The Dangerous Vision of Paradise

A utopian vision gave birth to America. The “pilgrims” who came to New England in the 17th century, imagined an ideal state, defined by their radical “purification” of society and the Christian Church. Their dreams of a new world were constantly thwarted in England by the reluctance of the greater body of Protestants to embrace their extreme vision. England’s Reformation fell far short of their imaginings. In 1640, the English cousins of the American pilgrims managed to take control of Parliament. In short order, they began a radical reform of England, including the execution of King Charles. They sought to do for England what the Puritans in the New World were doing for “New England.” The English land endured 10 years of Oliver Cromwell’s reign of purifying terror. It’s disfiguring marks have never been erased. Such extremism with its attending violence is not an isolated phenomenon. It has been a recurring hallmark of the modern period. Paradise haunts the modern world, both as promise and as threat. Modern people do not live – they dream. And their dreams sometimes become nightmares.

There is something inherently utopian within Christianity: we look for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Christ began His ministry, preaching the coming of the Kingdom. And He acknowledged, “If my kingdom were of this world, then my disciples would fight.” Modernity, in many respects, is simply the secularizing of the Christian vision. The Kingdom that is “not of this world” must, in modernity, become “of this world.” Every dream of a better world, every hint of progress is a modern echo of the preaching of the Kingdom. Of course, the Kingdom no longer needs a king, much less the King of Creation. But the modern imagination is always turned towards a future. Our dreams are inherently eschatological (directed towards the end).

This orientation is the engine behind the constant improvement and development in technology and science. At the most fundamental level, we think we are building towards something. It is uniquely Western, inasmuch as the modern West is built on a Judeo/Christian foundation. The religions of the East (Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) lack this eschatological vision. It’s not that there are no visions of a Buddhist or Hindu paradise, but that those visions are very much “not of this world,” indeed, this world is not even of this world.

Islam has to be seen as belonging to the Judeo-Christian world, regardless of how foreign it might seem. The Fathers, contemporary to early Islam, all judged it to be a form of Christian heresy. I think this is quite accurate and important to our understanding. For though Mohammed makes many changes in the Jesus Story, and modifies most of the elements of Christianity, he, nevertheless, still works with Judeo-Christian elements. There is an expectation of paradise – and, more ominously, the notion of a pure state established under Sharia Law.

Historically, Islam has occasionally been content to live within the borders of its religious vision. But there always lurks the haunting figure of a righteous world. Our most recent experiences with ISIS have been a modern outbreak of a drive to “restore the Caliphate,” an eschatological vision of a purified state – a Muslim paradise on earth.

The deepest danger in this vision is similar to the danger presented within modernity itself. An eschatological vision driven by a this-world realization is always ripe for a utilitarian treatment. That is, the logic of “the ends justifies the means” seems utterly compelling. What would we not do to create paradise? How would the failure to do it not be a tragic sin?

This logic drives much of our modern world in forms that have become hardly noticeable. The modern secular paradise has almost no definition. We think of it vaguely in terms of a “better world.” In the name of a better world, almost anything in the present can be overthrown, often with little evidence that the result will actually be an improvement. The world is constantly beset with “unintended consequences” and “collateral damage” as ever more “progress” is set in place.

Needless to say, the modern vision is generally less violent and abhorrent than the nightmare of radical Islam. But the logic is tragically similar. There is, within such an eschatological vision, an inherent violence. That violence is only limited by other ethical restraints, something that grows thin or almost non-existent from time-to-time.

There is nothing wrong with the presence of an eschatological hope. As noted earlier, Christ begins His entire ministry with the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. It is the nature of the hope and the Kingdom itself that separates nightmare from dream. In classical Christianity, the Kingdom has a sacramental quality – it is both something that is hoped for and something that is already present. Orthodoxy believes that the Divine Liturgy is itself the Kingdom of God on earth. There is nothing about the world that must change in order for that Kingdom to be realized. It is already present and is making itself realized. The struggle is not to make the world into the Kingdom but to purify the heart so that the Kingdom can be seen. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The “secularization” of the Kingdom of God is a hallmark of Islam, as well as any number of Christian deviations. The name for the heresy represented in these deviations is “chiliasm.” The heart of chiliasm is the  belief in a literal thousand year reign of the Kingdom on earth. Properly, the Christian hope is of an eternal transformation of heaven and earth, something utterly removed from any ability of humans to achieve. But the literalization of this hope (which I am calling “secularization”) creates an illusionary goal and offers the temptation to force such an arrangement to come about. Indeed, the entire Social Gospel movement of the 19th century (even into the present), has its roots in just such a false hope. And (not to create political arguments), it is also the root of liberal-progressive politics, dating back to the Whig movements of the 19th century. Marxism has only been one very common form of this political eschatology.

The loss of a sacramental understanding within Protestant thought created a vacuum filled with various literalist substitutes. Periodic iconoclast uprisings, along with various extreme political experiments are all results of this heretical failure. The birth of secularism in the modern period (beginning in the late 18th century) is only a later version of the same false vision. More importantly, however, this false vision in the form of secularism has come to dominate modern thought – both religious and political. The only difference between a polite liberal and a radical Marxist is the lengths to which they are willing to go in order to create a “better world.”

The classical Christian understanding, free of heresy, is that in Christ, the Kingdom of God has already come. It is accessible even now for those who are willing to enter. As such, it is utterly foreign to coercion and violence. Mankind can do nothing to force its hand or cause its appearing. Concomitantly, anything that human beings can cause will not be the Kingdom itself. It is not, and cannot be, a political goal.

I am not a political theorist (indeed, the very concept of a political theorist is itself a product of modernity). But it can be observed that classical Christian thought views the role of human government to be the control of evil and the stability of society with a view towards some modest application of justice. The coming of the Kingdom is marked solely by the inner transformation of believers – it is not a human project of social improvement.

Obviously, the work for justice involves appropriate political goals. It is also true that such goals should be tempered with the expectation that perfection does not belong to this world. Laws should be just, but they will not ultimately bring about a just world. The state should restrain evil, but it will not eliminate it.

Those who characterize religion as violent are often poor students of history. But classical Christianity would readily agree that heresy is dangerous stuff. There’s a reason that the Church has always opposed heresy. It kills people.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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58 responses to “The Dangerous Vision of Paradise”

  1. Fr. John Strickland Avatar

    Very nice reflection, Father Stephen! Thank you!

  2. Burro [Mule] Avatar

    Father – are you familiar with Fr. John Stickland’s web series “Paradise and Utopia”? This post seems like what he is building up to. The series is very long, has about 50 episodes, yet to be honest sometimes it seems it isn’t long enough.

    Father John’s basic thesis is so close to yours – that the Orthodox Church attempts to orient man to Paradise, and that the forces released by the various schisms and calamities suffered by the Church throughout history have resulted in a reorientation of man to this world, and Utopia.

    I believe Father John is delaying his treatment of the post-Schism West for the same reason CS Lewis did not enjoy writing the Screwtape Letters.

    Fr. John’s podcast may be found at His latest episode deals with the Old Believer schism. He is very capable in Russian history.

  3. Joe Avatar

    Thank you for so eloquently stating something I have been thinking about as of late. I do think that the idea of Jesus’ Kingdom being “not of (or from) this world” should be a major factor in how followers of the Way live out their faith. We participate in the Kingdom, but we cannot establish the Kingdom in any way. American evangelicals’ preoccupation with nationalism is birthed out of a Utopian dream that is dangerous. And because fear is the what drives much of their theology it’s hard within that framework to question it. I pray that more of us (those of us who grew up in evangelical fundamentalist culture) will.

  4. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    “The only difference between a polite liberal and a radical Marxist is the lengths to which they are willing to go in order to create a “better world.””
    Father, in the past I would agree with this statement, but listening to the rhetoric from the ultra liberal camp these days, I fear this is changing. Because I am Pro Life, I am labelled a terrorist and the call is that we all of this bend should be jailed and force re educated. I am not convinced by the Climate Change mantra, likewise I should be jailed and re educated. I oppose the concept of Same Sex marriage. Because of this the demand is that I should lose custody of my children and again be jailed and re educated. It sounds as if the Gulag is coming here. I agree, however, with your premise that this whole secularization of the Kingdom is a dangerous twist of the Gospel.

  5. Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennickw Avatar
    Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennickw

    Father, it seems to me that the very bottom line of most people’s fears concerniting whatever the current “threat” might be is the fear of death. As Christians, this should be the last thing to fear. “Fear not him who can kill the flesh, rather fear him who can kill the soul.” It has become a wonderful thing in my life to no longer fear death but rather to look forward to (by God’s mercy) the next life in the Kingdom, no matter how this present life is brought to a close.

  6. Chris Avatar

    “The struggle is not to make the world into the Kingdom but to purify the heart so that the Kingdom can be seen. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

    This is what I pray for everyday….that the Lord would create in me a clean heart, a pure heart. I guess what I am really praying for is the Kingdom of God.

    Thank you

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Subdeacon John,
    I think people probably fear watching some fanatic chop their children’s head’s off. We have to be brave enough to bear the martyrdom of our children, I know. But I sure understand the fear.

  8. Matt Avatar

    There’s also the fear of losing a “safe space” where one can at least openly attempt to raise a child in a Christian manner without being exposed to direct, targeted violence (including economic violence such as a jizya). A child might be shamed into converting before they can even learn how to bear that shame with faith, hope and love.

    Some might argue we’re already losing that, but there’s still at least a very palpably large quantitative difference between what is threatened to go on here and what goes on under Soviets or Saudis.

  9. Alex Avatar

    Father, it seems to me that the very bottom line of most people’s fears concerniting whatever the current “threat” might be is the fear of death. As Christians, this should be the last thing to fear. “Fear not him who can kill the flesh, rather fear him who can kill the soul.” It has become a wonderful thing in my life to no longer fear death but rather to look forward to (by God’s mercy) the next life in the Kingdom, no matter how this present life is brought to a close.

    On Slacktivist, one of the earliest critiques it had of the Left Behind series was its basis in exactly this. In the backstory, one of the characters is told by his (now-raptured) wife that if you’re a Christian, you don’t have to die. As the blogger himself pointed out, this runs counter to the whole message of the New Testament.

    I also see fear driving people’s response to the Paris attacks and the refugee crisis in some unwelcome ways. Americans are still more likely to be struck by lightning than killed by a terrorist, yet the threat of the latter has been used to justify intrusive TSA security theater, NSA surveillance, and torture. It was fear that drove thousands of Japanese people to internment camps in the 40’s, and I’m worried we’ll make a new mistake on a similar pretense.

  10. Mark Avatar

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
    ― C.S. Lewis

  11. davidp Avatar

    One of the best I´ve read in a long time and thank you Fa Stephen for posting. It historical adds to the what is going on in the world today, but missed by so many who want the KOG be now in this life time. This article can be read in the light of all the political and religious movements for the past thousands of years.

  12. Ryan Avatar

    Father, what are we to do, then, with the challenges that face us today on such a grand level? Are they to be solved merely by the slow spiritual renewal of believers? A poster above said he’s skeptical of climate change, for example. Unfortunately, people like that are those whom modern states have to wrestle with as they seek to actually implement policies that will hopefully save our race from going extinct.

  13. Ryan Avatar

    (Indeed, for me, this very environmentalism is part and parcel of a broader commitment to respecting Creation, and indeed human life from conception to natural death, that I call ‘pro-life’)

  14. Laura Avatar

    Nicholas, I am concerned that you feel that you will be jailed for your political views. I have many friends on the left; I have a daughter who is gay and has many gay friends; I also hold some “leftist” ideas about climate change.
    I have never heard of anyone who wants to jail and re-educate those on the right!

    I don’t know where you’ve read or heard that, although I understand that it upsets you. I have heard some of my friends on the left make similar statements about the right! I think we should all listen to each other and pray for each other.
    In God’s love, Laura

  15. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    These comments were made during the last debate from several of the leading Democratic candidates. They have been said by others who are in the House and Senate. Al Gore, himself, has stated that those who don’t buy into his predictions should be jailed. This kind of rhetoric is very common in the intolerant liberal agenda discussion. I am not concerned about what liberal friends say. I am concerned about what our political types have to say. Their rhetoric is becoming even more intolerant with the passing of time.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nicholas, Laura, everyone,
    I should note here that “liberal,” in its classic meaning, applies to what today is called conservatives and liberals. They are simply lines on a spectrum, but all are pretty much enlightenment sorts of things. Reagan was all about the “City on a Hill” thing, and American exceptionalism, which is rooted in the heresies of its Puritan past, is very much alive and well. It has been behind the disastrous policies of the past 2 decades, internationally. They’re all capable of visioning paradise and forcing its coming. Of course, since they have competing visions of paradise, they’ll ultimately be able to kill each other. In the ultimate act of Democracy, everybody gets to die.

    This is not “liberal versus conservative.” It’s much deeper and older than that.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In America, all discussions of foreign policy are about local politics. Our fears are manufactured for local political leverage.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In what possible climate warming scenario is the extinction of the race an issue? That is not being said by anyone. But trust me. The powers that be are not going to fix anything. They will never come close. First, they don’t even know what needs to be done. Climate science is still a massive guessing game. I live in the city with the world’s largest computer and where the cutting edge science is done. Believe me, we’re still just guessing. Managing the climate of a planet is absolutely beyond our ability.

    We should pollute less, waste less, share more. But the language of control and management is nothing more than a political delusion. It would be easier to eliminate cancer. At least we understand cancer. This is largely public hysteria. Even the scientists are hysterical.

    The political order will not solve the “challenges that face us today on such a grand level.” They haven’t really ever solved anything.

    The point is to learn how to live and let God be in charge of history. We have never, never been put in charge of the outcome of history. It’s a utopian fantasy.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Respect creation. Absolutely. But we will not be able to manage it. The antichrist will ride into our lives in the name of such management. I do not exaggerate.

  20. Ann K Avatar
    Ann K

    Father, are you saying God wants us to submit to evil rather than fight for good? How about preventing the beheadings of our children rather than welcoming them? How about proclaiming Christ throughout the world rather than submitting to jihad in our own homes?

  21. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    Father, you are absolutely right. It is more ancient and deeper than the labels applied today.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ryan, and everyone:
    A companion of utopia is the notion of the extinction of the human race. When the blessings or the disasters are painted in extreme terms, the result is precisely what I have written and warned about. How can we not want paradise? How can we dare allow the human race to become extinct? These apocalyptic visions are false.

    I am not saying that the human race is not in danger. We have always been in danger. The world’s a dangerous place. But we are in greater danger from ourselves than anything. Saving the human race from extinction is not really on the table. Living is on the table.

    There are leaders already in place who would push us to the point of extinction if they thought that the world would then agree to let them manage things. The antichrist is already among us, as the Scriptures say.

    Our salvation is not in out-managing him, but in teaching and living the gospel. When it is all said and done, if the powers of the world were given all the power they wanted to save us, very shortly we would learn that we needed to be saved from Christianity. It’s God they want to destroy.

    Live. Live rightly and well. Share and forgive. Don’t be devoured by utopian or dystopian visions.

  23. Sharon Joy Avatar
    Sharon Joy

    Underlying my own attempts at moral management (via Mark – C.S. Lewis’ “moral busybodies”) – my misguided attempt to create “utopia”, is the idea that I am capable of making rational moral choices (apart from the grace of the Holy Spirit).

    “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

    “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2: 2

  24. Aleksandrs Avatar

    Father, is it possible to download somehow all your blog posts in .doc format for reading on e-book?

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This I don’t know. It’s actually worth checking out (on my part). It could be a kindle thing, perhaps.

  26. davidp Avatar

    Aleksandrs…I do alot of downloading articles this way…paint the article, copy, and post to notepad ( I have microsoft 7 (chrome), paste to notepad, then click my LibreOffice (4.3) transfer article to this and edit or delete things that I think are unnecessary….or underline or darken for emphasis. Blessings.

  27. Christopher Avatar

    Just a quick note on the consequences of a warming trend, in the 90’s before the current climate orthodoxy (which is a frighteningly simplistic moral judgement: “change = bad/death”) , took a firm hold on both the popular and scientific imagination I read an article by a physicist who worked on climate modeling published in ‘Analog’s Science Fiction and Fact’. He was agnostic as to the “cause” of a warming trend, but he believed we are now in one (noting that we are technically still in an ice age). He did not judge it morally (as does the current environmental orthodoxy), he simply noted “pros and cons” for humanity.

    I recall the largest “pro” being the fact that in slightly (or a not so slightly) warmer climate, that huge frozen slab of land which is nothern Eurasia becomes arable and the planet could then support a population in excess of 20 billion. So, we got that going for us. Not of course want the high priests of the current orthodoxy (e.g. David Suzuki) want to hear. Oh well, lick your finger and stick it up because the winds-of-fashion are certainly going to change in the next few minutes…

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Heresy kills people.” Yes it does, body and soul, it kills cultures as well. The Blessed Seraphim Rose spoke of the modern challenge of chiliasm in the 1960’s. Even if one dismisses his other theological speculations, he was correct on that.

    Chiliasm is the delivery system for all sorts of destructive nihilist ideology that has become intertwined with all of the politics, not just the “left” whatever that might be. It produces anarchy first and then the evil offspring of anarchy–true tyranny. The tyranny of despotic states and the worse tyranny of demonic imaginings that promise salvation but deliver you to the maul of darkness.

    Though I still bear some of scars, by the grace of God I escaped that kind of thing once but I have seen the destruction such evil brings. By His continued grace I will not fall into that trap again, led as I was by idealism, arrogance and ignorance.

    God forgives and may God’s mercy continue to abound!

  29. drewster2000 Avatar

    I too would be interested in downloading all this blog’s articles. In the past I’ve used a program like PageNest to archive a whole site, but I would much prefer a common file format like MS Word or Notepad, etc. – using a method that didn’t require me to go post to post doing a cut-and-paste of each one.

  30. Byron Avatar

    Ditto here. I have actually saved several of the blog posts as webpages but I’d really like to download the blog’s articles (and comment sections) in printable form….

    …or Father Freeman could just put it all in a book or three! A compilation of blog posts, with the most useful comments included, would be a wonderful resource.

  31. Sunny Avatar

    Sounds delightfully like Chesterton! If only he were a part of public school curriculum. Discovering Chesterton in college and reading “Orthodoxy,” “What’s Wrong with the World,” and “Heretics” helped save me from being lost in this culture. It led me to the Orthodox Church.

  32. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    I agree. Put them all together in one book. It’s about time, yes?

    Oh, Drewster, I discovered something quite by accident. I too like to save articles. I once tried highlighting an entire article and then right-clicked to “Save”. What that did was to save the entire page as an HTML. But one time I clicked on the “Print” option and, lo and behold, Adobe kicked in and actually saves the text in PDF format. If you actually want to print the page you have to pull up the saved PDF then ask it to print. I like this because all I wanted was the article minus the ads, etc.

    I like the idea of collecting all Father has written because now I find myself with a huge collection of not only Fathers articles but every article I’ve saved in a huge forest of PDF’s! I need to take the time to catalog them all. Trying to wade through this vast collection just to find one in particular is enormously exasperating!

  33. Alan Avatar

    Laura, to answer your question, earlier this year, Hillary Clinton said: “…and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed.”

    Given the blatant animosity (that’s the kindest word I can think of here) towards Christians from the current administation, the above quote from our next President is most scary to many of us.

    Forgive me Father.

  34. Ed Avatar

    Fr. Stephan,

    There are threads of thought in Catholicism about Muslims being a scourge sent by God because of sin and to test people’s faith. An example of this might be the rosary being credited for the victory at Lepanto. Have Orthodox ever thought about them in a similar manner? I know Orthodoxy often had a very different relationship with Islam.

  35. Karen Avatar

    Speaking of Utopian delusions, this sort of thinking in idealistic young people raised in modern Christian homes is a set up for getting sucked into a cult. It happened to my brother in the ’80s. Then just last week, a member of the “World Mission Society Church of God” tried to recruit my son. My son came home one evening telling me about a guy who invited him to a “Christian Bible Study” on the campus of our local community college. My inner alarms went off at what he was describing of the teaching, so I encouraged my son to get info. about the church this guy attends. He came home with a business card that had a web address on it, and checking it out, it turned out to be a spin off of a spin off of Second Day Adventist heresy, morphed into a dangerous mind control cult. It is using the notion that *we* have to save the world to marshall an army of drones funneling funds into the coffers of a Korean woman styling herself as “God, the Mother”! Thank God my son trusts his parents, and his parents, through hard experience, are capable of identifying such toxic spiritual . . . shall we say manure? . . . for what it is!

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”

    We are to dress and keep the earth.

    That can only be fulfilled in sacrament: both liturgical and personal and cannot be separated from the proper order of creation built upon ..”…male and female created He them”.

    Any “ism” is an ideology that only leads to death.

    All ecology is local. There is simply no way to have global policies that will do anything except make things worse. The modern environmentalist movement is a sham. It denies God and the proper understanding of the human species.

    Even if global warming exists the causative factors are wholly outside human control. The movement is simply on of despotic arrogance.

    You want to heal the earth: fast, pray, give alms, repent and above all live in thanksgiving for all God gives offering everything back to Him allowing Him to transform and transfigure it.

    “If the people who are called by My name shall humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”. Chron. 7:14

  37. Bob Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Isn’t the Kingdom coming to earth in the Lord’s prayer and the new heavens and the new earth at the end of the Book of Revelation. Isn’t the Kingdom among us or in breaking gradually?

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve done a little consulting, and think that I will work at publishing some volumes with articles and selected comments at Kindle. It will take a little work, but we’ll be starting in chronological order (not everything – but much if not most). Stay tuned. I’m also in the process of writing a work on Orthodoxy and Modernity – that will be a stand alone book (not a collection of blog posts).

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy does not think that God tests us. He has no need to test us. But we believe that all things are sent to us from God and for our salvation. A lot of days this reality is very difficult to grasp. But it is utterly true.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes to all the above. It’s also possible to enter the Kingdom in a relative fullness during this lifetime. Some saints dwell there. But it is both something that is present, is becoming present, and will be present in its fullness.

  41. Byron Avatar

    I’ve done a little consulting, and think that I will work at publishing some volumes with articles and selected comments at Kindle.

    You’re going to make me buy a Kindle! Happy to hear it though. Blessings, Father!

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You don’t have to have an actual kindle. Just put the app on your computer. Read it like an ebook. The nice thing about ebook formats is that they are searchable.

  43. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have a suggestion/request for a future blog post: how to be present. There seem to be thousands of ways to do this, or maybe there are just thousands of people presenting truths in different ways. In either case I find myself being ironic, spasmodically twisting my neck this way and that, supposedly compiling a “best of” list of techniques for being present to just one thing.

    I suspect acquiring inner peace goes hand-in-hand with this ability. If the kernel (computer term) of my heart is untouched by lesser things, then because of that peace I have the luxury of giving myself to whatever is right in front of me for that moment. If I’m not actively managing my whole world, then I can immerse myself in a conversation with you with ALL my CPU cycles right now. It of course involves understanding my limitations of being just one person with really only one attention span.

    As the North American world around me is ardently practicing just the opposite, I find it extremely difficult to know where to turn for this advice. But acquiring inner peace and being present in the moment (Wherever you are, be totally there.) are perhaps the deepest desires of my heart. I’m not looking for a 30-day cure, just some wise counsel on how to begin.

    Anything you can offer will be most welcome. It’s quite likely you’ve already written such a post and even possible that I read it, but in all the confusion I’ve misplaced that knowledge. And if that’s the case, then all you’d need to do is send me a link or redirect me somewhere.

    much appreciated, drewster

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    drewster, as tempting as computer analogies are that is the first thing to get rid of. Human beings do not function as or like computers.

    You cannot be still and focus as long as you are binary. Computers are of the two storey universe.

  45. Joe Avatar

    I’m too dull minded to add anything to all of this other than my simple gratitude. I understand some things which I didn’t before.

  46. Trevis Avatar

    I completely agree that Utopianism characterizes Western thought — conservative or liberal both — even as the very nature of the Utopian goal seems ever more obscure.

    However, I don’t think it’s accurate to describe environmentalism as a purely Utopian ideal, though certainly any number of environmentalists can be screechy dogmatists about their positions. Environmentalism is not, contra what has been stated in the comments above, about “managing the environment.” It’s mostly just about not further screwing it up. If you stop polluting, over-fishing, etc, etc, then nature will take care of itself: there’s nothing to “manage.” (If you want to discuss nature management, talk to your local dam operator.)

    Moreover, it always leaves me scratching my head that humans are supposed to be intrinsically sinful but that there is simply no way we can be ruining the earth itself (as best I can make out the “argument.”) That environmentalists can be arrogant may be accurate in many cases, but how else should one also characterize the swaggering indifference to the very possibility of human malfeasance by many on the other side?

    “You want to heal the earth: fast, pray, give alms, repent and above all live in thanksgiving for all God gives offering everything back to Him allowing Him to transform and transfigure it” as Mr. Bauman advises above. Great. But if there’s a leaking oil well in your back yard in Smolensk, or you can’t fish in the Aral Sea anymore because someone forgot to let the river to keep it replenished, you need more than prayer. Soviet Utopianism _caused_ your problem: don’t blame environmentalists for simply trying to undo the damage.

    Solving a specific environmental problem isn’t automatically a Utopian campaign: it can just be about solving a problem.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Part of turning from our wicked ways is taking action to undo the wickedness and cease doing wicked things. There is a place for the state restraining wickedness too

    However state coercion on a massive scale motivated by anti-human ideologies is not simple restraint. It is utopian violence.

    Many modern environmentalists favor abortion because it is an expedient way to reduce the surplus population.

    Having lived through the entire course of the environmental movement I can say it has gone off the tracks and been subsumed by political activists with a secular agenda that is destructive.

    It has become part of the wickedness.

  48. Christopher Avatar


    Yes, but no. In the past, I have sometimes said that “I was an environmentalist, until the anti-humanists took the movement (and the philosophy and principles it stands on) over in the 1960’s.” This does not really work since I was born in 1969!

    I do want to breath clean air, and I want my children to drink clean water. I don’t even want “sinners” such as the (generalized) “human race” managing things (say, for an ever richening consumer lifestyle) to the point where certain unintended consequences occur that might be positively harmful. However, is that what modern “environmentalism” is really all about? Also are my particular “wants” in this area really what the earth is “for”? Am I playing God when I start to project my “vision” of what the earth “should” be and what man’s relationship to it “should” be when I think about this “want”. In other words, is it simply a safe way to judge people while I hide behind generalities and what in the end is a merely aesthetical view of “God’s green earth” and a simplistic moral calculation that “change = bad”?

    The inner controlling philosophy of the modern environmental movement are not merely anti-Christian, they are anti-human (and thus overtly evil). In their moral calculation, “humanity = bad”. These are deep and controlling principles in the movement, not throw away lines by a few eccentric leaders. The Orthodox layman Wesley Smith has reported on this:

    Some Orthodox (some of them very prominent “leaders”) would have us believe that their is some sort of “synergy” between a proper Orthodox Christian understanding of creation and man’s place in it and the modern environmental movement. I am confident that their ideas will be judged by our Christian ancestors as “naive” at best, more likely morally reprehensible. When I see photos of said leaders embracing those who otherwise explicitly kill their children by the millions in the holocaust of the unborn, I sort of have a “gag me with a spoon” reaction. Thank God His mercies cover a multitudes of sins!

    The gap between a proper Christian anthropology and the fundamental anti-humanism of the modern environmental is too wide – there is no “synergy” even when in a shallow way there appears to be some agreement on certain things. All you have to do is scratch the surface just a little bit and a deep irreconcilable differences in understandings, praxis, etc. reveal themselves. The “enemy of my enemy is my friend” thing simply does not work.

    I would gently suggest that you keep “scratching your head” on the subject of Christian anthropology and our relationship to creation and each other – I know I do! 😉

  49. Karen Avatar

    Trevis, it seems to me the “environmentalism” you are describing could just as easily be characterized as responsible stewardship. I agree with you–I don’t see anything utopian about this notion at all. On the contrary, it is an aspect of becoming truly human, fulfilling God’s calling for man in the Garden and made possible again through the Second Adam, Christ. I believe Christopher is talking about something else altogether (and perhaps talking past you in the process?).

  50. Christopher Avatar

    ” I believe Christopher is talking about something else altogether ”

    No, I am talking about the same thing. I don’t see what a change in terminology such as “responsible stewardship” gets us. If the basic idea is “don’t do any harm”, well duh, who disagree’s with that? But that is not really a practical principle or a basis for praxis or a working theological reflection of the subject. It does not rise above the level of “let’s be nice to each other”. Well, of course, but how? As soon as you move past step 1 (or really, as soon as you move up to the starting blocks), that’s where the trouble starts – or rather the fundamental differences in anthropology (the divers answers to “who we are”) become apparent (or should).

    That is why the term “environmentalism” and the presuppositions that go along with it can not really be rescued or re-redefined into a Christian anthropology and theology. Well, I suppose it can but to date it has not. Thus you see “leaders” embracing those who propose (and carry out) objectively evil ideas about man and God – because they have tried and failed to do this. It is not merely that they are not rising to their otherwise good “theology” – no, they have not adequately circumscribed the “problem” in the first place, which is why their “theology” reads like a incoherent mishmash of secular and Christian presuppositions – that’s exactly what it is.

    If one wants to Christianly (which is to say adequately) deal with this “problem”, one would have to start in the proper place. This would be outside the “spirit of the age”, outside the secular assumptions that lead to the very “problem” in the first place. This simply has not been done that I have seen. Taking the secular problem and assumptions and dressing it up with terms like “Christian stewardship” is going to lead to exactly where it has lead up until now, the attempt to “bless” what are in fact secular utiopian managment schemes.

  51. Brian Avatar


    Caring for the earth can simply be about solving a problem that we (man) created. Love compels us to care for God’s creation. However, until I read your post it was never clear to me what, exactly, is troubling about environmentalism, even so-called Christian environmentalism (and I don’t mean to imply that your comment itself is troubling).

    The word “environmentalism” has become accepted in the common parlance. And, with the exception of some extremist elements, it generally has a positive meaning in the minds of most. After all, who doesn’t want to breathe clean air, drink clean water, enjoy the beauty of nature, etc.? These things, like all of God’s creation, are very good.

    The troubling aspect is the ‘environment’ in environmentalism, the environment being the place in which we live. When the place in which we live is merely ‘the environment’ it ceases to be recognized as the creation of God – the gift of God that we offer to Him in thanksgiving and for which we care for HIS sake. Rather than loving and caring for creation because God loves it and because it is permeated with His goodness, we love it and care for it because it is ‘ours,’ our home, our environment, a ‘thing’ that exists apart from God upon which we depend – a form of idolatry even though it retains elements of care for our fellow man.

    I am not at all suggesting that your comment reflects this sort of idolatry. It was merely an occasion for clarity of mind on my part, and I thank you for it.

  52. Karen Avatar

    Good point about the use of the term “environment” in lieu of “creation,” Brian. I have always felt there was a similar (and rather chilling) shift in thought from using the term “personnel” in business to using the term “human resources.”

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My response on the utopian character of environmentalism was point towards the statement that climate control was about preventing the “extinction of the human race.” It’s the negative version of utopia – a problem stated in such an extreme and absolute form that any and every action is perceived as a moral necessity, and in the case of the comment to which I am alluding, it included a reference to the “problem” created by anyone resisting the agenda as something that governments needed to remove. This is not environmentalism, it’s utopian extremism.

    Christians obviously should be committed to proper stewardship. Just be wise and discerning when it comes to the rhetoric of the State.

  54. Karen Avatar

    Christopher, the theological mandate and biblical anthropology Trevis’ post brought to my mind is that found in Genesis 2:26-30 and 2:15 (which seem to me to include, but also go beyond the “do no harm” you seem to suggest in your comments to Trevis and me is the bottom line of a genuine Christian stewardship). Brian’s comment clarifies well why just using the term “environmentalism” can elicit a whole different level of implications (including those you raised in your reply to Trevis) than that which seemed to me to be at the heart of Trevis’s question.

  55. Christopher Avatar

    “… the heart of Trevis’s question….”

    What exactly IS the heart of his question? Brian comes to a conclusion that the creation is good, a gift, and that “God loves it” and so are we are to also. What does all this MEAN however, and how is it a guide to a praxis, a so called “Christian stewardship” (to set aside the term “environment” or any other “ism”)? You point to Genesis (1:26-30, 2:15). Ok, let’s take those words – in what sense do they point to a “love” of a creation per se? I see rather what all our Christian ancestors saw up until about (at most) 2 or 3 generations ago – what can cynically be described as a “utilitarian” relationship being explicated but is in fact more of a hierarchy. What I see today is an effort to interpret those passages in a way that appears to elevate creation into a sort of person – so that the “love” applied to it is on the same level and of the same character as love of neighbor and God. “love” is not even used in those passages cited, rather terms like “subdue”, “dominion”, and a “givenness”.

    Is Christian “love” even the proper term to describe our relationship to a gift? Is it the gift itself we love (even up to and including life, existence, etc.) or is it rather the Giver that we “love”? Do we “tend” the garden, or do we “love” it?

    Now you may say “well, do you think then it is a free-for-all vis-a-vis the creation”? No, but what I am saying is that I do believe that all the current “theology” that explicates such passages ends up looking like the usual secular anxieties dressed up with a bit of Christian language and terminology because that is in fact what it is. This is all to say essentially what Brian said when he discussed making the generalized creation (i.e the “environment”) an object of idolatry, but I wonder if he did not go far enough – that whatever sense we use the term “love” in relation to such a thing, it is not the same as how we use the term in relation to God and our neighbor.

    What then is an Orthodox Christian “stewardship”? What does it mean as a praxis and a practical manner? If I am not mistaken, you saw something of this question (i.e. the “heart of”) in Trevis inquiry. Let’s look at what he says:

    “It’s mostly just about not further screwing it up…characterize the swaggering indifference to the very possibility of human malfeasance… don’t blame environmentalists for simply trying to undo the damage.”

    This is not the language of gift and “to tend”, it is more the conceptualization of the creation as something separate from Man, a thing to be treated with a certain deference (certainly nothing one can organize and have dominion over). This creation stands on it’s own, and Man’s moral relationship to it is one of deference and “not screwing it up”. It is hard to see how we could improve things, or even be a “natural” and good part of it. It is a morally perilous place where one has to be careful – it is not a “gift” but rather a test of some sort, or perhaps analgous to a old grumpy neighbor whom one has to be careful not to even step on their lawn.

    However, let’s not parse words and assume everyone is talking about the same thing – a proper Christian relationship to a proper Christian understanding of creation. I admit, I am not sure what that looks like. That said I myself have not yet heard anyone actually talk about such a thing. When the practical answers to “how to live {with the creation}” look like the cultures answers to secular “problems” (and the understandings of creation behind those problems), no I don’t think they have got it right…

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher, et al
    I think that a proper Christian relationship to the creation is well described in the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor. I also agree that there is a lot of “window-dressing” theology that is simply current pop-thought viz. the environment in the language of the tradition.

    The proper relationship with creation includes a knowledge of the logoi. It includes the transfiguration of creation through theosis. It is Eucharistic. Which is the one thing I can do right now, since I am so far short of theosis: I can give thanks. “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1Thess.5:18). And, I should live in a thankful way with all I have and all that is given to me. The world is gift and should be treated like a gift. There are certainly behaviors that flow from that.

  57. […] (Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Dangerous Vision of Paradise). […]

  58. Seraphim Avatar

    Greetings Father Stephen, this proved edifying for me to read.
    Thanks be to God that he provides diligent servants for us laypeople.
    While reading this article, I was indirectly reminded of the various times at which violence erupted within the Church (the crusades, the scandal of crossing with two fingers, and so forth). If you could offer insight into this matter it would be of great help to me. I understand it to already be in line with what you discuss here—that the law cannot eradicate sin and violence, but only mitigate it—and that violence is foreign to what Christ preached. However, sometimes when I explain this to friends outside the church, I am unsure if I should say more than “no one is perfect/Christianity does not preach perfection through the law,” as you’ve made clear here. Glory to God for all things!

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