Understanding Evil and Doing Good

quote-the-line-separating-good-and-evil-passes-not-through-states-nor-between-political-parties-either-aleksandr-solzhenitsyn-296636The Fathers commonly spoke of three things together: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. The three are related. And it is necessary to understand these three in order to understand the nature of evil – both why it is evil and how it behaves.

The root of Truth, Beauty and Goodness in the Fathers is Being and Existence. God alone has true Being and all things exist and have their being as a gift from Him. As gifts from God, being and existence are inherently good. Classically, the Fathers describe us as moving from being, to well-being to eternal being. It is a way of describing the path of salvation.

Truth and Beauty can also be understood in this model. Truth is synonymous with true being – with what really is. And so we say that Christ Himself is the Truth, for God alone is the truly existing one. His Being is the cause of all being. We observe that what truly exists is beautiful. It has wonder and order and moves us to desire it.

All of these set the parameters for understanding what is meant by “evil.” Evil is not something in itself. It is not any sort of being, nor any sort of existence. Nothing, not even the devil himself, is evil by nature. Evil is simply a movement away from and against being. It is opposed to being. It hates existence. It is a drive towards destruction.

Evil hates the truth, because the truth is real and exists. It cannot bear the reality of truth’s being. Evil hates beauty for the same reason. And though evil can use things that are beautiful, it only uses them for the purpose of destruction and non-being.

And so we encounter evil in this world. But, in fact, we never actually encounter “evil” as a thing or a being itself. It is always a direction and a movement, or an action with a certain direction and movement. Many things, including our own lives from time to time, are marked by a movement away from truth, being and goodness. Like objects that have their own inertia, that is, once they begin to move in a direction, they seem to want to continue, so, too, evil has a sort of inertia. It moves towards destruction and even seems to take other things along with it.

There are personalities, broken and diseased, that become fascinated with evil (with the original meaning of fascinated). Fascinans is a Latin word that describes a certain power to draw or compel someone. We are “drawn” to what fascinates us. With evil, that same power and attraction can seem to be present. Anger, rebellion, iconoclasm and destruction often have cultural expressions. A young person dressed in black, tattooed, pierced, angry, drawn to very dark, even Satanic music is almost a caricature of this sort of fascination. It can be extremely dangerous.

Such evil need not seem obvious. The forces of our modern world often seem quite benign, even deeply concerned with our welfare. But there always lurks the desire to “remake” and to create a new world and new human beings. Over the three centuries of the Modern Project, some of the most broad-sweeping, systematic and destructive evil the world has ever seen has been unleashed: the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, even the drive towards the amassing of wealth. All of these things (and those that rhyme with them) have in common not only a desire to “build a new world,” etc., but the need to destroy the old or to sweep those things that resist out of the way.

Evil never constructs an empire. Those things that are the hallmarks of civilization occur despite the presence of evil. We have seen evil policies and laws in many political settings, but they have a tendency to collapse. Evil’s drive is towards non-being and it cannot construct the things necessary to survive. It is, I think, why humanity has not simply destroyed itself. Though there is always evidence of a drive to destruction, there is also an instinct for order and beauty. And in the world God has created (even though we describe it as “fallen”), the instinct for order and beauty is simply greater than the drive towards destruction.

This way of thinking about good and evil is not just a way for analyzing the world. It is also a way for thinking about our lives and the path of salvation. It is also a way of discerning the many good things in the world and in civilizations that are not specifically oriented towards the Christian faith in a transparent manner. Christ Himself, the Logos, is the true reason and order of all things and He draws all things towards Himself.

Evil has a deeply irrational aspect, particularly when “rational” is understood as “related to the Logos.” The “will to power” seen in many cultural and political phenomena often has a very evil component. That which is “sheer will” reveals an emptiness. It is nothing but a force and a movement. It is a movement that seeks to impose its own version of order or reality that, as often as not, is destructive.

One of the great dangers of our modern technological, consumer culture is its use of technology to create false realities. The sexual revolution is primarily the application of technology to create a false sexual freedom. The total elimination of the natural consequences of sexual activity is itself a form of destruction and creates a false order. To have a culture where young men and women are sexually active and yet typically barren and marriage-avoidant is not natural, nor according to the order of things. It is a “new” world whose dark consequences are already revealing themselves.

The hoarding of great wealth is also destructive of the true order of things. Only violence (whether implied or potential) can maintain a deep disparity in wealth and power. The violence of poverty (often blamed on the poor themselves in modern culture) is probably the most widespread form of evil in the modern world. Some argue that there is an absolute “property right” taught in Scripture. This is not true. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” We do not “own” anything. We are stewards of what we have been given. Property law, generally a good thing, is nevertheless maintained through the threat of violence (police and civil court). Deep disparity cries out for justice.

Throughout history, not in the manner described by Marxist theory, but, nonetheless, in a common repeated manner, the destructive violence of disparity collapses. Evil always moves towards a collapse. The acquisition of wealth, in opposition to the generosity of sharing what is ultimately a gift, appears to many as a “building up” and a constructive effort. But this is not the Biblical or Patristic witness. Acquisition is not the true source of wealth and the power it gives is in opposition to the power that belongs to God. God gives freely of all that He has and all that He is. Self-emptying and generosity are the source of fullness and true wealth. The wealthy fool will perish along with all of his wealth.

This brings us to reflect on the details of our daily existence. Each day, each breath, represents a unique and generous gift from God. It is immediatey the good thing that He gives to us. The goodness of our life directs us to give to others in turn, and to offer thanks to God above all things. There is, within a gifted existence, not an effort to force and control, but primarily an effort first to accept and to live.

A gifted existence, living with the good, the true and the beautiful, has an inherently traditional shape. The word “tradition” indicates that what you have has been given to you. This does not block creativity, but channels it. There is always the recognition of the destructive tendencies within our refusal to live in a proper manner. We become iconoclasts towards what is given, convinced that we can do better.

The drive towards destruction is the refusal of the gift. Peace does not come in the drive to create change – it comes in the life that rightly embraces the giftedness of all things.

64 comments:

  1. One of the seductive abilities of evil is that it mimics beauty and promises falsely relief from pain.

    Nihilism appeals directly to the demonic desire to control and conquer.

    Marxism presents a false eschatology but without God or gift. Everything is taken and compelled. That is why it has been called a Christian heresy.

    Mao said all (earthly) power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

    In Christ, the Cross is the way. Yet we seem to be so easily fooled because we seek justice and fairness and to be right.

    “Therefore I beg you…have mercy for in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.”

  2. Father,

    This essay seems to me to be foundational. Our society, and sadly much of Christianity, languishes precisely because they lack this basic understanding. When one understands this, it eliminates much confusion and prevents being misled.

    In saying this my point isn’t simply to congratulate you on yet another excellent bit of writing, but to point out that it also seems to me that this concept should be described & taught early in a person’s evangelization & catechism.

    My only small point of confusion was in your statement “An absolute commitment to “property rights,” that some maintain as Biblical, can be a form of violence. Property is a function of law, which is, finally, a function of violence.”

    I don’t understand the connection.

  3. The battleline between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    This saying has been with me for a long time. Hesychasm and the stillness of the heart and mind is a life long practice. It draws me closer to Christ my God.

  4. I don’t know if it is correct or not. I just did a quick etymological lookup on the the word fascinate, and it is, as I suspected, related to the word fascism, through the root – PIE *bhasko- “band, bundle”, a fascis being the bundle of rods with an axe head emerging that represented the power of the magistrate in the very early Roman Republic.

    Fascinating, indeed. Like “charm” or “glamour”, it is a word with a dark history.

  5. Steve the Biblical understanding of property is the Jubilee. All is a gift and on a regular basis (7 year cycle culminating in the Jubilee every 50 years) should be returned to God and the community He rules. No on has a right. All is held in stewardship. Many native Americans had s similar understanding.

    It is an idea easily perverted by political ideologies. It requires a close knit deeply faithful community. Nations can never do it. Law can never enforce it.

  6. Steve,
    I could have said it better. Law itself is a gift of God, but it is, a “permitted” violence, used to restrain evil (when the law is rightly practiced). But the radical defense of property rights that I have seen some Christians put forward is not actually Biblical. The “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” We do not own things. We use them and are stewards of them. To amass great wealth and to horde is a failure of generosity. It requires violence to keep others from taking it away.

    One form of violence is usury, condemned in the Scripture, interestingly.

  7. …and the modern economy runs on debt and “arbitrage”. Consumer debt is a form of slavery.

    However the government has no “right” to property either.

    Side note: the whole ideology of rights was a product of the 19th century assault on Christian ethics, morals and community.

  8. Peace comes in the life that rightly embraces the giftedness of all things.

    God bless you dear Father Stephen for your continuing ministry and for being a vehicle of God’s consolation to those who desire it…!

  9. What “property,” Fr. Stephen?

    If I don’t pay my taxes, the state takes everything and drives me off their land.

  10. Because their is a legal “right” to property, there is a “right” to tax it and a “right” to punish those who don’t pay the tax and that is just.

    Isn’t it?

  11. Dear God, I need to go to confession. That was my thought in the first few paragraphs of this article, and thankfully it looks like I will be chrismated very soon so that should be happening!

    As I read further it was with a feeling of peace and recognition of the truth in those simple concepts– that to be traditional is to accept the giftedness of things in themselves and is the way to wellness.

    Getting there is hard. One thing I’ve been realizing painfully over the last couple years is how essential forgiveness is to all of this. Forgiving all people always and for everything is the key that unlocks the ability to receive in the way this article describes, or so I have been finding.

    Thank you for your ministry, Fr. Stephen!

  12. This is an illuminating article Father. Thank you. Given all of this, how should we live in the midst of such evil times and to what extent and in what manner should we “push back” against it? If you even can push back against nothing that is…

  13. Joe, living your life in as complete a communion with Christ as possible regardless of the circumstance will be push back enough.

  14. Joe,

    This not an answer to your questions exactly, but the ‘standard’ image – applicable in all situations – employed by our Holy Fathers to help us, even when living busy, ‘worldly’, lives is this:
    If we find ourselves somewhere (anywhere) with an Emperor, his presence affects everything we do and think… Why not do the same with our eternal King? Since He is everywhere present, let us do everything under His gaze, always…

  15. Dino, Michael, these are helpful thoughts. Thank you. I think that even though I’ve come far from my Protestant days, the obsession found there in vocation clings to me and is only reluctantly cast off.

  16. “Creating change” and “disruption” are among the watchwords of the contemporary business culture, at least in the tech sector. The marketplace reality seems to be disrupt or be disrupted. Change or die.

  17. Boyd,
    Western economies are spiritually sick. They have no reason behind their consumerism. They do not exist to serve the needs of people, but necessarily generate perceived “needs” through propaganda and media manipulation (i.e. brain-washing techniques). No one asks, “Will this actually be helpful or useful?” Simply, “How much profit can I make from this.”

    This is the violence of acquisition. Some will say that it is the job of a business to make money. But it cannot be its only job, or it becomes nothing more than the disguised violence of acquisition.

    Does it exist to provide work and a good living to its employees? If not, why not? And it is simply immoral and spiritually bankrupt to say that “the market” governs things like wages. That is simply saying that money is the primary value. It is not making us rich (it is making some, a few, rich), but we are making ourselves miserable.

    There were social/economic policies set in place in both business and government that brought about the “necessity” of two-earner families for a modest life. We created a false consciousness in women that only by being economically exploited like men would they ever be equal. Believe me, during the years this has taken place (from about 1960 forward), children have been of almost no consideration. And it shows.

    This is not an expression of a “free society.” We are not free. We are owned, manipulated and made the subject of unending propaganda. That is not freedom. It is oppression. We are to be pitied.

  18. I was just saying something along those very lines this evening Father, realising how difficult it has become for anyone with a family to break free from this vicious circle. The conversation started from a friend’s statement that (in certain cities), the average person’s income in the 60’s would have been almost the same in a year as the price of buying their house, whereas now it is less than a 30th of their house’s price.

  19. Dino….I’m not sure to which country you’re referring. I can’t go back to the 60’s, but we purchased our first house in California in 1975 for $25,000. I earned about $6,000 that year. My last year of working full-time, 2008, I earned $75,000. We sold our home that year for $310,000. So at least here and for us, the ratio was pretty much equal.

  20. Father,

    What was the Fall? Was it when Lucifer rebelled, or when Man disobeyed?

    If it’s the latter, how are we to understand it if Adam and Eve are not historical figures, but mythical figures that illustrate truth (sort of like Tolkien characters).

    I’ve read some of your thoughts on this in the past, but I cannot wrap my mind around it. I think about this often.

  21. Thanks Dino. I always benefit from your comments. They speak to my heart because I know they come from yours. Yes, London is a long ways from my small rural California town of 22,000!

  22. Thanks Fr. Stephen. To borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer: “How should we then live?” I am trying to bloom where I’m planted. Also, it seems that the poison has infected economies around the globe.

  23. “Thanks Dino. I always benefit from your comments. They speak to my heart because I know they come from yours. Yes, London is a long ways from my small rural California town of 22,000!”

    Dino’s comments had me looking at some basic numbers. For England as a whole, they look much like your experience Dean – and that of most us living in “the developed west” (median wages and median house prices have tracked each other pretty well, excluding some rather wild swings, boom/busts of the speculative last 20 years or so). Even London is not that far off, however housing prices there started to grow much faster than wages during the last couple of decades (all boom, no bust) as have most of the “prime” western cities (London, New York, San Francisco, etc.).

    Also, during that time the size of the “average” house grew quite a bit (so in a sense, people were getting “more” for the same dollar, pound, etc.)

    What skews things a bit is real taxes – which have outgrown wages, prices, and everything – so those wages are not real wages because they are taxed higher every decade…

  24. “There are personalities, broken and diseased, that become fascinated with evil (with the original meaning of fascinated). Fascinans is a Latin word that describes a certain power to draw or compel someone.”

    Martin Luther most likely had suffered from what is today known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And look what he did: the Reformation, which was mostly his doing.

  25. Dean, I wonder if the housing market in CA was an anomoly back in the 70’s, as it is today? I’ve worked for companies where I had co-workers who were based in CA. The comment I’ve heard more than once from them is: “I guess as long as I want to live in CA, I’ll never own a home.”

    I’m checking with my parents who bought a home in 1968, but my guess is that for them, as Dino said, the ratio was close to 1:1.

  26. I haven’t investigate my friend’s claims, but it did ring true, as I distinctly remember an older member of my family being shocked at seeing a house flat that they never bought in 1969 going for £4000 that was being sold for £550000 last year, their salary would have gone from around £4000 per year in 1969 to £23000 now…

    I hope I am wrong, but I think that the ‘violence’ of the acquisition of wealth is getting even worse, the more that money shifts to an electronic form (instead of cash). Electronic transactions often exclude the very poor from even receiving certain (cash) alms in this way. But the poor are put on earth for the benefit of the rich and the rich for the benefit of the poor as Chrysostom states…
    The western-style individualistic, consumer culture inflates the section of society that is truly poor and then ignores, and marginalises it. I fondly recall the older, traditional Greek culture, where it was next to impossible to be that destitute, because no person lived as a disconnected-from-others individual. Everyone would have a brother, friend, cousin somewhere who would help out and such extreme poverty would be the exception. It is far more prevalent now, just as greater wealth for a minuscule minority is too…

  27. Alan,
    I think it really matters where one lives in California. Of course, in the larger coastal cities prices are close to double, if not more so, than here in the Central Valley. Agriculture is the primary industry and wages now with the drought are very depressed. A new home of 1200 to 1500 square feet can be purchased for under $200,000. As Christopher and Fr. Freeman have previously written, taxes and exemptions have very much changed the playing field, not only in CA., but throughout the States. As a child growing up here in the Valley almost all of the moms were stay-home moms, dad able to provide for the family while mom was home raising the children. We all know how this began to change in the 60’s. One sign of hope I’ve noticed is the number of young evangelical moms, as well as Orthodox, who are either quitting careers or not taking them up in the first place, so as to devote more time to their families. Many are home schooling. I don’t remember who said this, but it’s apropos. “Sending your child to a public school nowadays would be like the Israelites sending their children to the Canaanites to be educated.”

  28. Something occurred to me over the weekend, on top of Dino’s comments: rural and urban poverty are two incommensurably different phenomena.

    In the former situation, if you’re destitute enough, you can move further out and gather some kind of natural resource. Sharpen a rock, dig a bug out of a tree, you’ve generated wealth. One step above that, manpower is at enough of a premium that someone out there will have something for you to do.

    Meanwhile, you can’t autonomously generate wealth in the latter situation without either stealing, trespassing or going through people’s garbage (which also requires a trespass and, depending on the local jurisprudence, theft). The local ecology (rats, cockroaches, pigeons) is theoretically feasible, but the risk of contamination by human-borne pathogen and (probably more significantly) the social stigma are both so much higher that it would only ever be useful as life-or-death nutrition – and does absolutely nothing to help you get out of the poverty cycle. Meanwhile, the cities are virtually designed so that there are far more people than there is work. Where there is no work and literally everything legally belongs to someone else who has no duty to share it with you, your only options by definition are to steal and beg.

    Meanwhile, our system is now making it morally objectionable to enable ~non-productive~ friends, neighbours and family…

  29. “I haven’t investigate my friend’s claims, but it did ring true, as I distinctly remember an older member of my family being shocked at seeing a house flat that they never bought in 1969 going for £4000 that was being sold for £550000 last year, their salary would have gone from around £4000 per year in 1969 to £23000 now…”

    I believe it, as the prices of London, New York, San Francisco, and other similar cities that for several reasons have been immune to the “bust” of the boom/bust cycle of housing price in the last 2 or 3 decades. In a sense, it such cities have because very different places from the rest of the country(s) they are found in. They each have a kind of artificial prop that supports their artificial prices. London is now a more important world financial hub than New York for example. San Francisco has technology. One literally has to be single, or rich to live in these cities – which is why the population is skewed to single and rich people.

    I was talking to the driver of the cab I was in when I was in San Francisco about 10 months ago now. He was a family man, but could not afford to live there – he drove in from some distance everyday. His daughter lived in the city was renting a tiny apartment for almost the exact same amount of my mortgage – and I live in a big house. She wanted to do it however, and because she is single she can throw most of her money at such things…

  30. “The total elimination of the natural consequences of sexual activity is itself a form of destruction and creates a false order. To have a culture where young men and women are sexually active and yet typically barren and marriage-avoidant is not natural, nor according to the order of things.”

    Father, many priests I have heard “allow” for the use of artificial contraceptives in the context of Orthodox sacramental marriage in the case of financial hardship, extreme burden, etc. Should this be viewed as an oikonomia?

  31. “Some will say that it is the job of a business to make money. But it cannot be its only job, or it becomes nothing more than the disguised violence of acquisition.

    Does it exist to provide work and a good living to its employees? If not, why not?”

    Not. Because if it exists to provide work and a good living to its employees it will cease to be. Profit may not be it only reason for existence, but it certainly is its only means of existence.

  32. Robert, I don’t think you quite caught the meaning of that question, and I will demonstrate why by replacing a few words in your answer:

    “Because if it exists to provide work and a good living to its employees it will cease to be. Profit may not be it only reason for existence, but it certainly is its only means of existence.”

    “Because if I exist to be kind to others and love them I will cease to be. Eating may not be my only reason for existence, but it certainly is my only means of existence.”

  33. With regard to the cost of housing/cost of living compared to incomes.

    When I was a child in the 1960’s our family of six (father, mother, and four children) lived in a small 3-bedroom home with one bath. For most of that period we had one (always used) automobile in our family. My father worked full-time. My mother sometimes worked part-time during school hours once we children were all in school. Eating out was a rare treat usually consisting of take-out pizza or KFC. Although we were not rich, we didn’t think of ourselves as ‘poor’ (we had food, shelter, clothing, health coverage, etc.). My parents were always grateful for the blessing of God which was rich in ways both physical and spiritual.

    All this is to circle back to what I believe Fr. Stephen’s point to be when he writes that…

    “We are not free. We are owned, manipulated and made the subject of unending propaganda. That is not freedom. It is oppression.”

    But if we are, in his words, “to be pitied” it is because we have allowed ourselves to be manipulated. We (and I include myself) have allowed our needs to be redefined by the seducing spirits of this world

    Over the years both my parents’ (who are still with me, thank God) standard living as well as my own has improved dramatically – not without setbacks and struggles, but always with thanksgiving for God’s faithful provision, striving not to live for the acquisition of material things (while nevertheless enjoying the good gifts He gives); and, by the supreme example of my parents, with an eye toward the needs of others.
    By God’s unfathomable providence (it certainly wasn’t my doing), I been blessed with this world’s goods beyond the wildest dreams of my parents when they were young- so much so that my soul is often choked with thorns, the “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.” I suspect many of us could say the same in spite of whatever economic troubles we have.

    The only antidotes I know for the ‘thorns’ – the slavery, the unending propaganda and the manipulation – are the disciplines of the Church: prayer, thanksgiving, asceticism, and almsgiving – to strive to live below my means (whatever that happens to be) and say NO, I don’t need ‘it’ (whatever is being sold to my lust for pleasure and pride of life) because life does not consist in the abundance of the things I possess. And I personally have found that I MUST give alms not only when I feel abundance and security, but especially when I feel most financially vulnerable. When I deviate from these (and far too often I do) I die inside. The disciplines of the Church, difficult as they can seem at times, are the prescription for liberation from being owned, manipulated, and seduced by the unending propaganda of this world. May God give me freedom.

  34. Robert,
    What you are describing is perhaps true in system that has decided that profit is the reason for existence, damn the consequences. It is not some natural law called “the market.” It is, ultimately, a conscious decision, or a series of conscious decisions to institutionalize the violence and destruction of an anti-human economic model. We do well to remember that Adam Smith was as much a product of the Enlightenment as was Karl Marx. They both thought to make a “science” of economics, as though there were natural laws governing economies that were as predictable and immutable as gravity. That’s a false view of the world, and contradicts the Scriptures.

    There can be no natural law against the gospel. If we do not change (and soon), then we are moving towards a great collapse. Finally, such a collapse will come through the judgment of God. I would suggest that we are already under such a judgment. There is no wall that can be built to protect a land from the judgment of God.

  35. As someone who has traveled the world a lot in recent times for my job, I am acutely aware of the massive impact of propaganda on our lives. What is funny is that everyone everywhere is subject to different propaganda, most of it sponsored by elites pushing the modern, permissive, consumerist lifestyle. However, it is rare for people to admit just how much they have been influenced – it’s always the other country or other political party that does the evil work. We always assume we know better and are objective. This is the work of pride. So often, however, we don’t know what we don’t know and this is where we must be humble.

    Being an Orthodox Christian gives us an opportunity to strip away all of it. We have to be humble enough to renounce our previous opinions and allegiances, whether it be political affiliations, products we buy or even lifestyle choices. It is all subject to renewal in Christ.

    It is true that it is harder to maintain a proper family life, for the income required is sometimes crazy. But I think it can still be done with prayer and repentance. Ask God for help. Ask others to pray. He will not abandon you as long as you abandon your requirements. If you receive anything, make sure to give thanks. I try to thank God for everything everyday.

  36. The only immutable law of worldly economics is that people will exchange goods for a real or perceived value that is equal to or greater than the real or perceived value of the goods. After that everything else is interpretation and ideology.

    The Church’s economics is not of this world and commands that we give without thought of return. I am not capable of doing that there is always an element of give to get. But that would be the only real free market.

    In the world there is no such thing as a free market. Every market is regulated for the benefit of some and the disadvantage of others.

    Right now the game is skewed against the virtuous, the human and the good because of our deep spiritual sickness.

    Any business which is not managed for the benefit of its customers, its employees and the community in which it exists has failed already and all its monetary profit is of no account.

    Our economy has a plethora of unexamined assumptions that are at its foundation which are overlaid with competing ideologies.

    Two of the most perverse IMO are the assumption of scarcity and the ideology of social Darwinism. Each of these on its own is anti-Gospel. The result is a global economy which is fundamentally fascist in an economic sense.

    In our binary ideological age it becomes difficult to hope for anything different. That is the power of the myth of progress and lack of vision.

  37. Brian, Thank you, many times over for your wonderful comments! I found your comments to be most helpful as I struggle with and think through this issue!!

  38. to strive to live below my means (whatever that happens to be) and say NO, I don’t need ‘it’ (whatever is being sold to my lust for pleasure and pride of life) because life does not consist in the abundance of the things I possess. And I personally have found that I MUST give alms not only when I feel abundance and security, but especially when I feel most financially vulnerable. When I deviate from these (and far too often I do) I die inside. The disciplines of the Church, difficult as they can seem at times, are the prescription for liberation from being owned, manipulated, and seduced by the unending propaganda of this world. May God give me freedom.

    Brian, I find this insightful. I am recently unemployed and, as many do in this condition, I have drawn up a tight budget and made plans that are short range (re: the next 6 months or so) to determine how long my “unemployment income” from the government will last and what and when I absolutely have to get another job, regardless of whether it meets my financial needs or not.

    Yet, I have purchased two small coats in this time for no other reason than they were on sale and looked good. I do not need coats; indeed I have coats in my closet left over from my father when he passed away and I inherited them. I have little trouble giving alms, tithing, and trusting God in my circumstances but I also have not let go of the consumer mindset–and I am now more aware of it than ever since I can see a time when my finances may run out completely.

    I now have extra coats to give away. I intend to do so as quickly as possible. Pray that God may give me freedom from this mindset.

  39. Fr Stephen,

    I am making a distinction between reason for and means of existence. Too often these get conflated. I speak from decades of experience as a business owner.

    The corner flower-stand can have as it’s reason for existence, for instance, to deliver fresh flowers to the neighborhood, the owner’s passion for flowers, and so forth. However, the only means by which it can exist (and thus to fulfill its reasons for existence) is to turn a profit. There is simply no other way – regardless of the economic system that is in use. (perhaps pure communism would be an exception, but in such there’s no private businesses, and we all know the evils that come from that).

    I am not a believer in natural law, called the market; nor under the delusion of purported marvels of the so-called “free market system”. It is not really free, in every sense of that word. Be it as it may, profit remains the only means of existence for a business, there is no other way. We cannot do away with the need for profit. I am not a follower of Adam Smith, but merely describing how things work.

    Let me know if you know of an alternative.

  40. Fr. Stephen,

    Along these sames lines, do you have a post on Education?

    Education in America largely treats success in terms of economic viability or future earning potential. As a teacher as at a very “successful” school, I do not accept such pragmatic aims as fulfilling the telos of education, but I am not at all confident that I think rightly about it beyond the general hope to direct students toward Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Any thoughts? How do I teach without creating or participating in another form of violence toward these children?

  41. Robert,
    Good point, and it made me think that there’s also a fine distinction between ‘profit for profit’s sake’, profit ‘for the sake of existence’, as well as profit as a natural consequence of Christian obedience and accepted as a gift.
    An example of the first is easily found in many modern day corporations, of the second is the example you provided (the traditional flower-stand or bakery etc), and of the third, is the traditional believer at work, or to use a more pronounced one: the ascetic who came to the city (from the desert) to sell off the baskets he’d weaved and take whatever was given him in return as if coming directly from the hand of God.
    However, the real key here from a Christian point of view is one’s watchfulness, without it, the third slips into the first in no time. The mechanisms of this are endless and highly refined – which signifies an even greater need for watchfulness by those who would accept the calling to true freedom.

  42. Loving people and using things becomes perverted to loving things and using people (the essence of the fall) not just through “the left” (recognisable temptations), but even through “the right” (cloaked in a sheepskin); cases of this second mechanism can even start from well-intended things such as: the (uncalculating) exchange of gifts and the (honest) endeavour for income. Even great integrity can, regrettably, be compromised without keen watchfulness.

  43. Tullius,
    Great question. I have not written specifically on the topic, but have touched on it in a variety of ways. The classical question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can be seen as a primary question in education. I think the only right answer to the question is, “A good person.”

    In education, I think we should be about helping people become good persons. They need some skills, but great learning in the hands of a bad person is not a very good thing. Poor skills in the hands of a good person have a better chance in the long run.I would suggest reading along the lines of virtue. Try some Alasdair MacIntyre – After Virtue, Whose Justice, Which Rationality, and so on.

    All of this sets a very high set of expectations on teachers. They need to be people who can help foster virtuous human beings.

  44. It seems that any discussion of violence in the educational sphere has to include the student loan industry in collusion with the colleges and universities.

  45. Our local state university just gave a 5% raise to its President, who makes over $600k per year. Many of the Vice Presidents make over $400k. This is true across the nation. They call it a “market.” This guy got about a 200k bonus for not leaving this year, called a “retention bonus.” Yes, this is violence. It is a broken system that is creating debt, one of the truly great evils. It is an alliance between bankers, government and an educational establishment that are gaming the system for something other than the good of the students. Even faculty are on the losing end, with many now serving as “contract workers” without benefits, etc.

  46. Tullius (and Fr Stephen), there is a great documentary that came out in 2009 entitled “Race to Nowhere” that discusses “education” in America. In reading the comments here, I thought about it and then you (Tullius) specifically asked about education. It deals with many of the same themes that are being discussed here. In many “high achieving” schools today, kids are put under immense pressure to do well on tests, so that they can get good grades, so that they can get into a good college, so that they can earn a lot of money, so that……well, you get the point. This sickness, this disease of modernity that Fr Stephen is thankfully addressing is killing all of us, including our children.

  47. Father, if you think $600K for the President of the U is a lot, how about the fact that the head football coach at that U makes six times that amount?

    Of the 13 public institutions in the SEC, the LOWEST paid head football coach makes $3,000,000 a year.

  48. Since Alan brings up sports…I never understood the fascination with sports. It seems like a religion or a narcotic for many if not most people in our culture–and this is treated as normal. Hopko’s Maxims say to exercise regularly, so there is it seems a good here, but it strikes me as very distorted in our culture.

  49. Dino,

    Thank you for your astute comment in regards to profit and the need for watchfulness. A real struggle!

  50. Boyd there is a distinct difference between sport and gladitorial events.

    See Chariots of Fire for a insight into the intersection of the two.

    World War II is the demarcation IMO.

    Football of either variety is now nothing more than a gladiatorial event.

    Baseball still allows the simple joy of playing to show through from time to time. Last night when the KC Royals won to advance to the next round that could be seen in how exultation of victory was shared with the fans. But also in the emotional devastation of the loosing team, the Astros.

    Testing the limits of mental and physical performance has much to recommend it but as with profit it can quickly turn into something else. Even at its best there is a Darwinian flavor to it.

  51. Well. I generally think of the sports (football) at a college as a side-business. If the football program at your university doesn’t make a profit and pay its own way, then it needs to disappear. UT’s makes a hefty profit.

  52. Alan, et al.

    First Things published an article entitled “Majoring in Fear,” by Mark Shiffman. It perhaps addresses some of these ideas in relation to higher education, and may serve as a nice basis for future reflection.

    I’d love to understand better my role as a high school English teacher, especially from an explicitly Orthodox perspective.

  53. “…I never understood the fascination with sports. It seems like a religion or a narcotic for many if not most people in our culture–and this is treated as normal….”

    One reason I appreciate the premier league (England’s main football league – erroneously known as “soccer” in the U.S.) is the brutal honesty. In Manchester United’s stadium hangs a banner that reads:

    “Manchester United – for everyman a religion”

    Another reads:

    “Manchester is my religion”

    There are similar banners in almost all the stadiums. Leaves little to ponder at what has become of too many of these folks…

  54. Fr. Stephen,

    I was intrigued by your comments on evil. I have heard before of the idea that evil doesn’t actually exist, that it “is simply a movement away from and against being.” In fact it reminded me of “The Nothing” from the children’s movie The Never Ending Story. I found it fascinating that The Nothing in that film was the true evil and not the savage black wolf, who eventually also got swallowed up by it.

    But equally interesting to me was that after you espoused this idea you immediately followed it up with: “Evil hates the truth, because the truth is real and exists. It cannot bear the reality of truth’s being.” Statements like this once again embody evil and give it a personality.

    Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t disagree with that sentiment at all. I often think the same way. But I think we personalize evil because a) we as human beings tend to personalize everything around us. Everything from our dog to inanimate objects tends to be given a disposition and a place in our world of characters. It’s part of how we relate to the world. But also because b) the force of evil feels devious, looking for every opportunity to bring about our ruin.

    In moments when I’m able to put this personalization aside, I look on evil more like the force of gravity: it never sleeps and yet it has no life or consciousness; it is simply always pulling on us, drawing us in, blindly obeying its nature to attract all that does not cling to life and true reality.

    I am reminded also of your pithy saying: “Christ came not to make bad men good, but to make dead men alive.” He is stronger and more attractive than The Nothing, and yet He is not a blind, unintelligent force; He allows people to pull away. When they do so, there is no other option than The Nothing, and yet (thank God) He is always at work with His secret hand to bring about His will of love for us. Blessed be He!

  55. This is really quite a foundationally article. The point of receptive character of evil is very well appointed. The practice of evil is, in fact, to imitate the God’s works in any aspect. It is the destructive to the internment, as the entire inveronment is created by God. It is the perversion of any inveronment protection ideas to turn them to absurdities and make people upset with. It is the gluttonous consumerism, that drives enormemous profit for the 1%, and increasing poverty for everyone other. It is the same gluttonous fals desire in hearts of millions that pushes the government to concord with some of the bloodiest states and groups in the world to keep the desire to spend for nothing. Evil has many deceptive, dubious stereotyping faces that lia all the time. Truth has only one face, Jesus said He is the truth, He is the way to come to our Father.

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