The New American Religion

The following is from Pierre Lemieux’s Introduction to The Idea of America, a collection historical essays collected by Lemieux and William Bonner, published by Laissez Faire Books:

During the twentieth century, the authoritarian strand in American religion abated. The battles won by the Larry Flints during the second half of the century suggested that Puritanism was dead. Yet, other sorts of prohibitionist and Puritanical causes were resurrected under political correctness and related currents. Social stuff, environmental stuff, and public-health stuff fed the bloodthirsty gods of the new religion, dictating socially acceptable opinions and lifestyles. Just as the separation of state and religion seemed to have been won, the state became the new religion.

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Finding Jesus Christ in Genesis 2

Listening to a podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Seminary, I came across the following glorious tidbits that are examples of how the early church fathers read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New Testament and found many links. (This is generally called “typology” by the way.)

  • Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to tend it. Hopko says the church fathers taught that Paradise (that is, the Garden) is wherever man is, as long as man is in communion with God, and that man’s God-given job was to make all creation into paradise. Of course, he sinned instead and became enslaved by creation rather than becoming the gardener who turned creation into Paradise. Some of the early church fathers believe this is the reason the risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene in a Garden. She’s in a garden and she thinks he’s the gardener, which he is. He’s the Gardener, the new Adam (or last Adam) who will finally turn all creation into Paradise.
  • “Why is it that God puts Adam into a deep sleep and fashions the woman from his side? Because the Bride of Christ is formed from Christ’s side when he’s sleeping (that is, dead on the cross). Christ dies and from his side come the blood and the water, which means we are born from the side of Christ on the cross.
  • In the Old Testament, Eve is fashioned out of the flesh of Adam, the woman out of man. In the New Testament this is reversed. Christ is fashioned out of woman, and God fashions his flesh out of the virgin soil of the Virgin Mary.
  • In Gen. 2:24 we find, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (NRSV). This is not necessarily a good translation. It can also be that a man forsakes his father to cleave to his wife. Quoting the psalms, Jesus says on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is the same word. Some of the early church fathers taught that the Father had to forsake the Son and the Son forsake the Father so that the Son could cleave to his bride, the church. As Paul says in Eph. 5:31-32, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.”

Recollecting Orwell

Walter A. McDougall, a Univ of Pennsylvania professor and Chair of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s “Center for the Study of America and the West” (and surprisingly, with titles like that, a political conservative) posted an article over at FPR this morning which included the following:

One of my Lenten disciplines this year was to re-read the works of George Orwell. His description of the political debasement of the English language was chilling in light of the linguistic gymnastics of our present leaders. But what struck me most was that his empire of Oceania ruled by Big Brother in 1984 represented the pure Crusader State. Oceania is always at war, but for no specific reason, and against enemies that are constantly shifting, but always depicted as utterly evil. The wars are low-level affairs fought on distant fronts, but just enough terrorist strikes occur in London itself to stoke the fury and fear of the home front. Nor can the war ever be won, for the permanent Crusade is what justifies Big Brother’s rule.

I admit it, I too stumbled a bit over the whole concept of Orwell for Lent. But the summary still sounds pretty prophetic.

A Commemoration of the Missionary Nursemaid

Today, July 17, the Orthodox Church remembers Marina (or Margaret) of Antioch, Pisidia. Her father was a pagan priest and her mother died during her infancy, so she was raised by a nursemaid who happened to be a Christian. The story is the nursemaid raised Marina in the Christian faith and when her father found out about it, her father disowned Marina.

But the story never says what happened to the nursemaid. I suspect her fate wasn’t as pleasant (if you can call being disowned “pleasant.”). I’m pretty that just firing her wouldn’t satisfy the old priest’s anger. She almost certainly died, but was she tortured? (Marina was – to death – when she was 15 during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian.) And if she was either tortured or killed, did she recant her faith or remain faithful? And if she was simply fired, what happened to her during Diocletian’s persecutions?

We will never know until we get to heaven. It’s also a reminder that the most remarkable Christian witnesses are completely unknown to anyone but God. Memory eternal for Marina’s nursemaid!

Could This Be a bit of One-upmanship?

A random thought that came to me while reading Colin Gunton’s essay, Enlightenment and Alienation:

One of the features of the Enlightenment, as far back as Roger Bacon, to Kant (the culmination of the Enlightenment proper) and beyond is the premise that rational thought, or as we typically think of it today, scientific thought, can be absolutely sure (or, what Michael Polonyi identified as “infallible”) as long as it has enough data and the rationality behind it is rigorous enough.

The contemporary critics of the Enlightenment, both secular and religious, are pretty much in agreement that this is one of the two greatest errors of the Enlightenment. (The other one is the idea that reason leads to sure knowledge while perception is inherently unsure. This is what is typically called “the bifurcation of knowledge,” or, to use a far more ancient term, “dualism.”)

The First Vatican Council was both a product of the Enlightenment as well as a reaction to it. Do you suppose it is any accident that the greatest error of the Roman Catholic Church – the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope when speaking ex cathedra petri – was formulated and foisted upon the faithful shortly after Immanuel Kant declared that scientific knowledge can be infallible?

The parallel seems too obvious to ignore.

Passions Revisited

I am just starting to reread Colin Gunton’s little essay entitled, Enlightenment and Alienation (Eerdmans. 1985). He uses the word “passion” in a most remarkable way that I completely missed without my Eastern Orthodox sensibilities.

He’s offering a brief history of the western understanding of perception from Plato, to Descartes, to Kant and beyond. His point (which he will be critiquing quite vigorously in the pages to come) is that the Western tradition has treated “perception” as a passive event and “reason” as an active event. Philosophers “tended to see the mind as functioning passively when it was related to the material world by means of the senses, but actively when it exercised thought” (p. 13). He continues in the next sentence:

This is a very important and influential distinction, and for the following reason. In sense experience of the barest kind, the human person is often depicted as being passive. Reality simply impinges upon him, a mixture of shapes and colours, textures, odours and sounds. … In every way the active exercise of reason was elevated at the expense of passive sensation.

That’s a truly succinct and wonderful overview of what’s wrong with the Enlightenment. But the next sentence practically jumped off the page:

Passion was a defective way of being related to the world, that in which we are under reality’s control.

My first observation is this: I have never associated “passion” with “passive,” although they obviously come from the same root. So from whence does the word come? It’s the Latin, passio, the past participle of the term, pati, “to suffer, to submit.”

Okay, that makes sense. Suffering is something that is forced upon us, in a similar manner that “we are under reality’s control,” according to Descartes.

But Orthodoxy turns this on its head. The passions are not reality exercising control over our senses, but rather our internal drives exercising control over our senses and thoughts, thus shaping (and more accurately, twisting) both our perceptions and our reason.

I’ve always thought of the passions, in Orthodox thought, as being very active and assertive. But it occurs to me that Gunton’s use of the term is accurate, even within and Orthodox framework. There is properly a distinction between the passions and the inner man. The passions are extrinsic, not intrinsic, to the inner man. And the fundamental human posture is indeed passive in the sense that we have to choose and allow what outside force is going to control us, to be our master: the passions or the Lord. When Eve, and then Adam (preceded by Lucifer, who became Satan as a result) said, “I will,” it was not an act of self-will as we often consider it. Rather, it was the voluntary change in loyalties away from God and toward “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).

These are forces beyond our control every bit as much as God is a force beyond our control. In the face of either, we are necessarily “passive” and subject to the control of the one to which we surrender.

Just Like Mississippi … Without the “Benefits”

I’m sitting outside reading this morning. A big, rainy system has just passed through (complete with a hard breakfast rain and occasional thunder). But that is all past and everything is April/May green (it’s been a rainy July!) and the humidity is heavy enough to reveal itself as a light fog. It is both very beautiful and a bit eerie.

I can even imagine that the great line of white pine trees that hedge us into this neighborhood might be Cyprus rising majestically out of the swamp. The only thing missing is the Spanish moss hanging from the trees …

… oh, and the fact that the temperature is desperately trying to hang on to 70° instead moving steadily past 90° …

… oh yeah, and there is a decided lack of water moccasins and alligators.

A Major Revision of Some Previous Work

I was recently in correspondence with a new reader who had run across my studies on the parables. In order to carry on an intelligent conversation, it seemed a good thing to reread that set of essays and I was disappointed in what I read. What I had initially discovered in the parables was a very different way of viewing Christian faith than the Pauline and Protestant version that I had grown up with. In trying to exegete the parables I ended up trying to prove a point rather than letting the parables speak on their own. The result was a series of essays that were unduly harsh.

Of course the parables speak for themselves quite well, and that primary voice of the parables tended to be lost underneath my rhetoric. So for the last month I have been doing a major revision of that set of essays. I think that for the most part I managed to remove the inflammatory content and allowed the parables to return to center stage.

If you are interested in the revised studies of the parables they can be found here.

The End of Marriage in New York

James Matthew Wilson has been waxing eloquent on the meaning of marriage and sexual mores for quite some time, but I found his latest article to be exeptional. Here’s a brief quote (actually referring to an article written by Robert George).

The legislation [in New York legalizing gay marriage] effectively ends marriage as a reality in a state whose populace had de facto ceased to recognize the centrality of marriage to the life of persons and society long ago.