(This posting may be of limited interest to non-Orthodox readers.)
I just discovered a new Orthodox blog that looks somewhat promising, Koinonia. The owner/host has completed a very manageable 3-part series, Barbarians at the Gate, where he takes to task not the barbarians (he just identifies them fairly trenchantly), but the indifference or capitulation of the Orthodox Church to those barbarians. Part of his solution is that we cease and desist from bashing Western Culture and get down to the work of transforming it.
Our alliance with barbarism has happened because we have rejected the Christian roots of Western culture in a misguided effort to (1) keep the Church Greek (or Russian, or Arab, or Serbian) or (2) to distinguish “True Orthodoxy” from “false Catholicism” or (3) because, like Frank Schaeffer, we are simply cultural-despisers who have found that the Orthodox tradition is a convenient cudgel with which to continue waging our political or cultural battles. Whatever the reason, this amounts to a refusal to engage in any meaningful way with the cultural marketplace of ideas. As a result, it leaves the public square utterly naked – even as we moan and complain about it privately. Worse, it makes us the tools by which Nietzsche could proclaim that God was a non-factor (“dead”) in modern life. Itputs us in a position where we not only fail America – to be salt and light for our neighbor and our country – but also Christ and ourselves.
The spiritual genius of the Orthodox Church has always been the ability of the Church to take on and transform the dominate culture. This means that just as Jesus was the authentic Jew among Jews, the Church has been – in turn – authentically Greek among the Greeks, and authentically Russian among the Russians, so too we must be authentically American among the Americans. While have rarely done this perfectly, we have largely done this without sacrificing the Gospel or the communion of the various local or ethnic churches.
Is there any reason, other than sloth or despair, why we think we cannot do this in America as well?
It hit a nerve. My posts in the short life of this blog have been relatively heavy on culture-bashing. I bash because I really do care – like an inarticulate father who doesn’t know what to do with a sick child except to yell.
Part of the challenge in Barbarians at the Gate is that there are people outside the Church with whom we can and must make common cause. He suggests, among a handrul, the Catholic Church.
I suggest that James Davidson Hunter, author (coiner?) of the influential Culture Wars in the 90s, is also one with whom we can make common cause. I highly commend this paper he gave at Trinity Forum 8 years ago. That “briefing” finally has grown to a book of the same title. I am greatly looking forward to reading it (if I can moderate my blogging long enough to fit it in).
Davidson’s main points from the briefing eight years ago:
- Culture is a resource, and as such, a form of power.
- Culture is produced.
- Culture production is stratified into a rigid structure of “center” and “periphery.”
- Culture changes from the top down; rarely if ever from the bottom up.
- World-changing is most intense when the networks of elits and the institutions they lead overlap.
Another with whom we can make common cause is Ken Myers at Mars Hill Audio Journal, who has been inspiring me for several decades now. I think we have some examples to emulate as well from the folks at Front Porch Republic.
The work at hand is not revolution, but the slow permeation of salt and the absorption of light. We need to be about it sooner rather than later.