Living a One Storey Life


I have chosen to use language of the “first and second storey” to describe the kind of bifurcation that the modern world has experienced over the past several centuries. Its results have been to smash the religious world into “sacred” and “secular” and to make believing both harder and disbelief more natural. Thus, to many atheists their world view seems obvious, while believers try to make leaps of logic and argument that render their own thought more schizophrenic.

There is obviously a problem. I have tried to describe the problems and to suggests why such language is either to be treated as metaphor, at best, or avoided when possible. The Christian faith is that God is with us. The Christian life is lived moment by moment in union with God and in harmony with nature which God has rendered the bearer of the holy and the place of communion.

Living a one storey life can be described as simply living here and now. It is being present to God Who is present to us. It is recognizing the true nature of the created world as the arena of both our struggle and our serenity. Our argument with those who do not believe should not be about whether or not their is a second storey to our universe, but about the true nature of the universe in which we live. Whenever Christians allow the gospel to be shoved upstairs, we have allowed ourselves to be disregarded and the gospel to be marginalized. God did not become flesh and dwell among us in order to establish the truth of a second storey universe: he came to redeem the one we live in. Those who cannot recognize hell among us will also be blind to paradise as well. Christ reveals both. Our daily struggle is to live in the latter and to proclaim the gospel to those who live in the former, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


28 responses to “Living a One Storey Life”

  1. Noah Avatar

    What a true thing to say.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you, Noah.

  3. MC Avatar

    Hi… I tend to believe in a qualitative difference between the natural and the spiritual, although the two obviously coexist.

    The way I see it, if we start saying that the natural and the spiritual are just cultural constructions, then some folks might not be able to appreciate that the experience of grace, for instance, isn’t just an endorphin rush… 😉

  4. narziss Avatar

    “while believers try to make leaps of logic and argument that render their own thought more schizophrenic.”

    That was one thing you definitely pointed out well, because in all earnestness the Christian faith, and in deed all other religious faiths are just that: schizophrenic.

    It is not my intention to disrespect or insult your faith. I respect everyone’s personal opinions. But I am just pointing out that you are wrong here. I was a very passionate Christian until a few months back. But I am a pantheist now.

    “The Christian faith is that God is with us. The Christian life is lived moment by moment in union with God and in harmony with nature which God has rendered the bearer of the holy and the place of communion.”

    I don’t disagree with anything in this particular statement of yours. But I would just like to point out that The Christian faith is also one which teaches that love is not unconditional. It is also the faith according to which love judges.
    It is also the faith where God, who is supposed to be pure love (which is something I believe in myself), judges its own creations, showing conditionality in love, and sentences some of them to hell.

    It is your conception of hell, (your as in the entire religious community of the world), that has made earth a place very much like your imaginary hell.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    I understand your points – but the God you describe is not the God taught in Orthodox Christianity. The wrathful God who sentences people to hell is a construct that is foreign to the teaching of the Orthodox Fathers. In that sense I agree with your rejection of such a God – but this is not the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Condemnation, according to Christ, is that light has come into the world and men preferred darkness to the light. In Orthodox teaching Christ has trampled down death by death, and all are invited to the banquet, bar none. If some prefer not to love God, the banquet is still offered. Indeed, according to a number of Orthodox fathers, the so-called fires of hell are nothing other than the love of God but for those who hate love, truth, etc., they experience such love as torment, when it is nothing of the sort. Thus hell, if you will, is in us, not in some objective hell-fire to which we are sent. Such teachings were rejected soundly by St. Mark of Ephesus.

    I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. Who am I? But if you do disagree, be sure that you’re disagreeing with what the Orthodox actually believe. I suspect you have rejected a false Christianity – which is a healthy thing, that could only have been done by the grace of God. But there is a Christian faith, taught since the beginning, and preserved through the centuries that does not teach of the kind of hell and sentencing you have mentioned. You might find it of interest.

    I would recommend, as I have elsewhere, the little treatise, River of Fire. It’s a bit strong in its criticism of the West, but its general presentation of the Orthodox faith and especially its citation of the Eastern Fathers is quite correct.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar


    I don’t think I said that natural and spiritual are cultural constructions. I spoke of a first and second storey. Learning to know and see the spiritual is important as a Christian, but it does not include having to deal with a world that is somehow removed from where we are. The Kingdom of God is among you, Christ said. But I did not use the language of natural and spiritual – although I suspect that what you mean by natural would be somewhat problematic. Nothing exists apart from God. In Him we live and move and have our being. Until we see that everything properly has its relationship with God – we will not rightly see the world around us or use it properly, or find God.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. in my study of western history and in my own struggle, I kept coming up against the bifurcation of existence that seems to be endemic to western thought. All these dichotomies, the linear sense of time, the dialetic as progress. Everything is posited as competing opposites, even within our own being (intellect vs. feelings). Dualism seems to reign even in Christianity. It seems as if the Incarnation never occured, God is still “out there” somewhere, and we can be with Him when we die. It seems to be one of the big questions in our time. Of course the answer is in the Church and I really appreciate you articulating it.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think Narziss’ note as pretty much making my point for me. I’m deeply saddened that western Christians are driven to such choices – but the longer this bifurcation with its false mythology continues, the more people it wil drive to unbelief or disbelief.

    I hope that by writing about this that more readers will know there is an option to distorted versions of the faith.

  9. […] Living a One Storey Life [image] I have chosen to use language of the “first and second storey” to describe the kind of bifurcation […] […]

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yes, the human longing for union with God and therefore in our own being is natural. When faced with bifurcation, what are the choices: 1) Materialistic monism; 2) spiritual monism such as pantheism or Buddism; 3) Continuing to live in a two-storey universe; 4) union with Christ in the Church.

    I’m sure I’m missing a lot of other choices, but I think you get the idea.

    We have to do a much better job of living in a one-storey universe in order to be an effective witness to those who want to leave the insanity.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar


    That seems to pretty well sum up the options. I think the temptation, not even recognized as such, is still primarily number 3 – to continue in a two-storey universe. I have a post for tomorrow sometime that may up the stakes in the discussion. I would like for the present post to get more reading tomorrow, but I’ll post later in the day with perhaps a final thought in the series – or who knows we may go a few further. I think the issue, usually discussed in other terms, is very helpfully approached by thinking about the one-storey, two-storey metaphor. I have used it in parish teaching and preaching for a number of years and found it helpful. Writing here has been, as always, a clarifying experience (it may be one of the main benefits I have from blogging – it helps me to write it down).

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Maybe you ought to write a book: The Bi-Frucation of Man or something like that.

  13. Yvonne Avatar

    This is a wonderful post and sums up why I left Western Christianity for Paganism, but am now exploring Orthodoxy, since contemporary Paganism seems to only have half the picture (because it’s largely a reaction to the wrathful and patriarchal idea of God in Western Christianity, and to the two-storey view of the universe that goes with it). In his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, CS Lewis hints at a one-storey vision of the universe when he describes death as passing within nature – for as you rightly say, the Divine is immanent in nature as well as transcending it.

    Though the sooner Orthodoxy has women priests, the more converts it’s likely to get! I think it also needs to affirm the sacrality of eros and explore how one in whom theosis was at work might engage in eros, otherwise people might mistakenly think that celibacy was the only path to the Divine.

    I too found that “River of Fire” article very helpful.

  14. Rdr. Eusebios Avatar
    Rdr. Eusebios

    Thank you Father Stephen.

  15. The Scylding Avatar

    I think the 2 storey universe in the West is a result of Aristotlean (is that a word??) imports into Western Christianity, especially by the scholastics. With that came excessive classification and division – which from a logical point is certainly problematic – read my latest post in my Godel vs reason “series”.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Scylding, I read the post. I wonder about Aristotle as the source but I’ll read with more interest. Typically, in large cultural matters, many sources come together to make for large shifts. I think the two-storey stuff has always hung around – it was part of a lot of thought patterns and language. And much of Christianity can be non-reflective. But the abolition of sacraments (in any real sense), it seems to me, may have had a larger effect than anything in the academy. The Reformation was a radical destruction of much of the patterns of everyday life (read Stripping the Altars or some of Eamon Duffy’s other work with primary documents in the English reformation). The result of those kinds of revolutions have far more effect on changing perceptions than philosophy.

    In the English Reformation, for instance, the destruction of the altar with a substitution of a table, with the priest standing at the “north” side was done purely to make a visual break with Roman tradition. It’s radical.

  17. The Scylding Avatar

    You’re right, there are many sources. I use Aristotle as “instigator”, since the scholastic “event” was accompanied by a shift from Plato to Aristole in western philosophy, following his “rediscovery” by the west.

    Personally I like to throw peanuts at the scholastics from the Nominalist gallery, but I don’t know enough to commit myself fully to either. But there is something fundamentally off-putting about the scholastics and their children, including the hyper-calvinists and the Cartesian deists: It is their arrogant assertion of true and complete knowledge and understanding. Luther was at least humble enough to state that there are somethings not explainable. some have written about the influence of Ockham’s nominalism on Luther, and that is an avenue I’d like to explore.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    I really urge you to read Eamon Duffy. It’s an eye opener. Reading Calvin and Luther do not do the Reformation justice. When you finish Duffy you can see the Reformation from the point of view of your Aunt Mildred 15 generations removed.

    It helps to understand that Henry VIII actually ordered that the monks of the monastery at Walsingham be drawn and quartered after their property was stolen for the crown. This is Christian Stalinism. After reading that I hardly give a tinker’s curse for scholasticism. These people were destroying a thousand years of Christian civilization in the name of their ideology, which incidentally made the king and his friends rich and centralized their political power. The Reformation has hidden behind theology for too many years and not had to give an account for what was done. Instead the Catholic Church has been on the defensive for the Inquisition (for which there is no defensive) but people have ignored an important part of history. Add to that Cromwell’s atrocities and the greatest atrocity, the driving of God from the “ordinary” and there is much to ponder. I’m more practical than philosophical in the end of it all, I think.

    Mind you, as far as I can tell, my ancestors pretty much belonged to the Reform. But my ancestors were slave-owning Southernors as well. I have much to pray for.

  19. BV Avatar

    The Christian faith is that God is with us. great quote, and a great summary of the Faith. May I borrow this quote from you?

  20. jacob Avatar

    One reader’s comments at Amazon re: THE STRIPPING OF THE ALTARS:

    Duffy’s is an interesting concept. Yet questions remain: Why if the dedication to traditional religion was so deep, did it virtually disappear in well less than a century as a significant factor in English life? Were the Protestant propagandists that convincing or their “draconian” measures that intimidating? To what extent was the acceptance of traditional religion itself, as opposed to deep faith, an accommodation to existing authority, its methods and its mores, and a reflection of humanity’s characteristic inclination to adapt to surroundings and make the joyful best of them?

    So … did the Reformation destroy something that was deeply rooted, or did it only peel off and destroy a superficial religiosity?

    Yvonne says:

    Though the sooner Orthodoxy has women priests, the more converts it’s likely to get! I think it also needs to affirm the sacrality of eros and explore how one in whom theosis was at work might engage in eros, otherwise people might mistakenly think that celibacy was the only path to the Divine.

    Orthodoxy doesn’t teach that celibacy is the only path to the Divine. Also, the expected influx of women-priest-wanting converts would likely be more than offset by the departure of cradle Orthodox and existing converts.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar


    On the latter point, it’s a moot question. There won’t be a change in ordination teaching.

    On Duffy, if you read of what takes place under Mary, it seems that most of the Catholic stuff had been hidden and was gladly restored by the people. But I would say there was something deeply rooted that was effected. But when you start cutting off heads, drawing and quartering people, it’s amazing how dissent is muffled. And things largely take a trickle down effect. The educated embraced the Reform first.

    But as the descendent of Celtic dissenters, it’s interesting that on my mother’s side, my grandmother could “talk fire out of a burn and stop blood” which she said was Christian and done by a Bible verse, but was probably pre-Christian and then absorbed by the popular piety of the time. Some things continued among some. There is even an Appalachian legend here that remembers that we were all Old Calendarists at one point. It is said in Appalachia, that if you go to the barns at midnight of Old Christmas, which they teach is January 6 (it is now 7) you can hear the animals talking. They have no idea of what Old Christmas even means. But these memories are written deep.

    Neither can the work of the Calvinists in Scotland be overestimated. The elders there, ideologues supreme, would have helped eradicate the old religion. It’s a nasty period of history.

    Orthodoxy has had it own nasty times. Such as the suppression of the Old Believers after the Nikonian reforms. The state is a bloody ruler almost no matter who is on the throne. Royal saints can be rare. Democratically elected saints may be even rarer.

  22. Gina Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I got a glimpse of this visiting the monastery ruins in Yorkshire. They were stripped by the common folk for building materials only after they’d been stripped of orders, occupants and adornment by the King’s Men.

  23. Fatherstephen Avatar

    It strikes me as interesting, that almost every revolution in history has had some amount of iconoclasm in its retinue. It betokens the fact that such revolutions often have a purely destructive aspect. That the Taliban should blow up statues of the Buddha, for example.

    On the other hand, the toppling of statues of Lenin and Stalin, were met at the same time with a flurry of Church restoration and building. Russia has been restoring its proper iconography, though the “iconography” of modernity has crept in as well. It is becoming ubiquitous. This modern iconography (I do not mean religious icons) is generally dedicated to Mammon, who has never lacked for followers.

  24. The Scylding Avatar

    For an intersting perspective on Scottish Calvinism, read John Buchan’s work of fiction, Witchwood.

  25. Margaret Sue Avatar
    Margaret Sue

    Thank you, very interesting discussion and expression of where
    Western Christianity is/has gone.
    I wonder if we could not return to the simplicity of our founder/teacher/ Lord, experiencing Jesus/God in our everyday in the simplicity of Jesus revelation and teaching, meeting our needs where we are at, assuring us of His forgiveness and love.

  26. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes, indeed we can. It’s called living the Orthodox life.

  27. R.D. MUSIC Avatar
    R.D. MUSIC

    What scripture is used to talk fire out of a burn?

  28. fatherstephen Avatar


    I have no idea. My grandmother never shared it. It’s a very common Appalachian practice, which it’s practicioners swear is Christian, though I suspect it’s origins are older than Christianity in Scotland, etc. It is possible that the Foxfire books would have something on it. It’s mountain stuff – very common around here.

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