Arimathea | Religion
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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?"
Roman Catholicism
The Latins and their popery
Saturday, January 24, A.D. 2009
Wee Priests

Earlier in the week, American Papist Thomas Peters showcased a toy mass kit made by Wee Believers. The company’s web site states that there was such a toy mass kit in the 1950’s, and they wished to bring it back to encourage vocations for the priesthood. I suppose that it is never too early to start sowing.

I do not know how effective such a toy would be in encouraging boys to consider the priesthood. I had toy medical kits, cowboy outfits, and police equipment, but I never wanted to do any of those jobs—they were just make-believe props. However, such toys do normalize professions for children. As such, toy mass kits are probably useful for making liturgical worship a part of life rather than a separate reality exclusive to Sundays. The kits also would teach children more about the liturgy; props make learning easier and memorable.

I would worry about the potential for sacrilege, though. What if your six year old son ex-communicated you after a spanking?

The company F.A.Q. states that they will be releasing a vestment set, too. I, myself, am waiting for the exorcism kit to come out. That would be interesting.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, January 24, Anno Domini 2009
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Monday, December 29, A.D. 2008
Anne Rice

Some months ago, on John J. Miller’s radio webcast Between the Covers, Miller interviewed Anne Rice on her book Called Out of Darkness, which you can hear here. You may know of Anne Rice by her Vampire Chronicles series. Her “prodigal” story is fascinating and moving, and the interview is worth your time.

After two thousand years of such testimonies, I still find them extraordinary. Rebellious children return to their forgiving and patient father, reenacting over and over again the parable in life lived and in life suffered. These stories remind me of the line from the film Shadowlands where Lewis and one of his students share an intimate learning moment wherein Lewis states that we read to know that we are not alone. It is quite a striking thesis that has continued to move me whenever I reflect upon it. How obvious it is that human beings from all ages and lands face the same limitations, turmoils, temptations, and pains, and, yet, we in our self-absorption easily forget to remember that insight. Encounters in books with the struggles of other souls remind us of this truth and assure us that, yes, indeed, our particular path has been tread before and that, yes, groundless hopes may yet be more than irrational flights into the fog of unknowing night. Of course, such consolation comes only with trust in the speaker, and the lack of that trust is what underlies our fearful alienation and restlessness in the first place. Nonetheless, faith becomes more acceptable, at least to me, when buttressed by the concrete supports of fellow pilgrims’ experiences. For such a contribution, I am thankful for Anne Rice.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, December 29, Anno Domini 2008
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Friday, December 26, A.D. 2008
Chesterton’s Father Brown

It is fitting on Boxing Day to honor a great Englishman. G.K. Chesterton was a fine wise man and quite a gift to modern English speaking people. He wrote in a wide variety of genres, including those of the crime solving sort, such as his Father Brown mysteries series, where the sleuth is an English priest.

John J. Miller has a series of radio webcasts called Between the Covers on the National Review Online, where he interviews writers about their books.

Earlier this week, Miller interviewed voice actor Kevin O’Brien on his book on tape production of The Innocence of Father Brown. You can listen to the interview here. I enjoy most of Miller’s interviews—he is quite a genial man, both online and in person, at least in the multiple talks and symposia that I have attended with him present. Yet, O’Brien comes across as more personable and humble than most of Miller’s guests—perhaps because he, as a dramatic interpreter, is more of a servant to a text than a creator. Hybris often accompanies creation, though I have known several intolerably arrogant actors in my life, as well. Perhaps, O’Brien is simply a good Christian who finds humility easily. Anyway, O’Brien has several interesting bits to say about Chesterton and his beloved Fr. Brown.

I like that O’Brien’s company is called Theater of the Word Incorporated—with a stress on the incarnational aspect of incorporated. To incorporate comes from the Latin word incorporare—to embody. I wish them well in their attempts to inject traditional Christian nutrients into the veins of American culture.

Posted by Joseph on Friday, December 26, Anno Domini 2008
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Thursday, December 25, A.D. 2008
Merry Christmas to the New Calendar Folks!

For everyone out there who celebrates the birth of the Lord on the Gregorian calendar . . .

Merry Christmas!

I wish you a lovely and joyous festive holiday.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

The Gospel of Saint Luke, 2:1-20

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, December 25, Anno Domini 2008
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Wednesday, December 24, A.D. 2008
Holiday Fraternity

It is Yuletide in Cincinnati, and, yesterday, I did the traditional downtown Christmastime annual tour with my mother. On the corner of Eighth and Plum Streets are four Cincinnati landmarks: the city hall, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains, the Isaac Wise Plum Street Temple, and an old Protestant Congregational church that has been turned into an office building. The Latin cathedral and the Jewish building face each other across Plum Street. As we arrived at the corner, we noticed a sign set up on the steps of Saint Peter in Chains that read, “Happy Hanukkah from your Catholic Neighbors.” I smiled and thought an “only in America” internal cliché. My mother had never before seen the beautiful Isaac Wise Temple, and I had hoped that it would be open, but all of the doors were locked. So, we visited the city hall and the cathedral. Upon leaving Saint Peter in Chains, we saw a fellow across the street open up the central doors to the synagogue. He also set up a sign out front that read something like, “Merry Christmas to the parishioners of Saint Peter in Chains from Isaac Wise Temple.” I smiled even more and knew that Tocqueville would be proud. Simple acts of goodwill go very far in creating an environment of tolerance and trust among people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and interests. Thoughtful gestures cannot substitute for virtue and reason, but they definitely help.

So, kudos to the parishioners of Saint Peter in Chains and to the congregation members of the Isaac Wise Temple. Would that the nation follow their lead instead of seeing every holiday as a turf battle in the multicultural wars.

Posted by Joseph on Wednesday, December 24, Anno Domini 2008
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Sunday, December 14, A.D. 2008

This evening, I had a discussion with a Protestant acquaintance of mine about religion. I assume that he is from a black Baptist background, but I am not sure. He asked what religion I was, and then he asked me if I worshiped Mary like the “Catholics” whom he knows. I responded that neither his Roman friends nor the Orthodox worship Mary, though we honor and venerate her. He further wanted to know if we had statues of her. I said that we have icons or images of her. He asked why we did so.

There are many possible responses to his questions, from scriptural passages (e.g. all generations will call her blessed) to reflection (she gave birth to and raised Jesus Christ), but I went the casual route and replied with a question of whether or not he respected his mother and had pictures of her in his house. If the saints are the family victorious, then doesn’t it seem proper to keep them in our memory and to show them honor?

In true low church American fashion, he said that the Bible tells us not to respect people differently but to treat everyone the same. I suppose that he was referring to Paul’s statement in his epistle to the Romans that God is no respecter of persons. I am no Pauline scholar, but I suspect that the modern radical tendency to demolish all distinctions is at work with such an interpretation rather than sound Biblical hermeneutics. It seems more likely that Paul means that there are no “privileges” in God’s justice. It cannot mean that God’s dealings with human beings are the same, as scripture, tradition, and experience show us that providence is highly customized to the individual.

Beyond God’s economy, such advice to humans is absolute madness and would be quite sensible grounds for discarding Christianity as an insane social malady. We are called to love everyone, but we cannot treat them the same way. Such irresponsible behavior would destroy society, and it would furthermore be a grave injustice. In my discussion with the Protestant, I gave the example of two men: Charles Manson and a physician who has spent his life working to heal others around the world, as those doctors in Médecins Sans Frontières. Think of what real equitable treatment of both men would mean. We would just as soon entrust a psychopathic murderer with the care of loved ones as we would a living example of the good Samaritan? We would hold them up equally as models for our children to emulate? We would be equally likely to allow them to stay as a guest in our house? You are just an idiot if you think that we ought to treat both men equally. It is a simple matter.

As Christians, we are called to love both—and this is in itself quite mysterious, as both men are not equally lovable. One standard Christian response to this obvious objection is that we are lovable because God loves us, not that we are loved by God because we are lovable. With men, we love lovable things—we respond as lovers to the good of things already in existence. In contrast, God’s love causes things to be lovable. Yet, God’s actions are not inconsequential; if we are loved by God, then that truly makes us lovable and valuable—in nature, due to God who creates us in love. In Augustinian excess, certain Christians go to extremes to avoid Pelagianism in rendering human beings worthless and in pretending that God’s actions have no relationship to the reality of God’s creation. They introduce a bizarre Manichean division in reality between God’s intentions and the natural world that he creates and sustains—it is one of the worst aspects of Reformation heresy.

We can see a similar relationship with baptism. In normal baptism, the water (through God’s grace) purifies us. Yet, in Christ’s baptism by John in the Jordan, the presence of Christ purified the waters. Yet, the waters truly were purified; we do not simply pretend that they were because of our respect for Christ.

So, if it is true that God loves all men equally, and I am not even sure that such is good doctrine, though it is widely believed, then I do not know how we can rationally understand it. For me, it is something that I cannot understand, and I simply trust that, if true, there must be a good reason for it that I cannot see. Perhaps, God’s love for us is for us as we should be—our idealized persons in conformity with his will. In such a sense, God’s equal love for us might make sense. Yet, it is a very dangerous road to tread when we begin to consider our idealized forms in the mind of God—what we should be—as our “real selves” in contrast to their particular manifestation, here and now, in what we actually are. Such was the way of the Cathars. Yet, it seems that this is practically what people claim when they state that God loves us all equally because we are all equally men made in his likeness—as if God only deals with us on the essential level and not as creatures struggling for our own perfection in history. Christianity is not Greek philosophy, even the best of it. The Gospel appears to concern the personal, not simply the universal, of mankind.

The Protestant disgust for Marian piety may be rooted in modern egalitarianism; the Reformation was the seed of the so-called Enlightenment. So, if we can safely discard that we are to treat everyone equally as if people really were equal—an intolerable falsehood—then our honor and veneration of Mary, the Theotokos, makes more sense. For she is the model human being, who represents for us the ideal human response to God—in humble, loving submission to his will of pure goodness. She is the chief personality in Jesus’ family, both by blood in Palestine two thousand years ago and by spirit, in the Church, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. From the beginning, Christians have honored her. It is strange and disturbing that so many heretical sects could develop that interpret Marian piety as mariolatry. I have no doubts that the Theotokos is far better than I am in spiritual development, proximity and communion with God, wisdom, purity, and in just about any other conceivable way. That someone should have the same disposition toward her as toward me is unsettling. However, I wonder how Protestants who object to the honor traditionally given to Mary would really respond to her presence. Perhaps, their foolish disrespect is all abstract nonsense. If a Calvinist makes it to heaven, how will he treat the Mother of the Lord? It is a fascinating thought.

My Protestant interlocutor asked me why it seemed to him, at any rate, that Roman Catholics treat Mary as if she were as important as Jesus himself. I told him that not even they really believe that, though some of their practices give such an impression to outsiders. I said that for the West and for us, Mary is a guidepost to God. We are to manifest God among men through our lives, and the Mother of the Lord serves as our role model. In praising her, we praise God whom her soul magnifies and in whom her heart finds joy.

Andrew has a theory about the Latins’ emphasis on Mary that gives the Protestants the impression of mariolatry. He thinks that after the Counter-Reformation, the cult of the saints in the West dwindled. However, the honor and respect given to the Theotokos remained. With such an occurence, Mary no longer appears as the champion leader of the Church victorious, being the preeminent witness of the redeemed Christian life among many. Instead, she represents the saints by herself. Thus, the respect and honor in the Christian community for the host of saints channels to her alone, and this imbalance makes her seem like an appendage to the Trinity among the Romans, at least to outsiders. I do not know how accurate Andrew’s theory is, as, until recently, popular devotion to the saints in the West continued. Maybe, he judges the West from the post-Vatican II environment that he knows. I am not sure.

In the sermon today, the priest talked about various titles given to the Theotokos. What struck me was the military imagery used in some liturgical poetry—our champion leader, invincible champion, might unassailable, and the like. I know that many academic feminists from Roman backgrounds are interested in the Virgin Mary; I wonder what they think of the Mary as field marshal of Christendom.

Protestants might claim that to see therein the Athena pagan impulse at work, and perhaps they are somewhat correct. Paganism is simply natural religion; pagan rites and beliefs spring from the human encounter with the world and with the divine in the world glimpsed rather dimly. I do not find the transition of popular pieties from paganism to Christianity problematic. Rather, I see it as a confirmation of the Gospel. With respect to the Hebrews, Christ came to fulfill the Law, not to replace it. I believe that something similar is at work universally; the Gospel redeems and transforms all human things, from reason to culture. Natural human religion and the popular expression thereof get baptized in Christianity. Jack Chick and his ilk fret over the moons of Isis and Artemis making it into Marian symbolism, whereas I see the hopes, yearnings, and strivings after God among the heathen completed in the fullness of time. Human beings are naturally awed by sexual purity (in itself and as a symbol of purity in general), by the life-giving power of pregnancy and of childbirth, and by the unfathomable tender love of a good mother for her children. Reflection from the dawn of time on such matters likely resulted in the pagan deities and the cultic observances attached to them. In the Theotokos, these primeval human concerns manifest in the center of God’s providential nexus; Mary is the Ground Zero of God’s plan of salvation, in all the primitive and archetypal imagery thereof.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, December 14, Anno Domini 2008
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Thursday, November 27, A.D. 2008
Happy Thanksgiving

I wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and a blessed Advent season!

It is tempting to dwell upon the imperfections of the world, but let us remember the most precious gift of being and let us be grateful for it. We have the great fortune to live in a beautiful universe and to be able to wonder at its splendor.

O Lord my Savior and my Master, I, Thine unprofitable servant, with fear and trembling give thanks unto Thy loving goodness for all Thy benefits which Thou hast poured so abundantly upon me, Thy servant. I fall down in adoration before Thee and offer Thee, O God, my praises.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, November 27, Anno Domini 2008
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Sunday, November 23, A.D. 2008
What Could We Salvage in the West?

Back in my homeland for Thanksgiving break, I am surrounded by both the continuity and the ruins of German Catholic life. Throughout Cincinnati, there are abandoned monasteries and other religious institutions that have suffered from the Latin developments after the Second Vatican Council. I do not expect the forthcoming collapse of Rome, but I cannot help but think that her communion has become gravely ill.

I suppose that it is natural to concern myself with the ancestral religion. In my moments of fantasy, I even wonder what could be saved from the Western religious tradition if its flock ever turned en masse toward the Orthodox faith. I do not believe that such an unlikely event would occur—Western societies are more likely to become part of the Dar al-Islam than to return to the Orthodox faith of their distant ancestors. Yet, I am sometimes given to escapist meanderings of the mind—it is a coping mechanism that allows me to live in a civilization towards which a good deal of my soul holds contempt. So, I wonder what would it mean for the West to return to the Church.

Now, allow me to delve into my personal heresy here as I assert my agnosticism toward the ecclessiological status of the Latins. I do not claim to speak for the Church, and I do not think that there is any value in my private opinions on the matter, but I just cannot confidently dismiss the Latins. I definitely believe that they have developed some false and destructive doctrines. However, they have generally held fast to the apostolic faith, and their communion has borne much fruit during the last millennium. I am inclined to think of them as schismatics with cancerous ideas, but with the cancer relatively managed.

The West is complicated, as we should expect of a civilization and its religion. I think that all the Orthodox, Catholic elements are present in the Western tradition—the blood of the Church, to continue my anatomical metaphor—but these vital humors coexist with poisons. One can easily see this in ecumenical discussions between the Latins and us; for they are quick to affirm our positions with, “But we believe that, too.” For them, the great divide is only over papal authority and the filioque, which is why they tend to be optimistic about overcoming the schism. I suspect, however, that issues such as papal supremacy and the filioque are symptomatic of a much larger separation. As the Greek theologians say, the Western phronoma, or mindset, has abandoned the faith and whored among the heathen, having adopted an alien mentality in her lascivious exploits . . . I could not resist a reference to the Reformers’ pet image of Babylon. Anyway, the presence of the poison, or of an alien world view that has spawned for us the post-Christian world, does not exclude the presence of the apostolic life in the West, and this is the point that interests me. What can be saved from Western Christianity?

The Western rite has attempted to salvage the West’s religious patrimony, but it remains highly controversial after its one century in existence. Only two Orthodox Churches—Antioch and Russia—allow the Western rite. Moreover, there is no shortage of critics who denounce the Western rite as liturgical archaeology, reverse Uniatism, and a Trojan horse of occidental follies. You can read some of this criticism by priests Alexander Schmemann and Michael Johnson. I agree with the lex orandi, lex credendi principle, and we should carefully consider what the West has begotten. Should we allow the cancer to spread?

Of course, I do not pretend to know the best course to steer, but I am partial to allowing such seeking sheep to keep their customs, though my opinion is likely more founded on my esteem for tradition and hatred of loss and waste than on theological principles. Moreover, I have visited a few Western rite parishes, and the people, mostly converts from Anglicanism, are kind, pious Christian folk. Does their edifice have to be destroyed completely, or couldn’t we simply knock out and rebuild a few walls?

Over time, I think that the two liturgical traditions here might cross-pollinate into something more organically Western Orthodox—this process might even happen without the Western rite, as more and more people over the generations convert to Orthodoxy and as the Orthodox in Western lands absorb, digest, and transform the pre-existing religious culture.

So, what could or should be retained that is distinctive in Western Christianity? Please add your thoughts. Here are some of mine:

What about the Roman Easter candle? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have this candle be the one first lit on Pascha in the altar and then brought out to light the people’s candles?

Russians have already largely adopted Roman liturgical colors; I think that bright red Pentecost vestments make more sense than green vestments. The red can be a different shade than the red vestments associated with other feasts.

The Greeks have already started using stained glass. I do not think that stained glass should replace mosaics or wall iconography, of course, but I think that stained glass windows could complement them.

This is more controversial, but in addition to our indispensable monastic culture, there may be room for something like the West’s religious orders. I do not know if the Orthodox would ever consider Francis or Dominic as saints, but something like the Franciscan and Dominican communities, but under the authority of the local bishop, would contribute something to Orthodox life. If we ever establish schools, hospitals, and orphanages as they are needed in Western lands, such committed workers for Christ would help immensely.

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, November 23, Anno Domini 2008
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Sunday, October 5, A.D. 2008
Religion of Last Resort

I started Arimathea largely because Andrew is no longer a daily fixture in my life. For many years, when I encountered something ridiculous or profound, or when I had eureka moments while doing some mindless daily ritual or chore (especially showering, like Archimedes of old), I could process the inner dialectic with my very own Personal Socrates. However, Andrew has returned to the Motherland, and I cannot badger the weasel-owning fellow too much from afar.

Well, some of you may know that I have long struggled with religious matters, and I plan to discuss these issues on this page. I’ll begin with a reaction to a rather obnoxious blog entry that I read a couple of days ago—one that certainly would have ignited an annoyed (and for Andrew, likely annoying) rant over channa saag at Union Station. What interests me in the entry is one of its comments.

The blog entry is titled, “Western ‘Eastern Orthodoxy’ as Boutique Religion.” In it, the writer expresses his disgust at American converts to Orthodoxy who have rejected their occidental religious heritage in favor of exotic incense that is merely religious escapism. I suppose that he means Orthodoxy is not as engaged in the world as Rome is, and hence is it is fantastically escapist in not facing the real world. However, as I am not a regular reader, I really do not know what he means. If such is his attitude, then he expresses the secularism inherent in many Western Christians, where the kingdom of God really is of this world in the terms of this world.

You may know of the Grand Inquistor interogation scene in the Brothers Karamazov where the cardinal charges Christ with the failure of the gospel. Dostoevsky is simply astounding in his insights—and here as elsewhere he illustrates the chasm between Orthodox Christianity and the modern world, exemplified by the cardinal’s worldly religion. Not a few papist apologists find offense here and throughout Dostoevsky’s work, which is understandable . . . that whole “counterfeit Christ” business and all. I suspect that the cardinal’s position does not exhaustively reflect Western Christians, but I do think that the religion of horizontal mammon that he presents is pervasive in the West.

However, the piece from Dostoevsky’s novel is not simply a condemnation of secularism, under or without the banner of the cross. It invokes difficult questions, and the cardinal is not a fool to pose them. Clearly, the Roman prelate has substituted another religion in place of the gospel, and as such he is guilty of mangling the Christian message. Nevertheless, his accusations put Christ on trial, in the narrative and in idea. Is the Christian life possible? Is it even good, or, as Nietzsche claims, is it a disease of weak spirit? Here is an honest question for a honest heart—could a truly Christian society full of truly pious citizens survive in this world? If you protest and say that God’s people will suffer in a world of evil and that we live in a fallen world, then consider the burden of evidence that crashes upon you. For you ask men to live according to an ideal, the evidence for the goodness of which is utterly lacking in the world that we know, when such a life incurs clear harm. I am not proposing amorality or an absence of values or goods, but I am simply questioning the goodness of a system that, if practiced perfectly, would bring doom upon its practitioners.

In the sixth book of Plato’s Republic, Socrates speaks of the few true philosophers that come to be in society:

Then, Adeimantus, I said, the worthy disciples of philosophy will be but a small remnant: perchance some noble and well-educated person, detained by exile in her service, who in the absence of corrupting influences remains devoted to her; or some lofty soul born in a mean city, the politics of which he contemns and neglects; and there may be a gifted few who leave the arts, which they justly despise, and come to her;—or peradventure there are some who are restrained by our friend Theages’ bridle; for everything in the life of Theages conspired to divert him from philosophy; but ill-health kept him away from politics. My own case of the internal sign is hardly worth mentioning, for rarely, if ever, has such a monitor been given to any other man. Those who belong to this small class have tasted how sweet and blessed a possession philosophy is, and have also seen enough of the madness of the multitude; and they know that no politician is honest, nor is there any champion of justice at whose side they may fight and be saved. Such an one may be compared to a man who has fallen among wild beasts—he will not join in the wickedness of his fellows, but neither is he able singly to resist all their fierce natures, and therefore seeing that he would be of no use to the State or to his friends, and reflecting that he would have to throw away his life without doing any good either to himself or others, he holds his peace, and goes his own way. He is like one who, in the storm of dust and sleet which the driving wind hurries along, retires under the shelter of a wall; and seeing the rest of mankind full of wickedness, he is content, if only he can live his own life and be pure from evil or unrighteousness, and depart in peace and good-will, with bright hopes.

I have always found this passage quite powerful—and tragically true. What can the good and wise man do in the midst of wolves? As we see over and over again in history, there is an answer besides hiding from the storm . . . an answer that both Socrates and Jesus gave to their fellow men. Was it right? If it was right, should we be happy that God rules the universe in such a way? I do not deny that there are plausible responses to these questions, but they are legitimate questions. They lie behind the impious effrontery of the Grand Inquistor, the rant of Thrasymachus, and the anguished attempt to escape nihilism by Nietzsche.

Returning to the angry blog entry where the writer makes an almost religio-racial attack on Orthodoxy:

Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn’t particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did.

Of course, this is nonsense. If the gospel is true, then culture’s importance lies in its ability to facilitate our growing in Christ—in our theosis. While I am ever ready to support particularity, heritage, and the value of one’s own, transcendent matters trump such chauvinistic concerns. It really comes down to who is right, if anyone, in proclaiming revelation. If the Orthodox Church is Christ’s Church and if the gospel is true, then one quickly ought to forget about lace and statues and whatever else and cling to the thing needful, regardless of one’s pedigree. As the Lord said, “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.” Eyesight is an uncontestable good, and yet it would be better to forego such a great good for the sake of a higher good. Consider then what we should say about lesser goods—the idols of our fancy if they keep us from the truth.

Anyway, what interested me in this entry was not the T.F.P. triumphalist drumming but one of the readers’ comments:

I remember reading something that Owen (the ochlophobist) wrote in one of his “uberfromm posts” about how a surprising number of converts to Orthodoxy apostasize from Christianity all together. Orthodox apologetics effectively cure them of Evangelical delusions and they also refute Roman assumptions very convincingly (for some people at least). However, when they turn around and see how freaking culturally irrelevant this little Greek/Slavic/Arab sect really is and how it is dying in many parts of the world, they start to realize that maybe the whole “invincible church” story is just that… a story. At times I wonder whether they are really all that misled.

I found this comment very provocative. I do not think that anyone who rejects Rome would be moved by the “freaking cultural irrelevance” of Orthodox people. If anyone were so moved by such secular concerns, he would have swum the Tiber. With Boethius, we should note how Fortune is a capricious woman, and the winds of history blow in different directions depending on the season. Tomorrow’s “cultural relevance” could be more like the eighth century than the twentieth, and there is good reason to suspect that it will be so. Yet, such is not important to someone who converts to Orthodoxy after being disillusioned with the Reformation and inoculated against the counterfeit Christ of the Grand Inquisitor. For such a person, and I should switch to the first person here, Orthodox Christianity is the religion of last resort.

With Peter, I wonder, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Posted by Joseph on Sunday, October 5, Anno Domini 2008
OrthodoxyAtheism and its alliesProtestantismRoman CatholicismCommentsPermalink
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