So long as worship of the Emperor as a God was required by law of all citizens, to become a Christian meant to become a criminal. In consequence, the Christians of the first four centuries A.D., subject like everyone else to the temptations of the Flesh and the Devil, had been spared the Temptations of the World. One could become a converted and remain a thorough rascal, but one could not be converted and remain a gentleman.
(W.H. Auden, in the Introduction to The Complete Poems of Cavafy)
My former activism on behalf of unpopular causes (e.g., against abortion, against mandatory social leveling on behalf of practitioners of trendy vices) was never a strategy to “get my name out there” so people would seek my legal services. Insofar as it did bring me clients, they strongly tended toward eccentricity if not outright crackpottery.
We were not formally criminals, my clients and I, but we knew that we could not aspire to unequivocal worldly respectability, either. (That is not a characterization of all my clients — just the ones who I knew as co-belligerents in lost causes.)
Most of these activism-related clients were “conservative” Protestants, as was I then. Most of them plainly were either tacitly Nominalists or at least utterly incapable of framing a confident argument in Realist terms. They were the proverbial “Bible-thumpers,” pulling out their favored proof-texts that sodomy is sinful, or that God knows each of us en ventre sa mère. The problem came connecting such things to law.
In a recent podcast, Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon opines that Nominalism is probably, “the deepest flaw in the whole Protestant enterprise” (Luther referred to William of Ockham, the Franciscan popularizer of Nominalism, as his “mein meister”, and the Church of England still commemorates Ockham on April 10.) Fr. Pat’s podcast is actually a pretty succinct introduction to the Nominalist-Realist contrast. (Quick: is adultery wrong because God forbade it or did God forbid it because is wrong — contrary to reality as he created it?)
Somehow, I was a Realist, or leaning strongly Realist, even before I knew the Nominalist-Realist distinction and well before Orthodoxy. I frequently lamented, if only in private, the embarrassing and counter-productive arguments of my co-belligerents in the causes we all supported (or, likelier, opposed).
My tacit Realism (which I’m fairly sure developed unawares after my adolescence) may have been another factor, along with my earlier-in-life onset of temperamental partiality to contemplation more than action, that made Orthodox Christianity click for me when I finally encountered it. I wish I were confident that North American Orthodox Christians, especially my fellow converts, were solidly Realist, because we’re living in parallel ecclesial realities if they’re not.
But I began talking about “my activism.” Do I contradict myself, interjecting contemplation? I think not. My “activism” was argumentation, verbal and in writing, which is a fairly contemplative form of activism. I’ve never raided a draft board, lain down in a street, or otherwise gotten into the physical scrum.
And is there some latent negativity in my oppositional activism (rather than supportive activism)? Again I think not, though it may, once more, dovetail with an aspect of Orthodoxy: apophasis, known in Latin as the via negativa. More specifically, I’m less confident of the location of the “this is right and good and pure” bullseye than I am about “wherever that bullseye is, it ain’t here.”
After more than 22 year in Orthodoxy, I’m still picking up threads that I think helped to lead me here. Picking them up, and acknowledging their entanglement and, sometimes, ineffability seems true to life — which is notoriously messy — more generally.
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Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress:—not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshiping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both “posits” his humanity and fulfills it.
Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, Appendix 1
I appreciate Donald Trump’s judicial appointments and a few other things he has done, but I’m utterly opposed to allowing that hateful, unstable and completely self-serving man to serve as President. Maybe by saying it here, I’ll feel less compelled to fault his multiple daily outrages — mere corroboration of his dark soul and tormented mind — in the body of the blog.
You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.