Glory to God for All Things

A Faith That Cannot Be Defended

picture-019There is such a thing as a Christian faith worth defending (in some sense). However, it seems like those who enjoy attacking the Christian faith find its least worthy representatives for the marshalling of their meager intellectual forces. This often means that atheists attack a faith nobody (virtually) believes, and that defenders sometimes defend something less than Christianity.

 I have seen several recent articles (most notably in the New Statesman) that have offered characterizations of Christianity that even the 9th grade education of my first Baptist pastor could have refuted. The caricature of Christianity, some of which has been made possible by Christian fundamentalism (itself a caricature of Christianity), is generally too incorrect to be addressed by a serious Christian. If people think that Christianity is the amalgam of ancient peasant superstitions – how can you answer them? Such ignorance of history is itself a modernist peasant superstition.

 Recently a parishioner sent me a small critique from a web-site that considered itself wise for having used weak philosophical reasoning to undermine Christianity by proving that God’s omnipresence proved that “God is in hell.” Of course, Orthodox Christianity, believing the Scripture and theological testimony would immediately agree: “God is in hell.” Why do they think we get so excited at Pascha? The God-Who-Is loves us so much that He entered Hell to redeem us. It is a doctrine taught in Scripture, upheld in Tradition and celebrated in the feasts of the Church.

 The great tragedy, of course, is that contemporary Christianity has been so “gutted” by those who claim to be its reformers, that a central doctrine of the faith can now be used by non-believers in an effort to undermine a modernized Christianity that was only invented a few years ago.

 There are many reasons to be an Orthodox Christian: the greatest of which I have any knowledge, is the simple fact that Orthodox Christianity alone is true, and the fullness of the Christian faith. Defending anything else is not only a waste of time but beside the point.

The tragedy is that much time and energy will be wasted attacking something that is not the Christian faith, while what is the Christian faith remains unknown. But perhaps in God’s good pleasure this is how things should be.

 To readers who entertain criticisms of the Christian faith: be sure to attack the real Christian faith and not recent inventions that have no right to the name.

 To readers who seek to defend the faith: don’t waste your time defending something less than the complete faith. Nothing else deserves the time or trouble.

107 Responses to “A Faith That Cannot Be Defended”

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  1. Marianne says:

    There are many Christians who work in secular environments, where unbelievers express criticism of a false version of the faith. This is all they know, and to leave them thinking this way damages the cause of Christ.

    It is a very wearisome experience to have to defend the true faith, and explain that what they believe is false, but sometimes if you don’t, the criticism will affect the Christian working there. It is also damaging to personal testimony that our faith has false elements. This just encourages more unbelief.

    After 5 years in one environment, I was told I was not a typical Christian, because I actually behaved appropriately. They approved of me, but not my faith in general. I was wondering if that meant I had made any progress at all, or I was just viewed as someone who did not practice the false faith that unbelievers are familiar with.

  2. Sean says:

    I may be wrong in this, but I have never felt like defending my faith. I (and many others) have been ridiculed for their faith on certain occasions, or at least criticized. Nevertheless I do not think I need or that I am fit to defend a faith delivered by God Himself and proclaimed from men and women much more holy and worthy than me. I just think that, as Christ promised “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her” meaning the Church and in it, the Faith. If we, the faithful, who are sinners, who are unworthy and who with our frequently ungodly lives give reason to people to criticize and fight Christianity for two millenia have not yet managed to destroy it, then I am confident that no outsider really stands a chance. Besides that, the Seed will always exist as long as it is planted in a single loving heart.

    And, eventually, is there a better defence of Christianity other than being a live example oh christian ethos and spirituality ourselves. Arguments will never cease to exist, but the most convincing argument of all is evidence. And what evidence is more disarming than Love, Faith and Hope?

  3. David N says:

    Don’t defend the Faith if you don’t know it either. There in lies the problem. Does anybody truly know the Faith their entire lives? The Creed, yes. For example, you can’t fully understand the Trinity in this world. So how do you explain it to an unbeliever?

    I prefer to maintain silence. So much in our world is just plain crazy why bother arguing. I’m not arrogant enough to assume that I’m an adequate defender of the Faith.

    I find that God, and time, are better defenders of the Faith.

  4. David N says:

    Sean said it better. I agree.

  5. tiffanib says:

    Excellent post, Father. Very well said.

  6. morsec0de says:

    ” To readers who entertain criticisms of the Christian faith: be sure to attack the real Christian faith and not recent inventions that have no right to the name.”

    I do.

    I see no good evidence supporting the supernatural claims of any version of Christianity.

    That’s my main criticism. Certain types of Christianity, of course, cause harm to people, and I criticize them for that. But only based on their actions.

  7. Demetrios says:

    Agreed, living a Christian life is the only argument that will prevail.

  8. polednice says:

    I partly agree with your sentiments in the respect that it is futile and misleading for either side of this endless debate to set up a caricature of Christianity or any other faith.

    However, I wish to clarify that this is not the tactic used by the ‘best’ of the supporters of atheism, thus I don’t want this description of bad logic to equate to all atheism in anyone’s mind. Those who wish to truly advocate atheism and the system of reason it inspires would not use any individual faith as a foundation for discussion.

    Even the most complex of discussions based on the potential for contradiction in Christian theology would only be used as a side-reference to highlight the ambiguity and shaky foundations of the faith; any serious argument in support of atheism will counter all faiths simultaneously and explore the phenomenon of their existence in the human mind – their self-serving, flawed logic that avoids what some people wrongly perceive to be the ‘painful’ truth of a purposeless existence. An effective discussion considers the absolute necessity for any human endeavour or belief to be based on sceptical, empirical thought that requires evidence, as an infinite number of trivial circumstances could be postulated only for the opposition to say “well, you can’t prove it’s NOT true…” – the onus of proof is on those who say something is true. If they then cite that it is somehow virtuous to create beliefs and go so far as to acquire ‘morals’ without any evidence, it suggests that it is OK for mankind to abandon reason and that’s incredibly dangerous within and outside of religion (take pseudoscience etc.).

  9. greg says:

    Polendice, I spent 20 years, the bulk of my adult life, committed to what I would describe as “functional atheism” – but it was Dawkins and Dennett who finally convinced me to reconsider things, ironically, rather than any advocate of Christianity. Your specific line of reasoning may not hold up to a purely rational critique – I think David Bentley Hart is correct to suggest that “religion” as such does not exist – so attacking it in the abstract serves little to no purpose (google review Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark). In any case, I wish you well.

  10. Dave N says:

    Greg,

    It is my opinion that it is pointless and a complete waste of time to argue with an Atheist. You cannot argue with somebody who is their own god. Their entire existence is themselves.

  11. polednice says:

    Perhaps my specific line of reasoning would not hold up to a purely rational critique, but that is something I should rectify with time and consideration. It is, however, nigh-on laughable if such a statement implicitly suggests that religion (or ‘religion’) would hold up to such a critique. It’s very survival is on the basis that its defenders operate outside the realm of logic utilised by those who adhere to the scientific method, as is evidence by throwaway condemnations of those who reject evidence by using a blanket refute that “it is pointless and a complete waste of time to argue with an Atheist… somebody who is their own god”.

    As for the suggestion that “religion” does not exist: well, that requires some rather large work to support the claim. “Religion” is no concrete concept that we can say does or does not exist as we can with inanimate objects we can touch; it is an abstract idea that exists in people’s minds and its definition is dependent on the function of the word ‘religion’ in the language. Thus, it is logical trick and side-step to suggest that it “does not exist”.

  12. Robert says:

    Every Christian sect, all 39,000 of them, say the same thing: their version of Christianity is the “true” version, and represents the fullness of the Gospel. Since the good Father is so confident that his sect is true, perhaps he can enlighten us as to his method for determining this.

  13. I easily agree with any who state that argument will not work for the conversion of others – I have stated so within the Blog several times.

    However, the Scriptures enjoin us to have a “ready answer for the hope that is within us,” thus an ability to describe and cogently “defend” the faith is not something from which we are exempt. The results are in God’s hands.

    To morsecode. Sigh. Your post in fact reveals that you are not treating the “real” faith. Classic Orthodox Christianity makes no such distinction as natural versus supernatural. That is a late, Western invention, which helped give rise to modern secularism. It’s not part of the faith. We make no claims for supernature, but do teach what we believe has been made known to us by God in Christ about God’s relationship with the creation. In that understanding, nothing happens “naturally” in the sense you would mean.

    Perhaps someone needs to create a blog entitled: “Orthodox Christianity for Atheists.” There some basic introductions to what the only form of traditional Christianity teaches could be offered. Hmmm.

  14. Robert,

    Simple. Orthodox Christians were saying this centuries before the other 38,999 existed. But, in fact, most of the 38,999 do not make the claim that theirs is the only true version and that they represent the fulness of the gospel. They give a completely different account of themselves with very few exceptions.

    These comments are making my point this morning. Thank you.

  15. Karen says:

    “Perhaps someone needs to create a blog entitled: ‘Orthodox Christianity for Atheists’ . . . ”

    Hmm. You once considered yourself an atheist. Now you are an Orthodox Priest and apologist. God has given you the gift of gab (and keyboard). Why not you?
    :-)

    Thanks again for a good post!

  16. morsec0de says:

    Fatherstephen,

    Whether you use the term or not, claims of miracles and the like are ‘supernatural’ claims.

    I also find that some Christians get angry if I use the term ‘magic’, as opposed to supernatural.

  17. Bill M says:

    Bless you, Father, for tackling this kind of topic again. You always seem to attract new readers when the word “atheist” hits the search engine caches… :)

    Part of the problem, at least, is that we all – each one of us – generally have spent years seeking out and forming our understanding of the world, and our place in it. We have much invested in the final (though still in-process) product, and so there is an anxiety to defend, or attack perceived weaknesses in others. But, as our conviction of the truth of something grows, the harder it becomes to defend, because it is so Big (and complex). Here I’m reminded of a quote from Chesterton:

    “It is very hard for a man to defend anything of which he is entirely convinced. It is comparatively easy when he is only partially convinced. He is partially convinced because he has found this or that proof of the thing, and he can expound it. But a man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, “Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?” he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, “Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.” The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible. There is, therefore, about all complete conviction a kind of huge helplessness. The belief is so big that it takes a long time to get it into action.” (From his book, _Orthodoxy_)

    Another part of the problem with these kinds of “discussions” is that the starting assumptions, and even the definitions of words used, are often worlds apart. Your clarification of “natural” and “supernatural” above are a case in point. I’m often frustrated that, in some conversations with others, I’m quickly brought to a point of giving up because the meaning is soon lost in arguments about vocabulary. Or bogged down in corrective summaries of history and theology.

    It often brings me to the place where I say, instead, “Here, would like to share this chocolate-chip muffin with me? And then, let’s go play Mario Kart…”

  18. handmaidleah says:

    Morsec0de writes:
    “Whether you use the term or not, claims of miracles and the like are ’supernatural’ claims.

    I also find that some Christians get angry if I use the term ‘magic’, as opposed to supernatural.”

    Father Stephen wrote in Death in a Two-storey Universe:
    “William Dalrymple in his wonderful book, From the Holy Mountain, relates a wonderful one-storey account of the monks (Coptic Orthodox) of the Monastery of St. Antony in the Desert of Egypt. Only the smallest hint of a two-storeyed world has reached them and find the notion unbelievable:

    The monks of St. Anthony’s remain wonderfully Dark Age in their outlook and conversation. Exorcisms, miraculous healings and ghostly apparitions of long-dead saints are to the monks what doorstep milk deliveries are to suburban Londoners – unremarkable everyday occurrences that would never warrant a passing mention if foreigners did not always seem to be so inexplicably amazed by them:

    “See up there?” said Abuna Dioscorus, as I was finishing my egg. He pointed to the space between the two towers of the abbey church. “In June 1987 in the middle of the night our father St. Antony appeared there hovering on a cloud of shining light.”

    “You saw this?” I asked.

    “No,” said Fr. Dioscorus. “I’m short-sighted.”

    He took off his spectacles to show me the thickness of the glass.

    “I can barely see the abbot when I sit beside him at supper,” he said. “But many other fathers saw the apparition. On one side of St. Antony stood St. Mark the Hermit and on the other was Abuna Yustus.”

    “Abuna Yustus?”

    “He is one of our fathers. He used to be the sacristan.”

    “So what was he doing up there?”

    “He had just departed this life.”

    “Oh,” I said. “I see.”

    “Officially he’s not a saint yet, but I’m sure he will be soon. His canonization is up for discussion at the next Coptic synod. His relics have been the cause of many miracles: blind children have been made to see, the lame have got up from their wheelchairs…”

    “All the usual sort of stuff.”

    “Exactly. But you won’t believe this-”

    Here Fr. Dioscorus lowered his voice into a whisper.

    “You won’t believe this but we had some visitors from Europe two years ago – Christians, some sort of Protestants – who said they didn’t believe in the power of relics!”

    The monk stroked his beard, wide-eyed with disbelief.

    “No,” he continued. “I’m not joking. I had to take the Protestants aside and explain that we believe that St. Antony and all the fathers have not died, that they live with us, continually protecting us and looking after us. When they are needed – when we go to their graves and pray to their relics – they appear and sort out our problems.”

    “Can the monks see them?”

    “Who? Protestants?”

    “No. These deceased fathers.”

    “Abuna Yustus is always appearing,” said Fr. Dioscorus matter-of-factly. “In fact one of the fathers had a half-hour conversation with him the day before yesterday. And of course St. Antony makes fairly regular appearances – although he is very busy these days answering prayers all over the world. But even when we cannot see the departed fathers we can always feel them. And besides – there are many other indications that they are with us.”

    “What do you mean?” I asked. “What sort of indications?”

    “Well, take last week for instance. The Bedouin from the desert are always bringing their sick to us for healing. Normally it is something quite simple: we let them kiss a relic, give them an aspirin and send them on their way. But last week they brought in a small girl who was possessed by a devil. We took the girl into the church, and as it was the time for vespers one of the fathers went off to ring the bell for prayers. When he saw this the devil inside the girl began to cry: ‘Don’t ring the bell! Please don’t ring the bell!’ We asked him why not. ‘Because,’ replied the devil, ‘when you ring the bell it’s not just the living monks who come into the church: all the holy souls of the fathers join with you too, as well as great multitudes of angels and archangels. How can I remain in the church when that happens? I’m not staying in a place like that.’ At that moment the bell began to ring, the girl shrieked and the devil left her! “

    Fr. Dioscorus clicked his fingers: “Just like that. So you see,” he said. “That proves it.”

    for the Orthodox it is all part of one world – we just recognize it…

  19. elizabeth says:

    I have observed that the most militant athiests I have spoken with personally, the most stridently anti-religious of them, are all nursing grave wounds. In their past, and sometimes in their present, someone has been unspeakably cruel to them, and used religion and its terminology to excuse or defend that cruelty. Of course doing so distorts religion, and so of course these people have a very distorted understanding of what religion is. They are opposed to it because they are opposed to cruelty. If you approach such persons with love and kindness, they respond with gratitude.
    If you approach them argumentatively, seeming to defend the system that abused them, they respond defensively, employing all the cruelty they have learned so well.

  20. Robert says:

    Simple. Orthodox Christians were saying this centuries before the other 38,999 existed.

    Guess what? Catholic Christians were saying this centuries before the other 38,999 existed too – or so they claim.

    Anglicans too.

    Methodists? Yep.

    And so on. It seems your method fails to convincingly demonstrate the “true” Christianity.

    But, in fact, most of the 38,999 do not make the claim that theirs is the only true version and that they represent the fulness of the gospel.

    They do, just not in the same manner as yours. If they didn’t feel they represented the purest, truest form of Christianity, they just lost their raison d’être.

  21. elizabeth says:

    I have observed that the most militant atheists I have spoken with personally, the most stridently anti-religious of them, are all nursing grave wounds. In their past, and sometimes in their present, someone has been unspeakably cruel to them, and used religion and its terminology to excuse or defend that cruelty. Of course doing so distorts religion, and so of course these people have a very distorted understanding of what religion is. They are opposed to it because they are opposed to cruelty. If you approach such persons with love and kindness, they respond with gratitude.
    If you approach them argumentatively, seeming to defend the system that abused them, they respond defensively, employing all the cruelty they have learned so well.

  22. Robert says:

    I have observed that the most militant Christians I have spoken with personally, the most stridently pro-religious of them, are all nursing grave wounds. In their past, and sometimes in their present, someone has been unspeakably cruel to them, and used skepticism and its terminology to excuse or defend that cruelty. Of course doing so distorts skepticism, and so of course these people have a very distorted understanding of what sketicism is. They are opposed to it because they are opposed to cruelty. If you approach such persons with love and kindness, they respond with gratitude.
    If you approach them argumentatively, seeming to defend the system that abused them, they respond defensively, employing all the cruelty they have learned so well.

  23. elizabeth says:

    Robert – That may be true as well, in the abstract, but I don’t personally know of anyone as hurt by skeptics as those I have known have been injured by persons using the terminology of religion to excuse themselves.

  24. Meskerem says:

    I think the Lord has given certain gifts to certain people, 1 Corinthians’ 12:8-13:N and Romans 12;1-6
    “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”
    We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. “If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
    These are gifts for bettering people’s life which is the life of following the LORD.
    Not everyone is good in teaching, or leading or knowledge etc… but we are good in something, we can show that by our deeds as Christians. The Creed is there so we can be confident in our belief and remind ourselves in what our Faith is about, and pray the way he thought us.

  25. greg says:

    Polendice,

    I know very few serious religious thinkers that don’t adhere to logic, so I think you may be misunderstanding your target somewhat. In any case, logic and the scientific method are two different things – both of which I am trained in formally. What you seem to be advocating – and please forgive me if I’m wrong – is something more akin to ‘scientism’. Over time you may find that science tells us infinitely more than its critics think but infinitely less than ‘scientismists’ claim. For example, evolutionary psychology (unfashionably ‘sociobiology’), which seems to be critical (and I don’t understand why) to Dawkins’ and Dennett’s atheism isn’t something you can really argue is science – naturalistic speculation perhaps is a better term.

    In any case, the question of ‘what is religion’ is something that Hart addresses better than I will in blog comment, but I think something on which it is worth reflecting.

    As to whether it is worth talking to atheists, well, I have to say I don’t get that at all… I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. I’m just commenting on a comment. My best to all and forgive me if I have said anything offensive.

  26. polednice says:

    No, I wasn’t offended; my seemingly out-of-place quotation was a side-reference to the person who posted a throwaway comment just before me. It wasn’t with reference to your argument. I shall have to look up Hart and challenge my views!

  27. Robert,

    Having actually been an Anglican, I can tell you they do not think they are the one true Church or the fullness. The methodist writing you cited is again, so non representative as to be silly. Problem with the internet – you can find anything. From something good to something silly. Its all here.

    If Anglicans were interested in such a thing as the “one true Church” they would have long ago left where they are. As the vast majority of protestants, they have found a way to make peace with their own despair of their being such a thing as the one Church.

    Admittedly we have a disagreement with Rome – but Rome and Orthodoxy were one Church for nearly 1,000 years.

    By the way, the existence of string theory and parallel universe theory, etc., are clearly proof that there is no such thing as a universe?

  28. Robert says:

    fatherstephen, we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether these churches believe they are the one true church. It seems odd, however, to think that a church would believe it’s teaching errant doctrine.

    So the Catholic Church is true as well? You’ve acknowledged that it fits your criteria.

    Why do you suppose that the other thousands of Christian sects reject the Orthodox claim as being the true church?

    By the way, the existence of string theory and parallel universe theory, etc., are clearly proof that there is no such thing as a universe?

    The existence of this-or-that theory neither proves nor disproves anything. As an atheist, I regard the existence of (this) universe as a brute fact, just as you regard the existence of God as a brute fact.

  29. Father Stephen is saying that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the only ones who even claim to be “the one true church” in this sense. Others claim to be teaching the truth, but they don’t claim to be what the Catholics and Orthodox understand their Churches to be. This is, speaking as an evangelical Anglican, simply true.

  30. katia says:

    “…The most honorable of all religions, most high spirited is Christianity with its teaching about One God and worship of the Holy Trinity who created the universe and looks after its people; about the Son of God, who came into this world to save people from their sins, about eternal life and about love for all, including one’s enemies.

    Unfortunately, in the middle of the 11th Century the Roman Catholic Church fell away from the One Christian Church. The reason was due to the desire of the bishop of Rome to be head of the church with his infallibility. As time went by the Roman Catholic Church added more of its own dogmas (Filioque, purgatory, etc…) and therefore moved away further from pure Christian teaching. Misuse of indulgences and a desire for power of the Popes of Rome, created in Europe Protestant movements, from which contemporary sects, such as Lutheran, Baptist, Quaker, Mormon, Pentecost, Adventist and others, had begun.

    The religious chaos created by these sects brought the foundation for contemporary cults of all kind, which have clearly non-Christian bases. The appearance of a multitude of pseudo-prophets before the end of the world, of which the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostle were foretold. (See our pamphlet “The Teaching of Holy Scripture about the Church”).

    A non-biased person, by acquainting himself with the history of Christianity has to come to the conclusion, that only the Orthodox Church has uninterrupted roots to the Church of the First century. This is the Church that kept pure, unchanged teaching and has the grace of the Apostolic succession. To His Church, the Lord commanded not to invent new teachings for the convenience of world customs, but to save people with Grace and truth. To pass these didactics to future generations is the main aim of the Church.

    Until the Russian Revolution of 1917-18, the Russian Orthodox Church was part of One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, it had many members and was strong. However, to the monolith of one Russian Country (Russian Empire) and its Church was given a big blow by various sects, nihilism, western revolutionary ideas and finally militaristic atheism. Now is the time to recuperate and to heal. Orthodoxy teaches us, that life has to be built on the principal of Christ’s love. “Then all will know that you are my disciples.” In everyday life, the Orthodox Church calls on man to restrain from sin and live according to God’s commandments and moral perfection.

    Our faith in God cannot be abstract, or theoretical, because “faith without a deed — is dead.” We recognize the power of prayers, and they have a main place in our lives. We have to pray fervently (arduously), to our Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, to the Most Holy Theotokos and all the saints who are our helpers and interceders before God. The Church calls us to take care of our families and our countries, strive to develop our God given ability and raise ourselves in humbleness, non-acquisition and compassion, forgiveness for all, and to judge no-one. To strive for eternity.

    In its earthly history, the Church of Christ sometimes was large in numbers, sometimes it decreased in numbers. There was a time when Church enemies were in glory — thinking, that the Church will totally disappear. However, with the power of Christ, the Church resurrected from ashes and its enemies disappeared. Christ promised to His Church, that it will never be conquered until the end of existence of the universe. We have to remember, that we, being the children of the Church, are members of a great universal organization. The fact is, that there is no society or government larger then the Church, because its members are not only the ones on this earth, but also all venerable and just ones, who are in the world beyond. Really, the Church in its heavenly-earth membership grows constantly and is getting stronger. Being in the Church we, like passengers of a great ship, will not drown in waves of ocean life.

    We are strong in our faith in God the Creator, omnipresent, omnipotent, all knowing, all wise and most merciful Heavenly Father. His will is our law, that shows us how to live, and how to develop our ability. Our aim — is an eternal and happy life in the Kingdom of unending Life.” -fralexander.org- the true church

    Orthodoxy is not a religion- it is a ‘Way’ of life

  31. Robert,

    I accept the universe, too, but not because of scientific argument. I accept God, despite the incredible abuse by religious groups of His name and His teachings. But their existence does not diminish the “brute fact” of Orthodox claims. We would say of Rome that our relationship is one of schism. Science has these too. Once upon a time alchemy was a noble branch of science, but today does not enjoy quite the reputation it once had.

    My point, however, has been to suggest that those who have arguments with Christianity deal with a mature, serious form and not simply the popular culture-religions of the modern West. When I read science, I like to read the real stuff, rather than Popular Mechanics and the like. Real science is useful and informative. The boosterism (is that word too antique?) of Dawkins and others before him does science a great disservice. They cease speaking in a mature manner about something they know and understand, and begin speaking in a very dillenttantish manner about something that has great depth and history (as well as subtlety) as if they knew what they were talking about there as well.

    It is difficult in our modern world to be a “renaissance man,” properly educated. Very few people have read serious science, philosophy, studied modern and ancient languages and history, as well as studying serious religious thought to such an extent to speak authoritatively about all of them.

    Few modern college students, medical students, lawyers, scientists, seminarians, etc., have even a cursory knowledge of things that were taken for granted in an educated man just a few generations back. I live in a scientific town (we build H-bombs and do other scientific stuff) but I’ve only met one physicist in my 20 years here who was well versed in poetry and could read Latin and Greek. He was an amazing man, and, incidentally, a Christian, while being a physicist who worked on the most obscure matters. Thus I am unimpressed with the latest spate of scientists who claim there are problems with the existence of God, because I know many men and women who are or were much better scientists and yet had no difficulty with God’s existence at all.

    Today, we largely live in a world of very small people, with even smaller hearts. The essence of my complaint is that we all need to become much larger.

  32. isaac8 says:

    David Bentley Hart’s new book (linked below) actually addresses the issue of the New Atheism and the declining quality of their arguments vs. a more “venerable” tradition of skepticism in the past. I don’t think this brand of apologetics necessarily works to convert a person, but hearing a very intelligent and educated Christian intellectual skewer poor arguments against Christianity at least has the power to take away the assumption that a Christian world view is antithetical to reason. I think intellectual objections can be a distraction and divert the attention away from repentance on a deeper noetic level, so the good that some apologists do is to move the question squarely back to that heart level.

    http://www.amazon.com/Atheist-Delusions-Christian-Revolution-Fashionable/dp/0300111908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1240517952&sr=8-1

  33. michaelpatrick says:

    Isn’t the general resurrection a deep and gracious mercy wrought by Christ’s descent to hell ?!

    No one will have to rely on half-truths and incorrect versions of the faith — they will be blessed to see the author and finisher of THE faith with their own eyes and respond to Him in person.

    That should be enough to make also the most faithful tremble.

  34. Isaac,

    Thanks for the link to Hart’s new book. I had not been aware (he is a prolific writer and always worth the work to read – all of his work is easier than his first book – which, I think, was developed from his dissertation). He is a very bright Orthodox theologian who should have many years of fruitful labor.

  35. Steve L says:

    I like arguing. Generally when I put my heart into conversing about a complicated topic, and am with people who also argue with open hearts, I learn something very important about the world.

    And, I learn something very important about other people.

    Most importantly, I learn something about myself.

    Arguing, even pointless emotional arguing, is wonderful. It is a great place for connections to start. We’re all here together in this world.

    The best way to learn about the topic you are arguing about is to argue the opposite side. Have any atheists here done research to defend the faith? Have any orthodox spent the time to consider the thoughts of the atheist? Well enough to argue them? If we have true respect for each other, we will consider that our opponents are not idiots but in fact have good reason to be the way they are.

    I personally have not figured out where I stand yet. I wish I could get more arguments from people, as this would allow me to clarify my opinions. But people generally don’t want to argue about religion.

    Probably this is understandable also. This is a very important topic for everyone.

  36. Steve L says:

    It’s the truth we all want, isn’t it?

  37. Steve,

    Good argumentation is a lost art in our culture. I have about three people whom I know that I can have a good argument with and, I agree, they have always been significant moments. They are much removed from the experience of most people and the sort of rationalistic argumentation that Orthodoxy generally avoids. In my small experience, I have only been able to have such arguments with people whom I truly love and vice versa (and not all of those whom I love). My wife and I do not engage in argument – it’s just never been part of our relationship.

  38. Steve L says:

    Point Taken!

  39. Isaac,

    You probably already know this, but Hart’s title is an echo of Schleiermacher’s famous On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers which was one of the seminal works in the history of liberal protestant thought. Hart has turned the argument quite nicely.

  40. Steve L says:

    Something else interesting for all fellow atheists out there. In and attempt to gain a greater understanding of our (Christian) culture, and searching through a bunch of different books, I came across “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy Ware. It provides a nice introduction about Eastern Christianity, understanding which is probably essential to understanding Western Christianity. Why? Orthodoxy actually makes sense. I nearly cried when I read the part about the 7th Ecumenical Council. Really good stuff.

    Orthodox Theology is really solid. Even though it is really old, it does not in any way contradict evolution or most other physical science theory. Most Orthodox priests that I have spoken with have a true fascination with this world and an ability to take the truth as it is.

    After a bit (2 yrs) of regularly attending an OCA church, I now see what the appeal is. There is something about Orthodoxy, liturgy especially, that is very basal to my human construction. I haven’t put my finger on what it is yet, but I have gained a lot of insight in this exploration.

  41. Fellow Sojourner says:

    Here’s my two cents on a faith that can (not can’t) be defended.

    Christianity, Orthodox Christianity in particular, is without excuse, or defense, when it fails to act in a way that does not hold fellow men and women in the highest regard, acknowledging them as being an icon of God and doing all to restore any dignity that has been lost – feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the prisoner, caring for the widow and orphan…

    When we have failed to live up to this high calling, we have failed to live Christian lives, and the first to jump on our hypocricy are the unbelievers.

    However, history is in full support of Christianity, and the same unbelievers can’t admit it. When has atheism lived up to anything close to this? Even the smallest example would be a testimony to atheism’s self-contradiction.

    We (Christians) can act this way, even at great cost to ourselves, because of the hope and reality given to us in Pascha. This is the reason we can give for the hope that we have.

    Atheism can act this way as well, but has no reason, no hope, not even logic behind its action.

    Let us love one another, and our our atheist neighbor as ourselves. This is the faith that can be defended, the best defense of all. All other arguments are a clanging cymbal.

  42. Yudikris says:

    Amen! Glory to God for the True and complete Christianity- Orthodox Christianity!

  43. Robert F. says:

    It is said the demons believe.

    Do we follow God’s commandments? Do we bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit? Do we love even our enemies?

  44. Karen says:

    Dear Father, bless!

    Interesting thoughts about the lost art of good argumentation. I observe with you that mutual respect and trust (a disinterested love) are essential to fruitful and constructive argumentation. Like you, I find few (if any) people that I can argue with this way. It would be better for me if I could find a couple. Nevertheless, argumentation as debate is something I can rarely avoid, if only in my own head, because I find objectionable opinions (especially those opposed to the gospel) being voiced around me all the time, even by myself and those who consider themselves Christians in my acquaintance. I find the Holy Spirit uses the process of those interior arguments, *especially when my motivation for enjoining them is a desire for true communion and connection with God and those others from whom I am alienated* (and I think this is the key to their being fruitful) to give me deeper discernment about my own needs and those of others and also about the tactics of our common enemy, evil. Necessarily, to be fruitful those arguments must result in my own deeper repentance and a deeper humility and dependence upon the grace of Christ to be active both in me and in those I love or seek to love.

    Fellow Sojourner, thank you for so aptly reminding us of the one thing needful!

  45. tiffanib says:

    As a Roman Catholic sitting iside a decidedly atheist classroom environment once during my early years in college, I listened to week and after week, tirade after tirade, against my Roman Catholic faith. There was a constant insistance from my professor that God did not exist and that the Roman Catholic Church was the reason for all evil in the world. Any argument was quickly shut down, so deep was his conviction against his Creator.

    He ended our class, which should have had nothing to do with religion whatsoever, saying, “I have never met a Christian who could point to one single proof that God existed.”

    I raised my hand, “I have never met an atheist who wasn’t furious with the God he didn’t believe in.”

    And I have yet to meet anything different in my encounters with atheists, even when they claim it is Christians they hate, or our values, or our demonstrations, or our churches, etc… and not God.

    Right. Sure. Whatever…

    Father, you are right. Not that you need me to say this. But any argument against a flimsy pseudo form of Christianity is silly. What’s the point? It is not Christianity under attack anyway, but a caricature of it. No one but Rome and Orthodoxy consider themselves having the Fullness of the Gospel. No one else even uses these terms.

    And even when it is finally the One True Church attacked, the arguments are so spitting mad against the God that is not supposed to exist, that the argument falls apart and simply spins in a helpless circle.

  46. isaac8 says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    I actually wasn’t aware of the connection in the title so thanks for that. Hart is very impressive as a scholar.

  47. “..atheists attack a faith nobody (virtually) believes, and that defenders sometimes defend something less than Christianity.”

    Boy, ain’t that the truth!

    David Hart is always worth reading. Thanks, Isaac8, for the link.

  48. Marsha says:

    We just finished listening to the audio version of The Last Battle, the last of the seven books in Chronicles of Narnia. In it, an ape dresses a donkey up in lion skin and parades it about (in the dark) as Aslan. And he does terrible deeds in the name of this “Aslan” and claims to hear from him directly.
    When it is revealed that this was not the Great Lion, but an ass with a lion skin tied around it, some of the Narnians then refused to believe that there was an Aslan at all. if they had been fooled, perhaps the Great Lion didn’t exist.
    Still others clung to the belief that this might be some version of the Great Lion, Aslan. Maybe all the old stories were exaggerated After all, they’d never seen a lion before, how did they know this was a poor imitation?
    Some of them were so blind by delusion that they vowed to be rational and to never be taken in again. Aslan said they chose cleverness over belief, and his gifts of rich food and drink were taken to be stable swill. His glorious land of sun and blue sky was taken to be the pitch-dark of the stable they created with their rational delusions.
    I found the story to have many parallels with this post.

  49. Steve says:

    A friend of mine (no Orthodox) once said that our job as Christians is not to convert the world – that is the Holy Spirit’s task. Our task is to see that if people accept Christ, that they accept the true Christ, and not a caricature, and if they reject Christ, they reject the true Christ, and not a caricature. But straw man arguments abound.

  50. Robert says:

    fatherstephen, you wrote,

    My point, however, has been to suggest that those who have arguments with Christianity deal with a mature, serious form and not simply the popular culture-religions of the modern West.

    It seems to me you’re speaking of philosophical arguments against various points of Christian theology, which are themselves practically innumerable. Whenever the skeptic deals with one or more of them, a dozen Christian sects stand up to proclaim she’s not addressed “true” Christianity.

    Philosphical arguments aside, most skeptics I know of primarily reject Christianity (and every other religion) due to the empirical arguments. For example, we examine the Bible and find a thoroughly man-made document (as you do the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon). Major portions of it, the Gospels included, are properly regarded as mythical literature. This avenue of argument is far more difficult for the Christian, regardless of her sect, to counter. They try, but their responses are so weak and typically resort to special-pleading. If Christians were to reflect on the evidence for their beliefs in the same manner they do for other faiths, it’s doubtful many would remain Christian.

    As an example of the empirical case against Christianity, please visit this site.

  51. Robert F. says:

    Robert that link makes Fr. Stephen’s case quite powerfully!

  52. The website is a typical example of a Christian fundamentalist (protestant) coming to realize that his faith is not worth defending. My point exactly. We have numerous former fundamentalists in the Orthodox Church who came to find out that their fundamentalism was as modernist as everything they attacked – indeed, fundamentalism and atheism (particularly of the light-weight contemporary form) are simply two sides of the same coin.

    As for classical, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the oldest form of the Christian faith, modern atheists have no clue. But this is what I’ve already noted. Probably the most interesting modern writer in these matters is the novelist, Dostoevsky, who took atheism and agnosticism quite seriously though being an Orthodox believer (having rediscovered the Orthodox faith as an adult). I’ve yet to find an atheist who understands the human predicament with the insight of Dostoevsky or his insight into the essential character of Orthodox Christian believing. But I rarely encounter an educated man or woman in our modern world. Most people are so specialized in their studies that they have little appreciation for anything else. On the other hand I do not find it unusual to meet an Orthodox theologian who knows a half-dozen languages, is thoroughly familiar with atheism, as well as modern philosophy (and ancient philosophy). He or she will know history – not just of the West but of the East as well. They will not only know Christian theology in its must subtle and ancient form, but all of the various deviations from it – will have a Biblical hermeneutic that would put a post-modernist to shame – will likely have knowledge and appreciation for a variety of religions, their historical origins and place within the human world – and will themselves practice a faith that is more holistic than the most ardent new ager could invent. In short – examples of some of the last educated people on the planet.

    I would rather talk to a scientist about science because he or she will likely (today) know very little about religion. I would rather discuss philosophy with a philosopher (though people who teach philosophy are rarely philosophers) rather than religion because, again, it will be a subject about which they will know and understand little. I would rather discuss religion with a Russian peasant (or its modern equivalent) because their education will have more authenticity than most “barely educated” college graduates. I have been present at the deaths of hundreds of people, most here in the mountains of East Tennessee. I’d rather discuss the subject with a coal miner than a philosopher – there’s likely to be more experience and depth in the coal miner, regardless of religion or the lack thereof.

    As I stated earlier, my concern is for depth of encounter and conversation. The website you cited has no depth whatsoever. If you think it does then I rest my case.

  53. Seraphim says:

    Christ is Risen!

    I took the time to read the “theological” section 4 of that website. That kind of Western apology is what spawned atheism. I would have second thoughts about dedicating my life to an angry God that loves those who loves Him, and kills forever those who hate, ignore, or just don’t know Him. Anyone who actually took the time to study that theology (without knowing anything about Orthodoxy) could easily come to that same conclusion. We certainly know where you’re coming from Robert. Dr. Alexander Kalomiros explains it well in his paper “The River of Fire”:

    “The God of the West is an offended and angry God, full of wrath for the disobedience of men, who desires in His destructive passion to torment all humanity unto eternity for their sins, unless He receives an infinite satisfaction for His offended pride.

    What is the Western dogma of salvation? Did not God kill God in order to satisfy His pride, which the Westerners euphemistically call justice? And is it not by this infinite satisfaction that He deigns to accept the salvation of some of us?

    What is salvation for Western theology? Is it not salvation from the wrath of God?

    Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? Salvation, for Westerners, is to be saved from the hands of God!

    How can one love such a God? How can we have faith in someone we detest? Faith in its deeper essence is a product of love, therefore, it would be our desire that one who threatens us not even exist, especially when this threat is eternal.”

    Fortunately, the Orthodox Christian God is not like this. He is unchanging love. The Orthodox Church is His unchanging Church. He loves all His creation, those that love Him as well as those that hate or ignore Him. Our life is from Him, and we thank Him by spending our life becoming like Him if we truly love Him in return.

  54. Robert F. says:

    Robert, you will be hard pressed to find anyone here ready to defend yet another untenable position – especially given the very subject of Fr. Stephen post. I would hope, however, that our common rejection of fundamentalism will pause you to examine the Orthodox Christian faith with greater care.

  55. Orthodoxy and its understanding of Scripture is so far removed from what you think Christians think. Orthodoxy would not have problems with various components being used in the composition of the books of the Old Testament, though the stuff you cite is quite simplistic in the matters. Nor would we have a problem with obvious developments in Judaism during the Babylonian Captivity.

    The gospels are a different question. They are not ‘eyewitness’ accounts in the sense that fundamentalists think they are though they contain the faithful witness of the Church to the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Christ. But they are ‘gospels’, not newspapers. They are the Church’s witness to the events of Christ in the language of the Church which we have always known how to read – but are constantly misread by those outside the Church. Orthodoxy would say that the gospel accounts are ‘icons’ of the Truth (Christ Himself).

    Contemporary atheism and fundamentalism are made for each other – probably even invented each other. But neither has (as far as I can see) anything to say to Orthodox Christianity.

    I make a huge distinction, by the way, between contemporary atheism of the sort you espouse and refer to, and fairly natural, existential atheism that is a genuine crisis and angst of the human experience. I have deep respect for such and think it is a common part of our humanity. I’m not the enemy of such atheism. But I’m not an American fundamentalist. The God you don’t believe in – I don’t believe in that God either.

    The difference is that you think you have answers and knowledge about things of which you know almost nothing. It’s just internet child’s play. Apology accepted.

  56. Robert says:

    fatherstephen wrote,

    The gospels are a different question. They are not ‘eyewitness’ accounts in the sense that fundamentalists think they are though they contain the faithful witness of the Church to the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Christ.

    Although I’m tempted to charge that “eyewitness” vs. “faithful witness” is a distinction without a difference, my point remains that neither is an empirically tenable belief. The more scholars study the Gospels, the more they come to realize how much of the story is wrought from previous mythical material, so much so that no one–Christian or otherwise–is able to tell us who the Jesus of history really is with a sound degree of certitude. To maintain, as Orthodoxy perhaps does, that a long consistency in belief about Jesus upholds its veracity merely commits the fallacy of appeal to tradition.

    As I said before, the empirical arguments against core Christians beliefs shared by virtually all sects–the “mere Christianity” in C.S. Lewis’s words–are the most compelling and most difficult for Christians to deal with. Perfunctory dismissals, charges that skeptics “know almost nothing,” I’m sorry to say, don’t change that.

  57. You have no idea of what I am saying. I apologize for my poor writing skills. I am not sure, however, that you are a skeptic. You are too certain of your “knowledge” to be a skeptic. A gospel is a radically different literary form than the so-called “eye-witness” account. Indeed, it is a literary form that can only be read and understood within a Tradition. But “Tradition” in Orthodox usage differs radically from the so-called “argument from tradition.” You seem to insist that we are speaking the same language but this is not the case. Ignorance and skepticism are not the same thing.

    If you would have heard what I have said, then you’d understand that I have no interest in winning an argument. I have simply suggested that if someone wants to argue with Christianity, then learn about the real Christianity before attacking a straw man. Even Lewis’ “mere Christianity” is insufficient – as much as I like the man. Mere Christianity and the Fullness of the Faith are almost incompatible if not completely so.

    Why not be skeptical of all the so-called scholars? I have spent time among them – they are frequently as clueless and arrogant a crew as I’ve ever encountered – well deserving of skepticism.

  58. Sean says:

    Dear Robert and Father Stephen.

    I have followed your discussion on this thread and though, as I have stated before, I am not a man who feels like defending his faith with arguments, I would like to share some of the thoughts of Vladimir Lossky:

    “… That would be to judge Christianity from an non-Christian standpoint: in other words, to refuse in advance to understand anything whatever about the object of study. For objectivity in no wise consists in taking one’s stand outside an object but, on the contrary, in considering one’s object in itself and by itself. There are fields in which what is commonly styled ‘objectivity’ is only indifference, and where indifference means incomprehension.”

  59. Robert says:

    Literary form is beside the point whether the Gospels represent truthful history, of events that actually happened, as virtually all Christian sects claim. Many, including some Christian theologians, believe they don’t, based on multiple lines of compelling evidence. My point is that the Christian sects who maintain they do represent truthful history deal with the skeptical arguments inadequately, if at all. You chastise the skeptics for failing to address “true” Christianity, but what I see on your part is a failure to address the strongest skeptical arguments against your Christianity, i.e., the empirical arguments.

    I think your understanding of skepticism is erroneous. Skepticism is not automatic disbelief of all claims. Rather, “Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity. It’s the process of finding a supported conclusion, not the justification of a preconceived conclusion.” We’re all skeptics in one way or another. If I told you right now I was Jesus Christ reborn, you wouldn’t automatically grant my claim, nor would you categorically deny it. You might ask for some evidence, perhaps the performance of miracles or the fulfillment of prophecies. In other words, my claim needs to be justified with evidence proportional to it before you believe. That’s really what skepticism is.

  60. “what I see on your part is a failure to address the strongest skeptical arguments against your Christianity, i.e., the empirical arguments”

    Robert, I don’t see that you’ve made the slightest attempt to understand Father Stephen’s Christianity. What you are actually saying is:

    “what I see on your part is a failure to address the strongest skeptical arguments against the Christianity I grew up with

    And here of course you are absolutely correct. But that was Father Stephen’s point to begin with.

  61. Robert says:

    Sean:

    There seems to be something missing from Lossky’s quote. I have an inkling of the point he’s trying to make, but it’s not wholly clear from what you’ve quoted.

    Wonders:

    The empirical arguments work against virtually every Christianity, Father Stephen’s included. If I’m wrong about that, I’d appreciate being shown how.

  62. The empirical arguments work against virtually every Christianity, Father Stephen’s included.

    So tell me about Father Stephen’s Christianity, Robert. What does he believe? Specifically, what place does the Bible play in his belief system, such that a given argument is decisive against him?

  63. There are 3 that bear witness to the truth on earth: the Spirit, the Blood and the Water. These agree, even as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit agree in heaven (I John). The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. is about the Truth to which these bear witness.

    We can’t box this Truth, market it, label it, make it a slogan, or even uncover it fully. It is revealed. Our response as Christians must be to give thanks and receive what is revealed with reverence and joy.

  64. Karen says:

    Robert, you said:

    “If I told you right now I was Jesus Christ reborn, you wouldn’t automatically grant my claim, nor would you categorically deny it.”

    I would have no problem categorically denying that! :-D According to Orthodox teaching (which finds a resonating place deep in my own intuition), Jesus can’t be reborn in the literal way you imply here, since He, as a discreet historical human Person, died once, was raised to life and will never die again.

    How about applying the philosophy of Skepticism to your presupposition of the adequacy of the philosophy of Empiricism being able to explain all of human experience? You are also refusing to acknowledge the deep personal human emotional needs and biases within each of us that constantly color and affect the empirical data we personally happen to notice and, therefore, also how we also reason to connect that data in some meaningful form. I have a bias and inner inclinations; so do you. How do we factor that in, so as to gain some idea of how valid our own perceptions and reasoning conclusions are? Just some thoughts . . .

  65. Robert says:

    Wonders wrote:

    So tell me about Father Stephen’s Christianity, Robert. What does he believe? Specifically, what place does the Bible play in his belief system, such that a given argument is decisive against him?

    How about you or Father Stephen telling me where I’ve gotten his beliefs wrong?

  66. How about you or Father Stephen telling me where I’ve gotten his beliefs wrong?

    Robert, you seem to me to be assuming the fundamentalism that you know, and projecting it onto Father Stephen. There are so many things wrong with this that it’s impossible to list them all – like listing all the ways that a B52 bomber is different from falling in love.

    Just one example might be the approach to the OT scriptures. Orthodoxy does not depend on a literal inerrancy of the OT, such that your “shocking” findings that there were interactions and influences of ancient thought is news to them. The truth of the OT is to be found, according to the Orthodox, in its revelation of Christ, not just in the bare words themselves. They read the Bible completely differently – they have a completely different notion of what the book is for.

    The problem with the arguments you cite is twofold. First, they are directed at fundamentalism, and 9 times out of 10 they do not apply to Orthodoxy (or even Anglicanism, where I hail from). Second, they are generally rather shallow arguments – which depend on the person being shocked by unfamiliarity with scholarly findings – and then extrapolating far beyond what the actual findings imply (like saying that finding that the Earth moves around the Sun proves that there is no God). In short, that web site treats Christianity the way a grade-school fundamentalist “word religions” class might treat Buddhism.

    It is rather tiring to be confronted with someone who comes to the table already convinced of what you think, and is just showing up to inform you of how bankrupt your beliefs are. That’s not productive communication. First listen. First ask probing questions. First seek to understand deeply. Then point out problems as they appear to you. If you are not interested in understanding, then why bother to have a conversation?

  67. coffeezombie says:

    I’m still a little confused.

    Robert, you are arguing that “the empirical arguments” disprove any Christianity, including Orthodoxy. What, exactly, are these empirical arguments again? From reading your posts, it sounds like the site you linked to (25 reasons Why I am Not a Christian) is what you are referring to as “the empirical arguments.” Or are you referring to something else?

    I have only skimmed the topics covered on the site, but from what I can see, it sounds like the site is specifically arguing against what one of my more scholarly friends (IIRC, his specialty is Ancient-Near East studies) referred to once as “athiest-creating Christianity.”

    So, if that site is what your are, in fact, referring to for your “empirical evidence,” I might suggest a little more humility, because it is very apparent that you do not understand Orthodoxy. It’s okay; most of us have been there, too. Having come from a “fundigelical” (that’s Fundamentalist/Evangelical) background, myself, converting to Orthodoxy required more than deciding that creeds are okay; it has required a (no pun intended) fundamental reshaping of the majority of my worldview.

    However, if you are referring to some other evidence, then I must have missed where you presented it.

  68. Sean says:

    @ Wonders:

    It is, as you say, essential that one tries their own convictions and beliefs. I was raised in a rural area where Orthodox Christianity was intermixed with everyday life, where much scholarly knowledge was absent and where true Faith was mixed and confused with superstitions and paradoxical – often contradictory and most times absolute – beliefs of simple and uneducated farmers. Orthodoxy is not to be compared with fundamentalist Evangelical christianity, however, especially among the simple and illiterate (and sometimes even among the knowledgeable) it has its sticky points (which we ourselves have created, not God or the Fathers).
    Since I am a man who reads a lot, I did, indeed, read a lot, especially since I hit 20-21 and some things really had a tremendous impact on my faith, because they proved to me that I might be wrong, that I had to reconsider my views. I let my beliefs be tested in such a painful way as to almost cause despair, but I do not regret the process. The journey was difficult and it brought me to say, at a point, that Jesus “was a great old fool” (Father Stephen, pardon me for repeating that blasphemy), for getting himself in such a trouble. But, this journey, which still continues, has also brought me to the realization that I had to look at things spherically, and to also allow to my spirit, not just the mind, to talk. I realized that what I was against was the superstitions and false views of fanaticals, the corruption of part of the clergy (even higher clergy), and most of all, the weird integration of fundamentalist views by radical conservative cycles within the church, views so foreign and alien to the Orthodox experience. And most of all, I had to get rid of my own preconceptions about the liturgy, the mysteries, God, atheism, the Holy Scripture and the whole frame of Orthodox dogma. There are still moments when I doubt about Christianity. It is because I allow my beliefs and opinions to be contradicted. But I still believe (or at least I pray “Help me in my disbelief!”) again because I allow my doubts to be contradicted. It is a vital process for me and I believe it is the one which really directs me towards the Church step by step.

  69. Sean,

    A different journey – but important. There are, as you note, corruptions to be found within individuals in the Church and even communities. It is easy for converts or potential converts to not know or ignore this. My own conversion to Orthodoxy took place over a span of 20 years. By the time I converted I had lost any naivete about the Orthodox faith – and was even painfully aware of certain problems. But it has ever been so. It is ultimately our daily conversion to communion with the True and living God that is at the heart of the faith. Your description of your own journey is a good example of that daily conversion over time – probably made all the more difficult by the entrenched problems within Orthodox cultures.

  70. Robert says:

    Wonders, you wrote,

    Just one example might be the approach to the OT scriptures. Orthodoxy does not depend on a literal inerrancy of the OT, such that your “shocking” findings that there were interactions and influences of ancient thought is news to them. The truth of the OT is to be found, according to the Orthodox, in its revelation of Christ, not just in the bare words themselves. They read the Bible completely differently – they have a completely different notion of what the book is for.

    If you look through my replies, you’ll find that I never actually stated that Father Stephen believes the OT to be inerrant (a fundamentalist belief). What I did say is that it’s a man-made document, most of which is properly regarded as mythical literature. In other words, it posseses no artifacts of any deistic influence or guidance (contrary to Orthodox belief). If Orthodoxy wishes to accept the OT based on faith, it is a faith on no firmer ground that the Mormon’s or the Muslim’s.

    In any case, I left off the discussion about the OT and instead directed most of my discussion about the Gospels. Father Stephen stated they are a “faithful witness” to the life of Jesus Christ. The evidence is simply overwhelming that such is not the case. The website I offered is its author’s summary of several lines of evidence that he’s spent years examining. Your view that it extrapolates “far beyond what the actual findings imply” only demonstrates your unfamiliarity, or even ignorance, of present-day scholarly research and findings about the Gospels.

    It is rather tiring to be confronted with someone who comes to the table already convinced of what you think, and is just showing up to inform you of how bankrupt your beliefs are.

    Since it turns out that you’re wrong about what I think you think, perhaps now you can address my arguments.

  71. Robert says:

    coffeezombie wrote,

    Robert, you are arguing that “the empirical arguments” disprove any Christianity, including Orthodoxy.

    Incorrect. Please review my replies again. I’ve been fairly consistent in my claim.

    I have only skimmed the topics covered on the site, but from what I can see, it sounds like the site is specifically arguing against what one of my more scholarly friends (IIRC, his specialty is Ancient-Near East studies) referred to once as “athiest-creating Christianity.”

    So, real Christians, Orthodox included, don’t believe the Gospels represent the story of Jesus’s life? The claim made on this page is that the Gospels are fictional accounts. Would you agree with that?

  72. Karen says:

    Gee, Robert, don’t I warrant a response, too? How do we overcome the human problem of researcher bias that affects all humankind’s best efforts at empirical research?

  73. Robert,

    Fiction is one form of literature. The gospels are another. You have a black and white approach that is as deep as fundamentalism. I might add that modernist Biblical studies are themselves only the flip side of fundamentalism (they created each other) and come out of a world-view as alien to Orthodox culture and understanding as India is to America. But you insist that everything that is Christian belongs to your cultural world-view and definitions. It’s fairly typical of Western cultural imperialism to think that the world can be understood through a single world-view. It’s as subtle as a 19th century Protestant missionary in the depths of Africa. Oddly, you’re not an atheist – you believe in the God of the West. You just have arguments with Him.

    I don’t believe the God of the West exists. You do because you accept the world created by belief in Him. I don’t.

    Missionaries of the West, be they so-called atheists or fundamentalists, are serving the same master and seek to establish the hegemony of his culture over everyone and everything – and he has nothing in common with the God of Orthodox Christianity. This God of the West and his minions have murdered hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians and sought to eradicate them from the earth. But they remain.

    I pray that you never have to come face-to-face with the “God of the West” – whether in fundamentalist or atheist guise. He’s a brutal torturer and hates mankind.

    But I can assure you that the God and the Bible you describe have nothing in common with the God or Scriptures of the Orthodox. They are strangers to you.

  74. coffeezombie says:

    Robert,
    Incorrect. Please review my replies again. I’ve been fairly consistent in my claim.
    You have said,
    The empirical arguments work against virtually every Christianity, Father Stephen’s included. If I’m wrong about that, I’d appreciate being shown how.
    Okay, so I was wrong; the “empirical arguments” disprove virtually any Christianity, including Orthodoxy [i.e., "Fr. Stephen's Christianity"].

    So, real Christians, Orthodox included, don’t believe the Gospels represent the story of Jesus’s life? The claim made on this page is that the Gospels are fictional accounts. Would you agree with that?
    As I said, I’ve only skimmed that page. I did just go give that particular argument a good read, and I find some flaws:

    1) The author, while pointing out, over and over, that the Gospels are written in 3rd person, constantly makes the point that this indicates they are not eyewitness accounts, by which he means to imply that they were not written by witnesses to these events.

    First of all, AFAIK, only two of the Gospels were written by people who were with Jesus: Matthew and John, and even they may not have been eyewitnesses to all the events they record (Matthew’s recording of the Lord’s birth, for example). Mark and Luke were not, to my knowledge, with Christ in His earthly ministry. (I could be wrong on that.) So, I wouldn’t even make the argument that the Gospels are all eyewitness accounts, anyway.

    Secondly, it is not very difficult for me to imagine, when writing about the life of someone I personally knew, to write his life in the third-person, even thought I was an eye-witness. The work is not about me, it’s about him. So, to my mind, the fact that the Gospels were written in the third person is not any indication of who wrote them.

    I’m curious where the argument that the naming of the authors was second-century guessing comes from. I can’t recall if I’ve heard that one before (although I am aware that the authorship of a number of books in the Bible was debated for the first few centuries of the Church).

    Finally, a pillar of the author’s argument is that supernatural events do not occur. I know, he deals with that assertion earlier on the site; I have not read his defense there, but, obviously, I disagree with that.

    I don’t find it surprising at all, however, that the author of that site starts off with the denial of the supernatural. Sure, if you’ve already tossed out the idea that supernatural events occur, the Gospels are unbelievable.

    Anyway, I think I’ve taken up enough of Fr. Stephen’s blog space. ;-)

  75. If you look through my replies, you’ll find that I never actually stated that Father Stephen believes the OT to be inerrant (a fundamentalist belief). What I did say is that it’s a man-made document, most of which is properly regarded as mythical literature. In other words, it posseses no artifacts of any deistic influence or guidance (contrary to Orthodox belief). If Orthodoxy wishes to accept the OT based on faith, it is a faith on no firmer ground that the Mormon’s or the Muslim’s.

    This just continues to prove that you don’t understand Orthodoxy, or any sort of sacramental/incarnational Christianity. Where again did you prove that something being man-made or mythical means that God was not involved? This is exactly the kind or argument I was talking about – saying that the Earth going around the Sun disproves the existence of God.

    In any case, I left off the discussion about the OT and instead directed most of my discussion about the Gospels. Father Stephen stated they are a “faithful witness” to the life of Jesus Christ. The evidence is simply overwhelming that such is not the case. The website I offered is its author’s summary of several lines of evidence that he’s spent years examining. Your view that it extrapolates “far beyond what the actual findings imply” only demonstrates your unfamiliarity, or even ignorance, of present-day scholarly research and findings about the Gospels.

    I’ve read some scholarly works – Dr. G. B. Caird, Dr. J. D. Crossen, Dr. Marcus Borg, Dr. N. T. Wright. Father Stephen studied at Duke University and read such scholarship at length. Name some present day gospel scholars you’ve read. Name one. My guess is that you’ve read things like the above website that make claims about modern scholarship and give a few footnotes, but that you haven’t read any of the scholars themselves. Am I wrong?

    I’m sorry, Robert, but these sort of overreaching claims (overwhelming evidence and all) about what scholarship “proves” about the gospels is only effective against those who haven’t actually read it.

    Now then, are you interested in reading some of N. T. Wright’s works? He is the most prominent New Testament scholar of our time – widely recognized and engaged by both skeptics, liberals, and conservatives alike. Or are you content to take the fact that “scholarship has discredited the gospels” on faith in a website?

    And even once we’ve actually read them, an “appeal to scholarship” is no more decisive than an “appeal to tradition”. We have to actually engage what is being said, and decide if the arguments themselves have merit. Have you done this? Remember that an “empirical argument” means looking at evidence, not just citing experts.

  76. katia says:

    Robert,

    Where did the Bible come from?-fralexander.org

    “…TO DWELL AT TOO GREAT LENGTH on this matter of the “apocryphal” books of the Old Testament, however, could be very misleading, for in some significant respects it is entirely beside the point. Some much more critical issues are at stake. In order for these issues to be meaningfully or intelligently addressed, it is first necessary to understand and accept that the Church and the Holy Scriptures have a history… that is, that certain things happened in a certain order at certain times, and that, at least to a meaningful extent, we can determine what these were. We must, to reduce the matter to simplicity, admit that the Church existed on the Monday after Pentecost… but that at that point none of the books of the New Testament yet existed, and most of them would not be written for yet another twenty or more years, and a few not until nearly the end of the century. If we (or those with whom we discuss the Faith) deny the existence of this history, refuse to admit facts as part of divine Truth… then we really have nothing to discuss at all.

    In the first weeks, months, years of her existence, the Church had no written documents whatever, except the books of the Old Testament as indicated earlier. The events of the Gospel were related from one believer to another by word of mouth; those who came to accept the Faith heard them from the believers. This was entirely in keeping with the culture in which the Church lived, which was above all else an oral culture. Relatively few people were able to read, let alone write… and so they heard the word of God and kept it (cf. Lk. 8:2 1; 11:28). The holy Apostle Paul insists upon the matter: “Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold to the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15)….”

  77. It is very Modern to believe that something that Really Happened is more TRVE than something that didn’t Really Happen.

    It’s even more Modern to believe you can tell the difference

  78. Robert,

    I do not want to address the back and forth between you and a number of others here, but would like to add one point of clarification.

    When Father Stephen says that you are not skeptical in the proper sense of the word because you are too sure of what you know, he is using the term ‘skepticism’ philosophically. Philosophically, skepticism is the belief that we do not have knowledge (weak skepticism) or that knowledge is impossible (strong skepticism). These two types of skepticism also correspond to the distinction between the Pyrrhonian and Academic skeptics that is layed out by Sextus Empiricus during the Hellenistic period.

    To evaluate different claims and to seek evidence for these claims (especially empirical evidence, which you seem to prefer) is not to be skeptical, but rather to be critically engaged in the knowledge project. Your definition of skepticism is not in keeping with the history and tradition of philosophy. People may use the word ‘skepticism’ in a common sense way to mean questioning the justification for someone’s belief or position, but this is not a technically correct use of the word.

    One thing that makes empiricial arguments less persuasive is that thorough-going empiricist philosophies actually destroy themselves, or at least undermine much of what we believe that we know. Descartes illustrates some of these problems in the course of his work the Meditations. How can we be sure that our senses accurately report reality to us? How do we know that our ideas match up with reality? The skeptical arguments that Descartes marshalls in the Meditations are as powerful as any throughout the history of philosophy, and the first type of knowledge that falls apart for Descartes is knowledge of the sensible world (knowledge that we gain through empirical observation).

    The only person who undermines empirical arguments even more successfully is David Hume, himself an agnostic (or perhaps athiest) empiricist. Hume does deny miracles, because he has not experienced them, but he also denies the laws of nature, the law of cause and effect, and the concept of a subsisting personal identity or self as well for the same reason. Hume offers us an empiricism that undermines the rational basis for all scientific inquiry by undermining inductive judgments(look at Hume’s problem of induction) and demoting the law of cause and effect to something that we impose on phenomena that saeem to be constantly conjoined. Thus, according to Hume there is not a real relationship between what we call causes and what we call effects, because we have not observed this relationship.

    Empiricists need to more critically engage with the foundations and tensions in their own philosophy before they can use that philosophy as a standard with which to judge the religions of the world.

    The website that you pointed towards and which articulates the empirical arguments that you find so persuasive uses the words, “Which explanation is more feasible given what we know about the way the world works?,” in order to force the reader to decide whether the Gospels are third-person fictional accounts or whether they report what “really” happened. The problem with this argument is that it is not critical enough, namely, it does not investigate the presuppositions of its own empirical philosophy that has given us knowledge of the way the world works. Until someone can ground empiricism itself, and answer the question, “How do we know that our senses accurately report reality to us?”, we can never be sure that the world is as it appears to us, and have no basis for judging how the world works.

    Skepticism is a more honest intellectual position than a smug empiricism that refuses to look at its own foundations – foundations that even empiricist philosophers themselves have found wanting. While Hume had no problem saying that it is our habits rather than knowledge that govern our beliefs about the world, I doubt whether the rhetoric of your athiest website would be nearly as persuasive if it read, “Which is more in keeping with our habitual view of the world, that the Gospels are fictional accounts or that they reported what really happened?”. There can be no rational or critical basis for habits. They are simply that, habits. But to disagree with religious belief simply because one is not in the habit of believing is not at all persuasive for others. The question for you is: how can the empiricism that paves the way for your empirical arguments against Christian beliefs escape the negative and skeptical consequences of Hume’s thorough-going and honest empiricism?

  79. Dave N says:

    At the risk of being attacked I dare jump back into this “conversation” – if that’s what you call it – to offer the following observations/opinions:

    There is no humility to be found in people anymore. No humbleness. No amazement at what they do not know or understand. No silence allowing for anything to enter the mind other than noise.

    Only pride. People know everything, and yet know nothing.

    I made my original comments on this thread days ago and I stand by them still based on the conversation that has taken place since. Nothing I’ve said previously, or now, is a throw away comment.

    “The blind see, and those who see are now blind”.

    Back to lurking in anticipation of more theological posts from Father…

  80. Robert says:

    Wonders wrote:

    Where again did you prove that something being man-made or mythical means that God was not involved?

    If God was involved in the creation of the OT, then it’s not really man-made, is it? Are you granting that God could be involved in the creation of the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an?

    I’ve read some scholarly works – Dr. G. B. Caird, Dr. J. D. Crossen, Dr. Marcus Borg, Dr. N. T. Wright. Father Stephen studied at Duke University and read such scholarship at length. Name some present day gospel scholars you’ve read. Name one.

    I’ll name two: Bart Ehrman and Robert Price.

    I’m sorry, Robert, but these sort of overreaching claims (overwhelming evidence and all) about what scholarship “proves” about the gospels is only effective against those who haven’t actually read it.

    Again with the word “proves”. Frankly, it’s a bit tiring to have words put in my mouth. No false witness, remember?

    And it’s highly ironic that you harp on my “overreaching claims” yet blindly ignore sharper claims like those from your Father Stephens who flatly assert “the simple fact that Orthodox Christianity alone is true, and the fullness of the Christian faith.” Humility, thy name is not Orthodoxy.

    And even once we’ve actually read them, an “appeal to scholarship” is no more decisive than an “appeal to tradition”. We have to actually engage what is being said, and decide if the arguments themselves have merit. Have you done this? Remember that an “empirical argument” means looking at evidence, not just citing experts.

    Let’s be straight about one thing: an appeal to tradition is a fallacy; an appeal to scholarship is valid.

    And yes, I’ve read the Christian view of the Gospels, from conservative to liberal. What’s struck me in particular is that when you begin looking at their claims, you realize how far they stray from the evidence. They start out with the proposition that the Gospels are a witness to Christ’s life, and interpret all evidence to fit this belief. At times, you cannot help but feel indignant over how far they’ll stretch the truth to uphold the theology.

  81. Robert says:

    Todd Trembley wrote,

    Until someone can ground empiricism itself, and answer the question, “How do we know that our senses accurately report reality to us?”, we can never be sure that the world is as it appears to us, and have no basis for judging how the world works.

    In a fundamental sense, this is true. We never can be sure. So keep that in mind next time you’re feeling ill and desire to go see a doctor. After all, how can the medical profession “escape the negative and skeptical consequences of Hume’s thorough-going and honest empiricism?”

  82. Still Seeking says:

    Robert,
    I grew up in a fundamentalist Reformed Christian household. I am very well acquainted with the “God of the West.” It is that understanding of God, and an undergraduate training in science and logic, that allowed me, for a time, to deny the existence of God. I became a skeptic and an atheist, because I could not reconcile the God of the West with the scientific and logical training I received. Then I started dialoging with an Orthodox friend.
    I recognized quickly that most websites on the internet are inadequate representations of any “sides” of a reasonable argument.

    This was an invaluable, though basic, book that my friend referred me to, that in an almost un-biased way illustrates the difference between Western “Christianity” and Orthodoxy: A Light From the Christian East.
    http://www.amazon.com/Light-Christian-East-Introduction-Tradition/dp/0830825940
    I am now a newly-chrismated convert into Orthodoxy, after having traveled a long road from fundamentalist “Christianity” to what I believe is true Christianity.
    I suggest this book as a starting point in understanding the differences between fundamentalism and Orthodoxy.

  83. They start out with the proposition that the Gospels are a witness to Christ’s life, and interpret all evidence to fit this belief.

    Yup, we do take the unbelievably absurd position that the gospels were written as accounts of the life of Jesus for his followers in the context of the Church. It’s just amazing how brainwashed we are.

    If God was involved in the creation of the OT, then it’s not really man-made, is it?

    Clueless nonsense. We may continue this discussion once you acquire a basic understanding of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Until then, you really have no idea what you are arguing against, and therefore do it will all the subtlety of a fundamentalist smugly dismissing Buddhism because of the inherent contradiction of them “desiring to be rid of desire”. If I were a Buddhist I’d have little tolerance for that sort of silliness, because the fundamentalist is only interested in dismissing, not understanding. This is the same situation.

  84. Let’s be straight about one thing: an appeal to tradition is a fallacy; an appeal to scholarship is valid.

    Rubbish.

  85. Robert F. says:

    Well I don’t think the Scientific Materialism vs. Theism debate will be settled anytime soon, and certainly not here in a com box. The two worldviews are thoroughly incompatible, each featuring diametrically opposing epistemologies. Refuse to recognize this, and any discussion will remain utterly futile and fruitless. Instead let us honor each other by respecting our differences; whatever we do and whatever we believe, we must not trample underfoot that which we have in common, our shared humanity.

  86. Sean says:

    @ Robert F.

    There is a common belief among traditional orthodox, expressed also by Met. Kallistos Ware (although he just expresses it, he is not the originator):

    There is much debate between science and theology as to the creation and cause of things in the world. As a ‘cradle’ Orthodox I was never taught that what science says is rubbish, or vice versa. What was imprinted on my mind since school years and later through the books of many esteemed orthodox scientists and theologians is that science and theology are not opposing fields, because they offer answers in different questions on completely different levels: Science answers “How?” and “When?”, Theology answers “Who?” and “Why?”. One may argue that theology tries also to tells us “How” and “When”, but they forget that these answers are not purposed to serve as scientific evidence, but rather as a ‘vehicle’ upon which the truth of revelation is offered. And one may also argue that sometimes science answers “Who” and “Why”, but that is done on an empirical level (eg. “The sun rises and sets because earth moves around it”), and does not touch on the subject of a higher Cause. To try to use science to express theological truths, or theology to express scientific truths is a fallacy and a failure. Orthodox believe (or at least should believe) that we cannot know the ways that God operates and much more, we cannot express them, as much as an washing machine, or a computer can really comprehend the way their creator (us) operates. If a computer, which is admittedly a great creation of man, is so lowly compared to man, then how more magnificent and incomprehensible for us is the Creator of man, than the creator of computer to the computer itself? This kind of reasoning is an immediate result of Apophatic Theology, which is inherent in Orthodoxy and so foreign in the West.

    Science is assumed knowledge of empirical evidence processed by human thought and is a relative, dynamic truth, that is not perfect, but is progressively becoming more complex and sophisticated through the continual occupation of man with the natural world.
    Theology, on the other hand, is not knowledge, but rather truth by revelation. It is offered to us and we

  87. Sean says:

    … either accept it or not. It is also dynamic but not in the sense science is. It is dynamic because through that truth by revelation has the power to drive towards the divine by a process during which we stop reacting to physical knowledge and go beyond the boundary of science. That does not, in any way mean that science is rubbish, or a mere trifle, quite on the contrary. It rather means that we cannot attain to the incomprehensibility of God as long as we are bound by empirical, natural, scientific evidence.

  88. Karen says:

    Let us pray that Robert and those like him get the empirical evidence they need to decide that empiricism and naturalism do not explain all of human experience and that, by God’s mercy, they, too, may receive the gift of faith by which they may perceive His mercy. Truly, if this discussion shows anything, it shows that our experience of God and the birth of faith for any given individual is only wrought in a mystery by the Holy Spirit. So those of us who believe Jesus Christ ought to gratefully acknowledge our debt to Him for the gift we have received and humble ourselves to pray for for the whole world as for ourselves.

    Dear Father, bless!

  89. Robert F. says:

    Sean and All,

    It must be pointed out that scientific materialism and science are not the same. They are often unwittingly confused and mistaken for each other. Scientific materialism (aka naturalism) is a philosophical position. From Wiki:

    “Naturalism is a philosophical position that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. In its broadest and strongest sense, naturalism is the metaphysical position that nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature. This is generally referred to as metaphysical or ontological naturalism. Another basic form, called methodological naturalism, is an epistemological method of proofing hypotheses. It requires that hypotheses are explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. Yet another form of naturalism is the idea that the methods of science should be used in philosophy. Science and philosophy, according to this view, are said to form a continuum and, hence, the same methods apply to both.”

    The “rub” is in this assumed continuum between science and philosophy (and more particular to our conversation, science and theology). If one is willing to accept this continuum as valid, the scientific method can be applied to theology and theology to matters of science.

    The metaphor of the one and two storey universe is not entirely helpful in this regard. For the atheist, for the scientific materialist, the universe is a closed system, for “nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature”. To speak of storeys in the universe only applies to reality as understood by theists. For the Christian the universe is an open system, as “all there is” is not confined to the created order. Hence the Christian can speak of revelational knowledge, which is regarded as an absolutely absurd concept in a closed universe.

    In exchanges between Christians and atheists no true communication can take place (as we have seen here) if it is not understood that on a very fundamental level each side uses an entirely different methodology of knowledge. Only when this is acknowledged can any sort of conversation commence.

  90. Sara says:

    Lord have mercy on Your servants suffering from spiritual blindness and hardheartedness.

    This is really the only thing I can think to say when faced with militant atheism and those who live for argument. They don’t want to hear answers or explanations, and anything nuanced or complex bounces off of them like rubber.

    Seeing Father Stephen’s kind and patient responses to certain posters is truly humbling in itself. It is a pity that it doesn’t seem to be rubbing off!

  91. Sean says:

    Sara,

    I have often found that it is Christians first who suffer from hardheartedness and deep conservatism and that it is they who are not willing to hear answers or explanations. It is a proper right of every man to have their own opinions and nothing anyone else will say will ever make them think otherwise unless they are ready to think otherwise. Let us pray that we are the first to listen, to understand and – even more in the case we cannot condone or accept or agree – to love and befriend.

    Robert F.

    I do not confuse scientific materialism and science. I’m only saying that scientific materialism applies science in a philosophical system that tries to answer theological questions (sometimes). As I stated above, this, from a purely theological point of view, is a failure and contrary to the purpose and potential of science. It is the exact opposite of religion trying to answer scientific questions, like why 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 of oxygen form water, in a pseudo-scientific way.

  92. Zoe says:

    It is when we encounter someone whose views and actions are very different from what we believe that the content of our hearts is revealed–for in this instance, we can ask ourselves, am I feeling anger or impatience towards them who do not believe as I do? I’m catching myself still falling into this trap many times in my dealing with others who are inquiring about Orthodoxy, Lord forgive me. We are commanded to love our enemies, and our enemies are those who are in opposition to us. Lord help us to be able to pray without condemning others. I think Fr. Stephen’s post “St. Silouan and Love for Enemies” will help.

    Father bless.

  93. Karen says:

    Let’s also take heart in the many examples we could find from the history and Tradition of the Church and from contemporary witnesses of those militantly opposed to Christianity, who were nevertheless apprehended by God in His grace and became believers (remember the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascas). Let us remember also that it is the blood of the martyrs (their voluntary, courageous and humble self-sacrifice for the sake of humanity and of Christ), not the brilliance of their rhetoric, that is the seed of the Church.

  94. Sean says:

    Zoe,

    I agree with you completely. What I often think about is the word ‘enemies’. How can someone be your enemy, when you love them? I mean, how is it possible to consider your enemy a man you love (their opinions and beliefs are irrelevant)? I believe that, in the context of the Gospels, an enemy is a person who themselves consider you their enemy, regardless of your stance. A Christian and the Church as a whole, cannot have enemies, only brothers and sisters. I know I am far from this ideal myself, but I think that’s what we all should aspire to. And I really do not think that all the guys who posted here in favour of atheism (eg, opposing our ideas) qualify as enemies! I would bet they do not see us as enemies and they do not feel we pose a danger against them, they are just presenting their arguments (even though the conversation might sometimes become so heated as to aggravate our feelings). In any case, I don’t see them as such, I know that they nurture a vitally curious mind and an unsettled spirit, and that in and of itself deserves and commands my respect.

  95. Thus my observation that modern atheists are 2 storey people with the upper floor ripped off.

  96. Zoe says:

    Sean,

    Forgive me. When I say enemies, I’m referring to those for whom I dislike or starting to dislike because of what they say or what they do that is contrary to what I expect. Thus my categorizing them as my enemies has more to do with me and how I feel towards them than how they may feel about me or what I believed in. I’m a new convert and still learning and therefore I appreciate correction; but in the little time since conversion to Orthodoxy, I feel that even this little “aggravation” that I feel towards others can grow into hatred and hardness of heart if I don’t recognize it in time and ask God for forgiveness. Lord forgive and have mercy.

  97. Sean says:

    Zoe, it was no correction. I was just contemplating on the phrase of the Gospel. Believe me, I am not a man who considers everyone his brother or sister. Lord knows there are people I heartily dislike (or at some points even hate) although I should not, and I have been Orthodox all my life.

  98. Zoe says:

    Sean,

    I understand your point and I agree with you about respecting those whose views do not support Orthodox theology.

    Christ is risen!

  99. Sara says:

    Sean,

    I agree with you and didn’t mean to sound hardhearted myself; I include myself in that prayer. But this particular back and forth between Robert and Fr. Stephen is what I was referring to. He is entitled to his opinion, but I do not see any evidence that he wants to hear Fr. Stephen’s answers. This disingenuity is something I see among both atheists and proof-texting Christians.

  100. Steven L says:

    Nicely Argued Everyone! Plenty more for everyone to learn I think.

    My favorite post from above was at April 28th at 3:37 pm

  101. dale says:

    Robert you may find the following interesting….

    I hope it is not inappropriate to add alink to this discussion. James Kay was a physicist who had the ability to clearly articulate complex systems including concepts of evolution(not Darwinian) that accepts mythology as a necessary reality. make sure to read the footnotes as well. I appreciate he willingness to accept that science is of value for understanding the world around us but is honest about the uncertainty of our ability to ‘know’ completely. I sense he would have been a good Orthodox…

    http://www.nesh.ca/jameskay/www.jameskay.ca/musings/myths.html

    Father Stephen… please feel free to remove this post if you feel it is unhelpful.

    Father Bless.

  102. Robert F. says:

    Dale,

    Very interesting read. Footnote #3 is especially though provoking:

    “There is one myth that I think allows our society to get away with the other myths. This is the myth of ‘scientific objectivity’ and its ability to determine TRUTH. This myths allows people to believe that what they are doing is NOT based on myth, and hence they do not feel the need to examine the inconsistencies and contradictions in the myths that guide their actions. This science myth gives people an incorrect sense that what they are doing cannot be wrong, since it is based on scientific fact.”

    This is precisely what occurs when the difference between science and scientific materialism is blurred. It too happens when faith and science are confused.

  103. dale says:

    agreed, it is never healthy to blind ourselves to our lack of knowledge. Father Stephen’s statement,’ I am an ignorant man’ is not false humilty but honest reflection and it is true for him it is surely true for me as well. accepting our uncertainty does not mean we know nothing it just acknowledges our limitations and we move on by the grace of God as best we can. Lord have mercy on us in our ignorance.

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