Going to Hell with the Terrorists and Torturers

mikhail-nesterov-harrowing-of-hell-undatedIn 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev was Baptized and embraced the Christian faith. Among his first acts as a Christian ruler were to tithe his wealth to the Church and the poor, and to outlaw capital punishment and torture. It is said that the Bishops advising him counseled him that he might need to keep the torture in order to rule effectively.

This anecdote has always brought a wry smile to my face, it seems so quaint. Of course torture is not quaint, nor is it medieval. It is quite common in the so-called modern world and has recently moved to the front pages as the US has pulled the veil of secrecy back from its interrogation techniques in its war against terror. I have been interested to watch the reaction to all of this on social media. Many friends have reacted with moral outrage. Others, particularly those whose politics are conservative, have posted supportive pictures and thoughts. Christians find themselves on both sides of the question.

But there isn’t really a question. Prince Vladimir was right and the bishops advising him were scandalously practical. Their fear is apparently a modern fear: what if the lack of torture doesn’t work? Our enemies are dangerous and the lives of the innocent are at stake.

The conversation surrounding all of this (it will disappear as soon as the news cycle moves on) reminds me of several classical problems in ethics. All of them pose the question, “What would you be willing to do to save the life of your loved ones?” It is a tragic question, for in the scenarios of danger that are always suggested, there is no choice that does not yield human suffering – even unimaginable human suffering.

But those nightmare scenarios are not always make-believe. The regular posting of atrocity videos have made us all too aware of the nature of the game.

I do not offer a moral debate in this posting. Torture is wrong. Justify it if you will, but it remains wrong. St. Vladimir was right and the bishops, however practical their advice, did him a great disservice.

But there is something of far greater value that is too easily missed in our current round of hand-wringing. It is the dark places of the human heart that we see and quickly cover in the wrangle of debate. It is a place where our thoughts should linger.

For the place of torture and the smashing angry insanity that drives a plane into towers dwell in the same dark heart – and the heart belongs to us all. Some will protest immediately that I am drawing some kind of moral equivalency. One act is done to save lives, the other to destroy them. But it is not any kind of moral anything that I wish to draw. Rather it is our attention to the true character of the human heart.

There is a morality that is practiced in our day-to-day life. It may include the simple rules of etiquette and a host of other expectations. And for many people, the observance of these rules are what constitute their notion of good and bad. But there is often an abstraction that occurs within such moral musings. Polite society shields itself from many of its immoral actions. The violence of poverty is often covered with economic theory and political discourse. For the child who suffers – these are just words. The general wealth of a healthy standard of living grants the luxury of oblivion – the ability to ignore the true cost of the luxury. This is true whether the cost is the exploitation of slave labor in a foreign land or the torture of the enemy well out of sight. And these are only egregious examples.

More hidden still are the dark recesses of our own hearts. For the torturers and the terrorists are just human beings. They were not spawned on an alien planet. Whatever they know, they learned from other human beings. And though the dark recesses of our hearts may often yield nothing more than thoughts and feelings, we should remind ourselves that their true character is the stuff of which torture is made.

I am even more interested in the cold assessment of those 10th century bishops who cooled St. Vladimir’s jets and offered their advice on statecraft. For theirs is the calm, pragmatic mind within us all. There is a chilly moral calculus that governs their advice. “The kingdom must go on, even if it requires a little torture from time to time. The gospel is good and the Baptism of the Rus is even better, so long as the Prince of the Rus doesn’t forget that he’s a prince and do his job.” I fear the cool utility of such reason far more than I do the uncontrolled passions within us.

But it is right and salutary that we should allow ourselves to look in the dark places of the heart. Orthodoxy insists on proclaiming that the resurrected Christ first descended into hades. There is no easy transition from the cool tomb to the bright Sunday morning. There is the intervening and inconvenient reality of true darkness.

C.S. Lewis portrays a fanciful story of a bus ride from hell to heaven. Those in hell (“the gray town”) are invited to remain in the bright, solid reality of heaven. The conversations that take place in that delightful work (my favorite Lewis) are very telling. They are the confrontation between morality and reality, between the forensic model and the ontological. Heaven is so real that its solid objects hurt the feet of the hellish ghosts. Their moralities appear silly in the face of plain, solid being. The ghost of a wayward bishop protests that he cannot stay in this new place, since he has a prior engagement in a theological discussion group, where he is to read a paper – swallowed by hell and his life is unchanged.

Our own moralities are equally banal and empty, and we shudder and make excuses rather than examine the true darkness of our hearts. Dostoevsky repeatedly unmasked the emptiness of society’s morality. In the Brothers Karamazov, there are four brothers, all sons of a father who is a drunkard and a thoroughly disgusting human being. He is the definition of a “Karamazov.” None of the brothers appear, at first, to be like their father. One is a greatly tormented romantic, his life filled with pleasures and excess. Another is a cold, hard-bitten cynic who no longer believes in God. A third is a very dark character, ultimately a patricide. And the fourth is an innocent, a virtual saint. But even he admits, “I am a Karamazov.” And his brother says to him, “We are all insects.”

Dostoevsky (and Lewis) do not write in such a manner in order to simply tear down the pretense of public morality. But they know that our salvation cannot be found within the little efforts of our moral strivings. They (Dostoevsky in particular) dare to go into the darkness where Christ has entered and suggest to us that we all have a share in that place. We are all Karamazovs.

Entering into that darkness and acknowledging its depths is not an effort to consign ourselves to perdition or to embrace a doctrine of total depravity. It is an effort to unite ourselves to Christ. The traditional name for this journey is repentance. Moralism has all but destroyed the Christian understanding of repentance, replacing it with good intentions and apologies. Our sin is a brokenness and is best seen in the darkest corners of the heart.

St. Paul found Christ in the dark corner of murder and burning hatred. The heights of his holiness are only rivaled by the depths of his sin. Tradition holds that St. Stephen was a kinsman of St. Paul. The anguish of such sin is indeed a “goad,” as Christ described it.

St. Peter did not truly find Christ until his own encounter with cowardice. Always the first and the loudest of the Apostles, probably easily recognized as a leader by others, he was not given the care of Christ’s sheep until he found Christ in the depths of his personal hades on the shore of Galilee. And the resurrected Lord says to him, “Do you love me?”

We must not ignore the public sins of our culture (torture) or the sins of enemies (terrorists) who seek to destroy us. But if we are to stand honestly before God, then we need to see the place that such things have in our heart. Do we dare to speak and acknowledge the Karamazov within ourselves or do we pretend that we are offended and shocked by the hearts of others.

If we do not find Christ in hades, we will not likely find Him anywhere else.

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.



by

Comments

244 responses to “Going to Hell with the Terrorists and Torturers”

  1. Red Avatar
    Red

    Wow! Just Wow!

  2. Fr Nathan Thompson Avatar
    Fr Nathan Thompson

    References to The Great Divorce and The Brothers Karamazov? You’ve outdone yourself, Batiuska. I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece that seemlessly combines two of my favorite pieces with excellent social commentary and patristic teaching. Great piece, Father.

  3. Kenneth Dupuis Avatar
    Kenneth Dupuis

    Your concluding sentence, “If we do not find Christ in hades, we will not likely find Him anywhere else,” cuts to the quick. What soul-searching this must take!

  4. Ed Willneff Avatar
    Ed Willneff

    I have enormous respect for your thoughtful essays…. but this one, I’m afraid, I just don’t get….Although you say you are not drawing a moral equivalency between terrorists murdering thousands or beheading most recently children for not converting, on the one hand, and Americans using water boarding to uncover terrorist plots, on the other, it seems to me that you are making the two morally equivalent. And they are not — and that is something else that I think is written on the heart…. I agree with you that “our own moralities are equally as banal and empty” — I just hope you are including your own moralities in this posting as among them.

  5. Monk Theodore Avatar

    Frighteningly and beautifully written, Father. It was always disturbing to me that the Bishops sought to convince St. Vladimir that he had a responsibility to maintain what, in the spontaneity of conversion to Christ, he had clearly seen as being contrary to the Gospel whose radical love had captivated him.

  6. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    “The line separating good and evil passes right through every human heart.” – A. Solzhenitsyn

  7. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Ed Willneff,

    I believe you to be in the right. Most serious Christians of the “Classical Christianity” variety (whether Orthodox, RC, or Protestant) hold to a “just war” moral theory of one sort or the other (I understand the RC is now somewhat different than the Byzantine version – never made an in depth study of it myself). What this moralizing does is try on the one hand justify killing ones enemies, and on the other hand proscribe limits, etc. In the case of torture, it violates some definition or other of “battlefield”. Thus as the Orthodox journalist/commentator Rod Dreher wrote recently, it’s ok to kill and maim (i.e torture) the terrorist “on the battlefield”, just not when they are “captured”. With just a little thought and experience however one quickly recognizes that a “battlefield” is an idealism – that war always affects “non-combatants”, that war itself is a torture (every soldier {and civilian} that lives through it is really truly tortured in his memories, body, etc. – indeed the bodily tortures are the easier ones to heal), and that these supposedly morally important distinctions are hollow. Since at least WWI there has been no “battlefield” (or should we push it back to ancient city siege warfare?) – “terrorism” itself only exists outside the “battlefield” – except all war is a terror so what do these distinctions mean again?

    Indeed, in my opinion anyone who is not prepared for a radical pacifism (say of the St. Sarav variety) then theirs is just one form of moralizing or another. They might rail against “gun violence” and never consider owning/training with one themselves, but if they are truly threatened they will call a police officer who will use deadly force (i.e. a gun) in their stead. They would never fight in a war themselves, but benefit when others put their lives on the line for them. They might approve of “conventional warfare”, but nuclear weapons are off limits. They approve of imprisonment for life or execution of “war criminals” or “terrorists”, but they would never “torture” one (even though an American prison is a form of torture – anyone who does not understand this needs to do some prison ministry or something similar).

    Since I am not a pacifist (of the Christian or any other variety), yet have a morality, I too have my own “just war morality”. I recognize it for what it is however. Mine is quite dark (dark dark dark). I look at my wife and children, and know what I would do for them (or have my government do) is dark dark dark. For example, when it became public recently about how we have underfunded and poorly managed our nuclear arsenal these last 10 years or so, I was not happy. I expect our government to turn any country on the planet into a shiny piece of glass on a moments notice – but that is hell, it is the dark dark dark place in my heart.

    I also admit I am unimpressed with the distinction between the bishops and the prince. Was the prince still willing to defend innocents in his own country against depraved children of God who would rape and pillage and kill? If so that requires the sword. Was he willing to defend his borders against foreign invaders (who would plunder, rape, and kill)? That requires the sword. So the prince simply had one “just war” morality that was slightly different from what the bishops allegedly had. As Fr. Stephen points out, that matters little. What matters is that they all had that dark dark dark place in their hearts…

  8. Ona Avatar
    Ona

    This is beautiful: “Entering into that darkness and acknowledging its depths is not an effort to consign ourselves to perdition or to embrace a doctrine of total depravity. It is an effort to unite ourselves to Christ. The traditional name for this journey is repentance. Moralism has all but destroyed the Christian understanding of repentance, replacing it with good intentions and apologies. Our sin is a brokenness and is best seen in the darkest corners of the heart. “

  9. Katerina Avatar

    Those who live by the gun, die by the gun.
    Paraphrase of The Lord’s teaching.

  10. J Clivas Avatar

    You sound like Pope Francis.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ed,
    I couldn’t write this if I didn’t include the banal moralities of my own life. I have not drawn a moral equivalency – and I said so. I am, however, making an equivalency of every human heart. And I am in very good company in doing so. F. Dostoevsky’s character Fr. Zossima says:

    And the longer a monk lives within his walls, the more keenly he must be aware of it. For otherwise he had no reason to come here. But when he knows that he is not only worse than all those in the world, but is also guilty before all people, on behalf of all and for all,2 for all human sins, the world’s and each person’s, only then will the goal of our unity be achieved. For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth. This knowledge is the crown of the monk’s path, and of every man’s path on earth. For monks are not a different sort of men, but only such as all men on earth ought also to be. Only then will our hearts be moved to a love that is infinite, universal, and that knows no satiety. Then each of us will be able to gain the whole world by love and wash away the world’s sins with his tears … Let each of you keep close company with his heart, let each of you confess to himself untiringly. Do not be afraid of your sin, even when you perceive it, provided you are repentant, but do not place conditions on God. Again I say, do not be proud. Do not be proud before the lowly, do not be proud before the great either. And do not hate those who reject you, disgrace you, revile you, and slander you. Do not hate atheists, teachers of evil, materialists, not even those among them who are wicked, nor those who are good, for many of them are good, especially in our time. Remember them thus in your prayers: save, Lord, those whom there is no one to pray for, save also those who do not want to pray to you.

    My fault at the moment is having brought up this uncomfortable expression of the Tradition during a time when our passions in the matter have been stirred up.

    You last sentence, suggesting I pay attention to my own morality, had a note of anger in it. I’m sorry if that’s true and ask your forgiveness.

  12. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    “Evil prevails when good men do nothing”

    So I suppose nothing should have been done with the Nazi regime then?
    This is disappointing….and I so love your blog.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Anna,
    You are misunderstanding the article. To say that nothing should be done is to reduce this question to simple moralism. “Is it right, is it wrong.” I was pushing the question deeper.

    I have heard the confessions of many veterans, including many on the front-lines, including WWII. They would all quickly tell you about what war does to the heart. I am not saying that wars will not be fought, or that Christians will not fight in them, only that when it is said and done, the heart has a darkness that must be healed.

    Orthodox canons prescribe healing remedies for those who kill in war. They are not punishments, but requirements for repentance (in some cases up to 3 years of penance).

    My own family has twice been disrupted by murders. I know the human heart in these things. That my hatred and anger and desire for punishment, etc., are “morally right” won’t heal the darkness of my heart.

    The heart cares nothing for what is moral or not. It’s a very different landscape and it is the landscape that matters. I hope you will think about this more and ask more questions. If you come to understand what I’m saying, I think you will not be disappointed.

  14. Bill M Avatar
    Bill M

    Anna, and others who are reacting negatively to this post — this article is not about Nazis, or Islamists, or even politicians; it’s about you. It’s about your heart, and mine, right now, in this place, at this time, and the darkness there that is being even now stirred up. Will you not take this moment to look there, and see what is revealed?

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your grace and patience in trying (and trying, and trying) to communicate such things to your readers.

  15. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    Anna,

    This is going to sound naive on my part, but I personally believe that if all Christians around the world possessed hearts purified with the repentance and humble love that comes from knowing “each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth,” then miracles beyond what we’ve ever witnessed before would accompany our tears of repentance. We might even save the whole world by love and wash away all of its sins. The Nazi Regime wouldn’t have stood a chance against such tears.

  16. guy Avatar
    guy

    Christopher (or anyone),

    Do you have a link to more info about the “St. Sarav” you mention?

    –guy

  17. RVW Avatar

    In the midst of great evil, we forget St Seraphim’s injunction to “Acquire the Holy Spirit [so that] a thousand souls around you might be saved.”

    Thank you for this, Father.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michelle and others,
    It is naive to think that our repentance will make the evil be good. They crucified Christ. We crucified Christ. There is no doubt that wars will continue to be fought – Christianity is not a solution for how to make this a better world. War certainly doesn’t make it a better world. But war certainly destroyed the Nazis. But it could not erase the Nazi heart.

    In none of this am I suggesting a practical pacifism. But, the teaching of the Church (and the Scriptures) does not hold that we can engage in “moral” killing and therefore not find our hearts victimized in the process. We have to train people to kill, and even then, they are often very reluctant to do it. This is the common testimony of soldiers everywhere. Soldiers themselves worry about their comrades who no longer have any reluctance or regret in killing. They know that something is wrong.

    But we become very foolish in our defense of war – even the best war – when we ignore the damage it does to very good people. As a child, my neighbor woke every night from a nightmare as he relived killing a young German face to face in the Italy campaign. And this is very common. My own father-in-law who served in the infantry in France and Germany would never (!) share stories of his experience. He did not want to talk about it. He was a profound Christian, not a pacifist and he recognized the “necessity” of what he did, but it also was a wound in his heart that had to be healed.

    The wisdom of the Fathers (not mine!) is that this wound is a common wound and that it infects us all and affects us all, justified or not. All the justification for killing will not keep it from damaging the heart. And that damage I have here described as Hades – for it is. Along with all the other things we do in the dark.

    I greatly desire that the wickedness that now tramples the Mideast under foot be defeated. But the darkness of the human heart that has been the single most important hallmark of the modern period, will not be abated by their defeat. In the course of our protracted war on terror, our own hearts must at length be healed.

    After the Second World War, do you think that England started liking Germany right away? In some places across the world the wounds of a darkened heart have lingered for many centuries. It is a dark underside of Orthodoxy. For we have been victimized repeatedly.

    But the Fathers, living Fathers, keep drawing us toward our salvation, which will include letting the light of Christ shine in the darkest corners of our hearts. For the truth of myself – is found closer to the madman within my heart than it is in the moral man that others see. If it were not so, we would not need to work so hard to hide it.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father Stephen is making a deeply radical statement about the faith, the world and ultimately my own heart as Christopher mentioned. As much as I recognize the truth of what he is saying (calling us to?), I too find it uncomfortable and unpalatable in some ways.

    Years ago when my son was 17 and wanted to join the Coast Guard, my late wife and I assigned him the task of researching the Church’s position on war and our participation in it. I thought it would be rather an easy task. It was not. He struggled with it in prayer, in study and in conversation for several years.

    Even the Orthodox scholar and retired military Chaplin, Fr. Alexander F.C. Webster, who has written extensively about the dilemma war and violence pose to we Orthodox, cannot come to a simple easy answer to the dilemma. There are saints on both sides of the question. I know my heart is divided as, it seems, are most posting.

    Clearly the sword is given to the state to protect but the state is also held to righteousness in its use. We, as persons under the law and in communion with God are held to an even higher standard (beyond that of the Scribes and Pharisees). (See below)

    There has been quite a lot of study done on methods of interrogation that do not use anything resembling torture. They are not as easy to learn as force but when done properly, they appear to be equally effective. They have the added benefit of respecting the humanity of both the interrogator and the one being interrogated. Torture or similar means de-humanizes both.

    My son ultimately came to the conclusion that 1. there is no such thing as a just war; 2. there can be righteous warriors but it is extraordinarily difficult and if someone enters that arena he must be fully prepared to give up his earthly life and risk his salvation to protect others; 3. this is not a doctrinal question and the ideology and politics that so infects our decisions to use force or not use force should not be allowed to divide the Church or the people in it from each other.

    My son takes the position that evil can and does use physical means to destroy the souls of men as well as their bodies. There are times when that must be opposed with physical means. Even so there is great risk involved of being drawn into the evil one is opposing even if the opposition begins righteously.

    Father Stephen is not preaching pacifism, but active spiritual battle against the principalities and powers in our own heart that call us to the darkness in whatever form. Classical political and theological pacifism can never fit within the Orthodox Church. The pacifism of the Quakers and the Mennonites for instance relies on a theology that simply makes us pawns of God. He is doing everything so why should we try to change anything (gross over simplification warning). It is, IMO, the other side of the war desire to control everything.

    There is no question that war and violence are part of our shared falleness in which we worship the created thing more than our Creator. As such it can not effectively be addressed solely on a moral plane, neither does it provide any lasting justice or real peace. “In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.”

    Perhaps Fr. Stephen is simply calling us to recognize that, evil though their actions might be, our enemies are still human and that mercy, prayer and forgiveness for our enemies is the Christian way. My son recognized this as well. The first duty of any Christian in any such situation is to work for peace (peace maker is an activity after all, not something that just happens while we watch seeking not to stain our own hands.)

    If there is no peace to be had and the physical activities of evil must be confronted, well, not all men can or should do that. Nevertheless, we must always be on guard against the evil perpetrated on our behalf.

    I once saw an interview on TV with a man who was a soldier in Viet Nam, a helicopter commander. He was on patrol one day and saw below him what looked like a massacre of villagers by American troops beginning. He set his helicopter down between the villagers and the American troops and ordered his door gunner to fire on any American soldier who would not cease and desist. He stopped the massacre that day with no loss of life.

    The American way of life is not divine. It is a political and ideological construct that brings many benefits, but also is deeply infected with sin, just as we are. It is not inherently evil but can perpetrate evil. A Christian’s allegiance to the country where he lives is only conditional.

    We either engage evil where it is (mostly in our own heart) or we do not. It is a difficult work. Father Stephen is reminding us how difficult a work it is but also how important it is at a time when it is difficult to rationalize the consequences of that work.

    Seems to me that is what a priest is supposed to do.

    Thank you Father.

    P.S. Shakespeare put the question eloquently and more succinctly than any quotation of Scripture or the Fathers with which I am familiar:

    The quality of mercy is not strained;
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
    ‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
    The throned monarch better than his crown:
    His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
    The attribute to awe and majesty,
    Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
    But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
    It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,
    It is an attribute to God himself;
    And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
    When mercy seasons justice.
    Therefore, Jew,
    Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
    That, in the course of justice, none of us
    Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
    And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
    The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
    To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
    Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
    Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    That being said, there is clearly a lot of sophistry and hypocritical hand wringing being done on this by the powers that be–mostly those who have no trouble at all setting policies that kill babies and the elderly in our own country. Murder is in my heart too. Lord have mercy.

  21. albert Avatar
    albert

    I am glad for Ed W’s second comment. It helps me appreciate one of the paradoxes in Christianity.

    War is dark, probably far darker than any of our private sins, but how would we have known about Christ if Constantine, Vladimir, and countless other military/political leaders had practiced what He taught? The question is impossible to answer on a human level. Perhaps love would have won out. We know that anything is possible with God. But history teaches a very different lesson. Even the history of the Church. So we live with contradictions.

    Augustine said, “Love, and do what you will.” I never understood that. It seems that as individuals we are doing well if we say, love and trust in God and hope for the best.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    Well said. I seriously am not addressing the morality of torture or killing in war, etc. They do not have to be addressed because the nature of those actions is not my point.

    My point would be to say, when you have acted as justly as possible, with every possible argument on your side, and as a result done violence to another person, let alone torture or killing, no matter how moral the action might be, it has a side-effect. That effect is within the human heart. And I know from personal experience (echoed by that of countless others) that knowing you were morally right in carrying out that action will not heal the wound in the heart. It just doesn’t work that way.

    And if Christ only dealt with the “morality” of things, then He would be leaving all of us completely justified killers in the tortured hell of our hearts. So, as public events have forced us to think about terror and torture and war and killing, I am simply saying, pay attention to your heart. I’m not even warning about the danger posed by the dark thoughts of our hearts – the danger of becoming a nation of darkened hearts.

    I’m saying that we already are a world (and not just a nation) of darkened hearts. And our public events are occasions that reveal it to us. Use the occasion to enter the heart and find Christ. He is working to bring light to that dark place.

  23. Casey Avatar
    Casey

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for this beautifully written article which is a very helpful encouragement to me. Please don’t mind any kicking or screaming that it might elicit. It’s a wonderful call to deep prayer and repentance of the heart, which is of great benefit to one and all. Lord have mercy on me.

  24. guy Avatar
    guy

    Father,

    i thought you were making a bolder, more Hauerwas-ian point: maybe it would be better to risk death than to become people not worth being.

    Also surprised at the rejection of Mennonite sentiments on this issue (i’ve heard multiple times Hauerwas referred to as a “high church Mennonite”). According to Guy Hershberger’s War and Non-resistance, the “rules” really aren’t the same for the church and the state. They have different roles to play. And for that reason, the church has a higher standard to meet on this very issue. Is that not consistent with Orthodox clergy being prohibited from engaging in any violence?

    –guy

  25. Chris Thomas Avatar
    Chris Thomas

    Enjoyed reading all of the above quite a lot. Thank you all for posting. Great conversa
    tion.

  26. Mormon to Orthodox Avatar

    This recent series of posts continues to frustrate me, Father. Either I am missing something crucial about them that prevents me to understand the messages you are attempting to convey, or I do understand them and you are simply splitting hairs on this morality thing. You continuously refer to the frivolities of our human morality only to use it in constructing your counterpoints. It is like human consciousness- deny it all you want, but it has to be postulated in order for human beings to talk about anything.

  27. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Fr. Stephen, thank you! An amazing article that really digs deeply. This is the hard part:

    “Use the occasion to enter the heart and find Christ. He is working to bring light to that dark place.”

    How does one “enter the heart and find Christ” during this time? We stumble because we walk in the dark; it is both frustrating and depressing to not know how to do this. Prayer is all I can do. Thank you again.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Guy,
    Hauerwas is good as far as he goes, but he does not really address the ontological problems – therefore he stays at morality in many ways. Indeed the ideal in Orthodoxy is required of priests and monks – we may not kill. And the ideal is enshrined for all in the penitential canons regarding killing in various forms.

    But the canons are not at all concerned with morality. They concern themselves with the healing and salvation of the soul. It is not possible to rightly understand Orthodox thought if it is engaged on the level of morality. It is not part of the Tradition. There is not a true just war theory in Orthodoxy, nor even a moral theory. There is only salvation. It is, of course, true that you can find examples of Orthodox “moral theology” particularly written over the past several hundred years and in the modern period. But those efforts are simply copying the models within Catholic and Protestant thought and they are not native to Orthodoxy.

    Yannaras’ book Freedom of Morality is a good introduction to the differences between Orthodox ontology and mere morality. I am so far removed from making this stuff up. But many people, including the average priest, has not come to understand these distinctions.

    But, and this is important, even for the pacifist – monk or priest, etc. – who does not engage in violence – the heart still remains just as marred and scarred by violence as that of the most experienced soldier. Make no mistake. This is about us and not about someone else.

    This is where Hauerwas and the Mennonite tradition fall short. It is the heart that must be healed and not just our sentiments and actions.

    An Anglican Benedictine once said, “The contemplative need go no further than his own heart to find the source of all violence in the world.”

    And these thoughts that I offer are not about making the world a better place. The Kingdom of God is a better place and the only place a Christian must wish to dwell. What I am writing about here is how to enter the Kingdom of God. Strangely or not, it is by following the same path as Christ has traveled. And whether we like it or not, Christ’s path is not a moral path – it is a path through the midst of being and nothingness and it goes right through the depth of hell.

    St. Gregory the Theologian said: “If He descends into Hades, go down with Him.” I am merely pointing the way. Look at your heart:

    “The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. There also are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the Kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace – all things are there.”
    — St Macarius the Great, Homily 43

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    MormontoOrthodox,
    Yep. You’re not understanding something. I’ll keep working on it.

  30. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    “Making the world a better place” is not what I meant when I said “…then miracles beyond what we’ve ever witnessed before would accompany our tears of repentance. We might even save the whole world by love and wash away all of its sins. The Nazi Regime wouldn’t have stood a chance against such tears.” But I see why you would think so.

    Christ was naive in the minds of the Jews when Christ told them that He was God and that His humility would save the world through His death by crucifixion. The Jews thought that what was needed to save the world was a Messiah who would make the world a better place through victory in war. But miracles beyond anything we have ever witnessed happened when God was Crucified.

    We feel that it is unfortunate but necessary to defend our family from harm with violent efforts when someone breaks into our homes to murder, rape, and pillage. But Christopher is right, there is a great darkness in this sentiment. And in Christ there is no Darkness, and it is in Christ where we want to be. Christ too has a family -the Church. How did/does He defend His family? Christ has the power greater than anyone to defend the innocent from murder, rape, pillage, and every other injustice. But something very different occurred during the Apostolic era and the few centuries following. Christians became willful martyrs, they did not defend themselves, but rather chose crucifixion with Christ. And miracles beyond anything we’ve ever witnessed in our own generation were witnessed and written down for us to hear. And the martyrs were/are saving the world. The Romans didn’t stand a chance against them. This is more along the lines of what I meant.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron,
    First, tell the truth to yourself (and God) and perhaps your confessor, about the heart. Truth brings light. And when you see the dark stuff of the heart (with its shame), don’t immediately turn away. Look at it, admit it. And in prayer allow Christ to be there. In prayer, ask for Him to comfort you. Seeing and acknowledging this darkness and looking at it honestly and openly with Christ, begins the process of healing.

  32. guy Avatar
    guy

    Father,

    Now *that* was *very* helpful. Thank you. i’ll be chewing on those things for a while.

    The only thing i’m still having to “translate” is your utter rejection of the word moral. Your earlier comment identifying therapeutic moral deism was helpful. But, in my current circle anyway, the word “moral” is not used so restrictively. In my academic encounters, Aristotle has a “moral” theory. But it bears no resemblance to anything you seem to be attacking; and frankly, much of what you say sounds quite in line with the Nicomachean Ethics. –and by the same token, in line with Alisdair MacIntyre’s critique of ethics in the modern period.

    Anyway, seriously–that last bit gave me a good deal to think about. Thanks.

    –guy

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    MormontoOrthodox,
    Let’s make this a little more two-way. When you say “morality” – what do you mean by the phrase?

    The dictionary says: “a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially one held by a specified person or society.”

    An example. Let’s say we come across a man who has been run over by a car. He is bleeding and injured. Which does he need most, a doctor or a lawyer? The lawyer can treat the rules that were broken by the driver, etc. But no matter who was at fault, and no matter what the lawyer does, the man will die if he is not treated. He needs a doctor.

    Orthodox thought treats sin as the kind of problem that needs a doctor instead of a lawyer. It is certainly the case that doctors have guidance for their patients: don’t eat this. Eat that. Exercise. Don’t smoke. But the guidance of a doctor is still different than that of a lawyer.

    An example in our culture of this difference has been the debate about marijuana use. The lawyer says, “Don’t smoke it. It’s against the law.” But that obviously hasn’t been very effective. Indeed, several states now say that his “morality” is incorrect.

    But the doctor might say, “It doesn’t matter whether it’s legal or not. It is harmful to your health.” If it’s legal (moral) you are certainly free to do it. But it might still ruin your life. “Legal” is similar to how I use the term “morality” and similar to the dictionary definition of the word. “Unhealthy” is similar to how I have used the term “sin” (and how the Scriptures use the term). The Scriptures tell us to do or not do things, because the doing of them brings life or death. That is not the same thing as punishment and reward (in the legal/moral sense).

    These are two very different things. Does that explanation help?

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Guy,
    Have you read Guroian’s Incarnate Love? I’m not sure that he goes as far as I do. As a student of Hauerwas, I was taught to press things pretty far. Generally, if I give an inch on the term “morality” others will drive the whole legal/forensic truck through that tiny crack.

    I think it is possible, particularly within virtue ethics, to reconcile all of this. So long as virtue is seen as ontological and not just a “habit.” The resurrected Christ, and not just Aristotle’s great-souled man, is the proper model of virtue. There can be no “morality” (the true virtue) apart from Christ. Christ is our virtue. Christ – truly – completely – ontologically – not abstractly – not in an exemplarist manner.

    At the Eucharist, I eat virtue. I drink virtue. Virtue flows in my veins and its aroma fills my lungs.

  35. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    guy,

    I was thinking (too quickly and thus I did not type his name) of St. Seraphim of Sarov. One of the well known aspects of his life is his radical pacifism when being robbed and beaten (he almost died and had health issues relating to it for the rest of his life).

    Katerina says:

    Those who live by the gun, die by the gun.
    Paraphrase of The Lord’s teaching.

    True but in a important and profound sense this is everyone. This includes those who don’t own/train with guns, and who try to life (or actually succeed in living) a radical pacifism. Let’s say a person abhors war, promotes/votes pacifism in politics, does not own a gun, etc. What would she do if a deranged child of God came to rape her in the dark of the night? Would she dial 911? If so, she lives by the gun because the police officer carry’s and uses a gun in her stead. Let’s say she is a nun in a monestary – does she live by the gun? Yes, as there are those around her (armed citizens, police officers, and the army) who maintain the peace in the land that she lives. Let’s say a modern St. Seraphim of Sarov finds a piece of true wilderness, an island somewhere and lives a life of real and true radical pacifism. Perhaps then, but one has to admit that the island is in an ocean and that ocean is patrolled by one or more navy’s that subdue pirates, etc.

    All this is simply the “existential facts” of living in the world and is ordained by God as St. Paul explains:

    “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. ” Rom 13 1-4

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher,
    And moral pacifism is not at all the same thing as a pacifism of the heart.

  37. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Father,

    I think I understand. In my opinion (and it is only that – I am not at all certain on these things and I hope I have not overstated my confidence), a monastic has the “freedom from the world” to attempt to live what I am calling a “radical pacifism” that includes both a moral pacifism and a pacifism of the heart (is the first even possible without the second?). I say attempt because their are the recorded instances of monks taking up the sword to defend each other when attacked. The person “in the world” who has responsibilities for others (those with family, governmental authorities, etc.) in almost every case is not afforded a coherent “moral pacifism”. Now, there are cases of true martyrdom of whole families. However, I take most conflicts with evil that come to a “physical” point (as Michael put it) to actually not be God given opportunities for martyrdom, and thus a moral pacifism is actually a moral and even a spiritual mistake.

    In any case any moral right or wrong of anything is not on the “ontological” or spiritual or “the level of the heart”. Violence even “rightly used” is part of the tragedy and darkness of this world and of ourselves in our own heart and it is only through the His Salvation that we are cleansed from this.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have a dear friend, departed this life, who was in Viet Nam as a young man. While there his company was out on the aptly named “Search and Destroy” patrol. They ran into an engaged some VC. They won a brief battle and ended up with a captured VC.

    My friends commander ordered him to take the equally young VC into the forest and come back without him (kill him). My friend did that. He never got over it. It twisted and tortured his soul for the rest of his life. Toward the end of his earthly life, in the Church, he began to gain some peace.

    Interestingly enough, my son and he became deep friends. They somehow bonded over my son’s work on the war issue. They had some long virile discussions with each other about it to which I was not privy.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    albert, Augustine’s saying has long bothered me as well. One clue: he is not talking about the sentiment that passes for love. He is talking about the divine love that transforms us which lifts up into the Kingdom. He is talking about Theosis, Latin Father that he was.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The final conclusion my son came to is that we in the Church must not assume we know the answer or we end up being governed by the political ideologies and passions of the time rather than by the Holy Spirit. We must not shy from openly probing these questions with each other in prayer and in a spirit of seeking the truth especially when we find initial disagreement.

    Otherwise we will be unprepared when the time comes to us and it is no more theoretical and we leave our young people to the whims and forces of this world.

    He is not one for this type of dialog, but I will share this conversation with him and see if he wants to add anything.

  41. Climacus Avatar
    Climacus

    RVW,

    For what it’s worth – St. Seraphim’s quote more accurately should be translated as “acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved”. And thanks for bringing it up.

    “Everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” This thought first enlightens the dying brother of the Elder Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov years before he becomes a monk, and profoundly influences him. It gives a radically different perspective: it’s not about us on high moral ground and them the bad guys. I am responsible to all men for all men.

    Thank you, Fyodor Mikhailovich and Fr. Stephen!

  42. Brian Zahnd Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    This piece is just tremendous! Thank you.

    Brian Zahnd

  43. Greg Avatar
    Greg

    This is a powerful essay. I wanted to commend Michael Bauman for his long comment as well – truly an example of Christian discernment. Thank you.

    A brief comment: the idea that we cannot make a “moral equivalency” with terrorists – ie, recognize that we are not somehow fundamentally different in our human condition and actions and sins of violence – seems completely wrong to me. We simply are not better people. In point of fact, our history and actions give us no cause to believe we are. We dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations incinerating them instantly, for goodness sake. We have just destroyed several middle eastern countries – leaving hundreds of thousands dead and displaced – and are at work destroying Ukraine for political ends. A few beheadings is small potatoes by comparison.

    I don’t want to distract from the fine essay and points made, but I strongly believe that Solzhenitsyn offered the only (Orthodox) Christian way of thinking about these things: we are not different. When we see the darkness in others we are required to see that it is a part of ourselves:

    “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

  44. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    I think we must admit that we are our brother and sister even if the person we have in mind is the most horrid sinner imaginable. We are all one with them in the same way that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

    New men in Christ should die Christ’s death every day, participating personally in the only death that breaks the power of sin holding all men. This is where God’s heart would have us be. In this there is no judging. External moral standards for measuring others is replaced by love.

    Civil authorities and soldiers are forced to attempt an imperfect justice because no justice of this world is adequate. When Christ returns He can judge all men like the prodigals they are, with lavish grace and love far beyond our comprehension.

  45. guy Avatar
    guy

    Father,

    i have the very same worry about violence; when we give an inch and say it is sometimes necessary, from what i can tell, people try to drive fleets of trucks full of war and personal violence through that tiny crack.

    i do have a couple questions:

    (1) If violence truly is sometimes necessary, then in what sense is the practice of clergy/monastics “ideal”?

    (2) Is there something distinctive or special about violence such that it is sometimes necessary or that its use may count as sacrificing one’s salvation for the sake of others where as this is not true of other actions? For example, what about covert operatives who may commit adultery to gain information needed to stop or prevent wars? i’m having trouble understanding what “sometimes necessary” might mean without it also including any conceivable act. If there were no hope of violent resistance, but an evil despot would spare us all if only a few of us would commit idolatry, then is idolatry “sometimes necessary”? Or if that evil despot demanded we torture our own child so that he would spare bombing an entire city, does torturing one’s child become “sometimes necessary”? (i understand someone might object to the use of such hypotheticals, but these are precisely the same type of hypotheticals that are used to justify violence.) Now, if both are also sometimes necessary, then it seems there are no actions which are in principle off-limits. But if there are some actions which are never permissible, but rather, it is more advisable to suffer death than to commit the action, and if violence is not one of those actions, then there must be some difference between violence and those other actions. i’d like to know what it is.

    About Aristotle–i hadn’t ever asked myself that question. i guess i always assumed Aristotle did have fairly ontological views that motivated what he says in the Nicomachean Ethics. Seems to me he thinks the difference between the virtuous person and the merely continent person is akin to the difference between a brand new car that runs beautifully and the older car that is reliable but clearly has internal wear and tear. Of course, Aristotle doesn’t have anything sacramental in his system, and many have pointed out that he really hasn’t given clear criteria for “eudaimonia.” Now, MacIntyre, on the other hand, probably does hold the more hollow, “merely habits” view you mention.

    –guy

  46. guy Avatar
    guy

    If anyone is interested, there are multiple works that record instances of people who encountered violent situations (including situations of rape) who neither committed violence nor “stood back and did nothing” but modeled “third” ways of behaving and did so successfully.

    A couple short ones to start with:

    Safe Passage on City Streets by Dorothy Samuel

    Victories Without Violence by Ann Ruth Fry

    –guy

  47. jrj1701 Avatar
    jrj1701

    Josh Duncan you missed the entire point of this blog post. I pray that you will set the politricks game aside and pay heed to the most needful thing.

  48. Aaron I Avatar
    Aaron I

    Father bless,

    As I read your post I could only but think of my own conclusions about modern morality learned as a soldier in Aghanistan. I found myself in agreement with your article and the darkness that pervades us all -Experiential reality with war will often dull ideological concepts and moralism. Decisions in such environments are so complex that they defy moralism, that is to say they go well beyond its limits.

    Then we come face to face with the darkness of self

    As I read the comments section, I realized that words that healed (in a small way) my aching soul – simply stirs the pot for many others.

    It seems to me that it does so for many people at a macro-level…. It is quite a difficult thing for a person to hold two opposing thoughts in their mind. Many difficult moral decisions such as torture or killing are often abstractions in our modern world. Even how we kill with drones and video game-like weapons tends to make it more abstract for the soldier. Removed as many of us often are from the “ground-truth” and shame and pain that pervades the souls of those of us who in actuality must act upon and apply some of these “moral” decisions allows us to justify them more readily.

    For a much smaller group of us they are not abstract. The abstract part of their application is swallowed by application. Forgive the starkness of the imagery -but for many of us – decisions such as these are not abstractions. We have held the dying infant riddled by shrapnel. We have tried (against reason) to hold a person brains from spilling out of their skull. We have pulled the trigger out of spite. Hesse are realities of a dirty existence. We have committed or witnesses our own dark exploits and either justified them or pushed the thoughts out of our consciousness – ” we have a job to do.”

    I could certainly speak intelligently and experientially about torture and interrogation. I won’t.

    What I will speak about is the affect of all of this; PTSD- trauma- anger – and more bargaining with the dark. We cannot engage in the darkness without in some way embracing it – negotiating with it – and trying to control it. It is all of this, but esp. that last one -the control of the dark – which is external moralism. It has nothing to do with working internally to cure the source of darkness with the light of Christ.

    It was truly PTSD that drove me to Orthodoxy. Understanding that much of my hatred,fear, anger and despondency was the impossibility of moralizing the darkness of us all. The struggle to fit the darkness I’ve seen and done into moral frameworks creates part of the dissonance of PTSD. Orthodoxy has led me to Understanding that some of that is simply an abnormal passion for an sense of moral justice where none can be found.

    Perhaps this is what I mean…and on Jesus could make it clear.

    22″The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23″But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!…

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Guy,
    I only mean by “necessary,” that we feel it to be a necessity. We cannot bear to let it be otherwise. But it could be born. Christ bears it all the time. God is the ultimate pacifist. All of this stuff is happening on His watch. But we often find it unbearable to be like God.

    We pray in the Church for those suffer from any “sorrow or necessity.” My God, how we suffer from necessity!

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Josh,
    they are all laughing at us…all the time. They are servants of the princes of this world. It is, however, not the last laugh.

    And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! “For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Rev 6:15-17)

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Aaron,
    Thank you for this profound witness and confirmation of the truth as it is in Christ. I know these stories, have heard the confessions… I would that everyone who reads my article will read your comment. May I have your permission to turn it into a small follow-up article?

  52. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Reading Guy’s list of hypotheticals got me thinking of that Saint who answered the Mohammedans when they asked him why Christians kill (in war) when they are commanded by the Lord not to kill with something like “who is greater, one who follows one commandment or one who follows both?” – I am going from memory here, anyone recall what I am talking about? It is oft repeated by I could not find it using Google for some reason…

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One question: at what point does the discussion of violence “spiritualuze” things too much and end up ignoring the incarnational reality that we are body and soul meant to be inseperable?

    How do we address the reality that what is done to and with the body can have eternal consequences? Or does it?

    IMO one of the great weaknesses of the forensic model and can be of the ontological one is the bifurcation of the human being in a way that devalues our body or rather ignores the fullness of our being.

    Am I on the right track Father?

  54. Aaron I Avatar
    Aaron I

    Father,

    You have my permission. Thank you for asking.

    In Christ,

    AJ

  55. Mormon to Orthodox Avatar

    Father, thank you for the personal reply. I think I better understand you now, and I believe I understand what caused my misunderstanding. I see morality in a broader, holistic sense that applies to what is good and what is evil.

    In your example with the doctor and lawyer I would say both are giving commands that fall within the moral framework, i.e. human beings ought to act a certain way because 1. God has established objective rules we should follow and 2. Not following these rules, or not having access to the healing sacraments of the Church widens the divide between us and the Giver of Life, and as a result we are subjected to spiritual sickness and death.

    I have never seen morality as synonymous with the legal constructs of humanity. To me morality has always been objective rules about how one ought to act independent of human opinion. That is the only sort of morality that ultimately matters.

  56. Linda Avatar
    Linda

    Father, I grew up in an evangelical church (which I am not involved in as an adult). We were taught hell fire and brimstone…. repent or God will send you to hell, to be tortured for eternity.

    I have a very difficult time believing God will do that. Of course torturing another human being or any living being, is wrong on every level. So why would God, to send us to hell? I can’t imagine God wanting to torture anyone.

    This is a question I have wondered about my whole life, and I am now 63.

  57. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Linda,

    I grew up, like you, being taught that God is first a judge of men and then –only after His demands are met– our lover. I still wrestle with twisted notions about God; evil caricatures created by men who made God a monster. Christ, Who is the fullness of God, does not reveal Himself this way!

    He lovingly provides everything and will fill everyone’s hearts with their desires. He has even provided for those who, hating Him, want to be in hell forever — the fallen angels and those who follow them in darkness. God is not the cause of anyone being in hell. He grants it with great pain, but that pain is eternal because He bears it and and will continue to bear it because Christ has borne it all.

    Most men are not not haters of God. They are stupid victims of sin, careless, not watchful, not aware, not prepared for the truth to be revealed. When Lord appears to judge all men He will judge with frightening love beyond our comprehension.

    We must trust Him. He would never harm anyone! In that Day, when all deeds and all secrets are revealed it will be more terrifying than any hell fire we can imagine. It will also be precisely the the gift of everything we need to finally dwell in paradise — the burning away of sin away and clothing us undeserved in His own glory. What love!

    Please, trust Him and have faith to the end. I pray this for myself and also for you.

    Michael P

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Linda,
    I do not believe that God will torture anyone. For an outstanding article for thinking about this…read this article in my archives…The River of Fire by Kalomiros. It may answer a lot of questions. But ask more if it raises them.

  59. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Mormom to Orthodox says,

    {1.God has established objective rules we should follow and 2. Not following these rules. …between us and the Giver of Life….To me morality has always been objective rules about how one ought to act independent of human opinion….}

    This is the Law, this is moralism as far as I can tell. I think an Orthodox reply might be Christ’s commandments are not “objective” to be followed, rather they are “personal” and we follow Him (not them) out of Love (not duty as in the Law). How else can one explain the commandment to “love one’s enemies”. If you take seriously what an “enemy” is (very difficult for us fat, happy, and safe moderns) one can not see how God would have us “morally” love our enemies – it is not “right” in any way and can be against your own well being (though I suppose one could if one reduces morality down further to ‘arbitrary morality’).

    I don’t know MormontoOrhtodox, perhaps you are including the personal, the hypostatic union with God, Love (as opposed to duty – which is the only way one can relate to something “objective”, external, non-personal) in there somehow, though I don’t see it. Forgive me if I am wrong…

  60. David Avatar
    David

    Blessings to you Father,

    Being a soldier myself (and participated in Afghanistan war as an infantry on the ”front line” [if there is such thing in Afghanistan]), the comment section was an interesting read. I have a lot of things to ponder.

    At one time, you said that there is a difference between moral pacifism and pacifism of the heart. Could you elaborate on that ?

    Thank you again for all those text, even though I am Roman Catholic, you are the site I read the most.
    David.

  61. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Thank you Father for your reply. I look forward to your follow up article. This article, and the comments that have come from it, have been very interesting and, if I am able to come to a fuller understanding of this issue, will be more enlightening over time.

    Several books have been mentioned; do you have a “short list” that you are willing to share that will help bring a deeper understanding of this viewpoint?

  62. Linda Avatar
    Linda

    Michael and Father Freeman,

    Thank you for your replies, I appreciate them. I will follow up with suggested reading.

    Peace and love to you all….

    Linda

  63. davidp Avatar

    The last line says it all. So how will this happen, say to a people and a culture, where there is no concept of sin? Where honor is the most important thing even if you lie, cheat and steal to save your honor? Where religion, economics and politics are all wrapped up in one as a way of life? Where your point of view is just black or white? This is what goes through my mind when I study the history(ies) of the Middle East going back to WWI. May the Lord have mercy upon all of us.

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Davidp
    Never underestimate grace or doubt what it can do.

  65. Mormon to Orthodox Avatar

    Christopher,

    Loving one’s enemies is absolutely the moral thing to do because it is the most holy, most godly way to live. Not loving your enemies is inferior tribalism that just exacerbates conflict and hatred.

    To clarify, I see morality as synonymous with the will of God, i.e. if God wills it, then it is the most moral option.

  66. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    I’m home nursing a cold with my daughter who is worse off with the same this Sunday morning, so we have missed the Divine Liturgy. I hope I won’t be misunderstood if I confess in reading this post and subsequent comments, I feel myself drawn into the same Spirit that fills that Liturgy and am comforted. I feel myself drawn into that same rejoicing that we enter into at Pascha when we proclaim over and over, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

    After years of struggling more and more with the images of God elicited by the “Penal Substitution” views of the Atonement that predominated my Evangelical and Protestant background, it was owning the truth of the Saint where he says:

    For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth, not only because of the common guilt of the world, but personally, each one of us, for all people and for each person on this earth.

    that opened to door for me to come home to the Holy Orthodox Church. Thank God for the grace of the Holy Spirit who opened the eyes of my heart.

    Words cannot express my gratitude for that, but thank you, Father, for so faithfully endeavoring once again to articulate this, the fullness, of our faith. Indeed, we don’t need acquittal by the Divine Judge, we need healing from the Great Physician of our souls, nothing less than our own resurrection from the dead!

  67. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    By the way, Friday evening my family and I watched the 2012 documentary Honor Flight, about the efforts of a group from Wisconsin to send their WWII vets to the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C. It profiles the stories of several of those vets, who serve, I believe, as wonderful illustrations of your point here, Father. The events portrayed in the film manifest both the “heaven” and “hell” you articulate, while they most certainly glorify only the “heaven.” Well worth the watch if you haven’t see it, but (spoiler alert) keep the tissues close at hand!

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    MormontoOrthodox
    I understand the framework you’re describing. It has a problem for me. The “morality” you describe, synonymous with the will of God, perfect as it is, remains external to us. As such, it would be inherently oppressive, even if it is good and perfect. It ignores the “Law written on the fleshy tables of the heart.” The framework that I describe – in which things are understood in terms of being (ontology) instead of law (even God’s law), do not have this external quality. God commands us to be truly human. The commandments He gives us are precisely in line with what it means to be properly and truly human. In keep His commandments we, in fact, become what we are truly meant to be. This may again sound like more semantics – but it is an essential difference. Describing the Law as “objective” and “perfect” and “God’s will” is insufficient. It can mean something very wrong and incorrect.

  69. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Father Stephen…
    David asked to know the difference between moral pacifism and pacifism of the heart. It seems as if your answer above about the law, i.e., external or ontological, also answers his question.

  70. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Morals as icons, revelatory of the state of one’s heart not to be things in themselves are important. Morals as things in themselves become idols. It was for this that Jesus upbraided the Scribes and Pharisees and why we are called to a righteousness must exceed theirs.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    The “iconic” character of morality. That certainly has possibilities. I’ll be chewing on it.

  72. Harry Coin Avatar
    Harry Coin

    Something must be said about the propriety of conflating what ‘torture’ meant in 998 in Kiev, with what is described as ‘torture’ in the recent U.S. report on the subject.

    For example, if one went to Kiev in 998 and asked the question: “Would there be any lasting physical injury after torture?” One would have been considered a pitifully foolish person for even wondering about it. Of course there would be lasting physical injury as a great many persons tortured in those days died shortly afterward of the consequnces of their injuries, not least infections from cuts and broken bones.

    In the present circumstance we have the likely reality of psychological damage, but in nearly all the cases documented no lasting physical damage of any sort.

    To pretend the former sort of ‘torture’ should be on the same moral plane as the latter speaks more about the agenda of the authors than the subject itself.

    I would hate to give an account as a priest after presiding at a funeral of those killed by terrorists– while having advised against means that do no lasting physical damage to gain the information necessary to have saved lives. Yes, there could be abuses and those should be punished. But when there is a justified true belief that an imminent threat to life could be prevented by means that do no lasting damage to one caught in attempt to do murder— we must choose from among the alternatives we actually have and the duty to protect has the better moral position.

  73. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Father,
    What you’re calling morality is not akin to virtue, correct? Should we be pursuing virtue? I wasn’t sure if you addressed this question elsewhere.

    Thank you.

  74. Aaron I Avatar
    Aaron I

    Dear Mr. Coin,

    In some sense I don’t have a dog in this fight, in another I do. I’ve got practical experience with all of this. I can see your point of view. It has utility. That aside…removing my secularized and militarized hat and putting my christian hat on, these two are simply not compatible. Perhaps I can recommend reading cadoux on this subject.

    The article has nothing to do with putting things on the same “Moral plane.” I understand how truly difficult it is for people not to jusge thing by external moral judgements of utility and efficacy. But this is simply bargaining with the devil.

    Fine…support these policies … Call it whatever you like. I won’t argue about the utility of it. But don’t call it moral, it’s simply utilitarian. Or perhaps go back and read all of father Stephens ideas in regards to moralism and it’s external and artificial source.

    Perhaps IT IS moral in a secular sense, but secular and religious morality are not the same as truly Christian ethics and spirituality. Their values are not the same. The former two are both neurobiological illnesses. The later is the cure.

    “But in nearly all the cases documented no lasting physical damage of any sort.”

    I’m sorry But this is simply not true, even if it’s weren’t “documented”, Which it is. Documentation aside, I can tell you from experience that this is not true, but I will not be more specific. I can certainly point you to the documentation should you wish to see it. I can also sit down with you face to face and tell you the truth you don’t want to hear.

    In regards to the “agenda” of Father Stephen, I think it’s fair to point out his agenda. it is not a political one however. It was one borne and informed by the Spirit of Christ. One would do well to consider their own agendas before making unsustantiated statements about “documented” cases.

    You can hang your hat all you like on this no lasting physical damage thing all you like. 1)it’s not true…2) it puts more value over physical health than psychological trauma. I can tell you from tons of experience that the later trumps the former any day. my friends who have commuted suicide are the proof, the majority of whom had no “lasting physical effects.” 3). At the end of the day you’re still bargaining with the devil…and negotiating your way out of true Christian ethics…if the light inside you is darkness…how Great is that darkness!!!!

    The utility of these policies is spot on. The morality (external and negotiable) is spot on. The spirituality, Godliness and holiness of these acts cannot be compared to morality or utility. Therefore they are not on the same plane, but on a plane of Christian reality few can understand, and fewer can apply.

    Lord have mercy.

  75. Aaron I Avatar
    Aaron I

    PS. Applying that Christian reality of which I speak is about struggle and the acceptance of Christlike suffering. I myself have no idea how to pally this…yet. But I fight, “not as a boxer beating at the air”.

    It is exactly because we are unwilling to suffer righteously that we act in such a “moral” manner. Our spiritual laziness is what morality is; and not much more.

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Harry,
    Sorry you don’t understand my article. I clearly said that I was making no moral equivalency. I was not, in fact, making a moral point about terrorism or torture. Both are wrong. All killing is wrong. It is tragic. I easily recognize that people, ourselves included, will reason how these things are necessary, better than the other, etc.

    My point is about the darkness of the human heart. No moral calculus or reasoning can protect us from it. I chose to use the occasion of our public “debate” (it’s not a debate, really, just a little media fuss over a political event – America has no real debates and nothing about this is going to change – I’m a realist) – to make a theological point.

    God, when all is said and done, will ask nothing about torture or the terror or what you thought about or how you feel, or your reasoning, etc. He will confront us in the depths of our heart. And there, in the depths of that Hades, He will shine the light of truth as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. There will be no moral reasoning, no discussion, no issues. There will be the true reality of our heart – it’s precise content. And there we will have to confront the torturer and the terrorist (he is us).

    And Christ has not entered into this Hades in order to condemn us, but to save us (Jn 3:17). And, I am suggesting, even urging, that we drop our moral hand-wringing (it’s just a TV conversation) and get on with confronting Christ. But if we refuse to acknowledge the truth of our heart, then we hide ourselves in the delusion of our self-made Hades. And then there is condemnation:

    And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (Joh 3:19)

    I have no interest in the discussion of the relative merits of one moral position against another. I have no political agenda. I’m only interested in letting Christ get me out of hell and to take as many people with me as possible.

  77. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Aaron,

    I want to say with Fr. Alexander Webster and others that there is a case for an Orthodox Christian and virtuous “war”, what he actually refines a bit with some important distinctions and calls it a “justifiable war” (somewhat contra Michael and his son who rejected it if I understand him correctly). So the “morality” of it is not entirely secular and utilitarian. I don’t take Fr. Stephen completely negating morality – just putting it in it’s proper place, in particular in relationship with our own “podvig”, the Church’s theology, etc. (I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong). This is difficult and somewhat radical because of it’s current emphasis in our thinking as modern people. If our call to suffer righteously as Christ was at all times, in every hour, a true and radical pacifism, well then certain people could not be Christians at all – no police, soldiers, or really any governmental authority of any kind – or anyone who thought something of the commandment of our Lord to lay down our life for our friends as I do. When St. Paul says that our governmental authorities do not bear the sword in vain, he does not qualify that with “but if they were truly spiritually able to suffer enough, they would lay it aside because it really is a vanity in the end”.

    Mr. Harry Coin is wrong to focus on the body, because anyone who is familiar with this issue from the outside (let alone someone like yourself who is intimately familiar with it) understands it is the psychological and spiritual damage of war in general (to say nothing of torture) that is truly painful, and is harder to heal.

    Mr. Coin also brings up the “ticking timebomb” scenario, and I have to confess this is one instance where I would have to seriously consider torture. As I understand it, at least in some instances our government thought they were acting in exactly this way. Apparently an important part of the criticism is that our government in no way limited it to such instances. I of course can say nothing about your experiences.

    As I have already said all of this comes from the “dark place in our heart” so to speak and as you very well know it is here in the heart where hell and Christ meet. In the end however, ALL this world is a shadow as the Fathers say, so you are right that it is in our spiritual struggle that we/God over come it. I suppose I don’t see how we reduce morality, the law to nothing at all (yes it is nothing in the eschaton like so many other things – or rather it is what it is meant to be) but here it is something and part of the landscape – like a bodily function. One does not make an idol out of it (let alone a whole religion) but then one does not pretend it is not there either. Like a bodily function, it in no way “saves” even itself, let alone the whole person.

    p.s. Just a note on Fr. Webster’s work, he also outlines and defends the “radical pacifistic” option for Orthodox as well. To the chagrin of many, it turns out that Orthodoxy holds a paradox in place here – you can be a righteous soldier and really do everything a soldier does (i.e. kill the enemy, etc.) and you can be a St. Seraphim of Sarov also. Turns out your heart is the key to your salvation and not your external morality and virtue…

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher, et al
    I do not “negate” morality. I just don’t think it goes to the heart of the problem (pun intended). There will be no legal defense before God. There can be none. What takes place between us and God is entirely a matter of our being, our existence. No words or explanations, no reasoning. Just who and what you are. That’s all there is.

    So then the question about any action, finally, is: “What is its effect on my being?” And that is often a complex question. To stand by and do nothing while someone kills the person next to you is not without effect. And the effect will be different for different reasons. In most cases, I would probably personally choose to kill the perpetrator and I have no judgment to offer anyone else who does the same.

    But I do not think that such an action is without existential consequences regardless of my reasoning or motivation, etc. And the reality of that trauma (for we may call it such) becomes part of who and what I am. And it is in need of salvation/healing.

    And I think that this is the very heart of the gospel and the heart of proper Christian anthropology. It is our reality that needs saving. Not our morality.

    What I also observe is that we are all a very mixed bag. Our motivations are never pure. Our morality is never clean. Our reasoning is never entirely accurate. And I don’t think God plays games. He plays for keeps and brushes aside all of our games and confronts us on the ground of our true being.

    I will also observe that the mental habits of moralism are deeply, deeply engrained in our cultural and Christian mind – including that of many Orthodox. These articles and their conversations are revelations. Not just that it is a completely new idea to many, even most readers, but that it is incomprehensible to some.

    Parts of this I have been working with for over 35 years. Much of it was a primary part of the path that inexorably led me to Orthodoxy. It is as solid as a rock when it comes to its theological understanding. But it says that there are parts of Orthodoxy that have yet to make their way into our consciousness or to be admitted on to the playing field of modern discourse. The public habit of morality is so strong that many pronouncements of the modern Church are as couched in it as anywhere else.

    Jesus’ own paradoxical response to morality (the woman taken in adultery, the woman at the well, etc.) make no sense whatsoever in the forensic model. And certainly His teachings on killing/forgiveness/enemies, etc. have messed with the machinery of forensic morality since the beginning. He does not fit in the moral mode.

    Classical Orthodoxy is right about this. It is very helpful to understand it.

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My priest gave a sermon today on the cultural shift to a lack if moral accountability. It does matter what we do, it shapes who we are.

    The 2 pronged presumption that I am a good person and will therefore escape judgement and/or the pernicious theology of “once saved, always saved” leads to the same belief. There is no judgement at all.

    Without moral accountability to God we are simply slaves to our passions.

    That is when the idea of real morality was iconic in nature because my priest would never say that morality alone was sufficient. In fact, he has. ….and why our Lord says in Matthew that simply calling Him Lord is not sufficient

    Just some thoughts…..

  80. Ryan M. Avatar
    Ryan M.

    We are all Karamazovs indeed. Thank you, Father, for this post. I’ll be thinking about this one for a very long time.

  81. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    I am so glad you blatantly stated that God commands us to be human. Psalm 118 (Septuagint)/119 -the longest of all – is often misunderstood as a moral adherence to rules when its depth can only be found within the context of your statement. It’s ‘obsessive’ focus on the Law would be odd in any other context. These life-giving commandments it keeps extolling are rather what Elder Sophrony called a manifestation of God’s life unto the human plane. This deep ontological reality of the resurrection, light, life and love, hidden in God’s ‘decrees’ (lost in the forensic model) is the only one that makes proper sense of it:

    I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
    I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.
    Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
    With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
    I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
    I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
    I delight
    in your decrees;

  82. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    Dino, I think you nailed it. We should distinguish morality from God’s commands, decrees, and laws:

    In the Hebrew sense the later are one-in-the-same and, importantly, they are icons of Christ, God’s Word who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

    I think morals and morality are an attempt to mimic God’s commands, decrees and laws but, being human in origin, they fail utterly as icons of Christ.

    This is the sin of the Pharisees; They worship the image, idolize God’s law and not even see Christ who is the icon’s subject — the One who’s presence we need.

    Dare I say that most Protestantism treats the “bible” in a similar manner. Idealizing the scriptures gives them a life of their own apart from Christ. In this way it becomes an idol.

  83. LenInSebastopol Avatar
    LenInSebastopol

    Those whose joy is to send Christians to heaven will be stopped by those who finds necessary sadness, insanity and possibly hell in dispatching the former.
    It is called duty, response-ability and obligation.

  84. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    I think today’s epistle reading is timely. In his letter to St. Timothy St. Paul here distinguishes the virtue of our works (i.e. morality) from the the virtue of God’s own purpose and saving grace (recall that God’s saving grace is His own uncreated power gifted. Only by sharing in this saving grace may we be like Him because we are not divine by nature, we are dirt into which He has breathed life.):

    Timothy, my son, do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

    — From St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, chapter 1,

  85. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    Indeed the Church considers Psalm 118/119 to be a verbal icon of Christ. Christ is the Law (thus He is its fulfillment). The Law, of itself, could do nothing. But the Law was always Christ Himself. Thus the Law always pointed towards Christ for those with a good heart. And it is the great irony that those who thought they were following the Law, fulfilled the Law by putting Christ to death – for He was always the sacrifice described in the Law.

    But the same mystery is at work even in our morality. If we rightly know and see Christ, then He is the keeping of the commandments, and they are not dry words or simple rules.

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    MichaelPatrick,
    I would not lay that charge at the feet of Protestants. It’s common to many Christians, even some Orthodox.

  87. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Very true father Stephen. Those who were fundamentalist protestants usually are fundamentalist Orthodox. Often the obscurantist filter grows thinner but for others it remains as opaque as always.

  88. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    ” Those who were fundamentalist protestants usually are fundamentalist Orthodox.”

    First, “fundamentalists” are a strain of protestants that have a much larger presence in the modern mind than their actual numbers warrant. Even many who self report that they came from “fundamentalist” backgrounds actually did not. Second, a Southern Baptist is not a “fundamentalist” (this list of non-fundamentalist protestants who are wrongly attributed that label is quite long). Third, even real formal “fundamentalists” (let alone others from protestant backgrounds) are not “usually” anything, let alone incompletely converted “fundamentalists” who wear Orthodoxy like a fashion statement. My experience with the few true “fundamentalists” who came to be Orthodox that I have known is that they (as a group) are in fact more faithful and “Orthodox” than either their “cradle” or “RC/liberal/conservative protestant background converts”…

  89. MichaelPatrick Avatar
    MichaelPatrick

    I’m sorry I mentioned biblicism because it is a distraction from the on-topic of God’s concern — the condition of our heart, not of our morality.

  90. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher,
    I tend to dislike the label of fundamentalist – though there are some few who claim it proudly. It’s mostly a rhetorical device and not an accurate descriptor. My own experience is that there is a personality type that sometimes gets the label. And I think the theological positions mostly reflect neurotic needs. But that only describes some people (and they can be found everywhere and across the spectrum).

    We live in an amazingly politicized world (far more so than a generation or two ago). And the highly charged nature of our public life also colors our spiritual life. Like morality, it is a distraction.

  91. guy Avatar
    guy

    Alexander Webster also published an article in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly entitled “Justifiable War as a Lesser Good in Eastern Orthodox Moral Tradition.” It’s a bit long for an article, but i think it’s a briefer version of what he argues in his “Virtue of War” book. It’s Vol 47, Issue 1, 2003, pp. 3-57 if anyone wants to track it down and read it.

    Incidentally there are 6 or 7 other articles in that same issue–Philip LeMasters, John Breck, Joseph Woodill, and others–all of which respond to Webster, and, if i recall correctly, all of which reject his position.

    –guy

  92. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Thank you Father, I wasn’t actually aware of that [That particular Psalm as icon of Christ -spoken so unequivocally], I appreciate it…
    “I shall walk in freedom [‘in enlargement’], for I have sought your precepts.” (Psalm 118/119 : 45), certainly remind us of, e.g.: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8 : 36) or “be you also enlarged in heart.” (2 Cor 6 : 13)
    Obviously, numerous other verses throughout the Psalter are pregnant with this stuff.

  93. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Going back, I realize my post about “fundamentalist” was without introduction – I should have opened with “fundamentalist is a problematic term that is often misused” or something similar so my post did not come across as strident. I confess my “tolerance” for its misuse and abuse has lowered lately because it is now being used by the Orthodox “innovators” for lack of a better word to label those who would faithfully oppose their agenda (or perhaps its history in Orthodoxy is longer but I did not take notice of it?). This misuse is of course straight from the culture and pejorative. I see what your saying Father but I wonder if it is one of those terms that has been swallowed up and it is best left to one side…

  94. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    I came by to wish you all a blessed Christmas. I am truly grateful for this little community.

    Carpe deum.

    -John

  95. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Guy,

    I have that issue though I can’t seem to locate it right now. My memory of it was that it reflected in tone the inflamed passions of the time. Fr. Alexander Webster’s thesis still largely held. My recollection was that most of the respondents arguments were a mix of sentiments and did not address the position of the Church at all, instead substituting their own morally pacifistic (and frankly political) inclinations. One respondents however (can’t remember which one) seemed to be up to the challenge of giving a worthy counter point to Fr. Alexander’s multiple prong approach.

    I think his book “The Virture of War” is better organized and better supported, and it has the added benefit of directly addressing the RC and protestant history/positions on this issue…

  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher,
    I agree about its uselessness (unless you simply want to denigrate someone). I do not like labels for the Orthodox, for they destroy the manifest unity of the Church. They should not be allowed in our speech (other than proper national labels, etc.). I agree that the present use is purely political. The current culture battles surrounding sexuality/gender will doubtless enter the Church in some fashion. I completely expect the Tradition to be upheld, but I also expect some unpleasantness before that is done. We cannot and should not expect the Church to be unaffected by the culture – only that we should expect and pray for its faithfulness. This blog site will not label the Orthodox with “fundamentalist.” And I will welcome correction if I forget myself.

  97. John Shores Avatar
    John Shores

    Fr. Stephen, Can you please help me to understand your POV?

    You state that “Torture is wrong. Justify it if you will, but it remains wrong.”

    When I ask a Protestant to explain how God can kill all the firstborn, torture a nation into submission, wipe out the entire human race (save 7), command his people to commit genocide, kill an innocent child as punishment for his father committing adultery and murder, and send his own people into slavery, I invariably receive a reply that excuses God from having to abide by any moral obligations under which we as humans must abide.

    Their argument is “He’s God and can do what he wants” which sounds a lot to me like “Hey, Hitler’s in charge and can do what he wants.” I am not calling God Hitler, not by any stretch. I am simply saying that such an argument is absurd.

    What is the Orthodox view? Is God one who tells us how to behave but is not bound to behave under the same constraints? Why all these horrible things being blamed on god?

    One of the main reasons I left Christianity was because I could not reconcile the horrific behavior attributed to God in the Bible (and in Acts 5 He’s offing people for lying?) with the idea of a “good God.” To my mind, it is an incredible insult to attribute all that badness to any person (unless that person is really that bad). It’s just not reasonable to then turn around and call that person “good.”

    To me, it is better to believe in no god than to believe in one who is worse that I. (If there is a god, I hope he recognizes this and won’t hold it against me that I don’t have the heart to think so lowly of him!)

  98. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    John,
    Key in this misinterpretation of God as a punisher of others, a misunderstanding grounded on our cognition as ‘individuals-who-do-not-yet-encompass-within-themselves-the-entirety-of-being’, is that God is perhaps also an individual -like we feel we are… He is nothing of the sort in Orthodox understanding though.
    All who perish, suffer etc. including the very devil himself, are loved by God far more than they can ever love themselves. God’s hypostatic/personal existence implies not just that He is ontologically ‘relational’, it also means He includes within Himself all of Adam [including all those you mentioned as punished by Him]. The Lamb is slain before time.
    “The river of Fire” article Father referenced earlier makes this point from another angle…
    If God Himself did not want to transcend all torture, suffering, pain, and hell through encompassing it all within Himself for all of those so “punished” [for reasons that would possibly require omniscience to truly comprehend by human reasoning -as these are perceived by us ‘individuals’], what on Earth is He doing on a Cross then!??

  99. guy Avatar
    guy

    Christopher,

    Welllll….if i’m perfectly honest, i’m sure i read that entire issue through my own morally pacifistic inclinations.

    –guy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!


Latest Comments

  1. Arguing requires traditional logic. Real faith is not based on such logic but rather an experiential matrix and faith. Faith…

  2. I didn’t realize these might be called “arrow” prayers. While I have said something like them (that I’ve made up…


Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast



Categories


Archives