The Violence of Modernity

The calm voice at the helm says, “Make it so…” and with it, the mantra of modernity is invoked. The philosophy that governs our culture is rooted in violence, the ability to make things happen and to control the outcome. It is a deeply factual belief. We can indeed make things happen, and, in a limited way, control their outcome. But we soon discover (and have proven it time and again) that our ability to control is quite limited. Many, many unforeseeable consequences flow from every action. If I am working in a very, self-contained environment, then the illusion of total control can be maintained for a very long time. If, say, I am building a watch, my actions and their results can remain on a desktop. However, when the scale of action begins to increase, the lack of true control begins to manifest itself. Actions on the level of an entire society or culture are beyond our ability to manage. A culture is not a very large watch.

But we think it is. That delusion lies at the very heart of the philosophy of modernity.

The arguments supporting the success of modernity are always misleading. The single desired effect (e.g. the end of slavery) is cited. But every unplanned consequence is ignored (the massive displacement of black families, the rise of Jim Crow, etc.). Certain actions are extremely desirable (such as ending slavery), but every action carries its unforeseen consequences. What tends to be the case is that the desired outcome is credited to our actions, while the unforeseen consequences are credited to “nature” (or some such thing). Modernity always wins, because it cooks the books.

The work of “making it so,” is always an act of violence. We take what is not so and force it to be otherwise. Whether it is the violence of a plow making a field suitable for planting, or the violence of creating a parking lot, human beings have formed and shaped their world by “making it so,” throughout our existence. The field and the parking lot, as innocuous and innocent as they may be, also create consequences that were not part of the plan. The only means of dealing with these consequences are to employ more violence to alter things yet again (requiring yet more violence, ad infinitum), or to treat the consequences as an acceptable change.

In this sense, to be an active part of the world is to employ violence. We do not sit lightly on the surface of our planet. Most human societies across history, have made a moderate peace with the world in which they live, using forms of violence whose consequences have been well-enough tolerated and accounted for so as to be bearable. The rate of change in such societies was modest, and within the limits that a culture could easily accommodate.

Large and rapid change is another thing entirely. “Changing the world,” under a variety of slogans, is the essence of the modern project. Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater. The inception of modernity, across the 18th and 19th centuries, was marked by revolution. The Industrial Revolution, the rise of various forms of capitalism, the birth of the modern state with its political revolutions, all initiated a period of ceaseless change marked by winners and losers. Of course, success is measured by statistics that blur the edges of reality. X-number of people find their incomes increased, while only Y-number of people suffer displacement and ruination. So long as X is greater than Y, the change is a success. The trick is to be an X.

The ceaseless re-invention of the better world rarely takes stock of its own actions. That large amounts of any present ruination that are the result of the last push for progress is ignored. It is treated as nothing more than another set of problems to be fixed. As the fixes add up, a toxic culture begins to emerge: food that cannot be eaten; air that cannot be breathed; relationships that cannot be endured; safety that cannot be maintained, etc. As the toxicity rises, so the demand for ever more action and change grows, and, with it, the increase in violence (of all types). The amount of our human existence that now requires rather constant technological intervention is staggering. The entire modern pattern of dating, marriage, family and procreation are impossible without chemical and biological intervention. There has been no “sexual revolution,” only the application of technology into one of the most all-pervasive and normal parts of human existence, creating an artificial aspect to our lives that rests on violence. The abortion of nearly one-third of all children conceived is but a single example. The foundations of our present society are built on doing profound violence to human nature.

It should be noted that I have not suggested some mode of existence that is free of violence. Human beings make things happen, as does most of creation. Modernity, however, is another matter. Its better world has no limits, its project is never-ending. What are the proper limits of violence? Are there boundaries that must not be crossed?

Modernity has as its goal the creation of a better world with no particular reference to God – it is a secular concept. As such, that which constitutes “better” is, or can be, a shifting definition. In Soviet Russia it was one thing, in Nazi Germany another, in Consumer-Capitalist societies yet another still. Indeed, that which is “better” is often the subject of the political sphere. But there is no inherent content to the “better,” nor any inherent limits on the measures taken to achieve it. The pursuit of the better (“progress”) becomes its own morality.

The approach of classical Christianity does not oppose change (there is always change), nor does it deny that one thing might be better than another. But the “good” which gives every action its meaning is God Himself, as made known in Christ. In classical terms, this is expressed as “keeping the commandments.” Those commandments are summarized in the love of God and the love of neighbor. There are other elements within the commandments of Christ that minimize and restrict the use of violence.

There is, for example, no commandment to make the world a better place, nor even to make progress towards a better world. The “better world” concept is, historically, a heretical borrowing from Christianity, a secularization of the notion of the Kingdom of God, translated into terms of progressive technology and laws (violence). But, in truth, the management of history’s outcomes is idolatrous. Only God controls the outcome of history.

My experience is that questioning our responsibility for history’s outcome will always be met with anxious objections that we would be agreeing “to do nothing” and the results would be terrible. Keeping the commandments of Christ is not doing nothing. It is, however, the refusal to use violence to force the world into ever-changing imaginary versions of the good.

I will cite a somewhat controversial example (all examples would be controversial, for modernists love nothing better than to argue about how to next use violence to improve the world). Consider the task of education. Teaching children to read, write and do numbers is not a terribly modern thing. It has been done for centuries, and, occasionally, done rather successfully. But the education industry (a subset of government) exists as an ever-changing set of standards, techniques, and procedures, whose constantly changing results occasion ever-increasing testing, change, control, management and violence to yield frequently lesser results. It has largely produced a cult of management and administration (the bane of every teacher’s existence). This example could be, mutatis mutandis, multiplied over the whole of our increasingly dysfunctional culture.

Sadly, as the results of modernity’s violent progress become more dysfunctional, the greater the temptation grows to do more of the same. Every problem is greeted only with the question of how it might be fixed, with no one ever suggesting that the fixing of the world might be our largest problem.

Again, this is not an all-or-nothing thing. The classical world was not passive nor was there an absence of change. Modernity has chosen economics as the measure of the good, treating increasing productivity as the engine of progress and prosperity and the primary measure of a better world. Debates over the best means of driving such productivity, whether through command-and-control or passive market forces, have been the primary arguments within modernity.

There are many, many other goods that could be, and have been the measure of a culture. The only reason for using economic productivity is the false belief that material prosperity is the fount of all blessings. If we are rich enough, we will be happy.

At the very dark end of the spectrum, America’s philosophical assumptions have made it the servant of modernity-as-export where literal violence is the day-to-day result. Remaking the Middle East has not only failed (completely) but cost hundreds of thousands of lives, a large proportion of which were complete innocents. The resulting chaos has been, at best, a distraction from our unrelenting pleasure in the entertainment industry, though our wars have generated a very popular genre of video game. Violence itself has become a consumer product.

This picture of the modern world can, in the modern Christian mind, provoke an immediate response of wondering what can be done to change it. The difficult answer is to quit living as though modernity were true. Quit validating modernity’s questions. Do not ask, “How can we fix the world?” Instead, ask, “How should Christians live?” and give the outcome of history back to God.

How should we live?

  • First, live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined. (Quit worrying)
  • Second, love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.
  • Third, refuse to make economics the basis of your life. Your job is not even of secondary importance.
  • Fourth, quit arguing about politics as though the political realm were the answer to the world’s problems. It gives it power that is not legitimate and enables a project that is anti-God.
  • Fifth, learn to love your enemies. God did not place them in the world for us to fix or eliminate. If possible, refrain from violence.
  • Sixth, raise the taking of human life to a matter of prime importance and refuse to accept violence as a means to peace. Every single life is a vast and irreplaceable treasure.
  • Seventh, cultivate contentment rather than pleasure. It will help you consume less and free you from slavery to your economic masters.
  • Eighth, as much as possible, think small. You are not in charge of the world. Love what is local, at hand, personal, intimate, unique, and natural. It’s a preference that matters.
  • Ninth, learn another language. Very few things are better at teaching you about who you are not.
  • Tenth, be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.

That’s but a minor list, a few things that occur to me offhand. They are things that encourage us to live in a “non-modern” manner. It is worth noting that when Roman soldiers approached John the Baptist and asked him how they should live, he told them to be content with their wages and to do violence to no one. They were in charge of the world in their day – or so they could mistakenly think. My few bits of advice are of a piece with that beloved saint’s words.

123 comments:

  1. Brilliant. Simply brilliant. I want to share this with each of my progressive friends. This “might” lead some of them to stop and think a bit.

  2. Thank you so much for this timely post. I have been despairing about just this issue- how to be a Christian in this crazy world . You answered my prayers just now.

  3. Paul,
    The gospel of progress and making a better world is deeply rooted in the modern soul. My experience is that it takes a profound awakening to shake it off (or even to question it).

  4. Thank you Fr.
    I feel as though I have been losing my Orthodox faith here over the past five or six weeks, as it has been at least that long since I last attended a Vespers service or Liturgy. Having been separated from my brothers and sisters in our small parish, and now having been glued to the television over the past week watching all this hatred, anarchy and violence being carried out, with our cities, businesses and communities being trashed and burned, this post has been much needed and appreciated.
    God bless all of you.

  5. Paisios,
    I have found the ongoing news – or even bits of Orthodox grousing about how this thing or that is being handled – to have a deadening effect on the soul. I remember reading somewhere a comment by St. Seraphim of Sarov that you can tell the touch of evil because it makes the heart cold. I’ve found that I need extra prayer time just to get to a normal – and I’ve had the benefit of attending services (though with the absence of a congregation or a congregation greatly reduced in numbers). The first service at which there were a few noisy children made my heart leap for joy!

    I think I was far more positive in the early, Lenten, days of all this – but have realized that it’s harder as it continues. And the violence that is currently playing out (long-awaited by many, I suspect) does nothing to help. When you read history, a year can be summed up on a page. It’s easy to forget how slowly its days would have played out (with no knowledge of what is to come) for those who lived through it.

    This week, I’m remembering my teen years in the 60’s. There were political assasinations, huge riots, and men walking on the moon, not to mention an unpopular war whose American deaths were 10 times those of Iraq. We got through it all.

  6. The trick is to be an X.

    Made me think of Lake Woebegone, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

    May God grant you many more years of health and inspired writing for His glory.

  7. I am going to print these 10 “ways to live” and keep them in our home for my children along with Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims.”

    Glory to God!

  8. Thank you Father, this is very timely and a relief to read. I’m finding that having opinions about events is very easy and really a distraction from my own feelings of helplessness and not being in control. The hatred, anarchy and violence don’t come from nowhere. This country’s talk of liberty was full of contradiction from the very start, and it has enacted enormous amounts of violence to dispel those contradictions. It’s so sad because of the enormous wells of pain that are behind these riots. And because of the tragedy of being in a situation where that is the only way that the pain can be expressed.

  9. Father,
    Thank you for your words for us.
    You know I am in Minneapolis, my house is in the suburbs, but two of my older boys are almost near the center of all the protests and unrest. I beg them not to get involved, but they say they have to express their protest and demand justice. When I ask them what they would consider “justice” in this situation, they cannot answer…
    Personally, I am just as sickened by this Amy Cooper in New York, as I am by the murder of George Floyd. When did lying and giving false witness become acceptable as she seemed to think it was?

    Please pray for us.
    Agata

  10. I want to share, incase it could be of interest, that when Europeans first encountered the North American continent, they mistakenly thought the land in itself was extraordinarily fertile and productive and that it was largely uninhabited and ready for the taking. What was actually the case is that the landscapes were so abundant, productive, and beautiful because of the unique way that the first nations people tended the wild, in contrast with “clearing” the landscape to plant singular annual crops year after year. Their system for shepherding and tending nature to promote the useful species so mimicked natural systems that the europeans thought it was uninhabited, as they were used to the European land which had been extremely altered after centuries of farming and couldn’t even conceive of a way of procuring food not dependent on such farming. These are the principles that modern permaculture, foraging, and hunting are based on. For permaculturists and ethical foragers, and hunters, the goal–contra liberal “conservationism”–is not to “decrease human impact” but to INCREASE human impact, because humans play such a extraordinarily, visibly beneficial role in the health and flourishing of an ecosystem. It’s hard for modern people to believe until they see it. When the first natioms people were forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands, the ecosystems collapsed in their absense. Invasives took over and choked out many of the biodiversity and prized foods an medicines which are much more valuable than our poor grain crops and chemical medicines, were driven near extinction if not altogether extinct, the land was destroyed to plant more annuals and build cities. Wendell Berry writes of an account of European road builders who entered the thick forest of Kentucky. They wastefully cut down as many trees as they could to build as big of a fire as they could for one nights warmth. They found no detectable (to them) trace of human impact except “a simple footpath.” They thought the place was simply there for the taking. Berry points out that the natives had lived there for thousands of years and all they had left in the way of violence was a small footpath that molded itself in response to the landscape so that Humans could move *through* and *with* the land. Within a couple hundred years after the Europeans got there, most of the land was totally destroyed, the hills and even mountains were shaved off so that and their place we could put huge cities and stark straight highways that allowed people to move *over* the landscape, oblivious to the land. Berry think the road is the quintessential symbol of modern man. I personally think that our modern notion of “education” is rather analagous to all this. I have many friends who bemoan how “slow” and “behind” they are, how their 6 year old can’t read well enough yet. We clear cut the unique forest of that childs soul, and year after year work against the nature of how children actually learn in order to extinguish the childs innate expression and plant a few singular, arbitrary skills that are totally foregn. Really what this education does is dumb humams down and teach them to be good wage slaves. I see the “unschooling” approach as the permaculture of education, if I may add other possibilities to your list at the end.

  11. Agata- Amy Cooper is being asked to confront her complicity in white supremacy on a national stage. I don’t know how I would respond to such a situation. I usually double down when I’m confronted. It makes me think of how good I am at convincing people that I have no part in racism. From what I’ve read, she’s made strides to acknowledge her mistake, fwiw.

  12. Father,
    I think the ending of slavery is an unfortunate example. The beginning of the African slave trade was very much a modern development, with its own violence. Many of the consequences of the ending of slavery, such as the “massive displacement of black families” actually occurred at its beginning and throughout its existence in the US. Obviously, the overall message is more effective by showing the bad consequences of a good decision, but in this case I think it was solving a problem that the modern world had created. Yes, slavery existed before the African slave trade, but our modern world was able to apply laws of economics and efficiency, disregarding the human cost – as we continue to do.

    I agree that we are not called to “make the world a better place”. I see a lot of people in Minneapolis simply doing good works – collecting food, showing up to clean up after the rioting, mourning with people. This has been very encouraging to me.

  13. Jordan,
    It is sad that, for some, pain can only be expressed through violence. It’s a very unproductive expression. Violence is iconoclasm. It is always very easy to destroy and very difficult to build. Modernity teaches violence and frequently glorifies it. When I think of Dreher’s Benedict Option book, one of the things I appreciate is that it is non-violent. It is the change and building that is most similar to nature – planting a seed and watching it grow. What I know about violence, having seen a lifetime of it, is that its effects are rather lasting. It produces shame and darkness and lasting damage to the soul. Healing it is difficult and requires lots of patience. As Christians, particularly as Orthodox Christians, we have to understand that we are not in charge of this culture, nor are we part of its shaping. But, we have been planted here in order to grow. Only if we are patient and faithful for a very long time will our presence show much of an effect beyond ourselves. At present, we’re just another denominational option in America’s religion buffet.

  14. Trish,
    I wondered about using that example, and did so, primarily, because it seems to be everybody’s favorite “go-to” to demonstrate how great modern progress is. But, you’re right, it was a problem created by early modernity itself, to an extent. It needed to end – but not enough was done to establish justice in that ending and we’re still suffering its effects – and will likely experience them for years to come. A huge change has occurred in my lifetime – when I was a child and early teen, Jim Crow laws were still in effect in the South where I grew up. The difference today is night and day – though there are deep elements of racism that obviously remain. One thing that is quite common now that was almost completely unknown in those days is interracial marriage, etc. It’s becoming quite common here in the South without much comment. If I take a really long view of history, I suspect that only a later population that is more blended will see an end to much that we still see among us – though – human beings being as we are – there will then be some sort of intractable problem to take its place.

    I do not think about changing the world. I think about God changing me and living with others as a God-changed person. That is as far as my power extends.

  15. Thanks Father. It’s hard. I feel like I’m being asked to choose sides sometimes. I like the image of the seed – reminds me that Jesus was the seed, and maybe to some extent we are as well. Like we get planted as well as plant. Which is… hard for the seed since it dies in becoming a tree by God’s grace.

  16. Trish,

    I think pointing out the negative (if unintended) consequences of ending slavery is important–especially during a time when telling the truth about these things is taboo. If we can’t tell the truth, to quote Solzhenitsyn, the least we can do is refuse to participate in the lie. And there is no shortage of lies on all sides when it comes to race relations in this country.

  17. Sunny Edgren,
    Thank you for your comment, beautiful!
    (It almost transported me in time to actually see these landscapes of America before white men destroyed them)
    I seem to remember a podcast episode by Dr. Clark Carlton, which combined the theme of agriculture and education. If I find it, I will post it here.

  18. Agata,

    Amy Cooper lost her job due to pressure from the internet mob, our current preferred method of meting out penalties for perceived crimes. Internet mobs (like all mobs) produce swift–if unjust–results. There’s a huge potential for abuse when a collective makes decisions based upon videos with little to no context. What actually happened in that encounter has not been given to most of us, and we’ll likely never know. So I’ll continue to reserve my judgement for or against either party in a contentious situation of which I’ve seen only 30 to 60 seconds.

  19. Thank God , our Heavenly Father who give us what we need, when we need it the most. Thank you Fr. Freeman for writing your thoughts. Thank you, for your words and advice they give hope.

  20. Sunny,
    “Really what this education does is dumb humans down and teach them to be good wage slaves.”

    Here is Clark on this subject… (thanks for making us revisit these themes).

    https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/carlton/the_naked_public_square_part_two_orthodoxy_and_the_academy

    Trish,
    Yes, Minneapolis has seen some amazing acts of kindness and generosity. I check with my boys every morning, to see how they are (and they check on me, so unusual!! 🙂 ).
    The other night my son said he plans to stay inside, unless there are fires in the area, and then he would go help put them out. He said some of his friends spent Saturday night (worst one so far) protecting local businesses from vandals.
    I have hope seeing these young ones raise to the occasion…

  21. Agata,

    Speaking as someone who has (falsely) been called racist and had a group of people contact who they thought was my employer to get me fired, I can say that, had they been successful, it would have been a “big deal” to my economically poor family. I’m not saying my job is of ultimate importance, but caring for my family is pretty far up there on the list, and I don’t appreciate internet activists who throw around the term “racist” (a term which no longer has content as far as I can tell) threatening them.

  22. William,
    I totally understand, my own children called me “intolerant” many times, because of my very conservative views.
    And as a single, alone (no extended family to help me, and taking care of my elderly mother) and self supporting divorced woman, I value my own employment more than most other people. Believe me, it’s a “bid deal” in my life to keep my job.

    You will be in my prayers. Only with God in our heart we can look at all other people properly.

  23. Thank you Father. I follow many people on Instagram and have been disheartened by the constant “we will do better” and ‘if you don’t speak up you’re against us’ messages. I couldn’t think of a way to put it into words but your article does just that. As a linguist, I’m also pleased that learning another language is on your list. It’s such a great way to understand the world from another perspective.

  24. A quick thought. It is not only that modernity is violent, it is that it perpetuates violence and recasts it as necessary for change. It cannot survive in a peaceful environment.

    I would add that slavery has not been abolished, it has simply been placed under law. There is as much, or perhaps more, slavery in the world today as there has been throughout history.

    The human heart has not changed since the beginning of our race. Father’s advice, to live as a Christian, is the very advice of the Church. It is how we are healed. Glory to God.

  25. Father Stephen,
    Thank you so much for this article. Once again your reflections are so timely and helpful (–I’m printing it up too)! Your words remind me of the Psalm verse you often quote: (Psalm 131:2 NIV)

    “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content…”

  26. It is remarkable the level of violence that can be triggered by simply questioning modernity. A small personal example: when my late wife and I decided to home school our son all sorts of folks came out of the woodwork to confront us with the absurdity of doing so. We even felt it necessary to join the Home School Legal Defense Association in case the government sponsored school system with their veritable army of social workers filled with zeal would be unleashed on us as many have experienced.
    By the grace of God that did not happen but we had our own hired gun on call in case it did.

    Still there were many struggles the decision gave birth to including a significant cut in income with my late wife not working.

    Home school materials are not inexpensive and there is a whole big consumer culture for them evidenced by the annual curriculum fair in Wichita held at the main convention center down town. Every sort of curriculum you can imagine from new age to un-reconstructed Calvinism intent on teaching the total depravity of man and several Roman Catholic versions.

    No Orthodox materials however. A few came later near the end of our experiment.

    Talk about a theological excursion. There were even Math curriculia promising adherence to certain theological norms. Not to mention science.

    I am sure my wife and I did violence to our son in the process as well.

    God forgive us.

    Lord have mercy

  27. Good points – kind of sounded familiar – it was – some of the exact points of “The Homeless Mind” by Berger, Berger and Kellner. Excepting our minds have a home in God!

  28. Father Bless,
    As all the rest, I thank you for your insightful post, they are a harbor of wisdom in this storm tossed world. I so appreciate your number eight. I have said for many years that the news media has made the population believe they are responsible for everything that goes on in the world. If we would only be faithful to pursue peace in our own lives through love of God and neighbors, that would be sufficient.
    God keep you and yours safe.

  29. Thank you for this blog post! I really appreciate your recommendations on how to live and I agree that this comes into my life as an answer to prayer. My only comment is that Perhaps number 9 should read “TRY to learn another language” I have had the opportunity to try to learn three languages, one for a college requirement and two in order to try to communicate with the citizens of the country I lived in for awhile. I do agree that even though I did not become fluent in these languages even trying to learn new words from different countries showed me a LOT about myself. Glory to God for all things.

  30. Father, I welcome your essay and agree with the thrust of your argument, but I think some points could use some refining.

    Chiefly there seems to be a Rousseauian lack of differencing in your use of the word violence in relation to man’s interaction within nature. Should we not differentiate between the act of ploughing which does not damage the soil but enriches it, enhancing its ability to fulfil its telos as a media for plant life rather than contravening it, and the act of burring the earth beneath tarmac. Both are acts by man and wrought from the will of man for his purposes, man envisions both and attempts to make them so*, but only the later is truly violence because only the later violates land and its telos. In the former man takes what created and acts within its creative bounds valuing creation, the later fails to value the earth for its own sake and places value only on what it seeks to achieve. Effectively in the former man in the image of God seeks to emulate Him but sees God far above him, he acts as a creature a sub-creator to God the Creator; in the later he fails to value God’s creation or to act within its bounds and seeking to fulfil only his will apart from the Creator thereby violating creation. Violence is thereby necessary distinguished from force both require force but the latter is excessive both in its aim and its transgression of bounds. The failure to distinguish the two leads us to a Rousseauian view of nature and man’s place in it, seeing nature as something entirely separate from man with him as a violator not content to live without shaping it. Whilst seeing the widespread violations wrought by man in we cannot elevate these happenings to a metaphorical rule. In place of both the Baconian and Rousseauian view of nature we see man as both part of nature as a creature and above nature as its sovereign steward, created by God as both physical and spiritual. Man herein ought to tend and yes mould nature as a sub-creator valuing each thing in and of itself even as it is created for man, acting within its bounds and according to its telos with thanksgiving to God its Creator.

    I think also your argument about the error of making something better is an important one. I think again,though, that the argument could be further enhanced by distinguishing, if not this time differentiating. That is we can distinguish “making better” in the limited sense of improving something, be it a object or situation, from the progressive sense of ever making everything better as a never realised end goal.

    Again I value your essay here, both your argument of how modernity differs from the cultures which proceeded it in its never-endedness, and its lack of limits, bounds and reference to God and your guidance. It’s just I feel the argument could be advanced by addressing this issue I’ve highlighted here and thereby also the post-modern view that man is always a violater of nature can be overcome before it can form.

    * Perhaps also of importance is that man’s attempt to make it so here is dependant upon the soil itself, its ability to be ploughed, whereas with the car park, having disregarded the purpose of the soil, he is dependent upon his technology (his knowledge of technique and tools thereby made) if not exclusivity then at least primarily. He thereby comes to the believe that what is wrongneses is only found in the failure of this knowledge, not in any violation of the thing itself, and that any this can be overcome by deepening his technology. A view which indeed Star Trek’s ‘make it so’ story of man overcoming through ever advancing technology displays well.

    P.S. Its two in the morning here so please forgive me if I’ve demonstrated a lack of clarity.

    In Christ.
    Daniel,

  31. Rdr. Daniel,

    First, get some sleep! But, thanks for your careful thoughts. I think that it would be possible to develop things in the manner you’ve suggested – but, I think it loses its point with too many qualifications and distinctions. I wrote:

    In this sense, to be an active part of the world is to employ violence. We do not sit lightly on the surface of our planet. Most human societies across history, have made a moderate peace with the world in which they live, using forms of violence whose consequences have been well-enough tolerated and accounted for so as to be bearable. The rate of change in such societies was modest, and within the limits that a culture could easily accommodate.

    I would prefer thinking in terms of making a moderate peace with the world, recognizing even the violence of the plow (it’s not quite as benign as you seem to describe it). I think some of the refinements and distinctions you are making suffer from our Western penchant to categorize and over-analyze. What I’m suggesting seems to me to be more in line with “economia” (the way we use Orthodox canon law). It requires a constant “dialog” with creation – even as we do a limited violence.

    Modernity long ago worked out its reasons and excuses (and the “dominion” of the earth narrative has a terrible history of abuse). What I suspect happens, when the careful distinctions are made, is we begin to forget the violent nature of our actions, and, in that, fail to know ourselves. It’s like Just War theory. Before long, we’re telling ourselves it’s ok to kill.

    But, thank you for the thoughts!

  32. Rdr Daniel,
    “Should we not differentiate between the act of ploughing which does not damage the soil but enriches it, enhancing its ability to fulfil its telos as a media for plant life rather than contravening it”

    Plowing brutally damages the soil, which was already fulfilling its telos as a medium for plant growth. What plowing is for is EXACTLY contravening the order of things, putting the succession back year after year, in order to favor OUR over-bred annual plants. It’s picking at a scab.

    Yes, paving a parking lot is another level of violence. But don’t kid yourself – modern agriculture is violent as could be. It’s about ‘making it so’, with enormous inputs of energy and chemicals. This land wanted to say ‘trees’ and ‘grass’ and whatnot, but we force it to say ‘wheat’ or ‘corn’. It is in no way benign, on any number of levels.

  33. Thank you for this Father Stephen. How timely, but then truth is always timely if not always fashionable. Regarding #8, thinking small, this is perhaps one of the hardest, not that any are easy! For if we try to interact with ‘ the world’ via the medium of technology (which always is to a degree violent in that it separates things from things and people from people, in its very nature. Yes I know it ‘can bring people together’ . . . but only those whom more powerful forms of technology have already driven apart to a far greater degree – and cannot heal that damage) But we are engulfed by the media – which give us a sense of immensity – after all, ‘we can see everything!’. And thus we get the nonsense of being told we have a moral duty to ‘keep us with the news’ – which is like drinking from a thousand different fire hydrants all coming at you from different directions . . .

    I’d disconnected from ‘the news’ prior to the current Covid ‘situation’ – I was significantly more still and able to listen to the voices around me. The powers that be suggested that I ‘ought’ to be more in touch (funnily enough without of course touching . . .) in these days . . . yet anything I had to share was lost in the white noise and the increased internal noise of my soul. It has been more difficult to disengage second time around. We all need one anothers’ prayers and the mercy of God

  34. Eric,
    I am not a prophet (so far from it). But I do think we’re living in a very peculiar time that in hindsight will turn out to have been more important than we know at present. I’m acutely aware that the present time is the most difficult “inner” time for people that I’ve ever seen – over the course of 66 years – 40 of them pastoring. I do not know what it adds up to, but I keep wanting to say to people, “Guard your heart!” I think that whatever is transpiring, there is a great battle being fought in our hearts. The rest, I suspect, is only shadows.

  35. Yes – ‘The Wellspring of Life’ has been very very significant in my own ministry especially over the last 6 months or so. In our tradition we celebrated Pentecost yesterday (and we were able to gather for the first time in two months. Our Gospel reading was John 7:37-39, a text I have lived with through 20 years of ministry.

    Your comment about the inner life resonates, not only at a personal level – it seems that in these times, perhaps like no other we have become externally focused to the elimination (?) of all else . . . little recognising that that which is ‘out there’ has flowed from ‘within you’ . . .

    (BTW I have managed to get hold of a copy of Dr Patistas’ book, finally direct from St Nicholas Press. Having heard his conversation with Jonathan Pageau, I was even more hungry to read it. For all the darkness on the screens, we are surrounded by Beauty and Light)

    Grace and Peace

  36. Rdr Daniel just an example of what sgage is saying courtsey of Wendell Berry:. Plowing with tractors started out with relatively small one’s but they compacted the soil.amd pretty soon bigger more powerful tractors we’re needed. Now the tractors are 4 wheel drive behemoths that are so big the shelter belts planted to keep soil from blowing away have to be cut down so the tractors can get in. The resources needed to make the bigger tractors, the extra artificial fertilizer made from petroleum, etc, etc, etc.

  37. Re plowing – I remember seeing Jacques Ellul speaking on precisely this with regard to the shift since the middle ages, where according to Ellul, humankind was not insensitive to the violence, aware as they were of the Gift of the Soil, and their own being as Creatures, thus knowing the Soil in a sense of relationship. So plowing was limited to say a couple of oxen, as to use more would be too violent. There was a sense of the need to limit violence for the sake of the soil which was itself gift. (I think also of the Masai whom I once heard lie down with a cow and ask its forgiveness before killing it . . .) We have no story of who we are or where we are, and so like the raging bull in the metaphorical shop, the limoges and other fine china is trashed. It was not that before Modernity humans were not violent, far from it, but we were storied and placed. Or at least in part, restrained. We have no need for foregivness . . .

  38. The constant push to exit the heart attacks us all our lives. I think Father’s first point is first for good reason. Only in the knowledge of the triumphant end can we live and think “small” (while actually being universal) in the heart. Especially when a culture of deep secularism (that is long on ideology and short on truth) engulfs us from outside. We ought to avoid mixing with it even as we inevitably come into contact with it, like oil and water in the lamp.

  39. But for this to work one needs to be able to speak to spiritual guides every so often. I say this because if you haven’t got a superior to you to confess and vent your complaints to and receive trusted guidance – which complaints might occur as internal questions which you tactfully avoid when speaking to godless ideologists during the course of your daily dealings, in order to never come to disagreement and to guard your peace– you will inevitably succumb to frustrations at times.

  40. My brother is an Orthodox priest (Emeritus) of a small near inner city parish in Indianapolis, In. I called to check in with him after the riots. He and his Church (an historic building) are fine. He told me the story of a homeless black man that will occasionally do work at the church rather than begging. Sometime ago in a discussion with my brother the subject of inter-racial violence came up. The man simply said “violence is the only thing white people understand”. Meaning that violence is the only recourse to any change.

    The philosophy of the dialectic assumes violence and conflict as the engine of conflict. All modern political and social ideology is fundamentally dialectic.
    Solzhenitsyn recognized that in his Harvard Commencment Address in 1978 after which he was not invited to such a venue again.

    There is no doubt that violence is the cultural and political driving force the question is how to counter it in my own heart especially when the organic continuity of the Church and all of culture is under constant attack and the cultural sinews are breaking.

  41. Michael,
    Given that there have only been 17 years in American history that we have not been at war, it is unmistakeably true that violence has been deeply incorporated into the American psyche. American patriotism, particularly since World War II, always seems to take on a military theme. As the chief engine of modernity – we have made violence (of the wider sort) a way of life. Our sports tend to prefer violence. Our entertainment has raised it to an unseemly level. Our children regularly nurture their minds on violence-themed games.

    The role of shame in violence is a topic I’ve not addressed, as of yet. It is, however, it’s principle drive. “Winning” in sport is experienced as a catharsis, a “cleansing” from shame. Of course, it’s only effective for half the people who watch the game.

  42. Then there is the common idea that if God were real He would force everybody to be good. Since He does not He is either impotent or does not exist.

    Our mayors and govenors are having a hard time summoning the will to use the violent power at their disposal unlike the Soviets in Hungry in 1956 or the Chinese in 1987 in Tiananmen Square. It is difficult for me to divorce this outburst of violence from the governmental action in response to the virus. Many perceived those orders as excessive. Fear and resentment resulted. The violence has nothing to do with Mr. George.

    I think the figure of 17 years not at war is vastly generous. An easy case could be made we have always been at war in one way or another. There have always been wars and rumors of war. In Coeur d’Alene ID there are a bunch of guys with rifles patrolling the streets because of a rumor that agitators from Spokane were coming. The citizen soldier still lives.

    The action points you recommend are extraordinarily radical you know.

    Come Lord Jesus! “Arise O Lord and judge the earth”

  43. “ I do not think about changing the world. I think about God changing me and living with others as a God-changed person. That is as far as my power extends.”

    Worth the price of admission right here!

  44. I thoroughly enjoyed this article! I think the ways in which modernity hides its own violent acts and processes is quite insidious. I think of our current situation in the US in which voting is now being offered up as a solution to the violent human protests. It seems that our culture believes a new party every 8 years will offer a “peaceful” solution to our social ills, all the while ignoring the fact that the language of democratic process and voting itself has been imbued with severe violent meanings (e.g. let’s vote out *fill in the blank*). The various ideological binaries created in our society reflect the inherent violence of democracy itself, which, not surprisingly, is always upheld by physical violence of some sort. I believe Eugene McCarraher has argued that neoliberal states have always produced violent police states to protect the ideology of the market and the state itself.
    God help us all. Thankful for the Church during these dark days.

  45. John,
    I’ve been reading McCarraher lately (as I’m working on my modernity/shame book). Good resource and thoughts. There is, indeed, a sort of violence that is inherent in democracies. We literally have the opportunity to overthrow the government every two-to-four years. That we generally do it without bloodshed doesn’t make it non-violent. And, of course, today, with the advent of the perpetual political campaign – we are always working (well about half of us) to overthrow whomever is in power. Currently, those out of power describe themselves as the “resistance,” a term drawn from warfare.

    Much that lies within and behind this article is simply a suggestion on how to begin to live in peace. I suspect its one of the reasons that I am as fond of Hauerwas as I am – he’s a pacifist. And, although people can argue with whether strict pacifism is the proper Christian position, at least he has spent his career thinking out loud about what it would look like to live in peace and the consequences of such a life.

  46. Violence is not a product of any sort of system of government. Violence has been an inherent part of the human condition since the shame of Cain devolved into murdering his brother. To blame democracy for violence is disingenuous.
    One of the reasons I have long and frequently heard as to why Constantine delayed his Baptism was his concern that he would have to do things as ruler which would create a salvation problem. Saint Irene had the eyes of her own son gouged out because he was a threat to her power, or so I have read.
    I think shame as a source of violence is likely quite true. Each of the instances I have mentioned had their genesis in shame.

    Certainly the black experience in relation to non-blacks is surrounded and filled with shame. Not just here but in Australia as well. At least in Australia there is an indigenous culture to help ameliorate the shame. Not here.

    That being said, democracy has a strain that says “You will get your chance, you don’t need to kill me”. However the ideological take over of politics has blunted that violence baffle.

    All of Father’s list of things to do are intimate, small and blunt the ravages of shame, arrogance and fear.

    Lord, have mercy.

  47. Bless Father!

    Thank you for your thoughtful words!

    I have had a hard time processing, and creating a proper response, to the events that we see. The wisdom I see people espousing is a very different type of wisdom that I read about in the Fathers.

    If I have interpreted your article correctly, I agree that the only way we can be truly good people is to look and affect that which is inward, instead of outward (please correct me if I missed the point!).

    That being said, do you think there are times when it is appropriate, or good, for Orthodox Christians to participate in events (protests or otherwise) that call for “change”? I think of Orthodox groups that march in pro-life marches, or historically standing with Civil Rights activists in the Selma March.

    Your article may not be expressly speaking against these things, but I am interested in your view point. Also, please forgive me if you have answered this question, or am asking the wrong question!

    In Christ,

    Andrew

  48. Michael,
    I don’t think that either I, nor John, have suggested violence is a product of democracy. However, the change of government, particularly when large ideological issues surround things, is inherently disturbing – and thus, violent. There’s not a non-violent form of government. Stability, however, is more conducive to peace than constant change.

  49. I am wary of using violence as a measure of “all things” or even very many things; I sympathize with a lot of why Rdr Daniel said. I think it is not violence which is the economia, but the fact that we can speak about violence separately from Christ, for the purpose of trying to explain Christ and draw others to the Faith, which is the economia. I’m not sure what would come of using violence as the the final measure (with God merely as our tool to stop or limit or “manage” it!) but we would have to sweep away the violence of the Crucifixion, of the martyrs, and the suffering that we enter into. We want to do this voluntarily as opposed to involuntarily, but the problem isn’t the violence. The problem is our inability to fill it with Christ.

    I call to mind the cursing of the fig tree and other forms of “violence” (not just in Tradition but committed by Jesus in the flesh, our God!), if we’re going to get that broad; what of those? Is a flower committing violence against the soil when it “plows” its way up through particles of silt and sand that were just minding their own business? What about when it does this on an “industrial” scale, sending out thousands of seeds to “mar” a whole field? What about when it shades out some nearby moss or grass? Really, how far do we go here? The comments haven’t gotten that far yet but be assured this is the final outcome. Any telos apart from Christ inevitably becomes death—colossal, complete cessation of all creation. Any beautiful blossom—be it peace, obedience, or love—ends in heinous sin and disillusioned destruction when it is cut off from Christ, the true vine. Violence isn’t “the answer”, but neither is non-violence—it is the wrong question and a false choice.

    I also wonder about the idea of balance. I try not to get to wrapped up in any one POV (other than Christ) so I don’t see “the dialectic” everywhere; I went to school for that the first time around (philosophy/theology) but that is not a Christina or even healthy way to live. Nonetheless, I believe balance is the chief *weapon* of the dialectic. (Modernity is an ally of convenience with “the dialectic” but they are distinct.) I have seen untold amounts of harm that used “balance” as the excuse, especially in parish settings. Just last Tuesday there was a euthanasia planned (next parish over in the same jurisdiction—apparently some very systemic things are being manifest right now) and I worked quite hard to get in there and stop it (much of that was in the form of prayer and not arguing, but being present and providing hope). As far as I know, I was the only one offering this message, even counting the other people in the jurisdiction—I guess I am imbalanced! As of today, it still hasn’t happened and I am going to try to go interact again, taking it day by day. That is a bit of a side story but this is just one more example of “balance”: can’t have “too much” suffering, or violence, or whatever! I try to avoid using that word myself because it is so meaningless and so dangerous: I just point to Christ.

    I always appreciate these attempts to unmask modernity, violence, and so on. But it is all too easy to say (or to be heard as saying) that the answer lies in something apart from our Lord. Thanksgiving *in Him* is key: St John’s admonition (and even St David’s limitation on not building the old Temple) was less about violence generally and more about refraining from violence for the sake of sin and passions (eg, Uriah) and living in constant submission to God’s will even in the “messiest” of human affairs.

  50. Michael,

    I certainly agree that violence is not unique to democracy; however, it behooves Christians in every generation to name the particular forms of demonic violence which manifest during a given time. The people of God have always been able to name the particular false gods which tempted them away from the one true God (Ra, Istarte, Baal, Roma, Caesar). I believe what Fr Stephen has done here is prophetic in the truest biblical sense of the idea; name those gods which tempt and deceive us all, and point us back back to the true God, who is the Crucified God!

  51. Andrew,
    I think there are indeed times when participation in such things as you describe are appropriate – even necessary within a Christian conscience. But, we should not entertain the fantasy that by doing such things we will be successful. We do things because they are right – which is a different thing altogether.

  52. Father…I have been around some people who I would like to think unknowingly resist the the peace you speak of (Christ’s peace). In other words, it is the constant dark drama of the lies with which we are constantly bombarded (another term denoting violence), that seems to be the impetus, the fuel, without which they have great difficulty functioning. It is as if they are unable to cope without chaos because for some reason it feels right, it is comforting, and strangely edifying.
    And here admittedly I analyse, because it astounds me and I try to make some sense of it. The human person, created to live in simplicity, in integrity of body soul and spirit, in communion with God and the world in which He gives us, has become disintegrated to the point that the thing that vivifies us is chaos? I look at this in amazement.
    I am going to tell you where I find myself these (crazy) days: I find myself even more isolated, socially distanced, than I had been before. Since this confounded virus, four, four!, relationships I have had, with people I willingly and thankfully let past the walls of my heart, has totally disintegrated before my very eyes. Just like that. Gone. Like as if we meant nothing to each other, nothing more than a piece of soiled tissue, discarded to the trash. So in anger and frustration, I withdraw even more. I do not have to look far to see the condition of my own heart. It is broke. I know that. So this broken heart can not, I can not, deal with people who are so closed in on themselves that they have no idea how it further damages a heart already sickened.
    I am at a loss Father. I don’t know what to do.
    That picture at the top…I’ve seen it before, probably here. It is said to have been painted by a “a follower of Hieronymus Bosch”. Hieronymus’ depictions capture the truth where words fail. He is quite profound. I don’t know if it is my state of mind right now, but those faces I believe are not far from the condition of our souls, as a nation (I do not know about other parts of the world), and it is catching…more catching than any virus could ever be.

  53. Thanks Joseph. Yes, I know what you mean. But I am saying, relationships for some of us are being tried by fire. The dark powers do take full advantage of the situation we are in. What I am experience is real. But there is more. There is Good. I get that. I believe that. Because I believe in the power of God in Christ.
    But damn, this is tough.

  54. the faces in that picture…among the hideous are some we know – the impenitent thief (bottom right) being admonished by another hideous. Then look at Christ. Then the penitent thief (top right), receiving more admonishment. Then Christ. Then Simon of Cyrene (top left) bearing the Cross in agony. Then Christ. Then St Veronica holding the shroud. Then Christ. He bears it all. Always has. For the hideous and for those not.
    Hard to take your eyes off of Him, isn’t it…

  55. I call to mind the cursing of the fig tree and other forms of “violence” (not just in Tradition but committed by Jesus in the flesh, our God!), if we’re going to get that broad; what of those? Is a flower committing violence against the soil when it “plows” its way up through particles of silt and sand that were just minding their own business? What about when it does this on an “industrial” scale, sending out thousands of seeds to “mar” a whole field? What about when it shades out some nearby moss or grass? Really, how far do we go here? The comments haven’t gotten that far yet but be assured this is the final outcome. Any telos apart from Christ inevitably becomes death—colossal, complete cessation of all creation.

    Joseph, I think you’ve answered your own question. Consider childbirth: it is violent, without a doubt, upon the woman and the child! Yet it is also inherently Christlike–the sacrificial bringing of new life into the world. In some ways, it is not surprising to me that it is said the pangs of birth are quickly forgotten. Being so close to God, and partaking in new life, should bring such a focus on the telos of Christ as to make the pain, great as it can be, a very distantly “second”.

    Much of the “natural” violence in the world, such as the flower rising through the dirt, is the world itself “subject to frustration” and crying out for God. Just my thoughts.

  56. Father Stephen,
    Christ is Ascended!
    I read the original version of this a couple of years ago and it has been life changing. I often refer to your “How Should We Lives” for reflection. It was timely for you to remind us again.
    Many things have happened in my life since I first read “The Inherent Violence of Modernity. ”
    I was chrismated into the Orthodox faith on February 16, 2020. On February 23 my priest and spiritual father did his final Divine Liturgy with the vast majority of his parishioners moved to tears. ( Replaced because of a phyletistic schism won by the phyletists.) I visited another Orthodox Church the next weekend. Returned to the church I was chrismated in the following weekend for the “Sunday of Orthodoxy” and then got locked out like everyone else. Talk about a gut punch to an Orthodox infant.
    Here is what has happened since then and has left me free of worry. Covid-19, riots in the streets, digital ink tattoos being worked on at MIT, Schism in the larger church, Schism in the parishes, The whole world on a precipice.
    I’m not worried because in some strange way you have convinced me that:
    1. This battle has already been fought and victory has been secured.
    2. My job is simply to Love God and my neighbors.
    3. I’m not worried about whether I win yesterday’s job interview.
    4. I have become apolitical to a large extent because it’s wasting time.
    5. I feel hostile toward no man and yet still detest God’s enemies.
    6. I pray with tears
    7. I am in need of nothing. How can I help you?
    8. Let’s get this mission going.
    9. I need to learn Spanish.
    10. “Glory to God for all Things!
    Thank you for all your wise instruction Father Freeman and a shout out to my internet teachers, Father Josiah Trenham, Father Peter Heers, Father Serapgim Aldea, (beloved departed) Father Hopko, and all the Fathers for teaching me the deeply rich Orthodox Faith.
    What a miracle! Everything will be just fine, Thank you!

  57. Father, can you say something about the appeal of modernity to the elites and intelligensia of places which are or have been until very recently “classical classical Christian? I’m thinking of my own Ethiopia, or Greece, or even Russia (I believe you have said that you have some Russian parishioners). When I say elites, I’m including “educated” clergy, who, for example, find that women are treated so much better in America, and so on.

  58. It is strange that well-meaning Christians are usually unsuspecting of their enslavement (through secular comformity) to the violence of the times. They are mainly (well hopefully they are) aware of their enslavement to the gross passions. However the only way for someone to be freed from both enslavements, is to use more force, more violence, upon himself, to “seize the Kingdom” which is taken by this “other” violence. It is often the case that non-Christians are able to see more clearly the authoritarian and destructive, external violence of our time which the ‘complacency’ that sustains our spirit or our trusting, Christian self-consciousness is somewhat blind to. However, the spiritually watchfu-of-himself, vigilant believer, does not suffer from this as a ‘complacency’ , because forcing spiritual violence upon his distraction, his passions and vices, he enters an entirely different plane of spiritual warfare which provides a different hierarchical categorisation of everything in the world, and a lucid view which escapes worldly confusion, chiefly because Christ in his heart exerts a strange pull on man’s energies inwards.

  59. A story of shame and its partial healing: One of my great good friends is Fr. Moses Berry. He is alive today by God ‘s grace. He grew up in Ash Grove, Mo in the house his great grandmother has been gifted by Aaron Boone when he freed her from slavery after the Civil War. As a young man he was not exactly a model citizen and was in a house with drug dealers when the local white police came, surrounded the house and set it on fire, as was their custom with black dope dealers. He prayed that night, in that moment that if God spared him, he would serve God. Fr. Moses made good on his promise.

    Years later as a newly ordained Orthodox priest, he returned to Ash Grove and started the mission parish of Theotokos, Unexpected Joy. He did many other labors but the one which touched me the most was his small slavery museum whose artifacts were mostly those from his own.family. One in particular was the heavy iron slave collar that his great grandfather was wearing when the Union troops set him free. On each your Fr. Moses would put the collar around his own neck and offer it to any one else who chose to wear it. I put it on during two different tours. 25 pounds. The shame and humiliation was palpable and I could take it off any time I wanted. So could Fr. Moses but in a sense he still wears it but the burden is made light.
    The museum was not a museum of bitterness though for as you entered there was a big icon of St. Raphael of Brooklyn giving a blessing. Peace was also palpable.

    The museum was closed some years ago but the experience of if and the forgiveness Fr. Moses has come to, even though he still grieves and knows racism even within the Church, is what I remember most.
    The shame and the violence being overcome by God’s mercy.

    Every human being has been shamed, violated and humiliated in our lives. Violence seems a natural response but that only leads to being surrounded by other violent men burning down the building one is in.

    Whatever the cause there is only one cure. It is the cure of the Cross: “Father forgive them, they no not what they do.”

    All shame, humiliation, grief, pain and violence are there too. It is the ultimate statement of equality, love mercy and overcoming (not progress).

    Also in Ash Grove is a cemetery one of Fr. Moses’s forbearers started to bury blacks, Indians and other undesirables. There are old graves for members of the Delaware tribe with their turtle shell like pile of rocks. Fr. Moses refurbished it, had it place on the National Historic Registry and had it consecrated as an Orthodox cemetery.

    The late wife of an Orthodox priest, now a monk is there. So, perhaps it is still a place for those shunned by the world but never a place of shame–always a place of honor and peace.

    God is good.

  60. hell-o hello hello
    is there anybody out there
    just nod if you can hear me,
    is there anyone at home….
    …there is no pain – you are receding
    a distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
    you are only coming through in waves.
    your lips move but I can’t hear what you say…

    These lyrics from Pink Floyd came to mind. I get an image of people distanced, one from another, talking but no one to hear, yet straining to not recede any farther…

  61. Joseph,
    I don’t know if you were serious or trolling. This is not really the venue for this, but if it was, this is what I’d say:

    Well, there’s ripping up 10’s of thousands, 100’s of thousands, millions of acres, drenching them with herbicides and neurotoxins, destroying everything that went before, animal and vegetable, in order to grow, say corn. So that 10’s of millions of Americans can become obese and diabetic on cheap carbs – but that’s OK, it supports a booming pharmaceutical industy. And all of it subsidized by petroleum. This is violence on just a vast scale.

    Then there’s a plant ‘violently’ pushing aside soil particles to do what it has to do, and has every ‘right’ to do. This is not shading out some moss. Do you not see the difference?

    The difference is scale and proportion. It’s in giving and taking. Humans take over 80% of all the plant productivity on the planet. All the rest of Creation gets the crumbs. This is overweening arrogance and violence.

    Glory to God for all things!

  62. Thank you Fr.
    Very timely, and so helpful.
    I am tempted at times to think of America as the most disastrous experiment ever to be called a success by well-meaning idiots, but I know my own idiocy too well, and I beg Christ’s mercy. May God’s Kingdom come, His will be done.

  63. sgage,

    I often do what Pr Stephen refers to as thought experiments, except I do them practically all the time and to very extreme degrees. It pulls me away from my own opinion, from a single culture’s norms, and “easy answers”. My point was not to troll—or even posit the ideal quantification of violence/shade/agricultural output—but to think about how any sort of quantification can fail us. What seems extreme to you or I may very well not be extreme according to God’s plan—Tradition is *full* of stories like that (actually, are there any other kind?). Indeed, my opinions are mostly just mental noise: loud and sharp but often arbitrary and strongly influenced by cultural notions; I try not to make of them any more than that and usually refrain from speaking them at all. The point was rather that anything can only be truly known in Christ. It hearkens back to St Gregory Palamas and the difference between natural revelation and Uncreated Light. Barlaam’s position becomes ever so tempting and subtle when it offers us the illusion of control, of being “right”, and of figuring things out.

    I have opinions about the things you mentioned (feel free to reach out to me if you can find value in it). There are places for laws and limits. There is even place to debate them. But that is working on a lower level—it is something our mind does (rightly, I think!) when we lack that true vision. We create icons in how we quantify and qualify our limits, we strive towards something “higher” (which gets hijacked by modernity), we continue to ask questions and investigate and reassess what we think to be true. Yet in those good things, a fracture has already taken place: we’ve lost that immediate touch with The Wellspring, even as He somehow touches us anyways through those icons (and still directly without our knowing). I get antsy when I see conversations acknowledge that and nonetheless go on to say “…but surely God couldn’t do/want/mean *that* much/little/whatever…”; if we can distinguish icon from Prototype that addresses my concerns, which I think Fr understood.

  64. I have to say that am having some difficulty placing the blame for violence solely or even primarily with ‘modernity’. In Christ’s own story a key omnipresent feature in the background was Rome. A key reason Christ was killed was because he was not the kind of Messiah that people wanted – a political one who would free them militarily from Rome’s oppression. And it was oppression which went on, and one, and on and culminated in the revolts of 66 AD and the destruction of the temple and the Jewish disapora and deep changes with Judaism itself.

    The French revolution may have had 18th century enlightenment thinkers providing some intellectual boosters, but the main cause was the the ancien regime was corrupt as all … and there had been systemic oppression for well over a century with ridiculous differences in lifestyle and outcomes. Maybe something short of total systemic revolt was going to change things there. But certainly nothing had done so prior to that, and there were huge entrenched areas of privilege and inertia stopping it.

    I give these examples because structural and systemic oppression and injustice DOES matter. It IS a major factor leading to violence. Such violence is often an expression of rage and frustration and a feeling that – as the black man in the example that Michael Bauman quoted said (to my mind it sounded matter-of-fact) – “violence is the only language they understand”. That is a major reason revolutions happen. They are scary, out-of-control things though. The French Revolution started with the storming of the Bastille and everyone celebrating a new order. It turned into the Terror and Napoleon. Let’s not even touch Russia!

    This is not just modernism. It is one of the dynamics of justice playing out. I am very fond of this Fr Stephen article https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/02/22/the-justice-of-creation/ . While it is ostensibly about creation (and sgage, your points are well made and you in particular may want to revisit this one), it also applies to the way human ecosystems work. Revolutions and revolts are often (usually?) a manifestation of real, long term injustices that have not been addressed.

    Yes, the only real alternative is repentance. I think that there is a deep connection and parallel between repentance and peacemaking, and indeed they may very well be the same thing. It is very hard for societies to do it – and maybe that is where modernism comes in : the modernist mindset just does not get repentance as being a thing to do. Perhaps the best example of where it has worked is post-war Germany where as a society they (in contrast with Japan) really grappled with their past and became very determined it was not going to happen again and worked at all levels to embed that. In that process they were assisted by past enemies like France which, while they did not like Germany still much, nevertheless did some pragmatic forgiveness and created systemic bulwarks. And all of that was supported by a generous United States which, while acting in self interest, actually still had the sense that it should be a force for good in the world. Interesting to see what all of that looks like 60 years down the track!

  65. Ziton,
    There is nothing new about violence – obviously. I have not suggested in the article or comments that we think of modernity as the source of violence. Rather, it is the observation that the modern project has an inherent violence at its core. I remind of this paragraph:

    It should be noted that I have not suggested some mode of existence that is free of violence. Human beings make things happen, as does most of creation. Modernity, however, is another matter. Its better world has no limits, its project is never-ending. What are the proper limits of violence? Are there boundaries that must not be crossed?

  66. The French Revolution is a product of modernity as is the Reformation one could even say that the Moslem Yoke and the Crusades are of modernity. How far back does it go? That depends on your criteria. Perhaps what we think of as modernity is simply a product of we poor mortals trying to adapt to and control the most singular event on all history: “Who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man”

    I feel some times that I try to minimize the enormity of that because of the incredible responsibility/freedom God has given us. The BC/AD change restructured everything including time itself (according to the late professor Anthony Gytheil).

    Modernity is the state of mind and soul of the man mentioned in Luke 12:18. “I will tear down my barns….”

    For all the possibilities it seem to have it comes down to me being able to say whole heatedly ; “Let it be done into me according to your word.”

    Everything but that partakes of modernity.

  67. Father, my apologies if I have misunderstood or misrepresented the article. I think my understanding at the time I commented was partly tempered by some of the other comments I had been reading, and maybe the current situation.

    But I did – and I think I still do – hear you saying that there is something unique about modernity and its violence, partly in the idea that modernity stands out in its ‘things can be fixed’ approach.

    As you say “human beings have formed and shaped their world by ‘making it so,’ throughout our existence”. That, surely, is simply the urge to power? Isn’t modernity just another (much more successful in some ways) mode of doing that? Humans want to shape things to conform to their desires. They are willing to use violence to do that. Isn’t the main difference from what has gone before that modernity has had access to (and probably contributed in some ways to getting) the technological means at its disposal to effect such changes.

    There can be no doubt that modernity has also spawned ideologies that have gone done some very weird pathways. But then pre-modern cultures have also gone down some very weird ideologies and pathways too. E.g. I shudder to think what the world might look like if classical, slave-owning, world conquering Rome, with all of its to my mind even more bizarre and wanton glorifications of violence (to which we seem to be returning?), had access to the industrial technologies available to moderns. Certainly 1st century Israel found out what it meant to cause that particular power machine trouble.

    If anything, modernity at least does have a better ability than many classical cultures to critique itself – sometimes quite thoughtfully – which can be a good thing. It seems to me that one of the things it lost in doing that was its ‘moral’ (for want of a better word) center of gravity. (It kind of had one by inertia from its Christian past for quite a while, but that has been dissipating, and in some cases forcefully attacked.) The humanist thing just does not provide a sufficient basis to hold things together against the centrifugal forces that the forces that all the other aspects of modernity unleashed.

    And again, it seems to me that it is technology coupled with un-repentant human brokenness that is so rapidly amplifying the truly industrial scale of the violence to the planet and ecosystems as well as to so many of the people and cultures in it.

    One reason why I so liked your earlier article about that I put the link in is that it set out so well the way consequences play out over time, and how a central an idea justice is, and what happens when it is missing amd things go out of balance – which is what happens when humans get given the opportunity to follow their own deluded desires with only other humans to constrain them. Justice and power and violence are all deeply linked.

    I suppose deep down my personal worry is that I am so tempted just to withdraw or slip into your (very attractive!) 10 point program (or go in for ‘Benedict Options’ and the like) and not engage with a troubled and very troubling world and just think “well God, over to you and your providence”. While peacemaking is hard, so is repentance and the two seem to me to be both what we are called to do and inextricably linked – partly because of the justice-power-violence-brokenness linkages. John the Baptist’s advice to the soldiers who asked him what they should do was not to brush them off, nor to say “lay down your weapons and stop soldiering”, but “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” I love that because the advice seems very targeted and sensible – it did not take any of the easy paths (like asking them to do feel good but do impossible things), but rather was intensely practical and do-able (if hard), would if it were followed start down a path of self examination opening a door to real repentance, and at the same time would start providing practical assistance to those around them as the soldiers started being less thugish. A long journey from a ceasefire kind of peace, through working at the causes of why we are not at peace, towards real health, and then finally towards a transcendent peace beyond our understanding is the path of repentance – at every stage. Yes, God is in charge of the outcome, but we are called, surely, to play our part?

  68. Michael Bauman

    If you are right, then doesn’t “modernity” comes into being with Cain, or maybe even with Adam and Eve … ?

  69. Ziton, it could be traced back to Adam saying:. “This woman you gave me..” but you are making it too linear. I think it has more to do with a reaction to the Incarnation than anything else. I mean if God is really closer than hands and feet everywhere present filling all things what need have we to “make things better”?

    All that is required is to repent and accept His gifts for us as He gives them..

  70. Ziton,
    Yes, to all the above. GK Chesterton wrote that in the modern world the same virtues exist as existed in the old order – however, in modernity, we see the “virtues run wild.” That’s always its difficulty. Who could ever be opposed to a better world? And yet, we see how all of that keeps unfolding.

    My purpose in writing about modernity is not a call to return to some older time – every time had its issues. The question is how to rightly live in this time. The ten things I described are not by any means a withdrawal from the world. They are a way of living in the world without losing your soul in the name of some virtue run wild. If we do those things – there will be many opportunities for doing good.

    In the forth point, I suggested a sort of disengagement from politics. One reason is because in our present time politics is not at all what it claims to be. It uses the language of one thing in order to give legitimacy to something else entirely. It is also caught up in a war of the passions and quickly overwhelms us with our passions – in order to use us for its own ends.

    How did the Soviet Union fall? Was there a political movement that made it happen? Did someone send in tanks? I strongly recommend that people read some of the essays of Solzhenitsyn. He was a mighty voice – and yet he became that kind of voice not through self-promotion. His enemies made him mighty – when, in many ways he sought to live small.

    The book that I seem to be making progress on at long last, is tentatively entitled, “Healing the Soul of Modernity.” We cannot make modernity be something different through the methods of modernity. First, we have to be something different. No one can repent without an image of repentance. It is for us to become an image of repentance.

  71. Michael,
    I think it’s possible to turn modernity into such a vague metaphor that it sort of loses all meaning – just becoming synonymous with “sin.” I don’t think that serves the conversation very well. A boy came home from church. His father asked, “What was the sermon about?” He replied, “Sin.” Father: “What did he say?” Boy: “Said he was against it.” 🙂

  72. Father,
    Could that image of repentance be like that of coming to know that sin has really nothing to do with violating many moral codes of behavior as much completely ignoring our Father in Heaven as a matter of daily practice?Therein I see the power of Modernity entrenched in a way that seeks everything that truly is of God rendered irrelevant and meaningless. The attempted overthrow of the Logos seems to be at the heart of it.
    Like the “Pilgrim Continues His Way” when confronted about his list of confession to the spiritual father who corrected his list by saying, “You did not acknowledge or write down the fact that you do not love God, that you despise your neighbor, that you do not believe in the words of God in Scripture, and that you are filled with pride and ambition. ” In light of these things one becomes aware that our problem is at the core of our being and not simply violations of the code but an entrenched condition in our hearts in need of repair.
    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me!

  73. Father, forgive me for the dilution. Yes, it is much more concrete and specific than sin. At it’s core it is a fundamental rejection of God Incarnate and our interdependence on God for all good things-both personal and societal. We become autonomous, the author and finisher of our own existence. Thus not only is God denied but the communities which form around Him as He gives of Himself to sustain and nurture us. It is a denial of the need for God and His loving Providence and our own humanity.
    Sin is rebellion against God. Modernity is a denial of both His existence and our need for Him and each other in a systematic way. It taints philosophy, theology, economics, science everything we do and think. Thus, for example it is thought a legal and social good by many to abort children which itself built upon the personalization of marriage and sex.
    Much deeper than sin alone. A denial of life that is numbing in it’s darkness. Small things of goodness, humility and kindness by people who know better do more to undo the darkness than anything else. My own daily repentance and the recognition of the many gifts and mercies in my life that come only from God is a start I think.
    Modernity is not pnemenous nor particular. It demands mass conformity rather than particular and personal obedience.
    Thus if I offend I do not just offend a particular person, say a black person, but all black people everywhere past, present and future.

  74. Michael Bauman,

    Interesting that you bring up the “all people”—because that is what we believe in Orthodoxy. Sin affects not just one people group, but all people everywhere and everywhen. I think there is something decidedly non-modern about that, actually. It is being expressed in certain contexts improperly and/or incompletely but I think there is so much there we can grab on to and use to point to The Gospel.

    Without getting into stats and how various perceptions of crime/violence/abortion/etc rates have tracked with the reality, I think many of the “spontaneous” events we are seeing around us are less modern than they are postmodern or even pre-modern. And without making moral or theological judgment on any of the events, I think the reason why there has been so much pushback is simple: they can’t be managed. Such times as these (unmanaged pandemics, riots, and so on) can’t be true, according to modernity, so the modern project works to eliminate them through various means (denial (incl “It’s not that bad.”), distraction, more violence, more programs, plain excuses and lies, etc). It is at these times that modernity’s myths are openly shown to be preposterous, so the status quo must be restored at *all* costs.

    This is also a great time to take a look at “public liturgy”, something Pr Stephen has written about from time to time. Modernity destroyed traditional public liturgies as “superstitious” long ago (following right after the Reformers’s destruction of ecclesial liturgies); how wrong that turned out to be! Liturgy is inevitable. But the form of that liturgy, who (or Who) it serves, and its fruit? That’s another matter!

  75. Joseph,

    Are you trying to argue that the protests and riots are somehow a revolt against modernity? I’d say that, to the contrary, they are a hallmark of it. The violent rush to “fix” the problem of “structural/inherent racism” (or some other such nonsense) is about as modern an approach as you can get.

    The push-back against the mindlessly violent riots is not modernity trying to manage the unmanageable; it is the ancient craving for order and hierarchy and peace. Forgive me, but you cannot be further off the mark.

  76. Joseph, yes sin effects us all but not in the same way that is why we each repent specifically and personally. Indeed Christ. The Cross is once, for all but not identical for all. Modernity tends to ignore and diminish the particular making grand statements such as all Afro-Americans are dumb and depraved, all white folk are racist, etc.

    The response to COVID 19 became a management crisis rather than a health crisis rather quickly. The subsequent riots, to the extent that they are spontaneous, are reactions to being over managed and poorly managed. Instead of taking aim and shooting, the disease management gurus shot all of their ammo and still have yet to take aim. They panicked.

    The riots are no longer spontaneous however, they are managed and scripted. They are tending to become urban guerilla warfare-asymetric as is all guerilla warfare. All of the power and weapons seem to be on the government side but as we should have learned since Vietnam asymmetric warfare actually tends to favor the “weaker” side. That is do unless the government has no qualms about killing its own citizens, like China. Then there is the question of whether the disease was manipulated by China as a political and economic weapon.

    I do not think we have gotten anywhere near the scenario you describe YET. The whole thing is still well within the modern paradigm. Not to say what you describe could not happen but I do not think we are there yet.

  77. Father, every time you touch on this topic it’s great, but this post was especially outstanding.

    Came across a great quote recently that seems to fit. “Leave all human injustices to the Lord, for God is the Judge. But as to yourself, be diligent in loving everybody with a pure heart. ” – St. John of Kronstadt

  78. Joseph our public Liturgies now are sports. Thus all the emphasis on getting them.up and running. Shopping at Walmart is another but that was not seriously disrupted.

  79. Michael Bauman,

    You may be right—I simply have no concept of what is on social media; I do know that it has no problem being generic or particular—whatever is necessary for “progress” at the time, notwithstanding the end result is a fairly egalitarian destruction and disorder. But I was able to go out and interact with a protester for a certain cause just the other day (he had a sign and everything) and at the end of the exchange he gave a bow. We didn’t get into Orthodoxy (or rather the modern, managed approach to it with numbered sacraments and convert-oriented literature and trappings) but there was a connection, an understanding, and an exchange of peace. It was Fr’s “10 Things” list for real.

    My feeling is that this time is not an impediment to The Gospel but that the harvest is *now*. I am not against order but it feels like we want the old way back, the comfortable routine, the predictability—the new public liturgies. It will either happen or it won’t—there will be an order at the end either way. But this is the time when people are asking questions, making radical changes—for better or worse. We need not to be the force of one side or another but the force of Christ. The field is blindingly white, but where are we working (not just externally but at home and internally)? The Gospel is *right now*! (I think you agree on that—just preaching to myself, I guess!)

    William,

    I’m not making a judgment on any particular protest. But I note that protests, even riots, have been around since BC, as Ziton was pointing out. I would expect some of the deescalation (or even violence) to have pre-modern connections, too, but I get a strong sense of the “management” in it all, as well. For better or worse, this is not the response (non-violent or violent) that we see in Roman times or otherwise. It is something different, peculiar to modern Western society. Whether any individual protest[er] has a specific goal of “management” in mind I don’t know—there is so much hurt—but the responses look pretty modern to me.

  80. William,
    Forgive me but your comment sets a slippery slope for accepting racial supremacy as the “natural” or “ancient” order for things! We run the risk of justifying racism and other atrocities as we go down that slippery slope as “Christian” monarchies have done in the past. The demands of the riots are justified regardless of philosophical or theological interpretation of!

  81. Basem, William, et al
    Please do not have this argument here. Basem, I do not hear William justifying racism or any atrocities. Racism is not a “natural” thing – it is hideously unnatural, no matter how common it has been in history.

    But, I simply don’t want political arguments clouding the conversation. I’m sorry. Further comments down this road will be removed.

  82. Fr. Stephen, et al,

    Please forgive me. I find it increasingly more difficult to avoid political arguments in spite of myself.

    As far as racism is concerned, insofar as the term means anything anymore, I totally reject it. Humans are made in the image and likeness of God and we are one in Christ–no race is superior to another, and I’m fairly convinced that the categories of “white” and “black” as they exist today are modern inventions. I’m not white–I’m an Anglo, for better or worse, and that is not something to be ashamed of.

    I’ll conclude with something my priest said on Sunday: “the root problem of humanity is not racism or inequality but ignorance of the true God.”

  83. William,
    As someone who grew up in the Jim Crow era – I’ve seen the very ugly face of American racism as its worse. It has improved from that nightmare. It is still with us – I don’t have to go any further than my own heart to see some of its vestiges. They are like little fragments of OCD-type thoughts (logismoi) that, were they ever to become the basis of my normal thought and action would lead to great sin.

    That said, the word gets over-used – and, strangely, by young whites as part of a contemporary critique that often fails to do anything beyond virtue-signaling and playing at children’s games.

    Healing the human heart is a long, slow thing and requires depths of repentance and a willingness to bear shame in a healthy way. We are not at all good at these things in our culture. I will say that, as slow as things are, they are changing.

    One of my grandsons came home from grammar school one day – there was a class discussing MLK. He was confused when he got home and asked his mother what black and white people meant. He had never thought in those terms. When my daughter told me this I marveled. It was very far removed from the world of my childhood.

    Of course, as terrible as any sin might be, eradicated any sin is a project not likely to succeed. But there can be laws that protect and laws that punish. That is all the law can do – it cannot ever make bad people into good people. Only God can do that. I have seen it happen.

  84. Michael and Father,

    But “sin” IS at the root of all our troubles, “sin” as THE “fundamental rejection of God Incarnate and our interdependence on God for all good things-both personal and societal.”
    The humanity as a whole is in delusion of self-hope, self-dependence, self-importance which produces in us nothing but spiritual and moral emptiness and obsessive fears, not the promised (by modernity) happiness and safety. These are not intended for this world, they are promised us in the next, real Life.

    Maybe if, with our last ounce of self-control and self-awareness we all turned to God and asked Him to help, maybe God would solve our problems “in one moment” (as only He can). But we are too proud for that, so He lets us suffer the consequences of our sin.

    Michael, I am with you on this prayer:
    “Come Lord Jesus! “Arise O Lord and judge the earth””

  85. Agata, when I voice the prayer “Arise O Lord and judge the earth it is always accompanied by the visual image of an assistant priest that used to serve our parish. A former cop and undercover drug cop built like a football linebacker. He got such a kick out of processing throughout the nave, joy transfiguring his face flinging bay leaves with abandon as the choir sang that prayer. This large potentially intimidating man being a joyous elf. Unfogetable

    Because of that great joy is in my heart when I pray that prayer.

    Christ is Risen!

  86. William, unfortunately racism is real. The crime of driving while black is still on the books where I live. Due to my mother’s influence I learned early on of its existence and the stupidity of it.
    I have a close friend who is a dentist and drives a costly car. Because he is black, he gets stopped occasionally. Infuriates him but he cannot show any of that. Still has, to some extent do the modern version of “Yessir boss. Whatever you say boss”.

    Just yesterday I was talking to him on the phone and he was quite surprised that our politics are different. I asked him to forgive me

  87. Michael,
    I have similar visual (and especially vocal) associations with our priests beautifully proclaiming at Great Complines: “God is with us, understand all ye nations and submit yourselves”…. 🙂

    This is not exactly it, but close… 🙂

  88. Paula
    This resonates with some of my disturbance of spirit over how easily we have conformed ourselves to various forms of electronic communication, either in text or by ‘video’. Much of who we are is stripped away as we conform our selves to machines, and no one seems to notice. The violent spirit of modernity is highly mechanistic. ‘Make it so’ is a command perfected in the machine, which makes it so, exactly and without remainder.

    I’ve just been conversing with a fellow priest – towards the end of our conversation he said ‘if we were all like Jesus, we’d never get anything done’. I couldn’t help laugh out loud as I thought of this thread of conversation. Our Being is stripped away and we are reduced to pure doing, or machines. (Which of course is why so much of our doing is being taken away as well, as machines are better at being machines than humans are)

    CS Lewis in De Descriptiones Temporum – sees the Modern age coming into being in terms of the advent of the machine. Before that, as he noted, we could speak to one another down through the ages – he cites Dante and Virgil – now, Tradition??

    Wendell Berry’s poem ‘A Timbered Choir’ speaks to this so powerfully – eevrything reduced to a machine for the sake of The Objective . . . ‘Making it So’, in a World where we have no Idea what It Is.

  89. Michael,

    Certainly what the word “racism” used to refer to is real, and you can “do a racism” against all kinds and colors of people. It’s ugly. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in progressive cities recently that the word has lost its original meaning to me, and so perhaps we need a different word to get at what “racism” used to refer to. As far as I can tell–in the context of progressive America–it now means nothing more or less than “You are white, so shut up.” So that when many people call others “racist” (in the new sense of the term), they are themselves being racist (in the older sense of the term).

  90. I am confused about something I often see in the comments on this blog. It can be summed up like this: “Forgive me, but I disagree with you.” Do we need to be forgiven for disagreeing with someone? Does saying “Forgive me, but. . . “ mean that you are repenting of the view you hold, or are you simply asking the other person not to hold your opposing view against you? Michael Bauman, may I ask why you asked your friend to forgive you for your politics?
    I suspect this is a matter of politeness in Orthodox culture, but the language confuses me, especially since I was once upbraided by a reader on this blog for being polite and considerate in my comments while expressing a different view.

  91. Sue,
    For me, it’s sort of a polite Southern thing. To disagree with someone is disagreeable – sometimes, it even provokes shame (which is why people react with anger). It’s an attempt at civility even when you disagree. So, I think it means, “Forgive me for being disagreeable,” or “Forgive me for challenging you in front of other people, etc.”

    And, then, sometimes all of that just falls apart and it gets a bit rough. And, as moderator of the conversation, it’s not fun. But, it’s also not the ok corral. At least, I don’t want it to be.

    After a fashion, and I don’t want to overdo this point, it’s my blog. The conversation centers around what I’ve written, and I try to engage the comments. I don’t want to be dogmatic about things – but, I do mean to teach. So, it’s more like a seminar discussion at times – with the professor in the room.

    Good question, by the way.

  92. Eric,
    Thanks so very much for your response.
    That song I quoted from Pink Floyd is titled “Comfortably Numb”. It is undoubtedly about the effects of heroine…how it marvelously, instantly. provides the most euphoric high that will drive away any and all kind of soul pain imaginable….and it will fast kill you. It was most aptly described as “chasing the dragon”. Eric, the effects that that drug gave, I can easily compare to what has happened to the human soul in just a generation or two. You say it well, ” Much of who we are is stripped away as we conform our selves to machines.” We as a culture are becoming less human. Inhuman. We have lost that human contact, the irreplaceable face to face, face to face , communication, and yes Eric “no one seems to notice”. For the young people, how could they if they are raised in age of human-contact-replaced-by-machines?! What baffles me is how the older generation has succumbed so complacently, like ‘oh well….it’s not all that bad…there are some good points…’ . No…it’s bad! It is a travesty. Like machines who are discarded to the trash, so are relationships these days.
    Yes, I feel this especially keenly as of late, because that very loss has hit me in the face . I think we are so disconnected these days that that ‘hitting you in the face’ is what it takes to open the eyes. My eyes were greatly opened.

    How ironic a statement, “if we were all like Jesus we’d never get anything done”… tongue in cheek, yes, but also true. First thing we’d have to do is to get to know each other, for real.

    I helps my heart, Eric, to read your words. I really was wondering if “there was anybody out there”.

    Thank you. Rich blessings to you.

  93. Sue, I asked him to forgive me because it is critically important to him that I vote “Progressive”. In fact he told me he was going to try to convert me. Even though he is highly intelligent, warm, caring and loves the Lord, becoming Orthodox several years ago–he is still bound by race in many ways and the politics of race.

    I had to tell him I did not agree with him and asked that he forgive me reminding him that I called to touch base with him and let him know i love him.

    One of the reasons he became Orthodox was because we made an empathetic connection that went beyond race. The fact that a white guy like me could and would do that was amazing to him. He told me so, in fact several months later. It was certainly a God Thing. I had gifted him a copy of a book by Prof Albert Raboteau. I believe it was “Slave Religion” as a way to navigate the deep truth of the Orthodox faith from a black man who had made the journey himself. Of course my years of friendship with Fr. Moses Berry did not hurt. Fr. Moses has taught me a lot.

    I did not apologize for not agreeing with him. I told him why I disagreed but ultimately our friendship was vastly more important. I want nothing to damage that–certainly nothing as trivial as electoral politics. But they are not trivial to him. It seemed to be what was needed at the time. Despite his intelligence, money and genuine kindness he is deeply fragile when it comes to matters of race. I asked him to forgive me in case I had hurt him. The last thing I want to do is hurt him but I was not going to lie either.

    I hope that answers your question.

  94. Father Stephen and Michael Bauman, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Your explanations were very helpful to me.

  95. Thank you for this post, Father. Your writings and talks on this topic provide great comfort and are always insightful. One of the traps of modernity which seems to be rearing its head more and more these days is this idea that we are somehow more evolved and superior to our ancestors. We judge them because we are smarter and better today and so we can succeed where they failed “This time it will be different.” God help us from these delusions.

  96. Fr. Stephen,

    I’m revisiting a book on Existentialism from 1958 (Irrational Man by William Barrett) and much of the second chapter sounds like things you have written. Thought I would just offer a quick passage or two in case you’re interested:

    “Collectivized man, whether communist or capitalist, is still only an abstract fragment of man.

    We are so used to the fact that we forget it or fail to perceive that the man of the present day lives on a level of abstraction altogether beyond the man of the past. When the contemporary man in the street with only an ordinary education quickly solves an elementary problem in arithmetic, he is doing something which for a medieval mathematician—an expert—would have required hours. No doubt, the medieval man would have produced along with his calculation a rigorous proof of the whole process; it does not matter that the modem man does not know what he is doing, so long as he can manipulate abstractions easily and efficiently. The ordinary man today answers complicated questionnaires, fills out tax forms, performs elaborate calculations, which the medieval man was never called upon to do—and all this merely in the normal routine of being a responsible citizen within a mass society. Every step forward in mechanical technique is a step in the direction of ‘abstraction. This capacity for living easily and familiarly at an extraordinary level of abstraction is the source of modem man’s power. With it he has transformed the planet, annihilated space, and trebled the world’s population. But it is also a power which has, like everything human, its negative side, in the desolating sense of rootlessness, vacuity, and the lack of concrete feeling that assails modem man in his moments of real anxiety.

    “The machinery of communication makes possible the almost instantaneous conveying of news from one point on the globe to another. People read three or four editions of a daily paper, hear the news on the radio, or see tomorrow morning’s news on their television screen at night. Journalism has become a great god of the period, and gods have a way of ruthlessly and demonically taking over their servitors. In thus becoming a state of mind—as Kierkegaard prophesied it would do, writing with amazing clairvoyance more than a century ago—journalism enables people to deal with life more and more at second hand. Information usually consists of half-truths, and ‘knowledgeability’ becomes a substitute for real knowledge. Moreover, popular journalism has by now extended its operations into what were previously considered the strongholds of culture—religion, art, philosophy. Everyman walks around with a pocket digest of culture in his head. The more competent and streamlined journalism becomes, the greater its threat to the public mind—particularly in a country like the United States. It becomes more and more difficult to distinguish the second-hand from the real thing, until most people end by forgetting there is such a distinction. The very success of technique engenders a whole style of life for the period, which subsists purely on externals. What lies behind those externals—the human person, in its uniqueness and its totality—dwindles to a shadow and a ghost.”

  97. Jeremias,

    Interesting quote. I tend to think of the first part, abstraction, as a good thing: it is what underlies our ability to create icon and symbol. It is one of the traits that distinguishes us from a computer, which could also perform those Medieval proofs but has no concept of the interrelatedness of all things. I also wonder about the second part: sure, journalism can be (and is!) misused but it is, at its best, a form of hagiography, theology, and revelation. And what is “the real thing”? Would we see it even if we were there? I think reality is only found in Christ. Maybe more context would help, because I see his internals and externals reversed in my mind; I’m sure Michael Bauman could speak to that more, too, if he catches the comment.

  98. Perhaps more context is needed, but I’d refer you to Fr. Stephen’s other post, “Living in the Real World” for the thematic overlap that I intended.

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2019/06/07/living-in-the-real-world-and-really-living/

    Abstraction in this context means being pulled from the particularity and concreteness of actual human personhood and lived experience. I do not think abstraction, in this sense, has anything to do with iconography or symbolism, which are inherently particular and concrete, and by being so, refer beyond themselves to draw us to the Ultimate Particular, God Himself.

  99. Thank you Father for your beautiful article. I have always enjoyed your insightful critique of modernity in that it does not disappear into the realm of despair but manages to find hope in all things. I am history teacher at an alternative inner city school. I wonder, how can I teach history in an Orthodox fashion? Many times I examine the past of the United States, and I despair seeing only the Modern Project and the destruction of humanity in community. How can I teach about the value of political rights that our culture values so much while said rights disregard our complex humanity? Also should I teach and try to shape my students’ character beyond my own example?
    These are questions that I struggle with as an American teacher. I sometimes despair and see America as the antichrist though the people in this country are good. How should we respond?

  100. David,
    Seems to me that you’ve already begun by asking such questions. It’s good, on the one hand, to read widely in historical analysis so that you draw from a large pool of thought. I think it’s always good to help people to think critically when they read history – which means to see a number of viewpoints. There are no simple answers to your questions – but there are the good struggles that God will lead you into as you try to fulfill your vocation. Don’t despair. All of us will likely do our jobs badly. But, even so, we should not despair.

  101. Thank you Father for your kind words. I have recently found some comfort in studying Abraham Lincoln and the peace he sought. Please Father pray for us Americans that we may find beauty and goodness in all, even the mud of history.

  102. David, three suggestions that made a difference 8n my reading of American history: Henry Adams, Francis Parkman and Andrew Jackson’s papers and letters from his time as President. Henry Adams of course was a high value secondary source being the great grandson of John Adams and grandson of John Quincy and son of Ambassador Francis Adams. Jackson letters and papers are primary source. Francis Parkman was a 4th generation American who wrote history because of his love this country.
    Are they ‘true”, only in the sense in that they give you a sense of the original narrative of America. It is a narrative that is still active and alive it has not been completely submerged by the critical modern narrative.
    If you are like me, you will find yourself asking “where do I see God here. After all God is the author and finisher of history and if we read carefully and with a quiet mind and heart, He can be discerned. I cannot tell you how to teach all that in a secular setting but it may call your mind so that you can find away.

  103. You write that there is no commandment to make the world better. What about the creation mandate (Gen 1:26-28) and the concept of shalom? Those seem to say that humans are here to make things better. Modernity fails for three reasons which you treat eloquently – its definition of “better” is sadly lacking, changing and can be tyrannical; it fails to make it central to make oneself better instead focusing on “the world”; and it ceases to be satisfied with better and wants perfect. But making things better starting with myself and accepting God’s vision of better all while accepting that we can’t make things perfect, all seem central to God’s view of this world and his actions in it.

  104. Ed,
    I understand your reasoning. However, my caution would be that the concept of “betterment” of the world is inherently modern. It’s simply not the way the Christian tradition has spoken through the centuries until quite recently when that concept became a way of justifying the profit-based exploitation of all things and all people.

    Gen. 1:26-28 has two key words: to subdue (kavash) and to have dominion (radah). Neither says anything about making things better. Instead, they speak of relational matters – humanity as the governors of creation. I’m really not certain how you make a tree “better.” Modernity has come to define better in terms of productivity, efficiency, etc. So much so that we poison things and play games with genetic engineering – not really to make anything better – only to make more profit. At present, our bodies are themselves in rebellion against our “better” world, with food allergies and such at an almost epidemic level. I never knew anyone with gluten intolerance when I was a kid. Now – it’s everywhere.

    My oldest daughter lived a year in Siberia (in 2000). She had terrible food allergies here. In Russia, things were quite “primitive” without preservatives and the corporate produced foods we have here. GMO’s are outlawed there. Oddly, she had almost zero problems with food there.

    I think we should quit talking in “better” terms. We should work at just being good. Same thing for the country. I do want to be great. I want to be good.

    But – I would caution again about reading a meaning into Genesis that is simply not there.

  105. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for sharing your daughter’s experience. I’ve heard similar stories from others as well. As someone who has body that reacts badly to every food, I am intrigue by this phenomenon.

  106. Thank you Michael. I am surprised by your inclusion of Jackson. I will have to read what he said instead of what critical historians have said. Reading Lincoln has been helpful for me, especially in better understanding the art of statesmanship. I am still an Illinois boy.

  107. David, I include Jackson not as a paragon of virtue, he certainly was not(other than his fierce loyalty to and love of his wife Rachel) but because he truly embodied and articulated a certain idea of America and the idea of Union. It was much different than the Founders. His Letters and Papers are tremendous resources but like all such source material are easy to put into one’s own ideological narrative. I was fortunate enough to spend the better part of a year as a young man in those documents and many others. It was bracing. Dumas Malone said it best (paraphrasing). If you want to know a man, you have to live with him for awhile.

    I love the story of how, as an old man but still President, he was returning to the White House after a official duty and he was acccosted by a man intending to shoot him. In fact the man, a disgruntled office seeker, did fire his flintlock pistol but it misfired. Jackson them attacked the man with his non-ornamental cane. He had to be dragged away from the man or Jackson would have beaten him to death. There is a tremendous amount of US history and personal character wrapped up in that story.

    Another note: he was a slave owner who lit the fuse for the Civil War in his belief in and propagation of Federal supremacy. Complicated man and complicated Presidency.

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