Arimathea
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Religion
The human animal is the worshipping animal. Toward the divine, we have a need to pray, to sacrifice, to offer up, and to praise. From the spirit dances of primitive animism to the rational contemplation of philosophical paganism, from the ethical code of the rabbis to the theological vision of the scholastics, from the sprinkled blood (the origin of blessing) of temple cults to helping the poor in simple Christian charity, men need to relate the immanent and the transcendent -- they see their particular lives in time and space transfigured and transfused with meaning unbounded by human things. Religion is this aspect of human life where the everyday and worldly intersects with the ultimate and divine. Is this an accident of human evolution, or is it a racial neurosis brought upon us as conscious beings who live in the shadow of our own death? Is it a reflection of the divine order, where creatures naturally orient themselves toward their source? Has God revealed himself to us, as the Christians claim? In this realm, I shall try to delve into such questions as an Orthodox Christian who ever pesters God with "Why?"
Wednesday, January 30, A.D. 2013
Charlton’s Mormon Advantage

On the Orthosphere, Roebuck continues his treatment of Mormonism about which I wrote last week in “Mormons and Jesus.” His latest post, “The Basic Case against Mormonism and Other Pseudo-Christianities,” defends the necessity of proper theology for the Christian life. I commented:

[Roebuck wrote:]

And some, seeing the bad state of current Christian culture, hold that traditional Christianity is largely a failure. These people want an institutional Christianity that appears culturally successful.

[This objection, unlike those above, is at least based on a true premise. Current Christian culture is in a deplorable state. But this is not a valid reason to contradict the teachings of Christ.]

Charlton makes this point repeatedly in condemning “mainstream” Christianity. Each time that he raises that point, I want to state, following the old saying, that the problem with Christianity is the Christians, while the problem with Mormonism is Mormonism. Charlton and like-minded individuals may respond that a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, but even a good tree with put forth some nasty crops if it is placed in a cellar with little light or if it is continually malnourished. I am an Orthodox Christian, a member of the Russian Church, and I believe that the Orthodox Church is “the Church.” However, I readily admit the problems that exist among Orthodox Christians. The modern world is explicitly anti-Christian in so many ways, and its hostile, corrupting influence is a severe thorn in Christians’ sides. In the early centuries, the pagan world persecuted the Church, and the Church prevailed. Such is happening again. We often fail to remember all the compromises and the lukewarm folks who betrayed the faith in the early centuries, thinking only of the victorious martyrs. Yet, I wonder what the real numbers were. I assume that many Christians missed the mark in living out the gospel radically, but the Church eventually triumphed over idolatry and wickedness, as it will do so in the future. Every age has its peculiar temptations and occasions for apostasy, and I believe that the current age is the most insane, most depraved period in history. It should not surprise us, then, that so many of the faithful fail—and fail so miserably—at their vocations of discipleship. However, persecution also brings forth martyrs, and that bitter cup in the modern world teems with witnesses. In Orthodox lands, we have seen countless martyrs, confessors, and lifelong strugglers who lived and died for the Lord under the theomachist Communist regimes. In the West, consider the virtuous men and women who have held fast to the Good since the perfidy of modernity exposed its bloody jaws; from the patriots of la Vendée to today, there has been a strong minority of those who have maintained a view of heaven despite the clouds of modern confusion.

When Charlton points to Rome, the Orthodox, or confessional Protestants with a condemning finger due to the sorry state of their larger societies and of their nominal members, he errs in his sampling. When Mormons fail at being Mormon, they “leave the church” and become, well, Utahns (or the equivalent secular person elsewhere) due to the ostracism factor in Mormonism. That is a model of ecclesial discipline, and it has its advantages and disadvantages. And there are disadvantages—we are dealing with salvation here, and the stakes are quite high. Rome could increase its healthy piety stats if it took a different course, but such heavy handed discipline might jeopardize millions of souls by burning bridges on the Tiber, so to speak. Thus, grievous sinner O’Donnell continues to consider himself Catholic until his death, though he lives worse than a pagan. Yet, his continued affiliation with the Church remains for him a lifeline. The door remains open. What is the “recidivism” rate of Mormon defectors? Outside Mormon majority areas? I bet that Rome’s rates of return are much higher.

Besides, we are traditionalists, are we not? We are not soulless devotees of the latest fad in social science. We try to avoid tunnel vision, especially in only considering our own age. Charlton mentions fertility as an indicator of who is following the golden path. Right before the Great War, Russian Christians had one of the highest fertility rates in history. I recommend that you read “Young Russia: The Land of Unlimited Possibilities” from National Geographic in November, AD 1914. Ignorant of what future terrors awaited the empire, the writer predicted that Russia would have six hundred million people by the end of the twentieth century. However, a bloody revolution, a civil war, two world wars, including an invasion, generations of suffering under Communist tyranny and its consequent social and material depravity, and the influences of alien ideologies have reduced the fertility of Russian women to below replacement levels. Is this surprising? Are we really to blame Orthodox dogma and praxis for this? (Fortunately, that decline is starting to reverse!) Moreover, the same Churches that Charlton condemns provided centuries and centuries of healthy societies, thousands of saints, and, in summation, post-classical Western civilization! What has Mormonism given us besides good looking, clean cut blond families with a social ethic that would have been considered normal and unremarkable sixty years ago?

Everyone on this site pretty much agrees that contemporary society is mad. It is to be expected that Christians who live in this madness will be affected negatively, and we must implement and follow special survival strategies if we are to keep our good sense among the crazies. Forming and living within a counterrevolutionary subculture is one such strategy (the best option, in my opinion), and that is what the Mormons have done. The region of the country under their influence—from northern Arizona to Idaho—is a lovely land mostly populated by hearty WASPs descended from frontier stock. Their governors (their prophet and quorum of the twelve) live in this subculture and rule with its good in mind. However, if we formed a governing body from the men of any Christian group in this region, we would likely get some rather sensible people, too. I suppose that even the Episcopalians in Idaho are solid folks. Then, if these hypothetical rulers only made decisions with this subculture’s denizens in mind, they would probably come up with moral standards and social controlling decisions quite like the Mormons. Rome’s (or Russia’s or Germany’s vel alia) bishops do not have that luxury. Their flocks live in darker places, and the bishops have to keep them in mind and govern accordingly. Nonetheless, where there are counterrevolutionary subcultures among the papists (Society of Saint Pius X, for instance) or the Orthodox (say, ROCOR), you find even more sanity than what you see among the Mormons, just as traditional, healthy lifestyles and local communities are common among Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, traditionalist Lutherans, and so on. As the LDS move toward the mainstream and embrace accommodation for the larger society, they will become more like the Jones. Or, to be more precise, they will be like the Romneys and Huntsmans, only without the wealth, breeding, and industry of those elites. In other words, the average Mormon will resemble the average Methodist more and more. Of course, the Mormons’ wise men may switch course and refortify.

Rather than looking at such outward statistics, which is more a matter of how much one resists and sets oneself apart from the larger, godless culture (and such ghettoization comes with a cost), Charlton should ask where one can find Christ taught and glorified—where one finds truth, where one finds a path to holiness. In Greek jargon, we seek to unite ourselves with the Lord’s body and thus to become like God (theosis). Is that possible in the LDS? Roebuck argues no. The Church from the apostles to today has argued against heresies that resemble Mormonism in many ways (including Mohammedanism), and it seems reasonable to hearken unto such warnings.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, January 30, Anno Domini 2013
OrthodoxyEcumenismAtheism and its alliesMohammedanismNon-ChalcedonianismPaganismProtestantismRabbinical JudaismRoman Catholicism • (5) CommentsPermalink
Friday, January 25, A.D. 2013
Mormons and Jesus

Today is the March for Life. I intend to attend as much of it as possible, though I have other obligations that will disrupt my usual whole day dedication. May all the marchers be safe, and may the march achieve some good in their hearts and in the commonwealth.

Alan Roebuck has addressed Dr. Bruce Charlton’s recent apologetics for the Latter Day Saints on the Orthosphere: “Christian Salvation Is Not Visible to the Naked Eye.” Over the last month or so, Dr. Charlton has shown much approving interest in Joseph Smith’s children in his posts, and the Orthosphere’s resident Calvinist is not having any of it! I recommend Roebuck’s article and its comments, to which I contributed:

Mssrs. Roebuck and Jas, this is a broader problem of reference. Is the “Mormon Jesus” the same as Jesus? Is the intended object of any deficient understanding of the Christ the same as Jesus? It’s a similar question to whether the Islamic God is the same as the Christian God. I found Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics helpful in this matter [I wrote about this in “Can We Speak Truth without Knowing It?” ]. I remember reading a section on knowledge, opinion, and error, where the Philosopher uses the example of a geometrician’s and an ignorant man’s approach to the hypotenuse of a right angle. The geometer knows the Pythogorean relationship in such a triangle, whereas the ignorant man does not. As such, each man would understand the hypotenuse differently. In a way, they do not intend the same object. The object of the geometer is the real hypotenuse, while the object of the ignorant man is a faulty opinion. However, that faulty opinion does have some relationship to the real object. His poor understanding of the hypotenuse is not a skewed vision of the workers in the Agora, Athena, or Chuckles the cat. I find this helpful in the “Mormon Jesus” discussion. In a sense, Mormons refer to Jesus when they speak about Jesus, though their understanding of him is perverse, just as the Mujahideen refer to Jesus when they conceive of him as their prophet or as the hippies think of him as a proto-radical social revolutionary (Occupy Cardo Maximus!). The ultimate object of their mind is Jesus the Word, though their glass is murky, indeed. Whose isn’t?

and

Indeed, the Mohammedans are theologically closer to Christianity than the Mormons. For the Mohammedans understand God as the transcendent, ultimate source of being, whereas the Mormons revert to a pagan understanding of God as merely a god — another particular being like you or me who happens to be far more powerful and historically important in the formation and direction of this world (understood locally, not the cosmos).

So, are Mormons Christians? I’m fine with classifying them as heretical Christians, but I would say the same about Mohammedans, Creflo Dollar prosperity Protestants, Unitarians, Marxist atheists, Pentecostal holy rollers, gnostic Scientologists, and old school fire and brimstone Presbyterians — not to mention the Methodists (oh no, not the Methodists!). Their heresies are matters of degree, it seems, and I cannot see a non-arbitrary boundary of where to distinguish “heretical Christian” perversions of the Gospel from those that cease to be Christian.

A similar problem exists for orthodoxy. When does a false theologoumenon become a heretical opinion? I think that is why holding heretical beliefs does not make one a heretic. Rather, persisting in such rebellion when one is instructed otherwise by the Church is what makes one a heretic. Heresy then seems to be more a matter of ecclesiology than personal theological opinion. The demarcation of orthodoxy is the Church (and then where is the Church — does our quest ever end? But that would be thread-jacking!). I have a friend who likes to say that human beings are rational in the species, but not always (often?) in the individual. Similarly, proper theology is a concern for the Church — we cannot expect every pious Christian to understand, much less to articulate well, all the doctrines of the faith. However, such folks can be in the right ship, which has the proper sails, hull, and seamanship to get them through the turbulent waters.

This is perhaps why Charlton goes astray with the Mormons. As a disenchanted Anglican, whose fleet has long been lost at sea, he wants to revert to Lewis’ (another Anglican) “Mere Christianity,” hoping that simple personal piety will function as a lifesaver for one. Charlton notes that little of the daily life of piety has to do with correct theology, and he thus reckons that the Mormons, who appear quite pious in their own way, are good members of the Body of Christ. I would counter that theology (and philosophy) does have a “trickle down effect,” even to the most basic and thoughtless of daily activities. If Mormons exemplify healthy tendencies in living, it is because they hold good opinions about human nature. I wonder, however, if the transforming sanctity of a saint has ever occurred in a Mormon. Was there ever a Mormon Seraphim of Sarov or Francis of Assisi? I doubt it. Mormonism is a workable Christian heresy that has enough good sense to work for a society just as enlightened paganism has undergirt many fine civilizations. But the ocean is too big for a lifesaver to save us. I fear that Dr. Charlton comes close to the Grand Inquisitor’s reasoning in justifying a counterfeit Christ because such works well enough for the masses who cannot hope for theosis.

Again, I wish my fellow marchers a fine day. Stay warm, and please pray and work for justice (true justice, that is!).

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 25, Anno Domini 2013
OrthodoxySaintsAtheism and its alliesMohammedanismNon-ChalcedonianismPaganismProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
Thursday, January 24, A.D. 2013
The Brethren

I hope that everyone who is coming to Washington for the March for Life has a safe and fruitful trip.

A few weeks ago, I watched The Brethren, a short documentary about Trifonov Pechengsky Monastery on Russia’s Kolsky Peninsula. It offers an intimate glimpse of the monks and their life in a small northern town.

I once had a professor who asked how the French revolutionaries could carry on about fraternité (liberté, égalité, fraternité) after they had banished le Père from their lives. How can there be brothers in the absence of a father? In this documentary, the viewer gets to see friendship that devotion to God allows and facilitates. Religion reconnects isolated souls to God and to each other. Indeed, these processes appear to be the same and simultaneous; it is what happens when we flee from the dungeon of self worship.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, January 24, Anno Domini 2013
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Friday, January 18, A.D. 2013
Moments at the Monastery

On this eve of the Theophany, you may wish to read “Moments at the Monastery” in West Virginia Living about the Hermitage of the Holy Cross in Wayne, West Virginia. The monastery is an English language outpost of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. I have wanted to visit the West Virginia monastery for several years, but I have not gotten around to go yonder into the hills. Hopefully, I shall make it there this year.

It may seem a bit profane, but I wish most to see the goat herd. Liturgies, prayers, theosis . . . yeah, yeah, but I really have a more horizontal orientation. I love goats and the Appalachian Mountains, and I am happy that both are being put to divine use by the good monks. If I had days to volunteer at the monastery, I would like to work with the goats. They are among God’s favorite critters. Unfortunately, most of the scriptural references refer to killing them for sacrifice. I wonder if goat blood has that peculiar goat odor, too . . .

Merry Christmas for the last time this year!

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 18, Anno Domini 2013
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Friday, January 11, A.D. 2013
A Prayer for Lawrence Auster

Christ is born!

I have been posting music to celebrate this first week of the nativity feast. To end the week and to commemorate the feast of the holy innocents, I wish to share a request for corporate prayer for the health and salvation of Lawrence Auster, who maintains View from the Right. Kristor has posted the details on The Orthosphere, where he also recounts his own experience of communal supplication with regard to his son. He also adds some typically Kristoresque commentary that I appreciate:

Amazing things can happen with prayer. With God, all things are possible. I have some fancy-shmancy philosophical theories about prayer that make it seem all reasonable and tidy, and intelligible (to me, anyway). But really, it’s not. Not that my theories are just wrong, but that while reality is surely intelligible, and orderly, it is also fundamentally wild, and far transcends our inward vision, no matter how far or well we see.

Fundamentally wild—like Lewis’ “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”

Please pray for Lawrence.

Merciful Lord, visit us in our time of need and affliction; and as you healed Jairus’ daughter and raised her from her bed of infirmity, visit your servant, Master, and deliver him from sickness and pain. For you alone have born the sickness and affliction of our world and with you nothing is impossible. For you are all-merciful and to you we ascribe glory and adoration forever. Amen.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, January 11, Anno Domini 2013
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