The Un-Moral Christian

In recent articles I have challenged the place of contemporary morality in the Christian life. Some have had difficulty with this, wondering how we should then think about the commandments that are directed towards our behavior. Others have suggested that my challenge is merely semantic. There are certainly semantic distinctions being made here – but the reason for them is important and goes beyond mere words. But if it is not proper to think…

Going to Hell with the Terrorists and Torturers

In 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev was Baptized and embraced the Christian faith. Among his first acts as a Christian ruler were to tithe his wealth to the Church and the poor, and to outlaw capital punishment and torture. It is said that the Bishops advising him counseled him that he might need to keep the torture in order to rule effectively. This anecdote has always brought a wry smile to my…

Why Sin Is Not A Moral Problem

Many readers have never before heard that there is no such thing as moral progress – so I am not surprised that I have been asked to write in more depth on the topic. I will start by focusing on the question of sin itself. If we rightly understand the nature of sin and its true character, the notion of moral progress will be seen more clearly. I will begin by clarifying…

You’re Not Doing Better

“I’m doing better.” Over the years I’m sure I’ve heard this many times in confession. I’ve also heard, “I’m not doing so well.” These are timely updates, personal measures and reports on the state of spiritual lives. And they are wrong. You are not doing better. You are not doing worse. In truth, we don’t know how we’re doing. Only God knows. But we have internalized a cultural narrative and made it…

The End of the Modern World

“Welcome to the 21st Century!” Pick your issue, and if its outcome conforms to a popular, desired norm you are likely to hear such a greeting. The greeting also implies that a less than desirable outcome is wrong because it doesn’t belong to our time. It might be characterized as “medieval,” “outmoded,” “out-of-date,” “primitive,” “Neanderthal,” “reactionary,” etc. None of which actually describe anything. Such labels are value judgments and rhetorical devices that…

Let’s Get Physical

If you go to the self-help section of a bookstore, any bookstore, you see row upon row of books, all promising another method to change or fix how you think, feel or imagine. It is as though we were certain that our lives would be great if only we could think feel or imagine better than we do now. Even Orthodox titles can hold a certain promise: Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives…

Doubt and Modern Belief

Why do people in the modern world find belief so difficult? Obviously, many find ways to believe in God and do so with great zeal, but others, even those who describe themselves as believers, admit either to doubts about God or about many traditional teachings of the faith. The more “miraculous” teachings, the Divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, Walking on the Water, Rising from the Dead, etc. present difficulties for most modern…

A Child Enters the Temple

The story in the gospel of Christ’s visits to the Temple in his childhood – the first at 40 days of age (marked by the Feast of the Presentation and the occasion of prophecy by the Elder Simeon and Hannah the Prophetess) and at age 12 when He is lost and later found giving instruction to the teachers and scribes, is a reminder of the importance of children in the Temple of…

An Illegal Christmas

The great advantage to thinking about God in legal terms, is that nothing has to change. If what happens between us and God is entirely external, a matter of arranging things such as the avoidance of eternal punishment or the enjoyment of eternal reward, then the world can go on as it is. In the legal model that dominates contemporary Christian thought, the secular world of things becomes nothing more than an…

Fasting from the Sentiments of the Feast

I have a favorite Joni Mitchell song. In her very mournful style she sings about the season before Christmas: It’s comin’ on Christmas, They’re cuttin’ down trees, They’re puttin’ up reindeer and singin’ songs of joy and peace. Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on…I would teach my feet to fly! It is a melancholy tune, echoing the bittersweet experience of the culture Christmas. We love it.…