01 April 2009

Skeptical of Orthodoxy?

"The human mind is a frail instrument, easily deluded, and most capable of building brilliant systems of thought and life that have no correspondence to reality whatsoever." So says a blogger, in explaining why his "Orthodox adventure" is over.

There's no disputing that many people have been deluded by various systems of thought. But since delusion, like stupidity, is an equal opportunity employer, we have not yet successfully escaped delusion until we are skeptical of skepticism too. To err, after all, is Humean.

One might further ask the young man, "Have you come to this conclusion by means of your mind?" If so, and if conclusions are no stronger than the instrument by which they are attained, he has further reason to be skeptical of his skepticism.

We do not argue that gold is worthless because some or many are deluded by fool's gold. No one counterfeits the currency of Zimbabwe (and soon, sadly, no one will counterfeit dollars either). That is not to say that some given miraculous story is true; only that it is not necessarily false. To rule out all stories of the miraculous is no less an error than admitting them all. If Satan gives "lying signs and wonders," are there not also true ones?

A more profitable way to consider claims of the miraculous in Orthodoxy, and to compare them to other claims of the miraculous, is to ask what theological underpinnings support them. This would be to follow the instructions God gave through Moses (Deut. 13:1ff).

I am not Orthodox because of signs and wonders, but because the Orthodox Church continues to teach the fullness of the Christian faith now, as it has for the past 2,000 years. I rejoice that the living Christ continues to work with his divine energies through his body, and I acknowledge Nektarios of Pentapolis no less than Spyridon of Trimythous as wonderworkers.

Said blogger, by a felicitous inconsistency, does not apply his skepticism to the words and works of Christ, noting that "Jesus doesn't lie. Jesus can't be tricked. . . Jesus doesn't pass off speculation as fact. All of those are things that humans are very, very prone to." Here at last we reach the logical conclusion of the semi-Manichean anthropology which some forms of protestantism so easily fall into: Jesus isn't human.


orrologion said...

That blogger is correct, he is close to atheism, which is a dangerous and passion-filled place to be. If such passions are aroused in him, perhaps he should step back from contact with Orthodoxy. Religion is dangerous, truly dangerous both when you get it 'right' and when you get it 'wrong'. All those dangers we pray to be kept from before communing are for Orthodox Christians - we are in danger from communing in our own churches, by our own witness. May the Lord help him on his cruise and keep him from barbary. One should never look at Orthodoxy out of a curious disdain, curiosity is one thing, but disdain can lead to dangerous opportunities that are often painful, even when for the good.

Chris Jones said...

Of course my friend would be quick to say that he simply misspoke (meaning to speak, of course, not of humans in general, but of fallen humans); and he would also be quick to say that he had not denied, and never intended to deny, the humanity of Jesus.

And we will grant him that, because as a confessional Lutheran he is committed to orthodox Chalcedonian Christology. But the problem is not that he has implicitly denied the humanity of Christ; it is that he has denied the divinization of the redeemed who are in Christ. For if we deny outright any possibility that God can and does work wonders through His saints, we are in effect saying that those who are redeemed are just as isolated, just as cut off, from the life of God as they were before the Word was made flesh.

He steers clear (if just barely) of Christological heterodoxy, but falls into a kind of Nestorianism in redeemed humanity.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks, Christopher(s).

Christopher Orr: Like you, I am concerned. It seems that there is no reason for him not to be atheist. I recall Lewis' portrayal of a man headed towards anti-Christianity in "That Hideous Strength." The last test he's given is to step on a crucifix--a test which, thankfully, he fails. But the way we treat sacred objects like icons reveals something deep-seated in us; and ultimately, disdain for icons is anti-incarnational in character.

Christopher Jones: Flacianism, and the love many Lutherans have for the man, suggests that such words may not be simple misstatements but revelatory of deeply-held views. (Look at the passion generated on Weedon's recent blogpost on a related topic.) You point out a third-article error; but ultimately, just as theosis is the extension of the second article into the third, so also its rejection (as is seen in the scurrilous things said about any and everything miraculous) is rooted in Christological error.

The unworthy priest,

Fr. Gregory Hogg

James the Thickheaded said...

Don't know the piece referred to or the person, but it seems to me that the life or lives we see projected in the blogosphere often incorporate only a portion... so precisely what's going on is presumably difficult to gauge. Suspicion would be that the whole story is more complicated than the written. In theological terms, the blogoperson has only one nature: text.... no body, no mind, and no spirit. It may be a mirror... but it reflects a flattened image poorly projected.

The Orthodox adventure is ALWAYS at risk of ending if it is assumed to be a phase, a "tour of duty", or something less than permanent and we remain unchanged or unwilling to change. Equally... we all start and end these adventures throughout the day over and over and over. So don't know about you guys... but seems to me that the effort at really turning toward Christ is hard and a constant struggle. The desire to simply slack-off and go back to quietly filling a pew somewhere... does it really leave? Maybe... but I suppose I'm not alone thinking, "Oh sure, now that I get it... the big enchilada.. the real or "right" way, I could just go back to XYZ, boogie in the pew and think my nice Orthodox thoughts my way." Sounds good. Suspect this temptation doesn't work all that well in practice. Obviously I haven't tried... though can report that at funerals elsewhere... it just doesn't seem right or reverent... but attribution of that sense is something I'm less certain of.

The saints speak of how easy it is to fall from the Way... and so this is no surprise. I think that often we may find ourselves pondering our place... or continuing given that we may not fit all that well into the parish nearby once we move, get transferred, or whatever. Plenty of stories as well of saintly monks who seem to have bugged out and shacked up with a hottie somewhere for a spell... before re-repenting and getting back on the Way. See something of the same discomfort so often in the comings and goings of a priest at a particular parish as well. "The new guy... yeah... well, I gave him a shot...". These things can often clutter seeing the forest for the trees, and folks find it hard to accept as an obedience in a culture where the self is at the center... and who knows, the priest may be there, too. And I'd add that we have to check ourselves whether we're really converted, converting, or without realizing it more protestant than at our core in the little things that our hard to root out... and therefore... less Orthodox than we would like... or maybe it is that we are only Orthodox to the point that we like... and then hit the wall... or at least the wall for now. Try that sentence again replacing the word protestant with self-oriented and it still conveys the same meaning without the anti-buzz.

So I'm thinking there's still hope. If there's not... I'm toast.

Christopher D. Hall said...

Scary stuff. And thanks for the reminder of That Hideous Strength.

I led a Lenten service at a different congregation. The building dated to the late '20s and had a white altar with a painting of Jesus in the middle, as you have probably seen countless times. I reverenced the altar frequently as I crossed in front of it and approached it.

After the service I greeted the members, thanking them for inviting me there. As I de-vested myself, several people were traipsing all the chancel, stringing cables and speaker monitors, setting up a stage for a band, it looked like.

Is this so different than what happened in That Hideous Strength?

orrologion said...

Pr. Hall,

Your anecdote reminds me of one I read just today. Ora et Labora has a reminiscence of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco by the late Metropolitan Laurus of Eastern America and New York (+2008) regarding the altar:

"In 1953 the Synod of Bishops visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. I was then a hierodeacon. After the festal Liturgy I went into the altar and there came upon St John, who was looking for something. I went up to Vladyka John and asked him: "Can I help you find something?" St John did not respond to my question, and silently continued his search. Then I, thinking that Vladyka John had not heard my question, asked it again. Saint John took me by the hand, led me out of the altar, and said: "In the altar I don't converse.""


Benjamin Harju said...

I visited this fellow's blog. His approach to the topic seems to be one led by skepticism. You will never find anything positive if skepticism is your guiding light. Or to put it another way, this fellow seemed like he wasn't interested so much in what the kingdom of heaven is supposed to be like according to Orthodoxy, but was more interested in sizing up what he saw and experienced against his own sensibilities and expectations. It's no way to gauge anything.

Skepticism helps us feel safe, but it can never supply anything, reform anything, or get you anywhere beyond where you are now. It only takes pieces away, leaving the skeptic with a smaller puzzle to solve in the end.

After saying all of that, though, such dangerous investigations are truly of the heart. I myself came to the point where he is at not too long ago, seeing atheism as a near inevitable conclusion. I feel blessed that God has had mercy on me.

We may be sitting at our computers commenting on this fellow's struggle, but it sounds like to me what he really needs right now is prayer.

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