. Jakob, having read the article–which, it must be said, is rather simplistic in and of itself–I find it rather odd that they expect an “object” to “decide”, as if it is self-aware. I think the focus on “measuring” as the determination of reality is yet another focus on the materialistic aspects of Creation and fairly typical of most science projects (re: they limit themselves in this manner because they have to).

    None of this really impacts true “reality”, which can only be known (as opposed to “measured”) through Christ. Just my thoughts.

  16. WOW. one of the best articles I have ever read. Penetrating insight into our culture and change. Praise God that reality is EA,. We may have to die for it though in this changing world. Stand strong my siblings in the faith. There is only one truth.

  17. Byron, thank you for your thoughts. I put a simpler language article as a reference for the sake of easier conversation. If you follow the links in it, it will go into how the experiment actually transpired with a scientific language that is highly technical and less accessible for many. What I find interesting is that this observation of matter taking cues from how we perceive/observe it seem to suggest an intrinsic link between the physical and the spiritual (this of course is not news for many a Christian) but for some it is. It seems to suggest that prayer do have a measurable effect. I’m not suggesting that we need measurements to know what is true (in some ways measurement diminishes faith) but it is interesting to see that modern science seem to confirm what Christianity has taught all along.

  18. Jakob:

    This “Science Alert” website’s headline writer appears to have a prime directive of peddling a sensationalism worthy of the Daily Mail. The article itself seems not unreliable in describing what the experiment actually involved, though.

    To say that this experiment proves what that headline says seems to me like taking an experiment that shows that a chemical that appears in trace amounts in orange peels can alter the growth of liver cancer cells in a petri dish and saying “ORANGES CURE LEUKEMIA”. The atom is obviously still there, with all its fundamental observable properties – it just happens to have different properties while it is not subject to whatever we’re doing to observe it.

    As a general rule, anytime someone tries to use the uncertainty principle to prove that reality is subjective, you can assume they’ve fundamentally misunderstood one or both ideas. The mere fact that the uncertainty principle is scientifically demonstrable completely demolishes such a claim.

  19. Matt,
    I can say the “leaves on the tree are green,” and that describes actually an event in the rods and cones of my eyes, caused by light reflecting off the leaves, etc. And someone can say, “When you’re not looking at the leaves they are not green,” and that is true, in a sense. But, of course, it doesn’t mean that the leaves change when I’m not looking at them.

    I like a lot of things about Quantum Mechanics. It’s fun. But sometimes it gets silly, especially in headlines. I agree.

  20. How is this sustainable with the Orthodox understanding of the River of Fire?

    How is it that the self-same reality of God’s love is experienced as life-giving paradise to one, and as repelling hell-fire to another?

  21. Robert,
    the first is perceiving rightly and the second wrongly, is it not the exact same kind of thing?

  22. Dino,

    It posits perception and interpretation as controlling factors, as does (the best of) social-construct criticism. It also raises the question as to what is meant by reality. Reality as perception?

    As hinted in an earlier comment, the extreme “reality-as-social-construct” we see today can be understood as a reaction to the excesses of Natural Law theology. In the name of God, the God of nature, such theology was used to justify and maintain social arrangements (profitable to some, oppressive to most).

    Yet, there’s much good to be gained from studying the role of social influence on how we perceive, assign and interpret.

  23. Yeah, that “Science Alert” website looks bogus to me. I always chuckle a little when a headline reads “Science says…”, as if “Science” is an objective and abstract power with independent agency. I guess a big part of popularized Scientism is treating “Science” as a almost-spiritual higher power, though, and saying “Science says…” today is comparable to saying “The Bible says…” within some Christian societies. Both involve (fallen) human interpretation and motives that can lead to grave misunderstanding without the guidance of authority.

    I still wonder if one proper way of looking at perception and reality is the “lens” analogy, that Christ and His Church provide the correct “lens” through which we should view the world, and other “lenses” are either clouded or downright deceptive. The difficulty, of course, would be that everyone claims that their own “lens” (whether religious/spiritual or secular/materialist) is the “proper” one.

    There must, indeed, be something connecting this with Christ’s utter humility. It is the only way I can see how Christianity cuts through the whole power-play issue of “socially constructed” perceptions of reality. The reality Christ manifests is not one that struggles, complains, or fights to be proven correct or to have some honor, dignity, “right,” or entitlement recognized, but one that humbly accepts that which the world subjects it to.

  24. drewster2000,

    “The point I’m trying to get across is that though there is much visibility to this idea of social constructs, it is being touted by the vocal minority…For every person freeing their ego with the idea of social constructs, there are a thousand simply not interested in such nonsense. I’m not saying that this ideology isn’t the hell-spawn it appears to be, just that it isn’t as big and widespread as certain social circles would make it out to be. It’s posturing big time.”

    I have to disagree with you here I think – if I am following you. Now, is the philosophical/technical “post-modern” understanding of meaning widely understood and accepted. No. However, most people in America/western Europe are “modern” (to avoid the modern vs post modern self definitions – perhaps “western non-Christian/Judaic/Islamic” might suffice). They are “men without chests”, they are not human in that way C.S. Lewis described the catastrophe that was happening (I believe it already happened by the time he was describing it). As Fr. Hopko noted, “it happened” referring to Lewis’ warnings about the Abolition of Man.

    I don’t know what the numbers/percentages are, and I do believe that their are many many of these people who are modern by default as it were – they know something is wrong about their philosophy/world view but simply don’t know how to begin to question it. As Archimandrite Aimilianos describes, it really is not a turn of the mind that is required but a turn of the soul – it is an *action* that is required to begin to see ones nakedness and thus as a result (among other important things) question the current zeitgeist. Still the numbers are quite high – I put it well above 50% (it just has to be)….

  25. Robert,

    Perception is my lens of reality, but for one to perceive reality rightly they must be perceiving it with “God’s eyes”.
    The closer to Him and to His view one comes, the closer to Theosis one is.
    It’s little wonder therefore that there’s only really two commandments for us to be real, to BE:
    to love Him with all our being (first), and to love His image (second – and as a corollary of the first if you like).

  26. I’ll have to somewhat agree with Christopher on that one. Even if a large percentage of the general public are not actively thinking about things like “socially constructed realities,” prominent figures in teaching and media are, and they influence the broader public through a “trickle down” effect at the very least, sometimes without realizing it themselves. The same has happened before. For instance, even though Freud’s theories were only discussed among “certain social circles” during his own time (and were mostly discounted by the psychological sciences in the end), they ended up having an enormous impact, down to the very language we use to discuss psychology. I only hope that Fr. Stephen is right in that the fact that because the current language of gender politics and “social construction” is being spoon-fed to children at such a young age, they will eventually rebel against it…

  27. Dino,

    No doubt, and on that we agree wholeheartedly.

    None of that negates the need for and truth of social constructions. Perception remains. Social constructions remain.

  28. I thank all of you for you for your shared thoughts. Several i have copied to reflect on further and later quote. Yet, i have misgivings. for four years now we have lived in a Lakota Reservation. letting go of perceptions is the great gift i have received here. As I say to friends, it is not another culture, it is another universe. yes, men here are males and females, females, justlike everywhere else. But There it ends. Yet, i have learned there is a big difference between the lens of Christian culture and the Gospel, the Lens of The Father, looking at his creation through the eyes of his son, reigning from the cross, life in death, death in life, sitting at the right hand of the Father. “Mother” here is not the smae as “Mother” in say Egypt. or Canada. Or Father, or brother or sister or cousin, etc. “Marriage” has little meaning as i have know it. once i began to let go of my presuppositions on “reality”-that-every-human-being-understands” i began to see anew. And this is ever-widening, expanding (ουρανος) me, and my seeing of Christ. just thinking…..still… thank you all.

  29. ” I only hope that Fr. Stephen is right in that the fact that because the current language of gender politics and “social construction” is being spoon-fed to children at such a young age, they will eventually rebel against it…”

    Well, to come back to C.S. Lewis again, the impetus of his writing that book happened to be a grammar book that was used in England at the time that was reading. In it, the modern theory that truth is *only* in a subjective experience, what would be described today as a psychological event ultimately ’caused’ by electro/chemical impulses in the organic brain. Fast forward 80 years, and I don’t see a rebellion to that idea/belief as such, quite the opposite. Now, current modernity has a certain fragmentary character that perhaps was not as present at the time – is this a beginning of a rebellion? I don’t think so, as I believe that is because modernity was standing on the ruins of a “classical” civilization. Today, those ruins have been ground into dust so the internal contradictions of modernity are more evident. I personally don’t lend much to the idea that certain sentimental reactions such as “new age spirituality” are evidence of a real rebellion either – they are more like childish tantrums…

  30. Father Stephen,

    If only I’d had you as a prof in university. I felt my soul dying in that place. The overwhelming climate of thought there, combined with the typical factors of sleep-deprivation, stress, loneliness, and unfamiliarity — made it a perfect place to brainwash all the promising young adults of my generation.

    There was a pro-life presentation set up in a common area one day. It basically consisted of 9 tables, each with pictures of a developing fetus and facts about each month of gestation. Nothing gory or hard to look at. It was beautiful, really. I believe there was also a woman there who shared her painful experience of having had an abortion. I didn’t stay to listen to her talk, so I don’t know exactly what was said. Immediately after the event, it was condemned as having violated the Student Rights Act, for some reason. It was labelled as hate speech and the organization was forbidden from ever speaking on campus again. And this, in a place that is supposed to value truth, dialogue, and the honest exchange of ideas! What could she possibly have said about her own intimate experience that could qualify as hate speech?

  31. Heather,
    As you have experienced, none of this is about reason. It is about the use of “speech” and “speech rules” as a sheer justification of power. If people doubt that, they should read Foucault or Derrida. It is stated and taught quite plainly and is being used by certain groups very effectively. They have commandeered the larger number of American campuses and turned them into breeding grounds for their abuse of power. They have an increasing amount of sympathy and strength within many areas of the media and entertainment industry. They clearly have a huge role in one of the two major political parties. They now have co-opted most of the mainline Protestant denominations in America (mainline seminaries in America have very little free speech). I’m not an alarmist in this. It is simply the case. Your story could be multiplied many hundreds, even thousands of times.

    It’s very dark. People will be hurt if it doesn’t stop.

  32. Heather,
    I call it ‘the New Hypocrisy’…
    It’s duplicitous in more ways than one.

    Robert,
    I think I would be innately disposed to strongly contradict an acknowledgement of a ‘need’ for ‘social constructs’. It’s the very thing we must actually be freed from. When, for instance, St Iraenaeus of Lyon articulates that the true purpose of all Theology is to arrive at “the right way of thinking” about God, the right way of thinking about humans and about everything, I believe he -quite powerfully- implies this very thing.

  33. Everyone : We use so many words to describe a small verse of Scripture ! Great article and great comments. Surely, this must be the “end times”. Modernism seems to me a description of the “intellectual elite” and their power over us, but we will inherit the earth… Ken

  34. Robert, River of Fire does not posit perception as the controlling factor but rather actual being. That seems to comport with the Scripture–the surprise registered by both the sheep and the goats for instance

  35. Father I fear you are too optimistic that a rebellion will occur. The U.S. was founded on modernism. The nihilist platform runs deep in outr arts, letters, politics and even religion: worship of the self apart from God and apart from community. Everyone is autonomous. Only our perceptions matter. We like the frog in the pot een in the pot fail to notice we are dying.

    The US is a designed social construct. We have all been indoctrinated in it our whole lives. None of us is free from it.

    Chaos and power are the dichotomies but they end at the same place. Thus the seeming difference in politics is no difference.

    We are living in a culture of rebellion as it is: rebellion against God and our own soul. We are deeply sick.

    If by rebellion you mean turning to Christ I have to ask: which Christ will most folks turn to?

    We have been indoctrinated into the democratic Christ, the psychological Christ, the laughing human Christ, the punishing Christ.

    Almost everything we do and hear and see is full of the nihilist lies designed to keep us from investigating the deeper truth within.

    Only when our own will has been exhausted and the carnage is everywhere to be seen are we likely to turn away from it.

    Is this not the lesson of the addict?

    The addictive seductive nature of darkness and its fake light is astounding even in its unreality. We each have our drug of choice that promises oblivion to our pain do we not?

  36. Michael,
    I’m being misunderstood. I do not mean a rebellion. What I mean is that once a fashion begins to reach “teeny-bopper” stage it begins to become less and less attractive in the culture. I only mean that the present fashion and fascination with this will likely pass. At present, it is so much the rage that it is hard to respond to it (though I’m already seeing a bit of “push-back” in the media viz. Jenner’s media bash). Transgender and gender as merely a social construct are probably a serious over-reach in the sexual revolution. I think people are sympathetic to the problems of homosexual orientation. But I think there’s a wariness when people get to “make up” whatever gender they want. I think it will finally fall flat. And when it ceases to be politically useful, it will be abandoned by the Left. But the Long Defeat is certainly not being turned back, I think.

  37. As Frank Herbert wrote: “Every revolution contains within it the seeds of its own destruction.” The sexual revolution is no exception.

  38. I understand the need for clarification and explanation, but one must not over-reach and over-simplify very complex subjects so as to end up with absurdities only understandable to ourselves.

    Dino,

    Social constructs are not intrinsically ungodly or contrary to Tradition. What is contrary to Tradition is the notion that truth is *only* in a subjective experience, or that *reality itself* is a social construct. Ergo:

    Michael,

    I don’t deny the connection between perception and being; however, the River of Fire demonstrates the constancy of God’s love whilst affirming human perception.

    It is not sustainable in the light of Tradition to deny or “explain away” subjective experience, free will, perception.

  39. “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.”― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

    Fr. Stephen wrote:

    [If it comes to one social-construct versus another, then there really is no hope, only raw power.]

    Yes — I understand this… If we have no true vocation… No authentic calling… Then all that remains is “the will to power” (a la Nietzsche) and “civilization and its discontents” (a la Freud) — or “the game of black and white” (a la Alan Watts).

    [Instead, the Christian understanding of reality, and the gospel’s reflection of reality, serves as a constraint on Christianity when it engages in false constructs. Thus, anti-Semitism is today recognized for its era – not because of a power play, but because it clearly contradicts Scripture and reality.]

    It is never perfectly clear, however, when such a “recognition” is authentic or when it is just another fashion… It’s easy to look back with apparent understanding a few generations later, but during times of transition, people tend to side with the power structures they are most comfortable with (feel safer with or have a material investment in).

    What of Christian Zionism — popular among evangelicals –is that scriptural? Does that reflect the leading of the Lord? Or is it just one side of a polar opposition — part of “the game of black and white”? And yet they are so confident in themselves–as are their political antipodes. Is Orthodoxy immune to such mistakes? Do you follow “the Vineyard of the Saker” (he seems to reflect an anti-Zionist Orthodox position? Is that of the Lord or just a social construct?)

    It seems to me that the gospel does indeed point us to the reality that transcends these social constructs, but it also seems clear that rank and file Christians– and many Christian leaders, as well –are ignorant of this reality (a reality which is more akin to what Alan Watts calls “correlative vision” than it is to taking this or that side in these cultural and political conflicts). That’s not to say we won’t take a side, but perhaps we will do so more gracefully and without the self-righteousness and vitriol that is so common in these struggles.

    [The “persecution” of homosexuals is actually fairly modern and not so much the product of Christianity, as misguided science in the hands of secularists. Christian Tradition (certainly in the East) has always known about homosexual acts. The canons are very familiar with it, and meet it appropriately. It is not stoned or kicked out of the community. It was disciplined as a fairly normal phenomenon in human behavior.]

    Even if that is true, it is of little or no help to those who have in fact been persecuted–and whose persecution has, in fact, been aided and abetted by the church at large (including, of course, Catholics and Protestants). Sodom and Gomorrah continue to be invoked, by the way… And just today, I was reminded of the story of Alan Turring — are you familiar with him? Are homosexuals in Orthodox Russia less persecuted?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing#Conviction_for_indecency

    My point is not to say that the more nuanced view of homosexuality that you have in mind is necessarily wrong–just that it does not reflect the reality of the experience of homosexuals in general. And even if that position is good and appropriate for the church (and for homosexuals living within the Orthodox tradition), that does not provide an appropriate basis for secular law in pluralistic society.

    [But the paradigm of perception as social construct is an invitation and surrender to Nietschean ethics. He was very popular, by the way among campus Post-modernists.]

    Perception isn’t merely a social construct, but social constructs loom large… What is depressing as I read the comments to this piece– a piece which, as I indicated earlier, I do appreciate –is how many of the folks commenting here seem oblivious of the degree to which they are blindly in the thrall of their own social constructs. There are 7.2 billion people in the world — none of whom could exist apart from “the light that lights everyone who comes into the world”. And yet it is obvious that despite our common humanity — in Christ, under God — we still live in very different worlds because of our very different social constructs. Perhaps we could lay it out as follows:

    1) “The light of the world” is the universal basis for life and experience (“the light in which we see light”). In the beginning was the Word…

    2) Perhaps there are some *a priori* categories (in the Kantian sense–or perhaps some kind of hard-wired biological categories for you realists). This gives our world “objective validity”.

    3) There are other uncontested empirical categories… (established science nails some of these down… others may still be quite subjective, but if they are held universally enough, their intersubjective validity gives them the force of objectivity…)

    4) Then there are hosts of contested social constructs and empirical categories of various kinds…

    Our cultural, religious, political, and commercial struggles naturally take place on the level of # 4 as we each try to gain a rhetorical advantage (and thereby a material advantage) over our fellows. And the more we insist that we don’t do this, the more we are probably, in fact, doing it. But that doesn’t mean there is not Truth/Reality that transcends this game. But it does mean that in order to see it, we need to see through the game:

    https://jeshua21.wordpress.com/additional-essays/the-divine-presence-that-i-am/

    “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” ~ Albert Einstein

    But even when we see through the game, it is still very tricky to see where “true nature” ends and “illusion” begins… Our only hope is to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves — to take up our cross and to enter into life now…

    “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”

  40. Robert…..but the perception stems from the ontological reality and you are right they cannot be separated.

  41. In a world with neither the word “sin” nor a concept of sin, to a world without concept of “mother or “father” or “family” as we of the West conceive if them, not or “God” or even a “god” or “spirits” or even a word or concept of “spirituality” or even a plane of life other than the one we are in, proclaim the Gospel, much less “salvation”? All of the terms being used here in the comments are purely Western concepts named with agreed (social constructions?) “words” western vocabularies, even “existence,” and “Being,” “perception” and “consciousness.” This is not a rhetorical question, This is the world in which I presently live. What would you all suggest reading?

  42. sorry, i meant to add, was that in four years i have “realized” that a Native American Reservation IS a “different reality.” oh, yes, there is no word here for “Truth.” The one in use today was invented by the Christian missionaries in the mid 1800s.

  43. Joel,
    the Apostles did it, the martyrs too and all ascetics as well, -in their own ways- they proclaimed the Gospel in a world that, seemingly, could only ever misunderstand their message; however, there always were many people who -with the help form God (and seldom without suffering) – followed them resolutely. The way I view it Father Stephen does the same online too.
    As well as the (apostate) world which we see around us and which is presented outwards strongly, there is always a hidden part to it (in people’s hearts) that retains that potential for repentance that makes the devil tremble.

  44. And, doubtless, the fact that the communication of Spiritual realities is always challenging must be taken into account too:

    “The ascetic in spiritual contemplation beholds things which for the overwhelming majority of people are a mystery, but afterwards he is faced with the impossibility of communicating this mystery – translated into mortal language it is construed quite differently by him who hears it. The language of human words and concepts is able only to a very limited extent to convey one man’s inner state to another. The indispensible condition for mutual understanding is a common or identical experience. Without it there cannot be understanding because each one of us introduces the compass of his own experience, and it is therefore unavoidable that we should speak in different tongues. Yet, since we all share a common nature, it is equally possible to provoke by words a fresh experience in the soul of another, and thus awaken new life in him. If this applies to human intercourse, how much more so does it apply where divine action is involved. The word of God does, in fact, given a certain inner disposition of the soul, offer new life – the eternal life which is contained within it.

    No reader of the Gospels can fail to notice the apparent lack of logical sequence in Christ’s conversation. Consider, for example, the exchanges with Nicodemus, with the woman of Samaria, with the Disciples at the Last Supper. Christ’s interest is directed not so much to what a man says as to what there is in his heart of hearts, and to what he is capable of receiving from God.”

    Archimandrite Sophrony, The Monk of Mount Athos, pg.115

  45. Yes. The homosexuals in Russia are less persecuted than Alan Turing. There are no laws there imprisoning anyone or demanding chemical castration. That strange anomaly in Britain (and in some other places) was precisely the case of the exaltation of science, combined with a Puritan morality, (rather uniquely Protestant), in which it was thought that science could “fix” such people chemically, etc. Such things were not found in Catholic or Orthodox countries. There are fewer laws regarding homosexuals in Russia today than there were in the US 10 years ago. If you want to find real persecution of gays, you have to look to the modern era, especially the secular extremes such as the Nazis. It is a great distortion to lay this on the doorstep of the Christians.

    The larger questions of your comment, however, really have to do with authority, and how the truth is discerned. That’s a very large question. Orthodoxy is able to speak definitively, but does so with reluctance and care, on the whole. It also thinks that time is required for good reflection. The place of Holy Tradition also helps guard against the blindness of a single moment or period in time.

    Those who would un-link society from Tradition are setting their tiny boat free in a vast and tempestuous sea. The Judeo/Christian Tradition alone affirms and teaches the dignity of human beings. Secular authorities have inherited that view, but erode it whenever it pleases them (cf. abortion). No human being in the secular world has any more worth than a fetus in the womb. They only let you live because you produce and consume. The rest is rhetoric.

    Christian Zionism is filled with delusions and contradictions. Its etiology of delusion is manifest for anyone who studies it. It was born of Darbyite fundamentalism and is just silly. There might be political reasons for the State of Israel, even humanitarian ones, but Zionism is simply a disguise for politics of the will.

    The questions you have raised almost require a book to answer. More than I can do at present.

  46. Joel,
    I wish I could put you into contact with some of the Orthodox in Alaska. There are many native American Orthodox there, and there was a very successful engagement with native culture. Read Orthodox Alaska by Fr. Michael Oleksa.

  47. Thank you, Fr. Stephen — I appreciate your relatively detailed reply given the limits of your time and the complexity of the questions. Just one clarification, however–you wrote:

    [“Yes. The homosexuals in Russia are less persecuted than Alan Turing. There are no laws there imprisoning anyone or demanding chemical castration. That strange anomaly in Britain (and in some other places) was precisely the case of the exaltation of science, combined with a Puritan morality, (rather uniquely Protestant), in which it was thought that science could “fix” such people chemically, etc. Such things were not found in Catholic or Orthodox countries.”]

    Just to clarify, I didn’t really mean to suggest that modern Russia was treating homosexuals the way Britain treated Alan Turing– that was poor editing on my part –rather, what I meant to ask was whether, on balance, homosexuals are less persecuted in Russia than elsewhere… Seem like the answer is obviously “No”, today (at least when compared to the West). And with regard to the past, it seems that they were often punished rather aggressively (at times even put to death). So, once again, while I appreciate the nuance that you are attempting to bring to the question, I can only point out that the way the condemnation of homosexuality plays out in practice is much cruder (in contrast, for example, to the churches condemnation of heterosexual adultery or fornication).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_history_in_Russia

  48. Wayne,
    I am highly skeptical of any purported historical treatments in the modern LGBT sphere. Right now there is a terrible track record of distortion in its reading of history. LGBT is simply not something like a racial group (though it wants to make that claim). There have certainly been various responses in Christian history for sexual behaviors of all kinds – it’s not a very clear and crisp matter. Certainly not the sort of thing that admits of historical generalizations.

    You might also make a study of how theft or debt was treated in earlier times. The rhetoric of LGBT politics needs a very hightened sense of persecution in everyone’s minds to justify is current program of demands. It makes for bad history.

  49. I would prefer NOT to think so much in terms of “groups” and think about how to respond to individuals more/most appropriately. But to the degree that any of the categories under discussion are real, it seems to me that the category of “homosexual” must be included — i.e. there are people (and there seeming always have been) who are emotionally and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex. As a result of this orientation (which is not, on balance, something they choose), together with the behavior that seems to follow more or less naturally from it, they have been marginalized and punished and persecuted (in various ways and to various degrees) throughout history (with some notable exceptions). Perhaps we can acknowledge this and question the propriety of this treatment without making Gay rights, per se, into a civil rights issue (I’m not sure). Certainly we can defend everyone’s civil rights without necessarily arguing that same-sex unions should be given the legal status of “marriage”. Unfortunately, however, when we look at the world through the categories of “the homosexual agenda” or “the Jewish question” or “the KKKChristians” (as a Facebook friend is fond of posting), it makes it difficult to respond individual homosexuals, Jews, and Christians with fairness, much less love. A (somewhat silly) case in point: Several Facebook friends recently posted this story about Ken Ham saying that if there are aliens, they will go to hell and that not even Jesus can save them. The article is totally bogus — it takes Ken Ham’s admittedly absurd theology/biology and, by means of one or two incorrect inferences, drew fallacious conclusion from it. They then attributed that conclusion to Ken Ham. But they were so happy to be able to attribute this absurd position to this him (this person whom they so despise), that they really could not see how unfair they were being (totally oblivious to their own “group think” and “confirmation bias”). I think we can all do better than this… And a first baby step towards doing better is to acknowledge the degree to which “our categories give us our world” (IMO).

    Thanks again for your time and for the opportunity to delve into these questions in a deeper and more nuanced way.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/22/ken-ham-aliens-go-to-hell_n_5608368.html

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/22/ken-ham-aliens-go-to-hell_n_5608368.html

  50. “The rhetoric of LGBT politics needs a very hightened sense of persecution in everyone’s minds to justify is current program of demands. It makes for bad history.”

    This might be a bit of a tangent, but I have often wondered about a psychological need some people have to feel as if they are oppressed or persecuted. One might even argue that sometimes us Orthodox Christians fall to it. This feeds into the post topic precisely because it often seems to often involve a re-writing of history and a very selective perception of reality. I have definitely seen this tendency in the LGBT “rights” movement, and among radical feminism. Some people seem to WANT to be part of the persecuted or oppressed group, perhaps because in modern times those groups are privileged in the public sphere.

    I do not know if anyone has done any serious research into something like a “persecution complex” (or whatever it might be called) some people have.

  51. Wayne,

    You write:

    “I can only point out that the way the condemnation of homosexuality plays out in practice is much cruder (in contrast, for example, to the churches condemnation of heterosexual adultery or fornication).”

    And maybe that is true. It certainly feels true to me. However, as Fr. Stephen writes, Christian responses to sexual behaviors is “not the sort of thing that admits of historical generalizations.” I remember having a shocking realization in high school, reading Titus Andronicus, that we Americans have a tendency to teach and view history through the lens of the Victorian era’s prudishness, which was very real and very much an historical aberration. Much of Shakespeare would be more at home in the hands of Quentin Tarantino than what we think of as a classically trained actor. I’m currently reading the Divine Comedy, and this point is driven home by much of the Inferno.

    As for the actual treatment of homosexuals versus the actual treatment of other illicit sexual behaviors, I’ll only mention briefly the plight of Abelard, one of the most respected minds of 12th century Europe, in comparison to the treatment of Alan Turing, one of the most respected minds of 20th century Europe.

  52. Wayne,
    The Church has indeed responded clearly that all people have dignity and are to be treated with respect. The sexual orientation and same-sex behaviors is quite complex. I think that in many ways, people do not experience it as “choice.” That’s not the same thing as “being born that way.” The best science points to a very complex pattern in our orientation. The response of the Church through the ages is clearly a “mixed bag.” You noted “exceptions” to the persecutions, etc. Orthodoxy does not claim the kind of infallibility that would argue there have never been abuses.

    The Church today is filled with priests who have and always have responded to sexual questions in a very pastoral manner. I have served for 35 years and have never done otherwise. Those priests (who are few) who are very mean and rigid in their treatment of people, are generally mean and rigid with everyone and are a bane of the priesthood.

    What is different, is an organized onslaught of propaganda and political pressure to change the very understanding of marriage and what it means to be human. The reciting of “history” is generally not a concern for history, but a concern to bludgeon adversaries.

    I have generally only known compassion and genuine anguish on the part of my fellow priests as they struggle to minister to people in real need. I’ve really never known it any other way. My own seminary class (Anglican) had 6 members die of AIDS. Some of those guys were close friends of mine. The truth is that the Church, certainly in my lifetime, has been more than willing to listen and discuss. What is going on outside the Church, however, has no interest in discussion. Reason and facts “be damned,” they have an agenda. I do to – the salvation of souls.

    Wayne, I have nothing in common with Ken Hamm. He’s a heretic enemy of the Orthodox Catholic faith. He cannot be hung around the neck of Orthodox Christians. He’s a product of modernism.

  53. [“Wayne, I have nothing in common with Ken Hamm. He’s a heretic enemy of the Orthodox Catholic faith. He cannot be hung around the neck of Orthodox Christians. He’s a product of modernism.”]

    I’m not sure what I said to elicit these remarks — my point is that his critics despise him so that they are willing to distort what he says simply out of the joy of ridiculing him (and, thus, fall into a similar form of “group think” and “confirmation bias”). As indicated, that was a rather silly and inconsequential example, but a similar dynamic is going on when we let our legitimate concerns about any social, religious, or political movement so dominate our thinking that we cannot respond appropriately to individuals who we associate with those movements. Once again, my favorite Anthony de Mellow comes to mind — this applies to activists on both sides of the equation:

    “The trouble with people is that they’re busy fixing things they don’t even understand. We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.

    “Do you want to change the world? How about beginning with yourself? How about being transformed yourself first? But how do you achieve that? Through observation. Through understanding. With no interference or judgment on your part. Because what you judge you cannot understand.

    “When you say of someone, “He’s a communist,” understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on him. “She’s a capitalist.” Understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on her, and if the label carries undertones of approval or disapproval, so much the worse! How are you going to understand what you disapprove of, or what you approve of, for that matter? All of this sounds like a new world, doesn’t it? No judgment, no commentary, no attitude: one simply observes, one studies, one watches, without the desire to change what is. Because if you desire to change what is into what you think should be, you no longer understand. A dog trainer attempts to understand a dog so that he can train the dog to perform certain tricks. A scientist observes the behavior of ants with no further end in view than to study ants, to learn as much as possible about them. He has no other aim. He’s not attempting to train them or get anything out of them. He’s interested in ants, he wants to learn as much as possible about them. That’s his attitude. The day you attain a posture like that, you will experience a miracle.

    “You will change—effortlessly, correctly. Change will happen, you will not have to bring it about. As the life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear. Whatever is good will be fostered. You will have to experience that for yourself. But this calls for a disciplined mind. And when I say disciplined, I’m not talking about effort. I’m talking about something else. Have you ever studied an athlete. His or her whole life is sports, but what a disciplined life he or she leads. And look at a river as it moves toward the sea. It creates its own banks that contain it. When there’s something within you that moves in the right direction, it creates its own discipline. The moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness. Oh, it’s so delightful! It’s the most delightful thing in the world; the most important, the most delightful. There’s nothing so important in the world as awakening. Nothing! And, of course, it is also discipline in its own way.” ~ Anthony de Mello, “Awareness”

    http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/arvindgupta/tonyawareness.pdf

    Also this verse:

    “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

  54. Wayne, some thoughts an an earlier post of yours:

    “It seems to me that the gospel does indeed point us to the reality that transcends these social constructs, but it also seems clear that rank and file Christians…”
    That Gospel is that not only that this reality “exists” (i.e. The Kingdom of Heaven, God, etc.) but that we have “access” to that living reality and can actually live it ourselves. We are to be “in the world but not of it”. Now, you can point to the failings of individual/churches/”christian civilization(s)” all day long, every day, for the rest of your life, and you would only be pointing out a very small portion of these failings. Such an exercise is quite besides the point, because the Gospel also not only tells us of this fact of human failing, but what to do about it, and how to live the Kingdom of Heaven in the midst of it. The failings of actual history is what we are “saved from”.

    Also, IMO the term “christian” is now so elastic to be almost meaningless (thus the I don’t put it in caps unless I am actually referring to real “Classical” and “Traditional” Christians – what in America, because of our history, is actually a small minority of those calling themselves “christian”). A modernist mainline protestant has a different religion than a “conservative” evangelical, and they in turn are different than a “Classical” Anglican (such as C.S. Lewis).

    ” Perhaps there are some *a priori* categories (in the Kantian sense–or perhaps some kind of hard-wired biological categories for you realists)”

    Actually, Kant is grounded in the Cartesian (and thus in more laymens terms the “subjective”) and not the realist world – and “hard wired biological categories” in most cases would be based on modernist nominalist “scientism”. It is possible to rescue such a concept from this, though it would be very very difficult and thus very very unlikely in todays culture.

    “3) There are other uncontested empirical categories… (established science nails some of these down”

    Anything that can be described as “established science” does not partake in anything that is “uncontested”. That is part of the myth of modernity, a sort of mantra that is taught to young children, and if you question it (either from a modern or non-modern world view) you are mocked and summarily dismissed as a “fundamentalist”, a “neanderthal”, etc.

  55. ” The Judeo/Christian Tradition alone affirms and teaches the dignity of human beings. Secular authorities have inherited that view, but erode it whenever it pleases them (cf. abortion). No human being in the secular world has any more worth than a fetus in the womb. They only let you live because you produce and consume. The rest is rhetoric.”

    Truer words have rarely been spoken about modernism.

    ““When you say of someone, “He’s a communist,” understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on him. “She’s a capitalist.” Understanding has stopped at that moment. You slapped a label on her, and if the label carries undertones of approval or disapproval, so much the worse!”

    Unless, of course, the person actually IS a communist, a capitalist, etc. Of course, that is not exactly correct either, as people are not their philosophy. A persons “being” is deeper of course, but even still the self-understanding and discourse is (in part) on the discursive level, and thus those “labels” have meaning (as an aside: part of “The Way” is coming to *know*, beyond discursive reasoning, your true self and God). Now, they are all too often are used as rhetorical, ultimately sentimental weapons, but let’s not throw away or ban the shovel because some deranged child of God used it to bash someones face in one day, as we still have gardens to tend…

    Wayne, I think an important part of your concern with what you call “Christianity” (which as I mentioned above is actually a non-coherent plurality, thus you end up mixing conflicting “christianities” into the same pot) is that Jesus did not come to bring a worldly, moral, and thus political kingdom. You complain about moral failings, but that IS our life as sinners, and Jesus the King is not King of an earthly kingdom (where for example, all so called “sexual minorities” are perfectly understood and treated with perfect justice). Indeed, this was a source of great confusion among his early followers and detractors: “Show us the Kingdom”…”The Kingdom is within you”. It remains a sore spot for many today (at times, for me especially) that our moral, human failings get in the way of His Justice and Truth.

    We do not see: into our hearts, into our sins, into our failings as persons/churches/”Christian Civilization(s)”, etc. Like the blind man, we need “He who is sent” to come and create (from the very dead clay of our current life) new eyes, a new body, a New Creation. Earthly humans, and their sins, their moral/justice systems and best intentions, their very bodies all die – this earth ends in fire and ashes (both in Holy Scripture and in modern scientism).

    To see Christ and His broken, sinful, despairing, and inequity loving people in anything other than an eschatological light is to focus on the demons. This might at times be necessary, but it is not the overarching principle and reason for being a disciple of Christ.

  56. Michael,

    It remains that perception is an important and controlling factor of the River of Fire.

  57. Hi Christopher,

    You may be misunderstanding me somewhat… I’m not trying to focus on past abuse, sin, or demons, per se, but on the relationship between all of those and our failure to recognize the way in which (or the degree to which) our (putative) “reality” is a product of our social constructs. I’m also suggesting that, on balance, people are more important than ideology and being kind is usually more important than being right.

    Part of the reason that I follow Fr. Stephen on Facebook and read this blog is that I appreciate the difference between the Orthodox Tradition and the Heinz 57 variety of protestant “traditions” and feel that he, in particular, is pointing effectively to the Reality that is with us always (whether or not we notice it). But that doesn’t change the fact that even for individual adherents to the Orthodox faith, the exoteric teachings can become a kind of ideology and Reality (aka “the mind of Christ” and “the power of the Spirit”) can become obscured.

    Once again, it is difficult for any of us, at times, to judge precisely where Reality ends and the our ideological dreams/nightmares begin. Perhaps one litmus test of whether or not Orthodoxy (or any other organized religion) has become, for us, an ideology would be whether or not we can continue to acknowledge that the Reality of which we are speaking is accessible those outside our (official) faith? Outside Orthodoxy? Outside Christendom? Outside Theism? Feel free to share your thoughts on this.

    It seems to me that we need to point the misguided “activist” to Christ and that we do this best by being Christ-like (i.e. firmly grounded in Reality, NOW; responding authentically and not ideologically). And so grounded, it seems to me, we will be less likely to become misguided activists ourselves.

    Thank you,

    Wayne

  58. Wayne,
    While not having time to go into it, you essentially set the criterion of truth as Perennialism, which I do not accept as truth. In short, God makes Himself known in particular, not in general. He is the Transcendent Particular. Perennialism holds to generalities in a way that I think is dishonest with itself. The difficulty of particulars, of course, is the discipline of embracing them and loving others. But I think it is the only way of Truth.

  59. The Perennial Philosophy– a la Aldous Huxley –was an important turning point for me, but it’s not something I talk a lot about these days. And I wouldn’t characterize it as “the Truth” (i.e. as Reality), but as a more or less helpful map (depending on where one is coming from and what other maps they have at their disposal).

    Thank you for your replies–perhaps we can pick up the thread of the conversation later…

    https://jwayneferguson.wordpress.com/the-perennial-philosophy/

  60. “Perhaps one litmus test of whether or not Orthodoxy (or any other organized religion) has become, for us, an ideology would be whether or not we can continue to acknowledge that the Reality of which we are speaking is accessible those outside our (official) faith? Outside Orthodoxy? Outside Christendom? Outside Theism?”

    Well, I am not too sure about any single “test”. I think it has more to do with a character-of-life, what is the “spirit” of the person and what is the “spirit” they are projecting into the their relations with their neighbors. By the way, I don’t worry about those who are newly converted and thus “ideological” and “over zealous” or those who where Orthodoxy like the latest narcissistic fashion. I don’t get the sense that there are all that many of those folks in the American Orthodox scene or of those who are they have all that much influence. Perhaps it is more of a problem than I realize – a pastor would have more sense of this.

    At our small mission parish, the vast majority of “those who leave” (most of them being inquirers) leave not because of broken down relationships with the priest or their fellow congregants over unkind words, ideological disagreements, how to do this or that, etc. (though this has happened). No the majority leave because they sooner or later realize that Orthodoxy (which is to say God who is Reality) is not on board with the New Anthropology (e.g. abortion and homosexualist “marriage”). I have seen them linger for more than a year or so. Most recently, a young mother (recently divorced) and her two young girls. Reality was “homophobic” to her (I have nothing to indicate to me this was anything than her being a modern moralist, an ideologue who believes in things like “the social construction of gender” – I do not believe she was someone who was “struggling with same sex attraction”).

    I have noticed our priest speaking more directly and more often around these issues lately. Before, you had to waterboard him to get him to talk 😉 . This is good I think because the “avoid confrontation” style was not working before, it was simply delaying the inevitable awkward questions and confrontations. At least, this is my view from the outside – it’s his job to pastor the flock and so I don’t know most of what goes on nor need to.

    ” I’m also suggesting that, on balance, people are more important than ideology and being kind is usually more important than being right.”

    I think this is very true, with one very important caveat that happens to be very relevant to what’s happening in and (obviously) outside the Church today. When it comes to being *personally* right, then yes. However when it comes to Reality, then you have to kindly disagree. God sees to it that the formal is usually whats at stake (i.e my opinions, my dignity, my prerogatives, etc.) so it is usually better to demure for the sake of the other person. An illustration from the sayings of the desert fathers:

    Once, monks who had heard of his discernment came to St Agathon to see if they could make him lose his temper. They asked him, “Are you Abba Agathon, a fornicator and a proud man?”

    “Yes, that is true,” the monk replied.

    “Are you the Agathon who is always talking nonsense?” the monks inquired.

    “I am,” the saint agreed.

    “Are you Agathon the heretic?” the monks persisted.

    St Agathon said, “I am not a heretic.”

    They asked the saint why he agreed with them when they accused him of vices, but then denied this last charge. Agathon replied, “I accepted the first accusations, since that was beneficial for my soul. But heresy is separation from God, and I do not wish to be separated from God.”

    Astonished at his discernment, they returned to their monastery, edified.

  61. What is vitally important to keep in mind here is –already mentioned earlier- that persons are infinitely ‘more’ than their ideologies, or anything anyone could express. The Church always stands upon this foundational understanding when warning of the delusional sway of ideologies and social constructs. What has exacerbated this problem of false constructs nowadays is that persons are encouraged to totally self-identify with their proclivities, ideologies, etc.
    But the infinitely uncircumscribable notion of Man’s potential (or “Church ideology”) is actually a requirement in order to avoid anything lesser.
    I am reminded of a real case:
    A youth who was depressed with his problems and self-identified as a gay man, meanwhile struggling with what he personally perceived as an enslavement, went to Elder Paisios exclaiming to him from the outset “Father, I am a homosexual!”
    But the saint seemingly ignoring those words spoke to him of other things, the nature around, the birds etc.
    Eventually the youth frustrated confronted him, shouting, “can’t you see what is troubling me?”, And the Saint answered with a long homily on how “much more” there was to him that he missed, opening up the youth’s heart’s understanding for the first time, making alive in a few words an entire picture of millions of pixels he failed to notice because of focusing on just one pixel. The youth exclaimed that he was utterly freed after that single encounter…

  62. I’m in a different awkward spot: someone who leans left and has spoken out in favor of LGBT rights. Even as I hope to become a catechumen as soon as possible, and find this blog consistently insightful, I confess to having trouble with discussions like this. On one hand, I’ve come to understand and find insight in the Church’s teachings on gender and marriage, and I can tell it’s not just a matter of blindly following a rule. At the same time, somewhere in the back of my mind, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson are nodding their heads.

    I know that this is in large part on me. I don’t expect–or even necessarily want–the Church to change its position. And as liberal as I am, I do find the whole “social construct” thing a stumbling block. To me, it actually reinforces the strict gender roles that activists claim to be fighting against. It just shifts the basis for gender from genital configuration to whether you like makeup or wear pants. I sympathize with those people who have to deal with real dysphoria; it must be a hellish experience to persistently feel as if you have the wrong body. But that doesn’t mean I find all the rhetoric convincing.

    There’s definitely some pushback on this, not so much against transgender identity itself, but the rhetoric surrounding it, including recent articles in the New York Times, LA Times, and Wired. There are also a few interesting “detransition” blogs, whose authors lived as the opposite sex for a number of years, have since changed their mind, and are now exploring why and what this means for them in the future. Thirdwaytrans.com is probably the best one. (One caveat: these blogs sometimes overlap with radical second-wave feminist blogs, some of whom like to use abusive invective against trans people).

    Technically, all the “social construct” theory really means is that different cultures have different ways of defining roles based on biological sex. One society might consider cooking and sewing to be “women’s work,” whereas our culture has chefs and tailors; today we think of factory work as masculine, but we sure didn’t in the 1800’s, or in WWII. There are also cultures where there is a designated “third sex,” like two-spirit people in some Native American cultures, or the hijras in India. That’s where the idea originated, and I think there’s some merit to it. On the other hand, short hair, sports, and a preference for pants do not make someone a boy. Google “tomboy,” and many of the results are heterosexual, feminine women reminiscing about growing up that way.

    I’m also well aware of the dogmatic attitude the Left has developed. There’s pushback here, too. Frederik deBoer, an ardent Leftist himself, frequently blogs about the stifling atmosphere that’s developed in universities.

    My main hope is just that I’ll figure something out on my journey. My concern isn’t even really for myself, just how I should respond to a friend, family member who happens to be LGB or T; or even a potential future son or daughter. I already aim to love my neighbor and my enemy as much as I can, and I’ve never met a gay person I could consider an enemy. At the same time, for me and many on the Left, fundamentalist churches have poisoned the well so much that we don’t know how to square these prohibitions with the command to love your neighbor.

    As for the Orthodox Church, I suppose I hope that it will live up to what Fr. Stephen promises, and minister to gay and transgender people with compassion.

  63. “I’m also well aware of the dogmatic attitude the Left has developed. There’s pushback here, too.”

    Rod Dreher on his blog has done a good job of pointing out when someone on the “left” points out internal incoherencies, etc. He of course is digging deeper than the traditional “left/right” political lens as that does not get to the deeper cultural matters of religious freedom , changing anthropology, (“Men without chests” as C.S. Lewis describes it) and what it means to be a non-modern in a culture that is dominated by the religion of modernism. In the end, the right is just the flip side of the same modern coin, so they both are non-solutions if you will (cf. Romans 1 for a play by play account).

    For us non-modern Classical Christians, we are no longer a political constituency if we ever were. Besides, the Kingdom we look for is not of this world so we should know better than expect much from the world. As how to “respond” in any personally difficult situation, that is for prayer, fasting, and several talks with your priest. God will shine a light for you if you ask in humility.

  64. I heard this here somewhere on the blog: Compassion and true tolerance (in matters pertaining to LGBT issues) is found where there is integrity, where one is intolerent of any deviation from their principles because they believe. It’s what makes them tolerant in practice because they love, it’s the way of the Church. The enemies of the Church on the other hand, are tolerant in their principles because they do not believe, they have no eternal principles that are unaffected by the winds of the times, and thi makes thm intolerant in practice because they do not love.
    (Look at Saint Paisios’ approach in my previous comment for instance)
    It’s why political correctness sometimes reveals itself as a hypocritical ‘intolerence in the name of tolerance’.

  65. Alex, just one technical point on the two spirit approach of some Native Americans: I had some interaction with a man who went to the local United Methodist American Indian Mission who was a two spirits man. It is not a “third sex”. It is a way of approaching the problem and reaching for healing. This man is married and has children but is troubled by same sex attraction as well (thus the two spirits). Through his work in the two spirits group under the auspices of the church he was able to return to his wife and live in the marriage with his family. The great thing about it is that, in general, nothing is hidden, shame is dealt with appropriately in Christ and in the community; as is the damage done to others. Everyone is praying for him and his family. He and his family did not have to deal with it alone. In addition, he is a man of great generosity and compassion which the two spirits group reinforced and allowed him to offer his gift to others through the community.

    The approach has a lot to recommend it, but it is not as you describe it.

    I think sometimes we make such struggles too private and isolated in a dark corner of the Church. While I understand the dynamics behind such things, I feel it is violation of the ethos of the Church in important ways. Sin, after all, effects the entire community and much sin can only be healed within the community.

    The reality is that all of us have struggles, all of us need healing and I have found over the years that the more vulnerable and open we become to others, the safer we are. I think its a Cross thing.

  66. Alex,
    For what it’s worth, I think the entire sex/gender/etc. question is deeply mired in problems of shame. Shame is probably the single most powerful emotion, but often hidden and unknown and unacknowledged. It provokes many deep emotions. It permeates cultures. In psychology, it is recognized that one of the unhealthy reactions to shame is “shamelessness,” a form of exhibitionism or acting out. It’s very understandable. The complexities of all of this are deeply important. I’ve written a little on the topic of shame and spoken about it as well. I am deeply indebted to Archm. Zacharias of Essex who has written on it. I have discussed it with him in person. He is following the teachings of the Elder Sophrony in the matter. Sophrony said, enigmatically, “The way of shame is the way of the Lord.” It is necessary that we learn to “bear a little shame” (in the elder’s words) and to understand Christ’s solidarity with our shame on the Cross. Through the Cross (and through it alone) we can be transformed from our shame into the glory of god. This is a very difficult matter but lies at the very heart of the Church’s inner life. Wise priests understand this, even if they do not always use this vocabulary. I know of many, many cases of suffering compassion on the part of priests and their struggling parishioners. It is, I think, the most common reality. There are tragic exceptions – as always.

  67. Michael Bauman: Thanks for the clarification; my understanding of two-spirits is limited to what I’ve read on Wikipedia.

    Fr. Stephen: I’ll have to read more about that. I have noticed an oddly schizophrenic attitude about sex in our culture: free-wheeling licentiousness on one hand, and Victorian prudery on the other, both reacting to one another. I feel this ties into what drives the LGBT movement. A lot of it is a response, not only to shame, but condemnation and abuse they’ve suffered from families and churches. When someone goes on national television and blames you for 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, it’s hard not to react. And then churches and politicians react to the movement, and it all keeps going.

  68. [“…it’s hard not to react. And then churches and politicians react to the movement, and it all keeps going…”]

    This is “the game of black and white” that I mentioned earlier (a la Alan Watts). The only way to avoid contributing to the chaos is, like Elder Paisios, to be grounded in Reality and to help others see through and beyond the illusion. But what often happens, it seems to me, is that those who find this ground (or begin to find it) tend to assume that others must find it and speak of it in precisely the same way that they did/do.

    These words by John Butler (which I just happened to be reading this morning–and despite the very different context) seem applicable here:

    “I will not try to trace these principles too far into the details of
    farming, because each human nature will put them into practice
    differently. Too many rules tend to obscure the point of it all.
    When we lose the point, the principle, the origin and source of
    life, the detail becomes fossilised and mechanical and, as in my
    experience with the compost heap, we are left with a set of rules
    but without a heart. Action then becomes heartless, automatic and
    sterile. There are many human institutions, which demonstrate
    this process in action” (Wonders of Spiritual Unfoldment 30).

    In the present context, what is “the principle, the origin and source of life”? Obviously, it is Christ; the mind of Christ; the power of the Spirit; etc… It seems to me, however, this Truth/Reality is not to be found in doctrine and dogma or even liturgy (though doubtless it is often found through them). Rather, Christ is found both within and without–deep within and high above that which we normally take ourselves to be. Quoting John Butler again:

    “So it all comes back to one’s point of view. One cannot really
    divide life into organic and non-organic. It is all organic – all one
    perfectly just and harmonious whole. What gets out of harmony
    is ourselves (and through our influence, our environment), when
    we forget the wholeness and become lost in the part. So whatever
    efforts we make to harmonise our surroundings without first
    resolving the disharmony in our own selves, is doomed to failure.
    The old saying “To make whole, be whole,” is true.
    How do we become whole (or holy)?
    When I give attention to something with a wider than usual
    awareness, I am sometimes aware not only of the object, let’s say
    a chicken, but of a Presence, a stillness – in which it lives and moves
    and has its being. . . .
    […]
    “One feels oneself lifted, remembered. This is surely what loving is all about – the offering of the experience of the Presence of God to the
    beloved. It is nothing personal.

    “This is the real rock on which to build our relationship with
    others. In truth we are not separate. We are one. And with plants
    also, and all the daily objects of our life – when one discovers the
    same Spirit within them, they acquire a new dignity, a new stature.
    It becomes appropriate to treat them with respect, to say “please”
    and “thank you”.
    […]
    “Life is subject to problems when we view it in separation i.e. from the point of view of little “me” in my body and personality. If we can raise our sights a bit and view life as it were from the top of a mountain, it all becomes much easier. When one experiences a wider consciousness, one realises that Man is in fact much greater than he usually gives himself credit for. No wonder that when he loses contact with this wider Self, he feels incomplete and bound and frustrated, and yet at that level cannot understand why. It’s as though sometimes I’m the puppet, and sometimes the man pulling the strings, and sometimes the audience, and sometimes right outside the theatre, where I’m not really anything other than just “I am”; and I know jolly well that when I’m there, I’m a lot nearer to God and eternal life and the point of it all, than when I’m locked up in little old farmer John Butler worrying about the price I’ll get for my onions. Yet, through all these changes in consciousness, my body stays the same and continues with its worldly tasks, but – differently…” ~ from Chapter 3, “Reflections on Farming”

    BTW, John Butler is Orthodox– or, at least a close friend of Orthodoxy –The Very Reverend Archpriest Daniel Joseph
    of the Russian Orthodox Church writes the introduction to his book:

    http://www.shepheard-walwyn.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2014/02/Wonders_of_Spiritual_Unfold.pdf

  69. Orthodoxy, when it pays close attention to these questions, never denies the Incarnation. There is no knowledge of Christ apart from the Incarnate Christ. There is no “God-behind-Jesus”. In the same manner, the “principle, origin and source of Life,” are identified with Him as well (cf. St. John 1). And the dogma of the Church is a “verbal icon” of Christ, not something that can be relativized as though it were of some lesser importance. The Liturgy is, in fact, the Life of the World, given to us by Christ. These (dogma, Liturgy) are not human efforts towards the Divine, but Divine gifts given to us. To find God requires the terrible discipline of finding Him in the particular and refusing the temptation of generalizing. Generalizing always yields a much easier God, one that is far more friendly to a pluralistic world. But the generalizers are, in fact, reducing the importance of the particulars, often with a superiority that “knows better.”

    It is, in fact, Gnosticism. A very gentle, modern Gnosticism and attractive. I would recommend reading the Protestant work by George Lindbeck (formerly of Yale), The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. What you seem to be espousing is what he terms, “Emotive Expressivism.”

  70. I am reminded of the depth tof he comment of St. Clement of Rome (in his ‘Second Epistle’) on the celebrated Genesis 1:27 verse:

    God made man, male and female…”

    He then immediately goes on to apply this verse directly to Christ and His Church :

    the male is Christ, and the female is the Church.”

    The modern “debunked” gender flexibility seems to me sometimes as a sinister attack on this anthropo-theological core.

    Deviation’s presentation (ie: its secular ‘justification’) is more dangerous than deviation per se.
    In fact, the ideological defense of any sin, even a very minor thing like breaking a fast a little, is more sinister (due to its preventing of repentance) than the actual fall into a profoundly grave sin (which is recognized as such).

  71. Dino: In fact, the ideological defense of any sin, even a very minor thing like breaking a fast a little, is more sinister (due to its preventing of repentance) than the actual fall into a profoundly grave sin (which is recognized as such).

    Reminds me of David. Full-bore into repentence when he realized his sin(s). “A man after God’s own heart.”

  72. Fr. Stephen wrote:

    [Orthodoxy, when it pays close attention to these questions, never denies the Incarnation. There is no knowledge of Christ apart from the Incarnate Christ. There is no “God-behind-Jesus”.]

    I am not Orthodox, but I do consider myself to be a friend of Orthodoxy. I do not deny the incarnation, but the story of Jesus is, to my mind, symbolic (“true on the inside” whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin — “so is everyone who is born of God; born from above…”).

    [In the same manner, the “principle, origin and source of Life,” are identified with Him as well (cf. St. John 1).]

    And He is with us always… We appreciate the historical revelation because it points us to the Reality that is with us always… The beginning is near… We are chosen/created in him before the foundation of the world…

    [And the dogma of the Church is a “verbal icon” of Christ, not something that can be relativized as though it were of some lesser importance. The Liturgy is, in fact, the Life of the World, given to us by Christ. These (dogma, Liturgy) are not human efforts towards the Divine, but Divine gifts given to us.]

    Thank you for these clarifications — I had an idea that I might be speaking a bit too loosely and anticipated that this might be forthcoming — again, thank you… Still– and do correct me if I’m wrong –it is possible to look at an icon and see nothing but wood and paint, is it not? If so, then there is a sense in which the revelation comes through the icon if the heart and mind are prepared to receive it… Which is not to say that the icon does not, at the same time, help prepare the heart and mind, but that everyone who looks at it does not necessarily see it… In the same way, creation itself is an icon– the kingdom of heaven is spread out upon the earth –but men see it not…

    [To find God requires the terrible discipline of finding Him in the particular and refusing the temptation of generalizing. Generalizing always yields a much easier God, one that is far more friendly to a pluralistic world. But the generalizers are, in fact, reducing the importance of the particulars, often with a superiority that “knows better.”]

    I understand that this is what it seems to you that I am doing, but I think you are mistaken. And once again, I would appeal a principle that I think we share in common, namely, that Christ is the light that lights everyone who comes into the world. There are 7.2 Billion people on the planet currently… And there have been many tens of billions since human beings came into existence… Very few of them were born into a Christian culture of any kind–much less an Orthodox Christian culture. And yet Christ is the light that lights everyone that comes into the world… Abraham saw my day and was glad… Before Abraham was, I Am. What of Lao Tzu — did he or did he not see the eternal Tao?

    [It is, in fact, Gnosticism. A very gentle, modern Gnosticism and attractive.]

    There is a Christian gnosis which has very little in common with the Gnosticism which the church condemned. What do you think that I have in common with the latter that justifies the use of this very loaded word?

    [I would recommend reading the Protestant work by George Lindbeck (formerly of Yale), The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age. What you seem to be espousing is what he terms, “Emotive Expressivism.”]

    Thank you for the recommendation. I had not heard that expression before, but a quick google search suggests that I might have more in common with “Organic Expressionism” (at least those are the authors I tend to identify with — Plotinus, Blake, and Emerson were mentioned). But to be honest– as I see it –all of this has little to do with categories of thought, and more to do with recognizing and honoring that which is given — the gift of God – NOW. Old things are past away, behold all things have become new and all things are of God…

    “The Now is no mere nodal point between the past and the future. It is the seat and region of the Divine Presence itself…. The Now contains all that is needed for the absolute satisfaction of our deepest cravings…. In the Now we are at home at last.” (Thomas Kelly, “A Testament of Devotion”)

    https://jeshua21.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/now-is-the-accepted-time/

    You imply that this somehow denies or disparages or cannot accommodate the particular, but IMO it reconciles us– by way of the cross –to God, to one another, and to the whole of creation. To be fully present is to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect… To be the space for the just and the unjust… The evil and the good… When necessary, to be the space for shame (as you mentioned earlier). To present our bodies a living sacrifice… To drink that cup and be baptized with that baptism…

    The take-home message is clear: Let us repent… Denying our separate selves, let us take up our cross and enter into life (NOW).

    Thank you,

    Wayne

  73. Wayne,
    You lost it back at, “I do not deny the incarnation, but the story of Jesus is, to my mind, symbolic (“true on the inside” whether or not Jesus was born of a virgin — “so is everyone who is born of God; born from above…”).”

    No, the Orthodox faith insists on a true Incarnation. You use the word “symbolic” in a modern sense, in which “symbol” suggests something less than real, true. In Orthodox language, it would mean something that, in fact, is more true. Jesus is “symbolic” not because He is a symbol. The symbol is true because of Him. The virgin birth is true and validates the symbol, not the other way around.

    It is indeed Gnosticism. It separates the “truth and value” from the thing itself. It relativizes history and concrete reality and privileges some form of understanding. Compared to Christ, no other religious figure is true. Because of Christ they may have a relative truth. Relative to Him.

  74. Fr. Stephen,

    I didn’t say Christ is a symbol — I said the story of Jesus is a symbol.

    It is unclear why you insist on pigeonholing me (a perennialist… an emotive expressionist… a gnostic). Ah well…

    But to bring all this back to the OP — and to avoid cluttering up your latest post with my comments –let me remark on one thing that you said in your new post on icons. You wrote:

    [“To claim that the reality of our words lives only in the mind is itself a “lie” (not an intentional one, but simply not true).”]

    My claim is that *sometimes* our words do live only in our minds, but that as a result, we see the world differently (which, in turn, does have a practical impact– by and large a negative one). And that would seem to be your claim, too, when it comes to modern attempts to understand gender and sexuality.

    My point– in all that has gone before –is that it is not always easy to tell the difference between new “social constructs” that are good and appropriate and new “social constructs” that are just part of a crass power-play. Sometimes it requires a good deal of (personal and/or historical) trial and error to resolve such questions.

    Your position, as I understand it, is that Tradition is our safeguard against that. I would agree up to a point. But there have been many traditions and they all seem, in fact, to have changed over time and to have finally given way (in full or in part) to new traditions. Indeed, sometimes the defenders of the old are making their own power play based on their own conventional, intersubective categories… (trying to preserve their “place and their nation”, so to speak). So, the tricky part is knowing when and to what degree change is appropriate; knowing when our categories are merely conventional (which isn’t bad, in and of itself) and when they reflect real differences that it would be dangerous and/or unjust to ignore.

    Having said that, I do realize that we are dealing with political and commercial interests who, as C.S. Lewis put it, have no interest in teaching young birds to fly and that we must be vigilant in the face of many of their innovations. Glory be to God for all things…

    Thanks for your time…

    Wayne

    “Where the old initiated, the new merely ‘conditions’. The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds — making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation — men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda” (Abolition of Man).

  75. “I didn’t say Christ is a symbol — I said the story of Jesus is a symbol.”

    This is a distinction without a difference as you end up in the same place. The scandal of Christianity is its particularity as Fr. Stephen says. We don’t know “Christ” separate from “the story of Jesus” because they are one and the same thing. Christ is only real because the story of Jesus is real. Any philosophy that separates them is a rejection of the historical, the particular, and ends up creating an ephemeral “Christ” that is not Reality.

    “Your position, as I understand it, is that Tradition is our safeguard against that. I would agree up to a point. But there have been many traditions and they all seem, in fact, to have changed over time and to have finally given way (in full or in part) to new traditions”

    Again, the scandal of particularity. Yes, there are as many traditions as there are tribes or people, but that is irrelevant. There is One God, One Christ, One life of Jesus who lived, died, and was resurrected who will come again to judge the living and the dead. There is one Tradition, and all the other traditions (as Carl Sagan would say, “billions and billions and billions” of them 😉 ) only have truth relative to the One Tradition. If one is trying to weigh these traditions (or the Tradition) in the balance of reason, then one is applying ones own presuppositions (almost always unexamined by the reasoner). What is the “axioms” that you are applying and can not be weighed because they are the beginning of reason and thought? This is something modern man has a big problem with, admitting that there is a basic axioms that ground reason that can not themselves be “reasoned about” without changing the very character of reason itself. Modern man has this problem because his god is the SELF, so naturally the SELF does not want to be pinned down because it wants to do this, reason that, with nothing outside itself which will limit it worse, that which is in fact more objectively REAL and this weighs this little god in it’s balance.

    Until the god of SELF meets the One True God in a personal encounter that is able to break through the “reasoning” of the SELF (this happens usually through a personal crises, often physical and/or psychological *suffering* that simply can not be born by the false SELF and live), or one with real purpose and Grace of God embarks on a acesis to “kill” the false self, then all one ends up doing at the end of the day is reasoning about god from ones own ego, and of course god then ends up looking like the SELF. This is what I do almost all the time and only by the Grace of God do I occasionally get a glimpse of something beyond my own ego god.

    You might enjoy Fr. John’s Behr’s examination of the axiom problem from an Orthodox perspective:

  76. [“Any philosophy that separates them is a rejection of the historical, the particular, and ends up creating an ephemeral “Christ” that is not Reality.. . . Yes, there are as many traditions as there are tribes or people, but that is irrelevant. There is One God, One Christ, One life of Jesus who lived, died, and was resurrected who will come again to judge the living and the dead. There is one Tradition, and all the other traditions . . . only have truth relative to the One Tradition.”]

    You spoke of a distinction without a difference–well, here is one for you: Either the grace of God in and through Christ is accessible to people outside of the Orthodox church and culture or it is not. If it is not, then tens of billions of people have died in their sins with no possibility of being saved and will, according to any ordinary understanding of the tradition, be condemned to hell on that account. Is that your view? Probably you would allow that many Catholics and some protestants are saved– eh? –fair enough… But what of Muslims? Jews? Buddhists? Hindus? Taoists? Are some saved or not? If not, you would seem, from where I stand to be worshiping a moral monster who has given the nations enough light to justify their condemnation, but not enough light whereby they might be saved.

    On the other hand, if the grace of God that is given to us in and through Christ is accessible to those outside of Orthodoxy proper– and outside of Christendom, even –then a knowledge of the story of Jesus, per se (even if it is “optimal”, so to speak)would not seem essential to a knowledge of Christ.

    [‘Until the god of SELF meets the One True God in a personal encounter that is able to break through the “reasoning” of the SELF (this happens usually through a personal crises, often physical and/or psychological *suffering* that simply can not be born by the false SELF and live), or one with real purpose and Grace of God embarks on a acesis to “kill” the false self, then all one ends up doing at the end of the day is reasoning about god from ones own ego, and of course god then ends up looking like the SELF. This is what I do almost all the time and only by the Grace of God do I occasionally get a glimpse of something beyond my own ego god.”]

    I’m not sure why you capitalize the SELF if you mean “ego”. Those whose “ego” is their God must go through the crisis indicated–no doubt about it…

    In Vedanta the Self (Atman) is Brahman (cf. “I and my Father are One”). The “ego”, however, is NOT Brahmin (cf. “the carnal mind”).

    “Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the immortal Self are perched on the branches of the selfsame tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes. The individual self, deluded by forgetfulness of his identity with the divine Self, bewildered by his ego, grieves and is sad. But when he recognizes the worshipful Lord as his own true Self, and beholds his glory, he grieves no more.” ~ Mundaka Upanishad 3:1:1-2

    In Buddhism, nirvana is realized when the ego is extinguished (thus “no-self” is celebrated)

    In Sufism, nirFana becomes fana — i.e. “annihilation of the ego”…

    And of course, in Christianity, “I am crucified with Christ — I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

    I am no expert in comparative religion — indeed, I have little doubt but that there are experts who could demonstrate that I am mangling all these “belief systems” — perhaps you will do so. But I know first hand that the Way, the Truth, and the Life is not a belief system. If you are certain that your belief system is the best for you, I am happy for you. If you are certain that it is the best for everyone, I don’t know what to think. Glory be to God for all things…

    [“You might enjoy Fr. John’s Behr’s examination of the axiom problem from an Orthodox perspective”]

    Thank you for the recommendation. I will check it out…

    Wayne

    p.s. do you think Lao Tzu knew the eternal Tao?

  77. Either the grace of God in and through Christ is accessible to people outside of the Orthodox church and culture or it is not. If it is not, then tens of billions of people have died in their sins with no possibility of being saved and will, according to any ordinary understanding of the tradition, be condemned to hell on that account.

    My understanding of the Orthodox position on this is that there is the possibility that some may be saved, but we do not try to answer or make a definitive judgement on this (much as Paul did not in Romans; he could only leave it to God. Like Paul, the Orthodox do the same). It is worth remembering here that theology is only good if it brings us closer to God; good theology is not meant to answer every question. Just my thoughts.

  78. Wayne,
    Salvation can only be through Christ, because salvation is union with God the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. But God is not willing that any should perish. He has given us Christ and the way of Christ and the sacraments. I am certain that many who are not Orthodox will be saved. How that works is God’s problem, not mine. It’s not for me to know everything and explain everything. But I trust His goodness and His mercy. How anyone comes into true knowledge of God through Christ is its own mystery. Orthodoxy is what it is – the true form of Christianity – the Church established by Christ. But there are clearly plenty of other Christians. And there are plenty upon whom the Light shines. He enlightens everyone that comes into the world. But that is not saying that His light is Buddhism, Taoism, etc. But He saves.

  79. Wayne,

    Just to add to what Fr. Stephen says – the ‘is grace “outside”‘ question is just another way of stating the scandal of particularity. The Church has never had an either/or, “saved vs. hell” stance of certain strains of later protestants, thus we don’t judge God and His actions “outside” the Church, and don’t have a juridical either/or view of salvation. In fact, there is a strong universalist stance/opinion in Orthodoxy (e.g. see St. Isaac the Syrian)

    Again, there is no “story of Jesus” and Grace separation. Just as there is no “story of Wayne” and a spiritualized, general, non historic Wayne that is somehow transcendent (and can leave the lower, bodily, historic Wayne behind). Nope, Wayne is a *person*, and as such he is a soul and body unity that resists a gnositic devaluing of the body/history/particularity and a corresponding elevation of a non-historic spirit/mind/reason. Actually, “resists” is not the right word, as it any such separation is simply not real – it is delusion of a reasoning mind/ego (the god of SELF – I cap it to indicate that in this case the ego is subsuming roles not proper to itself – it is worshiping itself).

    As far as your question, it has been at least 25 years since I did any “comparative religion”, so I really don’t recall that much – except that I had realized that one can not really stand outside a “worldview” (i.e. a religion) and judge them from some mythical neutral/higher ground, because no such viewpoint exists. We can not reason or “compare” without having a religion (first principles or axioms). Since the vast majority of those doing comparative religion were in fact modernists (the default religion of modern academia and intellectuals – though many of these folks in the comparative religion business seemed to lean very heavily to a incoherent mishmash of modernism and eastern/Asian nihilism) I decided it was more worthwhile to make a good study of modernism and see what that faith was all about. I soon discovered it was delusion and was converted to Christianity…

  80. Hi Christopher,

    There is a sense in which our particularity must be embraced (and in some respects, it seems to me, you are unwilling to respect the particularity of those born in other cultures and religions), but there is also a sense in which our particularity is that which can and must be transcended. The story of “me” is that which we must let go of if Christ who is our life is to appear… Here are a few observations in that regard–take what you can use and leave the rest:

    Just as there are two archetypical men– Adam and Christ –so there are two archetypical minds: that of the flesh and that of the Spirit…

    With regard to these two men and their respective minds, it may be helpful to think of the former (the carnal mind) as being entirely oriented towards that which is sometimes referred to as “the horizontal dimension”, while the latter (the mind of the Spirit) is “vertically” inclined. Whereas the former tends to think (exclusively) in terms of genealogy and causality and is preoccupied with control in its temporal relationships (perpetually attempting to reconstruct the past and anticipate the future), the latter is, in contrast, steadfastly attuned to our Spiritual origin and destiny (i.e. our eternal life in Christ). As it is written:

    * “Marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born from above” (John 3:7).

    * “We have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16).

    * “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more” (II Corinthians 5:16).

    * “Old things have passed away, behold all things have become new and all things are of God” (II Corinthians 5:17).

    2) The flesh and the mind of the flesh can be fruitfully compared to the “ego” or the “egoic mind”.

    When it comes to the egoic mind, generally, let us each simply look within ourselves and observe:

    * the running mental commentary that is seldom absent from our lives…

    * our personal preoccupation with the story of “me”…

    * our preoccupation with manipulating outcomes so as to secure that which is “good”, in our eyes, and to avoid that which we fear or otherwise judge to be “evil”… [our original sin]

    * our overarching concern with our personal ambition or success and, generally speaking, with that which enhances our personal prestige… [may include intense personal satisfaction with “my” story, tribe, tradition, country, or culture]

    * and even, at times, our inordinate awareness of and preoccupation with our own personal failures and regrets.

    Each of the bulleted items above are– or at least can be and tend to be –a manifestation of the carnal or egoic mind. Moreover, in the New Testament (especially in the gospels and the Pauline epistles), it is repeatedly said that such personal preoccupations must be left behind–that, indeed, even the most innocent of our personal preferences must be subordinated to the will of God as we take up our cross:

    * “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me…” (Matthew 16:24).

    * “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” (Mark 10:39).

    * “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

    * “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ…” (Philippians 3:7). [Saul of Tarsus had no doubt about the supremacy of his tradition and culture, BTW]

    The carnal/egoic mind, considers the horizontal/natural/temporal dimension (i.e. the order of appearances) to be the only reality (or the only reality that really matters, at any rate). And when the personal ego or “I” usurps the place and presence of God in our hearts– attempting to rule, instead of being willing to serve –this is the “mind” with which we become wholly identified. As a result, we become fully immersed (or lost) in the (merely) apparent world which is thereby generated. [and are thus exiled form the garden of God and the tree of life]

    But it is also the case that we have the mind of Christ and that (in and through Him) we also have access to the vertical/eternal dimension (i.e. the order of Being) in and through the power of the Spirit. As such– insofar as we live and walk in the Spirit — it may legitimately be said that we are crucified with Christ and that we no longer live (which means that the “I” no longer sets on the throne of our hearts, trying to manipulate the flow of appearances), but that Christ lives in us (the One who IS before Abraham was — in the order of Being, as such — in the beginning with God).

    Relinquishing the throne of our hearts in this way, we die to “the world” (as represented in and understood by the carnal mind) and become alive to the kingdom of God (which IS the mind of Christ–aka Reality or True Nature).

    I understand that you might take exception this or that particular in these observations, but if, on balance, this is consistent with Orthodox theology, perhaps we can conclude that, on balance, we agree that Christ is our life — the light that lights *everyone* who come into the world — and that “whosoever will may come and drink of the water of life freely…”

    Thanks again,

    Wayne

  81. Wayne,
    We do not overcome our particularity. We become far more Particular and truly Particular. God Himself is Transcendently Particular.

    Actually, those who practice some form of syncretism or endeavor to read “something else” into other religions are the one’s who ignore their particularity. It’s like saying to them, “What you really mean…” and then telling them. I let Buddhists be Buddhists and not crypto-Christians. And I let God save whoever He wills and how He wills. But working out my salvation does not happen through “transcending”, if you will, my particularity, much less the particularity of the Christian tradition. That would, in fact, be the ultimate ego-trip. “I know better than all these particularized traditions and am transcending them.” Nope. That’s just making up your own religion. Instead, I submit to the Tradition and allow myself to be formed. That is the way of the Fathers and the Saints. It’s even the way of Buddhists, etc.

    It’s as though you suggest, in using the words of the Tradition, that they really stand for something else. The path of salvation lies within the Tradition, not standing above it and interpreting it.

    I’m not greater than Orthodoxy.

  82. Hello Wayne,

    Just to add to what Fr. Stephen said:

    “There is a sense in which our particularity must be embraced (and in some respects, it seems to me, you are unwilling to respect the particularity of those born in other cultures and religions),”

    You are actually on to something, for you are framing it from a “democratic” perspective. You see, I do indeed see the particularity of the billions and billions of traditions. However, it is true that I in a democratic sense (where all people/traditions/ideas are equal in a moral and indeed ontologic level) do not “respect” them. I do however “respect” them in a *hierarchical” sense. In a world where some ideas are better or “more true” than others, where some “traditions” reflect the Real in a more complete sense, where some people *know* more about the world and God and Truth than others – that is a hierarchical world. In a democratic worldview, where everyone and their thoughts and ideas and traditions are “equal” and thus to be equally “respected”, then that is a world that I do “respect” in the sense that I don’t hold to it, and thus from democratic mans viewpoint I condemn it.

    This is why for example the homosexualist movement did not stop where they originally said they would – with “civil unions”. They intuitively know (if their philosophy has trouble conceiving and affirming it) that the Christian/Judiac/Islamic/just about any other non-modern world view is a hierarchical one, and thus they need nothing less (and will stop at nothing less – thus the coming persecution) than our full moral and ontological approval and acceptance/affirmation of their “marriage” – which of course we can not give as it is not ours to give.

    This is why you will and must condemn me for my “disrespect” of other traditions, because I indeed do not consider them all equal. Indeed, some (really most) of them are not worth considering at all. Worse, some of them contain a large amounts of non real and even demonic content. Some people are Saints, and some people spend their life with their heads in hell and thus are not worth “respecting” (even if we at the same time respect the Image of Christ in them).

    In an important way, you are not really a purely democratic either Wayne, in that you put Wayne in a position over and above all these traditions and you in an act the mind and will “understand”, and ultimately “integrate” what is for you something you believe to be worthwhile, the “take away”, the truth as you understand it. Of course, you would probably say you “respect” an other persons right to do the same (and his solution is of equal value “for him”), so you probably are a good example of democratic man – in community with other democratic men. Your only true enemy is hierarchical man whose very existence is an affront to the democratic project. Forgive me! I know we are not truly each others enemies – I am simply driving the logic of these positions/outlooks.

    “I understand that you might take exception this or that particular in these observations, but if, on balance, this is consistent with Orthodox theology”

    I agree, the way you put it is Orthodox, with one caveat – The way you ultimately understand the “archtype” and “the horizontal/vertical”, is spiritualized – it contains the gnostic rejection of the “materiality” and the particularity of creation and Jesus Christ, His Church, His New Creation, etc. At least, most of what you have written indicates that you hold this. Perhaps I am wrong and we are talking past each other. There is a way, and it is very dangerous for us spiritually, for us who are intellectually inclined to understand all this from the ego and think we have gotten it when it is in fact another intellectual object of possession. Tradition (and traditions) are not possessed or “understood”, they posses you, they understand you.

    Thus, if you believe what you write, then you must go all the way into the particularity, into the Church, into the Mystery with all the ambiguity, the materiality (where this particular bread becomes His particular Body and thus it really is Body, and not a metaphor, or a something “spiritualized”, a nominalist “representation”).

    Otherwise, you are still Wayne with an “understanding” standing on the outside looking in (and thus Matthew 16:24, (Mark 10:39, Luke 22:42 does not apply to you – you may “understand” it, but you are not actually *doing* it). Part of the Good News, in case you did not know it, is that you still get to be Wayne on the inside also… 😉

  83. Hi Christopher,

    Your wrote:

    [You are actually on to something, for you are framing it from a “democratic” perspective.]

    I have tried to be careful NOT to suggests that all the traditions are the same or of equal value–in part, to concede the possibility that you are right and that Orthodoxy is the standard against which other traditions must be measured, but also to allow for the possibility that the best tradition for a particular individual may depend on their background, temperament, and circumstances (which is closer to my considered opinion).

    I would agree that the body of Christ is democratic in the way that Paul writes in Galatians:

    Galatians 3:27 “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

    Moreover, we seem to have agreed that while salvation is through Christ alone, that does not mean that only those within Orthodoxy proper– or, for that matter, only those within Christendom, more broadly construed –can be saved. Rather, we seem to have allowed that “the light of the world” is universal and is in some sense accessible to all. Karl Rahner referred to those outside Christendom who finds the Way as “anonymous Christians”. Contrary to Fr. Stephen’s representation (who has taken the same approach toward me as some of Fr. Rahner’s critics have to him), I am not being condescending or pretending to know the adherents of other faiths better than they know themselves, but am merely trying to speak intelligibly (in this specific context) of those outside Christendom who recognize and honor the light of the world (however that is possible and whatever language they use to describe it). I am not suggesting that they should convert to Christianity or that they should employ Christian modes of discourse or that I am in a superior position to them. That would seem to be more in line with your position (feel free to clarify).

    [This is why you will and must condemn me for my “disrespect” of other traditions.]

    I don’t believe that I have done this — nor am tempted to do it… My claim was very mild: “in some respects”, I wrote, “it seems to me, you are unwilling to respect the particularity of those born in other cultures and religions.” That is hardly a condemnation–simply an impression (perhaps a mistaken one). For the rest, it is clear that you know “Wayne” better than I do, so I will not bother trying to correct you on that score. I am dead and my life is hid with Christ in God. But if I am really “outside” (of Christ? of the body of Christ?) as you seem to judge, than it is misleading for you to tell me I can still be “Wayne” any more than “Saul of Tarsus” could still be “Saul of Tarsus”, eh?

    Peace,

    Wayne

  84. Wayne,

    “but also to allow for the possibility that the best tradition for a particular individual may depend on their background, temperament, and circumstances (which is closer to my considered opinion).”

    This is simply a way to relativize truth and make each person their own god. “What works for me might not work for you”. It’s democratic. The traditions you pick and choose from don’t allow for this either, because they recognize truth is unitary, not divided. A multiplicity of persons does not equate a multiplicity of “paths” (Matthew 7 13,14)

    “I would agree that the body of Christ is democratic in the way that Paul writes in Galatians:”

    That is not a democratic statement at all.

    ” I am not suggesting that they should convert to Christianity or that they should employ Christian modes of discourse or that I am in a superior position to them. That would seem to be more in line with your position (feel free to clarify).”

    Exactly, you don’t recognize a hierarchy – all people have their “own path” and none is better or worse than any other – very democratic. It’s all interior, self referenced, of the intellect, etc.

    “I am dead and my life is hid with Christ in God.”

    If one co-opts the language and images (or scriptures or Fathers, etc.) of a tradition that he does not actually believe in, then it these words do not mean the same thing that they mean to those within a tradition. By your own admission you are not Orthodox, and a quick perusal of your blog reveals you are not in communion (a basic indication of Christian identity and being) with anyone (or are you simply downplaying your church affiliation?). You are a member of the church of Wayne – you have your own understanding, your own doctrine, your own tradition and to say ” I am dead and my life is hid with Christ in God” is to “borrow” from Christianity and to simply say that you mean one thing and the Church means another. If this were not so, then you would be *doing* (not thinking about) the Church, the sacraments, the scriptures. I have never made a study of Rhaner, but if he justifies this sort of thing as “anonymity” then he is doing a disservice to Christianity.

    You can still be Wayne yes, but it is true you can not worship the SELF true – but you would find what a relief that is, and that the “remainder” of Wayne is actual more than the Wayne in-relation with the god of his SELF, and thus Wayne is more than he was with weight of this idol.

    Not sure how you are identifying with St. Paul. “Saul” was quite literally mugged by God on the road. He was Really (not metaphorically, not mentally) blinded, he Really (not metaphorically, not mentally) heard the voice of God. It took the action of the Holy Spirit through an Apostle to Really (not metaphorically/mentally) heal him. Your story (nor most peoples) does not really match his. One way that his does not match yours is the fact that he was always IN a tradition, a tradition that had him – not one that he had or where he stood on the outside looking in. If you are trying to say that traditions “develops” then he is not your man either, nor is Christianity something that “develops”. The “shadow” (old covenant) and “The Way” (new covenant) is something that can only be understood from within – someone on the outside can say “ah ha! I see a development, a progress” all day but he is only speaking from his religion (i.e. modernism where everything “progresses”).

    One is not free until one is a part of something. Standing alone and gazing from afar is a prescription for loneliness and separation. This is also a contraction and attenuation of the self, because it is a living in relationship with the god of SELF – which is an idol. The scandal of multiplicity is actually it’s own solution when one pushes through it – notice I said *through* it, not alone and apart from based on ones own resources (intellect, physical, cultural, etc.)

  85. Once again, Christopher, you seem to know Wayne better than I do, so I leave him to you–feel free to elaborate on what you have said above, if you see fit. The only thing that I might add that might be illuminating (to someone) is that it is not so much that I am saying there are many paths and that one is as good as the other. Rather, I am saying there are many on-ramps to the Way and that where you are born, your back-ground and circumstances, will have a lot to do with which on-ramp is best for you. I’m not sure how you can deny this unless, in the end, you want to insist that the light of Christ does extend to every human being in a way that is meaningfully accessible to them.

  86. “Rather, I am saying there are many on-ramps to the Way and that where you are born, your back-ground and circumstances, will have a lot to do with which on-ramp is best for you.”

    I can get on board with that. There are far too many good, loving, selfless people who have lived and died without exposure to the (true) Christian gospel to believe otherwise (i.e., that all who fail to be received into the Church are automatically damned) and still say with a straight face that God Is Love.

    The problem seems to be the question of how to know which way is The Way. The Orthodox insist on the visible, revealed, handed-down Church as the standard by which we know we’re anywhere close to the Way – given the ways that you could go horribly, horribly wrong without that standard (everything about Westboro; Bob Jones’ racism) requiring such a standard seems quite reasonable.

    There are, of course, other visible, revealed, handed-down traditions out there. The only way to tell them (and Orthodoxy) apart is to consider them and figure out which one is most likely to be true, which appears to be a derivative of another (and whether that derivation is a fulfillment or corruption of the source religion – or even a preservation, in case of a schism), and the fruits of following one versus following the other. (Saint Vladimir seems to have found Orthodoxy primarily based on that last criterion.)

    It may be better to think of it as having to navigate that narrow space between the Charybdis of being sucked mindlessly into whatever happens to be given to you, versus the Scylla of being split into pieces across everything and trying to duct-tape together your salvation based on nothing but your own individual inferences and guesswork about what your ship should have looked like and how it probably should have worked. Either is a setup for being convinced of something utterly distorted and wrong – better to have been riding in the ark that’s been ferrying people through that gap routinely in the first place.

  87. Wayne,
    I don’t mean to be so contentious. In retrospect, seen from the point of view of salvation (union with God through Christ), everything will have been an on ramp. All things work together for good.

    Orthodoxy is careful first to speak of what it knows, and careful to refrain from speaking about what it doesn’t know. God has made known the path of salvation that is the life of the Church. And the life of the Church, even though we know much and can say much also encompasses a lot of mystery. For what is outside and how God might or does use things for good remains unknown. We are charged with preaching the gospel, not with commenting on the relative merits of on ramps.

    There are inherent dangers outside of the Church, and those errors are certainly spoken about. Orthodoxy has traditionally been very generous in its approach of mission. The story of the mission to Alaska is very illuminating. But Orthodoxy is very incarnational and it is the particulars through which we are saved, rather than generalities. It makes it almost impossible to extract generalizations from Orthodoxy and apply them outside the Church. People do it all the time, but it’s very hard to comment on whether it is of benefit or harm.

    In my years as an Anglican priest, I was very interested in Orthodoxy, it certainly influenced my thinking and practice. I do not know that it made me a better priest. I do know that it wasn’t until I converted that things fell into place. The problem, it seems, is that until that time, there was no “place” for them to fall into.

    Be well

  88. It is the particulars in a particular context. I get concerned when I see folks going around collecting spiritual techniques for their own private use. Like the Jesus Prayer for instance.

  89. Thank you Fr. Stephen. While I have, on balance, lived my life “on the boundary” (as Paul Tillich put it), I can, for that very reason, (at least begin to) appreciate what a blessing it must be to find yourself at home at last within an integral community that can plausibly claim to be a continuation of the living Tradition handed down from Jesus and the Apostles. I have no problem with that whatsoever. It is the tendency on the part of some to say “this isn’t simply God’s best for me (or for “us”), rather, it is what God intends for everyone.” This sentiment– along with the subtle or not so subtle suggestion that to think or feel otherwise is to be in rebellion –that gives me pause. Not only does it seems to me to reflect a kind of judgment is best avoided, it also seems to suggest (or foster) the kind of “group think” (via “social constructs”) that prevents people on “the inside” of whatever group from responding to people on the outside as human beings instead of as “ignorant” or “misguided” (at best) and “defiant” and “evil” (at worst). This is not to say that people may not be ignorant (or misguided, or defiant), but that “group think” is too crude a tool to recognize and respond appropriately (as, for example, Elder Paisios did in the story related by Dino, above). Thanks again…

  90. [Michael Bauman wrote: “It is the particulars in a particular context. I get concerned when I see folks going around collecting spiritual techniques for their own private use. Like the Jesus Prayer for instance.”]

    When I was approaching the midpoint of a long period of desert wandering– still in the thrall of Nietzsche and Biblical criticism –I was introduced to the Jesus Prayer and found it very helpful… Once again I think of “on-ramps” and how difficult it is to judge from the standpoint of (any kind) of “orthodoxy” what might illuminate someone else’s journey.

    https://jwayneferguson.wordpress.com/period-pieces/the-four-precepts/the-jesus-prayer/

  91. ^^^ when I say, “from the standpoint of (any kind of) ‘orthodoxy’ “, I am referring to any kind of merely conceptual orthodoxy. That is not to say that an adherent to Orthodoxy may not have real spiritual discernment (as evinced by Elder Paisios, for example).

  92. Wayne, I think your concerns about “group think” turning poisonous are valid–we see that happen in the World as well as in the Church far too often. This is one reason it is so important to avoid the democratic idea prevalent in the world today and recognize the loving stability of the hierarchy in Orthodoxy. It is so important that the Priest leads us with compassion and patience so we can “work out salvation” within the Body of Christ. It is equally important that we learn to follow, not as slaves, but as humble servants that can show grace to all and avoid the “judgement” you mention. It is, perhaps, the most positive version of “group think” in that it is based in the humility and love of the Body of Christ. Just my thoughts.

  93. “…It is the tendency on the part of some to say “this isn’t simply God’s best for me (or for “us”), rather, it is what God intends for everyone.” This sentiment…”

    If you are talking about non-essentials (most things), then this is can be right. If you are talking about essentials, such as revelation, scriptures, etc. – which is mostly what we have been talking about – then it is not about mental constructs and feelings that are self created and self referenced, it is about what is Revealed. Thus, it is not a “sentiment” or a “tendency” or anything else that comes from the limited, sinful human mind and the “sentiments” of the flesh. On the contrary, it comes from “out there”, beyond the self…

    “How could anyone possibly misuse the Jesus Prayer?”

    Fr. Hopko in his “Abolition of Man” talk (recently discussed on some thread here) quipped that there seemed to be much interest in the “Jesus Prayer”, but not in either “Jesus” or “Prayer”. One can see the point. It can become another possession, grafted on to a philosophy of ones own making, and thus being rent from the Tradition can be “misused” – probably the harm being that one is deluding oneself about both Jesus and prayer…

  94. It is not that difficult to misuse the Jesus Prayer, you could catch yourself commanding Jesus to mercy you if you’re not careful for instance…

  95. Wayne,
    I find that God’s grace is often more palpable and generous to those who are outside of the vows/covenant of a tradition (to attract them to the truth). Its pedagogical, greater trials (of its withdrawals) and recurrence in (far greater) strength would almost infringe on one’s freedom if they are still on the peripheries of the permanence of a consecrated path of ‘covenant’…
    And until a person lives the words at the end of all Orthodox prayers, ‘By the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us’ as, ‘By the prayers of my Father Confessor who has birthed me in Christ…’ they have a long way to go before setting foot on that path. May the Lord lead us all there – we really do need a visible type of Christ once we start ascending those dangerous heights…

  96. “Every being has a definite vocation, and his vocation is the light which illuminates his life. The man who disregards his vocation is a lamp unlit. He who sincerely seeks his real purpose in life is himself sought by that purpose. As he concentrates on that search a light begins to clear his confusion, call it revelation, call it inspiration, call it what you will. It is mistrust that misleads. Sincerity leads straight to the goal.” ~ Inayat Khan

  97. Christopher– it sounds like your interpretation of misuse of the Jesus Prayer is forgetting to pray it. 🙂 That, I can agree with.

    Dinod– LOL, cute.

  98. Wayne,

    Reading this thread makes me reflect on the fact that every position has its pluses and minuses, its safeties and dangers. For those ensconced within the walls of an organization there are dangers like complacency and ignorance due to an over dependence upon the structure that encompasses them. These are real dangers and they are part of the cross those people have to bear.

    By the same token a life lived “on the boundary” will have dangers that are counterpoint to these. I would guess them to be things like waywardness and over-examination of everything leading to a lack of trust and even resentment in authority – along with the perpetual sense of drifting in the wind.

    These dangers don’t automatically condemn either group; they are simply the things which will always be perching on their respective crosses, kind of like the drink for an alcoholic. They must continually be guarded against and simultaneously the person in question must submit their failures of guarding them at God’s feet and simply ask for mercy and grace in these areas.

    There are always different positions in each group – and there always will be. The thing isn’t to insistent on uniformity of occupation, but rather to love the other and respect the place they have been called to stand.

  99. “Every being has a definite vocation, and his vocation is the light which illuminates his life. The man who disregards his vocation is a lamp unlit. He who sincerely seeks his real purpose in life is himself sought by that purpose. As he concentrates on that search a light begins to clear his confusion, call it revelation, call it inspiration, call it what you will. It is mistrust that misleads. Sincerity leads straight to the goal.” ~ Inayat Khan”

    This quote makes me wonder what “vocation” means to Mr. Khan. It is used in a seemingly objective sense and it is notable that God is not an object that we seek, but a person with which we have a relationship. I wonder how much a “vocation” can actually act as a “…light which illuminates his life”?

  100. [drewster2000 wrote: “There are always different positions in each group – and there always will be. The thing isn’t to insistent on uniformity of occupation, but rather to love the other and respect the place they have been called to stand.”]

    That seems right to me. I realize that there are certain goods that are intrinsic to any integral community (and integral system of thought and practice) that those on the outside are not in position to fully understand and appreciate. To my mind, that is part of the diversity of the body of Christ. My concern– as Fr. Stephen describes in a more recent post –is with those who jealously guard the boundary of their communion and imagine that the body of Christ does not extend beyond it. That kind of rhetoric is a huge turnoff and does not, on balance, inspire people to want “in”– and probably not to stay “in”, either –for the right reasons (IMO). Fr. Stephen’s approach in this more recent piece seems more Christlike and much more welcoming to me:

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/06/15/a-cosmic-salvation/

  101. [Byron wrote: “This quote makes me wonder what “vocation” means to Mr. Khan. It is used in a seemingly objective sense and it is notable that God is not an object that we seek, but a person with which we have a relationship. I wonder how much a “vocation” can actually act as a “…light which illuminates his life”?]

    [Fr. Stephen wrote: “This is a form of the Romanticized American Dream. Our vocation is to be united with God, not “discover what my job is.”]

    In fact, Inayat Khan’s usage of the term is much closer to Fr. Stephen’s than it is to that of the American dream. The man of God, he suggests, “seeks God as his love, lover and beloved, his treasure, his possession, his honor, his joy, his peace; and his attainment in its perfection alone fulfills all demands of life both here and hereafter.”

    With regard to our life in this world, he writes:

    “Each one has his circle of influence, large or small; within his sphere so many souls and minds are involved; with his rise, they rise; with his fall, they fall. The size of a man’s sphere corresponds with the extent of his sympathy, or we may say, with the size of his heart. His sympathy holds his sphere together. As his heart grows, his sphere grows; as his sympathy is withdrawn or lessened, so his sphere breaks up and scatters. If he harms those who live and move within his sphere, those dependent upon him or upon his affection, he of necessity harms himself.”

    https://wahiduddin.net/mv2/I/I_I_2.htm

    Note that he does not say that the size of a person’s sphere is proportional to his annual income or the abundance of the things he possesses… Of course, he is not Orthodox and you need not look far to differentiate yourself from him, but he has much more in common with Orthodoxy (I suspect) than he does with the promoters of the American dream. The latter– at least as it came down to us in the late 20th century –is concerned with the bottom line… With “hustling” as described in this article at the Atlantic monthly:

    “How America’s ‘Culture of Hustling’ Is Dark and Empty: Results-obsessed perspectives overlook meaning — and leave little room for creativity, pleasure, or accepting the importance of sadness.” [google it]

  102. Wayne,
    it has always been my opinion -after researching the matter- that the good stuff someone might wonder at when looking into Sufism – the real good stuff- is due to Suffism’s profound influence and amalgamation of Eastern Orthodox Hesychast notions (from Isaac the Syrian onwards).
    That it is so close to Orthodox Hesychasm (the heart of Orhtodoxy) does not mean that there isn’t a difference… Many differences occur even within Orthodoxy.
    A $10000 Wine bottle and a $10 one surely are very different, most especially to the conoiseur. And with great skill and experimentation, one could perhaps add some sugar, lemon, vinegar and various other elements to make something tasting almost like wine, perhaps even an exquisite one, it surely won’t be the same thing though.

  103. Many thanks for the explanations!

    Father, I agree that our vocation is to be united with God.

    Wayne, I think that Inayat Khan’s usage of the term is much more human-centered; his viewpoint would be well received among the secular in society. His definition of the man of God seems a simple way to show this:

    “seeks God as HIS love, lover and beloved, HIS treasure, HIS possession, HIS honor, HIS joy, HIS peace; and HIS attainment…” (emphasis mine)

    I have found this type of language to be very disingenuous in the past; the lives of most people employing it, after some digging/discussion, clearly revolve around themselves and God becomes something they possess, cast in their own image. Just my thoughts.

  104. Wayne,
    I will not continue to permit links to Sufi or Esoteric articles. The purpose of the blog is not comparative mysticism. Part of maintaining a safe and reliable blog includes the exclusion of some material.

  105. “That kind of rhetoric is a huge turnoff and does not, on balance, inspire people to want “in””

    Quite the opposite. Such “rhetoric” is not rhetoric at all, but attempts (attempts that Fr. Stephen rightly points can sometimes fall short of its object) to discern and speak about something that falls outside the self and thus is larger than the self. What is a “turnoff” is the endless grey town of the modern man continually (like the eastern image of yin yang, forever circling and circling and circling) building up and tearing down (with the speed of thought) his own answers, his own cosmology, his own SELF.

    Pick and choose Christianity or worse, “spirituality”, that is a turnoff. Men without chests (see C.S. Lewis), that is a turnoff. Death, now that is a real “turnoff”….

  106. To be “in” requires not only the right direction, but will, inherently include understanding the nature of boundaries. Having understood the nature of the boundary, it doesn’t have to become the focal point of attention, but the boundary is essential.

    The most essential characteristic of the boundary is the requirement of repentance. I have to be able to say of God, “I am not you.” It is even essential to say, “I have been out of communion with you.” I do not want to deny any reality to my life before Orthodoxy. But I recall the day of my Chrismation thinking, “St. Seraphim and the saints through the ages, knew the precise smell and aroma of this unique oil with which I am being received…” If you will, it is an odor in Apostolic Succession. There were other things as well. But walking through the door doesn’t mean that I should spend all of my time as a doorkeeper. We are called into the altar of grace.

    The particularity of grace is worth noting. We never do anything in general. Generalities are the least saving things in our lives. The day of my reception into the Church, I had to do “this thing,” and not something else. But it also meant that I could do “this” thing. None of us can do anything in general. We cannot follow God in general. Only in particular. And life will become increasingly particularized until the moment of our death, when we do perhaps the most unique thing in our lives.

  107. Wayne, I too encountered Nietzsche and was fascinated by him for a time many years ago. Probably the only reason I did not get enthralled was that I had begun to know Jesus Christ a little before I ran into Nietzsche.

    Here is the bottom line: Jesus Christ is the solution to all the riddles you pose for yourself.

    Not the Jesus Christ if the mind, but the person you meet and learn to love.

    The Orthodox Church despite her faults has the safest most proven way to meet Him as Lord, God, savior and the only lover of mankind.

    It took me 39 years wandering around looking at other options before I was brought to the Church. I am a stiff necked man.

    The next 28 half served to impress on me just how dangerous self-made spirituality is.

    There are many lovers of Christ outside the Orthodox Church. They are easy to recognise if one is himself a lover of Christ though still a sinner.

    The are far more charletons and soul stealers who have some semblance of the truth but only to nothingness.

    I experienced a few of those in that 39 years–Sufiism being one.

    The Church in her sacramental life is like an overflowing fountain that nurishes everyone to some degree. But if you want the fullness and the sweetness it can only be experienced safely within the community that is closest to and guardians of that fountain.

  108. The OP is concerned with whether or to what degree our categories give us our world–and whether or to what degree there is a REALITY which transcends our partisan and sectarian struggle to “frame the conversation” and define the terms of the debate.

    Clearly and undeniably, on one level, our categories DO give us our world. “History” looks different from different points of view. All we have to go on is a set of shared (intersubjective) constructs. “Morality” also looks very different from different points of view (though, in this case, our “vocation” serves as a corrective to the dominant culture). Not even “Science” is immune from such debates (e.g. as we struggle to come to terms with questions concerning evolution, global warming, mental illness, and cancer screening/treatments, everyone appeals to “science” and it is not at all clear which “facts” we should believe, much less which “hypothesis”).

    In my earlier comments, I was attempting to point out that for some of you, Orthodoxy appears to be a community that not only has given you an inside track to the truth– praise be to God –but one which you KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt offers the only full and complete access to the truth to anyone and everyone else (whoever they may be, wherever they may have been born, and under whatever circumstances they may be living). IMO, that has resulted in a kind of “group think” that keeps some of you from really hearing and interacting authentically and compassionately with those outside of Orthodoxy.

    The example of the Jesus Prayer is a case in point. It is dangerous, according to some of you, for people to pray the Jesus Prayer on their own without direction (from an Orthodox teacher, I presume). Those praying in this way may be deceiving themselves… They may be trying to dictate to Jesus (or some nonsense).

    Of course, there are 1000 ways to be deceived and only ONE WAY to God. But if the New Testament (and even the Old Testament prophets) teach anything, it is that the religious establishment is often deceived and often deceives others (giving people the false sense of security that is found in the safety of numbers). It was in that context that I shared the Inayat Khan quote (“it is mistrust that misleads… sincerity leads straight to the goal”). Realizing that this is not a group for the discussion of comparative religion, I left off his honorific title (Hazrat) and I did not provide a link to the quote. The point was to indicate that we are in some significant sense free and that the grace of is available to all. As such, we need not be afraid to pray the Jesus prayer. If we do so sincerely, it will be edifying. I would add, however, that even if we do so insincerely, the grace of God is sufficient–is it not? Just as it was for the prodigal son in the parable…

    To be honest, I found many of the comments in the wake the Jesus prayer discussion to be a “turn-off” for the reason indicated, but I felt that Fr. Stephen’s subsequent post on “A Cosmic Salvation” adequately addressed my concerns, so I decided it was best to forgo any further discussion of the matter. I only posted the additional quotes and the link when you guys were trying to turn Inayat Khan into a 21st century self-help, success guru. He is nothing of the kind. And Byron’s conclusion about the self-absorbed nature of “his vocation” and “his God” is totally off the mark.

    Back to the OP: As I see it, the way to transcend the partisan and sectarian power struggles is not to join another sect and start promoting its categories in an equally sectarian and exclusivistic manner, but to recognize and honor the living Christ. Walking in that light, we will indeed live very particular as well as very universal lives. And for some of us, that will mean embracing Orthodoxy in all its particularity. But if that is simply another ego-identity that makes “me” confident that I am right– and that gives me the right to make sweeping judgments about the vast majority of human beings who have lived and died outside of Orthodoxy –perhaps we can all agree that “I” have misunderstood what it means to be in Christ.

    I appreciate that many of you feel at home, at last, in Orthodoxy. That’s wonderful. But perhaps you should consider the possibility that others, too, may be exactly where the Lord want them, as well. Glory be to God for all things.

  109. Wayne, the folks I was talking about, using the Jesus Prayer as an example, are the folks who are only concerned with themselves and go from one group to another like a spiritual buffet picking up goodies here and goodies there and trying to mix them exclusively for their own benefit. It is not the Jesus Prayer that is dangerous, it is the attitude with which one uses it–kinda like the vagabond Jews described in Acts 19.

    The Jesus Prayer has a meaning and a use within the Orthodox Church it cannot have outside the Church because the prayer is an integral part of the life of the Holy Spirit that is particular to the Orthodox Church. The prayer’s form and content presumes a certain way of life that includes participation in the sacraments of the Church. It is not meant to stand alone.

    There will always be boundaries and barriers: Good fences make good neighbors. It is a uniquely modern view that barriers are negative things. Egalitarianism is not a positive belief. It is immensely destructive.

    I have no knowledge of where God wants others in particular, I do know that he wants all of us with Him. The particular question I rarely consider. When I do, I am usually wrong. I do know that God wants me in the Orthodox Church and I am delighted to share my experience of that with others. That experience also includes being rescued from some dark places along the way; beliefs and practices that I have seen have horrendous consequences to those who are ruled by them. I am also bound to share those experiences with others when the opportunity arises. Sort of like telling folks not to run out into the busy street because you might get run over.

    I also know that the Orthodox Church has a 2000 year track record of producing holiness that has no equal. Only the Roman Catholic Church has a similar record of good fruit. I am far from that, yet I am continually drawn in that direction.

    One really good thing I got out of my Sufi exposure was the saying from a Sufi teacher I knew, Samuel Lewis: “You get more stinkin’ from thinkin’ than you do from drinkin'”

  110. Wayne,

    I appreciate your warnings against sectarianism and “group think”, but I want to stress again Fr. Stephen’s point about particularity. In a real and final sense we are all bound to “group think” even if that ends up being a group of one. I By definition of being a human being we in habit one space that shares one point of view only.

    There is no way to have it all. You will stand inside a recognizable group, being in the experience and working within those boundaries – and there will be much gained and internally understood deep within the soul by doing so.

    OR

    You will stand outside and play the observer. There is also much to be learned from this angle.

    But you can’t do both at the same time. And it would seem that God called most of us to be within a group, that we were born primarily as participants and secondarily as observers. I fully understand that being in one shouldn’t be “simply another ego-identity that makes “me” confident that I am right”.

    Ideally all those within would respect those without and vice versa. This is where that shy virtue called humility comes into play. A quick definition of humility is to acknowledge and accept reality as it is. So the humble member of the group following Christ will naturally be able to recognize a follower outside the group – and it would go both ways.

    But notice the example is about a particularity, one person recognizing the light of Christ in one other person. This is different than standing above it all and saying, “there are plenty of people finding their own way to God outside this group”. We are the people of the one thing. We can’t bless all Sufism, but we may find a Sufi in which the Light shines.

    There are always cautions. The Orthodox person has to guard against exclusivity and a person like yourself has to guard against a lack of boundaries, but generalities won’t do away with the need for those points of vigilance. Speaking of boundaries, this quote bears repeating:

    “Having understood the nature of the boundary, it doesn’t have to become the focal point of attention, but the boundary is essential.”

    This something worth heeding carefully for a person in your position. As I said above, one thing you need to guard against is scope creep, widening your boundaries until they are meaningless. A person doesn’t need to obsess over the line, but the line still needs to be there and needs to mean something. It should not be idly crossed.

  111. “The OP is concerned with whether or to what degree our categories give us our world…”

    Nope. The OP is giving a critique of cartesian, “deontological”, categorical thinking, starting from presuppositions that do not assume what he is critiquing.

    “…and whether or to what degree there is a REALITY… ”

    Nope. The OP is a Christian, there is no central critique (whether it exists, whether it can be accessed, thought of, revealed to us, etc.) of REALITY. Quite the opposite, said REALITY critiques us.

    The rest of your post is a winding road to the wrong place (with many wrong stops along the way) because you started at the wrong place. You have to figure out a way to examine your presuppositions. Hint: Christianity does not follow Kant

  112. Father, OP is an acronym in internet lingo for Original Poster. Usually the author of an article, so in this case I think it’s referring to you.

  113. Wayne,
    A caveat must be added concerning the Jesus prayer without a guide (and without a sacramental life):
    one enters into ‘spiritual realms’ through its regular practice… and as they advance further, they will encounter all sorts of stuff that they did not even suspect. Even extraordinarily deceitful stuff.

    If you wanted to drive to a dangerous and unfamiliar place, would you be as confident with just a map as you would be with a guide who actually lives there sitting next to your driver’s seat?

    If you wanted to learn gymnastics would you prefer to do it with books and experimentation to having expert guidance from a pro-gymnast?

  114. “OP” in my comments refer to the “original post” (in this case the article, “Speaking of Reality”). Perhaps Fr. Stephen will let me know whether (or to what degree) I have misrepresented the concerns of his article in my last comment.

    I am on the run today– heading out the door –more in the fullness of time . . .

  115. And Byron’s conclusion about the self-absorbed nature of “his vocation” and “his God” is totally off the mark.

    My apologies for so misrepresenting your intent (and the intent of the quote), Wayne.

    I am critical of the language used in the quote as I’ve seen it used so often in the possessive–as a defense of recasting God in a person’s own image so they receive constant reinforcement of themselves, not a humility and self-denial before God. (Another example of such a thing is, “My god loves Me just as I am”).

    I do think this is the type of language structure that is well received in our secular society today.

    Again, my apologies for misrepresenting your intent there.

  116. No problem, Byron–I can see why it would be tempting to read it that way in this context. You can visit the link indicated if you’d like to learn more about Hazrat Inayat Khan.

    [Dino wrote: “as they advance further, they will encounter all sorts of stuff that they did not even suspect. Even extraordinarily deceitful stuff. If you wanted to drive to a dangerous and unfamiliar place, would you be as confident with just a map as you would be with a guide who actually lives there sitting next to your driver’s seat? If you wanted to learn gymnastics would you prefer to do it with books and experimentation to having expert guidance from a pro-gymnast?]

    Of course, people do need guides and teachers along the way–and close contact with living, breathing human beings is preferable to books. But the student or seeker must have confidence that the teacher knows NOT only his (the teacher’s) own subject matter, but also something of his (the seeker’s) personal and emotional circumstances. I grew up in the Bible belt and attended fundamentalist and evangelical churches, for the most part. I found no one in my protestant circle of friends who had any real appreciation for my real questions/problems at the time (which arose in the context of my study of Nietzsche and Biblical criticism). There was simply no one who advocated for Christianity that I could trust until I was in graduate school and met a Nietzsche scholar who was also a devout Catholic. He was not really my spiritual guide, but he was a good friend who I trusted because I knew that he both knew and appreciated Nietzsche in a profound way. Long story short, his Catholic faith– and my exposure to the Jesus prayer –opened my heart to God again. While I began to have some contact with Orthodoxy in my late 20’s, I did not begin attending Orthodox service until I was in my early 30’s. Later someone shared a copy of Seraphim Rose’s book on Nihilism, but despite some elements of our experience which are similar, I did not find the general trajectory of his thought compelling. To be honest, however, I did not read the whole book and, so, can claim only a superficial knowledge of his work. I have read more about him, since then– and I recently read his letter to Thomas Merton –but I am no longer “seeking” in the way that I was in my 20s, 30s, and 40s (see below).

    Drewster2000: Thank you for your comments. Reality (in Christ) is very simple from where I stand. He is the light of life–the light in which we see light NOW. This is the light of the world which I recognize and honor. This is the living Christ. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” I’m willing to participate in whatever groups that Lord leads me to… I attend Baptist church with my older brother who is disabled. I attend Orthodox services at Christmas and Easter and occasionally visit a monastery with a friend. I enjoy browsing through the monastery library and listening to the readings during lunch with the monks. When I have opportunity, I also enjoy teaching an intro to philosophy class my local university. My daily life is taken up with caregiving (for my older brother and for our brother-in-law with whom we live–both of them are disabled). I am also studying Traditionalism and various strains of esoteric philosophy in dialogue with a friend who is now Orthodox, but who is well read in many fields of thought. All of these are authentic relationships. I am open to other authentic relationship as the Lord wills. I also am content to die as I now live. I trust God unconditionally for the well being of my soul. Where he leads me I will follow… No need to try to “force” things…

    Mike Bauman: Thank you for your comments, as well. I appreciate the dangers and the dark places whereof you speak–have experienced my share… Enjoyed the Sufi Sam quote, too (also know about “stinkin’ thinkin’ from Al Anon). Your wrote:

    “The Orthodox Church despite her faults has the safest most proven way to meet [Jesus] as Lord, God, savior and the only lover of mankind” AND “the Orthodox Church has a 2000 year track record of producing holiness that has no equal.”

    Those are very beautiful sentiments– heartfelt, no doubt –but I see no way to test their truth. Why not say, instead– more cautiously and persuasively –that the Orthodox is a safe and proven way… That it has a long and venerable track record… Or why not say that those are your beliefs? Just something to think about…

    Finally, while I am not “seeking” in the way I was for several decades, I am interested in learning– interested in “growing in grace and knowledge of the truth” as we used to say –and in communicating more effectively. Thank again– everyone –for the opportunity to do so in this context. I almost always enjoy Fr. Stephen’s articles.

    Glory be to God for all things!

  117. For what it’s worth, Wayne, yours is the most inoculated approach to Orthodoxy. To respect and regard it, and keep it safely as a resource. Like other things, I suspect, you mine them all. Sort of an eclectic approach.

    You’ll probably encounter border patrols all the time. They may see you as a “thief.” Plundering the stuff and stories you like, and leaving the rest at a distance.

    Everybody can do what they like – we’re all free. But don’t be surprised when you encounter a reaction that you might have as much responsibility for as those you encounter.

  118. Quoting St. Augustine, “[Truth] welcomes all her lovers who are in no way envious for her, and is common to all and chaste to each one ( On Free Choice, book 2, chapter 14).”

  119. Wayne,
    I have used the example of marriage before to describe why the Cup is only given to Orthodox persons. Most, probably all, Orthodox saints would trade anything they have for a single draft from that Cup (were it demanded). St. Mary of Egypt asked for nothing more after 47 years in the desert. The treasure of Orthodoxy is ultimately in the sacraments. It’s where the truth is eaten. But it requires “marriage.” A life-long commitment and faithfulness within the Church. No doubt “truth welcomes all her lovers,” but in today’s context and the present conversation, it’s a tragic turn of phrase on St. Augustine’s part.

    It’s also Neo-Platonic philosophic babble. Sometimes the dear Bishop of Hippo made mistakes.

  120. Wayne, not everything is an opinion. Even in the realm of opinions, not all opinions are equally valid. It is quite easy to test my statement; it can even be done from outside the Church. The Orthodox path to sanctity is the longest running most documented and proven empirical experiment ever: From St. Stephen the protomartyr to Saint Pasius (sp) and millions of saints known only to God.

    To do the test one has to have an open mind or at least not so skeptical as to automatically rule out all evidence that supports the hypothesis. The first step is the read the lives of the saints searching for the core of why and how they achieved what they achieved. If you read with discernment, attention and faith you will see a great deal. WARNING: such a test might very well change your life.

    The holiness demonstrated in the lives of the saints has a continuity to it, historically, spiritually and humanly that is extraordinary. There are some in the Church who refer to that continuity as a golden thread.

    A small example of what I mean: on the back wall of the nave of my parish are two icons. One is of St. Ignatius of Antioch martyred in the early second century. The other is of St. Raphael of Brooklyn who died in the early 20th century. If you read what they wrote, examine the ways in which they acted in pastoring their flocks you will see two men separated by 1800 years in time who lived remarkably similar lives. They had the same faith, they gave their lives for their flocks (each in his own way), the sacraments were at the core of what they did–not just the formal celebration of specific sacraments but the incarnational reality of God with us.

    Get past the gray, entropic egalitarian ideas and you may begin to see a whole new world of beauty and life that you never suspected. Or as Teddy Roosevelt put it:

    It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

    The neat thing about the saints, in imitation of their Lord what seem to be their greatest defeats are often their greatest victories.

  121. Wayne,

    I understand you to some extent. I have a father in the same “occupation”. Fr. Stephen’s advice about this “inoculated approach” was quite pertinent and worthy of heeding. I know you probably won’t but it doesn’t trouble me. With God’s help you’ll find your way. Just 2 quick points:

    1. Your way is dangerous because you are alone. Yes that gives you many advantages, just as there are good things about being single, but neither are something that I would promote for widespread usage. Walk your path if you must but it would be best not to recommend it too lightly to others.

    2. You have indeed inoculated yourself. This is not something peculiar to those lurking on the borders. People of all walks fall into this trap. They’re too smart for their own good. They build up good defenses for all their positions and then go around testing them by seeing if anyone can knock them down. There is no one (or few) on the inside with whom you take weighty counsel. Two difficulties arise in this situation.

    a. The fortifications get taken for granted, assumed to be impenetrable – and thus are unprepared when something big comes along to blast a big hole in them.

    b. The fact that most people can’t knock them down isn’t an indication that those people are wrong. Bad ones are kept out but so are good ones, those who have good things, holy things to share with you but no powerful arguments to impart them with by which to get by your fortifications.

    These things you know but bear continual remembrance. Again I appreciate your comments here and I wish you all the best on your journey. May God’s grace and mercy go with you.

  122. Gentleman: I so sorry this has turned into a discussion of me. Perhaps I did bring it on myself — perhaps I was inconsiderate of one or more of you or of Fr. Stephen (since this is his space). I apologize.

  123. Michael,

    That Teddy quote is the last thing you read (well, if you take the time) before you step on the mats at my dojo…

  124. Wayne,

    A case in point: We were just dwelling on the particular for the moment – you. (grin) All this discussion is just blaring trumpets and clashing cymbals if in the end it doesn’t speak to the individual heart.

  125. Wayne, not really about you, just the ideas and approach you demonstrate. Don’t know you at all. However, the fact that you felt it was about you and we were all addressing you as a person indicates the reality of the particular as opposed to the general.

    Even if an idea is common it does not mean much “in general” only if it is embodied in a particular person or circumstance. Facts, ideas and philosophies all change depending on the context. Only the particular of a person does not change. In large part that is because we are named and each given our identity by God. There really is no such thing as an observer or objectivity. That BTW speaks directly to the reality of the incarnation, the person of Jesus Christ and the sacramental gift He gives to each of us.

    The best part of what you have said is that their is clearly no malice on your part. That is a gift and makes engaging with the ideas in this particular context possible.

  126. I attend Baptist church with my older brother who is disabled. I attend Orthodox services at Christmas and Easter and occasionally visit a monastery with a friend. I enjoy browsing through the monastery library and listening to the readings during lunch with the monks. When I have opportunity, I also enjoy teaching an intro to philosophy class my local university. My daily life is taken up with caregiving (for my older brother and for our brother-in-law with whom we live–both of them are disabled). I am also studying Traditionalism and various strains of esoteric philosophy in dialogue with a friend who is now Orthodox, but who is well read in many fields of thought. All of these are authentic relationships.

    Blessings and Grace to you in caring for your family, Wayne.

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