You Barely Make a Difference and It’s a Good Thing

Socialist-Studies-A-Better-World-Is-Possible-AboutYou are not saving the world. In fact, you barely make a difference.

These are harsh words. They are meant like a splash of cold water to wake us up from the dream in which we live. They are by no means meant to say that you don’t matter. In fact, you have infinite value. But your value is not based on saving the world or making a difference.

I’ll start at the beginning.

At a certain point in history, people began to be told that they could take charge of history; they could change the world and make it a better place. This was a new idea, even a radical idea. That point in history is what we now call “modernity.” The beginnings of modernity were not very pretty. Apparently taking charge of history and making the world a better place is messy business. It began with several revolutions. A lot of people had their heads cut off. When the beginning was over, new people were in charge but nothing was particularly different. The French Revolution got rid of the reigning Bourbon family. After many years of social unrest and bloodshed, France had an emperor, Napoleon. Oh, and a new flag.

Strangely, the idea called “modernity” was never blamed for the bloodshed. Instead, the “modern world” took hold and became popular. Today we believe in it, lock, stock and barrel. However, almost everything that makes up the modern project is a lie, little more than an advertising campaign. The lie has become an entire culture.

The truth is, we are not in charge of history or managing the outcome of the world. For one, it’s too big and too difficult. There are so many variables within our lives at any one time that managing them is constantly fraught with the “law of unintended consequences.” In many ways, the second half of the 20th century and the first decades of the 21st should be named the “Unintended Years.” The messy state of the world in which we now live is not natural. It is almost entirely man-made. And it was made by people who believed they could manage the outcome of history.

Saying these things out loud (or in print) will open me to the accusation of “not caring,” and, we are told, the world is in its present mess because “people don’t care.” That is not true. People do care; indeed, they care too much. They care so much that they say ‘yes’ to leaders who tax their money to spend on various wars and other projects meant to manage history. And it fails. Repeatedly.

What doesn’t fail is the ability of the “modern world” to fool itself with the madness of its own arrogance.

How would you live, if you thought that you barely made a difference? Is it possible to live a life without making a difference?

It is not only possible, it is unavoidable. No one alive has any idea whether their life will have “made a difference.” Can you name 15 people who lived in 1915 that made a difference? We know the names of presidents and generals, the occasional assassin, sports heroes and movie stars, but there were 1.8 billion people in the world in 1915. How many of them made a difference?

What does it mean to “make a difference?”

Generally, the idea is linked with the myth of progress. With concerted effort and sufficient resources, we are making a better world, etc. Some undefined future awaits us, if only we care enough to make it happen.

But this is a myth. We can make changes, but change is not at all the same thing as progress. The leaders of the Western world in 1914 started a “war to end all wars.” It was one of the greatest projects of the modern era – the first “modern” war. At its end, there were 38 million casualties. The “winners” of the war sat down in 1919 and redrew the map of the world in the Treaty of Versailles. Every conflict that has occurred since that time has pretty much been driven by the arrogance and mistakes of the maps they drew. The world has been stuck repeating the same war all over the globe as we suffer the consequences of the “better world” we created.

They redrew the map of Europe, laying the foundation for years of turmoil in the Balkans. They redrew the Middle East, inventing new countries with little regard to the history and composition of the new nations. The war they started gave birth to the Communist revolutions that enslaved Russia and elsewhere for the better part of a century. The treaty gave rise to Hitler. On and on the consequences go, as the world constantly struggles to cope with one new eruption after another. The United States, considered the most successful of all modern projects, has been at war 222 out of its 239 years: that’s 93 percent of its history.

Most of the people who have lived and died over these modern centuries, only wanted to live and love and die a decent death. Farmers wanted to farm; mechanics wanted to fix their machines; parents wanted to raise their children in peace and safety; teachers wanted to share what they knew with another generation; and so on. But all of these things have largely been disrupted by the drive for a better world. Farmers are disappearing; the machines have taken over many lives; families are in almost total disarray; teachers long to quit a profession that has become one long series of frustrations. The better world is always in the future.

The better world has no place within the Christian life.

We have no commandment from God to make the world a better place. We have no commandment from God to “make a difference.” Only God makes a difference, and only God knows what “better” would actually mean. As Christians, the proper life is one lived in accordance with the commandments. We should love. We should forgive. We should be generous and kind. We should give thanks to God always and for everything.

We should understand that this is a description of the “better world.” We are not making a better world, we’re waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. With every act of love, there is the Kingdom. With every act of forgiveness, there is the Kingdom. Every act of generosity and kindness sees its inauguration. As Christ told us, “The Kingdom of God is among you.”

Modernity is the practice and faith of gross idolatry. We worship technology, money, politics, science, everything that we believe is a human tool capable of building a better world. No tool is any better or different than the people who use them. A bad man cannot use a good tool to make a good world. A bad man makes a bad world and nothing more.

When we were baptized, we were asked to renounce the devil. More than that, we were asked to spit on him. That same devil suggested to Christ that he could make the world a better place if only He would bow down and worship the devil. Christ rebuked him. The same offer has been made to us. It is called “modernity,” and it is a devil’s bargain.

It is for us to renounce him, and spit on him along with his bargain. Christ will give us back our souls.

There are right and wrong questions. When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will not be asked whether we made a difference or whether we left the world a better place. The questions will be about the commandments. Feeding, clothing, visiting, etc., are very homely practices (Matt. 25). It doesn’t take all of the resources of the modern world to do them. They are all immediately at hand.

The better world and making a difference is a conversation we should refuse to engage: it does not belong to us. Speak the truth. Keep the commandments. Let God make all the difference in the world.


  1. Challenging post Father. The fight for our souls is constant. Sometimes I feel that good people “fail” in today’s world and bad people “succeed.” I use the terms fail and succeed cautiously because their definitions are determined by the modern world. Navigating through this mess can be so disheartening. Thank you for this post. We will keep our heads up.

  2. Excellent post, Father. I’ve been rebuked by some friends for my lack of interest in the activism and protests surrounding certain social issues here in the US. I think that I share the perspective you’ve outlined here, but wasn’t able to articulate it as well as you have done. Thank you for laying it out so well.

  3. Dear Fr. Stephen,

    The following sentence from today’s epistle is a stellar summation of the situation for persons, nations, and denominations! Exceedingly well spoken! Thank God for your compassionate insight:
    “What doesn’t fail is the ability of the “modern world” to fool itself with the madness of its own arrogance”.


  4. Interesting. On the TV show The Librarians Sunday the theme was abut making a contract with the devil to ” make a difference” to ” make the world a better place”.

    The consequence was that there would be mass tragedy.

    The the contract was activated by a wish for one’s deepest desire. All was set right when a signatory to the contract, taking the place of a tempted friend, wished that the tempter ( the one in charge if executing the contract) become human.

    The acts of kindness, mercy and forgiveness are deeply human and deeply divine.

    It would seem, as Far Stephen has noted, that our salvation requires that we be simply and purely human and so know Him who took on our nature and ressurected it and raised it into the Kingdom.

  5. My husband and I were discussing this very thing not last week.

    I came across a quote posted by a lady in our parish that basically said we should not ask our children what they want to be when they grow up, but what they want to change about the world and what job they could do to make that happen.

    I just started questioning everything (we don’t talk to our kids like this…should we be…why doesn’t this resonate with me the same way it does for so many others in our parish…) and my husband mentioned your previous posts on this topic, and the lies of the modern world on “changing the world.”

    So, thank you for this well timed and encouraging post. May God grant us wisdom and strength to teach our children to love and forgive their neighbours, and in doing so, change their world. 🙂

  6. It’s interesting that whenever we (as in my friends, online and/or in person, and myself) discuss (we are civil folks) whether the world is “better” today, the discussion always falls into two fairly easily aligned camps: those who see the technological advances made (“dentistry!”) and consider them sufficient to call the world a better place and those who see the continual denigration of humanity and see the world as getting worse.

  7. So when Jesus told us to be, “salt and light”, surely He was expecting us to “make a difference”. While I accept your thesis that many of our attempts to change the world have ended up making it even worse … this could be used as an excuse to “do nothing”.

  8. My parish priest always had a good answer when people would ask him how they could make a difference in the world. He would say to look around at the people within your orbit, converse with them, interact with them, and if an opportunity to be of service to them arose, do it. Don’t fly off to some far away place to address some social issue you read about in the Huff Post.

  9. Our weary world begs us to untangle its problems.

    Beware the traps: Chase your tail in a “which side are you on” debate, or take the shortcut and pledge fidelity to a Shiny-New Savior Du Jour.

    But the Holy Spirit beckons us to bend toward God, mind the personal, respond to the local. A small beginning, but it is all that needs to consume our focus for a lifetime.

  10. Sadly and to my great frustration (with my Protestant brothers and sisters), I have observed churches that make “feeding, clothing, visiting, etc.” ends in themselves – in order to “make a difference”, with no apprehension, acknowledgment and experience of Eucharistic Joy. I find these churches oppressive. These commandments only make sense in the light of an Eucharistic Life. I know you (and Schmemann) have said it better…

  11. I really enjoyed this post. A lot to chew on and see if I have bought into the lie and how to change that.

  12. Thank you, Fr. Stephen,

    Wow! Such a contrast to the thinking and teaching I received in a Seminary during the late 70s and early 80s. Then the teaching was “Go where you will have greatest impact!”
    Lord have mercy for the many years that I was deluded.

  13. Thank you Father,

    What a beautiful post.

    Mark suggests that Christ’s commandment to be “salt and light” was meant to “make a difference”. But I love how Fr. Meletios Webber (I love how he describes such profound things in such simple ways..) says that Jesus did not tell us “to be right, but to be righteous” (which simply means to be good). If we all just strived to be good (work on ourselves, not others), the Kingdom of Heaven would come overnight (that’s again from Fr. Mel…).

    You ask who was alive in 1915 that made a difference? How about the Saints?! Saint Silouan on Mount Athos, Elder Soprhony, his disciple… I recently met a person who’s entire family converted to Orthodoxy simply because they came across Fr. Sophrony’s book on St. Silouan somewhere in Belgium, 20 years ago. What I learnt from these two Saints was to endure difficulties with patience and hope in God, and that was enough to save my life a couple of times. They did not mean to “make a difference”, they lived seemingly “selfishly”, concerning themselves with only God and their souls.. But the influence of that was of cosmic proportions. We are not brought up to think this way, it’s a difficult mental switch to make, especially for Western minds, but it is so worth the effort…

  14. Right again, Father. “Progress” is the religion of the present age and it worships technology, money, science and politics. We must be aware so as not to fall into idolatry.

  15. Mark,
    Seriously. Do you think people are going to do nothing? Would that were so. Your concern, I think, is just the sound of modernity speaking in your head, the fear that unless we do something the world will be worse. Christ told us to be salt and light. He did not say, “Do this so that the world will be a better place.” It is interesting that in 1700 years of Christianity, no one (NO ONE) every spoke about making the world a better place. The idea only comes around with the birth of the modern project. How could 1700 years of Christian saints have failed to get that idea if it were even remotely true?

    Do nothing other than keep the commandments. You are not in charge of the world and making it a better place is none of your business. It belongs to God alone. The obverse of this is idolatry.

  16. St. Theophan the Recluse, in THE SPIRITUAL LIFE:

    “You need to put out of your mind any plans about ‘multi-beneficial, all-embracing, common-to-all mankind’ activity such as the progressives rant about… Remember, the Lord does not forget even a glass of cold water given to someone tormented by thirst.

    “The progressives have in mind all mankind or at least all of its people lumped together. The fact is, however, that ‘mankind’ or ‘the people’ does not exist as a person for whom you could do something right now. It consists of individual persons: By doing something for one person, we are doing it within the general mass of humanity. If each one of us did what was possible to do for whoever was standing right in front of our eyes, instead of goggling at the community of mankind, then all people, in aggregate, would at each moment be doing that which is needed by those in need, and by satisfying their needs, would establish the welfare of all mankind, which is made up of haves and have-nots, the weak and the strong. But those who keep thoughts of the welfare of all mankind inattentively let slip by that which is in front of their eyes. Because they do not have the opportunity to perform a general work, and let slip by the opportunity to perform a particular work, they accomplish nothing toward the main purpose of life.”

  17. When my daughter was 2 years old I was given the unexpected gift of getting to move overseas with her for my husband’s job. We lived in a big city in the middle of Europe and I did not speak the language. This experience completely opened my eyes to the very words you speak here and I basically had to perform perfunctory daily duties of home and family, knowing no one outside the family for quite awhile and eventually finding a church worship in in English and the blessing of Christian mothers as friends. God was with us then and is with us now and one thing He spoke loudly to my heart in those early days overseas with my first and very young child was “do what is in front of you” “do the next thing” which translated into loving my neighbor, my family, praying and keeping house. God was so very good to limit my ability to “change the world” something that I really may have pursued if I had been allowed to stay in America at that time as I had just received my BA in Psychology and had already began volunteering with a famous university program…Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen, it is very very encouraging.

  18. There is a price to pay for speaking the truth in todays modern world such as and Edward Snowden and others.discovered. Snowden was lucky in that he chose to go to Russia where Putin took him in and protected him from the rapacious US authorities. I told the truth that she should stop babying my brother, and that my sister made up a story that her brother in law had molested her. As a result, my mother (with my brother’s assistance, no doubt) had me written out of the will. None of my family has any contact with me, doesn’t even tell me of a death, like my mother. So I am alone. I find myself to be happy and content most of the time. At about the same time, I was given a talent to write, which I am doing, 283 pages so far.

  19. Thanks you Father & you are right to scorn/repudiate Modernism’s philosophy of progress. We often instinctively label things “Progress” in the West, which are at best mixed bags of “cultural-subtractions–from cultural-additions”. The supreme arrogance of the modern unitary State, especially in the secularized West, is so fraught with such pretensions we rarely notice our own complicity with it. Also, your exhortations to focus smaller and more locally on obedient living…& leaving “progress” to God is wonderfully liberating advise.

    Yet like before I can’t help but wonder (fear) you’re overstating things, maybe for shock effect! 😉 To say there never has & never will be any “real” carefully defined Christian progress seems contrary to the history in the book of Acts…and the Apostles & their heirs turning the Roman world upside down via the Gospel? Has Russian seen net-cultural progress since 1989, 1949, 1929 — or any country before Orthodox missionaries evangelized, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, North Africa? We also noted before the Apostles’ exhortation to set aside childhood for true Christian maturity/adulthood (no longer foolish & tossed about…) seems to imply some form of Christian progress in mature, adult living, no?

    Not at all trying to be contentious here, just asking for help in thinking through all this rightly and carefully. Lord have mercy.

  20. David: In also trying to think this through: Is maturity the same as progress? Sometimes maturing means finding out you know less than you thought you did.

  21. I recently read the following quote by Christian Wiman, a poet very much aware of what’s referred to here as the “modern project”.

    ”So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.”

    I take his point to be similar to the one being made here – it’s a critique of how we approach the substance of our actual lives.

    Since better understanding the substance of the definition of “caring” being presented in the last few posts, I’ve really been cut deeply. How much of life has passed me by! How often do I look past Christ present in the world and people right in front of me! Do I even know HOW to do otherwise? True “caring” has to be specific, not general, formless, and without name or face. While narrower in scope (from a certain point of view), it’s much more difficult and demanding. It’s MORE real. It involves risk. It costs something. It’s messy. However, this doesn’t preclude an awareness of or a “caring” about the world that is outside one’s immediate sphere of influence (as the whirlwind tour of history present in this very post demonstrates) as the problems of “the world” are perhaps closer than we think.

    It’s not a call to disengage but rather to engage one’s life, which is huge because some “Christian” calls for less “caring” or withdrawal from “the world” are really little more than displays of nihilistic hopelessness, isolationist fear and escapism, or selfish indifference masquerading as religious devotion and faithfulness.

  22. David,
    I’m not overstating, but I am trying to be clear enough to drive a stake through the heart of some persistent and pernicious ideas. You cannot describe the Church as “making progress” at any time in history, for we haven’t got a clue (apart from the Kingdom of God) how that goal comes about or when, etc. Indeed a century of hundreds of thousands of martyrs might be, in fact, more “progress,” from the standpoint of the Kingdom of God than a century of peace, prosperity and growth.

    It is a false conversation.

    All that we should imply from anything that we see is that God is good. That is enough. Once you start thinking that you know what progress means, then you start down the road of planning to make it happen. And of such plans, much evil comes.

    Russia has seen change. Period. If it turns out that within 5 years the Church’s growth and “progress” creates a backlash and it all comes apart, what will the progress have meant.

    You see, this entire way of thinking and describing things is not only false, it’s a lie. We should repent of believing it. We should do good, keep the commandments, and leave God in charge of outcomes, for He has not given it to human beings to judge the outcome of His work. Period.

    I’m pounding the stake here. Modernity is a vampire, sucking your godly blood out of you. Let it go. We cannot know these things.

    One clear evidence of this is that never in all the history of the Church until modernity came about, did anyone ever describe God’s work as “progress.” Not in the book of Acts, etc. Never. It’s a newly invented idea that has a godless agenda behind it. We should repent of it.

  23. Hey Kathleen. I suspect most parents would call “maturity” progress but then maybe there’s a better word…”better” oophs, don’t think we get better either? The Apostle rebuked some for remaining children “babes” who still needed milk…but should have long since become mature adults who could eat meat. Parents naturally want to see this “better maturity” in their children & teens, as would coaches, pastors, and counselors of those with any number of illnesses or maladies. As the Church is a hospital for the soul…maybe over time our souls can heal, mature also get better…oophs again…i mean mature or adult. Nor is it progress, I suppose for there to four or four hundred thriving Orthodox Churches in a small community (country) than zero? I too loathe the modern philosophy of Modernity in all its expression. It is evil and need Fr Stephen stake in its heart. Just not sure that’s needs to be said here. Lord have mercy.

  24. Hi Mark,

    I notice that Jesus did not call His disciples “to be” salt and light (as if we could make ourselves that). He said that this is what they “are” (in context, by being poor in spirit, being meek, by mourning, being peacemakers, being hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and by virtue of persevering in faith through persecution and by seeking to fulfill His commands, culminating in that to love even our enemies–see Matthew 5). Can you see the distinction here? He did also command His disciples to “abide in Him” (John 15), which sounds kind of passive to our modern ears, doesn’t it? But this “one thing” is THE key to the Christian life (Luke 10:38-42). It is this to which Fr. Stephen is pointing us in this post and many others.

    I’m an idealist (which I have discovered is just a form of spiritual delusion), and I have been as much a sucker for the idealism (ideology) being peddled by modernity as the next person–only I’ve found it leads to bondage. You see, I really have no control over “making a difference in the world,” but I am tied up in knots believing that I should. I waste mental and emotional energy trying to figure out how in the world I can take on one more thing I am being told a good Christian should (being “missional”, “intentional”, “purposeful”) though just getting through the daily grind frequently leaves me exhausted, and I discover I have little left to invest in prayer and abiding in Him (seems so darned passive–and true prayer is hidden and private, not for show!). Prayer is where I receive the grace I need to serve those God has placed in my life–family members, friends and neighbors, fellow parishioners, that lady cutting me off in traffic!–and for whom my contribution of love, forgiveness, and obedience to Christ really does manifest His Kingdom in a tiny way (but which may be no small thing to my husband, my son, my daughter, my friend who lives in a nursing home, or the fellow parents of children with disabilities I meet at my daughter’s public school, just to name a few).

    You would probably agree we are not here to be the saviors of the world (i.e., we can’t save ourselves). The world already has a Savior, Jesus. The modern myth of “making a difference” under discussion in this post is just another version of “we can and must save ourselves/each other”. No. That is Jesus’ job. Ours is to follow Him (obeying His commandments). We abide in Him, and He does all the rest.

  25. Fr. Stephen, I agree that we humans live under the arrogant illusion that we are going to “make the world a better place.” I differ with you that it began with “modernity.” As soon as early man found himself outside the garden he began his attempts to reinvent it. And, what was Emperor Justinian doing but trying to change the world?

    (Had I lived under Justinian’s empire building reign, I might have gladly let the empire be righteous so I would not have to be. We humans tend to want to change the world, but it would surely be convenient if someone else would do it for us.)

    I am not at all saying that we should focus on “making the world a better place,” but for the most part we just like to talk the talk. Two things have happened. 1) we have bought the “modern project”…”lock stock and barrel” 2) we have only given it lip service, letting the Emperor do our Christian work for us so we are off the hook entirely.

    We do not have to feed the poor, clothe the naked, house the homeless because we have built “social networks” that make Christian charity moot. We exist is this fog of deceit and are now free to embark on the next modern project… changing the climate, or preventing it from changing, having the next war “to end all wars,” ETC. We are an arrogant lot, and love to focus on grander things than helping our neighbor. I only differ with you that it is a recent error. This, and every other error has always been with us.

    Thank you for reminding us that our neighbor is the one near to us.
    And YES! we should ” leave God in charge of the outcomes” instead of persisting in the false belief that we are.

  26. Helen,
    I do not agree. You can make an analogy and say that Justinian and others’ actions are as if they thought they were creating a better world. But the notion is, in fact, a modern notion. I think it simply creates a very fuzzy notion when we blur all human sin under that heading.

    Justinian was trying to shore up his empire, defeat enemies and tighten-up canon law, political law and suppress those heresies he disliked. Basically, it was just general emperor stuff. But there is no record whatsoever that he imagined this as a better world. It was just his idea of how to run an empire.

    Truth told, he’s small potatoes in the scale of human projects.

  27. Modernity has alot of problems, oh yes (and that’s an understatement!) but I can’t help but think it’s easy for us who have reaped tremendous benefit (and tremendous harm) from the last century or so of “progress” to smugly dismiss the whole concept and not realize and properly give thanks for all the amazing blessings we take for granted today that were not available even 100 years ago. Our children have a very good chance of surviving to adulthood, which was not the case 100 years ago. I don’t personally know a single woman who has died in childbirth, again that would not have been true 100 years ago. Smallpox, perhaps the worst disease in human history has been eradicated, wiped out – praise God! In the developed world, at least, hardly anyone dies of infectious diseases, malaria, rabies, etc. – those were huge, feared killers 100 years ago. While I agree 100% that many make an idol out of “progress” we should be grateful for the real advances that have made a big difference in thousands of individual lives. Have those advances made the world “better”? I have no idea and yes, that’s the wrong question to be asking anyway. But it’s not fair or accurate to rail against Modernity as a whole while we enjoy things that people 100 years ago could only dream of.

  28. @Byron
    If your modern friends are suggesting the world is in a better place because of the dentists, you know they have a weak argument 🙂

  29. How would you counter the charge that you may be arguing semantics? God has not asked us to make the world a better place, he asked us to follow His commandments, feed the hungry cloth the naked etc. Are we not making the world a better place by doing those things? Or by world do you mean the “system”. In other words that we can improve individual lives but we cannot change the broader world system?

  30. Devin, isn’t motive everything? If we pursue this world, we will lose God. If we pursue God, we gain everything of importance and share His light with the world.

  31. Niki, sadly smallpox is making a reappearance, like many diseases of the body and soul. Sin rehashed in a million ways.

  32. Niki,
    Please understand. Antibiotics are not the result of progress. They are the result of good work done by a good scientist. Things like that will continue to be done, without the myth of progress. What you are not seeing is that the culture mongers wrap themselves in the successes of our time and use them to justify their projects to create a better world. Modernity doesn’t mean a period in time, it’s an idea that has been around for the last 250 years. And it takes credit for all good things, and blames all failures on something else. Both are not the truth.

    Of course, antibiotics might just create uncurable germs. The first plague of an untreatable germ will be, perhaps, a “modern” invention – where we took a good thing (antibiotics) and tried to create a world with no sickness, etc. and abused the good thing we invented.

    The Modern Project is not the cause of science and it’s a serious mistake to think that it is.

    Interestingly, penicillin was discovered by accident, rather than research. Perhaps we must say it was a gift of God, as is all of our good world.

    We have not made “advances.” We have learned some things and applied them, often to great benefit. But rid yourself of the notion of advances and progress. They belong to the language of utilitarianism which is the enemy of God and Christ, having been the cause of more suffering than can be described.

    Be a scientist. Do good work. Give God thanks for all of it. But don’t be fooled by the myths of modernity. They’re not selling a better world. They’re using the idea of a better world to destroy the good world we live in.

  33. What makes this message hard to swallow is this: How many of us have been in deep for a cause — time, money, mind and heart. (Sunk cost fallacy.) It’s awfully hard to step back and ask if we’re doing all the good we profess (and all the back-patting can’t be too healthy). Ever notice the power structures of so many good causes, small to large? I wonder if all the leaders and cheerleaders ever invite the Holy Spirit to the planning meeting. What could we be impeding in our rush to manage and go about fixing other people and things? Whom do we seek to make dependent on us? God lets us make some awful messes – though we think we’re doing so much good in His name.

  34. Devin,
    “Semantics” is the last argument for a lost argument.

    “Better world” is shorthand for an entire myth of progress. It is a slogan for a way of thinking. And it’s good advertising. Who doesn’t want a better world?

    But, the point is that we cannot make such a thing or even judge what it means. Only God knows what “better” means. It does not belong to us. We were given commandments to do some very specific things. In the name of a “better world,” we give ourselves permission to do a lot of things that are not commandments, and often with disastrous results.

    “Better place” is actually “secular-speak” for a utopia, a perfect world without God. Virtually every evil that has been perpetrated across our cultures for the past 200 years was done to create a better world. Again, who can argue against such a thing?

    But we must and we should. Or we can work for a “better world.” But do not claim that it is for Christ. He hasn’t asked you to do that. And, as noted, it’s idolatry.

    Feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc. But then do not say you’ve made the world a better place. Christ said that at the end of the day, the most we should say is, “I am an unprofitable servant.” That is the most strikingly anti-progress statement in the Bible. At the end of the day, say, “I have made no progress.”

  35. We are using terms like “progress”, “better” and the like. As I understand these words, they are relativistic because each hearer assigns their own meaning. Similarly, “Good” and “bad” are relativistic terms as we apply our own standards. For example, I think liver is “bad.” (Actually far worse than bad) my wife thinks it is “good.” Who is right? Both and neither, because the only definitions of better, progress, good and bad that matter are the standards of God and only He can determine the true measure of something against His own standards. Modernity seeks to pass judgment with these very terms which is why it is a false belief system.

  36. I love this article and will go back and read it again. I wonder if our modern unhappiness and frustration comes from realizing that we are not special, just ordinary beings that exist for a brief moment in the larger scheme of things. I am not an Orthodox, but have learned so much from your writings. Thank you!

  37. @Mark S If your modern friends are suggesting the world is in a better place because of the dentists, you know they have a weak argument.

    LoL! True, but you’d be surprised at how they push it. And, honestly, there is some small merit to it–a root canal only a 100 years ago would have been quite a horrible thing to go through! But they really lose the truth of the matter in minutiae. To paraphrase Father, “Dentistry is just good work done by a good dentist.” 🙂

  38. Anita,
    There is a deep contradiction in modernity. We are told to care. We are told to make a difference. So we do all of that and keep noticing that it doesn’t work. Sometimes we blame ourselves, or we blame others. We get very angry. “Other people care about the wrong things and they’re the problem!” we think. But the real problem is that modernity doesn’t work. We don’t really make a difference. But we have been deceived and in our deception we have forgotten how to actually live. We live small. We live a day at a time. We do good works. God takes care of history.

    So a beginning is to renounce modernity. That doesn’t mean renouncing so-called “modern” convenience or science, etc. They are not modern, they are just technology. All ages have had various kinds of technology. But modernity is a “story” about technology and changing the world. And it’s not true.

    Governments with access to money and weapons can certainly make huge changes. They are especially good at killing people and blowing things up. But modern governments aren’t content with doing what they could do well. They want to change the world. Europe has been busy trying to re-invent itself. America is promised “change” every 4 years, yada yada.

    So, we renounce all of these notions that have been fed to us. We ground ourselves in the gospel and in Christ. We pray. We give. We work. We forgive. We share. We give thanks. That’s about it. Oh, and go to Church. The best prayer and thanksgiving is the Divine Liturgy.

    This is the life of man. It is enough.

    But the modern governments are not going to repent. They are going to continue to sell their nonsense and kill people and blow stuff up and build things that they can blow up. Whenever they manage to do anything useful they will want us to be pleased and to thank them. But they are going to continue doing what they do until they destroy the world. That is the story we are told in Scripture. Modern governments are Babylon. We should do our best not to serve them much less to believe them.

    God will take care of us and help us in the daily life of salvation. It’s His world. Not ours.

  39. A thought on “progressing” to “maturity”.

    Perhaps it is not “progress” or even “change” to which St. Paul calls his audience. Perhaps he simply recognizes where, if they had truly focused their lives on God, they should be as humans in God’s image. It’s not so much about terminology but about ontology. Just mulling it over a bit.

  40. Mark it is impossible to do nothing.We are all connected by the life of God…therefore every prayer, every thanksgiving ripples through every one. Only if we are truly autonomous individuals would it be possible to do nothing.

  41. Dear Father

    Your essay reminds me of the tenets of modern art and design – where function became the focus instead of form. Indeed, form was so much meant to follow function that form eventually became completely irrelevant and only a symbol of Conspicuous Consumption. I am reminded of Bishop Kallistos’ talk on beauty (kalos) – beauty which is goodness. I think so much of protestant thinking was about “going out” and “doing something” (to the world) – the so called ‘great calling’, that modern people became like modern art, completely defined by ‘what they do’. Usually this is the first thing people ask when you meet them – ‘so what do you do for a living?’ – I often feel like answering that I breathe … I think it may be well to remember that God created the world as kalon (beautiful-good) and we are made to be (become) kalon (beautiful-good) in the image of God, and to bear kalon (beautiful-good) fruit (Matt. 3, 7, 12 …) Perhaps if people focused more on becoming beautiful in their goodness in stead of functional/efficient/successful in their endeavors the world around them may become a more beautiful if not better place?

  42. There’s no role for (Orthodox) Christians in government? Government=Babylon, that sounds like anarchism.

  43. Robert,
    Even the righteous prophet Daniel had a government role in Babylon. Perhaps it would have been better worded that “modern governments” are Babylon. There are plenty of good things that belong to the government to do. But the more those things are co-opted by the modern project, the more distorted and distorting they become. We’re not looking at something neutral.

    I know any number of government employees and contractors who find themselves being forced to implement a social agenda that is contrary to the Orthodox faith. The government has the most power over its employees and they are a vast legion. The modern project belongs to both Left and Right.

    The history of the “better world” efforts of modern governments has been primarily war and massive displacements of people. The European version of the project is a “re-imagining” of Europe. It has intentionally sought to make itself “multi-cultural” with only vague ideas of what that really means, or even a justification for why it is a good thing. At one point, Brussels was regulating size and shapes of vegetables in the EU!

    There is a deep distrust of normalcy and a willful ignoring of history and tradition. The forced creation of Bosnia has guaranteed continued strife for years to come. It was as bad an idea as anything in the Treaty of Versailles. The “baiting” of the Russian bear through US and EU tampering around the edges in various newly imagined projects risks heightened dangers of war, and has probably been a primary cause of the fighting in Ukraine.

    We now have a massive world campaign to re-imagine human sexuality and the family that can only end in various disasters. Much of it has no grounding in anything other than ideology.

    A major problem with governments taking on such modern projects is that government has an inherent power of coercion. Forced changed is rarely successful, or at least not in the ways that were intended. Pol Pot was only the most extreme example of this – but he learned everything he knew and did from modern governments in the West.

    The single most government-managed project in America has been the life of Native Americans. It is a standing testimony to the darkness of the modern project. That single place where the government of the most-enlightened of all modern states has unchecked power is also the single worst disaster of human existence in our midst.

    Government itself is not evil. The modern project, however, is. And if the government has married itself to that project…well…do the math.

  44. Father Stephen,
    So the Orthodox believe that the world is getting worse and worse and a Great Tribulation will come upon the earth and then Christ will return “On the clouds with great glory”. thanks

  45. Hi,
    Your thoughts are so often life changing to me and help me to not become even more of an agnostic than I am.
    I’m curious tho to hear your thoughts of living the Christian life as identity and participation in identity that is given to us. That is what for me helps me not to live out a complicated morality but to live out the presence of God within me.
    That presence is what gives me hope.
    Perhaps I’m not very clear here, but could you do a post on living out relationship and identity?
    Thanks, Warren

  46. So the Orthodox believe that the world is getting worse and worse and a Great Tribulation will come upon the earth and then Christ will return “On the clouds with great glory”. thanks

    Sounds a bit like heavy-handed Protestantism to me, Bob. Perhaps Father will shed more light on this line of thought.

  47. Byron,
    It’s pretty much the Scriptural take on the topic, but without all of the Rapture nonsense and troop movements, etc. The 2 Timothy passage seems to be absolutely part of the Apostolic deposit:

    But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2Ti 3:1-5 NKJ)

    Also, St. Paul’s teaching:

    Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2Th 2:3-4 NKJ)

    Christ Himself makes it clear that the end will be a time of great troubles and suffering. The Christian view of history is deeply contrary to a “better world coming.” We mess it up really well, and then God intervenes and the Kingdom comes (but not in a millennial reign on earth as some Protestants say.

    But we are not taught to watch for this thing or that thing as indicators of the times. We’re taught to watch for the Kingdom itself and Christ Himself.

    In the life of the Church, the Kingdom is already breaking-into the world, even as it did in the ministry of Christ, and that is a proper focus of our attention. Orthodoxy doesn’t really talk often about “world events,” but when it does, it is in much the vein that I have written about.

    I would highly recommend my article the Long Defeat and the Cross. We shouldn’t despair that the world is growing darker. We have been told that it will. Instead, we should turn our attention to the Cross and the self-emptying life that is asked of us.

    A good part of my concern in writing about the Modern Project is the warning in Scripture that the wicked one will “lead many astray. The Church’s life, when co-opted by the notions of modernity, takes on a false shape and becomes a dangerous force in the life of the world.

    Whatever good we are to do in this world is not done by making a better world. It is done by self-emptying.

  48. I am reminded of that story of the guy who drowned in a flood and got to heaven and asks God why he didn’t help him? The guy had said no to a rescue boat and no to a rope and no to a life jacket because he believed “God would save him” …

  49. This would make for a good book. Please develop it and publish it! Before it’s too late! 😉

  50. Bija,
    The Kingdom of God is a joke to the secular world. The joke you shared would not have been told by the fathers. It’s much more like Ben Franklin’s “God helps those who help themselves.” It’s false and mocks God.

  51. This post struck me not so much as a splash of cold water but as one of those burrs or stickers that get stuck on pant legs or socks. I don’t mean that in a bad way. You simply can’t shake those off and move on, you have to stop and look for it and deal with it. It sticks with you and demands attention. Thank you.

    I think “making the world a better place” is far too small an aspiration for the Body of Christ. The world is already “good” because God has declared it to be so in creating it. It is marred by sin and death to be sure, but you can’t make sin or death “better.” They must be vanquished and the world transfigured. And as you mentioned, Father, this is the work of God, not man. We can only hope to enter into this work as “partakers of the divine nature.” And this we do by praying, working, obeying, and living in communion with Christ in his Church.

    Would it be acceptable to say that rather than make the world a better place or make a difference, Christians are called to live as the new creation, the kingdom of God inaugurated in Christ? And that this is done not by the grand-scale projects of modernity, but by the grassroots efforts of people loving God and their neighbor, working out their salvation with fear and trembling?

    It seems to me, as one commenter pointed out, that the Eucharist itself provides the “framework” for understanding all of this. Not a secular self-help project, nor an escapist flight from reality, but an encounter with the world as God created it: a “good” world where creation itself is transformed and revealed as the means of worship, communion, and blessing.

    What is needed is not a “better” world, but a world understood and lived in as the cosmic temple it is, with all its matter and energy seen as and used for communion with the Triune God, a world ruled and served faithfully by the royal priesthood God created humanity to be, and which the Church now is.

    Apologies for the rambling, but this post has been great food for thought, and a deep challenge to long-held (even unconscious) assumptions. Thank you, again.

  52. Thank you for the clarification and agreed –

    “There are plenty of good things that belong to the government to do. But the more those things are co-opted by the modern project, the more distorted and distorting they become. We’re not looking at something neutral.” and

    “Government itself is not evil. The modern project, however, is. And if the government has married itself to that project…well…do the math.”


  53. Ronald,
    Yes. That describes it well. Christians must realize that we have no project. We have no goals other than the Kingdom and that must come as a gift. There is nothing that we are building towards. We are not “winning the world for Christ,” etc. All of these projects have been notions that were invented, even among Christians, within the confines of the modern period. They are not part of the Tradition, much less of Scripture.

    We “make disciples” – “of all nations.” That does not mean to make all of the nations into disciples, but that disciples should be comprised from people anywhere and everywhere – it was simply meant to include Gentiles.

    These planning thoughts that have become so commonplace that when questioned as I have, many commenters can’t help but say, “But…but…but…” As such, this might not be cold water, or little stickers. It might be one of those “motor boat” articles. “But…but…but…”

  54. Fr. Freeman,

    Marrying modernity (or what I assume you, the author, mean by having big dreams) to the bloodshed of progressivism is a mistake. Setting people free to dream and achieve their dreams, and forcing man to conform to rules against his will and killing him — those are two different things. Ambition does not equate to tyranny. As you said in your own words, “No tool is any better or different than the people who use them.”

    Granted, I am not an Orthodox Christian, but my belief is we will be judged according to our convictions, and God gives us wealth and resources to be used for His glory for the edification of His kingdom. When you demonize human ambition you stifle wealth used to bless others.

    You talk of a myth of progress. I agree there are many in positions of power who espouse an evil, ugly idea of progress. But progress which comes about organically without need for tyranny and bloodshed is not a myth. Would you tell Henry Ford 100 years ago to relinquish ambition because his innovations don’t make the world better? Asking me to name 14 more people does nothing to legitimize your argument or delegitimize mine. In places where there are ideas and wealth, everyone makes a difference.

    “We have no commandment from God to make the world a better place. We have no commandment from God to “make a difference.” Only God makes a difference, and only God knows what “better” would actually mean. As Christians, the proper life is one lived in accordance with the commandments. We should love. We should forgive. We should be generous and kind. We should give thanks to God always and for everything… We should understand that this is a description of the “better world.”

    While I agree with this paragraph, in concert with the rest of your post, you are minimizing God and humanity. God created us to create. Ambition and dreams while working together is a different matter than having ambition and dreams while wielding the sword. Too broad a brush stroke, sir.

    “When we were baptized, we were asked to renounce the devil”

    Lumping capitalism with Marxism and equating it with the devil? Not subtle. Redrawing maps and inserting dictators is not freedom, it is tyranny and misuse of the “sword.”

    I think I understand the point of your article. We should always look to God primarily. I only encourage you to look at the difference between progressivism and freedom instead of lumping them both under the term “modernity.” progressivism and freedom could not be any more mutually exclusive in definition. I believe God has better plans for us while we’re here than to live in a perpetual medieval age devoid of technology and creature comforts.

    Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. I’d wager there’s progress as well. It made my country great at one time.

  55. ” It might be one of those “motor boat” articles. “But…but…but…””

    Indeed. If you had written an article on humility (such as this one) and simply used the word “humility”, it would have been a dozen comments and all nods “yes yes, but of course”. Take humility out of the abstract and explicate it in our REAL lives with such axiomatic truths such as:

    You won’t make a difference, indeed your great grandchildren will not even know your name

    We are not here to help

    You are not getting better

    And the everyone fires up their outboard motors – we are looking for a safe harbor where our ego and “self” makes a difference, where we have some control over our “self” and the world, and where we can pray and be “Christian” without actually having actual humility, and taking up our Cross and getting to know how really small we are in God’s creation and history.

    Father, I would not be so quick to limit this to “the modern project”, otherwise folks will simply define themselves out of “modernity” (as if they could do such a thing in reality) and carry on.

  56. Father,

    In defence of that joke, assuming it’s the one I think is intended, I think it’s safe to say that Bija didn’t summarize it with enough precision. At the end of it the preacher asks God why He didn’t save him, and He responds, “But I sent you two boats and a helicopter [or whatever it is in the version you’re telling]…” [emphasis added for this discussion].

    The punchline is not the preacher’s faith in God over man, but his inability to recognize and receive with thanksgiving God’s grace that was already working in everything going on around him.

    The joke can be relevant to this discussion in terms of raising is a question of whether Modernity itself may be allowed (or, perhaps more accurately, in what capacity God has allowed Modernity) as part of that which leads to our salvation.

    But then one can pose that question of anything, at which point I think Father Tom’s Maxim #37 applies.

  57. Byron,
    It’s pretty much the Scriptural take on the topic, but without all of the Rapture nonsense and troop movements, etc.

    Yes, forgive me for being flippant, Father. I reacted more to the “Great Tribulation” part of Bob’s comment than to the substance of it.

    My apologies, Bob.

  58. Brian,
    How do you measure your country’s greatness? That is not a Christian statement. “Great” is a judgment that belongs to God. Big “dreams” has mostly meant money, power, etc. “Freedom” in the modern period (and under the tutelage of the modern project) has meant “freedom” from Tradition and the past, and freedom from various restraints.

    You also make the mistake of thinking that modernity is what produces technology and “creature comforts.” That is simply not accurate historically. It’s just the propaganda of modernity. Our liberty is simply license. We are living in the consequences of mistaken theories of what it means to be human and what it means to be free, etc.

    I would encourage you to read my articles on modernity over the past year.

  59. Father, I see my religion and my way of life being threatened in a very real sense by “bad men”. I have worn the uniform of my country and did my active best to rescue another people from oppression.

    I am told to love, accept and forgive. But if that is all civilization does, it will die, I am afraid. Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for Evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

    We are able to pray, associate and speak freely because there are rough men who guard us from bad men.

    I know my duty to my people, and that os a paradox.

  60. There is a great deal of paradox in all of this. Thank you for serving our country.

    But it remains true that many of the modern evils (bad men) are particular products of the great schemes of modernity. The present Middle East is an excellent example. The chaos that our neo-conservative efforts created in various regime changes created the vacuum that today is filling with ISIS. They didn’t just appear out of “bad men.” Chaos is extremely bad.

    Hitler is very much a product of the extreme efforts of the Treaty of Versailles. And so on.

    The “evil” of our world isn’t just being generated out of nothing. It is a part of the long trail of unintended consequences. No doubt, we will need protection.

    But it is also true that no matter how many good men there are in uniform, if God does not keep the city, the watchman wakes in vain.

    I am able to pray because God gives me breath. They prayed in the Soviet Gulag. There is so much to say in all of this. What happens when bad men send good men into a battle to do bad things?

  61. Brian, Henry Ford is a interesting choice as one who made the world better. How?

    Assembly lines devalued human labor and craft; his worker villages eventually decayed into slums; the car itself is now widely recognized as the main agent in the (dubious) theory of anthropogenic climate change and other environmental catastrophes; the car created a unprecedented internal migration that tore the extended family and many communities to pieces as well as providing a moveable and private place of immoral sexual encounters not to mention leading to the creation of the tank and other instruments of war.

    The automobile today is an instrument of debt as well.

    There is not one technological advance you can name that has done anything to advance the growth of the human soul in the qualities of mercy and peace.

    To be sure they give the appearance of relieving suffering on a bodily level and some do. But at the cost of twisting what it means to be human and often transferring the suffering from the body to the soul.

  62. I really appreciate your blog, Fr. Freeman. I like that you catch me off guard and challenge me in ways I don’t expect. Reading this particular post, however, I wondered if you might indulge my inner devil’s advocate (an advocate that truly seeks to understand). Those who fought for the abolition of slavery come immediately to mind. I’m trying to imagine any of them reading this post. Should they have resisted the temptation become “informed” about the atrocities upon which their society was built, with all the “passions” for justice that would stir up? Should they and the slaves have just threw up their hands and said “We’re not called to change things or make a better world. Progress is a myth”? …Btw. I wholly agree that progress is a myth, in the sense that while we advance in any one or more areas, we are always regressing in others of equal importance. We always seems to be trading in one virtue for another vice. I’m just concerned that what you are advocating here could easily be used to justify a sort of bourgeois stance of apathy toward the plight of society’s most vulnerable (the very kind of thing you note you would be accused of in your post). Please help me to see the forest for the trees on this one.

  63. “The television reports are horrible – dead and dying, fleeing, abyss of human suffering. In Europe, Portugal is quickly drifting to communism. And in between those images of suffering, horror, and treachery, we see images of ‘great values in appliances.’

    “Essentially, the West is frightful – frightful because of its Phariseeism, identifying freedom with profit. Once a rightist senator said: ‘We must remember that the basic principles of a free market – profit and freedom – are indivisible.’ – all that with a heroic tone of voice… the faces of farmers, deciding to reduce their crops, with faces lit up with moral pathos – while the whole world is clamoring about hunger. The West is frightful because of its baseness in everything. When did that fall begin? Where did the West renounce itself, renounce the flame that ‘lighted up the whole creation, then went into the night and cried…’?

    “All the lofty phrases about ‘freedom’, ‘fairness’, ‘equality’, etc. (and their Christian rhetoric) sound unbearable, demonic, false. The devil is on the faces of the defenders of law and order and on the faces of revolutionaries.”

    From The Journals of Fr. Alexander Schememann, March 24, 1975

    After 40 years of “world improving”… when will we learn to live simply, love our neighbors, show mercy, practice righteousness, and pursue peace? Of course, I struggle to do that with those closest to me. Lord have mercy and forgive our arrogance in thinking we should be changing the world!

  64. Brian’s comment made me ponder that the problem is that we are fed with these ‘differences’ as an intellectual distraction. However, if I am a ‘left’ or a ‘right’ secularist makes no difference to the fact that I am essentially godless. Whether one is forcefully controlled in an “Orwellian” manner, or in the conditioned “Huxley-ian” fashion matters little in comparison to the fact that they are slaves. I have seen those spiritual warriors at the foremost front (the holy ascetics on Mount Athos) who valiantly wage war with ‘the world, the flesh and the devil’ and it surprises me that they would generally eschew all of what the modern worldly ‘progress’ has to offer (even technologically) in the 21st century in order to live like peasants of the 13th century.

  65. Fr. Stephen,

    Hello, I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy and I have come across your blog and have found your thoughts very helpful as I seek to understand how to live the Orthodox life, so I wanted to say thank you, first and foremost, for sharing your understanding!

    I’ve read this post twice and read through all the comments to try and really understand what it is that you’re saying, and I think I’m still a little confused… Are your critiquing the belief that governments can bring the kingdom of God to earth? Are you also critiquing the idea that each individual should see science, technology, and large social networks to bring the kingdom of heaven? I also gathered from the comments that you are not saying science and technology are evil, simply that they are not the hope for our salvation at the Resurrection?

    Equally, are you saying (in the positive) that the way we express our faith, and fulfill our call as Christians, is not by running around trying to force the world to change into what WE deem as good (i.e. A technological utopia), but to do that which God commanded us (feed the poor, etc.), which is what the kingdom of God consists of?

    Also, what do you think of the fact that, percentage wise, murder, war, rape, starvation, and absolute poverty (no access to clean water, no fresh food, no livable income) are at all time lows (to my knowledge), combined with the argument that we think there are more wars, shootings, and death, simply because media cover it more, but the reality is that those things are less?

    Finally, one last question in how Christians are called to live: would you agree with the statement that wherever I find myself, (scientist, farmer, politician, janitor etc.) I should do my work with the utmost care and to the best of my ability, and to help, love and care for others, and if an opportunity arises to make a huge change in the world, to prayerfully consider it, to engage it if I feel called to do so, but to not idolize that work, to recognize that it could go terribly wrong, or that it could fail and turn to ash, and to keep my joy and sense of value grounded in that I belong to Christ, whether I am an unknown who works at the soup kitchen every Saturday, or a Nobel Peace Prize winner who made the cure for cancer.

    Again, thank you for posting this!

  66. “If the human race could have straightened up its act by the simple pursuit of goodness, it would have done so long ago. We are not stupid; and Lord knows, from Confucius to Socrates to Moses to Joyce Brothers, we’ve had plenty of advice. But we haven’t followed it. The world has taken a five-thousand-year bath in wis¬dom and is just as grimy as ever. And our own lives now, for all our efforts to clean them up, just get grimier and grimier. We think pure thoughts and eat wheat germ bread, but we will die as our fathers did, not noticeably better.

    Once again, the world cannot be saved by living. And there are two devastatingly simple reasons why. The first is, we don’t live well enough to do the job. Our goodness is flawed goodness. I love my children and you love yours, but we have, both of us, messed them up royally. I am a nice person and so are you, except for when my will is crossed or your convenience is not consulted—and then we are both so fearful that we get mean in order to seem tough. And so on. The point is that if we are going to wait for good living to save the world, we are going to wait a long time. We can see goodness and we can love it. We can even love it enough to get a fair amount of it going for us on nice days. But we simply cannot crank it up to the level needed to eliminate badness altogether.”

    Robert Capon

  67. It might help our discussion to remember the basic tenant of Modernity. In fact, it has little to do with technology or its development. Modernity is the philosophy of life that elevates the Self, the Ego above all else. Me, Myself and I become paramount in an individuals thinking and attaining what the Ego wants becomes the driving force of our society. The caring for the Self over the Other is a natural outgrowth of the emphasis on Me, Myself and I.
    The Self, the Ego is the source of Ancestral Sin. The elevate it in Modernity is to elevate Sin. It sounds nice that we get to dream and we get to fulfill our needs, but that always seems to come at the expense of others. I am reminded of the the words of Shakespeare in Hamlet: “To sleep, perchance to dream; aye, there’s the rub for what dreams may come….” Our dreams for ourselves often result in harm to others even if we do not intend to harm.
    Take the automobile brought to us by Henry Ford. We think nothing of driving to the store to purchase food for the family, but that convenience in fulfilling our necessity has consequences we never think about. Whether or not we except Climate Change, there is no doubt we are polluting the atmosphere. Manufacturing an automobile causes all sorts of pollution. Mining the ore and refining it pollutes air and water. There is the slag to deal with, filled with toxic compounds that are concentrated by the process and then leech into our environment. My point is not to dwell on the technical aspects but to point out just enough to suggest that pleasing “Me” as Modernity would have us think is proper, it is costly to others. It is also antithetical to the Gospel as the Lord told us to die to the Self.

  68. Thad,
    I have not said that nothing changes. Change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. Progress, however, is a story about what the change is doing. It posits that there is something towards which the change is moving. If my brake fails and my car rolls down the driveway and hits a tree, that is not progress – it’s change and motion. If I’m driving down the interstate towards a destination, I’m making “progress.”

    I am deeply grateful for the abolition of slavery and thing it was an utterly right thing to do – just like freeing the serfs in Russia. Progress, however, would posit some social end-point towards which we are moving. That there is no such thing is my point. There are good things to do and to be done. Abolishing slavery is an inherently good thing. But it should not be described as “progress” towards something else.

    The notion of progress belongs to the philosophy of Utilitarianism – sometimes described as “the greatest good for the greatest number” and “the end justifies the means.” It is deeply practical and a hallmark of modernism. It is also contrary to the Christian faith. For reasons I have stated.

    We cannot know the right social good (as a goal) and it is wrong to use evil means to achieve a desired good (as St. Seraphim himself said). The end does not justify the means.

    Christians should do the right thing because it’s the right thing, and do it on a daily basis. The right thing is the right thing and is not a matter of utilitarian progress. Change is change but only a utilitarian can describe it as progress. In short, Christians should repent of believing the false ideology of utilitarianism.

  69. Joshua,
    In general, yes.

    That things are actually better, measured by the things you stated might be true. But, it will change, and possibly for the worse. We cannot know. They are not, however, a result of “progress.” Progress is an ideology about change and people have been taught to think of all change as progress. Never has a philosophy had such loyal adherents! They think everything they see is proof of its truth.

    Science is good. Technology is good – if they are rightly used. Progress never really says anything about how such stuff is used.

    Christians should not live with the philosophy of progress. We should live in obedience to the commandments, doing the right things because they are right. The outcomes – the true outcomes of all things – are ultimately only known to God. “All things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28). That describes the mystery of our salvation. However, we do not have a commandment that says, “Make everything work together for good…”

    We simply cannot know what that would mean.

    What if the standards of living and health were improving steadily for many years – all across the world. And what if along with that, the souls of human beings were being destroyed? It’s progress, I suppose, but towards hell.

    I know that in a single human life there are better years and worse years and we cannot say which of the two does more for our salvation. God only knows. We could never inflict worse years on someone in order to “save” them. It would be against the commandments. God might do such a thing, but only God could know how such a thing would work.

    So, we are not stuck or frozen. In don’t do nothing. We keep the commandments. If you have technology, don’t use it for evil. But you also will not be able to use it to save the world. Only God knows what that would mean.

  70. Nicholas,
    Let’s think about automobiles. Automobiles have changed everything. We design everything around their convenient use and necessity. We are now utterly dependent on them. So their advent changed the face of America.

    Winston Churchill, visiting the West Coast in the years after WWI, saw the early developments of automobile shaped structures (highways, etc.). He concluded at the time that oil would become the essential global strategic issue (he always thought in such strategic terms).

    We could have done without the automobile, or done very differently by it. But we consumed it. And it consumed us.

  71. Henry Ford is a interesting choice as one who made the world better. How?

    Assembly lines devalued human labor and craft; his worker villages eventually decayed into slums; the car itself is now widely recognized as the main agent in the (dubious) theory of anthropogenic climate change and other environmental catastrophes; the car created a unprecedented internal migration that tore the extended family and many communities to pieces as well as providing a moveable and private place of immoral sexual encounters not to mention leading to the creation of the tank and other instruments of war.

    The automobile today is an instrument of debt as well.

    There is not one technological advance you can name that has done anything to advance the growth of the human soul in the qualities of mercy and peace.

    To be sure they give the appearance of relieving suffering on a bodily level and some do. But at the cost of twisting what it means to be human and often transferring the suffering from the body to the soul.

    Wonderful post, Michael Bauman. Many thanks!

  72. Father,

    Thank you for such a quick response, it definitely helped clear things up. I think I understand now what you mean, especially in regards to the modern philosophy seeing change as “progress” and progress as a blatantly good thing. The Nazi’s were change, and they revitalized the German economy, but they certainly were not a good thing.

    Thank you!

  73. I think we all struggle to know what the Christian life looks like in the midst of the Modern Project and all that we have been taught. A metaphor came to mind last night that is helping me picture it and my “job”: it is as if we are on a large cruise ship that is moving from one port to a distant one. The purpose for each passenger is to enjoy the view and help everyone else enjoy it as well. After all, that’s what the Cruise is about—being “one” with the Cruise Creator and all those He created. That entails doing our share of the work to keep the ship afloat and the people and other passengers well cared for (cooking, navigating, maintaining the ship, being kind and loving, etc) Part of my job, too, is to spend some time on deck taking it all in—that 20-30 minutes a day that Hopko suggests that we sit in silence. For those who follow that course, the Cruise becomes a taste of the Kingdom—fulfilled, ultimately, at the end of the journey. The image of people running around on deck trying to make it better or change the Itinerary is almost comical—when it is not demonic. It’s a great view today from my part of the ship—time, though, to go scrub the decking. It is my part and it is good.

  74. Anita,

    “I wonder if our modern unhappiness and frustration comes from realizing that we are not special, just ordinary beings that exist for a brief moment in the larger scheme of things.”

    Yes! It’s back to the sin of the Garden: pride. Making a difference sounds like such an altruistic thing to do with your life, but driving it all is just plain old pride. If my real purpose is just “lived in accordance with the commandments. We should love. We should forgive. We should be generous and kind. We should give thanks to God always and for everything”, that’s not only boring (from the outside) but it doesn’t promise us any kudos or renown. Frankly it sucks! And there is no way we can see “progress” on our self-made agenda from this vantage point.

    We are NOT special – at least not by what we do, but rather by who we are (children of God) and therefore we have no control over our position or level of “specialness” – and then we die.

    That can’t be the answer, so we go about trying to write the story our way and remake the world in our image.

    But every good thing is found through the door of its opposite. Our world all becomes right when we give up the position of world changer and simply live as one of His children, loving what He puts in our lives and just being who He made us to be – and not trying to make a difference.

  75. I appreciate your post. It presented a lot of good things to think about. However, I also believe that God absolutely has a plan for every human life or else He wouldn’t have created them. And if I truly believed that my life doesn’t make a difference, then I wouldn’t be living in the Middle East working with Syrian refugees.

    So I see what you’re saying and your points are good but life doesn’t ultimately boil down to obeying God’s commands only. It’s also a call to believe Him to do great things- even greater things, one might say…

  76. Jodi,
    God will do great things indeed. But He has not given to us to plan His great deeds, or even to know what they are many times. I mean “your life doesn’t make a difference” in the secular meaning of the term. We are not the cause of the Kingdom of God.

    It is God Himself who makes the difference, and He sometimes does it through us. But if, for example, we actually knew that our lives would make a tremendous difference, it would eat us up.

    Suppose, to take a silly example, it were revealed to me that 200 years from now, a small series of articles I had written were going to change everything and for the better. (Very ludicrous). But such knowledge would destroy me. I would not be able to do what I do, and my arrogance would be insanity.

    We don’t need to know what difference anything makes – indeed, we simply cannot know such a thing. Most of what is true and real about anything and everything is hidden and known only to God.

    So, the question is whether we can do good and keep the commandments without actually knowing how important we are?

    It is said in the Fathers that God sustains the universe in existence through the prayers of a very few. And the identity of the very few is not known – even to them. There they are, the most important difference-makers in the universe, and they are clueless. If that is true, then perhaps you and I can go about our days doing good and keeping the commandments without needing to know how important it is or whether it makes a difference.

    “Making a difference” is all about the ego, not the Kingdom.

    Jodi, you say that your are convinced that God has a plan for our lives. That is undoubtedly true. But if you think you know what the plan is, then you are mistaken. I have no idea whether I will be alive tomorrow or not, and neither do you. Consider the rich fool. He thought he had years of leisure ahead of him, but his soul was to be required that very night.

    God’s plan is just that, God’s plan. It is not your plan or my plan. And it is for God’s purposes alone.

  77. GF,

    Great analogy concerning the cruise ship. In fact you could also say that there is one group thinking that the ship is headed to some wonderful utopian destination which will actually cause the great ship to be a thing of the past, simply a means to an end.

    And there’s another group who recognizes that their main purpose is to “enjoy the view and help everyone else enjoy it as well…being “one” with the Cruise Creator and all those He created.”

    As Fr. Stephen says it comes down to not knowing our place. ““Making a difference” is all about the ego, not the Kingdom.”

  78. Fr. Freeman, I am new to your blog but let me share with you that I’m fairly certain God wanted me to read this post at this particular time in my life. I’ve always shared in the general sentiment of what you state with simplicity here, but these words run deep. I have much to ponder. And then, when I read a little more, particularly your words about Beauty and Aesthetics – and when I saw the four authors you have listed under Culture – well, let’s just say that I realize that I’ve stumbled upon Real Treasure in the midst of all that twinkling glitter that is *not* gold on the Internet. I am looking forward to reading more of your words, and learning more about Orthodoxy.

  79. Thank you Father for this outstanding article. The problem, I believe, is that many, many of us who call ourselves Christian, are actually devout modern, secular, humanists. Thank you for blowing the lid on this. It’s helped me greatly. Your repeated statements that all we’re really to do is to keep the commandments, love our neighbor, etc are deeply freeing.

  80. Tom (aka Volkmar), thank you for the Capon quote! It is very appropriate.

    I often think of Fr. Stephen as the Orthodox Robert Capon. Both in terms of provocative writing, but also theologically, “the unmoral Christian” is very very Capon-ian.

    I’d be really interesting to hear what you think about that, Fr. Stephen. (If you are familiar with Capon–if not, well, he’s fantastic.)

  81. A perfect case in point Father, the automobile is a good illustration of what you have been saying. As I sit here addressing my computer I am remembering the days before such things. I got the mail once a day and it took me a few minutes to read it and a few more to respond. Now I get buried in E Mails (I had nearly 30 from this blog to read) and have spent my whole morning slogging my way through these and the many others I have received. Is this really progress? I think not. I have more “Face Book” friends but I have fewer intimate and real relationships.

  82. Niki, many have been saved by advances in technology. Many more have been killed: see abortion and modern (20th century) warfare. It is only technologically advanced societies that can kill in such tremendous numbers (60 million abortions in America alone since 1975). I would rather live in a world more than 100 years ago where abortion was simply not as possible and widespread as it is today if it meant more women dying in childbirth, and I say that as one of those women who would have died if it weren’t for modern technology. It is better to suffer doing the right thing than to avoid suffering doing the wrong thing.

  83. Michael,
    There is what some call the point of diminishing returns. With a certain amount of effort, you achieve 95 percent of your goal. The remaining 5 percent, however, will take almost infinitely more effort.

    The Civil Rights Movement, in its opposition to Jim Crow laws and similar things was absolutely great and necessary. But then, there comes the remaining 5 percent to reach some sort of non-racist utopia. Truth told, you never reach it, but you create a perpetual industry (especially in politics) that sloganizes the 5 percent and never goes away (nor makes much “progress” at all).

    On women’s rights, I would say that I’m completely flummoxed by the topic. On the whole, it has been a tremendous failure in that it has been driven by the wrong questions and thus with the wrong goals. It has focused primarily on economic issues and political issues, reducing women to economic and political units. But the expense has been the family.

    The truth is that the human race (and most animals) are binary. All of the nonsense that suggest otherwise is nonsense. We are created male and female. And an absolute priority is the procreation of children and their stable nurture. That requires the family and always has. This most fundamental aspect of human existence has been treated as “plastic” and infinitely variable – with the cost being paid by children.

    When a couple wants to get married, but their primary questions are about how do they both fulfill their careers, I think they are not ready to get married and have children. They “might” both have careers. But the true career of both of them should be centered in the home, church and children. Everything else is just a job.

    But the progressive movements of various sorts, particularly when they extend beyond an immediate and obvious good, simply produce misery. We are “progressing” away from being human. And it shows.

  84. Well said, Marissa.

    David Bentley Hart has written eloquently on a shift that took place in the late Western Middle Ages in which the thinkers of the time began to treat will as prior to nature (a view, as I recall, that Hart says is logically impossible). In consequence, the word “freedom” changed meaning. To traditional Christians and even ancient pagans, freedom meant the unhindered realization of one’s nature. A man is free when he fulfills his nature, which is to be in the image of God. God is perfectly free in that He never acts contrary to His own perfect goodness. With will prior to nature, however, freedom came to mean unfettered expression of one’s will. A man is free when he can do whatever he wants. God is perfectly free in that He is utterly sovereign, no one being able to stay His hand.

    The latter, false, kind of freedom is the premier, perhaps the exclusive “virtue” recognized by our society. Yet for the man whose heart is not pure, such freedom constitutes abject slavery: he wills much that is contrary to his nature (i.e., that is unlike God), and nothing hinders his carrying out what he wills.

    Technology develops to facilitate the accomplishment of man’s will. Until we so resemble Christ that we will what He wills, that is a terrifying prospect. We may indeed develop technology to save mothers and babies, but we will use it to kill our own children in unthinkable numbers. This, as I understanding it, is why the Lord mercifully confused the languages at Babel, to save men from the slavery and perdition of achieving all that they will.

  85. I agree with you Father Stephen on the issue of women’s rights having experienced the downside first hand. As a young mother I thought I could do it all and it led to so much unhappiness on my part which was passed on to my children. I was blessed with a child in my forties and made the hard decision to quit work. I cannot tell you the difference it has made in my family and for my own salvation. I feel that I have been given the greatest gift in the world. This whole post has made me so grateful for Orthodoxy and the Church. What a refuge from the insanity of the world!

  86. Jodi, you say that your are convinced that God has a plan for our lives. That is undoubtedly true…..God’s plan is just that, God’s plan. It is not your plan or my plan. And it is for God’s purposes alone.

    Wonderful conversation in this thread!

    As a side note, I have taken a bit of an “opposing” view to the idea that God has a plan for our lives. I don’t dis-believe this but have observed that, to many people, it quickly comes down to God having a plan “for MY life” and I tend to think of that as an ego-centered viewpoint. My regular rejoinder is to say, “If you want to find God’s Will, leave yourself out of it.”

    In the same way that, if we want to know the opinion of someone else, we cannot interrupt and try to bring their view(s) in line with our own, trying to find God’s Will requires that we stop looking through the lens of our own desires and/or plans. Essentially, as has been stated here many times, follow the commandments, do good as you have opportunity, etc…. God often reveals Himself in these things and when He becomes so clearly present, we can more easily know and follow His Will. Just my thoughts.

  87. Nice article. Reminiscent of the 1985 hit song ‘Road To Nowhere’ by the Talking Heads. Its worth reading the lyrics.

    Of the song David Byrne said, “I wanted to write a song that presented a resigned, even joyful look at doom. At our deaths and at the apocalypse… (always looming, folks). I think it succeeded. The front bit, the white gospel choir, is kind of tacked on, ’cause I didn’t think the rest of the song was enough… I mean, it was only two chords. So, out of embarrassment, or shame, I wrote an intro section that had a couple more in it.”

  88. Byron,
    Actually God’s plan, His will, is quite clear: In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1Th 5:18)

    In the prayers of the Orthodox Church, when we ask things from God, we pray for “those things in accordance with our salvation.” And, for us, that means the working out of our lives towards our final healing and union with God. Nothing more, nothing less. We assume that in saying this we are blessing God and saying yes to everything He must (will) do in our lives to bring that about. I sometimes warn people, “Salvation can be a very messy business.”

    The working out of our salvation is a very mysterious thing. I think that this is not nearly about “what should I do with my life?” My thoughts on “what should I do?” are “Do the best you can and obey the commandments.” But this deep burning desire we have to think that the plan of my life is for some other greater good, etc.” is just an echo of the modern project. Believe me, people almost never thought this way prior to a couple of hundred years ago. It’s really an illusion about things we cannot know.

    I saw an interview with the Bishop of Alaska (back in the 80’s). They asked him about success and he said that “Success cannot be measured in terms of seminaries built, or churches built, etc. Success can only be measured in the Kingdom of God.”

    So unless I personally know how God is going to bring about His kingdom and my salvation, then I have no idea what “plan for my life” really means.

    I’ve been through many changes over the years. I was on what looked like a career trajectory in the Episcopal Church, and I was doing “fairly well.” When I became Orthodox, suddenly, I thought I would live out my days in a backwater, mostly as a worker priest in a storefront mission. I certainly had no idea that I would be writing, traveling, speaking, being translated, etc.

    And I dare not make any trajectory from this point forward. In the blink of an eye, the same thing that gave me a heart attack 2 years ago could give me a stroke and leave me unable to do anything (or kill me). And that is the nature of our lives.

    So, the question is, what do I do today?

    When you’re young, you obviously do some things that are directed towards the future. And you do your best. Just don’t be surprised when the future is not what you planned (it pretty much never is).

    God’s plan for my (our) lives: “He is gathering together into one, all things in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1

    I’m just trying to stay on the bucking bronco of my life until it’s done. With my last breath, I would like to quote St. John Chrysostom, “Glory to God for all things!”

  89. Thank you for a timely post Fr. Stephen,

    I know it probably is a bit “cheesy” but history really is His-story. As you say so well we tend to believe that we can decide the outcome of history, well it wasn’t ours in the first place… It is His. At the bottom of all this is pride. I myself often believe that I can change things for the better but if I take a second to pray (which I often fail to do) I realize quickly that I can not know the eschatological outcome of my action, particularly pertaining to anyone else then myself. That being said I believe it needs to be clarified that as part of Christ’s body in the world we are able, by the Holy Spirit, to make the reality of the Heavenly Kingdom known in the world when we submit to the will of the Lord. This is not progression, it is transformation. It is not progression, it is procession. It is not progression it is incarnation. The language the modern project utilized to promote it’s creed, “I can change the world for the better by my own” has obscured the language of prayer by way of noise. The modern project needs noise to thrive. I can’t change the world, but I can ask the Lord in the stillness of my heart to change me more and more into His likeness. The eternal I AM calls us to turn to Him, meet Him. To do that we need to leave earthly cares behind.

  90. Tom (aka Volkmar), I want to join Nicholas in thanking you for the quote from Robert F. Capon.

    Nicholas, I also have noted parallels between some of the things our host here has written and some of Capon’s ideas, and wondered if Capon was in some way drawn to Orthodoxy, but, for some reason, just couldn’t make the leap (he was an Episcopalian until his death a couple of years ago). I am certain that he was well versed in the Fathers, but don’t know if he had any exposure to later Orthodox writings.

    More generally . . .

    Somewhere in Mere Christianity (I have not had time to look it up), C.S. Lewis writes something to this effect: You cannot harness Christianity to some secular project, and expect to make anything of it. In other words, movements directed to “Christianity and World Peace,” “Christianity and Ending Poverty,” or “Christianity and Vegetarianism,” or “Christianity and Social Progress” are bound to fail, and you will end up with neither the Kingdom nor World Peace. On the other hand, Lewis adds, if you devote yourselves solely to the Kingdom of God, who knows what might follow in its wake?

    The sentiment seemed congruent with what our host is arguing (at least to me).

    Finally . . .

    As I read the original post, and many of the comments, I thought of a passage from Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of the great science fiction novels.

    A nuclear war and its aftermath have destroyed civilization, and nearly destroyed humanity itself. An order of Catholic monks preserves a few remnants of that civilization (ours). Eighteen hundred years after the “Flame Deluge,” a proto-scientist of the new emerging civilization—a firm believer in “progress”—visits the monastery in the North American desert to view the scraps that the monks have preserved (“The Memorabilia”). He wonders how it was that so great a civilization could destroy itself. The abbot replies that perhaps it was because the old civilization was great technologically, but in little else.

    For those who have not read it, I highly recommend “Canticle” as a worthwhile meditation on the futility of the illusion of progress.

  91. EPG, et al,
    On the similarity to Capon. I read a book of his (one), in the 1980’s. It’s fault was like many Protestant problems. He was right about something, but made it the only thing. In Orthodoxy, if things are done correctly, then everything is much more integrated. Capon understood something about grace, but did not have that something integrated into the ontological approach of Orthodoxy. It made his work suspect at times.

    I liked the Canticle for Liebowitz. Also read it in the 80’s. Interesting book.

    I’m really glad that someone quoted St. Theophan the Recluse earlier, with full approval of what has been posted here. I’m not writing anything new, but applying what is old to what is novel. It is the theories of modernity that are novel. That most people are deluded is not novel.

  92. Many thanks for your continued explanation, Father. I very much need and appreciate your guidance!

    The modern project needs noise to thrive.

    This is interesting on more than one level, Jakob. A very insightful observation, I think!

  93. Father Stephen,

    Thank you for elaborating on this difficult topic. Can I bring in the fight against modernity as “a Christian’s most important struggle” or focus (I may be misrepresenting Fr Thomas Hopko’s words here) for clarification?

    Some Elders have said that “keeping the faith” will be the ultimate test of holiness, when performing miracles will be impossible due to our sinfulness. Others have at times raised alarm about topics such as the coming of Antichrist, the mark on barcodes, warning against using ATMs and so on. It would be unfair to mention names because these Elders who may have become saints were also people, with weaknesses and a narrow understanding of the world. It is a slippery path to take disparate comments and make them dogma, I have seen people suffer as a consequence of following what you have eloquently described “a path to nowhere”.

    For those of us who read here and are seeking the truth in the Ortodox way of living, this is a key issue: modernity is our reality and we are members of our generations. Is the struggle an internal one against sin and thoughts, passions and inclinations? Must we pay attention to the external enemies or ignore them altogether? I’m not tempting you, this is not an easy question to answer and even holy Fathers have said opposite things. I am looking for some guidance and I will accept it with an open heart.

    However overwhelming it may seem to attempt to maintain a traditional way of life, celebrating major Orthodox feasts while at work, we have Christ as long as we live. We call his name, or at least we try to pray within the confines of our spiritual poverty.

    Is there a fear that by constantly bringing the danger to mind we lose our inner peace? This may be an issue to me alone, but if I have 5′ of solitude a day, I would rather say the Jesus prayer than worry about the decadence of the modern world. I have a young daughter who is exposed to all sorts of militant secularism; we go to Church on Sundays and pray, we struggle with the modern contempt of our faith. Christ sees this and hands out his Grace. Isn’t that more than enough? Is this not out societal self-inflicted σκωλωψ (challenge?)

    This too shall pass, the world is not getting better or worse, in God’s plan who knows how this may turn out?

    I also suspect that definitions are failing us; where some of say “better” we may mean “more comfortable”. Few truly seek hardship and most of them are dedicated to a life struggle to empty themselves for God to enter. Fr Aimilianos writes with authority on seeking discomfort and my good friend Dinos is a master on Elder Aimilianos.

  94. Thomas,
    While any number of the passions present a more immediate and sometimes painful struggle, the challenges presented by modernity are all-pervasive. I think that there are many people who will go down a modern path and yet find salvation. Many people commenting here are only just now hearing anything about the nature of the problem.

    It’s a set of temptations. Learning to identify them and live with Christ as our anchor and our hope is just the job of living that’s been given to us. The really strange aspect of this is that everyone around you will think in modern terms. The last time I was in England, for example, the young 20-somethings I was with had never heard anyone question progress. There were some very interesting conversations that followed. It’s there in the Fathers (as the quote from St.Theophan illustrates). It is interesting to me to read Dostoevsky, in that he was writing at a time when many of the ideas of modernity were first being espoused in some of their present form. His insight about it is as good today as it was then.

    The critique of modernity isn’t just an Orthodox thing. There are even secular philosophical works that question it (particularly in that it’s just not true).

  95. Even the mere perception that our heart is troubled, including being troubled with our worries on the subject of modernity’s asphyxiation of our spirit, allows us to know and say that: ‘I have turned all my attention to these worries — forgetting Christ’. But it is Christ we need to awaken (Mark 4:38), that is the only essential, because only His peaceful presence can truly transform our thoughts and bring about His immense calm, even in the midst of this great tempest. We desperately need to guard and nurture our focus on Him who is our only strength. I find Father Stephen’s clarifications on Modernity’s corrosive indoctrination a necessary assistance to the indispensable spiritual watchfulness that has the power to guard our joy in the midst of a myriad (modern) assaults to it.

  96. Want a relief? Listen to Pentatonix version of Mary did you know? A 5 person a capella group that produces incredible music.

  97. All the cities man has ever built have only payed homage to Satan. It started as far back as Nemrod and the Tower of Babel.

  98. Re: Capon

    Father, it’s interesting that you say “[h]e was right about something, but made it the only thing” because at one point Capon defines heresy as throwing out what you don’t like in Christianity and (little-o, at least) orthodoxy as keeping everything, holding it all together. The latter was his modus operandi, as far as I can tell.

    You know, having read several of Capon’s books, I’m wracking my brain to think of something Orthodox that he did not say or something he said that is not Orthodox. It’s actually quite hard!

    He does not talk explicitly about theosis or deification. But he does talk quite a bit about self-emptying, very much in the vein that you do, Father.

    I thought for a moment that maybe it is the Church that he misses. But, although he does not talk much about, say, the lives of the saints, he talks quite a bit about his very Schmemann-esque sacramental theology. (EPG, perhaps this is where he read some contemporary Orthodox writers?)

    Capon does not use the ontological language of the Fathers, per se, but I think arrives at the same conclusions. It is important to remember that he was reacting primarily against legalism in his Protestant tradition. He wanted to throw out the entire legal metaphor. What was important for him was who can raise the dead.

    He reads everything through the lens of grace, even the Last Judgment. But this is not far off from what I’ve seen from many Orthodox, in particular I’m thinking of Fr. Hopko. And his eschatology follows C.S. Lewis.

    The only real contradiction I can think of is that his moral views may have differed a bit from traditional Christianity. Yet he still had a rich view of our God-given natures, Creation, and our place in it; you get that from reading The Supper of the Lamb.

    I’d love to know what you found suspect, Father. Forgive me, I love the man.

  99. Thank you, Father Stephen.
    Each word you have chosen has struck a different cord- what a contrast to the dissonance of my modern life!

    I read the Democratic Man article again and it was of great comfort to my soul. It is challenging to oppose the erosion of tradition and do it in gracious way, without offending or alienating those around us. I want my family to live with love for Christ and at times I react spasmodically to a specific “threat”: music, modern art and popular culture.

    Incidentally, art critics have often said that we haven’t produced anything of merit for 4 centuries- a bit harsh, but the modern project is killing creativity and imagination and forcing a mind-numbing easily digestible culture. It has many names but it is ugly and Christ has no place in it. And we never mention death or we will be ostracised.

    The millennials often surprise me with their insight; I don’t understand them nor can I mix well with them. But those 20 somethings have more inquisitive minds and are looking for the truth more than my generation (branded X). They don’t conform and don’t simply accept theses. They challenge the status quo and are not afraid of being wrong. If they find Christ they will be fervent in their belief and not lukewarm or indifferent like some of us.

    We should very much look forward to resuming our dialogue with them and you in England! Glory to God.

  100. Nicholas,
    You’re probably quite right in your take on Capon. I read him back in the 80’s, as an Episcopal priest. I liked his radical take on grace, but in the hands of many readers (Anglicans), that take on grace was just license. Wrong message to the wrong people.

    That left a warning bell in my head. But most of the warnings back then were “revisionist beware!” or something like that. Within Orthodoxy it’s just not the same. In Protestantism it’s very easy to simply work in the forensic model, of Grace versus Law. When Grace triumphs, the Law loses. The Law is an enemy. And it’s hard not to hear that in any conversation.

    It is a reason for me that the foundation of the ontological approach (which is simply the Orthodox approach) needs to be firmly established. We are not part of the Grace-Law conversation. Even the Law is grace within Orthodoxy. And grace burns as well as gives light, though even the burning can be sweet.

    I well imagine that Capon, read within an Orthodox setting, would come off differently. At the time I read him, I was in a growing war. Every crack in the door threatened to let the train come roaring through. Of course, the door cracked, the train came, and carried off the bulk of Anglicanism with it.

  101. I wonder if God is allowing the enlargement of modernity (and all that entails) in order to ultimately make its falseness all the more apparent. Of course men will exhaust themselves with new ideologies and rehashes of old ones, the implications of which are long since forgotten or ignored, but this too is nothing new.

  102. “Want a relief? Listen to Pentatonix version of Mary did you know? A 5 person a capella group that produces incredible music.”

    Thanks for the tip Michael. Whenever I hear singers changing pitch that fast and nailing the middle of the note with K.D. Lang like precision (as the women do in the first part of the song) I think “Auto-Tune”…the modern project strikes again! Still, it is an enjoyable recording.

    “Incidentally, art critics have often said that we haven’t produced anything of merit for 4 centuries”

    I understand the sentiment, but it is not correct. True, the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” aspect of modernism has created more bad art than good, but there are still diamonds in the rough. This is especially true in literature and music. It does seem the “visual arts” have suffered the most from modernism…

  103. Christopher and Michael,
    The desire and drive towards beauty (and Beauty) are “hard-wired” into human beings. It is part of our nature. Art will always rebound despite the intellectual and emotional onslaught. God gets the last laugh and it is one of transcendent joy.

  104. I am sure there is layering going on but I heard them sing on live TV they are amazing. Sweet Honey in the Rock is another a capella group who sing beautifully

  105. “Sweet Honey in the Rock is another a capella group who sing beautifully”

    oooh, I like these gals alot! Listening now to their 2013 “Live! Jazz at Lincoln Center” via Tidal “Hi-Fi” 16/44 service. It’s a monthly subscription service Agata – you can try services that stream for free like Slacker Radio or Google Play, though these stream music in compressed formats – only Tidal streams loss-less. This may not matter to you depending on the fidelity of your music playback chain…

  106. Christopher,

    Thank you, I will look for the free sources, just wondered what to search for… One cannot possibly subscribe to everything available these days…. 🙂

    BTW, I am saving a couple copies of the “”Killer Prayer” booklet for you and Michael. Maybe you missed seeing my offer to share them with Fr. Stephen’s followers on the blog…. It’s the most beautiful reflection on our life of prayer, recommended by Dino, so to me no further qualification is needed. Indeed it’s most beautiful and helpful guide for us who struggle to begin to follow the hesychastic path while living in the world. I thought it would be appropriate to mention it to you and Michael at the end of this amazing conversation over the past few days….

    (just email me your snail-mail contact at my gmail address “agatamcc”. And of course disregard this message if you are not interested, maybe Fr. Stephen can delete it later…)

  107. Christopher – Thanks for cluing me in to the rage, it appears, for a cappella song. I don’t watch much TV or listen to much radio anymore. Been about 10 years now. I grew up singing only a cappella in church as I was born and raised in the Churches of Christ I really missed it while I was wondering through various churches looking, as it turned out, for Orthodoxy. Very pleased that I’m back to singing once again “as in the church”. Far superior to anything I ever heard accompanied by a rock band.

  108. To Nicholas—how wonderful it is to come across someone who loves Capon as much as I do (although I share some of Fr. Stephen’s concerns about some of Capon’s conclusions).

    To Fr. Stephen—I think you may actually have hit the nail on the head with respect to Capon. He was addressing legalism, but did not have the ontological vocabulary that, as I understand things (in part through this blog), permeates Orthodoxy. As a result, Capon’s insistence on radical grace probably could indeed lead some to license—especially in the context of the Episcopal Church. In reading his books, I sometimes thought that Capon did not make enough of the destructive power of sin, and, in rejecting a jurisprudential model of grace, did not know what to make of it (although he did caution that it could wreak havoc on people’s lives).

    Nicholas has discerned some parallels with Schmemann’s work, but, as far as I know, Capon never explicitly recognized any Orthodox writer in his books. It’s a curious thing.

    In any event, my favorite Capon book is one of his earlier works: “The Supper of the Lamb.” It’s a delightfully eccentric treatise on cooking through the lens of theology (or a treatise on theology through the lens of the kitchen—take your pick). It does not address his later concerns about grace over legalism, but is a spectacular meditation on the goodness of creation, and on how our most mundane actions can anticipate the Feast of the Kingdom of God. A terrific antidote to the temptation to assume a two story universe—Capon’s cosmos is most assuredly a single story. And, in that respect at least, Capon is also skeptical of modernity.

  109. John Timothy,

    It was Michael who clued us in – thanks Michael! John, if you have not already check out the free services of Pandora, Google Play, Slacker Radio, Tidal,etc. How these work is you put in one (or more) artist, say “Sweet Honey in the Rock” or “K.D. Lang” and it creates a ‘radio station’ that plays other music similar to your chosen artist and the kind you will like (based on computer algorithms that work so well it is sort of creepy). It is a great way to discover music – much superior to the “olden days” where we would listen to FM radio or browse a record store looking for something we might like. Frankly, these services got me back into music. They have every conceivable genre (I am mostly classical and jazz myself and I discover new music all the time). For the beginner, Pandora is a good service to start with as it has the most intuitive user interface and their algorithms are probably the best. Use the free services at first – no reason to $spend$ in the beginning. Pay attention to something called “bitrate” – the higher the better. You will be surprised with how much Orthodox chant/choir music you will find.

    Fair warning however, those computer sound card/speakers/earbuds you are likely using (made in China with parts that cost less than $1.50) are gong to be a (very) limiting factor. The good news is that by spending just a little bit more, you can get fidelity that just a few years ago would cost you a small fortune…

  110. EPG,

    I’m glad you and other saw some relevance in the Capon quote as pertains to Father Freeman’s topic. Capon was well versed in the Fathers. Augustine seems to have been one of his favorites judging by his extensive use he makes of Augustine in his last book Genesis, the Movie. Sometimes I also tend to think that RFC was something of a “closet” Orthodox because of his penchant for Trinitarian theology with a large order of Sacramentalism.

    I read Miller’s A Canticle For Leibowitz sometime in high school and found it extremely interesting. I have never forgotten it. I suspect that novel predisposed me to be attracted to the seemingly “timelessness” of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. (I graduated from high school in 1972.)

  111. Nicholas,

    You have written accurately about Robert Capon. I just want to insert/add one thing…

    Capon wasn’t as much interested in “legalism” as what he was exercised against the faux “gospel” of Transactionalism — which was and still is the heretical life blood of the Reformation and the American Evangelical Circus.


  112. “God takes care of history.”

    So true.

    I referenced your post a couple times during a discussion with my students about Crime and Punishment. At some point we got to the somewhat typical question about utilitarian reasoning, “Would you have killed Hitler?” Fortunately some began to understand the dark impulses of Modernity, but most of their poor intuitions couldn’t get past what seemed like a “morally justifiable” murder. We think we’re in a position to evaluate global and historical outcomes. If I were a bit more quick-witted I might have said, “Don’t you think that if God had wanted Hitler dead, He could have done it without your input or assistance?” Of course, not everyone in there believes in God.

    All that to say, thank you again for another great source extended reflection.

  113. This from Father Kalomiros in “Against False Union” is apt: “Any attempt on the part of Christians to change the course the world has taken would be futile and ridiculous. The world is a sinking ship and it is sinking because its very structure is rotten. God does not ask the Christian to save the ship, but to save as many of the shipwrecked as he can.”

  114. Want a relief? Listen to Pentatonix version of Mary did you know? A 5 person a capella group that produces incredible music.

    Side note: I think the very best version of this is by Kathy Mattea. Not a capella but excellently sung.

  115. Michael Bauman:

    The idea that technology transfers the suffering of the body to the soul has set my mind ablaze. Is that turn of phrase original with you? There’s a lot to be mined there, especially when you start digging into specific bits of technology.

  116. This is an outstanding defense of, and Christian application of, Edmund Burke’s philosophy (and other more recent cultural conservatives like Russell Kirk, and many of the Southern Agrarian writers too). It’s also very much in the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s essay “De Descriptione Temporibus” (On the Description of Times). Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for writing this; it’s well worth sharing and rereading.

  117. “This is an outstanding defense of, and Christian application of, Edmund Burke’s philosophy (and other more recent cultural conservatives like Russell Kirk, and many of the Southern Agrarian writers too)…”

    Wes, just a small quibble but I think it would be more accurate to say that those thinkers were borrowing and “applying” a Christian understanding of man and history to their cultural and political contexts. Of course, they all came out of the Western Tradition but they rightly saw (at least in part) the ground and error of the modern ideal. They also (somewhat ironically) were tempted by certain “political solutions”, though at their best they recognized the limitations and futility of such ideas. Unfortunately they were swimming against the great tide of their culture, just as we are today…

  118. Father, yes, I think you are right that Capon crucially lacked the language of ontology in his theology of salvation. I do think it is interesting, though, that the criticism of “license” is one that was made also of your “Unmoral Christian” piece. And both you and Capon heartily denied it!

  119. Hi Father,
    I agree with your critique of the notion of Progress. This to me raises the question of how institutions, namely the Church, respond to an objectively changing world. For instance we might look at the immiseration produced by the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. My understanding of history is that in previous eras the concerns of poverty would have laid in large part with the Catholic, Anglican Church. In the face of forced urbanization, weakening of clerical power, etc, the Church was unable to deal with increased levels of poverty. The result, in sum, was the emergence of workhouses, aka the Poor House, the State’s solution to the problem. Perhaps we should be trying to imagine an Alternate Universe Modernity where the Church, or some qualification of that term, was able to formulate a solution to people’s needs. In saying this, I grant you that the Orthodox Church seems validated in many ways that it precisely has refused to change. The liturgy, for instance, is (among other things) an affective refuge from the Modernity you critique.

  120. David,
    It was an interesting situation, historically, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. In many ways, the government prevented the Church from “evolving” with the times in a proper manner. For example, the populations shifted but the Church failed to accommodate the new location of parishioners. They were under-served. This, of course, was driven more by government policy and a Church that had already begun its present moribund path.

    Russia is an interesting renaissance of sorts. The Soviets completely stripped the Church of any involvement in eleemosynary work. With the fall of the Soviet system, the Church has returned to a traditional role, though I understand that the needs still greatly outstrip the resources.

    A recent proposal has been put forward from Church sources to look at an alternative economy – a banking system not based on usury.

    Here in the US, the OCA is slowly moving forward with the establishment of a “Church bank” for wont of a better term. It’s getting increasingly hard to get banks to loan money for things like Church buildings. The diocese of the South (my diocese) pioneered an effort and has been establishing its own “banking” program, in which parishes put their money in a common fund, managed by the diocese. It pays them interest (better than the banks do), and uses their money for loans within the diocese for things like new parish buildings. Those moneys are paid back. Fully 25 percent of the diocesan budget goes back to mission and church planting. It’s very much a growing diocese. The diocese of the West is getting ready to incorporate a separate entity to do something similar nationwide.

    I suspect we may see yet more creative approaches arising as the old order fades. The old ways are disappearing and necessity breeds invention.

    The Church is actually quite adaptable when it’s not being interfered with. There are things that must not change, but many things that can. Wisdom is knowing the difference.

  121. Thank you so much for sharing Pentatonix Mary Did You Know! Is this possible that this is all a cappella? How can some human beings be so beautiful and talented at the same time!?

  122. I agree with your sentiment: Paul saying, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” Certainly, I agree that all growth is God’s. I disagree, although not sure how vehemently, with your idea that the “difference” is somewhere “out there”, like some Platonic ideal, that only God should be concerned with. I think about controversial Christian characters of the 20th century who, when looking at their circumstances, said, “the hell with this.” People like Dorothy Day, Ammon Hannacy, Walter Rauschenbusch, and even Gustavo Gutierrez, people who kicked the bed of a sleeping American Church and created real change and, according to every metric I can imagine, made a difference.

    The same can be said for people like St. Innocent and St. Herman of Alaska who rigorously advocated for the native people of Alaska, often against their own countrymen. Or St. Silouan of Athos whose ascetic athleticism in praying for peace in the world greatly influenced people like Thomas Merton to strive to live up to that strenuous asceticism. Or St. Tikhon of Moscow who spread the Orthodox faith throughout North America. These aren’t people taking hold of history and steering it any particular direction other than toward the Kingdom of God. What was Paul doing on his missionary journeys if not making a difference? Why put the hand to the plow if not to change seed into fruit?

    I believe your fondness for the past, at times, strays wide of Tradition and into the realm of Traditionalism. Perhaps this colors your perspective with a blind idealism of the past. All things that I am guilty of as well.

    Anyway, I admire and appreciate your contributions to American Orthodoxy, and I very much enjoy your posts here and elsewhere. But I have no intention of ceasing my efforts to change my world for the better, that is, to make a difference. It’s my belief, through a thorough study of scripture and a lot of trial and error, that we can make a difference and would be remiss as Christians if we stopped trying. We just have to remember to give God the glory when His Kingdom is advanced.

    Χρόνια Πολλά!

  123. Erik,
    I think you deeply misjudge me. I do not have a fondness for the past. I can think of no period in Church history that was ideal, or even less dangerous and screwed up than ours. I am way beyond any such thing. Nor will you ever find me having once written in a way that idealized any period of time. I hold the Tradition, but am not a Traditionalist. If you tend that way yourself, then you are simply projecting it on me.

    What I am saying about making a difference, etc., is a purely theological observation, rooted in the Fathers, Scripture and sound reasoning, as well as an accurate critique of modernity. Indeed, many of my teachers in the critique of modernity are not Orthodox – but across a theological spectrum. You might not be reading widely enough.

    Frankly Rauschenbusch and the project of the social gospel is not something to be admired. It had no vision of the kingdom, only an “improved” world, as measured by American bourgeois standards. Gutierrez, one of the fathers of Liberation theology. Sorry, but Marxism doesn’t cut it for me either. Too much blood.

    I do not think you can enlist St. Silouan or others in a modern program of world betterment. I think it’s a serious theological error that simply reads them into a general modernist scheme, such that any “improvement” you like equals “betterment of the world.” In that sense, Jesus was such a failure and could have done so much more.

    It’s a semantic game you’re playing with “difference.” Heck, just breathing air “makes a difference.” So, frankly, saying that someone makes a difference is meaningless. When popular usage, as engaged in these articles says “make a difference,” it means, making progress towards some particular (or generalized) goal. It carries a lot of baggage with it: planning, utilitarianism, etc.

    St. Paul doesn’t have a utilitarian bone in his body.

    Frankly, you need to read more and think more. The kingdom of God is not advanced – and you cannot find such an expression anywhere in the Scriptures nor in the Fathers. It is a co-opting of the Kingdom of God into man’s project – which was precisely what was done by Schlierermacher, Rauschenbusch and the larger part of the 19th and 20th century Protestant theological model. It has nothing to do with Orthodoxy, except where ignorance has left Orthodox Christians blind to its allure.

    Read more. Study more. Find out why I’m saying what I say. This stuff isn’t off the top of my head. Would you like a reading list?

  124. Actually, Fr. Stephen, referencing your reply to Erik, many of us might appreciate seeing what you would put together as a recommended reading list, even if we don’t share his particular sentiments, questions, or opinions.

  125. Agata, Mary Did You Know? is not fully A Capella but most of the work the group does is A Capella. Their bass is particularly creative in how he uses his voice to give the feeling of instrumentation.

    In addition to the added instrumentation on that track, their is clearly a lot of engineering of the music that has gone on. Very difficult to maintain simplicity when the sellers and marketers get involved. Still beautiful.

    My lovely wife downloaded their entire Christmas album and it is almost as lovely as she is.

    I hope they stay true to their roots.

  126. Michael,

    Thank you, even if the music is “spruced up” a bit with technology, I don’t mind, it’s still beautiful. I hope I can figure out how to download that Christmas album your lovely wife downloaded… I did not have time to look into it yet….

    (I am still saving a copy of the Killer Prayer book for you [all gone now, thank you to all who asked for it]. Maybe I will bring it for you to SF for the next Lenten Retreat, Fr. Peter told me it is scheduled for the 5th Sunday in Lent, St. Mary of Egypt Sunday. If I remember right, you are in the area and came to Fr. Stephen’s talk…?)

  127. I always understood that this world is ending. Certainly all of the Orthodox prophecies given to us by our Saints explain this clearly. For Christians, the Kingdom within is to be realized on the earth within the Church. But we all hope for the Kingdom that is to come, after Christ returns and we are resurrected.

    So my interpretation (and Father, correct me if I am wrong), is that our world is like an incubator, where we are subject to tremendous temptations so Christ can purify us through the fire. Especially today, those who can make it through the temptations will be purified and saved through them.

    I believe the only consolation for us Christians living in the modern age is to understand that no people before us have had such an amazing array of temptations laid before us and at the same time the ultimate freedom to indulge accordingly. At the same time, we must resist.

    I see God when people are handed over to sufferings. Without the sufferings the sinning couldn’t stop. For many, the only opportunity for salvation might be to suffer in the flesh through loss, pain and illness. We can’t really understand this. But I have seen it. I believe our God loves us so much that He will do what is necessary to save us.

  128. I couldn’t help but think of this post as I heard Garrison Keillor recite Milton’s “On His Blindness” on the radio this week. Committed Protestant though he was, I think Milton captured the essence of patient and faithful dependence on God to do His own work.

    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one talent which is death to hide
    Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest he returning chide,
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
    Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

  129. Father Stephen, I was glad for Eric’s comment, and surprised at how glad I was for your response. Both helped me a great deal. I need to read more too. But reading here is a great place to start. The ideas are expressed clearly and succinctly. Often I get lost in trying to follow booklength discussions. Again, thankyou for your work.

  130. Rob,

    Thank you for your service. In my opinion there is an unfortunately negative and naive view toward the use of force from many Christians. I agree with you that good (and sometimes rough) men are the only answer to bad men. Soldiering can be every bit as Christian an act as feeding, in fact there is sometimes no difference between them. Where it goes wrong is in service of the modern project instead of as an end in itself. I think the Chivalric knight pursued to partake in the Kingdom of God, not to create modern Utopia.

    Having said all that, in practice, I am at a loss to figure out how to justify military action in the modern age. In our current political system, winning a war is unlikely. Winning a war humanely is impossible. Our pragmatist governments and modern people lack a sense of virtue necessary to make any prolonged effort possible. When force is reduced to arm of politics, I don’t think it can be justified.

    Just as the farmer, the mechanic, and the teacher mentioned in this column have been displaced by modernity, I think so has the soldier. My thoughts on this are certainly evolving and I could well be wrong.

  131. Very thought provoking article father, I appreciate the reality check. I also appreciate your recent book “Two Storey Universe”, I believe it will be handy and useful tool to illustrate a foundational difference between the Orthodox worldview and that of Christian sectarian worldview.
    I found this article very enlightening and refreshing, there is such an emphasis on “Performance and being a mover and a shaker”. It seems to me what you are saying is we are where we are, God is with us, and we must shed the mask, we must take off our Halloween costumes and allow God to reveal our true nature, to cooperate with His Grace through the keeping of the commandments and put on Christ! Wonderful Father you have helped me to better see where all this pressure comes from in my life, this constant urgency to become someone else and make the world a better place. I guess Mahatma Gandi was partially correct, ” Be the change you want to see in the world”, the change would be becoming Christ like and not changing the world through “Social engineering programs”. Lol

  132. Do good work, but do not seek to encourage others to do the same. Do not call out evil. Do not raise awareness. Simply follow the commandments and say, “if others do too, that will be enough.” Pray that they do. Just don’t get involved beyond the letter of the commandments.

  133. Paul,
    That is a very uncharitable in incorrect reading of what has been said. I have said nothing about the letter of the commandments. In my experience, those who spend the most time telling everybody else what to do, and what they should do, actually do very little themselves. But telling others to do it, and “caring” about it deeply, seems to suffice.

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