“What Can the Righteous Do?”

I sometimes find that it is very depressing not to live under a rock. If I lived under a rock, I would not know how bad things are progressing in the western world, but as it is, with newspapers, Facebook, and the six o’clock news, one gets a very full and depressing picture of how western civilization is currently faring. And the picture is not good.

It is true that the media does not give one the full picture. But given the western media’s left-wing bias (at least in Canada), together with its almost total blackout of news reporting the persecution of Christians occurring now throughout the non-western world, I have no trouble believing that the picture is not fully accurate. Rather, I believe it is probably worse. In a word, I believe that western civilization is in the process of undergoing a total collapse, like the implosion of a building that is being detonated to remove it from the landscape, with the difference that this implosion takes a generation or so, not just a few seconds.

If you doubt this, or think I am over-reacting, meditate on the fact that in England lately two women, one calling herself a man, just had a baby (see inset photo of the woman in the last stage of her pregnancy). She was married to her female spouse who had her breasts removed and refuses to identified with either gender. The sperm donor was also transgender, as was the attending doctor. The whole spectacle was celebrated, complete with photos, and anyone speaking against it as unnatural or insane could be denounced by a court for expressing opinions “not worthy of respect in a democratic society”. Remember: this was not California or Vancouver, the proverbially wacky west coast; this was England, where the Head of State still bears the title “Defender of the Faith”.

As the Psalmist says, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). Western civilization has been built almost entirely upon a foundation of Christianity. In an earlier day, this foundation included the spiritual inheritance of the eastern part of Christendom too, though for some time now the western part of Christendom has parted company with the eastern part. (To read all about it, see the excellent book by Strickland, The Age of Paradise.) But even after the parting of west from east, western civilization was Christian civilization. Its understanding of gender, marriage, God, the sanctity of human life, the role of religion, and the importance of reason were all informed by the Christian faith, so that its ethics, by and large, were Christian ethics. And when it erred (e.g. in accepting slavery) the errors were later corrected on the basis of Christian principles.

As anyone who like me does not live under a rock can see, the Christian foundation is being radically eroded, if not violently overthrown. When one steps back a bit to survey the total landscape, this becomes clear. What do such diverse things as the pandemic of child pornography, violence against women, transgender confusion, gay marriage, abortion, euthanasia, opposition to traditional piety in the public square and in schools, and rampant gun violence have in common? They all share an antipathy to the values of traditional Christianity. These things are not the root problem, but the fruit of the root problem. They are signs that western civilization is collapsing. The West, having effectively rejected the traditional Christian faith, is losing the superstructure of civilization which was built upon it.

This should not come as a surprise. Any architect knows that a building is only as secure as the foundation upon which it is built. The Lord said the same thing: if one builds upon a foundation of sand, the building will not survive the coming storms. It is only by building upon the rock that the building can stand secure and endure. And the rock upon which to safely build is His divine teaching (Matthew 7:24f).

It might be argued that my jaundiced view of our current state is the result of me living in highly secularized Canada, and on the even more highly secularized west coast of Canada. It is sadly true that Canada is very far advanced in its anti-Christian secularism. In Canada there is no real right-wing, but only left-wing, further left-wing, even further left-wing, and the Green Party. (The Marijuana Party has, I think, disbanded since the legalization of marijuana. Its supporters will have to find something else to protest. Maybe global warming? Bring on the Swedish children.) We are all very anti-traditional here (or “progressive”, as we bill ourselves), so that no politician in Canada dare voice opposition to gay marriage or abortion. Some might argue that it is my location that has made me unwarrantedly pessimistic and that I just need to get out more.

I have been out a little, and visited the American South. In spots it was refreshingly different than my native Vancouver, where no one ever wished me “a blessed day”. But even there I witnessed the same symptoms that afflict us here in the Great White North, leading me to conclude that the disease is not confined to my home and native land. The disease has (happily) not progressed as far down there as it has up here, but I suggest that we both suffer from the same affliction, and that the ultimate prognosis is the same for all of us. To vary the metaphor, the flood water is rising all over North America; the water level is just a little higher in some places. The foundation has been eroded all over the continent, which will suffer the same final disastrous results.

I suggest that the proof of foundational erosion lies not in the answers given to certain questions, but to the presence in society of the questions in the first place. When a cultural foundation is secure, no one thinks of asking the question, (for example) whether two men may marry each other. The question can only be asked if something fundamental has shifted in the underlying culture. Once the shift has taken place so that the question may be asked, it is only a matter of time until the non-traditional answer is given to the question and which then finally replaces the traditional answer.

We have seen this occur in our lifetime. That is why the destruction of traditional culture (i.e. western civilization) begins not with the man in the street making assertions, but with academics in ivory towers asking questions. The process does not begin by someone shouting, “Gay marriage is possible!”, but by someone quietly asking, “Is gay marriage possible?” Once the question is allowed as a real question, the liberal answer is ultimately assured, for the question can only be asked once the traditional foundation has been eroded or destroyed.

That is also why the call for “dialogue” is dangerous as well as more than a little disingenuous. What is demanded in the call for dialogue is not true dialogue, but acceptance of a new cultural foundation. There can be no dialogue over things that are clearly wrong when a traditional cultural foundation is in place. For example, if someone wants to open a dialogue over whether or not National Socialism has merit and should be adopted, the call for dialogue will, quite properly, be refused. The cultural structure built upon a traditional Christian foundation refuses to acknowledge that this is an open question. Of course National Socialism is wrong; there is no need for dialogue about it. It is only when the Christian foundation has been dislodged that anyone regards this as a genuine topic for discussion.

I have been speaking about the collapse of western civilization in the West and not just in North America because I see the same disease and opposition to Christian dogmas and ethics in Europe as well. This reveals that the cause of the collapse is not rooted in specifically North American developments, but in the rejection of the Christian faith, for it was only the Christian Faith that was common to North America and Europe.

Some people, alarmed at these developments, have sought an answer in immigration—in other words, in flight. I do sympathize. The Psalm cited at the beginning of this essay alluded to the counsel “Flee like a bird to the mountains” (v. 1)—or possibly, like a bird to Russia. Some Orthodox families in America have indeed decided to take flight and have made the move to Russia. I do not judge them. But I think it is a mistake.

I do share their sorrow over the present and escalating collapse of traditional western civilization. I could murmur like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, “I wish all this need not have happened in my time”. But that would provoke the obvious reply, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” And for good or for ill, divine providence has placed us where we are in these times. Western civilization has collapsed before, and doubtless those who lived through those days of increasing darkness and ultimate collapse similarly lamented that they lived to see such times.

But God’s providence has placed us all where we are, and with it, given us the obligation to fight for the truth in the battleground in which we find ourselves. The results of our striving are not ours to know in advance. Perhaps we shall prevail; perhaps we shall go down in flames. Perhaps western civilization may again arise like a phoenix from the ashes to build upon the foundation that we preserve in secret. Perhaps we live at the end of days, and the changes we see represent the final apostasia/ rebellion foretold by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. We cannot know. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. We need not fly like a bird to the mountains. Now is not the time for flight. Now is the time for battle, for standing our ground, for truth-telling, for generous deeds, and perhaps for martyrdom. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? We can do what we have always done: love and sing and serve the Lord. And lift up our heads when the powers of the heavens are shaken, for our redemption draws nigh.

 

 

21 comments:

    1. Sometimes dialogue is a way to politely compromise. Dialogue is also a way to share a cup of water. When we take the time to talk with others we give ourselves the opportunity of learning and seeing some truth and some spiritual insights hidden to us because of male or academic privilege or lack of personal experience as the outsider. The Woman in dialogue with the Teacher from Judea might never have found the gift of God God had in store for her had she not responded to the invitation to dialogue. Eating, drinking and talking with others while doing so is how husbands and wives, families and neighbours have bonded together and learned some valuable lessons about how to love and forgive one another, how to talk with outsiders and how to grow and sustain community peacefully. Do godly husbands and wives compromise? Do godly families? What about the Triune God? Do the three persons speak with one another “face to face”? Do the three consider the hopes, desires and needs of people outside their triune relationship? Is being “face to face” with Jesus and speaking with Jesus dialogue? What many feminists want is to open up the dialogue so that Christians will see the Woman speaking with Jesus the Rabboni as the Bride who belongs with and clings to the Bridegroom, Christ the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6; Joshua 23:8; John 15:1; John 20:17). Other feminists may want to open things up to include the LGBTQ+ and that is the fear and the worry. Many may fear that the LGBTQ+ may garner support for those believers who see God as genderless and unmarried.

      1. Linda, dialog works only when the people involved want essentially the same end. That is not the case in the areas Fr. Lawrence is talking about.
        Is it possible to dialog with the Queen of Hearts?

        The only real basis for dialog is honest and sincere repentance.

        There is a real hierarchy from male to female, a synergy that is built into the heart of creation.
        For much the same reason, same sex sexual attraction in whatever permutations and combinations is a severe temptation. Carnal actions on those temptations are sinful as are adultry and fornication between men and women.
        Those fundamental truths that as an old friend of mine used to say are intuitively obvious to the most casual observer simply are.
        It is impossible to dialog with delusion and irrational passions.

  1. So I am often pondering whether to “flee like a bird to Russia”, as you amusingly phrased it.
    What do you advise for those of us who have small children? Right now I am raising them in a little Orthodox bubble. They play outside, they read books, they go to church. They don’t watch TV or go to public school; they have very little idea of what is in the wider world. But it won’t last forever… how can I prepare my children to meet the onslaught that is coming? Pray that God will give us all strength to cling to Christ even in the face of shame or worse!!

    1. When my own children were small, we tried to teach them to think critically, and not to suck up everything in the culture around them like a vacuum cleaner. That included asking tough questions about Orthodoxy as well. Our aim was not to isolate them from the craziness around them (which could not last anyway), but to inoculate them against it, so they could recognize craziness for what it was when they saw it.

  2. I cannot find the quote, but I seem to remember a saint from the last couple hundred years who said the monks of old, though they achieved more, will be “jealous of those who wage their struggle in the last days”. This sets a tone for me.

    As a sinner, myself, and as father of my children, I am very aware of the encompassing seductions of the modern age. While in some ways we benefit greatly from the ways modern technology “amplifies” what was already present (both in more direct ways, such as fewer pre-birth and infant deaths, which surely caused many to turn against God, as well as in indirect ways, like the ability to evangelize to people online or to help the poor and needy all over the world) we also clearly suffer the harm caused by this “amplification”. While a man might have committed adultery in the ancient world, it could hardly have been arranged with a stranger through an app, in a town far enough away as to avoid encountering someone who knows him, yet only an hour’s drive — something quite possible now. Or we might think of the scams that target the elderly, by phone, anonymously stealing millions from the infirm. Or countless other examples.

    Yet I find myself faced with a strange instinct, one which seems demonstrably false. My instinct is to dislike cities, dislike social media, dislike centralized power, and dislike the dependencies we have to all these “conveniences”. It feels right to lay blame there. And yet — it was in cities that the Gospel first spread like wildfire. Social media is simply a sort of new agora/town square, and we have a good deal of archaeological evidence for the riots and affairs that took place in those squares. And here Paul quoted the famous poets of the time and place in exposition and defense of the Gospel, to marvelous success (admittedly through blood, but not in vain). Centralized power is often stated by the Fathers to be the very “restrainer” spoken of as holding back the anarchy that will usher in the anti-Christ. Many of the saints on our calendar were either already high ranking officials in such an empire when they converted (meaning someone preached to them, usually at great cost!) or else were born into the family of such people, and were moved to seek God. And finally, the desire to be self-sufficient is ultimately of the devil, as even Aristotle knew, saying that a man who spurns the life of the community thinks himself “either a beast or a god”. And the lives of the Desert Fathers prove this out, time and again.

    So I keep coming back to a thought that the real struggle in this age is not so different as in the former ages, but perhaps it is only either our willingness to act faithfully, or our comparison with so great a lineage of saints, that causes us to feel a kind of dread and faint-heartedness. If we discipline ourselves and “cut out” media that does us harm (one calls to mind the prohibitions on plays and gladiatorial combat in early Christian writings), then we shall find them less relentlessly enticing. If we raise our children to go to Church on Sunday even when soccer practice overlaps (as an incredibly minimal example), then perhaps we will find that our children really believe that Church is more important than “enjoying the world”. If we mean what we say about the truth of our moral standards, and engage in serious conversation with our kids about what the foundations of our own and other worldviews are, then perhaps they won’t see it as “all beliefs are equal”, and they will “be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in us”.

    But this is a daily, self-directed way. And it requires much more of us that we can “fit” into an otherwise “normal” life. Then again, I don’t remember many saints being altogether “normal” for their times. Calm, mature, reasonable, diligent, mundane — sure. But if we bury the talents of gold we have been given, then we have been told what to expect. If we will put effort into increasing them, we have some hope that our small corner of things might hold onto just a little more light.

    Now if only I had as much practice as I have theory…

  3. Thank you for this simultaneously depressing and inspiring article! Things are actually terrible here in the UK. Much of the apparatus of our former civilisation remains but it’s a hollow shell. We’re running on the last fumes of the old order; if you don’t look too closely it still looks somewhat like a well ordered, educated and civilised country but it is becoming less and less so every day. I’m so grateful that I found Holy Orthodoxy here among the ruins; and I’m humbled that as a former atheist and enthusiastic wrecker (at 54 I’m a true child of the revolution) this wonderful treasure has been given to me. Have you read Peter Hitchens on the collapse? His book ‘The Rage Against God’ is excellent – he’s far more interesting than his late brother.

    1. Hello Mark, I too am an Orthodox Christian in UK and have read Peter Hitchens’ book. I particularly remember the bit where he said that while he was away from the Anglican Church it was steadily losing its glory and I think he said that he felt guilt that he had not been around to fight for it. It’s a husk now – with pockets of faithful Christians scattered about. But isn’t there a saying that when the darkness grows, so does the light. Crisis often initiates much needed change – and reveals the true sheep.

  4. I may be slightly off topic.
    There was a very hopeful interview on The New Culture Forum on Yout tube.
    A young student shows that not all students in colleges are “woke” . He says his group have a new term
    Woko Haram and are fighting against the suppression of differing opinions in universities in Britain,
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3n7EyNhZxw8

    Peter Whittle is the interviewer who is a pleasant man who is openly homosexual but is a strong advocate of freedom of speech, and has interviewed Christians about persecution . He often interviews people about the news media. He interviewed the late philosopher Roger Scruton not so long ago. and has interviewed former contributors to the BBC , an institution which seems to represent all the bad aspects of ‘woke” culture
    This student should hearten all of us. Be careful where you get your news from , it is actually calculated to cause despair.

  5. This is a GREAT article and I am so encouraged by many of the testimonies in the comments.  Today I am led to find at LEAST one prayer for EACH of those commenters and to offer it on their behalf.  What a privilege to read their comments AND (although unworthy), to hold them before His throne of grace. 

    “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. We need not fly like a bird to the mountains. Now is not the time for flight. Now is the time for battle, for standing our ground, for truth-telling, for generous deeds, and perhaps for martyrdom”. 

    Thank YOU for your example in “this age” and for continuing to be one of the “voices” no matter what the cost.  These testimonies and your articles encourage me to be MORE for Him.

  6. Thank you for this article, I find it encouraging and reaffirming to read “But God’s providence has placed us all where we are, and with it, given us the obligation to fight for the truth in the battleground in which we find ourselves. The results of our striving are not ours to know in advance. Perhaps we shall prevail; perhaps we shall go down in flames. Perhaps western civilization may again arise like a phoenix from the ashes to build upon the foundation that we preserve in secret. Perhaps we live at the end of days, and the changes we see represent the final apostasia/ rebellion foretold by St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. We cannot know. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. We need not fly like a bird to the mountains. Now is not the time for flight. Now is the time for battle, for standing our ground, for truth-telling, for generous deeds, and perhaps for martyrdom. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? We can do what we have always done: love and sing and serve the Lord. And lift up our heads when the powers of the heavens are shaken, for our redemption draws nigh.”

    God bless you for writing and I would also encourage all to pray the Akathist to the Mother of God Nurturer of Children for our children, Godchildren and all our relatives and neighbors’ children, whether they are Orthodox Christian or not.

  7. Thank you for this article. I have been of the same mind for the last few years. And I have been thinking of that same quote from “Lord of the Rings”. It is becoming very obvious now even to those who don’t pay much attention. The mask is slipping off those in the media and the culture at large. Their hatred of Christ and his followers is really showing now. Persecution of Christians will only get worse.
    “Fleeing like a bird” to eastern Europe was a very appealing prospect for me, but I think that would only be a temporary reprieve as the madness of the west will continue to spread. Better to hunker down and stay here. I have been reading much about the catacomb church that existed in Russia during the communist occupation. I think that is something we will eventually have to revive if the Church is to survive the coming storm. I don’t think it is hyperbole to say it might be a good idea to start planing for that now.

  8. Forgive me if you’ve already addressed this before. What do you make of Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option, as at least a starting point for how to go forward in this climate?

  9. Dialogue, is a subversive intruder. The reason is, when so-called dialogue is suggested to clarify a position, to seek out the “Bible within the Bible”, to seek understanding, whatever you want to call it, the game is rigged from the beginning. There are bombshell presuppositions laden within the endeavor to begin with. One, what needs clarified? Two, is there really a hidden Paul unknown to us for 2000 years that only the most hardcore Sola Scripturist can find? Does it matter if we have hundreds of things in common except a few giant heresies? Christians live within their worldview and that worldview presupposes certain non-negotiables such as; things denounced morally in Scripture, Tradition, experience of the conscience, any road that is a diversion/is not narrow cannot lead to life, etc. To negotiate is to automatically set aside your worldview/presuppositions for the “sake of dialogue”. This also presupposes that the intentions of the dialogue partner are unbiased, that they are a neutral lover of the Truth, that there is a possibility of compatibility – when all along there is not. So, you move your position from here to there, and onto their playing ground, since you have already conceded yours, and you have no possibility of winning, clarifying, etc. You have already lost the game by moving from your worldview, which if you are Christian, is reality, to a non-reality fantasy land where you lose automatically even if your intentions are good. Really the best you can hope for is more like the conclusion of a debate, where your debater will go on to hone their skills to defeat you if they didn’t already, but the public watching has a better grip on the issues.

    And sadly, woven throughout all of this “dialogue” is really just fear of men. You only need “dialogue” when you want to seem nicer than your accusers make you out to be, and both sides share this sin. To need to go around defending Jesus, Paul, the Old and New Testaments, Tradition, assumes they need defending or that they are defenseless as they stand together.

    This is where, if Christians fail in the debate, by handing over the farm, the public/laity, suffer. Because, any block to the path of theosis is a horrible tragedy and this is what our leaders must defend, the path of salvation.

    1. Quite So! I am reminded of JFK’s aphorism, “You can’t negotiate with people who say ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable'”.

  10. Thank you, Father Lawrence.
    This is exactly what I needed to be reminded of (it was a rough week). I work in a public school library in the state of Washington (only slightly less progressive than BC, I think). My wife and I home school our kids, and let me tell you, there isn’t a day that goes by that we regret that decision. There is a lot more progressive crud going on in the schools than most people realize. One quick example: Washington State House Bill 2184 is in the works to compel comprehensive sex education to all WA state public school students from kindergarten on up starting in 2022. I have little doubt it will be signed into law.
    A quick thought on “dialogue”, my observations and experience in 17 years of public education is that “dialogue” is generally code for, “A directive disguised as a dialogue.” The progressive narrative isn’t interested in alternate viewpoints, especially anything remotely resembling a Christian viewpoint. The “dialogue” in this environment, is all one-sided.
    Crawling under a rock sounds much preferable to the “inclusivity” trainings we have to attend. The institution of public education feels like such a Leviathan. Even some non-Christian educators I work with know something is very wrong with what is going on.
    Thanks also for the Lord of the Rings quote; I think I need to put that up on my wall at school.

  11. May God bless you, your wife, and the MANY parents who sacrifice to protect their children from progressive anti-Christian teaching. Your comment has reminded me to regularly pray for everyone who is in this battle for “minds and hearts”. I admire and respect all of you.

  12. As Aragorn urged in Lord of the Rings:

    “Hold your ground! Hold your ground!
    Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers,
    I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.
    A day may come when the courage of men fails,
    when we forsake our friends
    and break all bonds of fellowship,
    but it is not this day.
    An hour of wolves and shattered shields,
    when the age of men comes crashing down,
    but it is not this day!
    This day we fight!!
    By all that you hold dear on this good Earth,
    I bid you stand, Men of the West!!!”

    Where is the hope when so many in positions of leadership are abandoning the ground?
    Where is the hope when mass delusion grips everyone and we seem so isolated from one another that we struggle to communicate with one another?
    Where is the hope when our own children turn away even into death?

    Hope and joy are not really human emotions, they are gifts from God and in these days the only firm foundation lies in repentance with tears as we too are part of the crumbling foundation which only crumbles further if we give into the darkness of despair or even worse ideological battle.

    The insistence on “dialog” in our age is the result of a profoundly un-Christian, even anti-Christian philosophy which has its roots in ancient Greece but only began to come to the fore ground in Western culture through the works of the German philosophers and poets of the 18th and 19th century. Chief among them for the articulation of the dialectic approach was Georg Hegel.

    (Radical simplification follows) It is epitome of the radically false eschatology that history (in and of itself) is moving inexorably toward perfection through the dialectic process without need of God or an Incarnate Lord, God and Savior who fills all things. Certainly no standard of right and wrong, no need for repentance of mercy.

    It may be a kind of reductionism, but the older I get and the longer I am in the Church I find the key to it all is the words that our Lord spoke at the beginning of His public ministry: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    Repentance forms the firm foundation upon which we can stand. Through repentance comes healing, joy and life. Facing my own sins–even those that I carry involuntarily from my ancestors or the culture and submitting to God’s love allows me to speak at the right time, in the right way words that can be heard.

    God is good and His mercy endures forever.

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