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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Divorce and Homosexuality

From Touchstone Mag's Mere Comments website, they printed a reader's response. I relay it here without comment, for your consideration:

Touchstone is thought-provoking as always. A small sketch of thoughts provoked:

To state the obvious, weighing the relative harm to the institution of marriage of (a) divorce or (b) homosexual “marriage” depends, of course, not only on the definition of marriage, but also, ultimately, on how we understand what it means to be human.

The American secular view of what it means to be human seems to combine a philosophical dialectical materialism with a religious gnosticism. The human is the individual, “a spark of the divine imprisoned in a corrupt world.” (Leander Harding has done a nice synopsis of Harold Bloom’s The American Religion and Phillip Lee’s Against the Protestant Gnostics.)

In a characteristically American style, the individual is involved in a romantic, heroic quest to discover/recover its true self, the divine spark that has been imprisoned and held hostage, a victim of the oppressive forces of custom and nature. “Salvation” is the achievement of wholeness and self-discovery unrestrained by either nature or custom. Along the way to “salvation,” the individual realizes that a given gender, among other things, is accidental, not essential to its true nature. Gender can be self-selected as a mode of expressing the individual’s true inner self. The accidental effect of biology is a hindrance that can be overcome.

Starting from this foundation, arguments to oppose same-sex marriage seem to have an arbitrary character, the shackles of oppressive custom, with no compelling force in either equity or reason.

Biblically, however, “the Adam,” as the Hebrew says, is created male and female in the image of God. The essentially human, then, is not the individual in its stark freedom, but the man and woman in community with their Creator. The Fall was the sundering of the primary relationship with the Creator, and the result was spiritual death with its inevitable progression into the physical world. Homosexuality is one further expression of sin’s alienating effect, further estranging the individual from the primal community found in the original “image of God.”

To put it succinctly, homosexuality violates, not just human biology, but ontology. Putting it another way, using divorce as a comparison, while divorce fractures the image of God, homosexuality perverts the image of God.

This sounds harsh and strange to our culturally conditioned ears. But the distinction is reflected in Scripture — for example, in the proscriptions of the Mosaic Law.

The difference between divorce and homosexuality is immediately apparent in the respective penalties imposed: for homosexuality and bestiality, as for sorcery, the penalty is death. Divorce, on the other hand, is permitted and regulated (albeit, as Jesus points out, it is still sin, a result of human “hardness” of heart). That isn’t the arbitrary decision it may at first appear to be. Both homosexuality and bestiality strike at the essence of what it means to be human, the community (as male and female) of the image of God. They profane the name of God.

This severity of judgment continues in the two accounts that relate specifically to homosexuality in the Old Testament: the narratives about (1) Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), and (2) the Levite and his concubine in Gibeah (Judges 19, 20). Both narratives end in the corporate deaths of the communities, a literary dénouement that we feel sure is neither incidental nor accidental.

Divorce per se is not a threat to the institution of marriage; it is a threat to specific marriages, which fractures God’s original intent.

Homosexual “marriage,” on the other hand, is a rejection of the image of God as male and female. Humans have forged many kinds of relationships, but the only one essential (of the essence) to the imago dei is the marriage relationship. The threats posed to the institution of marriage by divorce or homosexual “marriage” are threats of a different order.

After all, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details.

Letter to Evangelicals

I'm in the midst of changing jobs. In the course of cleaning out my computer hard drive, I came across a "letter" I wrote when I was first exploring Orthodoxy but had already come to a number of conclusions. I post it here not because it's anything earth shattering or revelatory, but pretty much just to maintain a record of it and show the developing thought process of a convert. At the time I operated a website, yahoo group and discussion forum dedicated to a peculiar brand of evangelicalism. The letter was an early draft intended to explain my spiritual pilgrimage to participants.

July 25, 2001
Dear friends,

You may have noticed that during the past few months I have not been active on these discussion lists. The reason for this is that I have been on a search, a search for truth, a search for meaning, a search for purpose.

As many of you may know, up until 1995 my religious experience was entirely within the circle of influence of the Charismatic movement. As a young Methodist I moved in Charismatic circles, attended Charismatic bible studies, Pentecostal Churches and eventually found my way into a militant Charismatic College ministry. Even as a seminarian and United Methodist minister, I integrated Charismatic theology into my preaching and teaching. Although exposed to the precepts of Moral Government theology, and embracing them, prior to seminary, this was still within the Charismatic world view.

While reading Finney, Olson, and the like helped give me a healthy respect for God's holiness and the necessity of Christians living a holy life as well, it did not keep me from involvement in even more insidious aspect of Charismaticism, the Word of Faith movement. What it did do, however, is give me the moral insight to eventually leave this movement, if only after six years. After rejecting Word of Faith teaching I also began to re-evaluate the whole Charismatic belief system and came to the conclusion that it was unbiblical, a seeking of sensual experience in the guise of religious experience. More and more I began to reject experiential religion as a subjective and inherently flawed and mistaken approach to God. As I participated in Internet discussion groups, my argumentation focused more and more on the necessity for a faith based on a purely objective, rational standard.

As a staunch biblicist, I viewed the bible as that standard and forcefully argued my positions from it. I believed that if only everyone would apply the same rational, common sense approach to biblical hermenutics that I did they would all come to the same conclusions. That apparently intelligent, rational human beings could come to diametrically opposite conclusions, even when aware of my own and other's arguments to the contrary, was quite disconcerting. My usual justification of this was a self-righteous belief that these people were using their theology to excuse some secret sin, that the only reason they didn't see the truth of my arguments was because they were hiding some sin they wanted to engage in. Thus, if one were intelligent, rational and truly repentant, he would agree with me.

Unfortunately for that position, I began to dialogue with people who not only disagree with me, but seemed to display what I considered a truly proper attitude toward sin and unrighteousness. These people weren't trying to hide their sin, they just read the scripture differently. While I probably could have left that there, the question asserted itself that since I believed a truly rational reading of scripture would reveal the TRUTH to the sincere seeker, how could I explain sincere seekers not agreeing with my understanding of truth? Perhaps my whole paradigm needed shifting? Maybe, just maybe, the idea of that the individual believer, alone before God, was competent and sufficient in his own soul to interpret the scriptures. Maybe passages such as Jesus promise that the Paraclete would guide us into "all truth" and Peter's statement that "But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation," really meant that it was more than the Spirit guiding individual believer's to reach their own conclusions.

Additionally, I began to see in myself a growing tendency to make all of religion a rational exercise. I discounted all "experience", even the most profound, as probably arising in a person's own wishful thinking. As this went on I saw myself becoming more and more cynical and judgemental, an attitude that affected not only my online relationships but those with my family and others. God and Christianity had become, for me, not a relationship but an idea, an moral and ethical choice of life that could quite easily be divorced from faith in any supernatural or interactivity on the part of God. Truthfully, I did not much care for what I saw in myself. I had become a Pharisee without even knowing it.
Then, an off-handed comment in a discussion started me researching into a possible solution. Suppose, just suppose, that the Church of the Apostles, the Church founded by our Lord on the day of Pentecost, really never disappeared. Suppose somewhere there was a repository of Apostolic teaching, of the "faith once for all delivered to the Saints". Suppose Jesus really meant all those plural pronouns to mean something more than a group of individuals but a group, period. Suppose when He declared that was founding His Church upon the rock of Peter's statement of faith and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, He really meant it! Well, I started looking into a Church that claimed just that. Not a johnny come lately that only traced its history back 100, 200, or even 500 years, but a Church that claimed an unbroken succession all the way back to the Apostles, a Church that can show an organic, unbroken link to the Churches founded by Peter, Paul, James, John and the other Apostles. The more I read, the more I studied, the more I discussed with others, the more convinced I became that this Church was, in fact, exactly what it claimed to be. Also I learned that within the teachings, writings and, most importantly, worship of this Church, there was contained the true and proper interpretation of Scripture for this was the Church that gave us the New Testament, that witnessed to the truth of the Old Testament and, more importantly, experienced the reality of the God to Whom the scriptures witness.

Of course I am writing about the Eastern Orthodox Church. A Church largely unknown among Protestants, but the Church that has carried on the tradition of the Apostles down through the centuries.
And so it ends. As I said, just a draft and as I re-read it I'm tempted to clean it up and elaborate on some points, but I'll leave it as a historical record. I'm not sure why there wasn't anymore at that point, but I know a eventually published a more complete exposition of what I had found in the Orthodox Church. Thanks for "listening".

Friday, June 25, 2004

Pro-abortion Sophistry

I have highlighted his website before, but Fr. Rob Johansen (Roman Catholic) deserves to be highlighted again for his consistent and devastating deconstruction of pro-abortion politicians' arguments. He confronts a number of them in his latest missive, but the one argument that is my personal pet peeve, "personally opposed", get's this treatment:

Apart from the utter mendacity of politicians who parrot their lines about being "personally opposed" to abortion...the fatuity of the "personally opposed, but..." position is demonstrated by simply using the Nazi comparison...Imagine a Nazi official saying:

"I'm personally opposed to rounding up Jews, enslaving and gassing them, but I won't impose my religious faith on others."

or

"I'm personally opposed to the mass execution of Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies, but I have to represent the views of all the Nazis, the majority of whom support execution-on-demand."

We would rightly regard somone who uttered such things to be either a lunatic or a moral monster. At the very least we'd conclude there was something truncated about his moral vision.
Try this on your pro-abortion friends!

Bearing Slander

I read this today:

St. Mark the ascetic said: "Whoever desires to eliminate future tribulations must bear the present tribulations with joy." Men consider slander as a great tribulation and there are few men who bear this tribulation without grumbling. O beautiful is the fruit of kindly endured tribulation! Tribulation is given to us for good spiritual commerce and we are missing the opportunity thus remaining empty-handed at the market place. Behold, even Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, Macarius, Sisoes and thousands of other followers of the Most-slandered One were themselves slandered. But God, Who orders all things for our salvation, had so ordered that on the thorn of slander would sprout fragment roses of glory for all those who are slandered for His Name. Had Stephen not been slandered would he have seen the heavens opened and seen the glory of God in the heavens? And the slander against Joseph the Chaste One, did it not serve to his greater glory?
I confess that I do not bear up well under slander. I am quick to defend myself, quick to excuse even when such words might be justified. I am amazed at the number of saints who have endured slander, even in our modern times. It seems that slander is either a path to humility or a reward for it. Oh God, help me, a sinner!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Torture of the Unborn

Fr. John Breck's most recent article on the OCA website simply underscores how horrific abortion is and how callous and hypocritical those who support it are. There is simply *no* justification for inflicting this kind of pain on innocent human beings. In a society where inflicting pain upon animals has become a felony in most states, where is the outrage concerning a judge who writes an opinon that the pain of the unborn is "...“irrelevant,” presumably because the laws allowing it give no consideration to the issue of pain, but focus entirely on the “rights” of the mother to end the life of the child growing within her."? As Fr. John points out, this discussion is ugly, but it must be made and if this horrific holocaust is to end, it must be made as loudly and publically as possible!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Destructive Values of Government Schools

Okay, I finally found something I agree on with a Baptist! As a lifelong (well, my children's lives) homeschooler, I would never consider sending my children to a government school. Quite honestly, I wouldn't consider sending them to most "Christian" schools either.

Moscow's Ban on JWs

Any thoughts regarding the situation as outlined in the article at Christianity Today's Weblog?

I confess I have mixed feelings here. Being a free market kind of guy, I think the Truth prospers best in an open marketplace of ideas. However, recognizing there may not be a level playing field at work and being Orthodox (as well as thinking JW is a bunch of hooey), I sympathize with the intentions of the law.

I do think the writer, and the esteemed justice quoted, overstate the debt owed to JWs. Oh, I'm not disputing the historical record, but I'm inclinded to think that if any mainstream Christian denominations had been confronted with the restrictions with which the JWs were that prompted all these suits, they would have fought, and won, the same legal victories. I'm also inclinded to believe that if the JWs were actually more benign a sect than they are, they would not have encountered these restrictions in the first place. It is human nature to try to protect one's family and community from what is preceived to be a threat. At one time it was even considered Constitutional.

Whatcha y'all think?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Abortionists and Orwellian Doublespeak

I think it should be axiomatic that whenever one is unwilling to speak in plain, descriptive language on a subject that one supports, it is evidence of the moral and ethical weakness of one's position. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the doublespeak used by pro-abortionists concerning abortion in general and partial-birth abortion in particular. Rich Lowry has points this out in an exceptionally plain written piece on NRO Online. Because they know their position would be morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans if spoken about plainly, they engage in great verbal gymnastics and the height of Orwellian doublespeak.

Tell me again, why is it morally permissable to support pro-abortion politicians?

Response to Atheists

I was watching a little of the Dennis Miller show last night when Michael Newdow was on. Newdow is the atheist who brought suit against the Pledge of Allegiance containing the words "under God". He made the assertion along the lines that atheists shouldn't have to feel "apart" in this country, or something to that effect. Well, quite honestly, I have never read in the Constitution where the feelings of anyone are protected. He cannot be forced to practice religion, but then the Courts have already ruled that no one can be forced to recite the pledge. Any one who objects to the phrase is perfectly free to not recite it, or not recite the pledge at all.

Anyway, I forget myself. What I really wanted to bring to your attention regarding Mr. Newdow, atheists and supposed religious/a-religious pluralism in this country is an editorial from the Wall Street Journal. Again, you should read the whole thing (it's short), but what stands out to me is:

Today, overwhelming majorities of Americans affirm religious beliefs. When asked in 2003 simply whether they believed in God or not, 92% said yes. In a series of 2002-03 polls, 57% to 65% of Americans said religion was very important in their lives, 23% to 27% said fairly important, and 12% to 18% said not very important. Large proportions of Americans also appear to be active in the practice of their religion. In 2002 and 2003, an average of 65% claimed membership in a church or synagogue. About 40% said they had attended church or synagogue in the previous seven days, and roughly 33% said they went to church at least once a week. In the same period, about 60% of Americans said they prayed one or more times a day, more than 20% once or more a week, about 10% less than once a week, and 10% never. Given human nature, these claims of religious practice may be overstated, but the extent to which Americans believe the right response is to affirm their religiosity is itself evidence for the centrality of religious norms in American society.
To me this is heartening. I find it interesting that some people who would be quick to deny the notion of total depravity of individual humans, are so pesimistic regarding the religious and moral quality of the nation as a whole. While we are certainly all well aware of religious hypocrites (such as ourselves?), this country is full of well intentioned, well meaning and good acting people. People who seriously ponder what God would have them do in a given situation and then do it.

We *are* a religious people, and moreover we are an overwhelmingly Christian people. Whether we are consistent in our Christianity or whether I would agree with all the propositions asserted by this great amalgam of Christian folk is another matter. I am generally not a trusting soul. I have been burned far too many times. But I feel far more trusting of the good will people of America, even if I were an atheist, because they are predominantly Christian than I would living in, say, Mozambique, Nigeria, the Sudan or Saudi Arabia.

God bless America!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A Judge's Sentence

Did you read about this? Probably not, what makes the major media outlets is what tickles the fancies of editors and producers and fits into their preconceptions and preferences. However, do a google news and you'll find plenty of references to it. Richard Reid was sentenced in January of 2003. He was the guy who got on a plane with a bomb in his shoe and tried to light it. You should click on the link and read the whole thing, but the passage that really stands out to me is where the judge wrote:

What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing. And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record, it comes as close to understanding as I know. It seems to me you hate the one thing that is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.
As much as we may bemoan the way many, if not most, Americans use and abuse their liberty, is not this the way God created us? Did He not make us free, to choose life or to choose death as we saw fit? Human beings have an insatiable urge for liberty, for freedom, because God created us to be free. Because we are blind, deaf and dumb, too often we use that liberty to enslave ourselves, but that is not liberty's fault, it is our own. You know, there are lots of problems with America. We are not, and have never been, perfect. But I confess I'd rather live here, now, then anywhere else at any other time in human history.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Still one Nation under God!

The Supreme Court today ruled on a narrow issue regarding the Pledge of Allegiance case before it that, for all intents and purposes, keeps the phrase "under God" in the pledge. Basically, the court ruled that Michael Newdow, who brought suit on behalf of his daughter, had no legal standing to file suit in the first place. Newdow is in a protracted custody fight with the girl's mother and does not have joint custody of his dauther, who is being raised as a christian by her christian mother.

While it is certainly true that, as the Bush Administration argued before the court, "...the reference to God in the pledge is more about ceremony and history than about religion", it is none-the-less an important symbol for a country whose population, by a great majority, adheres to some form of Christian faith. As Orthodox should know, symbols and ceremonies are important and the phrase "under God" is no less important to this country even if ambiguously defined. A nation that at least in some sense still acknowledges its dependence upon God and God's judgement is far preferable to one that has cast off all moorings and elevates her own judgement has the highest measure of her actions.

Whether the current administration, or any administration, is truly attempting to find its way "under God" is certain debatable, but for the nation as a whole, it serves as a profound, if sometimes subtle reminder, of Who is really in control. Maybe it's not much, but in these days we need all the reminders we can get!

Oh, and as an aside, my homepage is set to excite.com, which has several news channels that I have set-up. One of those is news of the Supreme Court as well as national news. This headline doesn't appear in the top four of either set, even though it certainly is the most high-profile bit of news of the day so far. I find that curious...

Addendum: (6/15/05 11:17 AM EDT) Okay, now I see what it is. They had to figure out the angle of the headline. This story now appears first in the listing of Supreme Court news, with the headline "Court Allows 'Under God" on Technicality". Now, this is certainly true, as I point out above, but it wasn't how it was listed yesterday, when the item didn't appear in the top ten listings.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Oh, yeah

...I also played around a little bit with blogger's new (well, to me) templates and features.

Cloud of Witnesses

Finally, something I thought worth posting about (though you might not, if anyone is even still dropping by to see if something new is here). I recently starting serving at the altar in my parish. This is not what I want to blog about, but rather the experience of being in the sanctuary, behind the iconostasis. I can't speak to very many Orthodox parishes, as I have really only been in three or four different Churches, but the walls in the Nave are somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3 covered with icons, not to mention those painted on the walls themselves around the interior depicting the feasts of the Church. Father loves icons, as I suppose most Orthodox priests (and laity) do. But inside the Sanctuary, well they may be smaller, but there are easily as many icons on the back wall behind the altar as there are in the whole Nave. And they're are more spread around. Not mention relics. Father is also big on collecting relics. He apprarently tries to have relic on the altar appropriate for a saint being commemorated on any particular day.

Well, this morning during Divine Liturgy after one of the sub-deacons added incense to the censor and a great cloud of incense was rising up in the sanctuary, I was impressed once again with those words of St. Paul (or whomever) from the Epistle to the Hebrews, where it is written that we are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses". I am a visual learner (think theories of learning) with an acute "spatial intelligence". For me, this is like bread and butter, it just clicks. The cloud, surrounded by the saints, their prayers rising to heaven, joined with ours. Divine Liturgy is indeed like heaven on earth!

Just some thoughts!