Two people are working at a soup kitchen, feeding the poor. One of them is a Christian, the other an atheist. The Christian is doing what he does out of obedience to Christ, in order to serve Christ “in the least of these my brethren.” The atheist is doing what he does because he thinks that generosity is a good thing and that the world would be a better place if people acted in such a manner. What is the difference?
On one level, what they are doing is precisely the same. If I am a poor man who is hungry, I don’t care what the motives or explanations are – I’m grateful for the food. The actions that are being undertaken are indistinguishable, though one does what he does because he believes in God, and the other does what he does even though he thinks there is no God. The actions of the two men can both be described as “moral.” Indeed, they are morally indistinguishable.
I do not intend to disparage moral actions. I would to God that all atheists were motivated in a similar manner. It would be good if Christians were more moral in their actions and lives. But the simple fact that the actions of these two individuals is morally indistinguishable illustrates one of the limits of “mere” morality. In this sense, a “moral” person can be defined as anyone who acts in a consistent manner to carry out some schematic of good behavior. We must also note that the Pharisees whom Jesus opposed with great vehemence were very “moral” men, according to this definition. Christ took exception to some of the failings in their morality, but His purpose was not to undertake moral reforms within Pharisaic Judaism.
I have written elsewhere: Jesus did not die to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.
The Christian life, properly lived, is never “merely” moral. It is lived in union with the life of God in a mode of existence that is described as the “Kingdom of God.” Christ gave commandments to all: love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, etc. At one point, He sent out His disciples two-by-two with a different commandment: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons, freely you have received freely give. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’.” There was nothing in this latter commandment that was “merely” moral. It was a supernatural inbreaking of the Kingdom of God through the obedience of His disciples.
In the 19th century, Christian teachers, primarily in America and later elsewhere, began to equate the Kingdom of God with a better, improved social order. The extension of the voting franchise, the abolition of slavery, the abolition of alcohol, improvements in prisons, and the scientific and rational application of technology for the material improvement of life were their immediate goals. Every advancement in that direction was described as “building up the Kingdom.” Some of the same teachers (cf. Charles Finney), held that the death of Christ on the Cross was, in fact, a case of moral exemplarism. Christ died in order to set a good example and to provoke us to good works. As the century wore on, this “social gospel” found a ready home in the minds of many scholars who ceased to hold to the more “miraculous” aspects of the gospel story. It is arguable that the entire foundation of modernity in America (both Conservative and Liberal) lies within this religious movement. It was a movement that was equally applicable to believer and non-believer. If belief in God furthered things along, well and good. But a good atheist was as fine an ally as one would need.
This version of the gospel is today deeply entrenched in the cultural ideology of modernity. The commandments to the disciples have been isolated as rare and unusual rather than as exemplary of the preaching of the Kingdom. Interestingly, in many Western societies, the State has taken over the moral role of the Church. It feeds the poor, clothes the naked, establishes justice, etc. It easily casts the Church as moribund and unnecessary. Why engage in a bunch of ritual when a social worker is what is needed? The “social gospel” succeeded where many other things failed: it turned the State into a moral entity. But in so doing, having lost its own grounding in the supernatural life of the Kingdom, it became redundant. Many modern cultures have as few as five percent of their population actively participating in the life of the Church. Who needs a secularized Church?
The proclamation of the Kingdom of God was in no way the declaration of God’s secular goals for a better world. Christ specifically identifies the Kingdom with the actions of healing, cleansing, raising the dead, casting out demons. These things serve as examples of the character of the Kingdom. It is not the improvement of bad men, but the raising to life of dead men.
Within the Church, the sacraments are specific actions that have this very character: they do what human beings could never do for themselves. In Holy Baptism we are put to death and raised to new life. Nothing less than the resurrection of Christ dwells in us:
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live accoding to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom. 8:11-13).
This is not a call to moral rearmament. To “put to death the deeds of the body” is not at all the same thing as improving our behavior. Many of the false teachers equate such language as nothing more than a colorful metaphor.
In the Eucharist, we eat and drink the true Body and Blood of Christ, and become partakers of the Divine Nature. For many of the false teachers, such supernatural theories of the Eucharist were not only unnecessary, but considered superstitious. To eat and drink and remember the example of Christ was sufficient for their moral project.
All of the sacraments could be described and contrasted in this same manner. The life we are called to live can better be described as “sacramental” rather than as “moral.” The behaviors of the one might often seem similar or even indistinguishable from the other. But that is a matter of discernment. The true Christian should always remember that apart from Christ, we “can do nothing.”
I recently encountered the argument that this dependence of the Divine working within us was “monergism” the teaching that every good deed is solely the work of God. Orthodoxy teaches synergy, a cooperation with the work of God. But, we have to ask ourselves, “What precisely did the disciples contribute to the healing of the sick, the raising of the dead, the casting out of demons?” They said ‘Yes.’ They went and did what they were told. But only God can do such things. They came back and were astonished.
The culture we live in has devolved into a cluster of competing moral projects. It is no longer a matter of good versus evil, but arguments concerning the nature of the good. All of the competing moral projects share something similar: none of them need God. Some few of them might argue that what they are doing is in conformity with God’s will, but in no way does their project need anything more than a sponsor.
CS Lewis was wonderfully familiar with all of this. In his captive Narnia, where the sway of the White Witch held power, it was “always winter but never Christmas.” The very nature of things seemed frozen in an inert world, immune to anything but the witch’s work. But Aslan’s coming (which was whispered first as a rumor) began a great thaw. The snows began to recede, and the signs of Christmas appeared. This echoes the coming of Christ and His preaching of the Kingdom. The witch was surely capable of organizing a nicely functioning world, but she could not engineer anything more than a fake Christmas.
I want the real thing. No, the Real Thing.
thank you for this brilliant article!
So much to absorb. Thank you
Thank you for these words. A crossroads in my journey occurred several years ago when I realized conservative protestants, liberal protestants, and atheists were all saying the identical thing, and the atheists were actually performing it best.
This is a very pointed answer to those who would have us engage in social work and correct the ills of the world. I was inundated in Seminary of the need to right the social ills of the world but I knew deep inside that this was not what Christ has called us to. His Great Commission is to make Disciples. True Disciples are ones who imitate their Master in thought, word and deed. When I was asked why I did not do more to “fix” the system and “correct” the lives of the inmates I ministered to, my answer was that my purpose was to win souls over to the One who could fix their hearts.
A person with a heart fixed on Christ lives differently and thinks differently. Their personal situations may not improve much but I cannot imagine a person who does everything for Christ would mug somebody. I agree that the Modern Project has deluded many who profess faith into thinking that their efforts should be directed at social reform. It has made for a Secular Faith.
Dear Fr. An absolutely over the top essay. One of your very best but more importantly, one that speaks a profound truth. While in graduate school I had professors who were moral men and women. They were some of the finest people I had the pleasure of knowing. I soon learned, however, their “good works” were a residue of their Christian upbringing which they, as adults, had rejected. They were good godless men and women. I was young, relatively new in the faith and confused. Finally, I discovered what your essay so clearly teaches. I’m motivated, as a Christian, to do good works and to help others but for the glory of God. I cannot speculate what motivated each of my professors to do good works, but I believe the underlying theme was always about making mankind better. After 40 years as a clinical psychologist I can say that, for the most part, it doesn’t work. Only God can transform a persons life and only transformed individuals can create a Kingdom where goodness is natural, always and forever rather than applauded when good works appear periodically.
Father what you describe seems a kind of neo-Epicurianism.
I’m not really familiar enough with Epicureanism to venture an opinion. But there are very few new thoughts under the sun.
In any case, “He rules the world” is not within the mindset of the modern.
I grew up in a very conservative denomination. Most in it lived moral lives. In addition to middle class morality, one could not smoke, drink, play cards, dance, go to the theater, and women did not wear make-up. As long as a person had at least once “accepted” Christ, not much more was asked as long as he/she abided by the above. I remember asking myself as a new Christian how my life differed from that of a moral Mormon. I knew there was more to a Christian life than mere morality. Fortunately, my heart yearned to know Christ and He graciously met me. But the sacramental life for me was still more than 25 years in the future. And that required a complete paradigm shift in my Christian thinking. It may have been Chris who mentioned in the previous comment thread that he did not know if authentic Orthodoxy was to be found in the Western world. Well, looking at church politics I can see how one could sometimes say that
looking at times every bit as secular as Washington political intrigue. Yet I know individual Orthodox believers who brim with holiness and love. I am thinking of a little Greek lady, bent over in her walker, in constant pain, yet full of love for the Panagia. She truly lives a sacramental life. Her holiness inspires me. It is not her works but who she is. As she has acquired the Holy Spirit, she unknowingly points them to the Panagia. Father, you also mentioned that when one is baptized Orthodox, they are Orthodox, though it may take years to attain to the proper phronema. Seeing lifelong Orthodox like this little Greek believer are cause for this convert to continue the struggle for holiness.
Fr. Freeman, I often wonder what we mean when we say “moral”? Is there a universal morality? Or like ethics, as Hauerwas puts it, does “moral” “always require an adjective or qualifier” — Jewish, Christian, pagan, or secular? Is true virtue accessible to an atheist? Augustine denied the existence of true justice and virtue among pagans, because pagans failed to offer true worship to the true God (Augustine CD XIX 21). The atheist’s actions resemble the Christian’s actions but do they have the same telos? And if they have differing teloi, are they really equivalent? The Christian serves Christ; the atheist acts to make the “world” a better (i.e. a more good) place. Can there be a good that by definition is (as with an atheist it must be) separate from God? (“And Jesus said to him, Why call you me good? none is good, save one, that is, God”.) If the atheist’s ‘good’ is disconnected (as it must be) from God, then is it nothing more than an attempt to exercise dominium over the world, which renders his ‘morality’ little more than the will to power? Are there ‘good pagans’? or ‘good atheists”? and if we think there are, have we invented a type of ‘works alone’ pelagianism in order to justify them? Alternatively, St. John Damascene held (as explained by Met. Hilarion Alfeyev in Christ the Conqueror of Hell) that the ‘good’ works of pagans during their lifetime prepare them for encountering Christ in Hell and responding to his preaching. Are those ‘good’ works really good? or is that a case of Christ utilizing less than good works to lead ‘good’ pagans to Himself?
Indeed, there are many cradle Orthodox, like myself, who, as children, although having been inundated with stories of saints’ miracles, and having seen and lived with the deep and completely alive faith of our grandparents ( who went through all sorts of hell between the Second World War and the Greek Civil War and still came out smiling and dancing – minus the pill-popping of today), take at least 40 years to come to at least an iota of the understanding and phronema of our grandparents. Glory to God for that iota!
Thank you for your publication.
There is something though that we are all missing and one of the reason also the church secularezed. As you have beautifully given the goal of our behaviour saying “The life we are called to live can better be described as “sacramental” rather than as “moral”, the problem it got this way or because it got reduced to this way is because the church has lost it “supernatural” character. The supernatural was living in the primitive church in a manifested manner, the supernatural now is living in a sacramental character. If before the strength of the faith had to be strong and accepting the sensible reality of the supernatural, today the faith has to be either extremely strong or a projection of our needs, the last thing can be dangerous since our things are many times morals. The supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit , so evident in Act, now are muted by the sacred. In many way sacred is the muted supernaturality. Or when the supernaturality is not reveled to our dimension and perception become sacred.
We can sbsolutely accept that if today a normal person like was Paul would receive the revelation in his own vision, he would be never given any place at all in the church organisation. Giving Paul credit to becoome an apostol speaks loud of Peter humbleness. God choose. Now the church is very scheptical in these things and tends to say that God choses in his church. But before God was choosing also outside His church to get into His church.
I deeply feel that the church, as an organisation has its own deep responsability for this. Since If you cannot disitnguish the supernatural but you have to believe in it because I am telling you it is kind of hard, expecially in contrast to the silent attitude the Church has toward who these supernatural manifestation are. So the Church also choose the sacred over the supernatural. The supernatural should be sacred, but the Church showed a reticence toward the supernatural to control the situation of its organisation. This from its origin when peo’ple starting profetizing had to be put in control and calmed down by Paul. The rule of a certain order had to gain over the supernatural “caos”. The need was to control the supernatural in its manifestation. So the Church sacralized it. The supernatural now is repetitible in the sacraments but is exteremely leggitime to doubt in a not visible supernatural. The legitimation of Jesus disciples was showned in their supernatural capacity. They are Mine since they can do what I do.
This is not a critic but a reflection . I am eastern orthodox and actively partecipate in the Church life and I am a student in theology. This is my way of explaining the reluctancy of people. And I have to say this since my conversion and my wife conversion would have been impossible without supernatural event. Why we got it and others not. Surely we didn’t deserve it, but we would have never believed in a muted sacred.
Augustine certainly has a good point. He, of course, is thinking of virtue in a more classical sense – not merely as correct behavior but as “some thing”. It is the character of Christ.
Of course, I used the qualifier “mere” morality to describe correct behavior according to some perceived standard. Of course, if you understand that the “telos” of each person is God-given, whether they know it or not, you could say that the general tendency of anyone towards some form of morality is not an evil thing, nor a neutral thing, but, on some level, represents a working of that telos within them – thus Met. Hilarion’s point. St. Paul’s preaching in Athens agrees with this:
The world, even when it is fallen, continues in certain ways to mimic what it should be.
I think you would find my book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, of interest in this line of thought. I suspect that I would not draw such a large distinction between supernatural and sacred. One of the primary problems of our age is, if you will, the nature of the modern consciousness. It has changed and itself become secularized. We are tone-deaf to the “supernatural” and the “sacred.”
This also happens, I think, in reading the Scriptures. I do not think that the New Testament period differed from our own – at least in terms of what God is doing. It is rather the case that we have become like ancient Nazareth – where Christ Himself “could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matt. 13:56). That, of course, is a very odd verse and one worth thinking about a great deal.
I have spent some time among Russians here in the US – within my parish and elsewhere. I have often been struck by the difference in their awareness of the sacred/supernatural. Even during the Soviet’s period of forced materialism, this characteristic remained, often under the guise of “ESP” and “psychic phenomena” – so-called because they were not allowed to describe it as God. But the consciousness simply retained its non-modern aspect.
I say that the New Testament period did not differ from our own. For one, the NT can be “misleading” to modern eyes. It’s writings have a particular purpose, but they are not newspaper accounts. If you read enough historical material outside of the NT, you see that life, including Christian life, went on much as it does today – though with the exception that it is among a population that are far more able to recognize the sacred/supernatural.
Max Weber famously described our age as “disenchanted.” That is true, but it is not the world that has been disenchanted. It is only “modernity” – the philosophy of our age that is so bold that it claims everything for itself – as if it were not a philosophy, held only by some, but, rather the actual condition of this period of the world.
I give thanks to God for His mercy towards us, and towards you and your wife. May He preserve us and take us further up and in!
Max, as an afterthought, consider this quote from St. John of Damascus:
“I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honoring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is. Only that which does not come from God is despicable — our own invention, the spontaneous decision to disregard the law of human nature, i.e., sin.” (St John of Damascus)
Fr. Stephen and all,
In reading the comments of those above, I was struck by Eleuftheria who writes about her grandparents. My grandparents suffered genocide, then went through life as refugees during a terrible economic crisis, and even Nazi occupation. That only began their struggle as immigrants. (I’m certain Eleutheria’s grandparents also experienced similar things.) I think that one difference between our grandparents’ generation and ourselves is that they did not expect the government to be “moral” nor to solve all moral problems. Perhaps that was the last thing they expected. They understood their faith as sustaining in a world that could be anything but kind to the goodness that was in that faith in Christ. Their faith defined their way of life and their identity in that context.
Your wonderful essay hit upon something that was in my Inbox today, from St. Peter: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy. ” (1 Peter 1:14-16). Holiness is really the subject, isn’t it?
Thank you, Father.
Another great article Father
It’s a shame how Christmas is used for high street and online sales, and how we get involved in it.
My brother had a complimentary ticket for the ideal home exhibition for last Saturday. I shouldn’t have gone, I mean you can get some great ideas, but it was way over the top – consumerism gone mad! Has anyone noticed how christians experience extra unprovoked rudeness at this time of year? Or is it just me? Oh well, turn the other cheek I guess, again, with a silent smile.. Although I wish I had stayed at home.
Environments like this are crowded and noisy and can be tough especially when you are yearning for the peace Christ gives.
Glory to God for All Things! Thank you, Fr. Stephen Freeman
Thank you for this Father. After reading it I wanted to ask: do we have any suggestion anywhere of what love will look like in the place of Real Things? Where there are no longer any soup kitchens (no more needs, generally) of the kinds we have here, how will love be expressed? I find myself thinking that everything I do in love for my husband or children is centered around caring for their needs…in the absence of those needs, what might love look like?
My best guess is a shared communion with Christ. We treat the word “communion” too lightly. Jesus once turned down an offer of food with the words, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” I think we cannot imagine the reality that represents. And to share in the communion of such food – where the will of God – the life of God – is so utterly palpable and real that it makes anything we eat or participate in here seem like only a shadow.
We do not see each other properly. A human being, truly, fully human, is more like a god than like what we see now. There are forms of communion and love that we have yet to imagine.
“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
The last paragraph of your comment to Christine reminded me of something C.S. Lewis wrote. Read it years ago. He said something like…”In heaven the godly keep growing ever more godlike, becoming gloriously splendid beings full of light and glory. Whereas the ungodly grow ever more so in eternity, changing into more vile and hideous beings.” This is terrible recall, I know, after 40 years. But its impact has always remained with me.
Absolutely brilliant, as always!
“Jesus did not die to make bad men good, but to make dead men live… The proclamation of the Kingdom of God was in no way the declaration of God’s secular goals for a better world. Christ specifically identifies the Kingdom with the actions of healing, cleansing, raising the dead, casting out demons. These things serve as examples of the character of the Kingdom. It is not the improvement of bad men, but the raising to life of dead men.”
This misunderstanding of Christ’s mission is probably one of the main reasons I never “got” Christ until I stumbled upon Orthodox Christianity through The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides. I wasn’t even looking for Christ (knowingly) at the time. But his book showed me that Christ was, in fact, alive and well today, just as it was during the time of Christ’s own physical life and the centuries immediately following, and what that actually looked like in a human being who lived the Gospel teachings with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. It took me another five years of reading and suffering (!) before I could get myself to step into an Orthodox Church, but as soon as I did, I knew that I had found the pearl of great price… and it was not about trying to create Heaven on earth, but finding the Kingdom of God within.
Thank you 🙏
Christine – you question reminds me of a story i read about Fr. Arseny, a Russian priest who spent close to 2 decades (I believe) in the Gulag. One of his spiritual daughters came to him complaining that her whole was now meaningless. In the span of a single year (or so), her mother-in-law died, her husband died, and her two children left home to go to college and get married. This left her with no one’s needs to fill and no sense of purpose in her life. She was paralyzed with depression. Fr. Arseny finally resorted to some “tough love,” and told her to get up out of bed every morning and pray to the Mother of Gid on bended knees, then to go to neighbor and knock on their door ask how she could help them. The woman faithful did as she was told and, in a very short period of time, her depression vanished. As Chist said, “You will always have the poor with you.” There will always be others who need help; and by helping “the least of these,” we serve Christ.
Janine – yes, “holiness” IS what it is all about. I recent read a wonderful book: A Layman in the Desert by Daniel Opperwall which speaks exactly to this goal. He uses the teachings of the holy Fathers interviewed by John Cassian in his “Conferences,” to explain what both the immediate goal and the ultimate telos are for every Christian, whether we are living a monastic or lay life. Our goal is purity of heart (another name for holiness) and our telos is the Kingdom of God. The way we attain the telos is by working to purify our hearts, as we cannot getbthere by any other means. The only difference for monastics and lay people is the arena in which we seek to purify pur hearts with the help of God. The authour shows how the advice in the Confrences, written for monastics, can be applied and lived by lay people.
Sorry for all the typos 😜 wish the comment section allowed me to correct them, but alas, another imperfection in this Fallen world of ours.
‘The Christian life, properly lived, is never “merely” moral. It is lived in union with the life of God in a mode of existence that is described as the “Kingdom of God.” ‘
Very well said Father, this is also stated by holy Elder Sophrony from his book “His Life is Mine:” “Blessed are we, hallowed Christians, for the Lord hath desired so to be united with us that His life is become ours”.
Elder Sophrony states the above in the context of rejoicing, as he begins with a quote from Baruch 4: 4-5 : “O Israel, happy are we: for things that are pleasing to God are made known unto us. Be of good cheer my people” (His Life is Mine Chapter 7 para 1).
Quite often we are repenting but we forget to rejoice, we forget that as Christians we are suppose to be happy. Death has been destroyed! And as long as our daily repentance is sincere, Christ will not cease to abide in us. There is great joy in knowing that Christ walks with us on our journey of salvation.
Humility in Christ ensures the will of God – and this is not easy since most of us struggle with authority, but if there is Someone worth fighting for, would we not strive to find Him. We know what the scriptures say: “ask and it will be given, knock and the door will be opened…….” it all boils down to how much we desire to be with Christ.
I also find it very interesting how in Rev 3:20 Christ turns it around: “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me”
What an amazing revelation, if Christ also desires to dwell within our hearts, should we not be preparing and cleaning our house? We should be excited and rejoicing that He wants to live or is living with us. If we can grasp the reality of this, then we will truly have a miraculous existence, by Grace.
I agree that the true Christian life should be supernatural. We are very blessed today because the Church allows for the healing of the faithful and others through prayer, Holy oil, holy water and much more, but especially the Eucharist. How amazing that we are allowed to take home the Mystery of Holy Unction. Personally I know of many healings with this sacrament, however, quite often there is a lack of reverence and gratitude, and it’s used like a magic potion, we forget to pray and to humble ourselves. The power and mercy comes from God, but in synergy with our humility and his Love.
From his book: ‘We Shall See Him As He Is’ Elder Sophrony tells us: “The holy Fathers tell us that humility alone can save mankind, and pride alone is enough to bring us to the darkness of hell. But victory over the whole complex of the passions indicates the attainment of God-like being”. (Ch 2 Para 5).
What is it that brings us closer to Christ? It is humility. Obedience is humility, repentance is humility, even true love is humility since it entails sacrifice and doing the will of God.
A long while back, I was taught sternly to receive what grace we can from people and not to judge them, and to try to see Christ in all people and in His creation, whilst at the same time having discernment and being vigilant against deception. Sometimes I fail in this terribly, but it is important not to despair, and not to fear God in such a damaging way which prevents us from approaching him. I recall Christ’s words: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?” Therefore we should ask for Christ, thirst for Christ Who is the Bread of Life.
Of course the right type of fear is beneficial and naturally brings us closer to God. “With Fear of God, Faith and Love draw near”
Related to Christine’s comment,
What we will be doing in the realm of “Real Things” is a significant question, but as Jesus said to Nicodemus, can we understand if he speaks directly of heavenly things.
Many of our days and activities currently are spend resolving things; fixing leaks, filling gas tanks, finishing books, but I would not expect unresolved problems and issues to engage us in glory.
Father , forgive me, but I cannot but think that the atheist serving with the Christian in the soup kitchen is not practising mere morality but is doing so with Christ’s love in his heart, even though he may not recognize that it is there.
Isn’t that the message of the good Samaritan, who has done for his fellow man what the priest was not prepared to do? It’s the second great commandment, and to me there is nothing mere about it. Indeed, isn’t our Lord showing by putting before us an example not of the then orthodox faith that even an outsider can do such worthy acts ?
Glory to God for all things, even for good deeds done by atheists. I’m Othodox, and I have to say the atheist you describe is a better person than I am.
Again, forgive me – I was just seeing this in my own family, and reading the lesson in the Old Calendar right afterward, so I felt I had to bring it here.
I agree with Juilliana I don’t think we as Othodox Christians should look down on those who provide service to the poor and disadvantaged who are not Christian we cannot undo the enlightenment and go back to time when the church or king ruled I would say society was just as corrupt as today and there were many aspects of those societies I would not want to re-visit
John and Juliana,
I did not mean to imply any sleight to an atheist who helps the poor. I meant to make a distinction between the “merely” moral and the Christian life.
I am not a social reformer. I by no means am suggesting that we seek to reform society or abolish the Enlightenment. We can however, allow our minds to be transformed according to the gospel and the teaching of the Church rather than by the culture at large. The Enlightenment is nothing more than an ephemeral philosophy, destined to run its course, wreak its havoc and collapse. Christians should not invest their time, nor their thoughts into propping it up.
I will observe, however, that it is almost impossible to discuss such things without Americans immediately leaping to the conclusion that someone is suggest a program of social change. That assumption is itself part of the modern project (engendered in the Enlightenment). And please note, it is not “the” Enlightenment that has held sway in America. It is the Scottish Enlightenment. There is very little of Votaire in our culture.
Christians (and here I only have writ to speak to the Orthodox) need to be about the work of being a Christian. That work, and the mind from which the work springs, should be conformed to the gospel and the will of God, everywhere and always. We are not and should not be married to economies or governments (including royalty).
Draw a circle around the state and its business and turn that channel off. Then we can begin to think and converse.
“The culture we live in has devolved into a cluster of competing moral projects. It is no longer a matter of good versus evil, but arguments concerning the nature of the good. All of the competing moral projects share something similar: none of them need God. Some few of them might argue that what they are doing is in conformity with God’s will, but in no way does their project need anything more than a sponsor.”
wow just wow