The Inherent Violence of Modernity

The calm voice at the helm says, “Make it so…” and with it, the mantra of modernity is invoked. The philosophy that governs our culture is rooted in violence, the ability to make things happen and to control the outcome. It is a deeply factual belief. We can indeed make things happen, and, in a limited way, control their outcome. But we soon discover (and have proven it time and again) that our ability to control is quite limited. Many, many unforeseeable consequences flow from every action. If I am working in a very, self-contained environment, then the illusion of total control can be maintained for a very long time. If, say, I am building a watch, my actions and their results can remain on a desktop. However, when the scale of action begins to increase, the lack of true control begins to manifest itself. Actions on the level of an entire society or culture are beyond our ability to manage. A culture is not a very large watch.

But we think it is. That delusion lies at the very heart of the philosophy of modernity.

The arguments supporting the success of modernity are always misleading. The single desired effect becomes the focus while the unintended consequences that follow in its wake are ignored. Modernity always wins, because it cooks the books.

The work of “making it so,” is always an act of violence. We take what is not so and force it to be otherwise. Whether it is the violence of a plow making a field suitable for planting, or the violence of creating a parking lot, human beings have formed and shaped their world by “making it so,” for all our existence. The field and the parking lot, as innocuous and innocent as they may be, also create consequences that were not part of the plan. The only means of dealing with these consequences are to employ more violence to alter things yet again (requiring yet more violence, ad infinitum), or to treat the consequences as an acceptable change.

In this sense, to be an active part of the world is to employ violence. We do not sit lightly on the surface of our planet. Most human societies across history, have made a moderate peace with the world in which they live, using forms of violence whose consequences have been well-enough tolerated and accounted for so as to be bearable. The rate of change in such societies was modest, and within the limits that a culture could easily accommodate.

Large and rapid change is another thing entirely. “Changing the world,” under a variety of slogans, is the essence of the modern project. Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater. The inception of modernity, across the 18th and 19th centuries, was marked by revolution. The Industrial Revolution, the rise of various forms of capitalism, the birth of the modern state with its political revolutions, all initiated a period of ceaseless change marked by winners and losers. Of course, success is measured by statistics that blur the edges of reality. X-number of people find their incomes increased, while only Y-number of people suffer displacement and ruination. So long as X is greater than Y, the change is a success. The trick is to be an X.

The ceaseless re-invention of the better world rarely takes stock of its own actions. That large amounts of any present ruination are the result of the last push for progress is ignored. It is treated as nothing more than another set of problems to be fixed. As the fixes add up, a toxic culture begins to emerge: food that cannot be eaten; air that cannot be breathed; relationships that cannot be endured; safety that cannot be maintained, etc. As the toxicity rises, so the demand for ever more action and change grows, and, with it, the increase in violence (of all types). The amount of our human existence that now requires rather constant technological intervention is staggering. The entire modern pattern of dating, marriage, family and procreation are impossible without chemical and biological intervention. There has been no “sexual revolution,” only the application of technology into one of the most all-pervasive and normal parts of human existence, creating an artificial aspect to our lives that rests on violence. The abortion of nearly one-third of all children conceived is but a single example. The foundations of our present society are built on doing profound violence to human nature. And this is but a single example.

It should be noted that I have not suggested some mode of existence that is free of violence. Human beings make things happen, as does most of creation. Modernity, however, is another matter. Its better world has no limits, its project is never-ending. What are the proper limits of violence? Are there boundaries that must not be crossed?

Modernity has as its goal the creation of a better world with no particular reference to God – it is a secular concept. As such, that which constitutes “better” is, or can be, a shifting definition. In Soviet Russia it was one thing, in Nazi Germany another, in Consumer-Capitalist societies yet another still. Indeed, that which is “better” is often the subject of the political sphere. But there is no inherent content to the “better,” nor any inherent limits on the measures taken to achieve it. The pursuit of the better (“progress”) becomes its own morality.

The approach of classical Christianity does not oppose change (there is always change), nor does it deny that one thing might be better than another. But the “good” which gives every action its meaning is God Himself, as made known in Christ. In classical terms, this is expressed as “keeping the commandments.” Those commandments are summarized in the love of God and the love of neighbor. There are other elements within the commandments of Christ that minimize and restrict the use of violence.

There is, for example, no commandment to make the world a better place, nor even to make progress towards a better world. The “better world” concept is, historically, a heretical borrowing from Christianity, a secularization of the notion of the Kingdom of God, translated into terms of progressive technology and laws (violence). Instead, the management of history’s outcomes is considered idolatrous. Only God controls the outcome of history.

My experience is that questioning our responsibility for history’s outcome will always be met with anxious objections that we would be agreeing “to do nothing” and the result would be terrible. Keeping the commandments of Christ is not doing nothing. It is, however, the refusal to use violence to force the world into ever-changing imaginary versions of the good.

I will cite a somewhat controversial example (all examples would be controversial, for modernists love nothing better than to argue about how to next use violence to improve the world). Consider the task of education. Teaching children to read, write and do numbers is not a terribly modern thing. It has been done for centuries, and, occasionally, done rather successfully. But the education industry (a subset of government) exists as an ever-changing set of standards, techniques, and procedures, whose constantly changing results occasion ever-increasing testing, change, control, management and violence to yield frequently lesser results. It has largely produced a cult of management and administration (the bane of every teacher’s existence). This example could be, mutatis mutandis, multiplied over the whole of our increasingly dysfunctional culture.

Sadly, as the results of modernity’s violent progress become more dysfunctional, the greater the temptation becomes to do more of the same. Every problem is greeted only with the question of how it might be fixed, with no one ever suggesting that the fixing of the world might be our largest problem.

Again, this is not an all-or-nothing thing. The classical world was not passive nor was there an absence of change. Modernity has chosen economics as the measure of the good, treating increasing productivity as the engine of progress and prosperity and the primary measure of a better world. Debates over the best means of driving such productivity, whether through command-and-control or passive market forces, have been the primary arguments within modernity.

There are many, many other goods that could be, and have been the measure of a culture. The only reason for using economic productivity is the false belief that material prosperity is the fount of all blessings. If we are rich enough, we will be happy.

At the very dark end of the spectrum, America’s philosophical assumptions have made it the servant of modernity-as-export where literal violence is the day-to-day result. Remaking the Middle East has not only failed (completely) but cost hundreds of thousands of lives, a large proportion of which were complete innocents. The resulting chaos has been, at best, a distraction from our unrelenting pleasure in the entertainment industry, though our wars have generated a very popular genre of video game. Violence itself has become a consumer product.

This picture of the modern world can, in the modern Christian mind, provoke an immediate response of wondering what can be done to change it. The difficult answer is to quit living as though modernity were true. Quit validating modernity’s questions. Do not ask, “How can we fix the world?” Instead, ask, “How should Christians live?” and give the outcome of history back to God.

How should we live?

  • First, live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined. (Quit worrying)
  • Second, love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.
  • Third, refuse to make economics the basis of your life. Your job is not even of secondary importance.
  • Fourth, quit arguing about politics as though the political realm were the answer to the world’s problems. It gives it power that is not legitimate and enables a project that is anti-God.
  • Fifth, learn to love your enemies. God did not place them in the world for us to fix or eliminate. If possible, refrain from violence.
  • Sixth, raise the taking of human life to a matter of prime importance and refuse to accept violence as a means to peace. Every single life is a vast and irreplaceable treasure.
  • Seventh, cultivate contentment rather than pleasure. It will help you consume less and free you from slavery to your economic masters.
  • Eighth, as much as possible, think small. You are not in charge of the world. Love what is local, at hand, personal, intimate, unique, and natural. It’s a preference that matters.
  • Ninth, learn another language. Very few things are better at teaching you about who you are not.
  • Tenth, be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.

That’s but a minor list, a few things that occur to me offhand. They are things that encourage us to live in a “non-modern” manner. It is worth noting that when Roman soldiers approached John the Baptist and asked him how they should live, he told them to be content with their wages and to do violence to no one. They were in charge of the world in their day – or so they could mistakenly think. My few bits of advice are of a piece with that beloved saint’s words.

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.



200 responses to “The Inherent Violence of Modernity”

  1. Fr. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    Thank you Father. I’m sure you’ve wrestled with Matthew 11:12. Violence is such an interesting contemplation.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Barnabas,
    Glad you asked (I knew as I wrote this that someone would bring it up!). The “violence” (“enter the Kingdom by violence”) refers, of course, to energetic efforts such as asceticism, renunciation of property – and even(!), the refusal to violence to people! It is the violence of love, in which self-emptying is the tool. It is the opposite of the world’s violence.

    The world’s violence seeks to force the world and others to change. Note that Matt. 11:12 does not describe doing violence to the Kingdom in order to enter it, much less is there a hint that violence furthers, builds or establishes the Kingdom.

    Matt. 11:12’s “violence” is one of many statements that express the paradox of the Kingdom. Those who win, lose; those who lose, win. Etc. This violence is the violence of God – which does not force but loves.

    Even in creating the world – God does not “make” it. He says, “Let there be…” God’s creative work is an act of self-emptying. It is love.

  3. Ananias Avatar

    So very profound and true.
    Alas, it is and will be hard to shed the modern mindset, even for a Christian. I often see people who think fixing the world is an act of kindness and love, part of the Commandments of God.

  4. Stephen Bujno Avatar

    So well said. I thought immediately of Solzhenitsyn’s point that the West relies too much on politics and social reform…we lack courage. Cultural Marxism has infiltrated the secular mindset, and unfortunately made in-roads to those in Christendom…all progress is thought to arrive through conflict. It is a lie!

    In the words of Chesterton, “I” am what is wrong with the world. Your bulleted list of ‘how we should live’ is a blessing…may God’s love continue to be perfected in you!

  5. Dino Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    Brilliant summation, and nicely referenced to St John…!

    Fr Barnabas,
    I once read about that passage that the (evil) violence that entered creation –with its sentient creatures’ turning away from God–, is inevitably cured through their voluntary (sacred) violence upon it [(evil) violence], which is how the effort to love, to trust, to abide, can at first appear to a fallen being.

  6. Randall Avatar

    Wise words. Reminds me of the wisdom in Benedict’s Rule and elsewhere in the early church.

  7. Sunny Avatar

    Was just reading a book by a Potawatomi woman who points out that English is inherently objectifying of the world. Whereas the languages of the indigenous cultures of this land (which are now almost all extinct because of our govt), every creature is spoken of as a subject and seen as animate (even rocks!), and only things humans make (knives, baskets, etc) are spoken of as “its.” Whereas in English, animate things and soulless things are spoken of with the same sort of objectifying language (plastic is an “it,” deer is an “it”), and only humans are spoken of as subjects. Shows such a difference in worldview. If you see something as subject you respect it. If you see something as object, its there for you to exploit however you want. I think there has been no greater national sin and tragedy than our governments systematic destruction of indigenous cultures. They could have shown us so much. I wonder what will happen to a people so abusive to the land they depend on. Language is powerful.

    The other day I was speaking with my husband about guardian angels when I realized that I referred to an angel as an “it.” It stopped me dead in my tracks. Is there really no more fitting pronoun we have for such a majestic creature of God? Its gotten me thinking about how I can start speaking English in a better way.

  8. Karen Avatar

    I think of the “violence” the Kingdom suffers as expressing the effort required to do the “about face” and reverse the inclinations of my own twisted will, so that I cease to be driven by sin and begin rather to be drawn along by the love of the Savior. It describes the “G forces” on the soul of the act of repentance.

  9. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I think the very core of the issue with Modernity and “fixing” the world is that one of the very basic assumptions of the Modern Project is that there is no absolute truth. This eliminates God from the picture and puts the individual center stage. I am reminded of the Lord’s answer to the Rich Young Man who called Him “Good Teacher.” Only God is good, and our ideas of what is good is driven by our relativistic idea of good.

    Violence enters the picture because the group or individual seeking to “improve” the world has a different idea of what good is than the people thy seek to control to make the world “better.” People who resist or nature that resists must be forced to “get with the program” as my Dad used to say. Little does it enter into the mind of those controlling that their standards of good are quite different than those being controlled and that the controller suffer outrage to their beings.

    Even in modern Christianity there are huge differences in understandings of the faith and visions of what good God means between various groups. I often see one group attacking another based on different understandings of Scripture. Your article is so timely Father. Thank you.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    With the absence of God, there really is no reference point for what is “good” or “better,” as you well observe. That leaves only the blind assertion of a desired good or betterment which can only be made through an assertion of the will – i.e. violence. Modernity is inherently violent. We should not be surprised when violence happens in our modern world – it is its most natural outcome.

  11. Jonathan Kotinek Avatar

    Thanks for this reflection and adminition Fr. Stephen. I find much to agree with as I read, however there were two things that I couldn’t digest and want to offer alternatives for your consideration.

    First, your example of ending slavery having an unintended consequence of displacement seems to me to gloss over so much important history (which I cannot do justice to here). My overriding concern is that critics and coreligionists alike might not get past the facile interpretation of this argument as support for a laissez-faire approach to injustice in the world.

    I don’t think that the principle you’re advocating changes if you were to use a different example: we should seek the good that causes the least violence. As you point out change happens whether we are actively engaged or not, and as Desmond Tutu (among others with similar messages) has observed: remaining neutral in the face of injustice is to side with the oppressor. As you note in your eighth point on how to live, we need to focus locally, on the people we see right in front of us. To consider what wider societal implications might occur because we act in love for the person in front of us seems to me to be engaging in the politics and economics of what that action may cost.

    My second concern is similar to the first, in that it has less to do with what you have written than in how it might be interpreted. In point #4 you admonish to quit arguing about politics. I don’t disagree! I would be concerned, though, if this were to be taken as “don’t engage in political action” or “don’t engage critically with the opposition.” I’m convinced that much of our civic disease in the United States stems from a lack of in-depth discussion about critical issues due to poor education and apathy. Circling back to my first point, I think we should do this locally without any expectation of changing the world, but only because it is our responsibility as citizens.

  12. Santosh John Samuel Avatar
    Santosh John Samuel

    Once again, thank you Father.

  13. Ananias Avatar

    Yes, indeed. I have even seen this within my own parish. I have heard far too many people who say, “well if they won’t agree, then they must be forced to agree, for their own good” or “well I think the government should force people to give to charity by taxes, and that way people can fake it till they make it” both of which are utterly absurd statements seeped in modernity. I have also heard the same people brag that they do not give to charity; they expect the government to care for the poor by forcing others to pay taxes to do so, thus they are not required to be charitable. It saddens me that a member of the Orthodox church, or any church, would think such a thing, but it illustrates the mindset of modernity that invades or attempts to invade the church.

    It is easy to become confused, to think that welfare, for example, would be a good thing, but welfare forcibly takes from one and gives to another. It may not involve bloodshed, but it is against one person’s will that the money is taken.

    Violence does not always involve the shedding of blood; sometimes it is just subjugating someone else’s will to do something “for their own good” or for someone else’s good.

    There is no greater evil than that which screams “I am good” (a paraphrased quote from my own parish priest) and our own personal standards of good are selfish, greedy, materialistic, and the exact polar opposite to God’s standards of good.

    All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. – Isaiah 64:6

    Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. – Romans 10: 1-4

    And there is of course the entire book of Romans which speaks of righteousness and sin, especially chapter 3.
    Not to mention the verse which states there is a way that seems good and right to man but leads to death. That verse describes the “modernity” mindset, which is not limited to the current modern era, for every point in history has dealt with it’s own manifestation of modernity.

    At least, that is the way I understand it.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Good points. On the matter of slavery – their freedom would be important in a non-modern approach because it is right. It is a sin to enslave people, particularly because of the color of their skin. Consequences would extend beyond that, as well, in that the commandments of Christ are very much pointed at doing justice. That includes not only freeing slaves, but educating and making them able to fully participate in the whole of culture – which would entail not a little expense. As it was, they were freed only to be enslaved again under the Jim Crow laws, from which we have yet to recover.

    We do not have “responsibility as citizens.” That is the rhetoric of the modern state. We have responsibility to God, to keep His commandments. That might very well exceed anything we think of under citizenship. Frankly, we need to quit thinking like “Americans” and think as Christians. Most people’s idea of engaging politically is nothing more than the cheap, never-ending notion of having opinions and occasionally yapping about them. There is no commandment to have opinions and express them. There is no commandment to take political action. Modernity suggests that the political realm is that actual definition of “reality.” It is where we do things. This is false and makes an idol of the state. The political realm is the place of violence.

    I am in no way advocating “doing nothing.” Indeed, what I suggest is far more radical and subversive (which is the true nature of Christianity and the Kingdom). Christians, during slavery, (real Christians) helped slaves escape to freedom. They did it regardless of the law. It was good that the laws changed, but with the end of the War, there was too little Christian response – in modern fashion, the Christians thought the job was finished. Slavery was a product of modernity – it was rooted in economic and biological and progressive theories (“the white man’s burden”). We’re fortunate that our nation was allowed a continued existence by the merciful God – such was the wickedness of our land (and in the name of Christianity). Christian businessmen continue to justify unjust actions today in the name of the “market,” etc. More modernity and wickedness.

  15. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    “Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater. ”

    The only person we can change is ourself, and that only through God’s help.

    Thank you so much for your very specific and practical list of how to live rightly in the world.

  16. Ananias Avatar

    You are a blessing of such wisdom.
    Thank you for your blog.
    And your patience in putting up with all of us, especially me.

  17. Farm Wife Avatar
    Farm Wife

    Well, you know us farmers today, violently assaulting the earth and providing humankind with toxic food. Going broke doing it too- at least we’re content to do so, otherwise instead of slowly being poisoned to death, most of modernity would simply starve.

    If anyone’s curious, the most violent tool used against the farmer today is the keyboard, used effectively by people ignorant on conventional modern farming practices and those that stand to turn a profit with a little fear-based marketing. We take it on the chin. We’re usually too tired from working (or is it violencing?) 100+ hours a week to fight the popular (in fact, one of the few areas the faithful and the secular agree) narrative with truth and reason. Nonetheless, I’m always shocked to hear this marketing trope repeated or insinuated by leaders in the church. We’re now seeing the affect too, most tragically, moms turning down the Eucharist for their families because it isn’t gluten free. (If that doesn’t horrify you, I don’t know what will.) The fact that they’re not celiacs is besides the point. It’s the principle! Blaming the farmer for our diseases , real and imagined , while buying expensive substitutes so we don’t have to really do without (the poor are out of luck) is more tolerable than simply eating sensibly. My most memorable example of this was The Orthodox Mom writing about how miserable she felt after living on cheetos and other junk food during a weekend trip to a monastery. It finally occurred to her it was the gluten. (Duh!) And all of her followers said amen.

    When I think of bread, I think of God’s greatest gift to us. I think of the thousands of man hours that went into producing it and the blessing I will say over it. I do not think of food that cannot be eaten. What a sad state that so many in the church do.

  18. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, the presentation of ‘Judas kiss’ is a very important statement in its own right, in context of your words. ‘Love and kisses’ in conjunction with the violence of ‘fixing’ doesn’t undo the violence done. It seems only to twist the violence ever deeper into the heart. No wonder we have disfunctional families.

    I appreciate the bulleted points.

  19. Byron Avatar

    as Desmond Tutu (among others with similar messages) has observed: remaining neutral in the face of injustice is to side with the oppressor.

    This has always been a way to force people to assist in violence. Christianity does not ask us to “remain neutral” but it also does not require us to “change the world”, as Father notes. In most of these struggles, taking one side or the other is still doing violence, as both employ it. I highly recommend reading about the French village of Le Chambon during WW2. It is an astounding story of non-violence in a horrifically violent time.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Farm Wife,
    I think you have taken my words amiss. Of course we do “violence” to the land – and always have, and do so of necessity. It is not wrong, nor is it an evil. Farming is a gift and a great good. Nor are the technical tools of farming “modern.” Technology is not at all what I have meant by “modernity.” Modernity is a philosophy. I would suggest that that mega-farming of corporate farm culture moves in the direction of modernity – in which productivity can become its own god. Religion, of course, can be done in a modern fashion – as a matter of “productivity.”

    Bread is indeed a great gift from God to be blessed with thanksgiving. I give thanks for farmers as well. I hope you will understand what I have written.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The only way around politics is to adopt a providential view of history. Any other view is problematic for a Christian. There are several other dominant views of history. The historical paradigm of modernity is nihilisim coupled with philosophical naturalism. Destruction and violence is the driving force within that paradigm.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The myths of modernity are numerous. Whether it’s the end of slavery, the end of apartheid, the end of the Nazis, the liberation of women, etc. – all tell the story in a very edited manner – as though history were a three-minute production on CNN. We have the image of the brave rebel who changes the world through his action. The movie stops quickly and ignores so much else that should be understood. The aftermath of Apartheid is still quite complex. America never dealt with post-slavery in anything like an adequate manner, and has a deep-seated racism that we have difficulty admitting or recognizing. “Women’s liberation,” particularly over the past half-century has also been built on a platform of artificiality, from birth control to abortion, a part of the story that is generally ignored. God cares about His world, and has given us instructions on the right way to live. He did not command us to fix the world or manage the outcomes of history. He commanded us to keep the commandments. If we did that, we would not have slaves, or apartheid, or oppress women, etc. Nor would we build a world on ever-increasing violence.

  23. Ananias Avatar

    Michael Bauman,

    I am unclear on what you mean by “nihilisim coupled with philosophical naturalism.”
    Would you mind explaining what it means?

  24. Glenn Avatar

    Thank you, Father. I’m newly illumined. How does point six jibe with St Paul’s writing in Romans, warning evildoers that rulers do not wield the sword in vain?

    It seems obvious that the “sword” has been wielded in vain many times in recent years, but are there any instances where something violent must be done to preserve peace?

  25. Chris from Tennessee Avatar
    Chris from Tennessee

    Consistently these articles on modernity are the ones that challenge me the most. And so I think they are the ones I most need to read. Give history over to God. I’m reading this and letting out a sigh of gratitude.

  26. William Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this hopeful reflection.

    I find myself simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by what has become known online as ‘neo-reaction’. There is some overlap with your thinking here–in that neo-reaction often correctly identifies the problem of modernity. But, not to put everyone into the same box, it seems that many fall back into the modernist trap, seeking to change the world into their version of what a healthy society would look like (typically some form of pre-enlightenment monarchy or Christian imperialism).

    Thank you for reminding us that Christ calls us into being small enough to follow the foolishness of God–rather than into violently rising to the level of greatness, into becoming some kind of important social engineer.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That verse has been much abused in history. St. Paul is basically saying that we should be careful and behave ourselves because the State can kill us. Even an evil state will still punish many evildoers. Some of the most terrifying aspects of the Soviet Gulag came about when political prisons were incarcerated alongside regular criminals. It could be brutal.

    But, this verse has been used, particularly in modern times, to create a wall of sanctity around state-sponsored violence. There were German judges who refused to condemn the “legal” incarceration of Jews because of this verse. In modernity, when the state has been secularized, whatever “good” it decides to pursue can be pursued with violence and there is no appeal to a higher good – i.e. God.

    Christians should respect the State and not forget that it has the power to kill us. But we should not treat that violence as something of a “good” to be positively pursued. The American prison system, for example, is utterly unworthy of any nation that might dare call itself “good.” It is badly designed (largely through bad laws), underfunded and frequently cruel. The practice of solitary confinement (which does not mean just getting a private room) is extreme, and often used for little more than administrative purposes. There are roughly 80,000 in solitary confinement presently. There are roughly 2.3 million in our prisons.

    Obviously, the State everywhere and at all times uses violence for various reasons: peace, order, etc. As I noted, I have not suggested a violence-free world. Instead, I wanted to point out the inherently violent nature of the modern project and its efforts to make and control the world. That philosophy does not set limits in the pursuit of its goals and its goals are both utopian and dangerous.

    You cannot make a nation “great” when it is not even good. These myths and slogans of modernity are dangerous and contrary to the faith. I hope I am providing people with some tools to rethink a number of things in the light of the gospel.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    They should challenge us most. Modernity permeates our minds and thoughts – it’s the reigning philosophy of our culture – so complete in its domination that we cannot distinguish it from “common sense.” And so, the need to raise a Christian critique – to call out to our brothers and sisters to leave Babylon and “be not a partaker in her iniquities.” This, I think, is a prophetic voice – but simply that of the gospel. Modernity has been endangering the gospel. That these articles challenge, show us how far gone we have been.

  29. Chris from Tennessee Avatar
    Chris from Tennessee

    I’m sorry for making two posts, but I couldn’t resist making an observation regarding slavery after reading the comments. Slavery as it was practiced in the western hemisphere such as in Colonial America and the United States was very much a Modern Project. It was different in terrible ways from slavery in the ancient world, because of its modern aspects such as mass intercontinental transportation – and perhaps more insipiently its reliance upon supposedly modern ideas like the superiority of one civilization over another. These errant ideas, considered modern in their day – cast a pallor of racism and disharmony over my home state and our country that continues in various ways even today. I have wondered many times why we could not have outlawed slavery as the British did in 1833. I have wondered why a monarchy could do this peacefully, whereas our supposedly enlightened republic could not. It’s just one of many questions I have about our country’s troubled past, present and future. But I have to pray and learn to entrust history to God.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am offering no political model or solution. I am suggesting that the Church should learn to be the Church regardless of the political projects that surround us. Those who keep wanting to fix the State are still just mouthing modernities notions. In Christ, the Kingdom of God has entered the world. That is our politics. The existence of the Church, beside and within the culture of the State, should always be perceived as something of a threat – the suggestion that God is King and the State is not. If that is lost, then the Church ceases to be the Church.

  31. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father Stephen,
    I thought I might relate a modernist situation in my own family context. My husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure and warnings from a medical doctor about the eventual need for medication if he didn’t alter his lifestyle. Then someone in his immediate family nearly died of a heart attack, who had in the same timeline a history of high blood pressure. Upon that event, I dived headlong into all the research that I could access to learn about dietary relationships to heart disease. Then I mapped out a course of action for the both of us. My husband followed my recommendations carefully. (thanks be to God) However, after having some blood work showing how well he had achieved our mutual goals for health, we have both ‘relaxed’ (in a big way) our regimen. Signs of high blood pressure are appearing. I’m just reflecting how the success of just reaching a goal isn’t the ‘fix’ we needed. How and why do we care for our health? What is the motivation for such care? Fear of death? Apparently even that is not sufficient motivation, for either of us to keep at it. I reflect now how our bodies are temples of our souls. But loving the temple whether it is the human body or another edifice, seems to be a difficult enterprise.

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Then, as now: follow the money. The American project, as it now exists (and has for quite some time), is about making a number of people and corporations rich. Everything else is largely about pacifying a population and making them think that we’re about something else. The State is about power – and money is power. The Church is about power – but its power is Christ crucified. That is why the most subversive and dangerous thing we can do is lay down our lives for the world.

  33. Kevin Avatar

    Modernity is kids playing in the yard and getting the Frisbee stuck in a tree. They look around and find a football. Someone throws the football to knock the Frisbee out of the tree. The Frisbee comes down only for the football to get stuck. Now, another kid chucks a baseball glove to knock the football down. The football comes loose, but now the glove is stuck. Someone then hurls a baseball at the glove, but the baseball sails through the foliage and into the picture window nobody noticed beyond the tree. The sound of shattering glass surprises everyone. Then, the kids scatter and disavow any part of the effort or shift blame in order to avoid a spanking.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I, or anyone, sets out to change the world it always has an unspoken addendum: “in accord with my will”.

    Everything after that is violence, anger and destruction.

    As Father points out it never ends well. As a recovering angerholic, going down that route in even the smallest way is a bit like going on a bender.

  35. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father unfortunately any comment on social order and action is defacto considered to be political in the US. That is the curse of modernity it is almost impossible to imagine anything out side the box.

    Of course in a larger sense it is politcal–the actions of the polis.

    It is ironic that the dedication to “change” in modernity actual prevents much actual transformation or at least gets in the way.

    Nietzche hated the Cross–so does this world he prophesied.

  36. Ananias Avatar

    Dee of St Hermans,

    I can totally relate. Year before last, I was…well there’s no delicate way to say it, I was fat. Very fat.
    I had a myriad of health problems caused by my obesity, including headaches, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, etc.
    I lost 80 pounds, by changing my diet and exercise. It was not easy but once I got past the initial hurdle, it became easier. I did so because I kept having visions of my own death and my own funeral every time I entered the church. It was not my imagination because it only happened in the church. It really made me wake up and realize what I was doing to myself.

    There are times when I break my diet, but my nutritionist says don’t worry about the past dietary fumbles if you fumble, start again and go right back on the diet.
    Much like how the church fathers (or is it desert fathers or both) tell us, “When you fall down, get right back up and keep moving.” Don’t worry or dwell on your dietary fumbles; get right back up and keep at it.

    There is a mantra that is a modernity-based mantra. “It’s my body and my rights” which applies to many things. However, that is the wrong mindset. This is not my body, because God created this body. This body is an icon of God. Therefore, I should treat this body with respect for God’s creation, for the icon that is this body.
    (Forgive me, perhaps I am not articulating that last part exactly right.)

  37. Eric Avatar

    ‘Live an Ordinary life’

    Thank you for this Father Stephen. The inherent violence of Modernity has been a theme of my study for a number of years, yet most people look blankly at you when you suggest it. I guess because I spend too much time with the Xs, of whom I’m one, and too little with the Ys

    The Automobile is a terrible tool of this violence as you have inferred elsewhere. As I ask folk ‘do you live by the Aluminium smelter?’ they begin to see

  38. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you so much for that inspirational note. I especially appreciate your description of the body as God’s creation and icon of His image (both in the soul and body). This is a very helpful reminder.

  39. Allen Avatar

    I was watching an interview with one of the scientists who is editing the human genome using CRISPR techniques. Just that sentence is more than I can understand. The scary part of the interview was when the scientist admitted the unforeseen consequences may be violent, yet she had hope in the ability of humankind to control it. It was the most perfect and horrifying example of modernism I had ever witnessed.

  40. Eric Avatar

    Science and Oil have given us unimaginable Power Over everything outside of ‘us’

    We are like those pitifully enraged Bulls in the bull ring, driven mad by being bated, set loose amongst the most delicate and beautiful Limoges

    We know neither who nor where we are

    Lord have mercy

  41. Dino Avatar

    Fr Barnabas,

    I think that Matthew 11:12 is actually most pertinent to regaining non-modern non-violence.
    Ironically, in order to be freed from modernity’s tendency to continual violence, we need to do violence to our self. This is not some ‘activistic’ effort. Rather it is a ‘hesychastic’ effectuation of: “Let it be according to Thy word” and a harbinger of the true freedom (of the Spirit). Spiritual liberation (which should encompasses a sense of ease/unconstraint and contentment) comes from this “good” violence of being able to tell myself, ‘now you wake up, now you sleep, now you fast, now you focus, now you will not give in to this desire of yours…’ So spiritual ease is -ironically- the unconstrained freedom (an effortlessness and zeal) to self-constrain.
    This is what yields a healthy, relaxed, noble, courtly outward (and even inward) manner that does not desire to change others or the entire world but trusts in Christ’s power to steer everything according to His will. (A condition that always be naturally hesitant to resort to modernity’s sick violence…)
    “Good violence” clearly never implies reclining into a self-absorbed relaxation!
    However, it must have a foundation of contentment and acceptance for everything. This is because even if we were to do ‘good violence’ on our selves without such a sound basis, it wouldn’t produce the right fruit (To use a classic example: we ask for a blessing to do a 2 hour ‘Jesus prayer’ vigil every night and our spiritual Father is reluctant to allow this because he knows that we will simply revolt after two weeks –because we haven’t that healthy foundation of trusting acceptance and humble non-expectation–; he therefore suggests we only do 20 minutes –which is what he deems sustainable. [Besides, if we were to go ahead with the two hours desire of ours, we would soon blame the “night-time-rule”, and God…])

  42. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Dee / Ananias,

    I can very much relate to the dietary issue, and the question: what is the motivation? I know people with diabetes who know full well the risks they take by continuing to eat the way they do – and yet they seem to be voting for a short but “happy” life with their current diet rather than a long but (in their eyes) dreary existence.

    I sympathize. I wrestled with this a lot. As I found myself leading a lifestyle which would take me to the same place, I realized I needed a way to visualize why I would be changing my eating & exercise plan. The fact that I would live longer wasn’t enough, basically for the same reasons already cited. I finally came to two things:

    1. I do not live for myself. First and foremost I am God’s servant and need to follow His will, but even beyond that I have my family and others dependent on me to consider beyond my own desires. Thus I need to change out of obedience. But this reason alone can lead to perpetual depression and if there is an end to it – an “other side” – it can be impossible to see from here. There must be more.

    2. The other one for me was the deep revelation that food had become one of my gods. I had a rather large altar erected to it. Therefore eating for my health instead of for my desires has come to mean letting that idol die. It has become more about my salvation than my fitness level.

    Making this lifestyle change (I’m still in the middle of it) is very much like detox. But just as with that process, I believe (and early converts have testified) that one goes from a state where nothing matters anymore – to one where the color begins to come back into your world and everything starts to matter again.

    One more thing: I have found that this time of transition and emptiness has caused me to cry out to my God much more. It has made me realize, referencing Simon’s words, that I barely know Him let alone love Him. But He seems to hold no grudge about any of that. He is simply happy to be spending time with me again. It feels so good – and yet I’m so wretched during our time together. I wish we had met in better circumstances. (grin) But it is good. A forced relationship that I have unconsciously been avoiding forever and yet instinctively know that I have been made for. Someone once said that when things are the hardest, that is when we are actually closest to God. That’s how I feel. It is hard but good.

  43. Paul Avatar


    I hope you have time to give some guidance here. I love your articles, and they always make me think. As someone who studied political science in college, and is presently in the military, I also struggle with some articles, especially this one.

    While perhaps the most important thing I learned through my major was that there is no “good” government, I certainly believe some are more just than others. Ambition is certainly a great danger – one of my most influential teachers told us “never go out to do great things – people who try to do “great” things become the greatest tyrants.” Should Christians, however, not participate in political action? In high school I attended something of a Christian Boys’ State, where we were encouraged to actively pay attention to politics, vote, and be active in our local communities. While we were certainly taught with more than a tinge of modernity, we were mostly taught to have integrity and live as Christians in whatever station we found ourselves. If the circumstances arise, should Christians become government members?

    Finally, as a more personal question, what did St. John mean when he told the centurions to do no one violence? Did he mean to live in their profession as justly as possible, and perpetrate no evil, or refrain from all warfare, which seems impossible without ceasing to be a soldier?

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    First, the easy part – St. John’s words. His words to the Roman soldiers – who were something of an Imperial police force – would have the meaning of not abusing their power and injuring people. He would not have meant, “Don’t be a soldier.” Frankly, at the time, soldiers who have been thugs to the surrounding population. The people were not Roman citizens. You could kill a non-citizen without fear of punishment. Pretty dangerous writ of authority.

    More complicated is thinking of the State. Christians may, of course, hold office and have government jobs.

    A difficulty comes when thinking about the modern Nation State. It’s a different entity than those that preceded it – it is a new thing. Those prior to it were kingdoms. Kingdoms had, for better or worse, an understanding that the King/Queen ruled by divine right – that their power was ordained by God and answerable to God (in some manner). Thus, government service meant serving the ruler – which was done but, like the ruler, with an understanding that God comes first. The famous play “A Man for All Seasons” treats the situation between Thomas More, the Royal Chancellor, and his conflicts with Henry VIII, as the King is moving away from Divine authority and making unrighteous demands.

    I’m a great fan of Solzhenitsyn. His insights into the Soviet Union were spot on and time and history proved him right. I recommend an article he wrote back in the 1970’s called, “Live Not By Lies.” It was an approach that was Christian and non-violent but opposed the evil of the Soviet System with honesty. Worth a read.

    We are not in the Soviet Union. We are somewhere else. But we are also in a system that “lives by lies.” We need to learn the truth – particularly the truth as it is in Christ. I have personally dropped out of any political activity, inasmuch as I believe it serves to maintain the illusion that present politics is genuine. The corruption is pretty universal.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I should probably add a warning to my articles. When the coin drops and you first decide that modernity is a false ideology, you will likely become depressed for a bit. We have learned to be “happy” through believing in the nostrums of modernity (progress, getting better, economic growth, etc.) and of the long-term effectiveness of political action. These things are nowhere given us in the gospel and do not belong to the truth that God has given us.

    But when we lose modernity, we tend to lose a certain amount of hope – at least a first. You will sound cynical to your friends. But, in time, this is replaced by a conversion to the Kingdom of God and the possibility of a contentment that holds up even in the face of suffering and loss. The mind begins to turn to prayer and love rather than violence as a means of living.

    Just a thought.

  46. Eric Avatar

    And a deeply helpful one – Thank you!

  47. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Thank you Paul for your questions and Fr. Stephen for your ever-elucidating answers.

  48. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m so grateful that I mentioned our predicament. I didn’t anticipate such helpful responses.

    Thank you Drewster2000.

    Your thoughts provide powerful seeds for reflection. Just as you say, it is very much like going through detox. Not just the process of transformation in our bodies but in the shedding of the illusion of ‘making ourselves better’, as if there is a definitive and finite goal completely under our control as described in the modern project. Rather, it is more similar to entering a new life, one with more color (a wonderful analogy you provided).

    I appreciate your words about ’emptiness’. This thought had not occurred to me before but perhaps there is a parallel with the physical feeling of emptiness (from eating less) and the desire for self-emptying love, and crying out to God. Your reflection also bears close resemblance to Fr Stephen’s words at 9:02pm. Indeed there is a feeling of depression with failure and a transition and transformation with the realization there is more depth to our endeavor in our conversion to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

    And as Ananias mentions, similar to falling to sin, after we fall–and we do fall–with God’s grace we get up again.

  49. Simon Avatar

    I have a very close friend who has worked for the last 35 or 40 years counseling victims of domestic violence and now works in the state’s attorney’s office in Greenville, IL as a victim’s advocate. Based on decades of experience working with victims and abusers he is always keen to say “The issue is never the issue, the issue is always control.” Much of what I read here connects with that idea. Hunger isn’t really the issue. Poverty isn’t really the issue. Neither is equality and justice. The issue is control.

  50. Dino Avatar

    I believe St Maximus the Confessor makes a similar point as that (that “The issue is never the issue, the issue is always control”). I think he says that ‘it is not the things themselves (and I think he incorporates even impulses, affairs, problems, etc. in ‘things themselves’) which are bad, but our thoughts (logismoi) on them.
    It makes me ponder that we are (as profoundly contingent beings) mainly “responders” to (rather than initiators of) things, no matter what modernity would like to claim. A creature’s “Let it be according to your will” response is probably the greatest possible ‘initiator’, despite it being perceived as unacceptably non-violent (“Gethsemanean”) by modernity.

  51. Simon Avatar

    Dino, I agree with that completely. Another friend of mine had a phrase he liked to “It isnt so much a case of free will, but free won’t.” In other words, most of our “yes” behavior isn’t about free initiation as it is about conditioned response, but we can choose to say “no.” Our freedom isn’t expressed in what we will to do, but in what we will not to do. What do think about that idea?

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That sounds right to me. It’s not something I had thought about in those terms – but, considering it, it makes a lot of sense.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is interesting to me, upon reflection, that in my childhood and youth, I never heard adults talking about politics, much less political action. I remember my father and an uncle talking about the Nixon/Kennedy debate (1960), but the conversation was so innocuous, that it made little impression on me. There was, of course, the Civil Rights Movement, and I heard a lot of opinions about it – mostly bad because I was living around Southern whites, but no one seemed to think they should do anything. There was only the newspaper and 30 minutes of a news summary per day on the TV.

    It was not until Vietnam that I began to hear political speech very often. By 1968, I had developed opinions and did a few things to oppose the war – most of which consisted in making an ass of myself whenever the opportunity arose.

    Things have changed. The 24/7 news cycle for one. Social media is another. The long protracted struggle against abortion has been a strong driver for political involvement for some, just as all the various “rights” groups have for others. On college campuses, and among many of the young, political action is almost everything – and often it means bullying people who disagree with you.

    What is most clear in our present culture, is that politics, by which I mean the assertion of power, whether through words or actions, has become a primary means of interaction. With it, we have become surly and rude, angry and often mean. The opportunities for offending and being offended are ever-present.

    My childhood years represented a time of a great post-war consensus, and were very apolitical. Eisenhower played a lot of golf, and no one thought that was a bad thing. He warned against a growing thing he called the “military-industrial complex.” There was, of course, a terrible hidden violence in the laws of the South – a form of apartheid that were called “Jim Crow.” It was beginning to change – very slowly – but probably would not have changed without violence of some sort. MLK was very non-violent and probably saved the nation from a lot of killing and destruction.

    The difficult thing about politics is that making something happen is not at all the same thing as changing a lot of minds. Creating a peaceful consensus is extremely hard. MLK worked to change minds, and was more successful at that than many people know. I think that much of his success was rooted in the fact that he was a Christian speaking to Christians with the Scriptures as a source. Billy Graham, many people do not know, refused to have a crusade in cities unless the audience could be integrated. Prior to that, blacks would not have been allowed to sit with whites. He was doing that long before it was ok – before MLK was speaking.

    I think both men were keeping the commandments in the situations that were given to them. Keeping the commandments is not about doing nothing. I think Graham’s insistence on an integrated venue was like Simon’s “what I won’t do.” He didn’t make anybody attend, but he said no to segregating the audience. No doubt, many people stayed away rather than risk sitting next to a black person. Heaven is not segregated.

    I have suggested several times that there are certain things that will be taken in the wrong way in a modern culture. “Progress” is a term that I will now not use because of this. Political action is probably another such thing. We’re sick right now – sick from our own violence. We need to stop our unceasing wars – at home and abroad. At least it would help. But it’s in that vein that I suggest stepping back from political thought and speech. In my observation, it is killing modern souls.

  54. Dino Avatar

    I couldn’t agree more. My earlier comment [on that kind of magisterial “spiritual ease” -ironically- being the (unconstrained, effortless) freedom to actually self-constrain] was a way of describing that “It isnt so much a case of free will, but free won’t.”

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Here’s an interesting quote:

    “It is like a great athlete to take blows and yet win the fight. For God’s sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us. Increase your zeal… Look for Him Who is above all time – the Timeless, the Invisible, Who for our sake became visible, the Impassible, Who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything.”

    St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing in 106 A.D., on his way to Rome to be martyred

  56. Simon Avatar

    Another thought. Justin (whom I credit with the “free won’t” statement) also used to say “Don’t play their game.” Back in the day a number of young people I was associated with were people Pres Trump would call “professional protestors.” So would basically argue that ‘you are free to do what you want. But do you want to feed the system?’ In other words, marches, placards, protests, shouts, and sloganizing only galvanizes and innoculates people in the system against the change you’re trying to make. So, Justin would say ‘Don’t play their game. Play a different game.’ In other words, give your energy to something that takes life, attention, and energy away from the system.

    For me the kingdom of God is what it means to play a different game; to take time, attention and resources away from their game. And, of course, this isnt about playing a better game or merely a different game. Its putting ourselves into the effort of realizing the fruition of a deeper, God-realized humanity.

  57. Simon Avatar

    *So Justin would basically argue*

  58. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your words about Dr. Martin Luther King and those about Rev. Billy Graham. They were both instrumental in pointing me to Christ as a young man. I was fortunate enough to have seen them both in person. God is good.

  59. Ananias Avatar

    Dee/Drewster/et. al:

    Change is difficult. It is hard. My hypothesis is that we, humans, tend toward laziness and change is hard work.
    To effectively change, you have to utterly reject the aspect you are changing in it’s entirety. For me, I had come to accept the fact that I was fat as a fact; I convinced myself that change was not possible. When I decided to change, I had to reject these things, in order to change it.
    Much like in the 12 step programs, you have to admit you are powerless. That is anathema to modernity; modernity (as emphasized in this current post) is about power and control. Giving up power or control is heresy of the highest order to modernity. But you have to give it up to change.
    Then you have to Trust God. God is good, right, and Holy. You have to trust that all things God will do will be Good, right and holy. They may not seem so to our limited physical and human minds, especially to the modernity mindset, and they may hurt, but in the end, God will never do anything that is bad, wrong, or unholy.
    As I said in one previous post, nothing I can or will ever do is capable of making God wrong or making any decision or action on the part of God to be the wrong decision or action. We, and I include myself, have to trust in this completely with total faith, which is hard to do.

    Being fat is easy. All it requires is eating what I want, when I want and how much I want and sitting all day doing nothing, especially not exercising, and it allows me to constantly complain about being fat. I was miserable. No, I’m not being sarcastic; I was a miserable person that people avoided. No one wanted to be around me or talk to me. Even my own mother did not want to talk to me. I was that miserable.

    Changing is the hardest thing I ever did but it has been worth every hard moment, temptation, and desire, because I am now so much better. I enjoy martial arts, I enjoy the food that I eat, and I enjoy not being fat. I am so much happier and now my friends enjoy being around me. I enjoy going to church and worshiping and being an altar server.

    It is hard to start and hard to keep it up, but it is worth it. You may pause, and that’s okay but never stop. Pausing is okay; it is normal and my nutritionist said that pausing in my diet, that is allowing myself to break my diet 36/37 days out of the year is perfectly acceptable. But as I said before, if you stop, do not dwell on it. Simply start again and keep going. Eventually you’ll get to the point where your diet is your new normal.

  60. Byron Avatar

    Our freedom isn’t expressed in what we will to do, but in what we will not to do.

    One of the big influences on Pastor Tromce of Le Chambon was a German he met in WW1 named Kinder. Tromce, then a youth, was French but in a city under German occupation (near the front lines). He was shocked to find out that Kinder was a Christian and considered him (a Frenchman) as a friend. When Tromce asked how he could be a soldier and a Christian, Kinder said, “first, do not shoot.” Kinder went into battle (a signalman) without a weapon. That statement stayed with Tromce all his life as he championed non-violence against the Nazis and then others after WW2.

  61. Burro (Mule) Avatar
    Burro (Mule)

    I am interested in your statement about learning another language. As someone who speaks a couple of other languages well enough to conduct my own affairs unassisted in the countries in which they are spoken, the major result is that I now sin trilingually, and have made myself a nuisance to a larger number of people.

  62. Paula Avatar

    Oh God! I just finished reading about the Jim Crow laws. I was familiar with the name, but never read the history. Even growing up in the 60’s (up north) discrimination was just a given. But how sad, how terrible such a thing was made a law. It only goes to show how depraved, splintered and ‘broken in pieces’ we have become…and I mean, all of humanity. We do these things and convince ourselves it is good and right?! Oh my God in heaven…have mercy on us. You are right, Father…we are still suffering from those Jim Crow days. Look at the ‘Black Lives Matter’ thing…and at the same time you have people disgusted with it, saying ‘what? ALL lives matter!’. We think the civil rights movement ‘solved’ the problem of racism, but it has not. We’ve been splintered and broken in this way since time began. Now we just cover it up with new laws, but the heart is still desperately wicked.
    Every time reality ‘hits me in the face’ like this, I begin to think about the strictness of asceticism. The ‘doing violence’ to ourselves by saying no! to the self. For repentance to take place, there has got to be a strict measure to say no!, to refuse the ‘pleasure’ of satisfying my prideful self…because it has become so ingrained. No wonder fasting is of utmost importance and limiting food one of the hardest to overcome. It is the easiest way to feed the flesh. No wonder the Saints say gluttony inflames all the other vices. It is no wonder that we will not find the answers anywhere but in Christ. No where!
    I do not have a very high opinion of mankind as we are, broken and sick. But beyond that I do have high regard for the image of God in us all. I know nobody wants to be broken and sick…we are all to be pitied. May God forgive me if I am too pessimistic. This is just the way I see things. My hope is only in Christ. What He has done for us in His selfless love…to take on the nature of man and redeem us…to show us that through His self-emptying, death to self through ‘control’ (or a violation of our sins) and not to control others (in any way, shape or form) is the way of living a true Life. This is the love of God. This helps me understand the question ‘why pain’….why suffering? There has to be a death to the self.

    Lord have Mercy on us. God help us and keep us by Your Grace.

  63. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I too noticed Fr. Stephen’s comment above: I should probably add a warning to my articles. When the coin drops and you first decide that modernity is a false ideology, you will likely become depressed for a bit.

    One thing that clicked for me was that a period of depression was more than normal; it was actually what was happening. As God empties my life of all the crap, the idols, the passions, I’m being pressed on. In the same way you would squeeze air out of a tire or puss out of a wound, I’m being “de-pressed”. It doesn’t feel good but it is the correct feeling I should experience during this time. If you will, it is what I should feel if the process is successful. That understanding is very hard to accept as truth. We are continually told that if it hurts you’re doing something wrong. And we believe it even though we instinctively know better. It takes time for this mental shift to fully take place. You have to be patient with yourself.

    I also want to second Ananias’ advice in his last comment. I’ve heard it before but it’s worth repeating. One piece that sticks out for me: Then you have to Trust God. God is good, right, and Holy. You have to trust that all things God will do will be good, right and holy. They may not seem so to our limited physical and human minds, especially to the modernity mindset, and they may hurt, but in the end, God will never do anything that is bad, wrong, or unholy.

    It is the case that hitherto in this process I have been depending on food (or whatever; fill in the blank), but now I have to depend on God. And since He won’t allow us to grab Him and control Him, this requires faith. Trying to practice faith makes me believe I have never done so before. It seems to be an unused muscle. But the pain of exercising it is the right kind of pain. It feels like it should feel when true progress is being made. I have no control over that progress but I do have the power to keep believing and keep walking forward. As my brother says about his bike races, “keep your head down and keep pedaling”.

  64. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Since we’re moving back into the more personal dimension again, how can we take the lessons above (and particularly Solzhenitsyn’s essay on lies) into more immediate situations where there is an exercise of authority and shaming against us—where “the issue is control” and thus no amount of compromise or “obedience” will affect the outcome—and act rightly? I still keep coming back to the story of the child who cried during Holy Week—which I think was really the right and liturgically-appropriate response, albeit inconvenient for “show”—and wonder what the response should be had the child been a little older. If the child were taken away and accused of various things, should they just repeat “I do not believe that.” as the situation takes its course (but also refuse to argue)? I’m not sure if there is there is like a “step 2” to Solzhenitsyn’s method or something in another essay or book (I haven’t really read him) but I feel that I may have missed something—though maybe its just me still hoping for a “fix” of some sort and a resolution that sees everyone “get it”.

    Second, what do we do in the reverse case, when *we* are given some authority, *must* complete a task and/or discipline someone, and there are issues/disagreements—other than the article’s points about serving and loving, what else can be done to lead and serve without shaming or “lording it over” another? I think talking about the situation/behavior/action and not the person (ie, “*You* are such and such.”) is a good start but what else can be done to handle it in a more Christ-like way?

    Third, and I suppose this diverges a bit more than even the other two questions, what is the appropriate way to handle the shame storms/flashbacks/etc from trauma that result from situations like this? With something like political conversation, we can just turn it off or walk away. But if the trauma screams internally, we’re just to “speak peace” to such logismoi, retorting “but I forgive” and such—or is that too quick, cheapening the process of forgiveness (as was mentioned in a recent article/comments)?

  65. Simon Avatar

    “For God’s sake above all we must endure everything, so that God, in turn, may endure us.”

    The antecedent “we must endure everything” is followed by the consequent “that God may endure us.”

    Im not really sure about the relationship that is being hinted at. Is it saying we must endure the world’s evils so that evil may be endured by God through his union with us and subsequently transformed by God??

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am fluent in sin as well!

    The foreign language thing is probably because I’m an American and I stagger at how ignorant we are when it comes to language (including our own). When I was in college, I remember reading scholarly debates about whether Jesus could speak/read Greek. The discussions were among Americans. The thought that he did not speak Greek (the lingua franca of the Roman Empire) would surprise anybody in a country occupied by a foreign army. That most Americans can only speak one language means that, in one regard, we’re the Empire and the occupying army. In another regard, it means we’re among the least sophisticated people in the world. It will not keep you from sin – but it might help with certain kinds of sin.

    I should add that it’s interesting hearing confessions of people who are not native English speakers. I’ve learned a lot of “sin-words” in Russian, for example. I’ve also gained occasional insight from how a different language says certain things about the soul.

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon, perhaps that and more.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The one book I would recommend as reading in order to think about “what else” we can do – is St. Porphyrios’ Wounded By Love. His words are deeply non-violent in the manner I have described – and he’s a contemporary saint. Utterly worth the time to read and digest.

  69. Jordan Avatar

    I think another way to see the loss of that post-war consensus is the steady increase in an ideological mapping of the world, so that there is no longer anything shared simply by virtue of being human. Every event becomes a battleground between political visions. It becomes absurd when horrific tragedies like a shooting at a school immediately becomes politicized. We can only see events through political eyes. It is very sad.
    A friend of mine recently moved out of our neighborhood in the city. She is a a pretty politically opinionated person and shares most of the liberal “progressive” opinions of our friends. She moved to a much more conservative suburb, and found she was sharing a street with people who supported the other side. Yet they were kind and she reported how odd it was to experience this neighborliness with people who she had learned to vilify. Then, a tragedy hit the street and in the wake of it the neighbors could not do anything but seek each other out and mourn together. It was no longer “odd” for my friend. Ideology disappeared in the face of concrete reality of life shared. She spoke of it as waking from a dream. It is sad that it takes death and grief to shake us out of the dream.
    Realizing the extent to which competing ideologies shapes so much of our existence has been something of a wake up call for me. But I am part of it, and it has become part of me- it shapes my thinking in so many ways. What can I do? Our culture is sick, so of course I am sick as well. But I do not underestimate the antidote which is neighborliness. It’s much harder to maintain the abstractions when you are seeing someone face-to-face. I feel lucky that I live in a neighborhood in a city. Stoops are still somewhat of a living room.

  70. Ananias Avatar

    Our parish has a few people who speak another language. I love talking with them because I learn so much from them. We have two Armenians; one speaks fluent Armenian and the other was raised in Russia and speaks fluent Russian. There are others who are Greek, Arabic, and Russian as well. We had a Romanian and a Bulgarian for a while. There is such beauty in other languages and cultures.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think of the question put to Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” The answer was the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Kingdom of God, every human being is my neighbor. We must learn that we are not “citizens” of this world. St. Paul says, “Our citizenship is in heaven.” This stuff is just plain gospel…somehow, people have failed to read it.

  72. Simon Avatar

    Do you think Ignatius means that God’s ability to endure/put-up-with us is conditioned on our ability to endure/put-up-with the world?

  73. Ananias Avatar

    Remember too the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I am slowly learning to live and love by this rule. Orthodoxy has helped me to realize that every human being, regardless of what the world says, is created by God and is an icon of the image of God. I must learn to love them for this reason, because to love God, I must love that which God Himself loves.
    So, I must learn to treat the icon of the image of God within each human being with respect and love.
    Hard, very hard.

  74. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I have learned that sometimes it takes tragedy in our lives to bring about real healing and growth. Ironically getting back to the topic of the article, it takes violence. Of course nobody wants this in their lives. There is another way. You can do violence to yourself.

    You can tell yourself that you won’t treat those neighbors on the “other side” as villains. This tactic will, of course, have only limited success. So you will need to get violent. Against strong objections within yourself, do something nice for one of them. Go out of your way to get to know them. Think about what you would do for someone on “your side” – and then go even beyond that.

    It will be an internal tug-of-war initially, but a battle fought on the inside is often a crisis averted on the outside.

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I wouldn’t make it into a conditional sentence. It is a reciprocity – but that is like the whole He became what we are that we might become what He is. It presumes that we are in Him and He in us and treats this endurance as natural to our state as Christians, but reminds us that God has His place within it as well in this mutuality of life that we have entered.

  76. Paula Avatar

    The man pictured at the head of this post…is that supposed to be Judas?

  77. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    You raise an interesting question. The background is cut out. I presumed it was Judas, partly because of the distorted way the kissing man is drawn, but also because there appears to be a hand gripping Christ’s shoulder. The juxtaposition of these facets suggested to me Judas. The appearance of the hand indeed parallels so much of this discussion about control and exertion of power over others.

    Thank you for your question Paula. Honestly it is indeed better to ask questions than to presume, as I did.

  78. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Also, I’m not sure why I think this might be important, but I’ll add that I also assumed the “kisser” is male, as he does have short hair, but he has no beard.

    Thank you so much Ananias and Drewster2000. Your words have helped me so much today. I’m so grateful for your inspiration, because I was in desperate need of it on more levels than I knew when I first wrote. It is as both of you say that the food addiction aspect is an idol, in that we have put our appetites first. The very act of pushing away what we think we want feels like a form of suffering, which in this culture we are encouraged to push away suffering instead.

    To say “I won’t”, is indeed hard. More often I hear myself saying “I hope I don’t”.

    Thanks again Ananias, regarding your words about being ready to get up again, and not to disparage ourselves in our failures. Drewster , I had to laugh at myself, for the “Keep your head down and keep peddling”– this saying almost sounds like “in sports language” a way of saying the Jesus prayer. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘spinning my wheels’ lately. Leaving where I’m heading up to God is such a relief. I hope I hold on to these helpful words you have all shared.

  79. Paula Avatar

    Actually, the picture got my attention. At first I thought it may be St. John, you know, putting his head on Christ’s chest…but that is not actually what is shown. The look on the man’s face is intense…that struck me. So I did a search and one of the results mentioned Judas. It was an odd website…but still, Judas made sense, especially, as you say, based on this discussion and especially the title of the post. I can’t think of a more violent act than to betray Christ. A deeply troubling story to reflect on.
    I thought to ask the question though, as I wasn’t sure if it was him.
    So, no…I didn’t just figure that out on my own! I’m not that ‘quick on the uptake’ !!
    Thanks Dee.

  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is it not true that when a figure in an icon is shown in profile that indicates someone who is not of goodness?

  81. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. Traditionally, only Judas and the demons are painted in profile, never Christ or the saints.

  82. Dino Avatar

    Yes the full face depiction indicates a full person (face and person are the same word in Greek – πρόσωπον ). You cannot really find any profile depiction of , (not even in sideways Deisis, both eyes are drawn) of saints.

  83. Jeff Pauls Avatar
    Jeff Pauls

    Thank you, Father and everyone else,

    We are in need of reveletion on this matter. Father, at different points during the discussion, you have said, “We are not commanded to…” Michah 6:8 comes to mind, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Think with me. The verse says, “Do…love…walk.” This does not say “make the world a better place.” It says that we should behave in certain ways. We do this because we love God and our neighbor and it is His commandment. What will be the consequences of “Do…love…walk?” We don’t know and He doesn’t say. You can do justice, love mercy, walk humbly anywhere, even as the world around you crumbles into dust. The outcome of history is in the hands of God.

    We have had the mantras of modernity so drilled into our heads that we hear it being said where it is not. The life of a Christian is not about a better world but about the Kingdom of God which is coming into the world. I’ll share something I recently put on Facebook:

    On Not Making the World a Better Place: A distinction I am making is that the “Kingdom of God”” does not mean “improving the world.” The Kingdom of God is complete and whole and enters the world as a finished thing. It is a “raising of the dead.” Modernity’s philosophy is about making the corpse look nicer. When we keep the commandments rightly, it is the entering of the Kingdom of God into the world – the world is not the locus of our life – but the Kingdom of God is. The Kingdom is “better” than the world, though that’s like saying “God is better than a dead man.”

    Modernity suggests that this world, this secular order, is the right and proper focus of our lives. It doesn’t mind if Christians help out a bit and improve things. But we’re doing something far different. The Kingdom of God is an entirely different order of existence. The saints are a revelation of life in the Kingdom.

    This world cannot become a “better place” in comparison. But this world is the place where the Kingdom of God is coming.

    I have written: “Jesus did not die to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.” By the same token, Jesus did not die in order to make the world a better place, but to inaugurate the coming of the Kingdom of God.

    This world is about death – rearranging death – trying to put off death – trying to keep other people from dying while putting others to death before their time. The Kingdom of God smashes death and tramples it down. When we love our enemies, we are not being nice or well-behaved. It is an act of radical obedience, an action of the soul that says that because Christ is risen, I can forgive everything. The resurrection of Christ is the end of the world. You cannot improve that which has ended.

    We have the task of proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God and, because we are in Christ, living in the Kingdom. The saints live among us as ambassadors of the Kingdom. Their very existence is proof that this world is passing away and the Kingdom of God is come.

    That’s the point. Hope that helps those struggling to understand why I say, “You cannot make the world a better place.”

  85. Drewster2000 Avatar


    Thanks for sharing your FB post. It was well said. This was my golden nugget from it:

    “The Kingdom of God is complete and whole and enters the world as a finished thing. It is a “raising of the dead.” Modernity’s philosophy is about making the corpse look nicer.” (bolding mine)

  86. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    There is an icon of the Theotokos which is in profile. It was saved by a woman in Russia during the Communist era and was smuggled out secretly. It’s new home is now at the Holy Assumption Monastery in Calistoga. However, it is definitely not the norm.

  87. Ananias Avatar

    Can it be properly said, “The entire earth is a white washed tomb, full of dead bones. The Kingdom of God does not come to give a fresh coat of paint on the tomb, but to give life to the bones”?

  88. Dino Avatar

    that’s sensibly succinct! Such gems are worth memorising and recalling when besieged by secular delusion…

  89. Dino Avatar

    I think you can still see both eyes in that icon though.

  90. Simon Avatar

    Making the world a better place is the highest road that secular people can trod. And, of course, they aren’t to be slighted for doing their the best they can with what they have. But, at the end of the day, making the world a better place is phenomenological whereas the kingdom of God is ontological. Even if humans were to achieve a utopia for all…that isn’t God’s kingdom. Flourishing and well-being are worthwhile. But, what are their sources? Do they come from within or from without? I don’t know that I would argue very strongly for this, but if flourishing and well-being come from without, then these are phenomenological. If they come from within, then they are ontological. I guess one could argue that mindfulness meditation and self-help can produce remedial effects. But, again, this is int’t ontological. A good tree doesn’t produce good fruit because it wakes up in the morning and says “Today I am going to work hard and producing good fruit.” It does it entirely by virtue of its nature. It isn’t a volitional act. It is an act that emerges naturally from its ontology. And that is more or less what I hear Fr. Stephen saying. As was said earlier ‘Don’t put a fresh coat of paint on the tomb, but to give life to the bones.’

  91. Simon Avatar

    To wrap up my thought, theosis is ontological and compassion for others is part of theosis. But making the world a better place is not a part of the askesis of theosis. Attend to theosis and we will do by nature those things that are ameliorating, remedial, and compassionate without a defined project or stated goal. We will produce good fruit that is good because the tree is good.

  92. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Dino – No, only one eye is visible. I have uploaded it to a Google Doc. I hope you can open it.

  93. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Thank you Father for so many wonderful, clarifying comments in the course of this discussion.

    Simon – Beautifully said!

  94. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Esmee, I haven’t seen this icon before, nor did I know about it’s history. Thank you for sharing this picture, it evokes a serene response in the heart. The link works.

    Simon, I enjoy your provocative thoughts. There’s a lot to “chew on”. Sometimes I can get a little lost in the meaning of the terms “inner” vs “outer”. I think this might come from my cultural background, I don’t know.

  95. Dino Avatar


    I cannot help commenting that, that icon (I did see it through the link you provided, thank you) is certainly not of the Orthodox style anyway. It is a deeply western-influenced depiction – not just stylistically clearly too…

  96. Simon Avatar

    Dee, I don’t know that I understand what your struggle is with the “inner” vs “outer” language…but I have struggles with it, too. I mainly use it because there is something of an intuition about what it means, but I’m not sure that intuition has any useful meaning at all. Prior to my encounter with Orthodoxy I was endeavoring to eschew any talk about “inner” vs “outer” or “good” vs “bad”, you know, all the sloppy, polarizing language we use so carelessly. On the one hand, any time I hear someone use the words “good” or “bad” I hear very ambiguous language: ‘The meal was good’ (vs ‘The meal was delicious’) or ‘The movie was bad’ (vs ‘The movie was too violent’). In other words, I can always think of something more precise to say. I have a tendency to think that same way about “inner” vs “outer.” On the other hand, Jesus on several occasions is reported to have said “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” This kind of expression “that those who enter may see the light” indicates to me that there is some sense in which we must enter within in order to find the illumination we are seeking, for that which is hidden to be revealed. What does that mean? I haven’t the slightest clue. But this verse among a handful of others, a handful of people, and a handful of very subjective experiences constitute my tether on the faith.

    I imagine that the lampstand is the “heart”, the light is the illumination of God, and to enter within means to turn one’s attention to the “heart” the mercy seat of the soul.

  97. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Yes Dino, I agree, it is very Western. I’m not sure what year it was written, but I know that it was in a Russian Church and saved by a Russian woman who emigrated to the United States and gave it to the Monastery prior to her death. It is quite beautiful in real life.

  98. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I find that to be human is by definition to be limited/obtuse/simple in our ability to comprehend – at least in our current state. This seems to be why most people most of the time use terms like ‘good’, ‘inner’, etc. We are groping around in the dark trying to understand the world we live in – including ourselves. Add to that just how exhausting this can be at the best of times. And then add another layer when things aren’t going so well. I try to keep this in mind when communicating something. Often it must be done on the level of the lowest common denominator – which seems to be very low indeed.

    But of course this leads to over generalizations, like calling the meal, the results of a big sports event, and the creation of the human being all just “good” – within the span of 5 minutes. I have found my general reaction to this phenomenon is to stop commenting as much. Since I don’t have appropriate words to describe something – and if I do there is often no one around to receive it – then maybe I should simply say nothing at all.

    I also find that God is good and gracious. He meets us where we’re at and often accepts it when we call things good or bad just like when a child says the sun is crying as a way to understand thunderstorms. My belief is that the child’s explanation may end up being much more accurate than the adult scientific one involving the rain cycle, and that’s why He doesn’t fret too much over our gross inaccuracies. But we’ll see.

  99. David Foutch Avatar
    David Foutch

    Drewster, I say “The sun sets” all the time even though I know it is grossly inaccurate. But, it adequately if not perfectly describes my experience.

    The only reason I went on the tangent was to think about the language we are using to describe our spiritual experience. More or less it was a direct response to Dee’s comment. Fr. Stephen notes that “two-story” language to describe the kingdom of God is often problematic because it reflects a mind that has dichotomized the world. Language that invokes things that are “good” and “bad” can be equally problematic if not more so. One, it is dichotomizing language and 2) it is ambiguous. So with the “inner” and “outer”. Are there any problems with this language. I think so. But, much like saying ‘the sun is setting’ it may be inaccurate, but it may also perfectly describe how our experience.

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