Believing in Vain, Movies, Vestigial Communitarianism

OrthoAnalyika Shownotes: 30 August 2009

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1 Corinthians 15: 1-11 St. Matthew 19: 16-26

Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

[I also refer to the Gospel reading in this homily.]

This morning we wrap up our study of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

Today we are participating in the great Mystery that we have received, in which we stand, and through which we are saved: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He arose again on the third day. That through His Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection, we too will be resurrected into eternal perfection… “unless [we have] believed in vain.”

All of us know the fundamentals of our faith: that God desires to save us and this world from the blight of sin that plagues us; that faith in the God-man Jesus Christ – continually renewed – is the sure path to salvation; and that this path, this Way, is offered in its fullness here in the Orthodox Church. This we have received, and this we believe.

But what if this knowledge, this belief is “in vain”?

We have been over the logic of this vanity before. Let me remind you with the same example I gave you a few weeks ago: I have studied how my genetic inheritance predisposes me to dangerously high cholesterol; that the food that seems most appealing to me will end up killing me; but how a certain way of life (a specific kind of diet and exercise) will keep my cholesterol low and spare me from the danger of my inheritance. But my knowledge is in vain if I do not act on it.

Our knowledge about salvation is in vain if we do not act on it.

Some people want to know what the minimum standard is; exactly what sort of “action” is required. This is what the Rich Young Man was looking for in today’s Gospel, asking; “What good thing shall I do to have eternal life?”. Christ gave him a challenging answer (“sell all”!) because the man was asking the wrong question. He wasn’t really paying attention or trying hard enough. There is no minimum standard for salvation: it is all or nothing. Continual progression or failure. You either believe in Christ and order your life accordingly, or you don’t. God does not simply want to make us more comfortable, He wants to perfect us. Nor is there a single set of prerequisites that you need to meet in order to enter into Glory. Perfection has no endpoint – it is forever moving into greater peace and joy. This means that you can never say; “I am good enough”. As soon as you do this, your belief is in vain and you have settled for imperfection and mortality. Of course we can recover from temporary setbacks and missteps, but not from the apathy and laziness that would lull us into believing we are already good enough.

The Rich Young Man fell into this trap. He claimed that he already followed all the commandments. His fallen mind did what all of ours will do if we do not train it better: it had redefined goodness to match his own way of life. [everything is Sanchin; eternal growth, not mastery]The Commandments that the young man claimed to have satisfied can never be mastered on this side of perfection. The Prohibition on Murder – is actually a call to act with charity towards all men; The Prohibition on Adultery – is actually a call to chastity and purity of both soul and body; The Prohibition on False Witness – is actually about living a life devoted to the Truth no matter what the consequences; The Requirement to Honor your Father and Mother is a call to submission and service to them and all righteous authority; And the call to Love your Neighbor is one that leads us to love and sacrifice all for even those who despise us and seek to foul all that we treasure. Seen in this light, these Commandments are less questions on an exam than difficult exercises designed for our eternal improvement.

For those of us who are fallen, becoming perfect requires constant vigilance and effort; spiritual introspection, prayer, and repentance; participation in the Mysteries of the Church; developing genuine concern and charity towards the people you cannot stand; a certain seriousness about the reality of sin and its harmful consequences on yourself and those around you; an overwhelming sense of appreciation for God’s love for us; and – something that is so often missing – learning to trust that all of your dedication, all of your sacrifices, will be rewarded.

God loves you. He has a plan for you. You know this to be true. Do not let this knowledge be in vain.

Show Notes:

Mail Call:

What kind of Karate are you taking? Uechi Ryu.

What do you think of Senator Kennedy’s death? Memory Eternal! Disagreement over role of state, but not over the ends society should pursue. Personal life? Gossip is a sin. Redemption is every repentant Christian’s reward. Love, pray: not judge. Charity is seeing the light in people, not the darkness (unless you are responsible for that person). We can do more good sharing this vision than we can nitpicking and exposing flaws.

A couple of them saying they enjoy the podcast, especially the last few. Glory to God.


Tend to watch two or three movies a week (Netflix).

Saw Haunting in Connecticut. I like watching these movies, mainly to see the theology that undergirds them: what is their understanding of the supernatural world? Salvation? Damnation? Our relationship with the supernatural? Etc. What does this one say about 1) salvation? 2) damnation 3) relation between natural and supernatural (to include prayer) 4) personal god? 5) also interesting what it says about family: doing what needed to be done. Already took in other kids. Making it work. Reviewers ping the dad, but he certainly could be worse! Repentance. Always interesting to think about how a strong Christian family would act differently. Discuss, pray, broader community, bless house, hang icons (as a natural matter of course, not as talisman vs. haunting), strong prayer.

Saw Caprica. Segue from Surrogate, Avatar, Gamer (and Dilbert joke). Neat about us as little creators, and how our own selfishness perverts this (as it did for Lucifer- Tolkein), but how God can still work through us and our fallen myths to perfect us. Previous series did not tie everything up, but still good because it was smart. And because of what it says about how smart people see theology.

Trailers: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. Fun series. Looks like they are going to invest money in it. Unlike Narnia, there isn’t a huge risk of ruining it (not allegory or all that deep, but good romp through Greek mythology: Crusty the Waterbed salesman!).


Dormition. Wonderful celebration. Lots of really good theology about incarnation, salvation through Christ, etc.; but I focused my thoughts on what it says about funerals.

Finished fun reading for a few weeks. Space Trilogy. Marvel stuff (I’m still with Cap on this one). Diet books.

Exercise update: love the treadmill. diet seems to be stable: CSA is great, but what will we do after October! Karate. Son is running cross country.

Festival plug. Live music. Great for kids. Terrific food (come early!).

Course prep: two day on basics of insurgency. One day on advanced concepts.

Closing segment.

Health care. A couple of you have been pushing me a bit on this, so let me go on a bit more on the topic. Actually, I am interested in health care as such, but even more so as an entrée into the more interesting subject of dependency. Even if we can slip out of our “government (and big business) as hammer” mindset, I am afraid that our communal sensibilities have atrophied. These muscles will take a LONG TIME to rebuild, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be rebuilt! Ditto for personal responsibility, although I think this one will be easier to fix. It only really takes your decision to be intentional to begin taking responsibility/charge over your actions; it takes lots of time to build up a real community. Democracy in Action by Robert Putnam. The “cooperate-cooperate” equilibrium is hard to establish – but not so hard to tear down. You could try to do it quick – kind of like the “noble lie” in Plato (or as it was reimagined in M.Night Shamalyan’s “The Village”), but that would contain the kind of fatal flaw that would condemn the effort (as slavery still threatens to condemn our great experiment in these United States). The best way is to start with those communities that already exist: churches are my favorite, but any of the still existing secondary organizations might do. Unfortunately, even there things are atrophied. It is rare to find the kind of faith or secular group that has the kind of mix of incentives necessary to build community.

Those who rail against communitarianism point to the role played by gossip and petty tyrants. As The Patriot said; ‘why would I trade in a tyrant across the sea for 100 next door’ (or some such). Clearly we would need to grow into becoming better people as we became better societies. I don’t know how this would be done in the secular world, but Orthodoxy is designed to build up both communities and persons in exactly this manner. It does this largely by continually reinforcing the positive messages of communalism (along with the personal virtues necessary to support it) . There are also ways that the Church discourages anti-social behavior, and my greatest concern would be that clergy (whose skills in this manner have also atrophied!) would abuse these, creating a blasphemous totalitarian theocracy (and I do mean blasphemy: doing evil in the name of God).

What does this have to do with health care? Nongovernmental, non-consumerist, non-big business solutions are communal. What would health care look like in such a situation? I can imagine lots of things (and there is a lot of sci-fi and apocalyptic literature that romanticizes such things). But even in our society as it is, what if faith groups formed their own (voluntary?) health care cooperatives. I have told you how the cost of insurance has led me to make so very good decisions with regard to my health. Communal health care would take this to the next level. Now lower premiums for those who make less risky decisions; if we recognize the integration of spirit and body, then perhaps we would accept similar (again, voluntary) incentives for other good behavior: celibacy for the unmarried; marriage longevity; training children; etc. I really don’t want to go back to the day when the government kept tabs of who was in good standing with the Church, but if we did this on a community basis AS CHRISTIANS (and voluntarily), it might work. Do you find this notion repulsive, or does it spark your imagination? It does both for me. But it is a scary thing to find yourself in the arms of a loving God. Moreover, it is just this that repulses me about having the government involved in anything but the most minimal way (which already includes medicare/medicade, and may soon include catastrophic protection and, more dangerously, preventative care).