I've just finished reading Functional and Dysfunctional Christianity
by Fr Philotheos Faros. It's been most enlightening and comes highly recommended.
Having spent some time in the United States, Fr Faros' experiences have led him to the conclusion that Western Christianity and Anglo-Saxon culture basically equate to the same thing. The Anglo-Saxon cultural ethos and, therefore, the Western Christianity ethos, Fr Faros says, is inspired by Puritanism and pietism, ugly monsters begotten out of wedlock from the triangle of Christianity, Romanism and European barbarism
. This accounts for the cold, rule-keeping attitudes which have been all to often manifested in the Scholasticism of Western Christianity. Of course, being a Western Anglo-Saxon myself, Fr Faros is discussing, in fairly candid and upsetting terms, my own heritage. But while I am kind of partial to many features of that heritage, I have to admit to having been at odds with aspects of Western Christianity - for most, if not all, of my life; where rules are more important than people and anyone who breaks said rules is cast out; where anyone defending the "undefendable" is commiting the unthinkable for the rules and outward appearances are what makes "the Christian". Western Christianity represents a God who is, in Fr Faros’ words, “capricious, furious, and a hard and merciless tyrant, who torments and punishes harshly, even for the pettiest misdeed
”. Modern Western man has finally rebelled against this God and according to Fr Faros that is because the Western God is such a gross distortion of the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. Viva la Revolution
as far as Fr Faros is concerned. Now we Orthodox can offer Western man the true God! But hold on just a moment, Western Orthodoxy (and even the Orthodoxy of Orthodox countries) has been tainted by afore-mentioned Scholasticism and Western ethos, too!
From the editorial for the book… Using his keen analytic eye and with deep knowledge of the Greek Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom, Fr. Philotheos Faros offers his diagnosis of the condition of contemporary Christianity in the East and in the West. His diagnosis is that the true nature of Christianity has been dangerously distorted, leading to an unhealthy dysfunction. His diagnosis focuses on the dysfunction within Orthodox Christianity in the West, but he also believes traditionally Orthodox lands that have been influenced by the extreme individualism and consumerism of western society also suffer from the same maladies. Some of the symptoms of the dysfunction and pathology of Christianity are scholasticism in theological studies, the distortion of the true nature of the Ekklesia through disunity, inequality, and selfishness, and a misunderstanding of human life, sexuality, and illness. Fr. Faros' diagnosis is, at times, blunt and painful, but his intent is to rouse Christians from their slumber and to begin the process of healing and growth.
From the chapter on “The Distorted God” (condensed and edited from http://nektarios.home.comcast.net/~nektarios/1510.html
). Paraphrasing portions of Kalomiros’ The River of Fire, Fr. Philotheos writes the following:
It is no wonder that modern Western man hates and wars against God so passionately, because the God he knows is detestable. The God Western man knows is capricious, furious, and a hard and merciless tyrant, who torments and punishes harshly, even for the pettiest misdeed. He considers man’s disobedience such a horrible insult against Himself that He demands an equally horrible revenge. God must kill someone of equal dignity so that His revenge equals the insult. Therefore He kills His own Son to satisfy His vengeance. There was no other way for man to appease God for his awful crime. Even if God wanted to release man from the punishment, He could not, because He is compelled to satisfy His justice. . . .
Man has been tyrannized for centuries by this monstrous being—the God presented by Western theology. [Using “theology,” the devil slandered God in man’s eyes. By introducing only a slight alteration in theology, which then grew until Christianity became unrecognizable, he convinced man that God does not really love us, but accepts us only if we behave as He wants.] Man endured, not daring to resent this horrific terrorism. How could he, a weak creature, stand up to an uncontested and omnipotent ruler, not only of earth, but even of heaven; not only of this life, but even of life hereafter? The only thing man could do was to succumb and pay unfailingly the tax of prayer. If he failed in this, the tyrant would send his heavenly guards with their swords of flame to torture him in this life with every kind of tribulation and, finally, to take him to eternal hell.
Once time a “Christian” psychiatrist said to an unfortunate young man, whom he had diagnosed as a schizophrenic, that if he wanted to see his sufferings eliminated, he should pray unceasingly. He warned him that if he should ever leave his house without having prayed and a car hit him in the street, it could be God’s punishment for the omission of prayer. This psychiatrist—who was the personification of craziness and perversion—also said to that wretched young man that he should be delighted for his suffering because if he was not tortured in this way, another member of his family could fall into a mortal sin. God, in His infinite philanthropy, was probably using this torture to intimidate the other members of his family and thus to protect them from corruption.
Besides His heavenly guards, the hard-bitten God had also his earthly ones, like this “Christian” psychiatrist and in earlier times, or—why not even now—those who were collecting for Him the material tax and who drank the blood and sweat of the simple people. All the while those “God-appointed” oppressors and exploiters were building their palaces, filling their treasuries, keeping their harems, and living a life of scandalous luxury.
Man submitted to the oppression, but inside himself, even deeper than his subconscious—because the tyrant was entering into it unchecked—the hatred was accumulating, until it became so huge that man felt it as an enormous power which gave him the courage to stand up and rebel against the oppressor. From this point begins the phenomenon of the “theomachy” [i.e., warring against God] of modern man.
But is that horrible monster of the scholasticism of the West and the pietism of the East, the God that Jesus Christ revealed to man? Definitely not! Therefore those who are really Orthodox do not regret the assassination of this monster, and they feel sympathy for those who have fled the torments.
The God that Jesus Christ revealed is not just, as the concept of God’s justice is understood in the West. [Perhaps the evil one began propagating the error regarding God’s justice using both the understanding of pagan justice and a misunderstanding and mistranslation of the Hebrew words tsedaka and hesed in holy Scripture, which mean, respectively, “the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation” and “mercy, compassion, love.” The Church Fathers understood God’s justice in this way.] “Do not ever say that God is just. Because if He were just, you would be in hell. Only reckon on His…injustice, which is mercy, love, and forgiveness,” says St. Isaac the Syrian. He continues: “How can you call God just when you read the passage on the wage given to the workers… How can man call God just when he comes across the passage on the prodigal Son, who wasted his wealth in riotous living, and yet only for the contrition he showed, his father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave him authority over all his wealth? Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!”
In the parable of the vineyard, Christ states emphatically that God is not the pawn of His justice. “I choose to pay the last man the same as you,” He says to him who worked from the beginning, and He adds, “Am I not free to do what I want with my own possessions? Or are you responding to the fact that I am good by being wicked?” (Mt. 20:14-15). St. John Chrysostom responds to this with the memorable expression, “The master being generous receives the last like the first. He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has worked from the first hour. And he shows mercy upon the last and cares for the first, and to the one he gives and upon the other he bestows gifts.” (Catechetical homily of St. John Chrysostom)
It is not possible for God to be just and even to be vindictive because:
Compassionate and merciful is the Lord, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy; not unto the end will He be angered, neither unto eternity will he be wroth.
Not according to our iniquities hath He dealt with us, neither according to our sins hath He rewarded us.
For according to the height of heaven from the earth, the Lord hath made His mercy to prevail over them that fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our iniquities from us.
Like as a father hath compassion upon his sons, so hath the Lord had compassion upon them that fear Him; for He knoweth whereof we are made, He hath remembered that we are dust. (Ps. 102:8-12)
St. Isaac the Syrian, developing the view that mercy triumphs over judgment, says: Mercy and justice in the same soul is like the man who worships God and idols in the same temple. Mercy is opposed to justice. Justice is the return of the equal, because it returns to man that which he deserves, and it does not bend to one side or show respect of persons. But mercy is sorrow that is moved by grace and bends to all with sympathy, and it does not return harm to him who deserves it, although to him who deserves good it gives a double portion. And if mercy is on the side of virtue, justice is on the side of wickedness; and as it is impossible for hay and fire to exist in the same house, so it is impossible for justice and mercy to be in the same soul. As the grain of sand cannot be compared with a great amount of gold, so God’s use of justice cannot be compared with His mercy. Because man’s sin, in comparison to the providence and mercy of God, is like a handful of sand thrown into the sea, so the Creator’s mercy cannot be defeated by the wickedness of His creatures.
Men tend to project onto God their own passions and their own pettiness. But as St Anthony the Great writes, God is good, passionless, and immutable. If a man accepts it as right and true that God does not change, yet is puzzled at how [being such] he rejoices in the good, turns away from the wicked, is angered with sinners, and shows them mercy when they repent, the answer to this is that God does not rejoice and is not angered, for joy and anger are passions. It is absurd to think that the Deity could be helped or harmed by human deeds. God is good and does only good; He harms no one and remains always the same. As to ourselves, when we are good we enter into communion with God through our likeness to Him, and when we become evil, we cut ourselves off from God, through our unlikeness to Him. When we live virtuously, we are God’s own, and when we become wicked, we fall away from Him. This does not mean that He is angry with us, but that our sins do not let God shine in us, and that they link us with the tormentors—the demons. If later, through prayers and good deeds, we obtain absolution for our sins, it does not mean that we have propitiated God and changed Him, but that through such actions and our turning to God we have cured the evil in ourselves and have again become able to partake of God’s goodness. Thus, to say that God turns away from the wicked is the same as to say that the sun hides itself from those who lose their sight.