Happy Ascension Day to my Orthodox readers!
Among those who celebrate today are the Russkies, who have had quite a spring. Last month, thousands of Russians came out to support the Russian Orthodox Church in a massive rally in Moscow. In Forbes, Mark Adomanis registers his dismay at the retrograde Russians: “Tens of Thousands Protest in Moscow in Support of the Orthodox Church - Illiberalism Is Alive and Well in Russia.” I agree with Adomanis that illiberalism is so alive and well in the Russian heart, but I rather find that to be a hopeful sign and a cause for rejoicing.
In case you have not heard, a punk rock group named “Pussy Riot” performed (without permission, obviously) songs on the ambo of Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral in February. They were arrested, and a controversy about what they deserve has since erupted in Russia.
Adomanis notes how the Western media have unanimously sympathized with the poor Pussy Rioters, and he joins them:
Just in case anyone doubts where my sympathies lie, let me state unequivocally that, in this instance, the Orthodox Church has acted disgracefully, that Pussy Riot ought to be freed immediately, and that the ‘hooliganism’ section of the criminal code should be modified to make it crystal clear that purely political speech of the sort in which Pussy Riot engaged can never be the basis of a formal charge.
Even, it seems, if free speech involves commandeering another institution’s building without any respect for that institutions’ rules. I wonder if Mr. Adomanis would favor political signs lettered with bacon strips hung on mosques.
But it seems basically impossible to ignore the sharply anti-liberal tinge of the crowd on Sunday and the movement which it represents. Viewed from one perspective, 60 odd thousand people marched in favor of blasphemy laws in the largest and most liberal city in the country. Blasphemy! It is rather hard to square the narrative about a slowly emerging liberal-democratic majority in Russia with what happened this past Sunday. . . . As should be clear from public attitudes about Pussy Riot, which is about as cut and dry a case of freedom of expression as you’re ever going to see, stridently, almost violently, anti-liberal opinions are still incredibly common in Russia. These attitudes are not simply the cruel inventions of the Kremlin or the imaginary artifice of Vladimir Putin: they are the honestly felt positions of many millions of people. It is absolutely possible to change this for the better, Russian society as a whole is certainly more ‘liberal’ than it was 15 years ago, but this cannot be done in one fell swoop, either through holding an election or through replacing a particularly bad politician. Indeed, as I’ve repeatedly said, it is fully possible that a more democratic Russia would be a less liberal one.
Adomanis is Harvard and Oxford educated. As a Greek, he is probably from an Orthodox background. This educated young man, perhaps an apostate, finds it remarkable that people care about the public sanctity of their religion.
I hope that everyone is having a beneficial lenten season so far.
Last month, Robert Spencer published an article about the current troubles that the Copts are facing in democratic Egypt: “Requiem for the Third See of Christendom.” Spencer provides a brief history of the Alexandrine Church with some attention shown to the christological controversy that separates the Copts and the other non-Chalcedonian Christians from the Orthodox and from Rome.
Life in dhimmitude is always precarious. Foolish Westerners ought to consider the Copts; for the same fate may await Brits, Frenchies, Scandinavians, and Germans one day. The Hebrew scriptures offer many precedent situations wherein people who once followed God were delivered to enemies as a result of their apostasy. We should take heed.
May the Copts reclaim their freedom, may they convert their fellow Egyptians, and may they return to the Church in fulness.
Hillel Ofek published an interesting article in The New Atlantis, “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.” The article is informative, though not without fault. For instance, it contains a ridiculous quotation by an Islamic Studies plant, Jamil Ragep: “Nothing in Europe could hold a candle to what was going on in the Islamic world until about 1600.” Even if we grant the Dar al Islam Averroes and Maimonides, since they inhabited that civilization, we should not underestimate the splendor of Western intellectual achievement in the scholastic age and afterward. Albert, Thomas, John Duns Scotus, Dante Alighieri, William of Ockham, Desiderius Erasmus, and Niccolò Machiavelli are just some of the illustrious minds in the West before A.D. 1600, and who were their Arabic counterparts to whom they could not hold a candle? Moreover, the article betrays the typical Western ignorance of intellectual activities in the Eastern Roman Empire. Nonetheless, the essay poses an interesting question—one that Averroes answered nine centuries before when he warned about the corrupting influences of Mohammedan theologians.
I wish those on the old calendar a blessed feast of the Transfiguration, as well as a happy birthday to my sister.
The gospels do not specify upon which mountain the Transfiguration occurred, though Christian tradition holds that it was Mount Tabor. Christians have made pilgrimages to the mount since antiquity, though the Mohammedans demolished all Christian edifices in the thirteenth century. Centuries later, the Ottomans allowed first the Franciscans and then the Orthodox to rebuild monasteries and temples on Mount Tabor. The site BibleWalks has pictures and information, and there is another page for the Orthodox Monastery of Saint Elijah.
Interestingly and coincidentally, my sister’s namesake has a historical connection to Mount Tabor, as recounted in the fourth chapter of the Book of Judges.
The Russian Orthodox Church has built its first parish on the Arabian Peninsula in Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates.
The parish of Saint Philip will serve the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Russians who live in or visit Sharjah. The completed temple has domes and crosses, which are quite unusual in the Dar al-Islam. A Russian Orthodox school and a Russian cultural center are part of the complex, as well.
As the Arabian Peninsula lies within the canonical territory of the Church of Antioch, the Patriarch of Antioch had to agree to allow the Russian Church to establish the parish. The Russian priests there will serve with the blessing from Damascus.
Saint Philip’s is yet another example of the importance of secular support for the Church. For there is no way that an Arab sultan would have agreed to such a Christian temple without his respect of the Russian state. Not too long ago, the tsars and kings of the East assisted the Church, and thereby Orthodox missionaries carried the faith to many lands and peoples. After the theomachist interlude, Orthodox commonwealths are returning to the ancient practice.
There are pious Christians who oppose the idea of Christendom, and there are simply the enemies of Christendom. Both groups fear cooperation between earthly powers and the bishops. The former have a case to make, and we should be ever mindful of their warnings. Yet, I think that a harmony between Christian leaders and the bishops can do wonders for the people of God and for spreading the faith. Consider how the Spanish, British, and Russian Empires spread the gospel. The Left today dwells upon the exploitative side of imperialism, but do they really prefer cannibal cults to biblical religion? Well, the Left just might have that preference. We think otherwise.
Happy birthday to my brother, Aaron!
As Aarons labors in the papio-educational complex, it is fitting for today that I offer Fr. Z.‘s insightful comments on Samuel Gregg’s recent article about il papa, “Benedict XVI: In No One’s Shadow.” Gregg writes:
Christianity, Benedict argued at Regensburg, integrated Biblical faith, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, thereby creating the “foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.” This suggests that any weakening of this integration of faith and reason would mean the West would start losing its distinctive identity. In short, a West without a Christianity that integrates faith and reason is no longer the West.
Today, Benedict added, we see what happens when faith and reason are torn asunder. Reason is reduced to scientism and ideologies of progress, thereby rending reasoned discussion of anything beyond the empirical impossible. Faith dissolves into sentimental humanitarianism, an equally inadequate basis for rational reflection. Neither of these emaciated facsimiles of their originals can provide any coherent response to the great questions pondered by every human being: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?”
So what’s the way back? To Benedict’s mind, it involves affirming that what he recently called creative reason lies at the origin of everything.
Fr. Z. notes [in bold]:
Of course none of this fits into sound-bites. “Pope Attacks Pathologies of Faith and Reason!” is unlikely to be a newspaper headline anytime soon. [But it has in the blogosphere. Thanks, Mr. Gregg.] That, however, doesn’t nullify the accuracy of Benedict’s analysis. It just makes communicating it difficult in a world of diminished attention-spans and inclined to believe it has nothing to learn from history. [Again, as part of my own liturgical reflection, I note that we are dominated by distraction,and at the root of that distraction is timor mortis, which Augustine calls our hiems cotidiana. The focus on the Cross is what cracks that distraction and brings us into touch with the mystery which both terrifies and attracts. If liturgical worship doesn’t accomplish this over time, it has failed.]
Gregg’s article appears in The American Spectator—surprising material for a political rag.
Happy Bright Monday! Christ is risen!
Last month, the planning commission for a new Russian Orthodox Center in Paris announced the winning design by the Arch Moscow Group. You may read about the project in Le Parisien, “Centre orthodoxe russe à Paris : voici le projet retenu” or on Muuuze, “Centre orthodoxe par SADE – Arch Group.” The Moscow based model workshop ABTB also has several models of the complex.
When Fr. Hans posted the story on the A.O.I. Observer, my interest in matters French and Russian compelled me to write: “Highly Visible Russian Church to be Built in Paris.” Here is an edited version of my comments, which allowed me to indulge the white person pleasure of mentioning one’s time abroad:
When I read about this yesterday, I had mixed emotions. It somewhat reminds me of Wright’s Greek Orthodox Church. For a contemporary structure, it is not terrible, but why do architects feel the need to dare something unprecedented? It’s a symptom of modern artistic narcissism. The temple itself actually looks normal, though covered with a lace structure. I suppose that it is a compromise, which allows the builders to justify traditional architecture. The lace structure might have solar panels; if so, it is the least ugly and obtrusive way of having such panels that I have seen. Moreover, the cover might be useful for processions on rainy days. The gardens look nice. Modern design can look less sterile and offensive when it incorporates gardens, and Paris excels at this combination, as you can see in the new parks from the last few decades.
I lived in Paris, and I know that it would have been nice to have a Russian parish on the Left Bank. Alexander Nevsky and Saint Sergius are charming but not terribly convenient for folks south of the Seine. As rue Daru continues to be under the Ecumenical Patriarch, I wonder if this new center is Moscow’s way of reasserting authority over the Russo-French community. Speaking of which, are there any plans to “reabsorb” the Russian Orthodox in Western Europe? Or is the Exarchate happy to stay under the E.P.?
[In the post, Fr. Hans shared his aversion to the Centre Pompidou.] By the way, Father, I think that most Parisians like the Centre Pompidou. It usually has a lot going on that’s free, and the fountains are interesting. It always reminded me of a hamster habitrail for people. I did have a prof that frequently complained about it, as she liked the old Beaubourg houses. What the older Parisians really hate is the destruction of Les Halles–the market that they miss much.
As I was reading various articles on the web about the new Russian Center, I was shocked at how many Frenchies were complaining in the comment sections about the “double standard” that they see where mosques are socially condemned and discouraged but this Russian Center is being celebrated. I never would have thought of that. Of course, there is no demographic threat from Russian immigrants; Eastern European hordes are not radically changing French cities. Moreover, France and Russia have had a special relationship for centuries, and aside from a few spats here and there (Shorty’s invasion of the Motherland, for example), their history has been amicable. Consider the temples that the Romanovs financed as well as the splendid Pont Alexandre III. Orthodox Russia is closer to Roman Catholic France than the alien people, religion, and ways of the Maghreb. Moreover, Russkies have not repeatedly bombed Parisian metro stations and set fire to the suburbs, and that might make people besides the Front National a bit apprehensive. Regardless, the French Left does not like to discriminate, and so they issue charges of hypocrisy.
I encountered the wonderful consequences of France’s vibrant diversity when Algerians bombed the Port Royal RER station just as I was dining with some friends at a student restaurant that overlooked the station. I also witnessed the benefits of such diversity when thugs des banlieues would occasionally assault my French copains, who would return home bruised and bloodied, though the police were not that interested once they discovered what the perpetrators were. I personally never had trouble with the Algerians in Paris as I frequently visited Arab neighborhoods to eat the best couscous dishes that I have ever tasted for drastically less money than standard Parisian restaurants. I spent dozens of evenings in the tea room of the Grande Mosquée de Paris while chatting with friends and enjoying cheap delicious pastries. I also occasionally visited l’Institut du monde arabe. Overall, I had a rather positive experience of the Franco-Arab scene. My negative incident with the Mohammedans occurred in the slums of Brussels, but that is another story.
On a lighter note, for more S.W.P.L. laughs regarding white people’s overseas adventures, read “Travelling”and “Japan.” As always, Christian Lander delivers perspicacious humor.
I plan to respond tomorrow to Kristor’s comments to my post, “Orthodoxy and Evolution,” the topic of which was continued in “Kristor on the Fall.” Today, though, I would like to consider the prevalence of evil in Christianity. No, not like that! This isn’t the New York Times. Rather, I think that Christians are more wont than others to think deeply about evil, and I suspect that we are best constituted intellectually to do so. Evil is a special problem for us. For almost all pagans, evil is just a fact of reality; it is not something that holds much interest. The problematic aspect of evil for pagans simply means that it is to be avoided when possible; there is no inherent metaphysical puzzle. For the Abrahamic traditions, however, evil becomes a metaphysical thorn in one’s theological side. For we monotheists believe that God is the really real and that God is entirely good. Creation, then, is the product of God, having no origin or constituent reality apart from God. Whence, then, comes evil? For we follow not Zoroaster or Mani; we do not interpret the history of being as a perennial war between the forces of light and darkness. For us, light is all that there is, and darkness is merely the absence of light. The metaphysical status of evil is entire parasitic, though such a metaphor only suggests what is truly unintelligible. To speak of evil is necessarily to bastardize language.
Given this Abrahamic legacy, why do I propose that Christians have the peculiar burden of conceiving evil? After all, are not rabbinical Jews also the heirs of Job’s lessons? I think that Christians have thought more about theodicy simply because Christianity is more hospitable to philosophy than rabbinical Judaism, wherein the legal emphasis saps mental and spiritual energy. Despite the fact that rabbinical Jews have a long tradition of educational achievement and notwithstanding the natural advantages in intelligence so prevalent in the rabbinical community, there were not many Jewish philosophers after antiquity. I doubt that the legalistic focus of the rabbinical community was fertile ground for spirits such as Philo. Maimonides and Spinoza come to mind as the exceptions, though Spinoza represents the beginning of the secular age. Following Jewish emancipation and the widespread rejection of rabbinical tradition, there has been an explosion of Jewish intellectual activity in every philosophical domain. I attribute the paucity of Jewish philosophical contribution during that long interim to the rather antiphilosophical training of rabbinical study. After Spinoza, rabbinical Jewish philosophers have philosophized in tension with their rabbinical heritage. Strauss comes to mind as the best and most self aware example of this tendency.
I suspect that a similar explanation holds for the Mohammedans. In the first centuries of the Crescent’s conquest, there were many formidable philosophers who continued the Greco-Roman tradition. Yet, as the theologians (really, legal scholars) gained control of intellectual activity, fields besides legal theory became barren in the Dar al-Islam. I do not understand this history, though. It is possible to have a legal focus and still to have a flourishing culture of inquiry. Averroes was a lawyer, and yet he was one of the greatest philosophers of his time. Then, again, we have Thomas More. I suppose that exceptions will always surface.
Christians, however, have always engaged philosophy, as we can see in every age from Paul’s speeches to the pagans to Benedict XVI’s addresses today. While there have always been intellectual anti-intellectuals like Tertullian, Athens has always had a place in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. Christians have also faced legalistic temptations, but even the law of God for Christians has been more of an exercise in natural law thinking than an exposition of particular commandments. The general commands in the gospel invite broad reflection rather than casuistry. Furthermore, as a matter of history, Christians were absorbing and transforming Greco-Roman culture just as the rabbinical Jews were purging such from their scripture and tradition.
So, Christians have historically been more engaged in and open to philosophy. What does this have to do with the problem of evil? Well, let us contrast a philosophical discussion of the problem of evil with one that works within a legal framework. The philosophical approach will examine all aspects of the problem of evil, forcing a religion to deal with rather indelicate questions. For it is in the nature of a believer to fall before God and to submit to a higher wisdom. The problem of evil, though, requires God to be put on trial in a way. For it is an explicit inquiry into the justice of God that calls into question basic theological and metaphysical doctrines. By contrast, an inquiry into the problem of evil within the context of religious law does not impugn the goodness of God or of God’s law. Rather, it presupposes the goodness of the law to comment and act upon the human condition, where the problem of evil is one of human moral failing. The law’s reputation is only reinforced as the legal scholar notes the sagacity and justice of the divine legislation.
It is then no surprise that the profound treatment of the problem of evil has come from Christian thinkers, especially ones well acquainted with the philosophical tradition. Note that I previously mentioned that almost no pagans have an interest in the problem of evil. The Greek philosophical tradition shows some counterexamples. To see the problem of evil, one must have a Parmenidean understanding of the stakes involved. One must consider being as such rather than merely commenting on various phenomena that one witnesses. For only an attempt to get to the ultimate will make contradiction problematic. Oppositions (such as good and evil) as diverse elements of reality are not that interesting. Yet, when one tries to get to the really real, such oppositions become very important. For how do both opposites inhere in or come from the same source?
In addition to this Parmenidean concern, one must have an understanding of the good. Whether we attribute his awareness and love of the good to Diotima or to his daimon, we must admit that the pagan Socrates devoted his life to pursuing the good, even unto death. Providence combined Parmenidean metaphysical inquiry with the Socratic devotion to the good, and God thus created Plato. Beyond the Platonic legacy, I know of no other pagan for whom there really is a problem of evil. Evil just is. For Platonists and their heirs, evil is not. Christians knew the same truth, and they took the spoils of Egypt from philosophy.
Update: See “Unde Malum,” “Kristor Promotes Ignorance,” “Kristor Elucidates the Darkness,” “Before Choice,” and “Kristor Poses Evil Problems” for this post’s continuation.
Molly Norris, the promoter of “Everybody Draws Mohammed Day,” has gone into hiding because of death threats by the friends of Mo’. Mark Steyn comments on the latest consequence of the West’s welcoming the Mohammedan hordes with open arms: “Mollifying Muslims, and Muslifying Mollies,” which offers the following observation:
It is a basic rule of life that if you reward bad behavior, you get more of it. Every time Muslims either commit violence or threatens it, we reward them by capitulating. Indeed, President Obama, Justice Breyer, General Petraeus, and all the rest are now telling Islam, you don’t have to kill anyone, you don’t even have to threaten to kill anyone. We’ll be your enforcers. We’ll demand that the most footling and insignificant of our own citizens submit to the universal jurisdiction of Islam. So Obama and Breyer are now the “good cop” to the crazies’ “bad cop”. Ooh, no, you can’t say anything about Islam, because my friend here gets a little excitable, and you really don’t want to get him worked up. The same people who tell us “Islam is a religion of peace” then turn around and tell us you have to be quiet, you have to shut up because otherwise these guys will go bananas and kill a bunch of people.
I have often wondered if the Mohammedans were the perfect medicine to treat the West’s post-Enlightenment pathologies. Such a visible and proximate threat may be what is necessary to shock decadent Westerners from their nihilistic slumber and return them to life. Jihad as societal defibrillator?
For more images of the “holy prophet” [sic], visit the Mohammed Image Archive.
I would like to wish everyone on the old calendar a happy new year’s day! May the coming year be blessed.
The topic of today’s post, however, is not so cheerful. Yesterday, Auster commented on an Orthodox priest’s bizarre argument in favor of the Ground Zero mosque: “The liberal rot has even affected the Orthodox Church—here is an Orthodox priest who is pro-GZ mosque.” I wrote the following message to Auster:
As another Orthodox Christian who reads your site, let me say that Fr. Ernesto Obregon’s words are silly but not that surprising. If you read his site’s “about me” section, you see that he settled in this country as a Cuban refugee, abandoned the Roman Church, became a hippie, and then converted to Anglicanism. He later joined the Antiochian Archdiocese, which is an American outpost of the Church of Antioch. There are many decent things about the Antiochians and their energy, but the fellow Arab feeling of their hierarchs and centuries of dhimmitude have rendered them useless against the infidel assault.
In contrast, after the September 11th attacks, many Orthodox jurisdictions added the litany against the invasion of barbarians to the prayers sung at the divine liturgy. Do not think that the entire Orthodox world has become complacent with Mohammedan conquest.
Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that many bishops practice (excuse the slur) Byzantine diplomacy when it comes to the Ummah Wahida. You see this wherever bishops think that they can manipulate the infidels for their community’s (or their own) benefit. The practice is common wherever the Orthodox live among or near large numbers of Mohammedans.
You also see it in Moscow, when the Russian Patriarch emphasizes the “traditional religions” of the former Russian Empire as a pretext for uniting the multicultural homefront and near abroad against Western forces. However, the Russian bishops are strikingly lacking in dhimmi sensibilities when it comes to conflicts between Orthodox Christians and the Dar al-Islam. Consider how the Russians and other Slavs think about Bosnia, Kosovo, Armenia, Cyprus, or the Christian minorities in Mohammedan lands. The Christians who live in fear as dhimmis in those lands rarely speak out, and they have little reason to hope that the post-Christian West or the still weak and recovering post-Communist Christian East will hear their supplications. (The Copts come to mind as the exception.) If Christendom ever regains its faith and self-confidence, then maybe these persecuted Christians will begin to lose their defeated dhimmi mentality.
One of Auster’s commentators additionally mentioned the lamentable presence of Leftism in the Greek American community, but I did not address the motes in our Hellenic brethren’s eyes. I think that the Greek Question is too complicated to tackle when dealing with a subject rather tangential to it.
I do not understand the position of the Arabs, though. One would think that they would know better than anyone else in the world the true meaning of the “religion of peace.” They may cower in fear of retribution, they may allow blood tribalism to trump their religious identity, or perhaps they may suffer a dhimmi form of Stockholm Syndrome. I am not sure, but I find it revolting. Furthermore, it troubles me greatly that this peculiar dhimmi mentality tends to infect Western converts to the Antiochian Church, where Protestant Dispensationalists with Zionist fervor mysteriously transform into apologists for the Intifada. I believe that it is possible to give up Dispensationalism without thereby joining the ranks of Judenhassern, though men tend to follow the pendulum with their loyalties.