20110617 Politics, the Paranormal, and Imagining Vain Things

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20110617  OrthoAnalytika Shownotes
Local News (to include consumer news):
A great new product that is changing the world (it has already changed my life): 

  • CVS Poison Ivy Cleansing Scrub.  Technu was good – it kept it from spreading as much as it might have.  Drying lotions and cooling sprays are good, but really just made the three weeks bearable.  CVS Poison Ivy Cleansing Scrub actually gets rid of the rash.  I had some nice streaks coming up on my arms (the rectory shrubs got me) and was looking forward to at least three weeks of misery.  It was gone within a week and pretty much skipped the ugly puss-blister stage!  It’s more expensive than other treatments, but worth every penny! (CVS.com does not list it, but does have the more expensive name-brand).

iPhone Application Update – becoming human:  

  • One of the challenges with the iPhone is what it does to our mindfulness/focus.  For many of us, the appearance of texts, e-mails, and phone calls are an addictive distraction.  You might not be able to ignore the phone, but there is no reason for asynchronous communication media to be treated as urgent.  This is not really an app, but it is a way to make your iPhone a better secretary.  Don’t let him interrupt you every time a piece of mail comes!  Because even the temptation to check the mail was strong for me, I actually disabled the mail function altogether!

Gadget Update  a portable library: 

  • Six months with the Kindle.  I like it.  At first, I just liked it for “pleasure books”, but it is creeping into my research library as well.  Why? The ability to have a compilation of things you have highlighted become its own reading is really useful for putting together lectures.  Getting them there is a bit clunky, but most PDF’s (which is what researchers end up having a lot of) work really well on the Kindle. Of course the two greatest features are the unit’s ergonomics and the size of affordable selections.  I have a nice collection of patristics, the Orthodox Study Bible, some old classics, research books, and a handful of things for pleasure reading.  I have also subscribed to some blogs.  This may seem a waste of money (especially when they are available free on the web – and the kindle can be used to surf the web), but we read ink differently than we read on the computer: we read deeper.  BTW, this is why I like the Kindle, with its passive display, much more than the ipad etc: it really is like reading a book.  I still buy books – every family should have a library and I love being surrounded by so much wisdom (my man cave has books and icons).  I also like the permanence of books.  But given how little power it uses and how much wisdom it can hold, it is one of the first things that should go in anyone’s bug-out bag.  We had two in ours when we had to vacate due to the great fire a couple of weeks ago.

Didn’t hear about the fire?  Here is some coverage.  

  • The church parking lot was packed, and we got a lot of foot traffic through the yard as people tried to get as close as possible to the fire as possible.  It was a huge fire about 175 yards down the hill from the parish complex (between us, we had one road, a couple of buildings, and a lot of trees).  There were several explosions and the flames were visible above and through the trees (remember, it is downhill!).  The air quality was completely noxious.  
  • We finally left home at about 9:30 after the wind changed and started blowing embers over the rectory etc.  We learned something important: keep a suitcase packed (or at least mostly packed)!  It’s not enough to plan to bunker down (which is my preference) – there may come a time when you need to leave quickly.  We shouldn’t live in fear, but we should be vigilant and responsible.     

Personal stuff:  

  • I broke 90.  With this progression, I’d be eligible for the pro tour soon – although I’d have to get some kind of dispensation to work on Sunday 🙂 .  
  • Tried out making a daytrip to DC – by train.  It was a bit grueling (but doable).  My sister and her family moved to north Houston.  I expect all the Orthoanalytikans there to pray for her and look out for her and her family!  
  • Pani Matushka is doing great, as is “Claire Evangeline”.  Less than two months left!  
  • We’re getting ready for camping season (as you should be – either as a camper, a parent, or a counselor: EVERYONE should support church camp!).  We can’t make MMDM at ASC, but still want to send our seven year old son to camp – so we are sending him to the OCA Camp at St. Tikhon’s because it accepts 7 year olds (our oldest son will still be going to TC at ASC, but DCSC only accepts 9-13 year olds).  As a bonus, it looks like I will be able to spend the week he is at camp on my own “spiritual retreat” at the monastery.  This will Warren’s first time away from his parents and my first time staying at a monastery – quite a big week for us!

Mail Call:

  • Thanks to Matthew for pushing me on UBL – you aren’t the only right-minded person who disagrees with me on this.  I still want to have you on the show to talk about the effect of political professors on college students and about the utility of higher education in general.
  • Thanks to David for his great comments.
  • And special thanks for Dr. Future and Tom “Itchy Man” Bionic for the shout out on FutureQuake.  it’s a blessing to have such strong fellow travelers and brothers in Christ.  Welcome to all of you who headed here for the first time.  
  • Remember, you can drop me a line at father.anthony@yahoo.com or call and leave a message at our listener feedback line: 401-405-1116.
Paranormal News
Why is Music a Religious Experience? by Michael Graziano (author of God, Soul, Mind, Brain; one of the best pop-science books on spirituality you will ever find).  
  • One of the themes of this podcast is that the paranormal and spiritual are natural parts of the real world.  This doesn’t mean that all paranormal experiences are correctly understood and interpreted any more that all “normal” experiences  are correctly understood and interpreted.  It is our assumption – but one we are always willing to test – that Orthodoxy and science provide the best ways to make sure that experiences are seen for what they really are.  They are the objective lens through which things can be seen most clearly.  Our minds are amazing – they can make coherent pictures even from flawed lenses – but they work best when the lenses are clean and everything is illumined by the light of Christ (the logos, the source of all rationality and wisdom).  
  • So what does this have to do with Graziano’s article on music?  Music is a paranormal/spiritual/miraculous experience.  Work with me here.  Why is so much of our worship musical?  What is it about music that “soothes the savage breast” (Congreve); that ” … is a moral law… gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” (Plato?); that forces demonic spirits to flee (1 Samuel 16: 23)?  For us, the answer is obvious – if seldom appreciated: 1) it reveals the glorious, rational, and loving mind of the Creator 2) increases our desire for union with the glroy that is in Him, a union which can be realized through Christ.  In short, it is – or more accurately, it CAN be, if properly enjoined (in Christ) – part of the great Mystery through which God is made known and through which our union with Him is accomplished.  Yes, music is mystery – it is sacrament.  
  • A few years ago, I talked about how Stephen Jay Gould (an atheist popularizer of materialist evolution; one whom I love to read due to both his ability to explain difficult concepts and his great joy and charity) tried to reconcile the paranormal/spiritual/mysterious properties of music (he was a great audiophile) with his materialism.  He is the one that compared it to cheesecake: an wonderful accident of chance.  
  • Graziano loves music, too.  He recognizes the way it attempts to draw him into a recognition of and reverence towards God – but must find a way to explain it away (because there is no God).  His explanation? “Certainly, I admire the man. Any person who could create great music has my admiration. I also admire the music. But that intellectual admiration, an admiration of the craftsmanship, is not the same as spiritual awe. Something else happens.  // In the deep logic of the music, I sense a presence. My brain generates a mind state, a persona, and attributes it to the music. Not the mind of Mozart the man, but a kind of soul that invests that particular piece. The piece has a persona. It has a palpable spirit, and I feel as though I can have a personal relationship to that spirit. The social, interpersonal, emotional machinery of my brain has been recruited. // My brain is treating the music like a universe of complexity and investing that universe with its own deity, for whom I feel some measure of awe and reverence. My relationship to the music is, in the most fundamental sense, the same as a religious relationship to the real world.”
  • We are homo adorans.  We were made for reverence of God.  The chemicals in our brains may lead from brain to mind to soul to God in pretty much the way he describes.  But just as a historian can describe the way the conception of God changed up to and through the Incarnation, and just as scientists can describe how the movement of cords in our throats transmit through the air and move the drums in a lover’s ear… he is missing the best part of the story.  Beauty will save the world – this is the great wonder of Christ Incarnate.  He is the heart of real music, and without knowing that – then it really is just gongs and cymbals (1 Cor. 13:1).

Speaking of music… “Universal Property of Music Discovered“.

  • You know about the physics of the octave; you may even know about chords and the way the overtone series creates subtle harmonies that good composers use to marvelous effect.  While the ways these things are used and appreciated varies somewhat by culture, they are universal laws of physics: part of the framework that homo adorans was built into.  As the steward of God’s creation, it is part of the world that he was meant to use and enjoy, all towards the glory of God.  
  • Scientists have reaffirmed this trans-cultural aspect of music: when all the hundreds of scales mankind has come up with are mapped in three dimensional space, each of them creates a “convex or star-convex structure”.  This was true even of modern composers who intentionally tried to challenge the conventional structure.  Even Melkor’s music was incorporated into the music of Iluvatar!
  • It all reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote: the man who has never heard the entire symphony may enjoy a version of it written for the piano; but the man who has heard the symphony would be moved to awe at the mere mention of its name (I’m paraphrasing).

Brainwashing for Saints and Sinners: “Subliminal Religious Prompts Make Spanish Atheists Kinder” (from Epiphenom).

  • Homo adorans was made to live in community.  We are wired in a way that makes community life part of the process of salvation.  This is why the Church – the community of Christ – is the vehicle of our perfection.  In a fallen world, not all communities (to include parishes!) work towards this end.  The same process that leads to sanctification among saints can lead to wickedness among the wicked.  Psychology can describe these mechanisms, but not their intent/utility.  This is why true rationality (and good science) has God at its foundation.
  • This study comes close to being good science because it plays on an attribute almost everyone (minus, perhaps, Ayn Rand – see below) considers virtuous: kindness.  People who were subliminally primed to think of God and spirituality were more cooperative and trusting in subsequent experiments than those given secular priming.  This finding – one that confirms previous studies here in the states – was true for both Christians and atheists.
  • Mind control (or simply influencing others) – even using something as subtle and weak as priming – is a dangerous thing.  Who do you trust with it?  Personally, the only Brave New World that I want is the one that comes with the Messiah.  Perhaps at a subliminal level, even atheists desire this, too. 
  • A similar experiment primed people for either the belief that people could change or that their natures were fixed.  They found that the first group was significantly more inclined to forgive (i.e. cooperate after betrayal and apology) than the second group.  Again, priming people with the truth leads to better behavior than priming them with lies.  Go figure.

And to Wet Your Appetite for our Upcoming Series on Transhumanism and the Singularity:  China is Genetically Modifying Cows to Produce Human Breast Milk (from Foxnews)

  • “The milk produced by the transgenic cows is identical to the human variety, with the same immune-boosting and antibacterial qualities as breast milk, scientists at China’s Agricultural University in Beijing said.”
  • “The transgenic herd of 300 was bred by inserting human genes into cloned cow embryos which were then implanted into surrogate cows. The technology used was similar to that used to produce Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned by scientists, in Scotland.”
  • Wesley Smith at Second-hand Smoke supports modifying animals and plants so that they support healthier products (e.g. the manufacture of medicines), but he is till creeped out by this one.  While I’m ambivalent about all genetic modifications, I still join him in finding this especially creepy.  But is finding something, er, distasteful enough to reject it?  And are other reasons for dismissing this kind of thing just rationalizations for our distaste?  I’m still reading his book on this, but Leon Kass (e.g. Beyond Therapy) seems to be saying that our distaste is morally relevant.  
  • What do y’all think?  Is this just creepy, or is it wrong?  Isn’t the mixing of human and animal genetic material an abomination?  This may not rise up to the level of bestiality (Leviticus 8:23), but it does seem to violate a pretty basic Biblical assumption (one that observant Jews reinforce by keeping Kosher) that some things should never be mixed.  Surely this is much worse than putting cheese on a burger or trimming a wool coat with cotton lace.
  • Speaking of Kass, his is one of about ten books – ranging from Athanasius to Smith – I am working through to help provide some leverage on transhumanism.  Let me know if you know of one that I shouldn’t miss!


Just in Case those Weren’t Paranormal Enough for You: here’s something everyone will love.  In “From Cthulhu to Cloning” and “Charioteer of the God“, Jason Colavito show the real genesis of the ancient astronaut mythology (and it isn’t Sumarian or Egyptian… not really).

  • I’ve never bought into the alien hypothesis idea.  I’ve read some of its proponents and I’ve watched the History Channel series (which will be torture for anyone trained in any serious analytic discipline), but the evidence just doesn’t add up.  Sure there are strange things in this world (if you haven’t done so, you really need to check out things like the Nasca Lines on Google Earth – way cool!), but connecting those dots is more suspicious than anything Cheney and the neo-cons ever came up with regarding WMD, AQ, and Saddam Hussein.  
  • Having said that, it’s still an intriguing mythology and fun to keep track of.  As C.S. Lewis wrote If Christianity is a mythology, then it isn’t my favorite.  Irish and Norse mythology is far more interesting.  If you treat it like that – myths that say as much (if not more) about the cultural context that resonates with them, then you can relax and have some fun.  For me, one of the most interesting mythologies is the one that my cousin H.P. Lovecraft came up with.
  • Well, come to find out, you can trace the isnad straight from Lovecraft to the History Channel (through Hapgood and von Daniken).  Yes, Lovecraft was inspired by ancient legends and artifacts – but he never claimed that what he put together was true.   A powerful idea simply took root and spread (the Chdzulhu Myth?).  Interestingly, the History Channel isn’t the only one to fabricate a false religion out of the Cthulhu mythos: L Ron Hubbard (a Satanist/disciple of Allister Crowley and rival of Lovecraft) changed the names and created a profitable religion – $cientology – out of it.  Too bad Battlefield Earth was the best movie they could derive from it.  Perhaps one day de Torro will actually get around to making a movie of the Mountain of Madness.  Until then, the black and white movies that have been making their way onto iTunes will have to do!

Time for a Commercial Break, from the Sartyr’s Trident: a new book to give to your priest for Father’s Day (warning: satire)!
New from Nous (noose) Press:  The Doctor You Want: Therapeutic Homilies for Good People
From the back cover:

  • Are you tired of homilies that make you feel uncomfortable?  That seem to assume that you are a sinner?  That preach to the choir as if they were visitors?  The chosen people as if they were in need of serious repentance?  Then this book of homilies is for you!  Ever dread it when certain Sundays on the lectionary come around?  Hate squirming in your pew during homilies that judge how you spend your money and your time?  How you conduct your personal life?  We are not yet allowed to change the Orthodox lectionary, but we can help ensure that the right lessons are taught.  This is because, unlike previous generations of homily writers, we know that you are already Christian and that you are already living godly lives.  Why else would you be in Church?   
  • For example, in a church full of bad people, the Gospel of the Rich Young Man may be a challenge to change; but in one full of saints, it is based on the recognition that no one is perfect but God.  The sin of the Rich Young Man is not that he refused to give up all his God-given and well-earned riches, but that he wanted to be perfect in the first place.  Only God is perfect and we are only perfected through Him!  It is the hubris of the Rich Young Man, not his riches, that makes him sad.  Don’t be sad about being rich – just trust in the love of God!  
  • A perfect gift for every priest, young and old, this collection of homilies is designed to help and encourage people where they are: in God’s love but living in a world that tries to beat them down, undermine their dignity, and make them feel bad.  You should be confident in your faith in yourself and the love of the Great Physician.  Help your preacher be the coach and therapist you need: get him this book!

Now: back to the news!

More on Psychology and Religion (which is to say, on Christian anthropology)
It seems that the atheists may have a harder time of things than they might like: despite decades of their best efforts 92% of Americans still say they believe in God!  

  • The number is, of course, lower on the East Coast and among folks with graduate degrees (immersion over time leads to mastery, after all), but even still, the numbers were really high (86% and 87%, respectively).
  • Unfortunately, this does not mean that people are believing in anything real or useful.  Given our culture, much of this is just a nod to the sort of imaginary god that would support completely narcissistic lifestyles.  Still, at least people have some sense that there is more to life than what the educated elite keep telling them.

There is more to being good than being properly primed: the Economist shares this result – Judges were less inclined to grant parole the longer they worked without breaking.

  • It takes a lot of discipline to be objective and rational when your body is suffering.  One way to deal with this is to train your will so that it is strong enough to deal with this.  This is one of the reasons we fast and pray for extended periods of time.  Another way to deal with it is to make sure that we coddle our bodies (not our usual solution – as Sunday mornings are wont to show!).
  • In a world where self-discipline is the exception, it might be a good idea to take the people you need help from (or buy-in from) snacks and to take regular breaks.  Either that or convert them to Orthodoxy!

Christian Smith, a sociologist at Notre Dame, is making a claim that because love is an undeniable part of human personality, action, and community, it should be treated as real by all scientists who study such things.  Here’s how his approach (critical realism) compares to the standard approaches:

  • “Positivist empiricism is unable to make sense of human persons, since some of the most important things about personhood are not directly empirically observable and cannot be formulated as nomothetic covering laws of human life.” 
  • “Postmodern relativism equally gets personhood wrong by denying that human reality involves some characteristics, capacities, and tendencies that inhere in the nature of human being, which we rightly can call human nature. The postmodern tendency is to assume that humanity itself is ultimately constructed by language and discourse, and therefore fluid, variable, and infinitely open.” 
  • “By contrast, critical realism views reality as significantly given by the nature of things, stratified, complex, and often emergent. That means that such a thing as human nature can and does exist independent of our mental constructions of it, that it cannot be understood in reductionistic terms, and that science is about better understanding human ontology and the ways that complex human powers and capacities operate in various contexts to produce actions and social structures of importance.”
  • As I political scientist, most of my training was positivist.  This approach recognized the problem love and altruism caused for our models (models which assumed people were selfish maximisers). You could use some slight of hand (as saying that altruists just wanted to maximise someone else’s good) or by adding a residual variable to the equation (and as most models explained precious little of the variance, this was really an admission of failure).  But we knew we were creating models that didn’t match the way people really lived (with the exception of people with graduate degrees and East Coast Yankees 🙂  ).  Smith’s approach is the traditional one and I hope it gets traction.
  • Overall, religious people in America (measured by a composite variable) are slightly less likely to support torture than secular people, but additional analysis found a more interesting story.
  • Those people whose religion led them to be more conservative politically were more likely to support torture (and this doesn’t mean ALL torture, but is contextualized by the discussions of water-boarding and the like in the “Global War on Terror”).  So the direct effect of religion on support for torture is negative, but the indirect effect – through conservatism – is positive.
  • What does this mean?  It seems to me that this shows how easy it is for religious people to buy into a whole political agenda, even using their religiosity to support this (secular!) agenda.  This is nothing new: you can tell whether a Christian is liberal or conservative based on which wars they support.  I don’t think such people are being intentionally disingenuous: there are subtle psychological processes at work – you cannot trust your brain!  Nor can you trust the Democratic or Republican Parties.  You can trust God.  You can trust the Church.  Not because they tell you what you want to hear or what is politically useful, but because it is the Truth and because it is what you need to hear.
  • I hope people remember this as the campaigning starts.  Sure, render unto Caesar, but remember that a person can serve only one master.  Who is yours?
  • And while I’m a big fan of limited government and have a Gadsden flag on my jeep, I’m not buying into the Tea Party – and I’m certainly not buying into Ayn Rand!
  • At the risk of offending everyone, I am going to develop this theme a bit more after this break from our sponsor. 

Time for a Commercial Break, from the Sartyr’s Trident: something special for the Ukrainian Orthodox chanters in your life (with special thanks to David S.).
More from the Sartyr’s Trident.  When you’ve been chanting all day, the incense is thick around you, and you haven’t had a bit to drink since midnight; when your mouth feels as dry as Gideon’s fleece on the second night; when the only sounds coming out of your throat sound like the braying of Barlaam’s other donkey: then you need to refresh yourself with the pure water from the Carpathian Mountains.  Karpatska Girska Mineral Water: every chanter’s choice. [ed. we started this commercial back at a Reader/Subdeacon Retreat at St. Sophia’s in 2002.  It was my first encounter with folks from the broader UOC-USA and more evidence that I really was among friends).
First a Bit of a Warm-up: Politics and Religion
As the government does more, its heterodox (at best) character causes it to increasingly do things that are spiritually harmful.  This is especially true when it comes to protecting our health.  Because the government’s definition of “health” is often different than our own, we will be forced to chose between martyrdom and apostasy.  And apostasy will seem so easy…  Even now, how many of us would be willing to give up our commitment to intact burial?  Why?  Because the world has told us that it is the right and most humane thing to do.  Apostasy is so easy.  How many of us are willing to support things that the Originator of Truth and Health has told us is wrong and harmful?  Things like abortion, premarital sex, adultery, sodomy, no-fault divorce, cohabitation, and dvoeveriye?  How many of us are willing to believe that speaking out against these some of these things in hate-speach; or if not that, then a matter of private opinion rather than universal moral truth?  Do you think it will get easier as the government – and the culture in which it nests – becomes more secular, anti-clerical, and self-righteous?  If you don’t the comparison is valid – are you telling me that you are going to fight the government to protect something that you already proved willing to give up for nothing?  And as for the weak defense that such things do not rise to the level of dogma: can the person who cannot be trusted in little things be trusted with greater ones (St. Luke 16:10)?  Let me share a couple of small examples from recent events that show how ugly this is likely to get:

  •  In Santa Monica, California, an attempt to ban circumcision had real momentum… until the extreme anti-Semitism of the main agitator was revealed.  Until then, its anti-religious motivation was hidden beneath a concern for the health of innocent babies.  The movement continues and has real traction in San Francisco.  Again, note that religious concerns are subordinated (at least by these activists) to ones that regard “health”.   You have heard of – and perhaps been less than sympathetic towards – Jehovas’ Witnesses.  How about when they are coming after you?
  • Here’s a seemingly trivial case from here in Rhode Island.  As Orthodox, we consider it disrespectful of the person and the Holy Spirit to burn a corpse.  While this is not dogma, it is a firm teaching of the Church.  When there is no one to claim the body, then it isn’t the churches or burial societies that step up and take care of things: the government takes care of it.  And because it is cheaper to cremate a body than it is to bury it – and because the state does not have a correct anthropology – it has decided here in Rhode Island to start cremating indigents.  Again, you may not see the harm; but is that because there is no harm – or because you have abandoned the Church’s teaching in favor of something you think is better, more modern, or easier?
  • Government programs get expensive.  They aren’t based on what can be afforded, but on what politicians think people should have.  But as they try to make the obligations to lobbyists and voters come from completely breaking the bank (and here we are talking about states, not about the national government – the latter seems willing to print money and take on debt until they run out of both paper and promises), they will attempt to cut corners.  If you followed any of the so called “Obamacare” debates, then you are familiar with how the logic works: bureaucrats and politicians will have to make decisions that have serious religious and moral implications.  Here’s a fun example that sets a serious precedence: Under an Arizona Plan, Smokers and Obese would Pay Medicare Fee.  The claim is that this kind of thing is justified because smoking and gluttony are voluntary vices that increase insurance costs for other subscribers.  Why not get them to pay for their vices?  Who knows, it might even get them to change their behavior.  But why limit it to obesity and smoking?  Why not extra-marital sex?  Sodomy?  These are voluntary behaviors that have societal costs.  It is tempting to be drawn into a fight about what behaviors the government should tax – obesity, smoking, promiscuity – the real point is that we should be really wary about using the government in this capacity at all.  The government cannot abuse a power we have not given it (and have no doubt, neither the government’s nor the people’s list of virtues and vices aligns with Orthodoxy’s).  We call God our Father and He is and we need Him to be.  The government is not our mother, even if it is willing to play that role.  Nor is America – as blessed a place as it is and as wonderful its founding documents – a New Jerusalam nor its people the “New Israel”.  If liberal Christians are too quick to give in on issues like abortion, divorce, and marriage; conservative Christians are similarly too quick to buy into the idea of a heretical version of American Exceptionalism.  No good can come of either hubris – it is never good to exalt anything but God.

Today’s Volya (Freedom) Moment: Politics and Religion among the American Orthodox
But limited government is just one approach – another is to push the government to base its laws and enforcement on true morality.  In America – and I can say especially here in Rhode Island – this is likely to be met with a mix of apathy and distrust: the idea of separation of church and state has come to mean the privatization of theistic morality.  It takes courage to make a stand in such a situation.

  • Liberal Christian activists do this with regard to topics like illegal immigration, the conduct of war, and the alleviation of the suffering of the disadvantaged.  Conservative Christians typically favor different issues: protection against Shariah, defense of traditional marriage, protection of unborn babies.  As the earlier example of torture demonstrated – the choice of issues seems to have less to do with the Gospel than it does political preferences.  
  • The fact is that no Christian should support abortion, the denigration of marriage, the spread of Sharia, unnecessary wars, or the willful flaunting of reasonable laws; and honestly nor should they consider themselves members of parties that do (temporary alliances are different).  True morality does not line up neatly along partisan lines.  The thinking among some – to include the Orthodox Christian bishops in America –  is that you make what allies you can, joining together on those issues you share in.  So we work with the Roman Catholics against anti-clericalism, them and the evangelicals against hyper-secularism and abortion, the mainstream Christians on social justice issues, the Republicans when it comes to defense of marriage, the Democrats when it comes to protection of the innocent, the Muslims and Jews when it comes to tolerance of religious diversity, and so on.  
  • But there is always someone willing to interpret such alliances in partisan terms; and as the term implies – this interpretation, this framing – divides us.  We have seen this happen over the past few months with some our Orthodox leaders here in America, most notably, around the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah.
  • He wants to see the Orthodox be more visible in protecting and advancing virtuous behavior and decrying wickedness.  The negative backlash to the work this aggressive, young, conservative, outsider (who is admittedly sometimes prone to foot-in-mouth problems) began after he signed the Manhattan Declaration, but really reached a head after he got really positive coverage in a   Washington Post article.  This article raised challenging issues that point to the divisions between old guard & new guard; northern and southern; convert/revert and cradle.  This reaction was predictable given that most of the Orthodox in American are Democrat/leaning Democrat, come from Blue states, support abortion, and presumably suffer precious little cognitive dissonance between their liberalism and their commitment to Christ (from Prof. Krindatch):
    • Politics: Independent – 15%; Democrat/Democrat lean – 50%; Republican/Republican lean – 35%
    • Abortion: Don’t know – 8%; Pro Choice – 62%; Pro Life – 30%
    • Regional Distribution of Orthodox: California (14.5%), New York (13.5%), Illinois (7.2%), New Jersey (6.9%), Massachusetts (5.9%), Pennsylvania (5.8%), Ohio (4.9%), Michigan (4.6%), Texas (3.0%), Maryland (2.3%), Indiana (2.2%), Connecticut (1.9%); (Total 72.7% of Orthodox).
  • How is it possible that Christians can support abortion and gay marriage (and here, I thing we gave up on any connection between government and Christian marriage a looong time ago!)?  I serve with many liberal priests in the Orthodox Church, work with many liberal pastors in my ecumenical work, and minister to the needs of liberal parishioners here in New England.  They see the tie-in between Christianity, tolerance, mercy, compassion, and social justice issues as flowing inevitable from Christ.  They honestly do not understand how conservatives can be Christian.  For a coherent presentation of this, read Frank Schaeffer’s book Patience with God, or better yet, really get to know one of your liberal brothers or sisters in Christ.  When pushed on abortion or same-sex marriage, most sound positively libertarian: they just don’t want the government involved either way.  While it is okay to doubt their naivety, you cannot doubt their sincerity.  As G.K. Chesterton put it “they have great hearts, they are just completely in the wrong place” (from his book Orthodoxy).
  • There is no doubt that abortion is completely against Christian compassion; there is even less doubt that it goes against Orthodox Christian teaching.  All the bishops in America have said this: abortion is sinful.  So deciding to support it is a decision to go against the Church.  A big heart is not enough to live and do well: it takes a life in Christ to live and do well.  And if you are rejecting the clear teaching of the Church, then you have decided to live apart from Christ.  You have decided that you know better than Him and His Holy Spirit.  You may be brilliant, you may be well-educated, and I have no doubt that you are compassionate: but if this is the choice you have made, then you are still wrong.
  • So again, how is it possible that so many would reject Christ?  These numbers, again from Krindatch, provide a clue.  These describe the percentage of Orthodox (a nice sample from the GOA and OCA, but I daresay it is more generally representative) that think you can still be a good Orthodox Christian without doing the following:
    • Without going to Church every Sunday: 60% (this despite the fact that the clear guideline is that you must attend every Sunday and every feast day; as it is written in the official UOC-USA Prayer Book: “The life of an Orthodox Christian is based on Holy Tradition and may be summarized in the following percepts; “Observe the ecclesiastical Holy Days.  Attend Church services on Sundays and Holy Days.” (p. 390)
    • Without observing Lent and fasting on certain days: 50% (again, from the UOC-USA Prayer Book: “Keep the Fasts prescribed by the Church”, p. 390)
    • Without their marriage being approved by Church: 40% (this despite the clear teaching that marrying outside the Church is an act of intentional self-excommunication).
    • Without donating time and money to help the poor: 28% (this despite this is the focus of Christ’s practical ministry)
    • Without believing that in Eucharist, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus: 3%  
    • Without believing that Jesus rose from the dead: 2%
  • The last two show that parishioners are paying attention, they are just selective in what they accept.  The literal presence and the resurrection require very little personal commitment or sacrifice.  I guess I should just be happy that we have so many people who support the core dogmas of the Church.  But I’m not: these numbers are heart-breaking and a real call to action!  I can’t see how people can be upset with Mp. Jonah for calling a spade a spade.  
  • Given that 60% of Orthodox Christians in America don’t think it is important, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Orthodox attendance (34% go at least once a week) is generally lower among the Orthodox than among American Evangelicals (58% go at least once a week) and Roman Catholics (42% go at least once a week).  At least we’re tied with the Mainline Protestants.

[And a note to Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians: this isn’t about picking the right politics – it’s about transcending partisanship altogether.  If the vast majority of the Orthodox came from Red states, this edition probably wouldn’t be about abortion – it would be about support for torture, or aggressive foreign policy, or usury, or (this one hurts) a willingness to use any tool to serve the downtrodden (to include, dare I say it… the government!?).]

Brothers and sisters, we have a lot of work to do.  Christ is in our midst, urging us to serve.  We are not doing well.  You don’t have to agree with your bishop’s politics – or your priest’s, for that matter (many of my parishioners don’t), but you do have to join them in seeking to bring Christ to the world.  Yes, this is best done through love and humility – but if people have never been told what is right and what is wrong and why, then they are not to blame for following their fallen consciousnesses and leading themselves and others into sin.  But we are.  We are our brother’s keeper.  We cannot pretend that the truths of Christianity are anything but universal.  Don’t make the mistake of buying into any political agenda or the rightness of any nation other than the one that has been gathered under Christ’s name, for as the Psalmist wrote; “For all the gods of the nations are demons.”  And you don’t want to hear this, but the only nation with Christ as its elohim is the Christian nation; one in which there is no Greek or Jew or American or Ukrainian or Russian or Republican or Democrat or Teapartier (Galatians 3:8).

Let me end with a Christological Psalm that serves as a warning to all of us who would put worldly agendas – to include worldly compassion – above the truth and love that is in Christ; 
Psalm 2
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His Christ, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the LORD shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.
Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
I don’t want to be broken with a rod of iron or dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel.  So will serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.  I will kiss the Son and put my trust in Him.