Fr. Stephen Freeman, has been on a roll again, reflecting on the challenges of “living in a One-Story Universe” in he modern secular West, or as I sometimes call it, living an integrated Christian life or living the Christian life with integrity (as in the secondary definition here). Here he reflects on “Living in a Strange Land.”
Only the later flirtations of Christian empire have ever made believers think themselves other than strangers in the world. Today the days of empire have passed, and although some engage in the sentimental exercise of wondering, “What if?” it is but a daydream, a distraction from the greater task at hand. That task can seem tedious and deeply wearying. How to live as a stranger in a strange land?
In the previous series of articles I have described some of the characteristics of our modern period – characteristics that are decidedly contrary to Classical Christianity and its way of life. But we are born into a modern world and are permeated by its assumptions and the ethos it creates. In our present period it is dominated by consumerism and pop culture. Having exhausted the inheritance of earlier Classical Christian civilization, the modern world stands like a Potemkin Village – all storefronts with no stores. It only has form – no substance.
A faithful life will therefore always feel somehow dissonant:
By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows in the midst of it
we hung up our instruments.
For there those who captured us asked us for songs
and those who led us away called for a tune:
“Sing us some of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
There are temptations that are natural to our situation. Despair is perhaps the most common, followed by various forms of assimilation. There is also an almost opposite temptation – becoming hyper-vigilant and angry.
I’ve had no trouble discerning that I’m in a strange land. My bigger problems have been with assimilation and with hyper-vigilance and anger. No, the two aren’t inconsistent. The anger can come partly from the knowledge that you’ve been compromised, that you’ve made your peace entirely too well, that you’ve adopted the soft dhimittude of pain avoidance:
Human beings are created to avoid pain – a reaction that frequently saves our lives. But it is also a reaction that constantly drives us towards assimilation and mediocrity. Islamic countries, following the dictates of the Koran, have often set in place laws governing the “dhimmi,” Christians and Jews under their political power. These laws are not a matter of tolerance, but of pressure and taxation, giving a measure of defined freedom but creating enough pain that assimilation (conversion to Islam) comes as a great relief. It is inherently a long-term strategy, with predictable success.
A dominant culture does not have to pass laws to specifically create a “dhimmi.” If its ethos is contrary to the nature of the faith, its dominance is sufficient by itself.
The answer to these temptations is a truly integrated life of faith. Orthodoxy cannot survive as an afterthought or a consumer’s option for the spiritual life.
But “it is necessary to live with a certain peace within the modern period. We cannot curse the world around us, nor be emotionally driven by its insanity. That peace is an integrated life.”
Fr. Stephen ends with 55 maxims for the spiritual life. They printed and tucked, now, under the glass desktop on which I’m writing this. You can download a copy as I reformatted them here.
This is a very strange case. The government has argued that signing the form is meaningless because the nuns’ insurer, the Christian Brothers Employee Benefits Trust, is exempt from the mandate. Yet it has fought the Sisters all the way to the Supreme Court to make them sign it. What’s going on?
The government’s brief to the Colorado court provides a clue. It drips with contempt. The Obama administration finds the nuns’ complaint “implausible” and alleges that the Sisters are “fighting an invisible dragon.” Oh, you silly, simple-minded nuns! Just stop imagining things and do what the government tells you.
The administration’s indifference to religious liberty complaints is not limited to issues arising from Obamacare. In 2011, the government made the argument in Hosanna-Tabor v. the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that churches do not have special rights under the First Amendment but merely association rights, like unions. Justice Antonin Scalia called this “extraordinary,” and Justice Elena Kagan said it was an “amazing” claim. Another word that comes to mind is “disturbing.” A unanimous court rejected the administration’s claim.
The nuns, in this instance, have driven a stake in the ground: No assimilation.
What is it about “No incense to Caesar, not even one eensy-weensy pinch” Obama doesn’t understand?
[O]ur crisis as believers nurtured in the modern world is revealed as we stare blankly at what appear to be empty, inert, unrelated things around us. Those who see more seem superstitious or new-age. My mother’s whispers from childhood haunt my adult struggle of faith: “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” But her reasons for saying this could just have easily been applied to a wider range of concerns. “There’s no such thing as sacraments.” “There’s no such thing as miracles.” Even, “There’s no such thing as God.” For the God who remains after we rid ourselves of “no such thing,” is nothing more than idea.
I am a modern believer. I am not a product of a classically Orthodox world. I speak the words of a classical faith as I stand at the altar, my modern soul judged, even crushed by their discernment.
(Father Stephen again, Discerning the Mystery)
that the Christian faith somehow “Blinked Out” after the Apostles and “Blinked On” again in our time, or whenever our modern “prophets” arose, be they Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Joseph Smith, Ellen White or John Wimber. The result of this kind of BOBO approach is that you have “early” saints and “latter-day” saints, but no saints in the middle.
What’s notable is how much time Arakaki takes (by blog standards) proving that Calvin held the theory and then how much time he spends refuting Calvin’s particular version on:
- Altar, Vestments and Ceremony
- Priests and Bishops
You can guess who I think is correct. There are some interesting comments, too.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)