Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Learning To Be Christian

  There are many things in life, such breathing and the beating of our hearts that are automatic. We take little notice of these functions precisely because they require no learning or effort on our part. However, other than our automatic body functions, nearly everything in this earthly life requires learning and effort.  It could be said that living is the act of being a lifelong student and lifelong enactor of our learning.  It is a great fallacy to assume that one can be or do anything successfully without both learning and effort.  

  In fact, the more difficult the task is, the more learning and effort that is required from the individual. Consider the typical American life, one learns and applies effort to ride a bike, drive a car, manage a checkbook, and so on; when we achieve a level of proficiency we can then be called cyclists, drivers, and money managers.  This is no less true when it comes being a Christian. Being a Christian requires a level of proficiency.  In fact, Orthodox Christians believe it is the one thing that requires the greatest level of proficiency in all of life.

  From the Orthodox Christian perspective becoming Orthodox is a lifelong event that is nothing less than arduous.  Becoming Orthodox is not something for the weak hearted or the lazy, rather it requires a strong resolve and a maximum effort from birth to death.  This is perhaps why Orthodoxy can be either extremely attractive or extremely unattractive, depending upon one’s preferences.

Historically American Christianity has catered to both kinds of people.  The conservative sects have taught: “Christ died for your sins and erased them, so don’t worry about the past, but from now on don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs, don’t dance, don’t curse, don’t lie, dress modestly, be nice, tithe to the church, obey your leaders, and come to church.” 

  The liberal sects have taught: “Christ was a great example of a human, be who you are, do what you want to do, try not to bother anyone, stand up for the individual’s freedom to do as he pleases, fight for equality, and most of all be happy.”

  Post modern Christianity is a hybrid of the two, picking and choosing what a particular sect finds more desirable.  Obviously each sect has their hobby horse; however, in all cases the attainment of proficiency as a “sectarian Christian” is fairly easy.  Learn the various tenants of the sect’s confession and follow the few basic guidelines, and you are living the Christian life.

  Five years into my journey to become Orthodox, I have come to learn that it is not so easy for the Christian Orthodox. There is so much to learn; our faith has a content has two thousand years of substance. It contains the scriptures, the consensus of the fathers, the council’s, the creeds, the canons, the liturgies, the hymnography, the iconography, the monastic teachings.

  There so much to apply our effort towards: the healing of our souls, the undoing of our delusion, the destroying of our disordered passions, the hesychast practices, the liturgical cycles, the cycles of life in the book of needs, and most of the endless struggle to attain of Christ likeness.  We never expect a time to arrive in the Orthodox life when we can say, I get it, and I have a good grasp on being Orthodox. There is always more, there is always a greater goal out ahead, leading to more beauty and wisdom.  In Orthodoxy there is always a bottomless well of learning and struggling ahead to become Christ like.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Post Post-Modernism

Most of today’s influential Western thinkers concur that we have arrived at period called the post-modern era.  The term finds it origin with scientist Michael Polanyi, who expressed the view that a change is needed in Western thought tradition, moving it from objectivism and subjectivism to a less culturally constrained method[1]. Polanyi actually called this concept, “post-critical.”

Polanyi asserted that the way past the present Western modernism is semiotics[2], a concept introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce.  Sander’s semiotic process described a methodology of discerning truth based on the interpretation of the sign or symbol presented by an object or an action.  Sanders asserted that the ideal interpretative process for human reality is one that involves the continuous interpretation of the signs symbols presented by any object or action, each of which is then subject to further interpretation.  In short, Sanders rediscovered an aspect of pre-modern methodology of discerning truth.

However, in real time and space, post-modernism has become primarily a process of deconstructing all that was concluded by the culturally constrained objective/subjective critical modernism. While embracing semiotics it is still sorely lacking.

Why? Because, the Western post-modernism is still captive to subjectivism; while the western post- modern mind has come to reject critical objectivism, it has not come to terms critical subjectivism.  As a rule, the average western person still trusts his own individual intellectual capacities.  In short, most know that everyone is biased; therefore, they choose to go with their own personal biases concluding that ultimate truth cannot be known.

It is precisely at this point in human history that the West needs a dose of Orthodox Christianity to pull it out of the mire.  Orthodoxy would agree with Polanyi and Sanders regarding the value of Semiotics, however, with two additional imperatives. 

1.     The use of signs and symbols to arrive at truth (semiotics) is not merely a private experience; it is a collective or concilliar experience.  The signs have a meaning that is participated in by a general consensus of those who experience them.  The individual intellect must be seen as less able to discern than that of the whole.

2.     The merely intellectual use of signs and symbols to arrive at truth is to be held with suspicion precisely because the main consequence of the fall of man is not primarily angering a law abiding God, but rather of the subjection of the intellect to our personal disorders and dysfunctions (the passions).  Discerning truth is not only a corporate matter, but a looking for the understanding of those who are to a greater degree healed of our common dysfunctions.

The way through to post post-modernism is found in the way that has never changed, Orthodoxy.

[1] Polanyi, Michael, Personal Knowledge (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press; 1974), 6
[2] "Semiotic." Websters College Dictionary (New York: Random House, 1997), 1176