Glory to God for All Things

The Modern Project

06b-Persistence-flows-alongWhen I was doing a graduate degree in theology, it was not uncommon to hear discussion of the “project of modernity.” It was an academic catch-phrase to describe the social/philosophical/political/religious efforts to construct the modern world. The Enlightenment  (17th-18th centuries) brought new ways of thinking into the mainstream of Western culture (and now the world). It newly imagined the meaning and construction of the State; it pondered and reinvented Christianity; most importantly, it re-imagined what it meant to be a human being. We are the heirs of that legacy. The most uneducated person in our society shares the assumptions of the “modern project,” regardless of whether he is even remotely aware of it. We are the modern project.

In the modern project, human beings are autonomous centers of consciousness whose choices and decisions bring about their self-actualization. I will explain:

We are autonomous centers of consciousness. My identity is rooted in the fact that I am conscious and aware. It is the center of my self and belongs to me alone. I may choose to share with others and make common cause with others – but I am defined only by myself. This is the heart of individualism.

Our choices and decisions bring about our self-actualization. Who I am in the world is a product of my experiences and the choices and decisions I make. Those decisions create my identity – they are my means of actualization. My decisions and choices are what determine the meaning of my life. I am who I choose to be.

When you look at these critical ideas, it is easy to understand why the primary driving force of modern history is freedom. This definition of what it means to be human makes a certain version of freedom the most essential part of life. Anything that restricts freedom becomes an enemy of individual existence and self-actualization. Only if I am free to choose am I able to properly exist as a self-actualized individual.

These are not necessarily conscious ideas, but they are almost universal in the modern world. We discuss “freedom” and “choice” without the need to define our terms and with a wide-range of social agreement. Just as certain Christian groups played a major role in the development of the modern world-view, so their spiritual heirs have become the dominant modern form of Christianity. Churches that practice infant baptism (normative in Classical Christianity), once the dominant practice even among Protestants, today constantly have to defend a practice that seems to contradict the most basic assumptions of human freedom. “Shouldn’t the child be able to choose for themselves whether to be Baptized?” Anything that impinges or limits choice seems dangerous or questionable within the modern project. A relationship with Christ is something that must be freely chosen. “The Hour of Decision” is a phrase that resonates with the modern heart.

Church discipline on moral matters (or otherwise) has also come under increasing scrutiny. Modern persons may associate themselves with a Church, becoming “Catholic,” or “Orthodox,” or “Presbyterian,” etc. But that the moral details of their lives should be governed by that association seems questionable to them. A majority of Americans who identify as “Roman Catholic” ignore the Church’s teaching on many issues – particularly those that they regard as “private” (sexual issues in particular). The Church serves a function in their lives, but only the private choice of the individual has the power to define and determine true identity. In such a world “Catholic,” “Orthodox,” “Calvinist,” is more a label, a self-chosen identifier, than a community in which identity and life are formed.

There is a civilizational clash between Classical Christianity and the Modern Project.

In the Classical understanding we are not autonomous individuals. We are contingent beings whose existence is a gift with purpose, meaning and direction given by God. We have value as persons, not because of our choices or our ability to choose, but because we are created in the image of God. Thus the least of us, including the incompetent and the vegetative, have true worth and dignity.

We are not defined by our choices and decisions. Who we are is the gift of God – it is a given. Its identity is a matter of revelation and transformation in the Christian life and not a private work of self-construction. Our choices and decisions are not unimportant, but they only have relative merit or power. In the end, we are God’s creation and our decisions only have meaning in relationship to Him.

The civilizational clash is perhaps most poignant at the places where modern choice and classical givenness most contradict one another. The most common points have been on the level of biology and relationships. The instincts of Classical Christianity are to treat biology and relationships as givens. Gender is not a choice. Family is biological rather than associational. Sexual relationships serve a given order rather than private needs. The instincts of the Modern Project are to maximize freedom and choice. Biology is real, but not necessarily determinative (thus some today self-identify their gender). Family is increasingly defined as a set of choices – relationships that we prefer. The givenness of blood-ties with inherent responsibilities are largely disappearing in current jurisprudence. Thus we have the “accident of birth,” which cannot begin to compete with “freedom of choice.”

The often maligned popular version of relativism (“if it’s true for you”) is simply an expression that maximizes choice. Truth that is not chosen is experienced in the modern world as oppressive. The Classical Christian world of doctrine and dogma is thus endangered as a set of extremely inconvenient truths. Why would it be wrong for us to re-imagine God?

The End of Civilization

Christian civilization ended somewhere around the time that the modern world began. The Modern Project has not asked how it could save Christian civilization – that civilization was its enemy from the beginning. The modern question has been: “What do we want the world to look like?” For how the world looks is a matter of choice. Thus Protestant theology (which is itself a modern project) has largely been driven not by deeper exploration of its roots and traditions, but by continued exploration and re-imaginings of the Christian gospel.   Sola Scriptura was never imagined to be a controlling force directing the course of civilization. It was first and foremost a wedge used to dismiss the Classical Church and its Traditions. Like the American Constitution, Scripture has been “evolving” ever since.

Today Classical Christianity has not disappeared. It remains and is a thorn in the side of modernity. The popular media keep a constant watch on the Vatican, hoping for any sign that its classical foundations are slipping. Orthodoxy in its resurrected Russian vehemence is characterized as allied with a “thug,” and as thoroughly reactionary.

Meanwhile, Christianity in its classical form is set upon a difficult road. The temptation is simply to be reactionary – to see itself as the conservative “choice,” in which case the Modern Project will be complete. For if Christianity will simply agree to be a choice then it can be understood (and marginalized). It is, however, the Classical contention that we are not the product of our own choices, that our lives are defined by God’s gracious gift and that all things are relative to God alone that flies in the face of the modern world. It is the place of Tradition – something given that is not a choice – that refuses to yield to modern pressures.

The spirituality of Classical Christianity is that of self-emptying rather than self-choosing. It recognizes that life is, finally, always a given. The demands of blood and kinship are real and rightly lay claim. My imaginings and demands for a world of my own fashioning are seen as temptations that draw me away from the difficult tasks that lay most rightly at hand. The Modern Project has always promised a better world – and for those with the wealth and intelligence to profit most from freedom – the promise has paid great dividends. But the promise has also been a hollow mockery of our existence. For we are, in fact, contingent. And though we may imagine ourselves able to be something other than what we are, in the end the grave refuses to yield to our choices. In perhaps the greatest irony of all, the Modern Project now champions the right to die – as if we actually had a choice.

Next article: A Modern Conversion

123 Responses to “The Modern Project”

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  1. JWM says:

    Thank you Father for an important and insightful review of the “modern project”. But I think it would be unhelpful to draw too much of a contrast between the modern conceptions of consciousness, freedom and choice and Orthodox thought. Russian Orthodox writers (Dostoyevsky) and philosophers (Berdaeyev) were precursers to or at the heart of the developement of modern or post modern ideas. The Church has always had the intellectual fire power to engage creatively with current philosophy in any age (Pavel Florensky) and currently ( Bently-Hart). We can discuss these and other Orthodox thinkers but we cannot deny their importance to the “modern project”.

  2. GS says:

    Lord have mercy!
    I recognize this spirit of the modern world in myself and am disgusted. I cringe at the thought that many caring and loving people doing their best and unaware of the factors that weigh on them are being eaten by this “freedom”. I think of all the bright young people that desire change because of the corruption they witness, yet move in the direction opposite of God because of modern prejudice.

    The question I have is this — Do I try to relate to these attitudes because they are in me and in everyone around me? Or do I completely aleinate myself from these modern concepts?
    It is difficult for me to contemplate the second choice, which seems the less logical and better choice, because of lonliness. Then again, the attitudes I would relate to are of themselves very isolating..

    Thank you Father Stephen!

  3. Michael Patrick says:

    JWM, can you clarify your comment about Orthodox thinkers? It seems you’re saying their engagement with the Modern Project has served only to promote or to aid it.

    D.B. Hart’s latest book excellently brings into relief three significant contrasts between Classical Christianity (classical theism actually) and scientific materialism which is both the epistemology and metaphysics of our culture. I think Hart’s engagement has exposed the Modern Project’s (in)ability to explain reality in any satisfactory way and this, rather, supports Fr. Stephen’s thesis.

  4. Dino says:

    What a fantastic article. These astute insights are indispensable for us all…
    Thank you Father!

  5. Michael Patrick says:

    JWM, let me add that the Russian sophia school has had its problems, but they didn’t fall for the Modern Project’s scientific materialism, epistemology, ethics or aesthetics. They all stood in contrast, including Florensky, saying that all things are contingent entirely on God’s being and gratuity, and to experience His energies in this world is grace and salvation, the very purpose of life.

  6. Michael Bauman says:

    GS, I wonder if you are not posing the question within the same parameters of freedom and choice?

    The alternative to individualism is not loneliness, but community. In a community centered on the love of, by and through Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity, the struggle is not, as Father Stephen points out, one of loneliness, but of a presumed right to privacy.

    I’ve been reading a book: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality

    The author is a young man who has been troubled by homoerotic desires since puberty but decided at the same time to be faithful to the teaching of the Bible and the historic Christian witness that homosexual activity was not God’s will.

    He struggles with loneliness despite the presence in his life of many loving friends. He is attempting to forge a solution and hits upon the idea of community and a different form of intimacy that is non-sexual but still deeply intimate. Nevertheless, he couches his struggle in the language of choice and freedom and individuality. He has difficulty making the adherence to the Biblical and Classical norm anything other than a personal choice that he makes and others might not (or so it seems to me at this point).

    Community is not new in Orthodoxy but largely underdeveloped lately in the US. However, the presence of real community through our communion with Jesus Christ is the primary reason I became Orthodox. It is the foundation, I believe, of Father Stephen’s declaration of a one-storey universe. It is the real matrix of our being, our capacity to love and interrelate with both the divine and human.

    Submission to the love in such a community is quite difficult for we modern individualists. It does not come instantly. Some try to force it with strictness, but that ultimately fails because it lacks the flexibility and mercy of love.

    In high school I played a character in George Bernard Shaw’s play: Caesar and Cleopatra. I was the British slave of Caesar. At the end of the play Caesar attempts to free my character and is refused with the line: “Only as Caesar’s slave have I known true freedom”.

    That line and the thoughts it set off in me have been with me ever since.

    Our true freedom is contingent on obedience to a higher authority, not in this world, but in the life and hierarchy of the Church. Fraught as such a hierarchy populated by sinful and sinning human beings is, it is nonetheless the only antidote to the nihilistic chaos that is swirling around us and threatens to consume us by license masquerading as freedom.

    The difficult thing is that in our longing for community we often accept ersatz ideas in place of the real thing. That is the source of all ideologies, IMO, which are a form of idolatry.

    The saintly hermit monks who appear to be vastly alone and isolated, are, by their own accounts, interconnected in a way that is practically unimaginable to the rest of us. They are anything but lonely.

    I think facing the false loneliness that the transition of thought, mind and heart from the modern entails can be daunting and a prime reason more don’t do it.

    From the moment I began my Christian journey, I have asked the questions “what does it mean to be human; what does it mean to be a Christian man?”

    I am not as faithful to the answers as I would like to be, but our Lord is merciful.

    One thing I came upon early on, which is inherent in Fr. Stephen’s article, is that Descartes’ dictum: “I think, therefore I am” is one of the greatest blasphemies ever articulated. Yet it permeates our culture in every imaginable way. The consequences are horrific.

    The answer is the Cross, the grave and the glorious and third day Resurrection. Or so it seems.

    Enduring the pain of the Cross and entering the darkness of the tomb is not easy. It is impossible on our own as autonomous beings.

  7. JWM says:

    Historically, I think that the vibrant Orthodox intellectuals who were developing the ideas of freedom and action ( who were influenced by Dostoyevsky and Soloviev ) were exiled or murdered after the revolution. This left the modern European intellectual landscape open to the critique of an atheistic existentialism or Marxism, without the contribution of Orthodox thinkers who were exploring similar ideas. We are only now with new translations into English and French beginning to feel the contribution of Russian Orthodox thought of the last 60 Years. Hart, as far as I can understand him, is very much a product of the postmodernism he engages.

  8. GS says:

    Thank you Michael Bauman!

  9. LI says:

    Thank you, Father (with a deep bow)! For your time and effort and to God for the great gift of words He put in you. It’s almost a rule for me to come to your blog to find precipitated and purified truth instead of the loose bits and pieces flying around in my head.

  10. JWM says:

    Michael Bauman and GS, thank you for your heart felt posts. We begin with freedom and choice. Immediately thereafter and every moment thereafter we must choose whether to reverence the image of the merciful and loving Christ or to submit to the authority and force of mammon. I don’t think there is much more than that. Lord have mercy.

  11. fatherstephen says:

    JWM
    Unavoidable, and even laudably, Orthodox thinkers of the past two centuries often engaged modernity, and, to some extent, their voices have played a role in forging the modern world. Some of those thinkers (Solovyev) were far more Western than Orthodox. Others drank very deeply at certain modern wells (the Sophiologists and German Idealism), but many (like Dostoevsky) are examples of the Classical engaging the modern. He repudiates his revolutionary (and modern) youth. And the existential crisis that ensues in his life is mirrored in his characters. The insanity of Raskolnikov (Crime and Punishment) is the insanity of Neitzschean modernism, and it is healed with an embrace of Classical Orthodoxy. It is a freedom that embraces the world (and its Divine givenness) rather than a freedom that imagines it can create its own world and its own self.

    Freedom is absolutely the primary question of the modern project (as I noted). 19th century Russia, as it was emerging from serfdom, etc., had to profoundly engage the question and meaning of freedom. The 20th century was a failed experiment in accepting the most bizarre forms of modern freedom. Today, Russia has returned to the question and is currently trying (under Putin’s leadership) to find a way forward as a modern nation that does not repudiate or destroy its Classical foundation. I’m watching them with great interest (as should we all).

    Hart is quintessentially post-modern. When I first read his work The Beauty of the Infinite, it sounded like it had come out of the Common Room in my doctoral program at Duke. As it was, he was in a very post-modernist program at the Univ. of Virginia. We corresponded some about the book. It was his dissertation and he said it could have easily been half as long. But the nature of the “post-modern” project, is to understand and critique the modern project. Classical Christianity is only one challenge to it – there are many others.

    My Orthodoxy had its birth, after a fashion, in that milieu. It probably has much to do with the nature of my own writing and what seems interesting to me.

    The burning question for Orthodox in the world (and it will be the “modern” world for quite some time to come) will be defined by the engagement between the Classical and the Modern. I hope this series of articles will help clarify some of the parameters of that engagement and help readers understand why they think some of the things they do (and why others think as they do) and how they might go about living an authentically Orthodox life in the modern context.

  12. Greg says:

    JWM I agree with you that the Russian Orthodox intellectuals engaged modernity creatively and aggressively, but their contributions were as critics first and foremost.

    Also, while I am sympathetic to what Father Stephen is saying here, I think it is incomplete: in fact it is peculiarly true of Russian Orthodoxy that it prioritizes freedom as central to the (Orthodox) Christian understanding of life. However it does this in a specifically Christian, rather than secular, way. The missing piece of the puzzle in Russian religious philosophy is the idea of “godmanhood” or more generally deification as the proper telos of humanity. As an aside, I’ll note that two of the most important contemporary writers on the transition to modernity are Alisdair McIntyre and Charles Taylor precisely because they argue that without teleology, we aren’t actually talking about humans.

    Father, if I may, a useful followup might focus on what was lost in modernity that informed classical thinking entirely – the idea of teleology – and specifically the Orthodox understanding of theosis as our proper end.

  13. Robert Bearer says:

    Thank you Father Stephen, for another wonderful reflection, which has stimulated a fruitful conversation, with illuminating comments from others.
    This part of your article struck me:
    “In the Classical understanding we are not autonomous individuals. We are contingent beings whose existence is a gift with purpose, meaning and direction given by God. We have value as persons, not because of our choices or our ability to choose, but because we are created in the image of God. . . . Who we are is the gift of God – it is a given. Its identity is a matter of revelation and transformation in the Christian life and not a private work of self-construction. Our choices and decisions are not unimportant, but they only have relative merit or power. In the end, we are God’s creation and our decisions only have meaning in relationship to Him.”
    Along with this in the comment thread from our brother Greg, who says that Russian Orthodoxy
    “prioritizes freedom as central to the (Orthodox) Christian understanding of life. However, it does this in a specifically Christian, rather than secular, way. The missing piece of the puzzle in Russian religious philosophy is the idea of “godmanhood” or, more generally, deification as the proper telos of humanity.”
    Greg cites McIntyre and Taylor as saying that without such teleology, one isn’t actually talking about human beings, since theosis is Man’s proper end.
    Someone said on an earlier thread that he was wrestling with the meaning and definition of “freedom” and “rights.” Here in this discussion, it is implicitly provided: freedom and rights are the God-given powers and the room to use them to be what God has made us to be: to actualize in so far as He wills it the likeness of Christ, to be conformed to the Image of Him Who is both our Beginning and our End. Such a right, such freedom, is inalienable in that it cannot be rightly taken away nor rightly surrendered or misused. No doubt JWM is not incorrect in noting that in response to this circumstance of givenness, we enjoy a certain realm of choice to accept and cooperate with the Gift of God and His Life-creating Energies or to go our own way after false gods who, however momentarily attractive, never pay with any currency other than sickness, sighing, sorrow and death.
    Christ is in our midst,
    rlb+

  14. fatherstephen says:

    Greg,
    While I appreciate your underlining the importance of freedom in Orthodox understanding – I think you miss the teleology in the article. As Robert just noted, “We are contingent beings whose existence is a gift with purpose, meaning and direction given by God.” I think that pretty much sums of our teleology. The purpose, meaning and direction given by God is precisely union with Christ in conformity with His image (theosis). Important to the article and subsequent discussion, is the this purpose, end, telos, is given by God rather than generated by our own desire. Our purpose is to become what we truly are, not to be otherwise. Because the modern end of man is always imaginary, it will always be a source of torture and misery for those who fail to fulfill its promise (the vast majority of people). This becomes all the more poignant in times such as ours, when the creative engine of the consumer economy is not firing on all cylinders, thus not able to pay for the fantasies of our freedom. Modernity holds little hope for the poor.

    I should add that I’m a great fan of Taylor and MacIntyre.

  15. Michael Patrick says:

    Greg,

    I greatly appreciate your comments because you’ve said well things I wanted to say but can’t due to my insufficient and more intuitive grasp of the subject.

    Fr. Stephen and JWM:

    Regarding Hart, I have to admit that I take delight in his able deconstructions of interlocutors’ positions. Is your label of “post-modern” a statement more about his method, environment or approach, or do you also intend it in critique of his commitment to the Gospel of Classical Christianity?

  16. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Father,
    Wasn’t Fr Seraphim Rose trying to respond to this very thing – the modern project? At least it seems that way to me reading his biography or do you think he was, in some ways, too reactionary to the modern project?
    Shelley (macrina)

  17. fatherstephen says:

    Michael Patrick,
    I meant it as a description of Hart’s method. I found in my studies that the “rhetoric” analysis employed by a number of post-modernists were quite useful in expressing an Orthodox understanding in the context of modernity.

    I am especially indebted to the post-modernist analysis of the Modern Project. Its strength has been its ability to “deconstruct” – to pull back the curtain and look at the world its assumptions create. That is useful as a spiritual discipline as well – as we seek to discern and understand our own motivations and assumptions. Just as we have to look at the ancient world to a degree to understand something St. Paul says – so we also have to look deeply into modernity to understand our own minds – or the New York Times.

  18. fatherstephen says:

    Shelley,
    I think you’re right about Fr. Seraphim. I think he worked within some limits that hurt his work. The polemics of Russian Orthodoxy at the time kept him, I think, from seeing some things that would have actually been helpful to him. Our challenge in the modern world is so much greater than any one Orthodox figure.

  19. Greg says:

    Father Stephen, I am sure we violently agree, but I do believe that there is an Orthodox current – certainly very strong in Russian tradition – that would take exception to part of the presentation. (Of course, it may be my own strong bias toward being very explicit about teleology and freedom.)

    For example, when you write “We are not defined by our choices and decisions.” I immediately think of St Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Moses “We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be…. molding ourselves to the teaching of virtue or vice.”

    Here and in general, the question is what do we want to become rather than simply what are we. That may have a modern ring in isolation but in reality it is very much aligned with the “classical” (and very Patristic) idea of humanity.

    It being the Feast Day of my patron St Gregory today, may we be enlightened in this discussion by his holy prayers!

  20. Dino says:

    I’ve surely mentioned this here before: Logos (as in the Word/Logos of God – Christ) means a great deal more in Greek. A not so obvious one at first (which I particularly love) is ‘meaning’…
    And concerning this

    purpose, meaning and direction given by God – union with Christ in conformity with His image

    it is worth mentioning that in the midst of a world that absurdly fights for meaninglessness (I see this intensely every time I come across a newspaper’s ‘scientific explanation’ of the world and Man in it for example), we are given such a word that says that what exists ‘before all’ is “Meaning” (Logos)
    I cannot recall the philosopher (probably Epictitus) who said that Man is not scared of pain or tribulation or other things; Man is scare of not seeing (the) meaning (in these)

  21. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Thank you, Father. I read his book during graduate school in California. I wasn’t Orthodox at the time but being steeped in the modern project, among other things, while earning my graduate English degree had left me in a state of despair. His book was like a life raft for me. I became Orthodox and haven’t read his book for 12 years. I’m very much aware of the controversies and disagreements about his work, but it seems to me, at least as concerns modernity, he still had good things to say.
    Shelley (macrina)

  22. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Father,
    Also, reading a lot of Fr Schmemann, isn’t his work also a response to the modern project? When someone told me later that Schmemann and Rose were antithetical to each other, it puzzled me at first. But now it’s starting to make sense. It seems they came to two different conclusions on how to deal with the modern project, one much more inclusive than the other. Rose seems more of a time to pull up the moat type. As a mother of a young son, and a college professor, I have no idea what the answer is as far as how much engagement with culture is good or at what point it starts to change us. Some days I’m more Schmemann and others more Rose. Any insights?
    Shelley (macrina)

  23. Charlie says:

    Modern? well, I suppose if you must. But it will have changed in 10 years or so (“not relevant now”.)
    The reason I came to Orthodoxy is because it is eternal; it offers the road to theosis, and the Love of God ( a two-way street!)
    That’s it in a nutshell.

    “The ladder of divine ascent” is very heavy going, but a bit at a time beats any psychology/philosophy hands down.
    Kyril .. aka Charlie

  24. Nathan says:

    Father, thank you for this post. You have often written of Tradition that is something not a choice – that we are not who we choose to be – and even of the Church as “not a choice”.

    I struggled with this for a very long time as a Lutheran, because I was drawn to Orthodoxy, but wondered how I could “make a choice that was not a choice.” How does one make the choice to leave behind what he is? How does one accept and receive all the good things from his “tradition” (so to speak), especially if he is strongly influenced by men who taught him the early church and the church fathers, yet “choose” Orthodoxy over Lutheranism?

    I don’t know if my questions make any sense or not. But friends have asked me these questions before, and I have wondered about them myself.

    The only answer I can give is that, for myself, I eventually became Orthodox when I felt I had not choice – when it was either convert, or watch as my faith outside of Orthodoxy died. I’ve often wondered if I could have or should have converted sooner, and it was precisely this notion of tradition and receiving that had been handed over to me that stopped me – because I didn’t know how to sort out the tradition I had received within Lutheranism from the tradition of the Orthodox Church.

    But I am wondering if you have a better answer? Especially for those struggling with conversion? Because it really does seem like a choice, and I don’t know how to say it isn’t.

  25. Dino says:

    In the knowledge that we are slaves to consumerist ‘choices’ that never end, you could call that “the choice to stop choosing” – a kind of manumission.

  26. Robert Bearer says:

    It occurs to me that the issue is not so much whether we have a limited power of choice, but towards what that power is directed and how it will be used. Ultimately, we do choose Life (or death) by cleaving to Him Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life and by keeping His Commandments (which is, to use a now archaic terminology) “to do our duty”). We can do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. We can present ourselves, our souls and bodies to Him as living sacrifices, conformed to Christ. We can seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. But we cannot set the ground rules and change the Way that leads to Life.

    Our brother, Michael Bauman, quoted (Fr.) Rene Decartes earlier: Cogito ergo sum. Better with Blessed Augustine, St. John the Theologian, St. Paul and our Lord say: Amatus et amo ergo sum.

    Christ is in our midst,
    rlb

  27. Shelley Armstrong says:

    It’s Hamlet versus The Brothers Karamazov.

  28. fatherstephen says:

    Nathan,
    If you had waited a couple of days to ask these questions, you would have perfectly anticipated the next article in the series. “How do we make a choice that is not a choice?” Do please stay tuned.

    And for others, Greg in particular (Many years on your Nameday!), freedom is indeed a primary Christian question. It is the derailment of Christian freedom down the path of the Modern Project that has created the distortions I am lamenting and to which I want to draw attention. It is true, of course, that we must choose (although St. Maximus centers this not in the natural will but in the gnomic will and sees it as a sign of the fall). But the freedom to be/become what we are/meant-to-be is very different from the freedom to become whatever I want to be.

    I, too, became Orthodox when I could not “choose” otherwise. It was like the last decision – to be free of the tyranny of my own choices. When C.S. Lewis became he Christian, he said that he did not ask himself what he now believed, but rather “What do Christians believe?” It is how he became such a solid rock and able to be beloved. “Lewisian” can refer to a wonderful style of writing and fiction, but has no meaning as a position within Christianity. This, however, is precisely in contrast with the meaning of “Lutheran” or “Calvinist.” The word “Orthodox” needs no explanation in that regard.

    “Opinions” is generally a negative word in Orthodox spiritual vocabulary. Our modern culture is so full of opinions that we can barely have a conversation. It is a proper goal of the spiritual life to have as few opinions as possible. We have the faith. We do not need opinions.

  29. Mary Holste says:

    A few thoughts:
    1. I don’t think that emphasizing choice is at all opposed to Orthodox Christianity. So for example, Fr. Hopko and Fr. Schmemann both talk frequently about how the Christian life involves “dealing with what we’ve been dealt”. We can’t choose the circumstances of our childhood, our socio-economic class, our race, etc. but we can choose what we do with the life we’ve been given.

    2.It is misleading to say that people choose their gender now. People who identify as transgender do not see it as a choice at all. They are in the unfortunate position of feeling like their brain is the opposite gender from their body. You can debate why they feel that way, whether it is biological in origin or psychological. But in any case, they are not choosing their gender for their own amusement.St. Xenia of Petersburg dressed as a man after her husband died and refused to answer to her own name. There is room for kindness to transgender people within Orthodoxy. I don’t envy their particular struggles.

    3. I think when we talk about individualism and modernity, we should also include some of the context of other movements in the 20th century. Individualism can also be seen as a reaction against the dehumanization of communism, fascism, and the efficiency movement, which all treated people as cogs in a system. They did not see humans as having innate value or being made in the image of God.

  30. Robert Bearer says:

    Dear to Christ, Mary,

    Modernism exalts personal choice and the individual unmoored from God. It is the non serviam of Lucifer turning Mankind into antichrist.

    Gender is a term of grammar: masculine, feminine and neuter. As human beings we are given our sex by God, whom made them male and female in the beginning so that the two may reunite as one flesh, be fruitful, multiply, replenish the earth and have Christ-like dominion over it and all that is in it, caring for it and keeping it, as priest and kings unto God. In the same way God creates each of us personally and giving us the soul which is the form of the body formed in our mother’s womb from the egg she supply in conjunction with our father’s seed and from that moment on each of us is either male or female, called to be a man or a woman, to mature and live in chastity. This is our calling, our duty if you will. Our choice is either to respond to it and work to fulfill it God helping, or to refuse and go our own way reprogram ourselves–but if we do it cannot end well. Is it truly kindness, to pretend that it will? If not, the question is, how can one speak the truth in love and be a means of healing?

    I think historically individualism precedes communism, fascism and the efficiency movement–all of which, by the way, found an ally in Darwin’s atheistic mechanism for evolutionary “progress”–survival of the fittest by “natural” selection. This suited Marx, Nietsche,Lenin, Hitler, Herber Spencer and Margaret Sanger just fine.

    Nontheless, Christ is in our midst and to Him be the glory.
    rlb

  31. CJ says:

    “I am defined only by myself”:
    The more I think about how I am defined, the more I realize that I most truly am defined by God who created me, but also by the relationships I have in the world (especially those of love).
    Brilliant post, Father!

  32. Mary Holste says:

    Dear RLB,
    Thank you for your thoughts. If we are speaking the truth in love, then we need to do more to make sure the love is loud and clear. If a transgender person walked into your parish, would they go home overwhelmed by the warm invitation they received? Or would they go away with the impression that no one cared to make the effort to understand them before judging them?

  33. fatherstephen says:

    Mary,
    Your point about kindness is well-taken. Actually I did not have the particular case in mind of transgendered persons – though I think that the strategies of modernity offer difficult, and frequently less-than-satisfactory results. There is something inherently tragic of being one gender and wanting to be another – how we help one another to bear the tragedies of our lives is a very important spiritual measure. It is love.

    But I would suggest that I am in the article drawing on a wealth of historical/philosophical material – the Modern Project is not an idea of my own. Nor is my analysis of Orthodoxy in this regard particularly creative on my part.

    As to choosing gender today. Well in pop culture we’ve moved beyond tragedy, which is due respect, and passed into the absurd, which will only do harm. Recently, in a noted university in the U.S., entering students were directed to “choose their own pronoun.” That would be a very sensitive thing to do for someone struggling with gender issues. But this was simply the wholesale encouragement for everybody to do it, treating “he/she/it” (and any other word you wanted for your pronoun) as mere life-choices, or preferences. I’m not making this stuff up – other people are. And, of course, it is bizarre, but I’m talking about an accredited four-year university, not some junior high somewhere. And, likely, this absurdity will not become a standard practice, but the “logic” of it, is, in fact, of a piece with the Modern Project.

    I am working hard not to write this series of analytic articles as polemical pieces – and I don’t want them to become that. I haven’t made my comments or examples in a light manner or without considering their impact. We live in a deeply tragic world and none of us are immune to the pain of that tragedy. We are too often immune to the pain of other’s tragedies. The Tradition has never been ignorant of these tragedies either – but it will address them differently and suggest a different spiritual strategy.

    I’m working on spelling that out to some extent.

  34. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Thank you Father Stephen. It’s much needed and very helpful.

  35. Mary Holste says:

    Thanks for clarifying! :-)

  36. I’d must test with you here. Which isn’t one thing I often do! I enjoy studying a publish that can make individuals think. Also, thanks for permitting me to comment!

  37. Amanda says:

    May I ask where you got the photo at the beginning? I ask because I had a dream recently with a very similar image…

  38. mary benton says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    This is indeed an excellent article. I also very much appreciated Mary Holste’s comment with regard to the transgendered and others who are faced with experiences that most of us cannot imagine.

    I suspect that some (certainly not all) of the absurd “choices” that some people seem to be making emerge from experiences that human beings have had forever but that were not so publicly known or discussed. People often suffered in silence, often with deep shame, whether it be with gender identity issues, mental and medical conditions not well understood at the time, incest, etc.

    With the coming of mass media and the civil rights movement, many more people with minority status of some type have attempted to emerge from their silence and shame. (I am not citing “civil rights” to reignite discussion of the “rights” concept as much as to note the impact of that historic time on our cultural experience. “Black pride” stimulated others to want to be able to find some “pride” in who they are, – meaning pride as in a non-shameful, non-self-loathing experience of self, not as in sinful pride). As these people emerge from their silence, their issues become publicly discussed and known – with the resulting mish-mash of very public opinions.

    This is all leading to a question (so I ask readers to resist the temptation to side track on referenced controversies, as that is not my point). My question, Fr. Stephen, is how Tradition within Orthodoxy addresses experiences that were not understood or talked about during the days of the early Church Fathers.

    I realize that Tradition does not change with the times, i.e. in response to social pressure or preferences. But I also understand Tradition as living, not something that static. Thus I am wondering if there are new “Fathers” (or Mothers) of the Church emerging to guide a world that has dilemmas and questions that the early Fathers could not have anticipated.

    I understand that sacred Scripture and the teachings of the early Fathers contain eternal truths that still guide us, whatever era we are in. That is a given. But do we also have recent teachers, similarly authoritative? If so, how does one know who is to be regarded in this light? If not, has the era of authoritative teachers ended?

    I apologize that my question is so long and convoluted – but I am asking sincerely, as this is something I would like to better understand. Thank you.

  39. Michael Bauman says:

    Mary Benton I wonder if some of the new pride has to do with the unnecessary balkanization of humanity and the false ideology of individualism: the need to be unique apart from God?

    Not to say that the brokenness we see is new. What is new is the need to revel in it and declare such brokenness as wholeness.

    If we are honest with ourselves, we all ought to take our shameful brokenness before God and we ought to be able to know that we are called to bear one another’s brokenness, in love, no matter what it is.

    What the modern project does is the nihilism of the transvaluation of all values and exalts each man’s brokenness to be a virtue to cover the pain.

    The result is an intolerant rage seeking nothing but the destruction of the “other”.

    I am deeply suspicious of seeking newness and relevancy for the Church. We need nothing new, we need to plumb the depths of what we have already been given: going boldly before the throne of God each time we fall even if we see no immediate hope of being made whole.

    Our wholeness is to come. “If it be now, ‘this not to come. If it is not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”.

    We must all be ready to rejoice in the love and presence of our Lord.

  40. Robert says:

    While broadly agreeing with the basic outlines of the ‘modern project’ as presented – the notion of “classical givenness” as stable, uncontested and predetermined is far from what one encounters in the writings of the early church fathers.

    For example – race, ethnicity, and blood ties were frequently used as mutable, fluid descriptors. Many wrote about the choices by which those of the Greek race, the Jewish race, the barbarian race etc. could become members of a new and third race, the Christian race. They constructed elaborate arguments to convince their readers. Ironically, we project modern notions of race (i.e. race as fixed, determined by biological, genetic factors) onto ancient Christian understanding of race.

    As to choice. The bottom line is that one cannot both offer a choice (i.e. “repent and be baptized”) and simultaneously deny people that choice (i.e. Christianity is not a choice).

    Classical Christianity is indeed set upon a hard road, but it is not marked by choice/no choice. Rather, the difficulty we encounter is that we have not demonstrated the better choice.

  41. Dino says:

    Mary Benton,
    I will wait for Father’s next article as I suspect that ancients such as St Maximus go to the eternal core of every soul with such perspicaciousness that they need little exegesis from a current Father for us to extract the answers to any ‘new problems’….

  42. Henry says:

    Father Stephen

    I first read your article last night. I agreed with much of what you had to say. In fact, I have posed some of the same arguments myself. However, I just felt there was something in it that made me uncomfortable. After reading it again this morning I will try to put my concerns in words.

    There is a healthy tension in the origins of modernity that was lost as we journeyed, step by logical step, from the first breaths of freedom of thought and inquiry found in the Renaissance until modern man became irrevocably lost in the wilderness of his own mind sometime around August 1914. We are the crown of creation. We are also the quintessence of dust.

    The modernity experiment has occurred. It has changed culture in the West. Some believe modernity has reached the end of its intellectual tether, at least in higher thought. The results are in. One of these results is the discovery that some mix of democracy and capitalism lead to the greatest good for the greatest number.

    One of these “goods” is freedom. As you know I believe that Vladimir Putin is doing a better job leading his country than certain other world leaders I could name. I don’t believe that even Putin, a man with his roots deeply set in authoritarianism, wishes or even believes it is possible to return to a world of Tsars and Boyars ruling over peasants and workers with Cossacks and the Okrana.

    I find it ironic that the success of Catholic education in the past century is the very instrument that ultimately undermined the authority of that Church in this country. It is easy to tell an illiterate Italian or Irish peasant to, “Pay, pray, obey,” but try telling that to someone with a Master’s degree in chemical engineering from Notre Dame. Good luck.

    What kind of world do you envision evolving out of a Tradition that is not a choice? Is there an implicit call for a return to State Churches, as we see happening in Russia? If so, it is unlikely that the State Church of Tennessee will be Orthodox.

    Henry

  43. Dino says:

    I found the quote (from Epictetus) which I mentioned earlier in connection to Logs/Meaning. Epictetus was appropriated by the Fathers more than once.
    Many of the questions regarding choice, freedom, meaning, (even the query on how to deal with what we have been dealt concerning transgender issues – or any other ‘Gordian knots’) would do well to be illumined by this insight:

    To the rational being only the irrational is unendurable, but the rational is endurable.
    So, it is not pain man is terrified of, but the lack of meaning.

    And true meaning is only imparted by (to risk a delicate rendition of “Logos”) Meaning Himself. There is no issue to which He is not the ultimate answer – but how do we arrive at this incontrovertible yet inconvenient (for the secular, voluntarist, relativist world) truth.
    However, nowadays pain always justifies a knee-jerk reaction for another free ‘choice’ as an answer, yet Christ and His true followers go through the most painful Crucifixion to get to the ultimate answer. The ‘lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world’ and seen resurrected in the flesh by His glorious Apostles is, of course, the only fulfilling answer…

  44. Dean says:

    Father Stephen…you noted that students at a well-known university can now “choose their own pronoun” speaking of gender. If possible the absurdity is greater here in California where last year the legislature passed a bill for our public schools stating that even entering kindergartners can “choose their own gender” and so use the restroom of choice. There have been over 600,000 signatures gathered to place this legislation on the ballot to hopefully be overturned by a vote of the citizenry.

  45. Dino says:

    It is the sad result of a world which regardless of having actually started through Christianity’s subversive reinterpretation of everything through Pascha, based firmly on the centrality of the ‘freedom’ bestowed by Him who has “overcome the world” (John 16:33) and Who “led captivity captive” (Ephesians 4:8) has gone awry through a return to the ego and its license, therefore defaulting on its inherent falleness, yet this time with a far subtler delusion than before, with seven other more wicked demons which make the final condition worse… (Matthew 12:45) Is this not the ‘time of apostasy’?

  46. mary benton says:

    Just want to add a couple of clarifications to my earlier question.

    Michael: I agree that “We need nothing new, we need to plumb the depths of what we have already been given…” We need nothing more than Christ; His truth is complete.

    Yet God has blessed us with many teachers to help us better understand Christ and His truth, ranging from the Church Fathers to Fr. Stephen himself. I believe there will always be teachers to guide us. I was simply wondering if authoritative “Church Fathers” were a continuing part of Tradition or whether that type of teacher was regarded as being for a specific period in history which is now past. God knows what we need – not me.

    ***

    I appreciate the love inherent in your comment, “…we all ought to take our shameful brokenness before God and we ought to be able to know that we are called to bear one another’s brokenness, in love, no matter what it is.”

    What may be hard for us to sort out is what is “brokenness” and the source of the “shamefulness” experienced – especially when we are evaluating the experiences of others.

    For example, is it brokenness to be born with black skin? (I assume most of us would agree that it is not.) Is there sometimes experience of brokenness or shamefulness for having black skin in a culture that has historically projected inferiority onto those born with black skin? (I would say yes – at least for some.)

    Is it balkanization for people with black skin to draw together and find a “pride” in being black, i.e. to be able to accept their experience as being not only “not inferior” but good and part of God’s plan? (I don’t think it is – though there certainly may have been individuals whose more extreme efforts were unnecessarily divisive. This often happens when trying to correct a wrong or misunderstanding.)

    Can God heal this brokenness? Of course, God heals all brokenness. But the brokenness, in this example, belongs not only to the people with black skin but also to the culture that (shamefully) taught them that they were inferior.

    Our culture can be very cruel to people who are “different” and often ascribes blame/shame to people for differences they have not chosen to have (as Mary H. noted above with the transgendered.)

    I believe that, as community, acknowledging OUR brokenness in how we as a culture hurt others is a necessary part of their healing process. It may also reduce the extremism or “reveling” we see when hurt people cry out to be accepted.

    (My views, of course, are only my views. But I share them because, as a psychologist, I often hear more of people’s innermost feelings of shame and brokenness about their differences than the average person hears. These feelings are seldom part of the news stories that stir people’s reactions.)

  47. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Father,
    Have you looked at a college humanities course list lately? It screams this very thing. Courses like a very, popular one “gender and desire: the family as invention.” I’m not making that up. You can look at any college catalog. We are now expected to teach courses like this. And they are all very, much like this, if not in title than in material. I’m perplexed as to how I can stay in a modern university without unwittingly contributing to this.

  48. fatherstephen says:

    Henry,
    I absolutely am not suggesting that Classical Christianity can or will turn back the tide of the Modern Project. Of course, I didn’t foresee the fall of the Soviet Union, but that would be but a minor thing in comparison to what would be required to turn back Modernity in Western Europe.

    My goal in these articles is pretty simple:

    1. Raise an awareness that makes it possible to have discernment about the nature of the times we live in and how that effects us.
    2. Look at how this impacts Christians in a Classical tradition.
    3. Consider strategies of living/spiritual life directed specifically for the task of life in a Modern context, yet faithful to Classical Christianity.

  49. fatherstephen says:

    Shelley,
    I so appreciate your voice in this. People who are not currently part of the academic world have no idea what is taking place in our colleges and universities. And those who are there as students, are usually clueless about how radically modern their curricula are. It is beyond belief. But it is training a generation (and more). God will give you grace, strength and discernment.

  50. LI says:

    Shelley, I’m studying sciences in Europe and I can totally relate to your concern. We’re taught that latest research shows female is the ‘original’ sex and male is a weird later development that is expected to disappear at some point again. :D Dino was asking above if this is the time of apostasy, my guess is, it’s the time Father Stephen quoted in ‘The Greatest Generation’ and we’re the ones accomplishing nothing because staying sane is hard work enough. My daily prayer became something like: “Lord, keep me sane whatever I hear/read/see today”.

  51. Michael Bauman says:

    mary benton: I tend to think that it is, in our fallenness, to set up groups that purport to speak for the grievances of the whole group. That does not promote healing.

    Martin Luther King when he began spoke to the sinfulness of the divide between black and white that both black and white needed to be healed of for the good of all. That is why Arb. Iakovos of blessed memory walked with him.

    Even during Dr.King’s lifetime his message was being twisted into hate.

    The “pride” groups these days promote disunity and glorify sin, disharmony and are fundamentally tyrannical and oppressive in nature because they are ideological not human.

    The anology you obliquely draw between skin color and ontological disorder is false.

    The pain of which you speak is real, it is ontological and it is uniquely and deeply personal despite similarities with others. Mass movements calcify and objectify that pain making it intractable.

    Anger for instance is like that. Should we have an anger pride organization? What ontological demons, distortions, and disfunctions deserve pride status and which don’t.

    No, such essentially artificial distinctions do not promote healing but division.

    The communion of the church in repentance and mercy is the only way.

  52. mary benton says:

    Michael,

    I appreciate your comments and I don’t think we disagree as much as it may seem.

    My aim is to talk about healing of both the individuals and the culture – which, as you noted, is part of MLK’s legacy. Did he “set up groups that purport to speak for the grievances of the whole group”? In a way, yes, in a way no. He brought black people together in a special way that was internally healing, i.e. restoring/establishing a sense of black identity in a way that white folks can never understand. He also brought people of different races together in a context of faith – even a greater accomplishment perhaps. Both the individual and the culture.

    My goal is certainly not to be promoting all of the “pride” movements out there. Rather I am suggesting spiritual leadership in the Church that similarly brings people with other differences together in love and mutual respect, reflecting the love that Christ demonstrated (yes, toward sinners) with much less judgment than is often seen in church groups today.

    (I am not saying this about the Orthodox or anyone here – just a observing direction in some corners of “religious” society that counter “pride” movements with veritable “hate” movements. Let us not judge too harshly what we do not understand.)

  53. Daniel says:

    Father Stephen,

    Nathan’s question above, “How Do we make a choice that is not a choice?” articulates exactly my biggest question, as I am currently a catechumen though I am converting out of a thoroughly traditionalist mainline/Anglo-Catholic frame of mind. For some time I saw the appeal of the Roman Catholic Church and pursued it with some seriousness, but then I saw equally the appeal of Orthodoxy and pursued it with like seriousness. Needless to say, Orthodoxy is what I finally “chose.”

    But that is exactly the problem. I fully understand the logic and appeal of the Roman Catholic position, and so it seems that I can rationalize my decision in either direction and that, in the end, my choice to become Orthodox was arbitrary, willful, “just because” I had to pick something other than what I was. And there very fact that this choice arose out of a personal “conviction,” as it were, regarding the Truth, seems to make the decision itself actually quite modern.

    A related observation: My wife and I discuss this frequently, as my father, her parents and her grandparents were raised Roman Catholic , but ceased practicing and eventually became involved in some charismatic evangelical circles. We have a good friend from South America who is a convert Protestant out of Roman Catholicism. And then we look at ourselves and see the opposite motion occurring – it is all very confusing, and we cannot help but wonder how different our situation is from theirs.

    I wold really, really be interested in a follow-up post where you address this issue.

  54. Michael Bauman says:

    mary benton, never really felt any substantial disagreement. Part of what I am saying comes from reading Washed and Waiting written by a homosexual man who wants to be faithful to Christ more than he wishes to satisfy his desires.

    If we were all as honest to ourselves about our brokenness as he is, you might be out of a job or at least it would be easier.

    I’d love to see Father address more fully the topic of shame and its place in the path toward holiness.

    Of course any insights you might have would also be good.

    You are correct too concerning the way opposition Christian groups seem to promote hate.

    I’ve seen the deep pain in the eyes of too many homosexual men in my life to ever go that route, thank God. Nevertheless, for the same reason I will never countenance the idea that homosexual behavior is not sinful.

    The rule of the Church and the testimony of creation: male and female. Chastity and celibacy before marriage, chastity and faithfulness after marriage.

    This often means embracing the Cross no matter what our particular desires are.

    That is also one of the messages of the book, Washed and Waiting. The fullness and the fulfillment of our humanity in relationship will not come in this life.

  55. Robert says:

    Fr Stephen and all,

    I am in ‘the academy’ both as a teacher and student, and I am a practicing Orthodox Christian.

    So let’s take our heads out of the sand.

    We can no longer pass off gender, race, kinship as fixed, immutable (God ordained) givens. We must acknowledge that such are fluid social constructs, defined and changeable over time.

    Absent a compelling case for defining gender in particular way, we are left with “we have always done it this way” or “the church says so” and so forth. As Henry stated above, good luck, such may work with the uninformed.

    We need to make that compelling case. If we can’t then it isn’t Gospel.

  56. Michael Bauman says:

    Choice. How seductive a concept especially in an egalitarian world. You can’t go wrong, unless your choice involves embracing of the Traditional.

    I can only comment on my own journey into the Church. Fundamentally, I wanted to know the truth: about God, about His creation, about myself and how/where I fit. I had an encounter with Jesus Christ early in my journey that, in a sense, was the template for future discernment and a goal at the same time. The Truth was revealed to me in a small enough dose for my hardened and blackened heart to accept (a miniscule dose to be sure).

    I made many descions aka choices in the 19 years between that encounter and when I first stepped foot in an Orthodox parish and found, once again, the person I had encountered 19 years before on a cold and lonely bluff in northern Illinois.

    Did I choose the Church? I can’t say that. Jesus reached out to me in my pain and patiently, inexorably brings me closer to Himself-usually kicking and screaming. I am a stubborn and selfish man, so He has a lot to do to even get my attention.

    Does one choose to love, to live? There is a difference between discernment and choice, between obedience and willfulness.

  57. Robert says:

    We Orthodox are firm adherents to the ancient Christian concept of participation.

    As such, we affirm that choice – involving our will, our intellect, our entire person – under most normal circumstances, is necessary in becoming and being a Christian.

    As I have stated before, the choice/no choice is a none starter.

  58. Michael Bauman says:

    Robert, your words are scary.

    From what I have read about the subject even science is coming to the conclusion that there is no such thing as race, and that we are all kin.

    That fits well with St. Paul’s words and even if those non-ontological categories are insubstantial the same cannot be said for male and female. Which, while they may pass away in the Ressurection and the fullness of life in the risen kingdom are an essential ontological characteristic until then.

    The disruptions and distortions that are manifest in this life are evidence of sin, not of an mutability that “must be accepted”.

    That sounds a bit to much like the secular acedemic arrogance that I have grown to heartily dislike and distrust.

    Forgive me if I mistake you meaning and intent. I may be reading my own bias into a place it does not belong.

  59. LI says:

    Robert,

    could you please elaborate on why “We can no longer pass off gender, race, kinship as fixed, immutable (God ordained) givens. We must acknowledge that such are fluid social constructs, defined and changeable over time”?

  60. mary benton says:

    Michael –

    If people make no choices, we are no different than the plants and animals. This does not mean, of course, that we make our decisions independent of God – hopefully we don’t try to. Even when we do try to, God invites us back to His Way. (But He doesn’t force us.)

    RE your statement: “I will never countenance the idea that homosexual behavior is not sinful.” I respect your belief. However, I prefer to let God determine what is sinful and for whom, when it comes to judging others’ behavior. I do not know what it is like to be someone else nor can I possibly comprehend another’s motivations, sincerity, etc. God knows what is in the hearts of people.

    I am not arguing for relativism. Rather I am saying that neither you or I are God. I’m sure you agree :-)

  61. Robert says:

    Michael,

    The take away is not there’s no such thing as race (or woman, man, etc.), but rather that such categories are fluid, defined differently over time, and that such definitions are utilized for various reasons (i.e. to exclude,suppress, benefit, and so forth). This does not need to be scary. The church Fathers utilized race for instance as both a fixed and fluid construct.

  62. fatherstephen says:

    Robert,
    I think you are mistaken in a couple of points.

    The more important has to do with choice. I have not suggested choice/no choice. However, choice (gnome) is, in the teaching of the Church, not at all the same thing as the will. Our choice is a result of the fall. The fact that we stand between two things, “halting” (in the words of Scripture) is symptomatic of something profoundly broken in the structure of the human will.

    In a rather large example (not refined), we can say that human beings do not always “choose” to act like human beings. Sometimes we don’t even know what it means to be human and we act in a very non-human manner. This is a function of the “choice” (gnome).This is contrasted with the will (thelema). The will is a function of our nature. As such, it is not fallen. Our nature always “wants” or “wills” what is appropriate to it. It wants to be human. It is this that marks the dwelling and energy of our logos, or telos (correct end).

    I think of my dog (whom I think about every day). He always does what a dog wants to do. His nature, if you will, is that of a gray wolf (for this is what all dogs actually are). We cannot breed an instinct into a dog that is not already the instinct of a gray wolf. We are able to “play” and “refine” that primary instinct, such that one dog is a good retriever, another a guard, etc. But the fact that they bond so with humans is itself because wolves live in packs. We belong to their pack. Because my dog always acts in accordance with his nature, he (like the rest of creation) is without sin. He is not fallen, but has been made “subject to futility,” but not actually sinful. If he attacks and kills a human, that is just some human’s direction or misdirection of his wolf nature, but not a sin on my dog’s part.

    But human beings, alone (except for the angels and theirs is a different case), have this fundamental disruption within their inner life. It is echoed in Romans 7. The work of Christ in the Holy Spirit within us is towards the healing of this rupture in the “choice.” The truly transfigured person always acts in accordance with his/her unfallen nature and does not sin. Christ alone, in this sense, is The Man (“ho anthropos”). He alone fulfills and shows what it is to be truly human. This is the teaching of the Church. These teachings are enshrined in the 5th and 6th Councils and the work of St. Maximus the Confessor. He is a difficult read, but is the great “Doctor” of Orthodox anthropology. His work will be crucial as the Church addresses some of the modern world’s questions viz. the human.

    And I think this is indeed the topic at hand – the Modern Project’s imagination and contention of what it means to be human versus the Classical Christian understanding of what that means.

    I certainly disagree that “gender, race and kinship” are merely social constructs and are fluid. For a variety of reasons, most of them highly political, we have been confronted with these ideas – first in the academy and secondly within the political sphere of our Modern Cultures. Some of the “fluidity” has been part of an effort to address the tragic suffering of some parts of our society (in gender dysphoria in its various forms). The answers being proffered in the culture are the results of extremely politicized “science” combined with legal decisions by a very dysfunctional court system. It does not mark new understanding, new research, new insight, or great revelations (theological or otherwise) into the nature of what it means to be man. It is probably the most brazen attempt at reconfiguring fundamental structures in human society in the history of our race.

    Having said that, I am not condemning it out of hand. But I simply want to pull the curtain back so that we are honest about the “progress” going on in our culture.

    The Modern Project has so distorted and abused the “choice” faculty of human beings (which is not at all the same thing as “free will”), that, to my mind, it has largely disqualified itself as an honest partner in the conversation of what it means to be human.

    The Church is going to be pressured on these matters, primarily because “these matters” have become a matter of powerful political forces in our culture. If Classical Christianity refuses to get in line, I think there will be efforts to force us to get in line. And those efforts will be done in the name of those who are “suffering.” The Church will be cast as a purveyor of evil (this is already happening).

    But, for the sake of the salvation of its “little ones,” the Church will need to find a ever more clear voice in these matters. For these “little ones” will be confused and afraid as the pressure builds. Many will fall away. Thus, I think it behooves good thinking and much prayer. This little series of minor articles is one drop in the ocean that might need to come.

    Now. Lastly, for the academy. I’m glad you have a job in the academy. But I can think of no other place in America that is as dysfunctional, politicized and beleaguered with hypocrisy than the American academy. I’ve been in the best schools. Those that are not “the best,” want to be like them and are in a hurry to get there. Thank God for science and technology, where at least an atom always does what an atom is supposed to do and political forces are of little avail. But the liberal arts in the academy are, frankly, a laughing-stock, with no more integrity than the worst of Soviet institutions at the height of their corruption. And I do not exaggerate. The bogus dissertations, absurd credentialing, politically created careers absolutely dog the system. It’s finances are more out of control than the American health system, and it produces uneducated, debt-laden graduates. Forgive me, but it is an institution for which I have little respect in its present condition. Tell me I’m wrong.

    We have spent a couple of generations creating education systems based on how we thought human beings were “supposed” to be, etc., and the result has been an increasing ignorant population. American education is currently in the late Middle Ages, and the Borgias are in charge. I look for no help from that sector at all.

    And this is something of a paradigm for the Modern Project. It accomplishes something good (free the serfs, free the slaves). But it continues to theorize, control, plan, re-create, re-imagine, etc., until it creates more poverty and misery than it started with. By no means would I return to slavery or serfdom – but American slavery was a product of the Modern Product, not Classical civilization. Good Protestant Calvinists and their like gave it to us in theory and in its worst practice. They’ll blame Classical Christians for it, while their offspring invent new masters in a brave new world.

    Not my project at all. I’m sorry that you think things to be so fluid.

  63. Robert says:

    Li,

    What I meant is that we make a mistake in accepting fluid notions of gender, race, ethnicity as immutable God givens. How a man or a woman is defined changes over time, these are social constructs, often used to benefit some and marginalize others (e.g. a woman doesn’t smoke, she belongs in the home, a man doesn’t cry, etc).

    I am not against social constructs per se (the Fathers used them! we all do) – however, we must be keenly aware of them, how they are used, who benefits, who is marginalized, how we can/should use them as Christians, etc.

    I hope that somewhat clarifies – it is a complicated subject matter, which we do well not to over simplify (alas a blog and combox does not lend to in-depth treatment).

  64. fatherstephen says:

    CS Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man,” describing the academy back in the 40′s, is still accurate and relevant in analyzing that institution’s role in the Modern Project.

  65. Robert says:

    Fr Stephen,

    The gnomic will notwithstanding (I agree with you – this is, after all, mainstream Orthodox anthropology) – the Christian faith is and presents itself to people as a choice (“who you do say that I am?” “repent and baptized” and so forth). “For if Christianity will simply agree to be a choice then it can be understood” – what then do you suggest we make Christianity out to be? A mandatory law? I think not.

    As to fluidity, perhaps my follow up comment to Michael and Li clarifies. Race, gender, kinship, blood ties, these are quite fluid. The Fathers used race as both a fixed and fluid concept – their writings are literally peppered with racial rhetoric. I am by no means saying that there are no givens – but rather that we must pay attention as – historically speaking – fluid notions are often presented as fixed. There is after all much to be gained to present the fluid as fixed.

    As to the academy, I can hardly disagree, there’s certainly plenty to criticize. However, and please now in turn forgive me, can’t the same be said about the church, “dysfunctional, politicized and beleaguered with hypocrisy” and “absurd credentialing, politically created careers”? (I can add more, but I won’t). The point is we can’t paint with a broad brush – it isn’t true of the church as neither of the academy. Don’t like what happens in the church? Become part of the change, don’t withdraw and throw bombs from the sidelines. Don’t like what happens in the academy? Become involved, make a change, make compelling arguments. The Fathers did.

  66. Dinoship says:

    Father,
    I am very glad for this series, as well as these comments -especially this last one on the ‘academy’- which clarify what I already perceive yet haven’t the intellectual eloquence to define comprehensively.
    It seems to me that deluded modernity, immersed in distraction has no hope of rightly perceiving Man (or much else) without resorting to those greats such as St Maximus – and the many others who by achieving peace (in a virtually extinct in our days solitude), saw the inner Man which ‘turbulent waters’ obscure.
    As things are going, modernity’s resistance to these truths is becoming reinforced by the minute. Only tribulations seem to have any effective power to wake us up , and perhaps only for a while – as soon as they are over we lull back into our stupor…
    Nowadays it even looks to me as if the era of words has expired. The sheer volume of information bombardment as well as the penetration of technology in the mind of Man (to point to just one of many impediments to “escaping the ‘Matrix’ ”) has done such damage that nobody seems to even be listening anymore.
    The Global agenda for the world clearly points to a ‘slavery of the mind’. Whoever decides to be deregulated however, ie freed from the passions, fears none of this…
    Our living example is, of course, the only thing left to serve as light before men -as Christ said (Matt. 5:16 ) about good works- rather than good words.
    Saying all this however, I hasten to add that your words Father, are certainly not lost on us, I am particularly grateful to you for them!

  67. fatherstephen says:

    Robert,
    I will work on compelling arguments. St. Maximus had his tongue torn out by an Emperor’s orders, a reward for speaking and writing the truth. The academy will do what it will do – I feel no compulsion to save it – that’s not in my purview. Nor can I sway the politics of men. The Church has its share of bad characters. There my task is to nurture the faithful and not take a share in hypocrisy, etc. I suspect that my voice will have its primary effect within the Church itself – and it is there alone, frankly, that I have hope. For there are many faithful and good voices.

    Kinship, race, gender, family, etc. are “institutions” (instituted by God) that are perennial. They have survived the comings and goings of civilizations. Not strangely, our sexual desires and blood ties, have largely served to preserve humanity across the eons rather than draw us into sin. Today, we are asked to consider the foundations of the family itself, to make them “fluid” in an effort to address difficulties that do not require the restructuring of human sexuality and the nature of the family.

    Our consumer economy has conspired to destroy the extended family (and has succeeded). I don’t think it was intentional, but it was done callously without due concern. I’m not interested in supporting the same fools as they destroy the primary family, in a continuing experiment in “choice.”

    We are already reaping the whirlwind created by the war on the family within our culture. The firmer structures of gender and kinship, written deeply and irrevocably within our nature, will survive even the downfall of this Modern civilization (which will surely fall by its own foolishness in time). The family will suffer terribly, most of the price will be paid by women and children (as always). But with the collapse of civilizations, blood and kinship, family remain. Only a false economy (such as ours) would conspire to destroy the extended family. It, too, will return, for it is of the nature of things. Nature will make the final compelling argument in a time long after you and I are dead. If the Lord tarries it will be so.

  68. mary benton says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Why do you consider your dog “fallen”?

    (This is admittedly a lighter question, but it suggests to me that I do not understand your usage of the word.)

  69. fatherstephen says:

    Mary, actually, I meant to say he is “not fallen.” He has been “made subject to futility” in St. Paul’s words. Only man is “fallen,” in the sense of having freely moved away from his nature and God. Creation is not properly described as “fallen” because it had no role in moving away from God, and generally, is not moving away from God. This movement away belongs only to man (and the fallen angels).

    But creation has been made “subject to futility” (Romans 8) in St. Paul’s language. It has been subjected to death and decay by God for our sakes (“cursed is the ground for your sake”). This is not to make creation bad, but is done for our salvation. Were creation not subject to death and decay, we would live on, lost in paradise, without the means to bring us to repentance. For as terrible as death and decay are, they rightly and correctly mirror our inner state, and draw us toward repentance – life eternal.

  70. Shelley Armstrong says:

    All I want to say Father, with tears of gratefulness, is thank you. Thank you. Please continue this series. I have always felt that Lewis was spot on with Abolition of Man.
    Shelley Armstrong

  71. Shelley Armstrong says:

    I wonder if the abolition of man has indeed happened, which I believe it has, then a “conversation,” especially within the academy, is no longer possible; therefore, should we as Orthodox Christians opt out of the conversation?

  72. fatherstephen says:

    I think we do not opt out of the conversation. We are commanded to bear witness which should, in truth and love, be our side of the conversation. We’re not responsible for winning arguments. Besides, with but three words, Christ raised Lazarus from the dead.

  73. Michael Bauman says:

    Robert, forgive me but your clarifications are nothing but a reassertion of you first statement and clarifies nothing. They are frankly what I have come to expect from the academy. They indicate to me that you either did not read or did not comprehend or did not want to comprehend what I wrote. You simply know better.

    God created us male and female. That is intrinsic to our humanity and to the fulfillment of our God-given responsibilities. It is not a social construct. To believe otherwise is to participate deeply in the nilhistic insanity of our age.

    God bless you and keep you and may He make His face shine upon you and forgive me an arrogant and presumptious man.

  74. dcnjameselliott says:

    Shelley
    If I might add to Fr Stephen’s reply—John the Baptist was ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness’. In his bearing witness he also lost his head, which I do not in any way wish for you. However, ask for his intercessions for you. They will be most helpful.

  75. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Thank you, Deacon James. I will most certainly do that. And yes, I quite like my head and would like to keep it.

  76. LI says:

    Robert, God bless you, sorry I dropped out of the conversation, I’m in a different time zone, but my thoughts are more or less like Michael’s – you didn’t clarify anything, just quoted yourself, either you did not read the Fathers with the due attention, either you picked certain passages that fit the idea already present in your mind.

    It is true that for the people outside the Church these extremely important concepts of what is a man, a woman, what is family and a people/nation/race varied a lot, especially in the last centuries, but inside the Church they didn’t change at all and they couldn’t because they were established by God via words-acts, they’re part of the creation. A man and a woman are what God made when He made Adam and Eve, kinship is what the Jews had to hold on for the dear life (the whole Old Testament is filled with genealogies), and different peoples are what came out after the mixing of the languages at Babel (and if I am not mistaken, this larger identity of a people/nation will be judged by Christ at the end of time just like each and every person).
    Why would be bother with the communion within Church if not to be protected from the twists of our unwise minds on such important matters? The fact that they seem fluid to you should put you on guard.

  77. Shelley Armstrong says:

    The Church being seen as a “purveyor of evil” will be the hardest thing for me to endure. It sounds less harmful in theory, but in practice and on a personal level, it is very hard to take. I have experienced this within my own family, not because of anything I’ve done or said, but because I belong to an institution that is seen by them as a “thug.” Meanwhile, there is a growing movement among the parishes in my region, of which priests and bishops, to my knowledge, seem unaware, to further the modern project within the Church and quickly. I think most priests would be amazed at the numbers as well as the numbers of new, young converts who positively believe the Church needs to embrace the modern project wholeheartedly. Maybe they don’t know because they are a step removed. There is a popular Orthodox blogger with this main objective and he’s gaining followers everyday. I don’t engage in arguments with him. Also, he has a voice in the mainstream media. Also, two days ago I listened to a piece on NPR about Russia and the Russian Church. The person interviewed was a well known lesbian activist. The spin on the piece made my stomach turn. For quite some time, my friends and I have worried, and I’ll be honest had some fear, that the Church in this country would not be strong. That Orthodox Christians are largely unaware of what is coming. I’m not using alarmism here or fear mongering or hyperbolic language. Simply, my lay friends and I have been dealing with these things on a personal level, within our parishes, with people we know and love. And they ARE winning arguments and followers. And we have largely been silenced waiting for a clarification from a priest or bishop. That is just another reason Father why I thanked you with so much gratitude yesterday for this series. Now off to liturgy.

  78. Robert says:

    Li,

    I do not mean to say there are no givens. I am also not advocating or condoning homosexuality, bisexuality, etc.

    I meant simply to point out there are many things being passed off as givens which are clearly not.

    The questions that concern me are beyond human anatomy as far what is a man or a woman. That is a given. The more difficult and pressing questions arise when we ask how, for which purposes, and by whom a man or a woman in a particular situation is defined. So it is for instance that biological givens were used to keep women from gaining an education, from owning property, from voting, and so on. Well, we all accept now, those were not biological, fixed givens peculiar to women at all, but carefully crafted, fluid constructs. What a powerful way to define/control/subdue women!

    Unfortunately, even the Church has been, at times implicitly and explicitly, a participant in passing off such constructs as God ordained givens.

    We are not immune to this if we are not willing to think critically.

    As was pointed out earlier, not all things are bad about the “Modern Project”. Dismissing it out of hand, painting it with a broad brush, making it out to be all bad, this will not serve our “Christian Project” well.

  79. Robert says:

    - cont’d

    Dismissal will not serve us well because we will come off as reactionary. Dismissal amounts to silence as it will keep us from creating compelling arguments to counter false ideologies. If we want to create and retain converts we must engage them and address their concerns. We must demonstrate why Christianity, and in particular Eastern Orthodox Christianity, is the better choice, the best choice. The best choice intellectually, spiritually, physically.

  80. fatherstephen says:

    Robert,
    Forgive me, but your analysis of biology being used to keep women from gaining an education, owning property, etc., is simply naive. Power does what power wants to do. It wasn’t doing it because of what it thought about biology. It was doing it because it’s what it wanted to do. There came a time that it wanted to do something else – that what it was doing needed to be done another way – and now, new readings of biology are being used for that. But nothing is being pushed by facts, new-found facts.

    The “given” is power (at least as far as the Modern Project is concerned). For that project is forever in search of a new world it is “creating,” and it pursues the varying versions that it continues to manufacture. What matters is that it continue to be the one in charge of the pursuing. “Women” now have seats in the places of power – but do you notice that the “women” have the same backgrounds and links to power as the men they replaced. Obama, the first “black” president, is a Harvard man. They don’t care what color, gender people come in, etc. But the masses are fed all of this nonsense and think things are changing and even progressing. That’s a ruse.

    But the Church, when it rightly lives as the Church, lives in a perennial existence. I am currently painting the Modern Project with a “broad brush,” for my readers will largely never have thought about it. Slowly, details and genuine and productive conversation can begin. I am thinking “critically,” but I’m not interested in letting the agenda of the Modern Project do what it thinks is “critical thinking” for me. The “head in the sand” is the head that the Modern Project puts there – they own the sand.

    It is the Church being the Church, thinking from within the life and true sources of the Church that is liberation, freedom and truly critical insight. The myth of Progress is not a moment of enlightenment. It’s propaganda. We’ll keep exploring the Modern Project. Christ is in charge of the Christian Project. I don’t have to worry about that. I need to serve Him, and not the Masters of the world.

  81. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Robert,
    The same argument you use is the argument some of my fellow parishioners are using for the ordination of women priests – social constructs and all that. I do understand what you’re saying – I listened to my women’s studies professors rally the cry that we (women) are not our biology. And they sold me a bill of goods – about freedom and how you can have it all. Turns out, if you want children, biology happens to play quite a big role in that. And if you want children, you have a certain biological time period in which to listen. Some of us didn’t listen and found out too late what we’d been sold as women and that instead of oppression, it is really quite an honor and a privilege to be a mother. I’m not harkening back to the days when we couldn’t vote, but women have not been done any favors under the “social construct” banner.

  82. fatherstephen says:

    Shelley,
    I think the Church will take some bruises and the ride will get bumpy on some of these issues – but I have confidence in the Church. I don’t have confidence in any one leader or bishop. They’re just men and they have all the human flaws. But I’ve read my Church history. We weather storms. Some centuries have seen huge parts of the Church embrace false teachings – all of the centuries with the Great Councils were terrible times in the life of the Church. But we survive those things. And they get very messy.

    But we only have to live a day at a time and the course of any one day hold a fullness of joy that we should never be afraid to enjoy. Christ is our everything and we can have joy in Him. And so we pray, we live our lives faithful to Christ. We grieve with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. And we’ll probably be laid to rest without knowing how it all turns out – except that we do because we have been feasting at the Table at the End of the World.

    History belongs to God. It is for us to be faithful with moments. We don’t live long enough in this world to concern ourselves with history.

  83. Robert says:

    Shelley,

    I am not arguing for the ordination of women.

    To borrow Li’s words “either you did not read [my words] with due attention, either you picked certain passages that fit the idea already present in your mind.”

    I am truly sorry to hear you uncritically bought a bill of goods.

  84. Robert says:

    Fr Stephen,

    My analysis is naive for the same reason you paint with a broad brush.

    Thank you for letting me comment on your blog – I will continue to enjoy your posts!

  85. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Robert,
    I didn’t say you were. I said, if you will read what I wrote, that others were using the social construct argument to argue for women’s ordination.

  86. mary benton says:

    I think I have a sense of what you mean, Robert, though I am not sure.

    Gender roles may be viewed as completely innate (given by God), partially innate and partly fluid, or completely fluid.

    It would be absurd to consider every aspect of gender role to be fluid, for it is obvious that biology dictates some issues of role (e.g. men cannot bear children).

    I think it would be just as absurd to consider all aspects of gender role to have be innate or assigned by God. Men can be primary (or strong secondary) caregivers to their children. Women can be truck drivers and physicians.

    That, of course, leaves us with gender roles being partially innate and partially fluid – which is what opens the door to controversy. I do not think we can reasonably try to close this door* and to try to would not only damage people’s understanding of the Church but also their understanding of Christianity.

    If I am understanding your perspective, Robert, you are suggesting that SOME of the fluidity in gender roles more recently accepted in society is not fundamentally at odds with Orthodoxy or Christianity, e.g. men caretaking children, women driving trucks or being physicians.

    And, whether intentionally or not, the Church may have taken “heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s (or women’s) shoulders” (Matthew 23:4), by defending or tolerating gender role stereotypes when there was no innate (God-given) basis for them.

    * What I mean by trying to “close the door” would be to try to pronounce all gender roles innate. I think a far better role for the Church is to a beacon in the confusion and controversy created by the door being open. As beacon, the Church can help draw people back from some of the absurdity of viewing gender roles as completely fluid or unnecessary, to understanding what it truly means to be a man/woman in the manner of Christ.

  87. Robert says:

    - Shelley

    I did read carefully what you wrote – but I fail to see how this pertains to the merit of my analysis.

    - Fr Stephen,

    My analysis is naive for the same reason you paint with a broad brush.

    Thank you for letting me comment on your blog – I will continue to enjoy your posts!

  88. mary benton says:

    (my comment of 3:58 PM was written before Fr. Stephen’s most recent comments appeared and were not meant to contradict them.)

  89. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Yes, Father Stephen. Each day holds it’s own joys. And “so we pray” and stay faithful. Thank you.

  90. fatherstephen says:

    Mary,
    Well said viz. fluidity vs. innate.

    As for Robert’s comments concerning the Modern Project and women’s issues, I think he is mistaken. There is a narrative used by the Modern Project in which it alone is responsible for Progress (at it defines Progress) and the Tradition (especially of Classical Christianity) is the obstruction. I do not buy that in the least. And it’s a dangerous camel’s nose in the tent, frankly.

    The Modern narrative is so self-servingly selective that it overlooks huge moments in its own history. Most Americans today are utterly unaware of the massive “eugenics” programs in Europe and America at the beginning of the 20th century. The most racist, anti-human program ever known. Only when it gave birth to the monstrosity of Nazi Germany did it have to take a step back. But the current abortion-rights people have their roots in that movement. It is the single most anti-woman program in existence, killing one out of every three children conceived in America. Europe is beginning to decline in population, its results have been so “successful.”

    And I refuse to “de-link” the Modern Project from such hideous enterprises, because it is their child. The rest of us should refuse to play and refuse to listen to the Modern Project recite its list of successes, because they fail to tell the truth and recount the full tale of their miseries. No. It is for the Church to walk in the light.

    The Church has never, ever said that everything about gender roles is innate. Only the Modern Project says we have said that. Falsely describing Classical Christianity is part of its narrative.

    The recent conversation in the comments about the nature of gender roles in the Church was one of the most interesting conversations we’ve seen here in some time. Part of that was that we managed to engage the topic without having to defend it.

    Thanks for these excellent thoughts.

  91. Robert says:

    My ability to comment has been turned off, so I am not sure if this will be posted. So be fore I write more, only to see my comments disappear, this is a test

  92. Robert says:

    Ah ok, I am back! :D

  93. Robert says:

    Mary Benton,

    Yes indeed, that is very much what I have in mind. Thank you.

    Shelley,

    I don’t see how their understanding and application is relevant to the merits of my analyses.

    Fr. Stephen,

    My analysis is naive for the same reason you paint with a broad brush.

    By your admittance that not all gender definitions are fixed we are in agreement.

    Thank you for letting me comment and I will continue to enjoy your blog.

  94. Robert says:

    For some reason my comments are not taking, so I will just say good bye, thanks all.

  95. Dinoship says:

    “The myth of Progress” is indeed another key delusional dogma that informs the ‘Modern Project’. It is also quite a western notion – even before the Middle Ages.
    Romanides has made a great case about it’s gradual intrusion in Western thought (theology first) through the West’s fascination with certain ancient Greek thinkers and the scholastic belief that ‘we can understand better through more and more and more stochastic analysis’… ! A world of difference to the Orthodox belief that from the start (e.g.: the Apostles on Pentecost) the Spirit of Truth bestowed the ultimate in knowledge of God possible this side of the grave.
    The West seems to have always had a strong propensity for ‘the myth of progress’ – new is somehow better… Funnily enough the East, even the Far East, never shared this. It is still common today for, say a Chinese artist (a Martial artist not a bad example actually) to claim that he knows an ‘even more ancient technique’! The further back to the roots the better for these guys. :-)

  96. Dinoship says:

    similar problem here Robert…

  97. Robert Bearer says:

    Fr. thank you for this thought-provoking discussion. Your comments distinguishing the gnome from thelema in the context of choice made me think. We products of the Modern Project tend to think that choice is inescapable. In fact when confronted with the possibility of a choice we are convinced that not to choose is a choice also. But putting this in the original context of Eden: Adam and Eve were already in the image of God. None had to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil for this to be so. However, the choice presented was to seek to make themselves like God by eating the forbidden fruit. No choice was, in fact, required for them to remain, as they were, in potential communion with God. The choice was the temptation.

    Our situation is different: our choice is to repent and return to the Father: so surrender our self-will and say truly it is no longer we would live, but Christ Who lives in us and that the life we live we live by faith in and faithfulness to the Son of God.

    Converts though many of us are–and in some ways we all mus be–if we think of our surrender to Orthodoxy as a personal choice, rather than a personal, submission and martyrdom, we haven’t really become Orthodox or Christian at all, have we?

    No a few criticisms: Someone smuggled in St. Xenia in the midst of a discussion of transgenderism. A complete non sequitur unless the purpose was to suggest he as an example of a transgendered person or a transvestite by reason of sexual dystrophia. But I read that she was devoted to her dashing husband before he died; after which she gave away all she had, retaining his military coat and answering to his name–a mode of life bespeaking humility and great respect for his memory more than some disordered idea of who she was.

    Also, it is careless for one of our brothers to list the categories of race, male and female as examples of the fluidity social constructs.Race seems to be because it the category itself is a human, linguistic and conceptual concept. As such, my be redefined. But male and female are not; they are matters of biology and there are not gradations in between. When a baby is born, virtually the first question always asked: is it a boy or a girl? female

    This statement: “The more difficult and pressing questions arise when we ask how, for which purposes, and by whom a man or a woman in a particular situation is defined” is sheer nonsense. The discussion that follows makes it clear that it is not the categories of man and woman that are intended–though grammatically this is what is said–but rather what behavioral expectations are placed on one who is a man versus one who is a woman. And the examples given are all about person power, material well-being,worldly influence and self-actualization. No mention is made by one asserting his Orthodoxy as to the examples of Manhood set for us by Christ God, our Lord Himself and by His Mother, the Theotokos, though it is He Who laid it out for us in the Sermon on the Mount (and in other places) and told us to take up our Cross and follow Him to the place of our execution and she who tells us that it is whatever He tells us that we must do. Are the worldly issues that concern the Modern Project at all the issues to which they would have us attend? Or is it not rather the mortification of our personal pride and passions, of the allure of Satan’s pomps and passing power and instead acceptance of the martyrs crowns of which even the marriage liturgy invites us?

    Forgive me, a sinner.

    Christ in our midst and to Him be all power, honor and glory now and forever.

    rlb+

  98. fatherstephen says:

    Robert,
    It’s a spam filter thing that befuddles me as well. Dino’s stuff gets in there all the time. Quite frustrating. When I’m active I check it frequently. If I ever hold someone’s comments, I let them know with a personal email. Occasionally the NSA routes all of our notes for analysis, but other than that, I’m not sure of any known problem. My IT support can’t give me an explanation or a fix.

  99. fatherstephen says:

    Robert Bearer,
    I well agree. Dino’s comments are much to the point as well. The fullness is given to the Church in the gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit only comes in “fullness,” which is why we say they were “filled” with the Spirit. This is indeed foundational in the Church’s understanding. We are never “moving forward” in the sense of progress. We are not “moving backwards” either. Rather, the fullness is always unfolding itself, manifesting itself in our midst. We find the truth by moving deeper rather than forward or backwards.

    The limit in the life of the Church is that the life of Christ being manifest in the world is not an “aggregate.” We do not have what the Fathers had, plus what we have. We have what we have. The fullness is of Christ. It is manifest in us as much as we are in Christ.

    Thus there can be such a fullness present at a moment in a life that virtually transfigures everything around it. In a neighboring city there can also be frightening corruption, etc.

    The Myth of Progress thinks of life in the world in the aggregate, that we are always standing on the shoulders of those who came before us – and thus we see more and know more than they did. But every man and woman start at zero and they can only learn so much in a lifetime and their children will stop at zero. As I study history, I see no moral evolution in human society. Certain institutions (slavery and the like) have come and gone. But I find the relative “freedom” of minimum wage workers (they can choose to work at any variety of burger joints, etc., for the some sub-living wage, etc.) to be little better than slavery. Our American public policies have destroyed the African American family more completely than did the institution of slavery. But we congratulate ourselves that we don’t own slaves.

    Would you like fries with that?

    As Solzhenitsyn said, the line dividing good and evil runs through every human heart. It does not run through epochs of time. We are not better than a forebears who owned slaves. And the suffering they endured to free them does not accrue to our credit. What have you done for the slaves in your world?

    The Kingdom of God confronts every human being. The fullness that was given to the Apostles abides in our midst even now. Either you press ever deeper into that mystery, or you engage in the self-congratulatory “progress” of political correctness and hiring policies (and such things).

    God willing, I’ll have the next installment ready by tomorrow.

  100. Mary Holste says:

    Thanks for the chance to clarify my comments about St Xenia. I was not suggesting that she was transgender herself. But I do think that her sainthood demonstrates the church’s historic willingness to accept behavior that does not fit the gender roles of the time. (Although many were scandalized by her behavior at the time.) The tradition of honoring Holy Fools is important. All people can find role models in the vast multitude of saints. All people have hope for salvation, no matter what their background is like, no matter whether they fit into some mold. When someone is different and we don’t understand them, we need not feel threatened by them. They too are made in the image of God.

  101. Robert says:

    Mr Bearer,

    Behavioral expectations indeed, but what you leave out is that these expectations are *presented as being a fixed traits innate of the female sex* (e.g. “women are not allowed to operate machinery because of their ‘weak constitution’” and other such non-sense).

    I didn’t reference the examples of manhood as provided by Christ, because I consider those a given. :D

  102. Shelley Armstrong says:

    I’m completely in over my head here and I don’t want to theorize too much, but I think my issue with the modern project and women’s issues stem from a personal revelation that in my pre-Orthodox feminist years, I couched my problem as one of equality, when in reality I wanted to, pridefully, be the giver not the receiver. Language is tricky here. But I did not want to submit to that that had been given. I wanted to be the agent not the bearer. And that lead me down a dark, angry road. I could not have ever admitted that before becoming Orthodox and I still struggle with the vulnerability that being the receiver requires. I hope I’m not being offensive to anyone here. I’ve tried my best to describe this economically.

  103. Michael Bauman says:

    Shelley, what you say makes sense. One of the real problems in the secular world is that it is difficult for women because men have either been pushed away or fled from being men.

    I’m not talking about being macho, that’s bunk. I’m talking about being a leader, a protector, a provider and a mentor to his children, a true lover in a self-forgetting way: both chaste and faithful to God and others.

    That is greatly discouraged in our culture. In the Church it is much more accepted and expected. Still difficult, but much more possible.

    How could feel at all safe outside the Church?

  104. Michael Bauman says:

    “Gender roles” is a largely a cultural red herring. Regardless of what function is being performed, a man will do it in a male way and a woman will do it in a female way.

    Even the most effeminate transvestites are still men even though they can do a pretty good job of acting like women.

    Those who are deeply confused about whether they are men or women are just that–deeply confused.

    That type of confusion is only to be expected in a fallen humanity. The confusion has to be revealed and dealt with pastorally but the proper order, the fullness of a Theophonic creation will not be known until the Second coming .

  105. Brian says:

    Shelley,

    You are not in over your head at all. In fact, in my opinion you cut to the heart of the matter. Who we are – our sex, our race…everything we are – is a gift from the Giver of all good things. We will never find joy unless we accept who we are with thanksgiving to the Giver and offer ourselves back to Him. Everything else is distraction, emptiness, and death.

  106. mary benton says:

    Fr. Stephen – This is a wonderful discussion. I particularly appreciate your comment to Robert Bearer at 5:52 pm.

    In once sense, I can see (the other) Robert’s allegation that you paint with a broad brush. In classifying so much under the title of “The Modern Project”, it almost sounds as though you do not believe that we humans can ever progress. Nothing that appears to be progress is really progress.

    And, in a sense, you are right, i.e. we remain sinners. If we try to “improve” our societal life, apart from Christ, we as a species may seem to have made progress (gave up slavery) but our sinfulness just takes a new form (enslave people in more subtle but similarly destructive ways).

    On the other hand, if we as believers recognize this, does not our transformation in Christ have a potential social impact? Trying to respond to my own question, I find myself saying both yes and no.

    Yes- As I strive to live my life more completely in Christ, with selfless love for all people, this would conceivably have a positive impact on people with whom I interact. Since I am a reasonably obscure individual, my impact will be quite limited but some people (such as you) may impact more people. And others may impact still more people. This might imply the possibility of a “true” progress, not the false one built on the false self (ego) and the passions.

    No – My efforts (and that of most sincere Christians) is still going to be marked by sin, both my personal sin and that of the society in which I live. Sometimes we can sincerely believe that we are making “progress” (perhaps because we have helped some individuals resolve real problems), but we may have unwittingly added to a societal problem on different level.

    Having thus painted myself into a corner, I will gladly go to bed now, trusting in Christ our Savior. And hoping that your next article will be there tomorrow to help me find my way out!

  107. Dinoship says:

    Mary,
    if, in wishful theory, a large enough number of people set foot on the road to Sainthood (through immutable conscious vigilance) – at some point they would reach a “critical mass”. In theory this would indeed overturn the direction of the entire world and its culture. Certainly.
    However, this would last as long as it lasts and then the pendulum of this inconstant and fickle world would swing another way. Even if it lasts for quite a long time as it (sort of) did in the Byzantine Empire (for a time and a certain place), “forever” is something to be tasted the other side of the grave in such a “cosmic” sense.
    We do all, indeed desire this unconsciously though.

  108. Eleftheria says:

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for continuing to raise our awareness through your brilliant articles!

    Shelley,
    Much of what you wrote REALLY resonated with me. Although I am a “cradle” Orthodox, I often refer to myself as a “converted cradle” – one that went to university in the late ’70s, when feminism was still at its most militant and angriest..when what was instilled in us was that it was necessary for us “to be the agent not the bearer.” That is precisely what led so many of us first-in-the-immigrant-family-to-attend-university “down a dark, angry road.” We were being told to assimilate – and assimilate we did, only to continue to reap destruction to this day: of our own heritage and its traditions, of our parishes, of our own families, our own marriages, and worst of all, of our own children.
    It was only by learning to stand fast and hold firm (holding on for dear life!) to the traditions which I had been taught – in church and at home (by women who had survived wars and earthquakes and widowhood and miracles)- that I am able to withstand the thoughts that go through my head – yes, even now…after 25 years of marriage.
    But the worst thing for me now is that I get to watch this wholesale destruction of families, marriages, children all over again – here in the Republic of Cyprus (which is where I now live). It’s an Orthodox country, but you wouldn’t know it. Here, as in the US parish we attended, the churches fill up 3x a year: Pascha, Christmas, and the Dormition. The divorce rate has sky-rocketed (50%+); the EU and its laws have encroached; and worst of all, that ’70s style feminism, with its emphasis on careers first, empowerment, and all the rest of its accompanying nonsense has made its way over here (via TV, internet), such that young women today put career (I am not talking about those that absolutely need to work for economic reasons.) first – in spite of having at least 2 toddlers, who are raised either by private and state daycare centers or ‘yiayia’ (but only until they’re 2, which is when they’re farmed out to those institutions), with nary a word about the psycho-social damage inflicted by those places. And these women here – they’re not listening either – not even to those of us who have survived the brainwashing…
    “Some of us didn’t listen and found out too late what we’d been sold as women and that instead of oppression, it is really quite an honor and a privilege to be a mother. I’m not harkening back to the days when we couldn’t vote, but women have not been done any favors under the “social construct” banner.” Truly, we have not been done any favors – and neither have the children.
    (Sorry for the length of the comment Fr.)
    In Christ,
    Eleftheria (Talk about irony in a name!)

  109. LI says:

    Robert,

    I would not dismiss anatomy so easily – what we perceive while we perceive ourselves as man or woman is more than 80% the result of our anatomy and physiology. This is very insulting truth to our ego, but it’s nevertheless the truth. The only ones escaping this bondage of the flesh are the saints (both men and women) who are moving closer and closer to God’s design for a human being.

    Yes, the Church has been dragged into this male/female ad-versity (which God created as di-versity) because when Christianity was adopted by kings, plenty of people were baptized and converted following their example, without the inner metanoia, bringing in the Church much of the world, too much.

    Given the nature of my activities I often think in analogy to the bodies I study (and I have permission and encouragement to do so from my spiritual mother) – the Church is the Body of Christ, and as in each and every body in this fallen world there are plenty of cells dead or dying. If for some reason a great number of cells would become infected or dysfunctional, the whole body would suffer (and so does the Church). Now if the body of a human or animal may die of such damage, our certainty for the Church is the promise of Christ that the Church is immortal. The solution for us as persons is the one that Father Stephen mentioned – hold on to the Truth, stand and bear witness (struggle be one more healthy cell).

    “If we want to create and retain converts we must engage them and address their concerns. We must demonstrate why Christianity, and in particular Eastern Orthodox Christianity, is the better choice, the best choice. The best choice intellectually, spiritually, physically.”

    No, we don’t. The Church is the bride, the female part in this God-Church relation. God alone makes converts (mostly through other people – by birth and personal example, but not through demonstration as you suggest) and then the Church, together with God, nurtures them step by step into spiritual adulthood = sainthood.

    I hope this is in any way helpful to you, I don’t know more so keeping talking would be pointlessly “multiplying the words”. Please forgive me if I have been offensive.

  110. Shelley Armstrong says:

    Thank you, Eleftheria. Your writing means a lot to me. My life is littered with the corpses of the modern project. My extended families life is like a modern project parable, multiple divorces, abortions, addictions, same sex marriages etc. while looking quite successful economically. You would think I was writing fiction if I told you the details.I deal with this on a daily basis. It can be overwhelming. And you can start to feel like you’re the one who is crazy. The loneliness has been the worst; in my job, in my family. So I go to work everyday in a college that preaches the modern project and then I come home to the carnage that it has spawn. When I’ve told people in the past about what was going on in the universities they mostly think I’m exaggerating. Going to church could sometimes feel like I was coming back a shell shock victim and well meaning people tried to talk to me about the best fasting dishes. I just couldn’t do it. But I find it hard to believe that the feminist movement had any clue to the pain it was to cause women and men. And yes, 25 years later, I can still hear those thoughts in my head. So this blog and the people here have been a beacon. I think until recently I had just started to go numb. Worn out. Weary. So now “we pray” and “stay faithful.” I feel like I have a friend in Cyprus now and really, that means so much. I have found much healing, though, through my local priest and my parish. I probably wouldn’t be still going to church at all if it were not for that.

  111. fatherstephen says:

    Eleftheria,
    Were my English surname to be Hellenized – it would Eleftherios. Is there such a surname in Greek?

  112. fatherstephen says:

    Shelley,
    Your honesty and the depth of feeling are very encouraging. The Modern Project has indeed created quite a muddle. No sooner does it spawn a theory than it seeks to legislate it. In some matters, such as those surrounding gender/partner choices, there are genuine pastoral concerns, and caring priests both care about these things and seek to minister in a caring manner. Many whom I know stretch economy to its limits in making every possible effort to care for their flock (and rightly so I think).

    I feel great sympathy for those who labor through their own pain and confusion viz. sexuality in these days – and I’ve pastored and counseled a number. How confusing the situation is. The Church asks us to suffer – we shouldn’t call it anything else. The Modern Project announces that it will end suffering and condemns the Church for its refusal to cooperate. The pressure on the Church and its priests and bishops to continue to pastorally teach the need to embrace suffering (chastity) increases all the time.

    A very important understanding was given to me years ago by a mentor, Stanley Hauerwas. He noted that human suffering is a given (despite the promises and dreams of the Modern Project). He said that the primary question for the Church was not how to make suffering disappear, but how to help someone become the kind of person who could faithfully bear suffering. It is also a question, how do we become the kind of communities that can support each other in the inherent suffering of this life?

    His words have been a godsend to me through the last 25 years. They have helped me think correctly about many, many difficult pastoral problems. Our modernist instinct is always to think first how to “fix” things. There are things that should be appropriately fixed. But there are many things, indeed the hardest things, that cannot be fixed.

    Having cancer cannot sometimes be fixed. I served as a hospice chaplain for a couple of years. Had I not known what Hauerwas told me, I would have daily despaired. For my ministry was precisely to care for those for whom no “fix” was possible. The Modern Project’s solution (final solution) for this is to kill such people (“euthanasia” – what a blasphemous use of the Greek!). In fact, Hauerwas taught that murder would always be the final solution for the Modern Project – given its assumptions about the world and human beings.

    But I return to the sexual issues. We must be patient and sympathetic (truly sym-pathos) with those who have various inner states dissonance. And we need to be sympathetic while not heaping shame on them. This is truly difficult. While holding to the faith and the unwavering revelation (in word and in lived lives) of chastity, we need to ourselves be persons who can help others bear their suffering.

    All of this is extremely difficult because the Modern Project is never satisfied to deal “pastorally” with something. Everything necessarily becomes political because that is part of the Modern paradigm (choice/power etc). So we try to live out the pastoral solutions of the Tradition while being hammered politically, ever complicating the attempts to be pastoral.

    It is difficult indeed. And it has only just begun. But Orthodoxy has lived through many terrible times. Eleftheria’s wonderful allusion to the bravery of women comes to mind. But an important way forward in this is to recognize that much of our own pain is begotten in us because we ourselves have at least one foot in the Modern Project. We worry about how all of this will turn out and we fear losing, etc. This amplifies our pain and frustration. But it is delusional. We don’t know the answers to such things and are not meant to consider them.

    We should live one day at a time (Matthew 6:34). We should endure our own suffering one day at a time. We should love all with sympathy and compassion while offering the medicine (sometimes bitter) of the Gospel of Christ. And in that daily life, Christ will console us and sustain us. There is nothing else.

    Mary Benton,
    Of course there is no progress. There is technology – which has an aggregate quality – but technology is not progress. We can build nuclear weapons, but the people who have their fingers on the buttons are no more moral than those who once had nothing but swords and spears.

    And there cannot be progress of the moral sort – if by moral we understand “becoming better people.” Because no matter how good you are, we do not inherit moral progress. What we can inherit are moral structures. Such structures have laws as one component. But the Law Project, it seems to me, long ago broke down. Euthanasia and Abortion, Eugenics, etc. are always but a vote away. The primary structures that can be passed down are things like the structure of extended family and community. We destroyed these things in the late 20th century. And it takes generations! to put them back.

    I grew up in a county in which my families had lived for over 200 years and the extended family dwelled there as well. Now, even my immediate family is scattered across a continent. Thank God for advanced communication, else we would be becoming but memories to one another. I saw one set of grandparents every day as a child. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my grandchildren – and it’s not anyone’s “fault” except for the nonsense of the Modern Project’s disdain for primary human structures in favor of economic efficiency. That women decided to make service in the Modern Moloch’s industries more important than their children has been astounding.

    If an enemy had come in and done it, we would count him the worst of all time. But because we did it to ourselves to prove how important freedom of choice is – devastating.

    But we allow words like “economy” and “career” “education” mean something that they should not mean. We use them like they were forces of nature and not just manifestations of an economic system designed to make a few people insanely rich. We put our kids in daycare so that Bill and Melinda Gates could give obscene amounts of money to the Modern Project. (an example).

    In America, we were taught to see through the propagandized rhetoric of the Communists. Their hollow promises of a new day sounded funny to us. But we believe the propaganda piped in to us. We let economic rhetoric actually take our children away from us!

    Nope. No progress. But we can always return to sanity – that is the gospel.

  113. Albert says:

    Father & new friends, I am so happy to have found you. There is so much in your words, including the gives & takes (probings, challenges, direct speech). I find myself thinking about them much of the day. More important, those thoughts often towards prayer.

    I never thought God would approach us on the Internet! How limited my faith has been. With e.e. Cummings, “i thank you god for most this amazing” (gift).

  114. Eleftheria says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    Yes indeed; there are such surnames. Although your surname being Freeman, it might appear as: Eleftheroanthropo! Back in the states, we knew a family with the last name of Eleftheriades. In Cyprus however, it is very common for men to have similar first and surnames, ie: Ioannis Ioannou (John, grandson of John), or in the case of your surname, Eleftherios Eleftheriou.

    Shelley,
    WOW! I don’t think you’re writing fiction; I feel like you’ve just described my side of the family back in the states! It is very wearying indeed to deal with it all…and my siblings’ children – those poor children going round and round with their parents’ multiple spouses/live-ins or their parents’ newest fads! Any time I’ve ever described my shellshock at whatever’s the latest horror story from my family to anyone from my husband’s side of the family here, they stare at me in disbelief. Thus far, my husband’s side (and most people in this village, I should add) have remained true to their family, and especially true to the Church. (Many families have priests/monastics.)
    You write: “But I find it hard to believe that the feminist movement had any clue to the pain it was to cause women and men.” Perhaps at the start, the feminist movement was clueless; but as Geronda Paisios would surely say,”The tempter had a hand in it.” Still, no one ought to be blind to the fact that the children of that movement were and remain traumatized. With so many studies having been produced on the impact of institutions on individual and societal life, I wonder where the studies of the impact of daycare upon children are.
    You also say: “So this blog and the people here have been a beacon. I think until recently I had just started to go numb. Worn out. Weary. So now “we pray” and “stay faithful.” I feel like I have a friend in Cyprus now and really, that means so much.”
    First, this blog is indeed a beacon and is one of the things for which I say, “Glory to God!”
    Second, prayer and faith- keeping faith – is all we’ve got to get us through this world and hopefully into the next.
    Last,for the Orthodox, we are not merely friends, but parts of the same ONE Body…how could we not care for each other?
    (…which is not to say that we do not care for the non-Orthodox, for they too will be “made living, exalted and made shining through purification by the Threefold Oneness in a hidden manner” -from the Supplicatory Prayer to the Theotokos)
    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  115. Eleftheria says:

    Fr. Stephen,
    One last comment while night falls here…
    In alluding (in my previous comment)to my grandmothers and great aunts and the wars and terrors through which they lived, I remembered that all of them danced at the weddings of their children and grandchildren; that all of them laughed easily and heartily; that their eyes shone with love; and that not one of them was depressed or required any “pills to make their skies blue”…
    I am struck by their strength, their resilience.
    How/Why have we become such weak specimens? Is it that the Modern Project has poisoned us all? Is it, as you say above, the result of what we have done, or allowed to be done, to ourselves?
    In Christ,
    Eleftheria

  116. Robert Bearer says:

    Shelley and Eleutheria, thank you for sharing. Both of you are in my prayers. My heart aches for you and yet rejoices to have you for sisters and for the lgiht of love that illuminates your words even while we physically separated by half a world. My family, our parish, are touched by the carnage you describe and, still, in both there are signs of rebirth of faith and gratitude, humility, love and koinonia. Now that is a cause for hope and joy accompanied by repentance, vigilance and courageous ascesis.

    Christ is in our midst.
    rlb

  117. Anna says:

    Thank you father stephen for this. My mind has been turning this over and over. I recently turned thirty, and I am ashamed as I look inwardly, at how successfully the modern project has done its work in me. I am a child of immigrants on my mothers side, and lately in my growth towards ‘independence,’ I have been pushing hard at our families. All the while, I have been worried about what it is I am trying to collapse, and if I get what I think I want, what I will have lost in the process.

    I am truly confused, and I am thankful you continue to write, because you have begun to unravel many threads of what I thought was important. I will need help to even begin to see.

  118. Robert says:

    Li,

    Thank you for your response.

    By demonstration I do not mean anything at all contrary or opposed to “personal example”. The Lord, the Apostles and the Church Fathers all used the written, spoken and the lived word to demonstrate the Good News.

  119. fatherstephen says:

    Anna,
    You are describing the experience of discernment. May God give you grace as you come to understand yourself and the faith. Be gentle.

  120. Arvid says:

    With our modern choices, we do have more freedom, but to what end? Today on a TV courtroom show, a lady and a most spoiled daughter were suiing a nanny for not giving the daughter whatever she wanted. The daughter was a spoiled brat. Is this an example of the freedom modern life wants? I hope not. We’re all screwed if they do.

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