Against The Normal

Within the Christianity of our time, the great spiritual conflict, unknown to almost all, is between a naturalistic/secular world of modernity and the sacramental world of classical Christianity. The first presumes that a literal take on the world is the most accurate. It tends to assume a closed system of cause and effect, ultimately explainable through science and manageable through technology. Modern Christians, quite innocently, accept this account of the world with the proviso that there is also a God who, on occasion, intervenes within this closed order. The naturalist unbeliever says, “Prove it.”

The sacramental world of classical Christianity speaks a wholly different language. It presumes that the world as we see it is an expression of a greater reality that is unseen. It presumes that everything is a continuing gift and a means of communion with the good God who created it. The meaning and purpose of things is found in that which is not seen, apart from which we can only reach false conclusions. The essential message of Christ, “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” is a proclamation of the primacy of this unseen world and its coming reign in the restoration of all things (apokatastasis, cf. Acts 3:21).

The assumptions of these two worldviews could hardly be more contradictory. The naturalistic/secular model has the advantage of sharing a worldview with contemporary culture. As such, it forms part of what most people would perceive as “common sense” and “normal.” Indeed, the larger portion of Christian believers within that model have no idea that any other Christian worldview exists.

The classical/sacramental worldview was the only Christian worldview for most of the centuries prior to the Reformation. Even then, that worldview was only displaced through revolution and state sponsorship. Nonetheless, the sacramental understanding continues within the life of the Orthodox Church, as well as many segments of Catholicism. Its abiding presence in the Scriptures guarantees that at least a suspicion of “something else” will haunt some modern Christian minds.

An assumption of the secular/naturalist worldview is that information itself is “objective” in character: it is equally accessible to everyone. The classical worldview assumes something quite different. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” Christ says, “for they shall see God.” The Kingdom of God is not an inert object that yields itself to public examination. The knowledge of God and of all spiritual things requires a different mode of seeing and understanding. St. Paul says it this way: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Co 2:14).

This understanding disturbs the sensibilities of many contemporary Christians. Some go so far as to suggest that it is “gnostic” (by this they mean that the very notion of spiritual knowledge that is less than democratic is suspect). Sola Scriptura is a modern concept that posits the Scriptures as subject to objective interpretation. The Scriptures thus belong to the world of public, democratic debate, whose meaning belongs within the marketplace of opinion. The Scriptures are “my Bible.”

The classical model is, in fact, the teaching found in the Scriptures. It utterly rejects the notion of spiritual knowledge belonging to the same category as the naturalistic/secular world. It clearly understands that the truth of things is perceived only through the heart (nous) and that an inward change is required. It is impossible to encounter the truth and remain unchanged.

The classical model, particularly as found within Orthodoxy, demands repentance and asceticism as a normative part of the spiritual life. These actions do not earn a reward, but are an inherent part of the cleansing of the heart and the possibility of perceiving the truth.

The rationalization (secular/rationalist) of the gospel has also given rise to modern “evangelism.” If no particular change is required in a human being in order to perceive the truth of the gospel, then rational argument and demonstration becomes the order of the day. Indeed, modern evangelism is largely indistinguishable from modern marketing. They were born from the same American social movements.

The classical model tends to be slower in its communication, for what is being transmitted is the fullness of the tradition and the transformation of each human life. Evangelism, in this context, has little to no relationship with marketing. The primary form for the transmission of the gospel is the community of the Church. The Christian faith, in its fullness, is properly only seen in an embodied community of believers living in sacramental union with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. In the early Church, the catechumenate generally lasted for as much as three years. The formation that took place was seen as an essential preparation for the Christian life. “Making a decision” was almost beside the point.

The struggle between classical/sacramental Christianity and modernity (including its various Christianities) is not a battle over information. The heart of the struggle is for sacramental Christianity to simply remain faithful to what it is. That struggle is significant, simply for the fact that it takes place within a dominant culture that is largely its antithesis.

A complicating factor in this struggle is the fact that the dominant culture (naturalistic/secular) has taken up traditional Christian vocabulary and changed its meaning. This creates a situation in which classical Christianity is in constant need of defining and understanding its own language in contradistinction to the prevailing cultural mind. The most simple terms, “faith, belief, Baptism, Communion, icon, forgiveness, sin, repentance,” are among those things that have to be consistently re-defined. Every conversation outside a certain circle requires this effort, and, even within that circle, things are not always easy.

Such an effort might seem exhausting. The only position of relaxation within the culture is the effortless agreement with what the prevailing permutations tell us on any given day. Human instinct tends towards the effortless life – and the secular mentality constantly reassures us that only the effortless life is normal. Indeed, “normal, ordinary, common,” and such terms, are all words invented by modernity as a self-description. Such concepts are utterly absent from the world of Scripture. Oddly, no one lived a “normal” life until relatively recently.

That which is “normal” is nothing of the sort. It is the purblind self-assurance that all is well when nothing is well.

God have mercy on us.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows a marginal pen-and-ink drawing from a letter by Olaf Stapledon, written to his fiance, dated October 3, 1918.

Divine Impassibility

It is fascinating how the ever-changing needs of the times often call us to tread again the same ground once covered by the Fathers. In their day the need was to show how the Scriptural account of God’s self-revelation was consistent with a more Hellenistic and philosophical view of the impassable divine nature.

Such a project was required in their day if they were to commend the Hebrew Scriptures which the Church received as divinely-inspired to the wider pagan audience which viewed the divine nature as eternal, impassable, transcendent, and unchanging.

The problem, of course, is that this philosophical view of divinity didn’t seem to line up with what people read about the Hebrew God in the Hebrew Scriptures.

People believed—correctly—that the divine nature was unchanging and unchangeable, that it was eternal and untroubled. Or, in the words of St. John of Damascus, that “He is invariable and unchangeable, and it would not be right to speak of contingency in connection with Him. [The divine nature is] uncreated, without beginning, immortal, infinite, eternal, immaterial, good, creative, just, enlightening, immutable, passionless, immeasurable, unlimited, undefined, unseen, unthinkable, wanting in nothing” (Exact Exposition, book 1, chapters 13, 14).

St. John Cassian said the same thing at an earlier time: The idea that God has physical limbs “cannot be understood literally of Him who is declared by the authority of Holy Scripture to be invisible, ineffable, incomprehensible, inestimable, simple, and uncompounded, so neither can the passion of anger and wrath be attributed to that unchangeable nature without fearful blasphemy” (Institutes, book 8, chapter 4.)

What both John of Damascus and John Cassian meant was not that the Scriptures were unreliable, but that they needed interpretation. For if one read the Hebrew Scriptures with a simple heart and insufficient subtlety, one might come away with an erroneous view of the Hebrew God.

One might imagine that Yahweh had a short fuse, that He sometimes lost His temper and needed calming down, that He did not know everything in advance, and sometimes needed to find things out by investigation and then might need to change His mind.

They might imagine that mere human beings could ruffle the divine feathers and get Yahweh worked up, and that He was subject to passions and emotions such as jealousy, uncontrolled rage, as well as bouts of happiness, and that His emotions could see-saw between extremes of happiness and sadness.

Even simpler readers might conclude that Yahweh had arms, fingers, eyes, ears, and a mouth because the Scriptures spoke of these things.

And some people even justified their own human rage by referring to the divine wrath mentioned in the Bible: “We have heard some people trying to excuse this most pernicious disease of the soul [i.e. anger] in such a way as to endeavour to extenuate it by a rather shocking way of interpreting Scripture: as they say that it is not injurious if we are angry with our brethren who do wrong, since they say God Himself is said to rage and to be angry” (Institutes, book 8, chapter 2).

These overly-simple interpretations of Scripture flew in the face of what an intelligent pagan audience believed about the divine nature, and led a number of them to dismiss the Scriptures and the Church which received them as infantile and unworthy of true philosophy.

Of course, they said, the divine nature cannot be subject to such human passions. In fact, the Church had been saying the same thing about the pagan gods for some time, pouring scorn on the pagan myths and stories of Jupiter becoming angry and lustful.

But if it was true, as the Church always taught, that divine nature was essentially impassable and beyond the reach of change and passion, how could the Church’s Hebrew Scriptures have any credibility when they seemed to present a very changeable and passionate God? That was the problem that the Fathers had to grapple with as they presented the Christian Faith to a pagan world.

The Fathers’ solution is well known: they affirmed the philosophical view of God and interpreted the Scriptural account of God’s limbs (such as His mouth, eyes, and hands) metaphorically, as well as the Scriptural narratives about God’s wrath and seeming changeability.

St. John Cassian again: “By God’s mouth we should understand that His utterances are meant…by His eyes we can understand the boundless character of His sight with which He sees and looks through all things. By the expression ‘hands’ we understand His providence and work”.

But the Scriptural references to His divine wrath, though they should not be understood as declaring that God is subject to the passion of anger or that our sins cause Him to throw a fit, are not to be explained away.

Thus Cassian: “When we read of the anger or fury of the Lord, we should take it not according to an unworthy meaning of human passion, but in a sense worthy of God, who is free from all passion, so that by this we should understand that He is the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in this world, and by reason of these terms and their meaning we should dread Him as the terrible rewarder of our deeds, and fear to do anything against His will.”

It is clear therefore that God still has wrath against sin, in that He will judge and avenge human wrong. Because of this divine vengeance we should “dread Him and fear to do anything against His will”.

The Fathers do not declare that God has no wrath, but only that His anger is just and not the result of fits of passion or pique. God’s anger is not like human anger, and is consistent with the divine impassibility. God is always good, and His beneficence never changes.

Whether or not we experience His kindness or His severity (see Romans 11:22) depends not upon His shifting moods, for He is not subject to shifting moods. Rather it depends entirely upon us and how we live.

St. Irenaeus said as much even earlier still: “As many as according to their own choice depart from good, He inflicts that separation from Himself which they have chosen of their own accord. But separation from God is death and separation from light is darkness and separation from God consists in the loss of all the benefits He has in store…It is in this matter just as occurs in the case of a flood of light: those who have blinded themselves are forever deprived of the enjoyment of light. It is not that the light has inflicted upon them the penalty of blindness, but it is that the blindness itself has brought calamity upon them.” (Against Heresies, book 5, chapter 27).

God’s unchanging nature remains light; those who experience calamity and the divine wrath do so because of their own actions, not because God is no longer light or willing to enlighten.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: in the Fathers’ day, many took offense at the Scriptural teaching about the wrath of God, saying that this was incompatible with the divine nature, the objection taking its force from the philosophical conviction that divine nature cannot be subject to emotions of any kind (including presumably nice emotions, such as happiness).

Today also many take offense at the Scriptural teaching about the wrath of God, saying that this is incompatible with the divine nature, the objection taking its force from our modern conviction that a loving God could not also have wrath.

We have seen that the Fathers’ teaching overthrows both objections. The Fathers agree that God’s nature is good and unchanging and unaffected by our sins. They also assert that the Scriptural teaching about God’s wrath is true, and that God will one day act as “the judge and avenger of all the unjust things which are done in the world”.

The modern attempt to deny this latter truth by appeal to God’s good and unchanging nature cannot be sustained, and those who attempt to use the truth of divine impassibility to deny the truth of divine wrath are in error.

I suggest that those making this attempt are not motivated by the venerable philosophical appreciation for the doctrine of divine impassibility so much as by a very modern squeamishness about the doctrine of divine wrath.

The Fathers affirmed both divine wrath and divine impassibility, and we must tread in the way that they walked, following along the path they blazed for us.

Father Lawrence Farley serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “Moses on Mount Sinai,” by Jean-Léon Gérôme, painted ca. 1895-1900.

Yoga Of Deception

What attracts people to yoga? In my case, it was a thirst for something mysterious, some teaching that would allow me to develop some superpowers, such as telepathy, breath-holding, etc. I discovered yoga as a primary school student back in the early 1980s thanks to my elder cousin.

I would sit in the lotus position at the lessons, and the teacher would rebuke me, telling me “to sit like a human.” And my last mentor was a yoga fitness instructor, under whose guidance between 2008 and 2009 I refreshed my skills in the fundamentals of Ashtanga yoga that I had largely forgotten over the years of my office work. And there were a great number of books, groups, seminars, and teachers between these two “mentors.”

When I was in my thirties, I wanted to comprehend the essence of yoga, and I was more interested in meditative practices than in physical exercises (asanas). The fact is that if someone starts yoga and doesn’t quit it, sooner or later he will find that it is boring to sit in the same positions and do the same exercises day in and day out.

One day he will inevitably ask himself: “Why do I need all of this”? And this is precisely what happened to me: I wanted to find the meaning. And at last I discovered the concept of pralaya in Hinduism which (to put it simply) means “cyclical destruction of the universe.”

No matter what you did (whether you practiced yoga or something else), what you strove for, how many times you were born, which class or caste you belonged to, all the souls (whether they like it or not) will ultimately unite into one “golden egg”, into which the whole universe will contract, once one “day of Brahma” has changed into a “night of Brahma” next time. It will be the end of the universe, and all will disappear.

From the yogis’ point of view, there is no such thing as immortality of an individual soul because with the beginning of a “new day of Brahma” the souls will come into being again, but these will be absolutely different souls (not those destroyed). Only Brahman, the impersonal absolute, is immortal.

There are many similarities between all of this and the materialist conception of the world, the “pulsating universe theory”, and so forth. However, there are quite a few tendencies in Hinduism (of which yoga is a part), from atheistic and agnostic to pantheistic, those recognizing many deities and close to paganism.

Then what is the object pursued by a yogi? He seeks to attain the state of Moksha, or Samadhi, approximately meaning “being released.” This is the “liberation” from the cyclic existence, this suffering-laden cycle of life. A yogi believes in reincarnation, in the rebirth cycle, but he tries his best to avoid this continued suffering.

When I came to realize that, according to yoga, death awaits you in any case (both the physical death and the death of your soul, once it has escaped the vicious birth-death-rebirth cycle and united with the indifferent absolute), I lost interest in this teaching.

Later, in the summer of 2010, I ended up at the Monastery of St. Paphnutius in Borovsk [in the Kaluga region south of the Moscow region] completely “by chance” (in fact, providentially), and my life was gradually transformed.

But why not practice yoga as we do gymnastics, without becoming absorbed in its mysterious and occult depths? I am quite sure that this is impossible (except when someone is fortunate enough in having a transient passion for yoga). Yoga is part of the Hindu religion, and there’s no getting away from it.

The very word “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit root word “yuj”, meaning “to yoke”, “to unite”, “to join.” Meanwhile the word “religion” derives from the Latin verb “religare”, meaning “to tie”, “to bind together.” In both cases you connect to God or some other invisible forces that interact with you. So at very least it would be illogical to state that yoga is not religious as the words “religion” and “yoga” are almost synonyms. The problem is that people seldom take the trouble to grasp the hidden meaning of words.

Websites dedicated to yoga often contain quotations from the Gospel and portray Christ as a yogi. This “message” is addressed to the nominal, unchurched “Orthodox” who make up the vast majority in Russia.

According to the statistics, between seventy and eighty percent of Russian residents call themselves Orthodox; those who take Communion at least once a year make up less than thirty per cent; and the true children of the Church, who know the Creed by heart, are fully integrated into Church life, and regularly take Communion make up less than five per cent.

Of course, yogis make use of some similar element in Christian teaching and the teaching of yoga to attract these “liberal faithful” who consider themselves Christians and may sincerely want to be followers of Christ, wear crosses on their necks, but know virtually nothing about Christ and His Church.

The question of the key difference between Orthodoxy and yoga really concerned me after my visit to the Monastery of St. Paphnutius in Borovsk. I kept asking the spiritual fathers there: “May I practice yoga? Why is it a bad idea?” While they answered the first question with confidence, they skirted the second one. So I wanted to find out the truth for myself.

It eventually became the subject of my seminary thesis and even developed into the book, An Orthodox Perspective on Yoga, which was published by the Simvolik publishing house not long ago.

On the face of it, yoga’s ethical principles are very similar to the commandments of the Bible. Thus, the principle of Ahimsa (“not to injure”, “nonviolence”) seems to be equivalent to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” Brahmacharya (“continence”) is consonant with the commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Asteya (“non-stealing”) is in harmony with the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

But this is what the Holy Hierarch Gregory Palamas said about similarities like these: “A lie that is not far from the truth gives rise to a double delusion. Since a tiny difference escapes the majority’s notice, they either take the lie for the truth or, on account of its closeness to the lie, take the truth for the lie, in both cases completely falling away from the truth.”

These words are true about Christianity and yoga: The difference becomes manifest when you make it as simple and clear as you can.

Yoga has no principle of humility at all, though this fact is often overlooked. Yogis will argue with this statement, but the collections of Yoga Sutras, the main sources of yoga, don’t say a single word about humility, whereas in Christianity the commandment of humility is the greatest one. Blessed are the poor in spirit (Mt. 5:3) – the Savior’s Sermon on the Mount begins with these words. No virtue has any value without humility.

From personal communication with adherents of yoga whom I held in respect I was convinced that the absence of pride is fine for yogis, but they won’t need it until they reach the “spiritual heights.”

While they are on their way “to the top”, they need to be motivated by pride (among other things) to speed up their progress. Thus ego becomes an “engine of progress.” Although humility is essential, they will first “achieve holiness” and then get rid of their pride. But will they succeed?

That is why Christians start with humility, relying on the will of God and not their own will.

However, someone can argue and say that while pride moves you to pursue new goals over and over again, traditional yogis aim to reach nothingness—a goal that seemingly has nothing to do with pride.

It should be stressed that classical yoga no longer exists—one won’t find it, not only in Europe, but also in India, the motherland of this teaching. I concede that there may be two or three gurus in the Himalayas preaching “true yoga”, though that is very unlikely.

As a matter of fact, yoga is a motley collection of various schools and tendencies. Some of them do understand that gaining supernatural powers feeds your pride and hinders your spiritual growth. Then the question arises: when do the Yoga Sutras devote so much attention (a special section) to these supernatural abilities?

Back in the 1960s, the documentary, “Indian Yogis, Who Are They?” was released in the USSR. Its authors presented yoga as a philosophy, a moral teaching, and health and fitness gymnastics. This film contributed to the popularization of yoga in the Soviet society, as did some publications in Soviet popular science magazines, The Razor’s Edge science fiction novel by the Soviet writer Ivan Yefremov (1907-1972), along with a number of other arts and cultural events in the Soviet Union.

And what is interesting is that the modern sequel of that film, “Indian Yogis, Who Are They? Forty Years Later”, tells the viewers plainly that yoga “is a tool for awakening of your energy potential and obtaining super-normal powers.” Formerly this side of yoga was not emphasized, but it is obvious that today this way of advertising yoga works.

Man wants to become like God. It is a matter of the path he chooses. If Adam had obeyed the commandment of God, he would have remained immortal and with time could have become like God, cultivating and caring for the Garden of Eden with which God had entrusted him and growing in love. But Adam preferred the easy path, namely “to become like gods”, by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was “magic”, something that was not blessed by God and “outside” God.

Many people see yoga precisely as entering the spiritual world “from the backdoor.” They think: “In Christianity I am obliged to obey the moral commandments, keep the fasts, go to church and so on. But why? I would rather go to a yoga center, perform asanas and pranayamas, and will get what I need!”

Nevertheless, I do hope that one way or another the Lord will bring the yogis who sincerely seek Him to His Church, the only ark of salvation. I believe that even committed adherents of yoga have simply strayed from the right path while searching for the true God. I have a feeling that many of them may become devout members of the Holy Church. After all, they are seekers of God and are not lukewarm (cf. Rev. 3:15-16).

The main area of divergence between Christianity and yoga is dogmas. What is a dogma for the majority? It is something the Church calls on them to believe in, while giving no proof of it. But yogis have their own dogmas, something they unconditionally believe in, too. And their basic tenets are very different from Christian ones.

Though it is hard to perceive it, Christians confess the faith in the God Who is one in essence and three in personhood: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—the Consubstantial and Undivided Trinity. He is the Triune, One, Personal God. It is extremely difficult for Christians to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, to say nothing of yogis and Hindus, for many of whom the Supreme Being cannot be personal. Hindus recognize the existence of rational spiritual beings and even refer to some of them as to “gods”, yet they see the absolute, Brahman, as impersonal.

The concept of reincarnation that is prevalent among yogis contradicts all the Christological dogmas and is in opposition to the Christian doctrine that life is given to us only once, and it will be followed by death, resurrection, and judgment (cf. Heb. 9:27).

The Holy Church has never raised this very important idea to a dogma because there has never been a slightest doubt about this in the minds of Christians. The first argument that proponents of reincarnation usually put forward is that the belief in metempsychosis is widely spread and its origins allegedly date back to ancient times. They contend that “Christianity appeared only 2,000 years ago, whereas people had believed in transmigration of the soul for thousands of years before Christ was born.”

However, insofar as we can judge from surviving monuments, neither (traditional) ancient Greeks nor ancient Romans believed in reincarnation. We can trace back their beliefs concerning afterlife from their mythology, the earliest monuments of which go back to the time of Homer and Hesiod [c. 750 B.C.].

According to them, after death people descend to the underground kingdom—a dark place known as Hades, Erebus, and Tartarus in different traditions—where they drag out a “shadowy”, joyless, miserable existence. In fact the idea of metempsychosis didn’t appear until the time of Pythagoras and Plato (that is, the sixth to fourth centuries B.C.) and it was adopted only by some representatives of a number of schools of philosophy.

Ancient Egyptians mummified the corpses of dead people, hoping that in the future their souls would be reunited to their bodies.

Ancient Hebrews believed in the resurrection of physical bodies as well, as evidenced by the famous prophecies of Ezekiel about the valley of dry bones, which will be joined together and come to life again (see Ezek. 37:1-14); the prophecy of Isaiah about the rising of dead bodies (Is. 26:19); and the prophecy in the Book of Job about the restoration of bodies from dust (Job 19:25-27).

Thus, neither ancient Egyptian books nor the books of the Old Testament mention transmigration of the soul.

We can judge the Christian attitude towards incarnation by the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus: And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (Lk. 16:22-23).

The narrator, our Lord Jesus Christ, made it clear that after death human souls don’t transmigrate from one body to another; rather, as St. Nicholas (Velimirovich) of Serbia said, “They proceed to the abodes that they have deserved by their deeds on earth.”

Interestingly, the notion of metempsychosis didn’t exist among the ancestors of Aryan people either. At least the Rig-Veda [the oldest and principal of the Vedas, composed in the second millennium B.C. and containing a collection of hymns in early Sanskrit] has no mention of rebirth.

Let us once again return to the question of the purpose of life. The ultimate goal of Hinduism is to stop suffering, while Christians aspire to everlasting and happy life with God. The idea of theosis (union with God) which is central in Orthodox Christianity is based on awareness that both God and man are persons. Given this, our union with the Creator by no means implies that we are becoming a part of His body or a cell in His organism. Rather, we can potentially contemplate God and be in communion with Him.

But someone will surely exclaim: “I don’t care about philosophy, religious systems and other intricacies! I am interested in yoga solely as a set of physical exercises and a fitness training system which give a practical result! Can I practice yoga as mere exercises?”

The point is that yoga is not limited to only physical exercises. The fact is that when you come to a yoga center, you not only begin to train your body and practice yoga poses, but you also should be prepared for “expanding your consciousness” through special exercises, breathing exercises and meditation. Yoga practice presupposes mandatory meditation.

Can we practice yoga without all this “spirituality”? Yes, we can, but it won’t be yoga in this case. There are numerous similar types of exercises directed towards increased flexibility, muscular strength, and organism’s resistance to pathogens—in a word, towards health improvement. What about Pilates, stretching, and so on? If you are interested exclusively in physical training, you’d better opt for one of these instead of falling for yoga with its “spirituality”, which smells like sulfur…

The Russian original of this article was translated Dmitry Lapa, courtesy of Orthodox Christianity.

The photo shows the goddess Chhinnamasta, with his severed head. She is the essence of the yogic force, kundalini. The painting, in the Pahari style, dates to ca. 1750.

Walter Benjamin On Violence

“Critique of Violence” (Zur Kritik der Gewalt) is notorious for its obscurity, which, at least partly, is due to the impossibility of translating several of the key terms used by Benjamin into English.

The immediate encapsulation of the task of a critique of violence conveyed in the German title and the first couple of sentences is entirely lost in the English translation. An etymological clarification is therefore important if we aspire to understand what a critique of violence consists of.

Critique (Kritik) should not primarily be understood as a negative evaluation or condemnation, but in the Kantian tradition of judgement, evaluation, and examination on the basis of means provided by the critique itself.

A more significant problem is however the translation of Gewalt—which in German carries the multiple meanings of (public) force, (legitimate) power, domination, authority and violencewith the English “violence” which carries few of these senses (particularly, institutional relations of power, force and domination or even non-physical or ‘symbolic’ violence).

That the task of a critique of violence is to be understood as expounding the relationship of violence (Gewalt) to law (Recht) and justice (Gerechtigkeit), is thus much less artificial and obscure.

Two further etymological clarifications are however necessary to fully understand the task of Zur Kritik der Gewalt. Recht, as the Latin Ius, carries the meaning of both rights and law (as in the general system of laws), which is juxtaposed to specific laws, Gesetz corresponding to the Latin Lex. Sittliche verhältnisse, translated to “moral relations,” presents a more significant problem in terms of translation.

In English it is not immediately clear why the sphere of law and justice can be understood as the sphere of moral relations. Morality carries the Kantian tradition of an abstract universal law (Moralität) in English, than the Hegelian tradition (Sittlichkeit). In Philosophie des Rechts, Sittlichkeit is the term used for the political framework of ethical life, that is, the family, civil society and the state.

Violence is thus to be critiqued on basis of its relations to law and rights within the framework of ethical life in the state (sittliche Verhältnisse). For a cause” Benjamin writes “becomes violent, in the precise sense of the word, when it enters into moral relations.”

Benjamin is thus not interested in force or violence of nature (Naturgewalt); but the violence present within the framework of the society, and ultimately, the state.

The critique of violence can only be undertaken through the philosophy of the history of violence (or we might add, in a “deconstruction” of the philosophy of the history of violence), Benjamin argues. In his “deconstruction” of the relationship between violence, law and justice, Benjamin erects several pairs of opposition.

However, as Derrida pointed out, many of these deconstruct themselves. The first such pair of oppositions is natural law (Naturrechts) and positive law (positive Rechts), which even though they in general are understood as antithetical (natural law is concerned with the justice of ends, positive law is concerned with the justification of means) share a fundamental dogma, namely that a relationship of justification exists between means and ends.

For this reason, the two theories agree that violence as a means can be justified if it is in accordance with the law. Benjamin raises the following objections against this dogma: if the relation of justification between means and ends is presupposed, it is not possible to raise a critique of violence eo ipso but only applications of violence.

Hereby, the question of whetherviolence in principle can be a moral means even to a just end is made impossible to address. By insisting on critiquing violence in itself, Benjamin challenges the fundamental dogma of jurisprudence, namely, that justice can be attained if means and ends are balanced, that is, if justified means are used for just ends.

The question, thus, is how violence and law relate to one another? Benjamin argues that the intimate relationship of violence and law is twofold. Firstly, violence is the means by which law is instituted and preserved. Secondly, domination (violence under the name of power (Macht)) is the end of the law: “Law-making is power-making, assumption of power, and to that extent an immediate manifestation of violence.”

Benjamin distinguishes between lawmaking violence (rechtsetzend Gewalt) and law-preserving violence (rechtserhaltende Gewalt) on basis of whether the end towards which violence is used as a means is historically acknowledged, i.e., “sanctioned” or “unsanctioned” violence (named respectively “legal ends” and “natural ends”).

If violence as a means is directed towards natural ends—as in the case of interstate war where one or more states use violence to ignore historically acknowledged laws such as borders—the violence will be lawmaking. This violence strives towards a “peace ceremony” that will constitute a new historically acknowledged law; new historically acknowledged borders.

The establishment of borders after a war is a clear example of the institutionalisation of a relation of domination inherent in all lawmaking violence. In guise of equality before the law, the peace ceremony is a manifestation of violence in the name of power; “in a demonically ambiguous way,” Benjamin writes, the rights are “‘equal’ rights: for both parties to the treaty, it is the same line that may not be crossed.”

This demonically ambiguous equality of the law, Benjamin writes, is analogous to that which Anatole France satirically expressed when he said: “Rich and poor are equally forbidden to spend the night under the bridges.”

In contrast hereto, if violence as a means directed towards legal ends—exemplified by compulsory general conscription where the state forces the citizens to risk their lives to protect the state—the violence will be law-preserving.

The distinction between lawmaking violence and law-preserving violence is however deconstructed in the body of the police and in capital punishment, whereby the “rotten” core of the law is revealed, namely, that law is a manifestation of violent domination for its own sake.  In both capital punishment and police violence the distinction between lawmaking and law-preserving violence is suspended.

Capital punishment is not merely a punishment for a crime but the establishment of a new law; police violence, though law-preserving can for “security reasons” intervene where no legal situation exists whereby the police institute new laws through decrees. In capital punishment and police violence alike, the state reaffirms itself: law is an immediate manifestation of violence or force and the end of the law is the law itself.

This violence of the law—the oscillation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence visible in police violence—is explained by Benjamin with reference to the Greek myth of Niobe.

Niobe’s boastful arrogance towards Leto—she having fourteen children and Leto only two—challenges “fate,” (Schicksal). The never defined concept of “fate” seems to refer to a relation of power (Macht). What Niobe challenges is not the law, but the authority or the legitimate power of Leto. When Apollo and Artemis kill her sons and daughters, it is thus not a punishment but the establishment of a law (“neue Recht zu statuiren”).

Niobe is turned into a crying stone (a statue) which is a physical manifestation of the law (the statute) as the power of the gods instituting “a boundary stone on the frontier between men and gods.” For this reason, Benjamin writes, power (Macht) is “the principle of all mythic lawmaking.”

Having now expounded the relation between law and violence, the question of the relationship between law and justice can be raised. Benjamin is not only speaking in metaphors when he writes: “Justice is the principle of all divine end-making, power the principle of all mythic lawmaking.”

Justice is an end which in principle cannot be reached within the realm of law: justice belongs to the realm of religion and it is not something we can obtain deliberately through law or reason: “For it is never reason that decides on the justification of means and the justness of ends: fate-imposed violence decides on the former, and God on the latter.”

Benjamin is however fundamentally interested in justice; Zur Kritik der Gewalt is the closest we get to a Benjaminian “theory of justice”. The impossibility of justice within the immediate manifestation of violence/force in the mythic “power-making” of law makes the destruction of law in principle “obligatory.”

The political general strike that merely aims at a coup d’état is therefore insufficient; the “force of law” can only be overcome if law in principle, and hereby state power as such, is destroyed. What is called for is therefore a proletarian general strike that aims at the destruction of all state power.

A paradoxical perspective in Benjamin’s text is that even though justice is transcendent (it is God who decides upon the justness of ends) it does not mean that human actions cannot be an expression of divine justice. The problem, as Derrida saw, is that we can never know whether actions have been a manifestation of divine violence.

Justice is possible (but not knowable)through an act of divine violence, which in all respects stands in complete opposition to the mythic violence of law: “If mythic violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying; if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythic violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.”

Divine violence is exemplified by God’s judgement on the company of Korah, who without warning or threat and without bloodshed is annihilated by God: the earth opens beneath them, swallows them, and closes again without leaving any mark.

In contrast to mythic violence, divine violence does not aspire to institute as law a relation of domination: divine violence accepts sacrifice. This is not sacrifice for its own sake like the murder of Niobe’s children, but “for the sake of the living” (the company of Korah is annihilated not for the sake of God but for the sake of those who are spared). “In annihilating” Benjamin writes, divine violence “also expiates” (entsühnend); it is however not the “guilt” (Schuld) that is atoned for by the divine violence; divine violence purifies the guilty, not of their guilt but of the law.

How can we understand the purification of the guilty of the law by divine violence? What is “pure” (rein) about divine violence (die göttliche reine Gewalt)? The German rein as the English pure carries the double meaning of something clean, and something absolute and unalloyed.

Firstly, divine violence is pure (meaning clean) because it has not been bastardized with law; it is pure as before the fall of man; it is pure from the guilt of the law (the guilt Niobe feels for the death of her children). Secondly, divine violence is “pure” (meaning absolute or unalloyed) because of the way it relates as a means towards an end.

Where mythic legal violence does not differentiate between mediate violence (violence as a means towards and end) and immediate violence (a manifestation of anger, or a relation of domination), divine violence is “pure” and immediate because it puts forward independent criteria for means and ends.

Where mythic violence conflates means and ends, divine violence separates means and ends. As Benjamin argues, just ends can only be decided by God, and no law can be given for justified means; what we have is only a guideline (Richtschnur).

The sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” is an example of such a guideline. Benjamin’s use of the word Richtschnur is very telling in this context: “Thou shalt not kill” is exactly not a law (Recht) but a guideline (Richt-schnur). A Richtschnur (which in German also is known as a Maurerschnur) is a mason’s line: a string (schnur) which is used to measure or correct (richten) out a plane for a building by the masons or bricklayers.

A Richtschnur is an approximation used practically to build a house. To build a good house the masons, in general, would have to follow this Richschnur but sometimes, because of a broken ground, a good house could only be built if the Richtschnur is ignored.

By substituting law (Recht) with the almost homophone Richt, Benjamin establishes the fundamental difference between mythic power (mytische Gewalt) and divine power (göttliche Gewalt). The commandment is not law but a guideline which in general would have to be followed for human beings to live a good life, as the masons in general have to follow it to build a good house. There might however be situations where it would have to be ignored.

Neither is the commandment law in the sense that a judgment of an act that ignores the guideline can be derived from the commandment: “No judgment of the deed can be derived from the commandment,” Benjamin argues “and so neither the divine judgement nor the grounds for this judgment can be known in advance.

Those who base a condemnation of all violent killing of one person by another are therefore mistaken.” This misunderstanding has to do with the general misunderstanding, argues Benjamin, that just ends can be the “ends of a possible law.” This misunderstanding is grounded in the belief that just ends are capable of “generalization,” that it, in other words, is possible a priori to discriminate between right and wrong.

This “contradicts the nature of justice,” Benjamin argues, “for ends that in one situation are just, universally acceptable, and valid are so in no other situation, no matter how similar the situations may be in other respects.” For this reason, no law can incapsulate justice.

The only thing we have is the “educative power” (erziehriches Gewalt) of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which can educate us how to live a good life in the same way the masons can learn from their Richtschnur. The commandment “exists not as a criterion of judgement, but as a guideline for the actions of persons or communities who have to wrestle with it in solitude and, in exceptional cases, to take on themselves the responsibility of ignoring it.”

What are these exceptional circumstances? For Benjamin, the decayed mythic violence of the law of the modern state seems to make up such exceptional circumstances: the destruction of all legal violence and the state becomes an “obligatory” task for the pure immediate violence; divine violence.

The proletarian general strike and the abolishment of state power which constitutes a break with the oscillation between lawmaking and law-preserving violence will lead to a foundation of a new historical epoch (neues geschichtliches Zeitalter).

Here, we see why Derrida summarizes Benjamin’s position as “messianico-marxist or archeo-eschatological” (Derrida, Force of Law). The Critique of Violence is Benjamin’s political demand for a revolution: “the existence of violence outside the law, as pure immediate violence,” Benjamin writes, “furnishes proof that revolutionary violence, the highest manifestation of unalloyed violence by man, is possible, and shows by what means.”

Benjamin is “messianico-marxist” in that he argues that divine violence signals the coming of the Messiah in form of the revolutionary general strike which will bring a new historical epoch.  

He is “archeo-escatological” in that he argues that the eschatology of the revolutionary general strike, manifested in the true war (wahrend Kriege) or the multitude’s Last Judgement on the criminal (Gottesgericht der Menge am Verbrecher).

The multitude’s judgment on the state, will “expiate” the crimes committed by the mythic violence of law and return us to the time before the decay (Verfall) of the law: “Once again all the eternal forms are open to pure divine violence, which myth bastardized with law.”

In Benjamin’s final condemnation of mythic violence, the Judaeo-Christian connotations become apparent: “Verwerflich aber is alle mythische Gewalt.Verwerflich meaning unrighteous, something that has to be condemned, comes from the verb Verwerfen, to dismiss or to abolish, which again comes from the verb werfen meaning to throw: the law is thus as the Fall of man: an unrighteous and condemnable (Verwerflich) deed that has dismissed (verwerfen) the guilty from Paradise.

Divine violence, however, has the power to purify the guilty of the law. In this way, Benjamin calls for a revolution, which also carries the original astronomical meaning of the completion of a cycle: the revolution which constitutes a new historical era will return human kind to the time before divine power was bastardized with law; in a word “archeo-eschatology.”

Signe Larsen main interest lies within political theory and philosophy of law.

The photo shows Walter Benjamin’s passport photo, ca., 1928.

Of War And Islam

History is about expansion and contraction – of ideas, of economics, of ambitions, and of the pursuit of power. A crucial element in this pulsation of human action is war.

Recalling von Clausewitz’s famous observation provides a meaningful framework for discussion: “We see, therefore, that War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means. All beyond this which is strictly peculiar to War relates merely to the peculiar nature of the means which it uses…War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

Earlier, von Clausewitz defines war as, “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will.”

Raymond Ibrahim actively engages with von Clausewitz in his latest book, Sword and Scimitar, by examining war as the fulfillment of the will of Islam. He looks at eight critical battles which marked how two worlds (one Moslem, one Western and Christian) view each other, down to the present.

Indeed, the encounters between these worlds stretch back more than a millennium, which means that Islam is not something new that suddenly burst into Western consciousness on and after 9/11. Rather, Islamic terrorism is part-and-parcel of a very ancient struggle which has expanded or contracted, sometimes favoring the West and sometimes giving the upper hand to Islam.

War in this context is to be understood as jihad, through which Islam subdues all those that oppose the will of Allah and the example of Mohammad. Ibrahim therefore defines jihad as, “warfare to spread Islam,” and quoting Emile Tyan, he explains that jihad must continue “until the whole world is under the rule of Islam . . . Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad can be eliminated.”

Here, the famous ideological two-fold division of the world, into the “House of Islam” and the “House of Faithlessness,” takes on its proper meaning. Moslems inhabit a reality which can never accommodate the Other, for to accept infidelity (kufr) as a viable way to live out a human life is the denial of Allah, and thus cannot be permitted. This gives the lie, of course, to those that would promote multiculturalism.

This outright rejection of the Other (termed the dhimmi), as unacceptable because he is innately hostile to Allah, renders no other outcome than continual conflict, until the Other is no more – either he is Islamized or annihilated. Here, the concept of the jizya is often trundled out (which is protection-money that non-Moslems must pay in order to live as second-class inhabitants inside Islamic territory).

But such a levy does not mean acceptance or accommodation of the Other. It simply means that each non-Moslem life is a “possession” of Islam, which yields monetary recompense. The dhimmi must pay to live. Ibrahim quotes from a Moslem jurist: “their [infidels’] lives and their possessions are only protected by reason of payment of jizya.”

At its core, therefore, Islam is a political ideology, constructed to change society into the House of Islam, governed by the laws of Allah and the example of Mohammad (Shariah). Accordingly, more than any other faith system in the world, it is the expansion and contraction of war, which defines the character and purpose of Islam.

Violence is not an evil that must be neutralized by way of love (as is the Christian view), in order to win peace. Rather, bloodshed and fear are necessary, and on-going, tools to bring about the end-game of Islam, which is the subjugation of the world. In this way, the practice of Islam in the world is radically different to the practice of Christianity – love produces a certain type of civilization; fear and violence produces another.

A serious problem in the West right now is the lazy habit of assuming that all religions are exactly like Christianity and are therefore to be “handled” in the same way. This is yielding destructive results.

This further means that Islam has always sought war, in order to vanquish its enemies, since such destruction is a holy act, which will meet with much reward in heaven. Thus, a Moslem who engages in jihad is termed a ghazi, or one who raids the territory of the faithless (the kafirs), and slays the unbelieving – because they are Allah’s enemies.

Thus, each Moslem should strive to be a ghazi. Shedding the blood of non-Moslems is meritorious, and much pleasing to Allah. As one Islamic chronicler states: “The Ghazi is the sword of Allah; he is the protector and refuge of the believers. If he becomes a martyr in the way of Allah, do not believe that he has died—he lives in beatitude with Allah, he has eternal life.”

This means that without war Islam loses not only steam but its very purpose, for the world outside Islam is to be changed through violence and the fear that the threat of violence produces. In the East, Islam was, and is, in contention with paganism.

In the West, it fights Christianity (even though the West is now more pagan than Christian). As Ibrahim observes, “Muslim armies went to war against the West more often as religious rather than as national or ethnic forces, and their warring against the Westerners was so seen as mostly a monolithic struggle against Christendom rather than particular European states.”

Thus, Islam exists to wage war in the world. The winning of territory is simply the consequence of this purpose. In the words of Mohammad, “I have been made victorious with terror.”

This means that a negative view of Islam (both in the East and in the West) is a historically grounded response to the violence inherent in Islam. It is not simply “racism” or Islamophobia (both these terms become useless in the context of jihad, by virtue of which each terrorist is a ghazi).

How opposing the violence of jihad can possibly be racism or Islamophobia is never properly explained by those who deploy such terms, especially when the similar opposition brings out the same negative response to Islam among non-Moslems in the East.

Ibrahim raises such crucial issues, which makes his book that much nuanced, for it is more than a richly textured presentation of military history. Although each battle is comprehensively analyzed and detailed, with much insight into the “construction” of terror by Islamic warriors, Ibrahim also uses the subject of war to lay out a social critique (of both Islam and the West), because war also builds an outlook, a point of view, a mindset.

It is a given that Islam as a religion enjoys sociopolitical protection by the Western elite. In this regard, Ibrahim raises a very fundamental point – Islam has never changed; it is still engaged in subduing the world for Allah, by following the example of Mohammad. The West, however, has changed, and in the process has entirely abandoned its own history. This has put the West in a position of weakness, in that it has gotten into the habit of appeasing the violence of Islam.

The Islamic mindset is the same as it was over a millennium ago. The best defense that the West can now muster is multiculturalism, borderless post-nations, relentless hedonism, and appeasement. This puts the West in a perpetual posture of weakness, for it can no longer thwart Islam’s will.

In this regard, Ibrahim ends his book with a dire warning: “…if Islam is terrorizing the West today, that is not because it can, but because the West allows it to.”

A little earlier, the words of Alan G. Jamieson are highlighted: “At a time when the military superiority of the West—meaning chiefly the USA—over the Muslim world has never been greater. Western countries feel insecure in the face of the activities of Islamic terrorists…In all the long centuries of Christian-Muslim conflict, never has the military imbalance between the two sides been greater, yet the dominant West can apparently derive no comfort from that fact.”

This paradox is easily understood, of course. Islam has not lost its will and still wants to impose it on the world. The West, on the other hand, no longer has a will of its own and therefore no longer understands what it is supposed to do in the world. The only thing it can offer is endless self-indulgence and the pursuit of pleasure. All the while, Islam pursues power. Who will win? Perhaps, Islam is the West’s wakeup call. But the problem now is – what shall the West wake up to?

Raymond Ibrahim’s book should be required reading for all those interested in understanding the future of Islam in the world. It would appear that the West no longer wants a future.

The photo shows, “Bedouins Taking Aim,” by Adolf Schreyer, date unknown.

Fixing Jesus

In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, a ghostly theologian has found himself at the very edge of heaven, having taken a bus from hell. He is invited to remain, though doing so will require that he leave behind the imaginary world of the unreal (hell), and take on the difficult task of being truly what he was created to be.

The conversation has an interesting moment when he describes his latest project: thinking about what Jesus might have accomplished had he not died so tragically young. The proposition is comic, on its surface, a misunderstanding of Christ’s work so profound as to be silly – except that it’s not. “Fixing Jesus” is a very apt metaphor for the task that secularized Christianity has set for itself. And, that I might be clear, every Christian in the modern world is tempted, at some level, to secularize his faith. We all want to fix Jesus.

As much as Jesus is admired in our culture, even quoted on occasion, He remains a bothersome and uncooperative figure. He healed the sick, but seems to have left no lasting plan or program for their long-term care. I’ve even heard the question, “Why didn’t He heal everyone?” Indeed, there is a puzzlement that He still allows us to suffer disease, and is given credit for the deep injustice of sickness itself. Why do children get cancer and Nazis live to old age in the backwoods of Brazil?

Jesus clearly spoke of justice and care for the poor. But He established no guidelines for a just economy, nor did He challenge the economic systems of His time. Sometimes He seems to have avoided the topic on purpose.

Among the most useless pronouncements in our modern culture are the statements, “Jesus never said anything about…[fill in the blank].” This is always said by people for whom what Jesus actually said already carries no weight. “Jesus never said…” means that you may not say it either, except as an example of bigoted traditionalism.

The deep drive of modern secularism has been to tame Jesus, to make Him serve the purpose of the modern project in the construction of liberal democracy. That project requires that all creeds be held in private for the greater public good. Indeed, the modern project would suggest that all religions essentially say the same thing – that liberal democracy and its prosperous peace is the goal of human progress. Inasmuch as Jesus might have done something to contribute to that project, He is useful and good.

This is much more than a culture critique, for that which we can see in the culture has also been written deep within our hearts. It is a worldview we imbibe simply by being born in this time and in this place. That worldview generally sees the world as existing for its own sake (and our lives as existing for their own sake as well). Even when those things are married to some notion of a “greater good,” that good is generally about the world for its own sake. Those things that disrupt the public good are seen as troublesome (at the very least) and needing modification.

Of course, the public good is measured only by this world for its own sake, for its wealth and our general health. Happiness (that fleeting and ever-changing thing) is the common goal of us all.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Jesus is focused on some world beyond this one. He is decidedly here-and-now (Matt. 6:34). Indeed, secularism would not exist without Christianity having preceded it. For it is in the teaching of Christ that attention is drawn directly to that which is at hand rather than to life elsewhere. In Christ’s teaching, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). What we see today as secularism is a heresy, a false reading and distortion of the Christian tradition. It is the world, in and of itself, as a substitute for the Kingdom of God. A world without depth or meaning apart from its own self.

Christ does not abolish the world (the one that we call “secular”). Instead, He reveals it to be what it is. This material world in which we dwell, to which we are inseparably united, is shown to be the gate of heaven, the bread of life, the medicine of immortality, and so on. For all of these things are not made known to us apart from, nor in spite of their material aspects. Fr. Alexander Schmemann said quite rightly that the sacraments do not seek to replace the material: it shows material to be what it is. In St. Basil’s epiclesis we pray, “And show this bread to be the precious Body of our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ…” In the hands of Christ, all bread becomes what it is meant to be, that which alone can truly feed us.

The world does not exist in and of itself, nor is its value and meaning in and of itself. But neither does its true existence, value, and meaning exist somewhere else of which it is a non-participant or an empty shadow. The material world is the locus of the marriage of heaven and earth. In that sense, Christ draws attention to the created order in a manner without precedent. It is the de-coupling of that attention from Christ Himself and the deeper reality that underlies the created order that has given us our present delusion. It is as though all our attention were on human bodies – without souls. As such, we are the dead among the dead.

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty-million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.

The world’s efforts to “fix” Jesus are invariably directed towards either removing Him from this world, or placing Him in the world as a manageable object. Just as the world turned St. Nicholas into Santa Claus (he’s so cuddly!), so Christ becomes a religious mascot of whatever worldly value we want to promote. Solzhenitsyn, in his famous Templeton Lecture, described this process of secularization in profound terms:

Secularism is the forgetting of God, or remembering Him in a manner that is truly less than God. This is the cause of all injustice. Indeed, it is the great injustice: that human beings forget their Creator and the purpose of their existence. When we forget God, everything is madness.

Jesus, have mercy on us and fix us.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows Protestant iconoclasm. The caption reads, “Klaus Hottinger pulls down the wayside cross near the mill at Stadelhofen, in 1523.”

The Darkness Of Modernity

My newsfeed must be set for “shock.” Never does a day go by that there is not something outlandishly alarming featured as a story, somewhere, illustrating the insane march of modern culture. Much of me would like to think that the problem is in the newsfeed and not in the culture itself. However, on a basis that is frequent enough to be alarming in itself, I find something in my daily experience that confirms the insanity in my newsfeed. I can only conclude that the world is getting stranger by the day.

I recently saw a story that proclaimed God to be “queer,” as if that were news. The extremes of gender studies have been buzzing around religion departments long before the concepts were even hinted at in mainstream America. Of course, the most amusing part of such notions is that the very departments that now anoint God as the ultimate version of their ideology, are the same departments that would have been embarrassed to admit that there even was a God just a few decades before. Mainstream denominational Protestantism, in danger of losing all belief, has recently found something to believe in, and does so with all the fervor of a new convert.

The Unitarian Church down the street from my parish has a lighted message board for the passing traffic. Mounted atop an obligatory rainbow, it oozes slogans daily that invite people to come and experience the new God they have found.

The conversion of God to the new cultural beliefs is not terribly surprising. Modernity is an inherently religious project. It is highly “secular” only in a very refined meaning of the term. But, more than that, it believes in secularism. This is only one of many inner contradictions within the modern project. It is thoroughly committed to the creation of a better world, while holding to philosophies that would deny the ability to actually define “better.” It is this emptiness that I suspect has given rise to the new piety.

At the heart of modernity is the belief that we can dominate nature and shape the outcomes of history to our liking. It is the placing of the human “will” at the center of all things. It is important to understand that this fundamental orientation towards creation can play both sides of the street. In America, both liberal and conservative religion are captives to modernity as they are locked in a mutual struggle of their opposing wills.

“Democracy” is one of the sacraments of modernity. It is treated as a primary means of grace in history. Political action organizes the human “will” for projects of “goodness.” What constitutes the “good” varies with each ideology. Both sides fail to see that they are arguing in a mirror where all images are reversed. Both believe in power.

It is important to understand that if every goodness intended by God were to be lawfully imposed on the world by some form of authority, the world would not be a better place. It would only be as lawful as it is now. Christ did not die to create a more lawful world (one already existed). He came to raise the world from the dead. A more lawful corpse is still a corpse.

Modernity is itself the death throes of a civilization committed to rebellion and domination. It moves from one madness to another. It cures diseases and raises the dead only to watch the rise of greater diseases and new forms of death in a whack-a-mole game of tragic futility.

The Kingdom of God only exists in Christ, with Christ and through Christ. And, lest this be seen as yet another religious imposition from above, this same Christ is none other than the Logos within all creation, who reveals the truth of each thing and everything.

Life in union with Christ is also life in union with our true selves (and one another). It is life in union with every particle of the created universe. It is the life that gathers all things together in one, in Christ Jesus, into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

The French philosopher Voltaire said, “With great power comes great responsibility” (a phrase made famous these days in a Spiderman movie). We observe this in many obvious ways. We do not put a three-year old in charge of the family cooking – the heat of the stove is too much power at that age. We do not license ten-year-old’s to drive cars for the same reason.

The technology of the modern world represents the most wide-spread harnessing of power in human history. It is tragically met by a culture whose spiritual and moral maturity are at a low ebb.

Human wars were initially fought with primitive weapons of brute force. Their brutality was face-to-face and, as such, presented a spiritual and emotional challenge to every warrior and his society. “War is hell” (Sherman’s dictum) is an apt description, drawn from experience. Modern war often deals in abstractions. Rockets, bombs and drones allow massive killing at a distance. The Global War on Terror has seen a casualty ratio of nearly 100:1. Modernity is an efficient war machine. Those deaths happen at such a remove that the general population has no awareness of them at all.

Abortion is discussed as a moral abstraction. According to the World Health Organization, 40-50 million abortions take place every year in the world.  Two-percent of that number are in the United States. Such numbers are beyond comprehension.

Moral maturity requires a constant feedback from the consequences of our actions. Modernity creates moral infantilism. Indeed, most Americans have never witnessed a death, and increasingly avoid its reality, even in funerals (now becoming “celebrations of life”). As such, we are morally incompetent to formulate opinions in matters of consequence (we are deeply shielded from too many consequences).

In the course of writing this post, a series of articles began appearing in the New York Times extolling abortion and vilifying its opponents. I was doing my best to ignore it as a noisy distraction. However, today, an article appeared, written by a woman abortionist relating her experiences during her recent pregnancy and birth of her child. She did not shy away from the contradictions and cognitive dissonance that would inevitably arise in those circumstances. However, she offered a summary that was chilling in the extreme:

As a doctor, I can draw a distinction, a boundary, between a fetus and a baby. When I became a mother, I learned that there are no boundaries, really. The moment you become a mother, the moment another heartbeat flickers inside of you, all boundaries fall away. Nevertheless, as mothers, we must all make choices. And we must live with the choices that aren’t ours to make. We can try to compartmentalize. We can try to keep things tidy and acceptable. But in reality, everything is messy: the work of doctors, the work of mothers, and the love of each one of us for our children. And yet somebody has to do the work.

There are no arguments that could possibly counter such a statement. This is the confession of a modern heart. Even when all of nature is shouting the truth, “somebody has to do the work.” Be still, my heart, I have work to do.

The article served as a reminder of the character of our world. The battle is in the human heart. There are no external solutions to the madness of modernity. Such madness has always been around. Sometimes it has coalesced around moral causes of which we would likely approve. That might be a still greater danger.

The Fathers urge us to “guard the heart.” When we pray, it is right not to pray “at” those with whom we disagree. It is better to stand, somehow, within them (recognizing that their sin is yours as well), and from that place offer prayers to God. This is the work somebody has to do.

There is ultimately only ever one choice – to choose God. Understanding and seeing that as the choice before you is the grace of salvation. Lord, have mercy.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “Composition with Portrait, 1930-1935,” by Victor Brauner.

The West Is Morally Bankrupt

The moral bankruptcy of Western powers was exposed – inadvertently – with the recent publication of three separate news reports. Taken together the reports out last week illustrate the rank hypocrisy of Western governments.

Also, the way that the reports were prioritized or left disconnected demonstrates how the Western mainstream media serves as a dutiful propaganda service for state and corporate power.

First there was the Dutch-led inquiry into downing of the Malaysian MH17 airliner, which put the finger of blame on Russia for the disaster in 2014 when all 298 people onboard were killed.

That nearly five-year investigation has never provided any credible proof of Russian culpability, yet the Dutch-led investigators known as the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) continually level allegations that Russia supplied an anti-aircraft missile to Ukrainian rebels who purportedly blasted the Boeing 777 out of the sky.

Despite its evident failures of due process, nonetheless Western governments and media have lent the JIT allegations (slanders) undue credibility. The US, Britain and other NATO members last week called on Russia to comply with the JIT “investigation”, smearing Moscow as guilty of causing the MH17 deaths.

However, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad denounced the report as “ridiculous hearsay” aimed at “scapegoating Russia”. Tellingly, his comments were not widely reported in Western media.

For its part, Russia has vehemently rejected allegations of involvement in the MH17 disaster, as have pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels. Russia’s repeated offers of contributing information to the probe have been rebuffed by the Dutch-led JIT.

By contrast, Russia’s own investigation has uncovered credible radar and forensic evidence that an anti-aircraft missile fired at the passenger jet actually came from military forces under the Kiev regime’s command. Russia’s evidence has been steadfastly ignored by Western media reports.

The credible suspect party – Kiev political and intelligence authorities – have been allowed to participate in and frame the JIT probe to inculpate Russia. The US, European Union and NATO back the Neo-Nazi dominated regime in Kiev, financially and militarily, since it seized power in a violent coup d’état back in 2014. That should be the real focus of scandal in the MH17 story.

On the back of the MH17 imbroglio, as well as other slanders, Western governments have continued to impose economic sanctions on Russia. These sanctions have cost the Russian economy an estimated $50 billion. On top of that, Western states and their media portray Russia and President Putin as a rogue regime and pariah.

Now contrast the undue priority given to the above dubious JIT claims with two other reports also out last week. One was on the horrific death toll among civilians in Yemen inflicted by the Western-backed Saudi-led war on that country. It is estimated that over 90,000 people have been killed in violence over the past four years, with most of the civilian victims caused by indiscriminate Saudi air strikes.

It is an indisputable fact that the US, Britain, France, Germany and other NATO powers have been arming the Saudi regime with warplanes, helicopters, missiles and logistics to carry out this slaughter of Yemeni civilians. The Western states are complicit in war crimes.

President Trump continues to defy US lawmakers by ordering multi-billion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia, despite the carnage. The British government and wannabe prime minister Boris Johnson claims that its weapons exports are not involved in killing Yemeni civilians, in blatant denial of the facts.

A British court last week ruled that UK weapons exports were in breach of its own supposed ethical codes protecting civilian lives in conflicts. The British government is set to appeal the court ruling and will likely ignore it anyway given the systematic relationship of Britain arming Saudi Arabia – the UK’s biggest weapons export market – year after year.

Western media last week, as usual, gave only minimal reporting on the shocking human suffering in Yemen. The whole barbarity and Western governments’ culpability is largely hushed-up and omitted by the media.

The third report we refer to was on the conclusions of the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur investigating the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. His tortured body is believed to have been cut up and dumped by his killers. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard made a damning assessment that the Saudi state was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. And she called on Western states to impose sanctions on the Saudi monarchy.

Despite mounting evidence of Saudi regime guilt in the journalist’s murder and in the deaths of tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians, Western governments have not imposed any sanctions against Riyadh. Indeed, they continue to ply this regime with billions-of-dollars-worth of killing machines.

Admittedly, Western media did give some coverage to the UN report on the Khashoggi murder. But in proportion to the gravity of the crime, the response of media as well as of Western governments is woefully lacking.

Western media do not put the last two mentioned reports in the context of Western state relations with Saudi Arabia. The oversight is for a good reason. Because to delve into the issues would expose criminal complicity.

Meanwhile, the US and its NATO allies impose sanctions on Russia based on unsubstantiated allegations about MH17, Ukraine, Crimea, election meddling, the Skripal spy poisoning affair, among other fabrications.

Those sanctions – based on flimsy innuendo – are leading to ever-worsening relations with Russia and international tensions between nuclear powers. Western media do not expose the insanity, they foment it.

Such media are unwilling and incapable of pointing out this gross double standard. They propagate the double standard.

The moral bankruptcy of Western governments must be covered up by a servile media. Because the state, corporate power and media are all complicit. Truth, justice and democracy, which they pontificate about, have nothing to do with the functioning of Western capitalist power; they’re mere illusions to distract from systematic criminality. Last week was an object lesson for those willing to see it.

Courtesy The Strategic Culture Foundation.

The photo shows, “Grossstadt” (Big City) by Otto Dix, painted, 1922-1925.

Dismantling The Outrage Industry

In 1986 the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association organized a conference in Amsterdam which brought together over 9000 people who came to learn how to present the Gospel in Billy Graham style to those around them, most of them from Third World countries. By all accounts, it was a resounding success in accomplishing the goals it set for itself.

And outside a large hotel adjacent to where the conference was being held sat the fundamentalist preacher Carl McIntyre, by then just over eighty years old, who had set up a booth to denounce Billy Graham and the conference. He was both uninvited and unwelcome, but perhaps not unexpected: he had been denouncing Graham for years for his disreputable practice of working with mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and (horrors!) Russian Orthodox, and had a habit of picketing and railing against those with whom he disagreed. (He had similarly picketed another such Billy Graham conference years earlier in Berlin).

Those with whom McIntyre disagreed formed a long list, including Pentecostals and the National Association of Evangelicals, which he considered dangerously apostate because they did not separate themselves from all non-fundamentalists.

McIntyre was nothing if not interesting. He suggested that a full-scale version of the Jerusalem Temple be built in Florida, and that Noah’s Ark be rebuilt and floated as a tourist attraction—the latter, he said, “would forever down these liberals”. His presence at the Amsterdam conference was like a zit on a teen-aged face—unsightly, embarrassing, but ultimately not significant. And like zits, McIntyre would fade away, which he did in 2002 at the age of 95.

I mention this historical curiosity to offer the decades’ long angry indignation and self-righteous rage of Carl McIntyre as a kind of cautionary tale. McIntyre was (absurdly) irate at Billy Graham. Other people can be (less absurdly) irate at many things. In fact the world is stuffed to overflowing with things which can legitimately be considered wrong and causes for ire. (To be clear, I do not consider Billy Graham to be among them).

For example, one can work oneself into a triggered lather over the media’s promotion of homosexuality and the transgender movement. One can lament and lose sleep over the heretical papalism of the Phanar. One can create a full-time job for oneself bombarding the media with protest over their determined blindness to the widespread martyrdom of Christians throughout the world. One can spend all one’s time searching out, documenting, and denouncing instances of alleged White Supremacism.

One can, if one likes, take a page from McIntyre’s own playbook and rage against every Christian group that transgresses one’s own narrow definition of the true faith, forming one’s own immaculately pure church jurisdiction as an alternative. The list of things to get angry over goes on and on. But one may still ask: why bother? Why spend all your time raging against your favourite abomination so that moral indignation dominates your life? (I would ask this particularly of those on the ideological left, some of whom seem to make triggered anger a way of life, and exist in a constant state of fulmination, denouncing with name-calling everyone even slightly to the right of them).

This does not mean that one should refuse to denounce error or call a spade a spade. Christians are not called to be quietists who sit about contemplating their navels in happy hermetically-sealed solitude, refusing to interact with the world. But neither are Christians called to spend all their time raging against error as if denunciation was their main job, and as if the anger of man could indeed work the righteousness of God (notwithstanding James 1:20 to the contrary).

It is all a matter of balance. We must find a way to balance speaking the truth about error and maintaining our inner peace. If we speak what we consider to be the truth while anger fills and overflows our hearts so that we forfeit our inner peace, we have lost that balance.

The fact is that the world is a lunatic asylum—one in which the inmates are usually running the place. That is why the world is not only stuffed with errors, but with errors that are mutually exclusive. People are crazy on both the Left and the Right, and everywhere in between. All the errors are—well, erroneous, and many are quite grievous.

So\ the question is: where to start? With so many errors to choose from and with so much wrong with the world, which error should I pick as my target for denunciation? Which terrible sin should I devote all my righteous energies to combat? Globalism? White Supremacy? Phanariot papalism? Creeping ecumenism? Atheistic evolution? Maybe something having to do with the church calendar? Perhaps I should toss a coin or cast lots…

As with all questions of this kind, the apostolic Tradition and the practice of the apostles provide the answers we need. St. Paul, for example, was not shy about denouncing error when he encountered it as he did his work. But his work was not battling the errors that filled the world, but glorifying Christ and building up His Church.

Denunciation was something of a side-line—he would swat mosquitoes when they landed on him, prepared to bite, but he did not go about chasing the world’s mosquitoes. Or, to vary the metaphor, he would confront the demonic when he met it in his ministry (see Acts 16:16-18), but he did not charge about in every direction like Don Quixote tilting at windmills trying to exorcise every demon in the world. Such a task would be too great for any man—and would result in the loss of one’s peace, and possibly of one’s mind.

It is this peace that we must maintain at all costs, and we must let this peace act as arbiter in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). There is a time for everything, including for measured denunciation. But after we have spoken the truth with serenity of heart, we must return to our place, rooted in the peace of Christ. When faced with grievous error and staggering stupidity,

I am often reminded of a line in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall. In this film, Woody’s character was talking with Annie’s younger brother Duane (played by a young Christopher Walken), who was sharing with him in detail his surreal and pathological fantasy of suicide by car crash. After a moment of silent reflection Woody’s character responded, “Well, I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet earth.”

I sometimes feel like this when dealing with the insanities of the world. After speaking my piece, I have to go, and happily leave the insanity behind. Like Woody’s character in Annie Hall, I am due back on the planet earth. Or, to quote the more stately words of St. Paul, “What have I to do with judging outsiders?” (1 Corinthians 5:12) Like the apostle, I will speak the truth about error and sin.

But I will not let self-righteous rage eat me up, or devote my whole life to dealing with them or to anything other than glorifying the Lord and helping to build up His Church. I cannot spend all my energies going toe to toe with craziness. I am due back on a saner place—perhaps not the planet earth, but the Kingdom of God, for that Kingdom is the source of all the world’s sanity and the world’s peace.

Father Lawrence Farley serves as pastor of St. Herman’s Orthodox Church in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. He is also author of the Orthodox Bible Companion Series along with a number of other publications.

The photo shows, “The Wave,” by Carlos Schwabe, painted in 1907.

Christianity, Modernity and the Idol of Education

The essence of education today is the undermining of everything that stems from the past. The catch-phrase for such uprooting is “social justice,” which is a misnomer, since there can be no justice when the intent is the destruction of all that came before. True social justice does exist, of course, and is the consequence of Christian morality. The early followers of Jesus, in the Roman world, first invented social justice when they undertook good works for no tangible reward. For example, they would collect the abandoned bodies of the poor and give them a decent burial; or rescue babies left in the open to die of exposure; or pool funds to buy the freedom of slaves who were never coerced to become Christian. Real social justice is the quiet work of aligning society to the ways of God – thus negating both politics and power.

What we see today is the subversion of Christian virtue, so that good works are turned into a power dynamic, where groups claiming “historical marginality” are sanctioned. Since everyone still agrees that goodness matters – modernity has given it a political definition – empowerment. In effect, modernity is a process of subversion.

But what is modernity? Briefly, it consists of four types of narratives: that physical reality exists separate from God, so it matters little if God exists or not (i.e., secularism); that each person is autonomous (i.e., individualism); that we can create who we are according to any image of ourselves we desire (that is, self-deification, or auto-theism); and that the world will only keep getting better because of technology (i.e., progressivism and presentism). “Narrative” means an explanation which is repeated constantly to maintain coherence within a group.

(Here, it is important to point out that “postmodernism” is a fake term, adapted from architecture. Few understand this, though ignorance has never stopped anyone from fulminating. The term is fake because no one has yet proven, once and for all, that the world has actually moved beyond modernity – that the world no longer functions as modern. Thus, even though much ink, virtual and actual, is continually being spilt on the horrors of “postmodernism” – the horrified only end up wrestling with modernity – and losing in the process, because the “post” keeps moving).

The consequence of these narratives runs deep. Secularism assures everyone that life can be good and happy without God (which highlights the grand failure of the Church). Individualism entrenches self-indulgence. Auto-theism gives purpose to life as the ceaseless pursuit of pleasure (aka, self-fulfillment). Progressivism demands the construction of utopias because progress alone knows how to fabricate a better world, the first step to which is righting all the imagined wrongs inherited from the terrible past.

In all this, modernity seeks to overcome and replace Christianity (which it holds created all the defects of the past which now need correcting). Tis will lead to the creation of the New Man (down to gender). This New Man will be the great citizen of the coming utopia. But until that high stage of human evolution arrives, men and women must be remade, because they cannot function in the imagined utopia as they are, tainted by Christianity – and being nothing more than bio-mass, they must be perfected by modernity. Such is modernist “salvation.”

Thus, for some, “salvation” will come as transhumanism, where humanity merges with machines to live forever, while the brain is lulled by pleasure-inducing psychotropic drugs (as Yuval Noah Harari fantasizes). For others, redemption will be found in neo-paganism, or “archeofuturism,” where the old gods are again worshipped and life returns to a pretend-time before Christianity came along and ruined everything. And then there are those who work to “save” the planet, rather than humanity – by ridding the earth of its most pernicious foe, the destructive human being. Modernity’s inherent anti-natalism serves this fantasy well, via abortion, gender fluidity, homosexuality, contraception. Babies are the great evil. This is the return of human-sacrifice that is inevitable whenever Christianity weakens.

All three of these utopias (really dystopias) are promoted and justified by the education system. Nevertheless, they are failed endeavors (as all mad schemes tend to be) – for consciousness cannot be reset to some default mode. Once the mind knows something, how can it then unknow it? After two-thousand years of Christianity, how can the Christianized mind and its accomplishments be undone? Thus, how do you worship Odin and Thor, with an iPhone in your hand? Or, how do you become a machine when you still have to lull the brain with drugs? And, how do you work to get rid of humans, while also decrying wars, weapons, climate change, gun-violence and murder? In all this barren wasteland of modernity, the soul cries out in its exile for something greater than the immediate. That cry dismantles modernity, and justifies Christianity.

This habit of fantasizing about dystopias is, in fact, the legacy of the true father of modernity (whom few mention, for obvious reasons), namely, the Marquis de Sade. He described meticulously, and unflinchingly, what a world without God is all about – relentless hedonism enabled by the cruel exertion of power, in which the weak are used and then destroyed. Pleasure is the only purpose of life. The world that comes after morality is Hell itself.

Those beguiled by the allure of an atheistic world that will yet be decent, just, kind and good, without the bother of superstition about a Man in the Sky, should lower themselves into the world of de Sade and honestly admit whether they would like to live in it. You cannot have all the benefits of a Christian civilization and then imagine that all of it can be sustained by the Godless. That is simply dishonest. Thus, every atheist should be asked what s/he thinks of de Sade. Any form of revulsion only means that that person’s atheism is simply a lie. The choice before the world is simple, therefore – the Marquis de Sade or Christ. If you say neither – then modernity will give you de Sade by default, because modernity does not have Christ. Recall, this choice was once made earlier, when Barabbas was on offer.

Because modernity is the logic of education today, it offers neither instrumentalism nor idealism. This makes it a false idol that people are taught to worship as the great benefactor of humanity. The fact is that degrees have little to do with jobs, and the ideas being taught in schools have little to with God, or transcendence, let alone civilization. There is only the tiresome rhetoric of fashioning utopias that shall come once all the old systems of oppression are finally destroyed.

Those that advocate STEM are near-sighted modernists, who cannot answer two fundamental questions. How many scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians can industry actually support, let alone need? And, how is cheap labor to be addressed, for there are competent STEM workers the world over? This means that more STEM only adds to the problem of modernity.

Then, there is the fact of how degrees are obtained – by way of massive debt. Few speak of the ethics of educational institutions selling their products (degrees) by way of the debt-industry. Thus, education becomes a corrupted function of capitalism, which destroys lives by turning young people over to debt-slavery. The massive human trafficking industry functions on exactly the same model, where persons trafficked must first pay off the debt owed to those who trafficked them. Likewise, graduates must first pay off those that “educated” them.

But what is to be done? First, the Church needs to ask herself – why can she no longer bring people to God? Why must people, who once were her flock, now chase after “spirituality,” and even neo-paganism, to look for God – or give up and embrace atheism or agnosticism? Once this question is properly understood and then fully answered, the Church can finally counter modernity. Until then, the Church will continue to be another function of modernity, just another narrative.

As for education, it must once again be aligned with the Christian understanding of life. To do so, schools must be made smaller and community-based, which would make them the responsibility of parents and the parish church (but only those churches that actually want to resist modernity). The lure of institutionalization must be avoided – because nothing is more soulless than vast bureaucracy.

The content of education must be made fully anti-modernist, which can best be done by using the medieval trivium and the quadrivium. The greatest need right now is to build base knowledge (now utterly lost) which will then lead to holy wisdom. This can only be done through the teaching of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. Afterwards must come the teaching of music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These seven subjects will not only stop the destruction wrought by modernity (by making meaningless its various narratives) – but they will also prepare the mind for truth (a quality now being lost, if not lost already). Truth alone can knock down the false idol of modernity and its attendant education system, because truth and Christ are one.

Afterwards, these schools must lead into smaller, focused learning centers, again parent-organized and parish-based, that are instrumental in nature (apprenticeships, including music), or idealist (which teach history, philosophy, classic literature, languages and theology). There is no longer need for universities and colleges and their meaningless degrees. As for the cost, teachers must be given housing, allowances for necessities and a small stipend. This cost would be borne by the parents and the parish-church.

Historically, education was never about jobs. It was about giving humanity the moral equipment to do good works and to struggle for Heaven. It was about the care, cultivation and salvation of the soul through the pursuit of truth. The by-product of such an education was civilization, and thriving industry. If we still want civilization, then we will have to abandon modernity – because the one cannot contain the other.

Such deinstitutionalized education will require a great deal of courage and faith – because it will mean choosing to live forever against the modern world. And it will require the Christianization of capitalism. Here that moving remonstrance of Jesus should be brought to mind – What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul? Can there be a better rebuke of modernity and a better summation of what real education is all about?

The photo shows, “Christ in the Garden of Olives,” by Paul Gauguin, painted in 1898.