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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christianity - Not Reformed but Deformed!

Feminism is such a difficult thing to define and feminists are by no means agreed on what feminism is.  For some, feminism is merely an attempt to redress inequality of opportunity between the sexes in employment and gender roles in the family and community.  For others feminism is a battle against the alleged repression of all things feminine by men, the only solution for which is all out gender war until the ground is recovered.  There are religious variants of feminism based on the first view which are content to secure interchangeability of function between men and women at all levels of Church life.  For these, working towards the first (legitimate) female Pope is a sacred task.  Other more militant religious feminists, basing their views on the second model of gender war, regard Christianity as inescapably patriarchal and oppressive.  These seek a new religion with some ties to Jesus but essentially rehabilitating the goddess cult of former times.

This talk is not seeking to address every variant of feminism both moderate and radical, secular and faith based.  I fear we should then get entangled in a morasse of social comment, half-baked theories and contentious subjectivity.  Rather, here, I shall attempt to consider the Person of the Father in relation to feminism as a whole for there are some common themes in the general feminist reaction to this basic tenet of Christianity that God is our Father.

The first person in the modern era to address this issue from a psychoanalytic perspective was, of course, Sigmund Freud.  A lot of water has gone under the bridge since Freud grappled with the tortured neuroses and psychoses of his repressed Viennese patients.  Modern psychiatry no longer doffs its cap to the "Great Master" as once before.  Nonetheless, Freud's assessment of Christian belief in God the Father is pivotal in trying to understand feminism's varying reactions against it. 

Freud argued that "Father" was a projection by us humans onto the nature of God.  We, some of us that is, have had such lousy fathers on earth, that, it is argued, we seek by way of compensation, an ideal Father in Heaven.  This projection is a reaction to a neurosis.  Deal with the neurosis, namely our half-concealed hatred for our human fathers, and the need to call God "Father" will vanish away.  In fact, for Freud, Jew that he was, much of religion was really a projection of our disappointment and pain onto the canvass of Heaven.  Now the reason why Freud's view was so popular was its plausibility at first hearing.  Clearly God is not male, (or female).  Did not Christ himself teach that:- "God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and Truth?"  Freud would not even admit that God was LIKE a father.  God was the ILLUSION of an ideal Father, made necessary by our anxieties and hurts.  The plausibility of this approach then lead many to suggest that since our experience of human fatherhood was sometimes cruel and corrupting we should hesitate before calling God Father for fear of making eternal and immeasurable the pain of knowing the divine in the hearts and lives of those abused by their own fathers.  It goes without saying of course that this made Jesus the archetypal neurotic in the eyes of Freud.  It was he who started the whole "Father-thing" off! 

At this point, along come the religious feminists, who then claim that whereas "Mother" would also be a projection, since all God-talk is symbolic and derived from our human experience, we should offer "Mother" instead as an alternative.  "Mother" is warm and kind, deeply imbued with the dark warmth and comfort of the earth, the breast and the womb.  These are much the same feminists of course who have no compunction in ripping human life from the womb in abortion and parading their sexuality in the media, (and goading men to do the same), on the grounds that this is empowering!  Earth Mother apparently, like the wolf in Little Red Hiding Hood has sharp teeth and claws.  We Christians know this of course since it was the matriarchal dominance of paganism which was so besotted with abortion, child abuse and child sacrifice.  Not much has changed, has it?

We all shrink of course from such perversions of fatherhood and motherhood and yet the logic of Freud's analysis is inexorable.  If paganism is to be resisted, (as a moderate feminist might argue), then God must become "Parent" or perhaps "It", a very unsatisfactory situation, and in Orthodox terms, of course, downright heresy.  So, as Orthodox Christians we need to force our culture to be much more radical on this issue than it has hitherto been.  We need to reach back behind the feminists' agenda at Freud's basic premise that God as Father is a projection for our pain, ever seeking to recover our ideal Father, eternally beyond our grasp. 

Notice how Freud starts. He takes something which is so obviously true, namely, that God is not literally a male person and then proceeds to deny the truth that God is Father, as if one followed the other.  God, of course, can be Father without being male but only by recognising that all religious language is refined by the conviction that God is so utterly UNLIKE anything created.  Therefore, God is not like a father, He is, in the First Person, the Father, the Source, the Fount of all that is; the Son eternally begotten from Him and the Spirit proceeding forth.  There is an "outgoingness in Love" in God which makes "Father" the most singular and apt expression.  True there is an analogy in respect of human fatherhood, but it is an analogy to human fatherhood, not from it.  This truth lies at the very heart of the absurdity of feminism's attack on God the Father.  The Father is not imaged from our human fathers, (for that would be to make God in our own image, an idol); human fatherhood in its highest expression is imaged or derived from God the Father, (in other words, we are made in the image of God).  As St. Paul says in Ephesians 3:14-15:-

"For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named."

Now, there is one gaping hole in this presentation.  If Genesis teaches, (which it does), that the image of God in manifest in men and women as created, then why cannot motherhood as well as fatherhood be derived from God in such a manner as to legitimise God as Mother as well as Father?  The answer to this one lies in the nature of God's creative power.  God creates without dependency on another for he is sovereign and free and acts in the first instance alone.  "Let it be" as He says, and it is.  This is not the action of a divine Mother.  Mothers, in a human sense, act co-operatively and in a receptive manner.  Motherhood is derived from the earth, not from the Godhead.  This does not make motherhood any less holy.  Orthodox venerate matter as the creative and fecund principle of life, but this life comes in the first instance from the "outside" as it were, from the Father.  To derive motherhood from the Godhead rather than the earth would be to give God a womb and to make the Universe "her" Body.  This is the very essence of paganism and it has resurfaced again recently in the works of such heretical theologians as Rosemary Radford Ruether.  For Orthodox Christians, motherhood is derived from the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the first and highest sanctified creature of the Lord who, being without form, took humanity upon Himself from her.  In so doing, the Word and the Spirit worked but never ceased to depart from the Father who remained the Father.  When God becomes Mother, however, "she" is revealed a vicious harridan bent upon destruction as well as life, a sort of sub-Christian Durga or Kali, the one who must be appeased at all costs.  The Mother of God is such an affront to feminists because her sanctity protests at this abuse of motherhood and the abominable fruit it has generated, sour and bitter to the taste; the infanticide of abortion, the trivialisation and degradation of sex, the rape of the earth. 

The only remedy for all these ills is to renounce Freud and his perversion of the Christian gospel and to return to a true biblical notion of God the Father and human fatherhood; the Theotokos, the created earth and human motherhood.

Finally, can this agenda be pursued whilst yet embracing a moderate feminism which would pursue equality of opportunity in all realms of human life and work ... a feminism which is, shall we say, religiously neutral?  I'm not sure we can even do that.  Consider equality of opportunity.  This is a good thing and to be promoted.  But what do we make of these opportunities?  Do we send women as battle hardened troops into the front line?  Do we ask men, similarly, to emasculate themselves by posing as women in Cosmopolitan and other such magazines?  Do we promote the idea that gender is irrelevant to function when all the evidence cries out that there are distinctively male and female aspects of our humanity which, if to be honoured, must remain non-interchangeable?  Do we rob a woman of her motherhood by making her a "priest?"  Do we rob a man of his fatherhood by making him feel guilty of his strength?  I think not.  Many have fed from the poisoned wells of Freud and his feminist great grandchildren for long enough and have suffered for it. 

Isn't it about time then that we embraced life rather than death?  Isn't it about time we worshipped the Father again and implored the Mother?  Isn't it about time that we become co-heirs of the Son as children of God?  Isn't it about time that the Spirit ruled rather than the bankrupt false prophets of atheism?  Feminism is dead and death dealing.  The Father remains, and waits for the return of His errant children.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The Human Icon

The Human Icon: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Orthodox Christian BeliefsThe Human Icon: A Comparative Study of Hindu and Orthodox Christian Beliefs by Christine Mangala Frost

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dr Frost has capably achieved a gargantuan task in shining a light on the spirituality of Orthodox Christianity for a Hindu audience and likewise illuminating the richness and depth of Hinduism for her own Orthodox Christian community. This has been achieved precisely because she has a foot in both worlds with insights that transcend the possible disjunctions of language, concepts and practice that exist on the surface between the two faiths. Raised as a Hindu but becoming an Orthodox Christian in later life, she speaks from within both religious traditions with an authenticity that is personally tested and encyclopaedic in scope.
In this book, Dr Frost has not simply described the major themes of each religion, comparatively and in parallel. That would have presented a relatively straight forward task. She has gone further and much deeper by identifying possible points of contact, even overlap and congruence, between corresponding themes and insights from both faiths. This has been achieved while at the same time identifying with clear sightedness possible irreducible differences that need to be acknowledged in inter-faith dialogue.
Her realism in addressing these elements of both convergence and divergence is never compromised by any personal intrusive commitments, yet her own blessings in both faiths clearly shine through. She is a critical observer who strives to be fair to both religions both on their own grounds and in dialogue. A reader of this book will be enlightened and encouraged by the possibilities that lie ahead for mutual enhancement and understanding between Orthodox Christians and Hindus alike.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rolling Back the Darkness

It is with a sad and heavy heart that I must comment on those terrible events that unfolded last night in the great city of Manchester, when the terrorists struck again on our soil.  

This time they targeted defenceless and innocent young people, some with friends and some in family groups, attending a pop concert in the Manchester Arena in the centre of the city. As I speak to you on the day after, there are currently 22 fatalities and 59 people injured, many of them critically. One of the children killed was merely eight years old. Our prayers go out to the grieving families of those who have lost loved ones and also to those who are suffering from grievous wounds in various hospitals around the city. 
IS/Daesh has claimed responsibility for this despicable and cowardly action but that cult of death often tries to promote itself on the back of such attacks for propaganda purposes, so we must resist jumping to conclusions before the evidence is assembled and assessed. Nonetheless, the authorities have confirmed this was indeed a terrorist attack, an improvised explosive device being detonated by a suicide bomber in the foyer of the Arena; timed to inflict maximum casualties at the end of the concert when thousands of young people would be leaving. The police know the identity of this mass murderer but are not releasing it for the time being. This is in part due to the ongoing local and national investigation which looks likely to reveal co-conspirators and terrorist cells. The attack took place just 8 miles from the church that I serve in the suburbs. This morning, just 3 miles away from St Aidan’s, the police raided two houses and there was a controlled explosion at one of them. No further details are available as of this time, but this story is unfolding so rapidly, so by the time you hear this I am sure that much more will be known.
As an Orthodox Christian priest, and together with my parish community in this great city of Manchester, I am trying to think and pray through an appropriate and balanced Christian response to such a tragedy, including how we should handle such terrorist threats and realities into the future. First and in this regard, all of us here in Manchester have already been inspired by the flawless response of the emergency services and the spirit of Manchester people who have rallied round to support those directly affected by this terrorist outrage. The solidarity of the people of Manchester, and indeed of other communities similarly affected in Britain and elsewhere, is an outstanding inspiration and example to all those peoples of any religion and background who are threatened by this evil culture of death, right across the world.
Second, as individual Orthodox Christians, the Gospel of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ calls us to embrace the cross and forgive those who would do us harm. Loving our enemies doesn’t just mean dealing with obnoxious people in daily life it means praying for, and indeed loving those who would do us actual harm. There can be no room for hate or revenge when confronting such an evil as this. Only the love of a God who justly judges and graciously saves can turn the most hardened and bitter heart toward peace, human dignity and compassion.  He usually expects though to do this through our witness, so this then is our responsibility as Christians. However, this is not the whole story.
Third, we need to make a clear distinction between personal morality and social responsibility, while seeing both as being subject to God’s sovereign will and purpose. Individual Christians, according to the Gospel, may choose martyrdom in extreme situations rather than retaliate or seek revenge. They may choose to forgive their persecutors and pray for them. However, none of us can forgive on behalf of those who have suffered at the hands of others. Only those directly affected by such atrocities, and indeed by sins generally, have both the right and the capacity to forgive their own particular enemies. As a nation, our social responsibility is to uphold the law and play our part in the democratic process through which, of course, such laws are enacted, which is why, I believe, voting in elections, notwithstanding its flaws is better than suffering a dictatorship allowed elbow room through cynicism, despair or apathy. The first duty of the State itself, however, but not of course the only one, is to protect its citizens and to ensure the defence of the realm. Passive martyrdom and forgiveness is a choice exercised by individual persons but it can never simply be translated directly into social policy and law; particularly when endangerment of life is current and critical, as it is now.
As I said, the duty of the State is to protect us all and especially the vulnerable and the weak, and to this end we need excellent and ethical intelligence services and a robust and effective police force and military. Such forces of law and order can only function optimally when they are supported by all citizens themselves. The failure to support the forces of law and order in such atrocities is a danger as reprehensible as the actual attacks themselves. The first duty of all citizens, therefore, must be to support the police and the security services in their work. With sufficient safeguards as to personal liberty, if this also involves the deepening of the surveillance trawl through electronic media, then this is something, I believe, that we should support, while at the same time denying to the authorities the opportunity to use these “all-seeing eyes” to interfere with our valued freedoms. It would be a tragedy if terrorism won by encouraging us to adopt measures that undermine the very freedoms that we are defending in opposing it.
However, the battle we are waging here against terrorism is not simply and only to be fought with intelligence and smart policing. That will be like cutting off the heads of weeds while leaving deep-seated roots untouched. There is an ideological, and indeed propaganda, war going on here for the hearts and minds of those who are especially most vulnerable to recruitment by terrorists, both homegrown and otherwise.
How then is such a war to be waged? A number of weapons are at our disposal. Always useful is a good and intelligent use of the disciplines of psychology and criminology, both in dealing with those who are recruited into terrorism (caught alive) and in the messages we promote and adopt in our society through mass media and the pulpit, not only to inform public opinion and form the Christian mind, but also to act as a counter insurgency tactic against the terrorists themselves; a counter insurgency of the heart and the mind.
Here is where religion generally has much to offer, precisely because it is religion that is being perverted and corrupted here. I say “religion” rather than simply Christianity because it is a task that can and should be embraced by peoples of all faiths, those, that is, whose basic tenets are goodness, righteousness and truth. A cult of death such as IS / Daesh may only finally be beaten through active forces of goodness in education and a re-orientation toward the light, especially at the hands of knowledgeable and skilled believers generally and co-religionists especially. Governments need to invest as much time, effort, personnel and money in these methods as in the more traditional aspects of police enforcement, intelligence gathering and military intervention. States in the West which have been accustomed to a secularism which has progressively banished religion from the public square need to develop both a more open mind and an active commitment towards cooperating with faith communities and skilled individuals in this process of rolling back the darkness of hatred and death.
None of these reflections are irrelevant to the practical situation and plight in which we now find ourselves with grieving relatives and bloodied bodies in the city of Manchester and elsewhere. Orthodox Christians need to play their part together with other men and women of goodwill who are prepared to rise up and collaborate in a generous and positive manner, fighting with the weapons of the Spirit, not only for the values and freedoms that are so cherished by us all, but also for the entrenchment of those values in the minds and hearts of those vulnerable persons for whom Daesh/IS and the devil continue to contend. This is a spiritual as well as physical battle that we shall have to face with faith, hope and love - perhaps of the next two or three generations. May the Lord be our very present help, strength and guide as we all do our part to uphold his Kingdom here on earth as in heaven.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Does Orthodoxy Matter?

Orthodoxy means "true glory" or "true faith."  We Orthodox think very highly of the word.  Or do we?  When it comes down to it, does Orthodoxy actually matter all that much to us (as it should)?  Orthodox Christians in the west find themselves living among many different Christianities and it can sometimes be tempting to think that notwithstanding some of the more obvious differences, (icons, the Theotokos, fasting, worship, for example), all these Christian traditions share much the same faith as us.  If you are of this opinion, then I am sorry to have to disappoint you, but it just isn't true at all.  How so?

I am going to consider this issue by looking at a case study which reveals the damage that heresy can do in our personal lives, our relationships and even to the society and world that we live in.  It is a fictional story, but quite typical.

John and Mary go to an Evangelical Anglican Church.  John is Orthodox (Greek tradition).  Mary is Anglican.  This is her second marriage, being a young widow with one teenage son (Ian, 15) still living at home. She now has two children with John, daughters, aged 5 and 7.  John would prefer to go to his local Greek Church but his wife is a committed Anglican, and their children, although baptised in the Orthodox Church (with the exception of Ian), prefer the "lively worship songs", as they put it, which are included in the church's family service.  Ian is very involved in the local youth group and is thinking eventually of becoming an Anglican minister.  Does Orthodoxy then matter to John?  Well, yes, but only in a remote nostalgic sort of way.  It is some years now since he has attended Divine Liturgy, the last time was at Pascha in 2008.  His stepson, Ian, will have nothing to do with what he considers to be the "stuffy incomprehensible worship" at his stepdad's church which he has visited once, just after his stepfather's marriage.

Ten years later ....

Neither John nor Mary now regularly attend the Anglican Church.  John still hasn't been back to the Orthodox Church since Pascha 2008 and Mary doesn't like the new Vicar who is a woman.  Mary is quite a conservative evangelical believer who maintains that a woman should not be in a place of authority within the Church over men.  (This is the evangelical doctrine of the"headship of the male.")  Her two daughters, now 15 and 17 still attend on their own and are very active in the youth group.  Ian, who shares his mother's conservative outlook, has also left the church, disagreeing with what he believes to be the Anglican Church's tolerance of homosexual partnerships.  He has started attending a very conservative Baptist church that teaches pure Calvinism, in particular, the doctrines known as TULIP (from the first letter of each doctrine), namely:-

Total Depravity - As a result of Adam’s fall, all humanity, is dead in sins and therefore damned.  Humanity's nature is corrupt and utterly incapable of godliness.

Unconditional Election - Because man is dead in sin, he is unable to initiate a response to God; therefore, from eternity God elected certain people to salvation and others to damnation. Election and predestination are unconditional; they are not based on man’s response because man is unable to respond to God, nor does he want to.

Limited Atonement - Because God determined that certain people should be saved as a result of His unconditional election, He determined that Christ should die for the elect alone. All whom God has elected, and for whom Christ died, will be saved but the rest will be damned to hell for all eternity; again as determined by God's sovereign will.

Irresistible Grace - Those whom God elected He draws to Himself through irresistible grace. God makes man willing to come to Him. When God calls, man responds.  Man cannot choose to love God by his own choice and freedom.

Perseverance of the Saints - The precise people God has elected and drawn to Himself through the Holy Spirit will persevere in faith to the end. None whom God has elected will ever be lost; they are eternally secure even though they may sin grievously after election.

Although Ian is a pious and committed believer these doctrines trouble him.  He begins to doubt that he is one of the elect, chosen by God for salvation.  His sinful life (he occasionally resorts to prostitutes) troubles him greatly but his church tells him that he is unable to make any right choice and save himself.  Ian enters a very dark period of depression, made much worse by the impact of these heresies on his mental health.  His fragile relationship with his atheist girlfriend disintegrates.  He seeks medical help for a latent depression which has now become the full blown clinical variety.

Five years further on, the two daughters are now at the same university, one just about to graduate but they have been unable to find an evangelical church they like nearby, so they have stopped attending church on the grounds that they believe in Christ and are saved, so what's the point?  Back home John and Mary now lead thoroughly secular lives.  John sometimes thinks wistfully of his childhood back in Cyprus when he used to attend church with his Nana but this seems to him a very distant idealised time now.  He hopes, nonetheless, that his wife or children will respect his wish for an Orthodox funeral if he dies first.

So, did Orthodoxy matter to John?  Well yes, particularly earlier on, but for most of his adult life only in a nominal sort of way.  He had certainly not been catechised in his youth and his grasp of the faith, therefore, had always been somewhat tenuous.  Did Anglican evangelicalism then strike him as being similar to Orthodoxy?  Well yes, mostly.  He only saw differences in the worship style which often set his teeth on edge.  Let's face it.  He attended the evangelical Anglican Church for the sake of his wife and family.  When they stopped going, so did he.  There is only one God after all and this was just a different way of being a Christian, it seemed to him.  He did lament his stepson's involvement in the Calvinist church because he could see how its refusal of human freedom and choice, its dark doctrines of divine election to salvation or damnation, did not feel right to him, but he couldn't really say why.

Did Mary his wife ever consider Orthodoxy when the lady Vicar arrived?  Well, no, why should she?  Her husband rarely spoke of his childhood faith and she concluded that it could not have meant much to him in that case, so why should she consider it?  John and Mary now spend a conventional Sunday together as most couples do in their street, getting up late, going to the gym occasionally, shopping at B&Q, taking a drive into the countryside; just the usual and normal things everyone does nowadays.  Both still consider themselves as Christians, but obviously not of the fanatical sort whom they blame, quite rightly, for destroying Ian's piece of mind.  As for the two girls, well they eventually graduated and now have families of their own.  Churchgoing, however, has become completely alien to all their families with the rest.

So, does Orthodox Christianity matter to you?
Does it matter enough for you to find out about it in more depth?
Does it matter enough for you to practice it as faithfully as you can, notwithstanding the distractions of modern life?
Does it matter enough for you to stay loyal to this faith no matter what challenges are presented to it by both family life and society as a whole?

And here's the challenging question ...

In the absence of an Orthodox church nearby would you be prepared to pray at home rather than pray with the heterodox?

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