Getting Our Heads Back Together

I recall being urged by my mother to eat the vegetables on my plate. I had my favorites, though not many, and have somehow managed to survive to this point in my life. There is a very practical side to eating. Despite the fact that it can give great pleasure, it has a direct connection to our health. Remembering this as an adult is not always easy. Strangely, religious belief seems to be as important to our health and well-being as a good diet. But it bears some thought.

A recent article in a British magazine looks at the book, Why We Need Religion, by the author, Stephen Asma (Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College in Chicago). The book puts forward a serious, scientific case for the health and sanity benefits of religious believing. Not that the author believes in God: rather, he believes in religion. Of course, as bothersome as that might be to believers, he does not argue against the content of faith, but simply remains agnostic.

Fascinatingly, he even finds a place for religiously-inspired anger. The article states:

Not only does it take some courage to begin a book by confessing a change of heart (if not mind) as Asma does, but it takes more, for example, to emphasise with the religiously violent. “People who dismiss religious-fuelled rage as intrinsically evil or primitive,” he writes, “have usually never faced real enemies.”

Of course, the observation (with careful scientific analysis) that human beings seem, somehow, naturally suited to religion in its various aspects does not argue for its truth. Indeed, the author of the book concentrates his attention primarily on Christianity and Buddhism.

C.S. Lewis in one of his essays makes an argument for the existence of God from the human proclivity for religion. He noted that if you landed on a planet whose inhabitants had a strong attraction for something (say water or the such-like), it would be highly unlikely to discover that such a thing did not exist on their planet. This is not a compelling argument for God’s existence, other than to say that it is consistent with His existence.

This approach, however, demonstrates a fundamental break in modern conceptions – the space between our thoughts and our bodies. There have been any number of philosophers, from Descartes to Kant who essentially reduced our reality to something within our heads. The “good” ceased to be anything “out there” and simply became “what is pleasing to me.” Many, drawn by the allure of various science fiction schemes, cannot imagine why hard reality should be preferred to virtual reality. The digital life is becoming normal life.

Such an estrangement frequently makes people forget where and how they live. We forget that farms grow our food and that the earth produces our minerals. We forget that people get their hands dirty and toil over these necessities. Life in the city (which is often life in the mind) seems superior, more sophisticated, and to be preferred. In that world, God lives as an idea among ideas, and is perhaps not welcome.

The author of Why We Need Religion wrote:

“I’m an agnostic and a citizen of a wealthy nation, but when my own son was in the emergency room with an illness, I prayed spontaneously. I’m not naïve. I don’t think it did a damn thing to heal him. But it is a response that will not go and that should not go away if it provides genuine relief for anxiety and anguish.”

For me, this is as absurd as saying, “My son needed sunlight so I took him outside,” only to conclude that it was nothing but a comforting superstition. The truth is that, in a world with no God, the life or death of his son would mean nothing more than the life or death of the bacteria in his son’s body. And, of course, for many moderns, the life of a child within the womb is little more than inconvenient bacterium. The author fails to see that his son’s existence has become a balm against his private anxiety and anguish – with no value of his own.

The great Christian tradition, as evidenced in the works of the early Church fathers, understood that our existence was a gift, the gift of the One who alone truly exists (“the Author of our being and our God”). Equally, He is the Good; He is the Truth; He is Beauty. Such things are not defined in themselves and then referred to God. Rather, it is seen that, apart from God, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty would have no meaning (nor existence). We long for and desire these things because we inherently long for and desire God Himself.

And here is the crucial point: we begin with God as Being, Truth, Goodness, Beauty. The words and concepts only have meaning when grounded in such a way. We do not take our own minds to be the center of all things – we are relative and contingent. It is why atheism seemed so perverse to the ancients. To deny the existence of God was to deny these things as well. The identity of God could be debated (“by what name shall we call Him”). However, the notion of a self-existing universe was beyond consideration. There was enough logical consistency to hold such an idea at bay.

The perversity of our time is that we insist on using the language of theology (Being, Truth, Goodness, Beauty) while imagining that such terms need no divine referent. As such, we both exalt that which should be relative while diminishing that which should be absolute. That someone might not know God (agnosticism) is a world removed from this question. However, without God, we fail to escape the traps erected by our own minds and transcendence disappears in the mists of the imagination.

Human beings have an ability to perceive truth, goodness, and beauty, and, arguably, are drawn to them, sometimes at the expense of all else. The notion of such things existing as abstractions is, itself, an abstraction and an invention of modern philosophies. It is part of an alienation of the human being from all that is obvious, including what it is to be human. The unique claim of Christianity is that Goodness, Truth, and Beauty became flesh and dwelt among us as the God/Man, Jesus Christ. We say that if you come to know these things in the world around you, and reflected within yourself, you will recognize them as well in Him.

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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32 responses to “Getting Our Heads Back Together”

  1. Brandon Avatar

    Thank you Father. I once read an anecdote about a lecture given by a materialistic astronomer on man’s place in the universe in which the lecturer concluded that “astronomically speaking, man is utterly significant.” Afterward, an attendee said “professor, you forgot the most important thing. Man is the astronomer.”

  2. Burro (Mule) Avatar

    “The author fails to see that his son’s existence has become a balm against his private anxiety and anguish – with no value of his own.”

    Ouch, Father, that one hit its mark, and bit hard.

    Honestly, I feel as though we are all us becoming progressively less human, like a watercolor left out in the rain bleeds away its colors until only the outlines are left. I think I am certainly less human than my grandfather, who grew up on a farm and fought in World War One, that “War To End All Wars” which ended up being the seedbed of all subsequent conflicts.

    Certainly we men are becoming less male, as measurable testosterone levels drop from generation to generation. The homogenization of public opinion and the elimination of the local (I’m sure Oak Ridge has the same distribution of retail outlets/restaurants/”worship centers” that suburban Atlanta does) has made us significantly less interesting.

    When I attend services, I feel the color incrementally returning, but the overall trajectory is not encouraging.

  3. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I vividly remember as a Protestant going into a very depressing place when I started questioning Sola Scriptura. At the same time, because of my interest in apologetics, I was reading a ton of atheist garbage, not because of any interest in atheism for itself, but to know how to respond. But, the imagination of the atheist got in my head. I really try hard to put my place in the shoes of the other person when I want to test their thinking. Anyway, I was sitting at a traffic light looking across the street at a snow covered landscape and in particular a tree’s branches covered in snow and I thought it was pretty, beautiful – and immediately the though popped into my mind, “you only think it’s beautiful because it’s safe”. All aesthetics are reduced to something to do with sex or security in atheism. Now I think a demon may have been speaking to me, but I’ve been realizing something about atheism and Orthodoxy that they have in common and it is this: the Orthodox view of death as perpetrator of sin and selfishness, survival mode, makes for some interesting comparisons with the atheist meta narrative and we could probably agree more so on several things related to death, than other Christians because we do not have Original Sin as a foundational doctrine upon which every other doctrine is built.

    I’ll remind you that I have imbibed much of Romanides thinking here so you can criticize as need be, but since happiness is not the goal of man, as happiness is merely the illusion that death is not a problem – you are assured in this illusion when life is okay, when there is enough money, when there is enough pleasure – and in one sense – but definitely not the only one – my tree experience is both true and demonic. There may be some real truth in the atheistic/evolutionary idea that humans find things like rivers/water sources to be beautiful because they are needed to survive, they are potentially safe – though they are also the source of immense fear in ancient writings. But the idea is, that things we see as safety promoters are often a result, or at least have the potential to be a result of, escaping the fear of death. In this sense happiness again is just a heightened level of security where death does not occupy the consciousness of a person in an ongoing way.

    To give a quick example: when I was a kid spending time my grandparents was probably the safest experience I knew. Many nights before bed Golden Girls was on and I can remember eating Cream of Wheat on toast watching Golden Girls. To this day, though now I know how raunchy Golden Girls is, there is this sense of comfort when I have turned to a channel it was on. A connection was made at some time that identified safety, or a safe memory, with something as silly as Golden Girls. And it’s extremely sad, if you ask someone from my generation, the 80’s, some of their most memorable experiences as a kid – they will not mention camping, family time, whatever – they will talk about the Goonies and Super Mario 3 – because those were their safe experiences and now their is a niche market, that’s really not a niche anymore, with shows like Stranger Things helping people relive these safe experiences.

    But the demonic part is to say that the tree with the snow, the survival mode, is all there is – for an atheist who is consistent, the tree could never exist without death because that’s the way things are, there could never be a world without death. And, then the temptation is, since all there is is death, do you best to avoid it – however that works for you – but the trick as we know is, the avoidance of death through happiness, most often temporary and much like a drug addiction, is actually what ruins souls.

    So, I think there’s some truth to aesthetics and security, but it’s not reducible to that. For someone with no teleology of theosis, all things will always be means of survival, for the glorified, they have been freed from the fear of death and can see a tree for a tree in a way we cannot. Again with theosis. The experience of glorification or of purification is the basis for our epistemology so we cannot properly argue with atheism without keeping our presupposition firm, i.e., we cannot move from our presupposition without ruining our argument.

    God bless you Father,
    Matthew Lyon

  4. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    ” in a world with no God, the life or death of his son would mean nothing more than the life or death of the bacteria in his son’s body… his son’s existence has become a balm against his private anxiety and anguish…”
    At this point, Father, I was still stuck on the back-handed insult that we are naive. You’d think I’d be used to this by now…
    But you make a good point about the meaninglessness that comes about with these abstract thoughts.
    On that same note, upon you high (and repeated) recommendation, I finally read “Poetic Diction”. I must laugh, because I thought I was going to be shown how to understand poetry. Well, it is much more than that. Barfield well explains why many of us can not “hear” or “see” what is written both in good prose and poetry. I recognize in this book much of your reasoning when it comes to the importance you place in the ‘meaning of words’. There is a great experiential loss in thought and thus in communion, with God, with man, and the entire creaton. Here in this post you touch upon it: the danger of solely abstract thought. It is a good book. Very helpful. I will surely have to pick it up again, for further polish.
    Thanks so much, Father Stephen.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Glad you found the book helpful. It can be a bit of a thick read. My 2 favorite books of his are History in English Words and Saving the Appearances.

    Perhaps sadder than the meaninglessness is the inability to actually be grateful. To whom and for what? It makes gratitude an absurd emotion.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s very troubling, isn’t it, when thoughts that are alien to what you believe and think seek to disturb our peace.

  7. Eric Avatar

    Bless, Father

    “Abstraction is the enemy wherever it is found” Wendell Berry

    I was very taken with your words on Life in the city being seen as more sophisticated which has been a problem since way back when. (Jesus from Hicksville Nazareth is challenged by the sophisticated of Jerusalem, with their Sophistry)

    Here in the flight to the abstract we lose our humanity (cf Gender Theory) The flight to the mind is away from Existence, Being Itself


    Kyrie Eleison

  8. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks Father.
    I found the History of English Words an easier read, but no less helpful. Now for Saving the Appearances, I found it even more thick than PD! I began to read it, actually, after PD. But I had to put it down…for just a while!

    Yes, it is sad that those who do not believe are unable to “actually” be grateful. Well sure, they are grateful…to themselves for their ‘good ideas’, or to others for supplying things which they need, including their companionship. But when those things vanish (and one day they will), they turn again either to themselves or to other people/things to fill that void. Until that disappoints and/or vanishes…and on it goes.
    Without knowing God as totally ‘Other’, yet present among us, and ourselves as contingent created beings, someone or something is going to be credited as benefactor.
    But only God can offer that which is eternal – Life, Unity, Communion – with God, in Christ, with one another, and all creation. Nothing could compare. Not even close. So, I mean, this is to Whom, and for what, we are grateful!!

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I first read Saving the Appearances way back in seminary (late 70’s) where is was required in a class in philosophical theology. I slogged through it. Then, I decided to write my Senior Thesis on Barfield’s doctrine of God and so I immersed myself in Barfield.

    Six months after graduation, I got the thesis out to re-read it, and realized I could barely follow what I’d written. I got an A+ on it (rare indeed in those days) which means the professor liked it – but I think I would have had to join a cult had I managed to keep it in my head!

    But – I have to say that he’s one of those permanent influences in my life. Indeed, I would suggest that it’s actually not possible to really appreciate the finer points of Lewis and Tolkien without understanding Barfield. They both thought that he was the real “theoretician” among the Inklings. Tolkien once said, “There are things that Barfield says, that once you understand them, you can never speak the same way again…” or words to that effect.

  10. tim johnson Avatar
    tim johnson

    Thanks for this good piece.
    More and more in recent years, the idea has impressed itself on me that if there was no God (I hope it’s not disrespectful to even mention the idea, but it is out there) we would never have come up with the idea.
    We humans often lose sight of the basic reality, I think, that we live in a “given” world; we are so used to so much of what comes with the “givenness,” we forget that (maybe), “hey, why would THAT ever come up?”
    If there was no God and we were the results of random physical motions in some universe, it probably is doubtful that the idea of God would exist; would even be possible.
    Not unlike the way, say, ants never sit around wondering, “Do humans exist?”
    Maybe this is a stupid thought; how would I know, I gotta tell ya.
    But more and more I think the very existence of the question about God is evidence, if not proof, of His existence.
    I suppose it’s another way of looking at what Anselm and many others after him , were getting at with looking at the deep truth of considering “a being than which no greater can be conceived. ”
    Maybe Frank and Earnest were on the other end of the same ontological telescope with “If ignorance isn’t bliss, I don’t know what is.”

  11. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…I had to laugh…I can almost imagine how it would be possible to ‘leave behind’ a state of mind that was once immersed in Barfield! You certainly had to be in some sense ‘beside yourself’!
    Yes…slog! I slogged through the first chapter of Saving the Appearances. What possessed me to continue to the 2nd was pure stubbornness. I wanted to understand! At the same time wondering, what on earth is he talking about!…on and on about the ‘real’ presence of rainbows and trees and molecules and so forth. I kind of knew what he was getting at…you know, trying to refute the folks back then who said material things are not ‘really’ there. And you wonder why this stuff escapes me!! I honestly don’t know if I really want to know what ‘those folks’ are talking about. But I would like to with Barfield!
    I’m saying…he’s something else!

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For what it’s worth, I’m working on a follow-up article that will provide some more chewable material.

  13. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “the idea has impressed itself on me that if there was no God…we would never have come up with the idea.”
    Yes! Exactly my thoughts about atheists….how could they deny ‘something’ that does not exist. If there were no God, ever, in existence, the conversation would not come up. Not even if it were a figment of our imagination. No God means no God, no thought of a god, no imagination of one either.

    “But more and more I think the very existence of the question about God is evidence, if not proof, of His existence.”
    Yep! Very good…!

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    For me this article links to the thread on suffering. In this world I see no love that does not contain suffering. Not our own so much as the voluntary sharing of someone else’s pain. That is irrefutably real and only theory dismisses pain or seeks to banish it from life.
    That voluntary bearing of other’s pain is epitomized in Jesus from the Cross saying “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    Such empathy is also the source of gratitude and thanksgiving–the acceptance of beauty and understanding of peace.

    We cannot be human without love and love always suffers in communion with God.

    That is one of the key points from the Book of Job, especially for men.

    Women suffer differently but it is no less part of Mary saying: “My soul doth magnify the Lord” and the spear piercing her heart.

  15. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…definitely looking forward to your follow-up article!

  16. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    One of the naive notions in much of atheist thinking is that believers simply *want* it to be true and that is why we believe. We want there to be life after death, we want there to be an all-powerful being who can help us when our loved ones are sick and so on. It seems like the author of “Why we need religion” may be making such an argument, i.e. that religion is good for us because it protects us from having to face the brutality of life. By enabling us to deny the harshness of life without meaning, our physical and mental health is better. We are more comfortable.

    I know that there were times on my journey to owning my faith that I struggled with this: I refused to believe in God simply because I wanted Him to exist. Having been raised with faith, the thought of there being no God was indeed frightening. I wanted my life to have some meaning or purpose – how could I bear it if my only meaning was what I created for myself? At times, this reasoning of atheism seemed like a compelling argument for why people believed in something that they could not prove.

    I was very much struck when, as a young person, I read one of C.S. Lewis’ letters to Sheldon Vanauken about how his position prior to conversion had been that he strongly hoped Christianity wasn’t true! He raised the question as to whether people like Hitler and Stalin “wd. be pleased on waking up one morning to find that they were not their own masters, that they had a Master and a Judge… Their first reaction wd. be (as mine was) rage and terror.” (excerpt from “A Severe Mercy”)

    When I had feared that perhaps I only believed because I wanted it to be true, I hadn’t been considering all that Christianity demands of me. It is not “good for me” simply because it makes me feels safe or gives me Someone to turn to when I am afraid. It is good for me because, in following it, I am drawn to live in harmony with the Way for which we were created. This Way includes some things that are not at all comfortable to my modern self which eschews such things as obedience, denial of self and embracing the Cross.

    While my intellect still periodically rebels (foolishly) against giving my whole life to Mystery beyond its comprehension, God has allowed me to experience Him so many times and in so many ways that the rebellion is soon thwarted. I could not have made all of this up. Or, as Lewis would say, if I did, my error would be more important and interesting than reality – and how could that be?

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, Yes. The quirk that I find intriguing in those who deny the reality of God is that they tend to dismiss the consistent evidence of who He is from people who have encountered Him through His gracious condescension. They seem to be stuck in the Cartesian delusion that human thought is at the top pyramid. Anything that claims to be beyond that is sentimental superstition although it may have utilitarian benefits

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I once had a conversation about God with a young college student from China. She said, “Why do we need God? We have our family and the State.”

    It gave me chills.

  19. Byron Avatar

    The quirk that I find intriguing in those who deny the reality of God is that they tend to dismiss the consistent evidence of who He is from people who have encountered Him through His gracious condescension.

    Michael, to be fair, an atheist will see plenty of non-Christians who also believe in [a] god and say “well they all believe too–just not in the same expression.” To the atheist, the common denominator in all this is the human mind. They don’t think deeper about it than that.

    Mary, wonderfully stated!

    Father, I would love to know how you responded to her!

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bryon, not just belief but the testimony of those who have had a living encounter with Him, Jesus Christ. Saints and others. Observations and experience even “feelings” are counted as evidence in many other areas, but not when it comes to Jesus.

  21. Kenneth Avatar

    This is the best word I’ve heard in a long time:

    “He is the Good; He is the Truth; He is Beauty. Such things are not defined in themselves and then referred to God. Rather, it is seen that, apart from God, Truth, Goodness, and Beauty would have no meaning (nor existence). We long for and desire these things because we inherently long for and desire God Himself.”

    A pervasive problem is that God is often slandered or distorted, even by Christians, so that he doesn’t seem good, true, nor beautiful. Your words are a great reminder! I will even print this quote and post it somewhere so I’ll remember it.

    I also heard a beautiful song lyric today:
    “When my love for life is running dry,
    You come and pour yourself on me.”
    (This was not written about God, but could as well have been, for this is the kind of thing God does.)

  22. Panayiota Avatar

    I think about the cries of the Psalms, and how tormented the soul would be in the afterlife if it couldn’t praise God.
    That thought makes me shudder.

  23. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    Your comment about the person from China… I think this is the real reason for the atheism we encounter day to day in people. It’s completely pragmatic, but it is also not pragmatic at all. It’s the same logic of those who say religion is a crutch or an opiate. Or those who say religion will die as affluency goes up. In each case there is an underlying, well, why do you need God when in all practicality you don’t.

    In each case, and in the modern mind, you only need God to provide some need in yourself that could be remedied without Him. If you have enough money, you don’t need God. If you have enough self-esteem and wonder at the universe, you don’t need God. If the state will be your mother forever, you don’t need God.

    Often, since God is nothing other than wish fulfillment, if you can get your wished fulfilled through another means, then God becomes totally unnecessary. And Christians are guilty of this as well, very much so. We feel we only need God when we’re in a jam. The term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is nothing but practical/pragmatic atheism. I really enjoyed The Experience of God which corrects the popular notion of God and the caricatures of God atheists throw out showing their ignorance. I have come to think that the Creator/creature distinction, if put forward correctly, could correct a lot of this mess versus preaching guilt and morality.

  24. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Regarding the Chinese student

    I took a really great Immigration History class at Catholic U as an undergrad. We read Maxine Hong Kingston’s “The Woman Warrior”

    In it, one theme was that a family member in China had been put to death. In a time of starvation he had found a dead bird under a tree and had taken it home for his family. He was told he should have given it to the state, and put to death.

    Once a Chinese grad student explained to me they are taught some people believe in God but we are material and we believe in this, and she was patting her arm.

    I reflect often on the enormous grief and confusion I saw manifest in the behaviors of my myself and my classmates freshman year of high school. How could we be so young and be that way? There was intense drinking, drugs and promiscuity in a population of kids assembled from Catholic schools. It seems like, possibly, parents separated from kids doing ‘important’ work in the DC area was a big factor. I have heard this referred to as The Cornucopia Syndrome. Just like the state wanted the dead bird in China, the nourisment that should have gone to the family, America gets in between a parent providing the real needs to a child, just in a different way.

    I have been reflecting on how teaching a child to walk in nature and see beauty and experience joy can free them from the costs of seeking entertainment later in life. I do like the word ‘apprehension’ which Wordsworth used.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In this world “The State” will always seek to usurp authority it does not have. Over the Church and the citizens. It is the nature of humans who are estranged from God to prefer some form of tryanny over freedom since all tryanny derives from death even though it claims to conquer it.

    That is the essence of modernity.

  26. Chris S Avatar

    I lived in China for a number of years returning at the end of 2013. While there, I met a young man who had no concept of God in any way shape or form. (after a moment of shock) Where to begin? (after a brief pray) At the beginning. So I started at beginning quickly going all the way through to the Resurrection and Ascension. He was overjoyed and wanted to be Baptized right away. Eventually he was Baptized (into the Orthodox Church)and received the name Elijah.

    Of note, because he had no internal rhetoric against God he quickly and joyfully excepted the truth.

  27. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Chris S.;

    I often reflect on your concluding statement, when I think of our evangelical role as believers in this modern context. May God do as he wills, but it seems to me that whatever impact my Christian life has on my non-Christian friends and neighbours, is really only moving their hearts incrementally toward non-absolute-closed-ness to Christ. The anti-Christian, Modern secular narrative is so deeply ingrained (in its manifold boring permutations), that I do not expect most of those who are touched by my own little light to give their paradigm up.
    I think of this in contrast to Saints Herman and Innocent for example, and bringing the gospel to any who are not formed against it. What joy this good news is!

    I am grateful for our Orthodox understanding that the heart is the true battle ground, and it is a secret thing. God will see judge in the end, and what little movements my neighbours may have within their non-Christian paradigms may well outrun my own efforts as a knowing Christian. Salvation as theosis means there is ever-movement toward the fullness of God. Where these neighbours might be when Modernity’s veil is taken from their eyes will likely be a thing of wonder to puny Christians such as myself. I am encouraged by this.
    To paraphrase Fr. Alexander Schmemann, salvation and true spirituality consists in how we deal with what we have been dealt.

  28. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Chris S. ,
    Wow…God’s Providence at work! Your paths crossed…right place, right time. And to put it ‘in other words’, there was no barrier (the “internal rhetoric”) that would resist the movement of Holy Spirit, present and effectual in both you and him.
    Very powerful Baptismal name he received, btw!

  29. sgage Avatar

    @Mark Northey:
    “but it seems to me that whatever impact my Christian life has on my non-Christian friends and neighbours, is really only moving their hearts incrementally toward non-absolute-closed-ness to Christ. ”

    ‘Only’ moving incrementally? I think that’s how it works for many people – incrementally. And it can take a long time – decades even – until BAM! The full impact hits, and the beauty and coherence and love come pouring in. And it’s often (usually?) because of the cumulative impact of true Christian living being modeled by friends and acquaintances. And the Grace of God.

  30. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Agreed, and well put.
    I was contrasting this with the sort of openness one finds among some healthy non-Post-Christian cultures, or persons within such cultures anyway.

  31. sgage Avatar

    Ah, yes, I see it now.

  32. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    In many cases, not all, the incremental moving is a failure on the part of the Christian to ever get underneath the presuppositions of the other. If you always engage with a person without examining, calling to light, what their presuppositions are, it will take an extremely long time for them to convert. I just don’t see this as ideal. You can tell quickly, that Jesus and the Apostles did expect opposition, and they didn’t waste time on people who were openly hostile (though there is a way to read Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees as pure love, efforts towards their eyes being opened) – I understand that – but at the same time they directly confronted the presuppositions that kept people from seeing the light of Christ. I could write pages off the top of my head confirming this, but here is one example: Jesus is Lord, the earliest Christian confession. Caesar was lord and was offered incense as a god, the proclamation Jesus is Lord, smacks at the presupposition of the other, calls it out as false, and offers hope of freedom all at the same time. We, modern people, are so adept and adapted to see the commonality between ideas that we never, for the sake of offending people, and often so that we are not seen as weird/confrontational/to keep from embarrassment and preserve pride – we are already secular – we talk about Christianity from a place of secularism and we go around finding ways in which other thinking compares with ours and we often affirm someone’s ideas or beliefs from this vantage. We always argue from within the secular worldview of the other so the impression they receive is that we affirm them – it’s like, everyone is a basically valid denomination. So, in what way can we challenge underlying presuppositions which keep people from Christ when we never contrast and only compare, or, if we only contrast in areas where we have the most in common?

    There is a way to be loving, non-judgmental, and confrontational at the same time. I think the reason why it takes the average convert so long to convert is really an “unhealthy niceness” combined with an already secular way of looking at religion, all are basically trying their best but no one has a corner on the truth, a “nice” ecumenicism – all the while presuppositions are never challenged – but over a really long time, instead of going after the root, the person figures it out on their own – and a lot of time was wasted in the process. I mean, if a doctor could give you some medicine, and instead they put you in rehab for 2-20 years, I think you’d have appreciated the medicine even if you appreciated the rehab assuming you got better.

    The Gospel, the news that God is King, and under this new regime, Satan de-throned, means all things are put under subjection to Christ regardless of whether we see that fully realized now. We operate from this vantage, not a synchrenistic one. I don’t accuse Orthodox of synchreticism for this failure, but if you stand back, sometimes we are so scared of men that that is what it looks like and they are never told Jesus is Lord.

    As regards those who God patiently brings along through no fault of anyone, that is different.

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