My writings are sometimes treated as though I’m offering some new insight. That only tells me that the reader has only just begun to read. I pray God never to be original in my thoughts, for I long for nothing other than the Tradition. At best, I simply bring the Tradition back into the conversation again and again.
I offer here a short passage from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World, revised and enlarge in 1973. I read it years ago, and still consider it the most essential reading for any Christian in the modern world. I am utterly indebted to Fr. Alexander for huge swathes of my writing. Here is clear thought. We are not here to “help.”
It sounds like a paradox, but the basic religion that is being preached and accepted as the only means of overcoming secularism is in reality a surrender to secularism. This surrender can take place—and actually does—in all Christian confessions, although it is differently “colored” in a nondenominational suburban “community church” and in a traditional, hierarchical, confessional and liturgical parish. For the surrender consists not in giving up creeds, traditions, symbols and customs (of all this the secular man, tired of his functional office, is sometimes extremely fond), but in accepting the very function of religion in terms of promoting the secular value of help, be it help in character building, peace of mind, or assurance of eternal salvation. It is in this “key” that religion is preached to, and accepted by, millions and millions of average believers today. And it is really amazing how little difference exists in the religious self-consciousness of members of confessions whose dogmas seem to stand in radical opposition to one another. For even if a man changes religion, it is usually because he finds the one he accepts as offering him “more help”—not more truth. While religious leaders are discussing ecumenicity at the top, there exists already at the grass roots a real ecumenicity in this “basic religion.” It is here, in this “key” that we find the source of the apparent success of religions in some parts of the world, such as America, where the religious “boom” is due primarily to the secularization of religion. It is also the source of the decline of religion in those parts of the world where man has not time enough yet for constant analysis of his anxieties and where “secularism” still holds out the great promise of bread and freedom. But if this is religion, its decline will continue, whether it takes the form of a direct abandonment of religion or that of the understanding of religion as an appendix to a world which has long ago ceased to refer itself and all its activity to God….