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Offline Taylor

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The Personalizing of Religion in History
« on: August 04, 2010, 05:58:42 PM »
One of the main obstacles to the acceptance of Orthodoxy by many people today, especially in the US and Europe, seems to be the widespread belief that religion is a personal, private, and primarily therapeutic matter with no necessary relation to reality or ultimate truth.  I may simply have a romanticized, but I have always had the impression that the way religion is viewed today is not the way it was viewed in the past (note: I hesitate to use as broad a term as "religion" here, but the English language leaves me little choice).  Indeed, it would seem that for the majority of history religion was the absolute center of all life no matter where you were.  I was wondering if those faithful who have an understanding of history, especially the history of Western religious thought, could help with with a few questions concerning this issue. I would especially appreciate any recommended secondary sources on the topic.  Here are some questions:

Is it indeed the case that at some point in the past religion held a more central place in society and in the life of the average person and was popularly understood to be the foundation of truth?

If so, when did this situation begin to change?  Was the change sudden or gradual?  What was the significance of this change?  What factors or forces were involved? 

Fundamentally, my question is about the origin of the modern popular understanding of religion as a private and therapeutic matter wherein all religions are considered "valid" and no religion is popularly regarded as more "true" than any other.

Thank you


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Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #1 on: August 04, 2010, 06:37:52 PM »
Maybe this is a simplistic response, but it seems that the relativism of which you speak may be in part a response to life in societies that are much more religiously pluralistic.  Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants of all persuasions, Jews of all stripes, Hindus, Buddhists, neo-pagans, and even atheists living all within the same neighborhoods and attending the same public functions.  Life in the U.S. was never religiously homogeneous, and many other societies in Western Europe, if I understand correctly, have become increasingly pluralistic as to religion.  How do such societies govern themselves?  They really can't pass laws anymore that are based on the precepts of any one predominant religion, since no one religion is any longer predominant.  But even outside of government, we of the so many different religions have to interact with each other much more frequently than we would in a homogeneous Old World society.  How do we do so?  How do we each hold firm to our religious beliefs, which for many are quite exclusive of those who don't agree, while also respecting those outside our religion as human individuals created in the image and likeness of God as we are?
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Offline Taylor

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2010, 07:23:11 PM »
Thank you very much for your response Peter.

I think the questions you asked within your response are intricately related to the ones I initially asked, and I am glad you added them to the discussion.  By your response I can see one possible answer to question (and please correct me if I have misunderstood): the current situation was the result of religious pluralism and was in some sense necessary in order to maintain general peace and cooperation.  In this case we can extrapolate that the de-facto popular understanding becomes something like a quasi-Unitarian Universalism in which all religious beliefs are allowed, tolerated, and supported.  However, this situation runs in opposition to the fact that most religious idea systems in history have maintained that they are in some way better or truer than others.  No religious system will say that any other religious system is superior to itself, or even that others are "on-par".  Even those that claim to be inclusive or tolerant of all others (such as some forms of Hinduism) eventually claim superiority.  It would appear, then, that the current popular understanding of religion runs counter to previously established religious thought, and that no "traditional" religion could be accepted on a widespread level in modern society.  The modern situation, then, favors a "meta-religion" of all religions, and so those systems that expound such a structure (that, for instance, attempt a syncretist or pluralist approach) are the ones that will be most popular and that will become more prominent in the public sphere.  Any religion that continues to be "intolerant" of other beliefs or that continues to claim superiority are marginalized as it receives less public acknowledgment and support.  The practitioners of these religions must either adapt their beliefs to those of pluralistic society, or keep their religion to themselves and among their fellow believers (even if the religion calls for evangelism). 

That is one possible explanation.  If this is the case, should we Orthodox respond to this situation?  If we should respond to it, how should we do so?  If not, why not?
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Offline deusveritasest

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #3 on: August 04, 2010, 07:56:28 PM »
and primarily therapeutic matter with no necessary relation to reality or ultimate truth.

Perhaps a good approach would be trying to convince these people that true spiritual therapy cannot happen outside of a strong community with solid and objective religious beliefs.

Offline Father H

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #4 on: August 04, 2010, 08:29:34 PM »
I agree the rise of pluralism ("hard" or "soft") is the cause of the change.  Now with an even further step in "globalization," I think all the more this catches on. 

Offline Father H

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #5 on: August 04, 2010, 08:36:10 PM »
Interestingly enough, I asked a person who is Orthodox but was at once in that situation:  "If you were the average person off the street, does it matter more if something feels good or whether something is demonstrably and historically true as to which you would pick in terms of faith?"  The answer:  the first one!!!!!  :(    Seeing the look of shock on my face with the question "why?" the person responded: "well, all is not lost, in that Orthodoxy has more to offer than the fact that it is historically the Church."   I did not ask for elaboration.  Still makes me sad though.

Offline ialmisry

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #6 on: August 04, 2010, 10:05:17 PM »
One of the main obstacles to the acceptance of Orthodoxy by many people today, especially in the US and Europe, seems to be the widespread belief that religion is a personal, private, and primarily therapeutic matter with no necessary relation to reality or ultimate truth.  I may simply have a romanticized, but I have always had the impression that the way religion is viewed today is not the way it was viewed in the past (note: I hesitate to use as broad a term as "religion" here, but the English language leaves me little choice).  Indeed, it would seem that for the majority of history religion was the absolute center of all life no matter where you were.  I was wondering if those faithful who have an understanding of history, especially the history of Western religious thought, could help with with a few questions concerning this issue. I would especially appreciate any recommended secondary sources on the topic.  Here are some questions:

Is it indeed the case that at some point in the past religion held a more central place in society and in the life of the average person and was popularly understood to be the foundation of truth?

Yes.  For instance, Sir Isaac Newton's religious writings (suppressed by subsequent generations, too embarrassing) far outnumber his scienfitif works (which were widely published).  His claim was that his physics was just a by product of his theolgical studies.

Quote
If so, when did this situation begin to change? 

The "Renaissance."

Quote
Was the change sudden or gradual?

Several centuries.

Quote
What was the significance of this change? 

The temporal, secular and anthropocentric settled down into the center.

Quote
What factors or forces were involved?

The rise of merchantile city states.

Quote
Fundamentally, my question is about the origin of the modern popular understanding of religion as a private and therapeutic matter wherein all religions are considered "valid" and no religion is popularly regarded as more "true" than any other.
the cradle of that was the Dutch Republic, where the mercantile cities placed business above anything that could interfere with business.
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Offline sainthieu

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2010, 12:13:27 AM »
"Fundamentally, my question is about the origin of the modern popular understanding of religion as a private and therapeutic matter wherein all religions are considered "valid" and no religion is popularly regarded as more "true" than any other."

Blame Albert Einstein. In 1905, his came up with his special theory of relativity. Fashionable society donned the concept like an intellectual hairnet and started applying it to ideas for which it was never intended. Einstein himself was horrified.

Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2010, 04:11:25 AM »
"Fundamentally, my question is about the origin of the modern popular understanding of religion as a private and therapeutic matter wherein all religions are considered "valid" and no religion is popularly regarded as more "true" than any other."

Blame Albert Einstein. In 1905, his came up with his special theory of relativity. Fashionable society donned the concept like an intellectual hairnet and started applying it to ideas for which it was never intended. Einstein himself was horrified.
This is news to me.  You have any sources that back this up?
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Offline sainthieu

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2010, 10:08:21 AM »
It is a major theme of the book, "Modern Times, The World from the Twenties to the Nineties " by Catholic journalist/historian Paul Johnson, who writes from a bald, conservative Catholic point of view.

But it also shows up in many cultural histories--both Left and Right--of the Modernist movement and histories of Europe in the first decade of the 20th century. ''On or about December 1910 human character changed,'' Virginia Woolf once observed. Relations between ''masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children'' shifted, she wrote, ''and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.''

1910 is approximately between the publication of Einstein's two most important papers on relativity, the ideas of which became co-opted by art, and then made an article of faith.

Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #10 on: August 05, 2010, 03:05:48 PM »
It is a major theme of the book, "Modern Times, The World from the Twenties to the Nineties " by Catholic journalist/historian Paul Johnson, who writes from a bald, conservative Catholic point of view.

But it also shows up in many cultural histories--both Left and Right--of the Modernist movement and histories of Europe in the first decade of the 20th century. ''On or about December 1910 human character changed,'' Virginia Woolf once observed. Relations between ''masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children'' shifted, she wrote, ''and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.''

1910 is approximately between the publication of Einstein's two most important papers on relativity, the ideas of which became co-opted by art, and then made an article of faith.
However, pointing to 1910 as the date of our shift into relativism and then pointing out how 1910 was also a date between the publication of Einstein's two theories of relativity merely points out a coincidence.  Coincidence by itself is not proof of a cause-and-effect relationship.  You're also merely rephrasing your claim that fashionable society made of Einstein's theory of relativity a monster of which Einstein himself did not approve.  None of this proves anything to me.
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Offline Ebor

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #11 on: August 05, 2010, 04:19:44 PM »
Indeed, PtA, I agree with you.  I also wonder at just how publicized was the Theory of Relativity to the general public or even part of it and what concrete examples of a scientific physics theory being mis-applied to personal behavior might be offered as support.  I'm going to have to look  up the quote by Woolf for example to try and find the context and if there was something else happening at the time.

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Offline Antonious Nikolas

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #12 on: August 05, 2010, 04:34:37 PM »
Is it indeed the case that at some point in the past religion held a more central place in society and in the life of the average person and was popularly understood to be the foundation of truth?

In most places, yes, but there were exceptions.  I’d say this was the case in the Graeco-Roman world (although there were philosophers who questioned the very existence of the gods), in Sub-Saharan Africa, the ancient Middle East, India, the Americas, and most other places.  It was certainly the case for the Hebrews and for the ancient and medieval Christians, East and West.

I’ve read histories of the Far East, however, that emphasize the preeminence of philosophy over religion in ancient China.

We could be here all day if we wanted to make a case study of every society on the globe in every epoch before the modern era, but in general, I’d say the answer to your question is “yes”.

If so, when did this situation begin to change?  Was the change sudden or gradual?  What was the significance of this change?  What factors or forces were involved?

With all respect, I have to disagree with the learned posters who have hypothesized that living in societies that are religiously pluralistic is the primary factor.

I disagree for several reasons, not the least of which is that we have seen other societies that were at least as diverse as the modern West in history, and in each of these, religion remained a central factor.  For the ancients, living around others with different faiths did little to sway their own.

For the purpose of clarity, let’s restrict ourselves to the Christian milieu.  For centuries, even in the post-Roman and Medieval periods, Christianity was central to the lives of individuals living in such societies as the Orthodox East, the Latin West, and African nations such as Nubia and Ethiopia.  The Roman Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc has even gone so far as to state that Christianity, particularly the Roman Church, constitutes the bedrock of Western European Civilization.  Unlike the Orthodox East, where the apparatus of government remained intact, civilization crumbled in the West with the barbarian invasions.  According to Belloc, Christianity was the great civilizing element of the West.  Without it, according to him, the Visigoths, et al, would have remained primitive barbarians.  Christianity, while not a European religion at its root, became the very backbone of Western Civilization.

For centuries, Christianity was integral to daily life.  The primary focus for the average person was obtaining the Kingdom of God, not the short and miserable life this world usually promised.

So what was the change?  According the Belloc, it was the Protestant Reformation, which championed the idea that Christianity was a “personal” religion.  That it was all about “me and my Jesus” and “what I get from this Scripture” as opposed to corporate salvation and what the Church teaches as a whole.  Even after the Reformation lost it’s steam, Belloc maintained, it’s “fruits” remained.  See here:

Quote
Though the immediate fruits of the Reformation decayed, as had
those of many other heresies in the past, yet the disruption it had
produced remained and the main principle_reaction against a united
spiritual authority_so continued in vigour as both to break up our
European civilization in the West and to launch at last a general doubt, spreading more and more widely.  None of the older heresies did that, for they were each definite. Each had proposed to supplant or to rival the existing Catholic Church; but the Reformation movement proposed rather to dissolve the Catholic Church_and we know what measure success has been attained by that effort!

Belloc goes on to demonstrate how the Protestant emphasis on the individual, and religion as a relative and personal thing, led to a mentality that would allow traditional adherence to the religion to decay in a pluralistic society (or even a heterogeneous society, for that matter) in which it otherwise might have remained unfazed by challenges from without and retained its unquestioned authority.

Quote
There was yet another cause of weakening and decline in the Protestant culture: the various parts of it tended to quarrel one with the other.  That was what one would have expected from a system at once based upon competition and flattering human pride. The various Protestant societies, notably the British and Prussian, were each convinced of its own complete superiority.

    This mood of self-worship necessarily led to conflict between the self-worshippers. They might all combine in despising the Catholic
culture, but they could not preserve unity among themselves.

        The trouble was made worse by an inherent lack of plan. The Protestant culture having begun by exaggerating the power of human reason, was ending by abandoning human reason. It boasted its dependence upon instinct and even upon good fortune. There was no commoner phrase upon the lips of Protestant Englishmen than the phrase, "We are not a logical nation." Each Protestant group was "God's country"_God's favour-ite_and somehow or other was bound to come out on top without the bother of thinking out a scheme for its own conduct.

        Nothing more fatal for an individual or a large society in the long run can be conceived than this blind dependence upon an assured good fortune, and an equally blind neglect of rational processes. It opens the door to every extravagance, material and spiritual; to conceptions of universal dominion, world power and the rest of it, which in their effect are mortal poisons.

Fundamentally, my question is about the origin of the modern popular understanding of religion as a private and therapeutic matter wherein all religions are considered "valid" and no religion is popularly regarded as more "true" than any other.

This is a perfect description of experiential, individualistic Protestantism.  "That may be what your pastor says, but my pastor says...", "That may be what that Scripture means to you, but what it means to me is..."  Since Western society has come to be the most influential on the globe, and since the Protestant ethos is the most dominant in the Western mind, whether a person is consciously religious or not, this decay is only natural.  I really suggest reading Belloc’s The Great Heresies.  In it, he even traces modern secularism, communism, capitalism et al (which he groups together as the “Modern Attack on the Church”) to the Protestant Reformation.  This was the genesis of the breakdown of the preeminence of the Christian religion in the West, and since the Western cultural model is predominant, in much of the rest of the world.

The book is a short and easy read, it is quite inexpensive in paperback form, and it is available online for free.

http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/metabook/heresies.html
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Offline Taylor

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #13 on: August 05, 2010, 06:24:37 PM »
Thank you for your thorough response Antonious.

I think your response, and the stance of Belloc, seems to make perfect sense.  I might add, though, that it continued to be the case in many Protestant communities after the Reformation and up until very recently that their religion was still central and determined everything else. It does indeed appear to be the case that the Protestant Reformation is primarily responsible, however long it may have taken for the results to be apparent. Also, later developments in science may have contributed to it, at least helping paving the way for de-facto atheism.  I have heard from other sources (among them Orthodox writer Frank Schaeffer) who cite the Protestant Reformation (or, at least, the societal changes that came about with the "Radical Reformation") as the primary or overall cause of modern relativism in Western Civilization. I will look into Belloc's work.

As a personal note: I am a recent convert from what was essentially agnosticism.  Though I was raised in a Protestant household, I never had any religious beliefs.  I was always searching for a Truth and considered no other thing in life to be more important, but I generally stayed away from organized religion, preferring instead science, philosophy, "spiritualism", etc.  Then I found Orthodoxy and felt at home.  Finding Orthodoxy has been a shock, a massive change to how I see (or, ought to see) everything, and sometimes it is painful now to look around me and see so much secular materialism invading everything, as well as the care-free attitude most of the people I know have toward religion and truth.  Sometimes it affects me greatly and feels like despair, and examining questions like this seems necessary. 
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Offline Antonious Nikolas

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #14 on: August 05, 2010, 06:58:44 PM »
That was quite a journey, Taylor!  All I can say is, the Lord has led you home, brother.  :)

Your assessment of the matter is perfectly in sync with Belloc's interpretation (as you'll see when you read the last two chapters of his book).  He does indeed acknowledge that religion remained central in the Protestant communities in the early phases, and even in some communities today.  However, he contends that the individualism and egocentrism which was artificically interjected into the intrinsically corporate Christian faith by the movement would ultimately lead to the kind of subjectivity you're describing in the modern world.

There are some things that might be a little jarring for the modern, Orthodox reader.  Remember, this was written in 1938 and Belloc writes from a staunchly conservative Catholic point of view.  He regards the Catholic Church as the Church, the Protestants as the most destructive heretics in all of Christian history, Islam as a Christian heresy derived from Catholicism, and the Orthodox as "schismatics but not heretics".  Also, while he acknowledges the inherent equality of all men in humanity, essence, capability, and intelligence, he regards even such European populations as the Celts, Germans, and Slavs as being of distinct (and often mutually hostile) races (though I would contend that this is no more inaccurate than today's equally artificial "racial" categories).

Happy reading!  Let me know when you're done and we'll compare notes.
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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #15 on: August 05, 2010, 10:26:26 PM »
With all respect, I have to disagree with the learned posters who have hypothesized that living in societies that are religiously pluralistic is the primary factor.
With all due respect, I never said that religious pluralism was the primary factor--FatherHLL implied that in his agreement with me, but I never said it.  I merely spoke of religious pluralism as being one of many factors. ;)
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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #16 on: August 06, 2010, 09:36:36 AM »
With all respect, I have to disagree with the learned posters who have hypothesized that living in societies that are religiously pluralistic is the primary factor.
With all due respect, I never said that religious pluralism was the primary factor--FatherHLL implied that in his agreement with me, but I never said it.  I merely spoke of religious pluralism as being one of many factors. ;)

Fair enough!
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Offline Father H

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #17 on: August 07, 2010, 06:44:45 PM »
^But certainly no example that we give from the semi-distant past can equate with 1000's of different protestant demonimations, RCism, Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, neo-paganism, personlizes spiritualism etc. all under "one tent" in a culture like you have today, with so many different types of media mass spreading so many different types of "alternatives" to boot.   With such a situation, there is exponentiation of religious identity differences.   At some point, you are just swimming in water with so many different types of particles you cannot emphasize the salt over soil over the sand over algae over seaweed over the dead leaves and dead bugs.  Its just all in there together and the average person knows they have to swim through all of it.           

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #18 on: August 07, 2010, 09:36:35 PM »
^But certainly no example that we give from the semi-distant past can equate with 1000's of different protestant demonimations, RCism, Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, neo-paganism, personlizes spiritualism etc. all under "one tent" in a culture like you have today, with so many different types of media mass spreading so many different types of "alternatives" to boot.   With such a situation, there is exponentiation of religious identity differences.   At some point, you are just swimming in water with so many different types of particles you cannot emphasize the salt over soil over the sand over algae over seaweed over the dead leaves and dead bugs.  Its just all in there together and the average person knows they have to swim through all of it.            

Well, there have been incredibly diverse ancient societies in the past.  Think of what an Orthodox Christian might have encountered in Roman Alexandria, for example...several strains of Judaism, Graeco-Roman polytheism, Egyptian polytheism, a blending of the Roman and Egyptian religions, Mithraism and other Mystery Religions, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, various philosophies that were themselves sometimes an alternative to religion proper, not to mention the multifarious polytheistic creeds of the Phoenicians, Nubians, Libyans, and other nationalities that called the city home, and perhaps even a Christian heresy or two.  I think the answer lies in the first line of your post: "1000's of different protestant demonimations, RCism, Orthodoxy".  Although there have been heresies in the past, sometimes even in positions of power over Orthodoxy (as was the case with Arianism, Iconoclasm, et cetera) never has Christianity been as fractured as it is today.  A young person considering Orthodoxy as the ultimate truth in today's world, as was posited in Taylor's orginal query, would be faced with a dilemma that a Christian of the ancient Church would never have to face: How can Christianity claim to be the exclusive truth when there are thousands of different Christian confessions claiming an "ultimate truth" in contradiction to the others?  And what is the root of all of this?  The Protestant Reformation.  As Belloc has pointed out, every other hersey was defeated by the Church and either ceased to exist, died a lingering death, or became an obscure fringe element with a minimal impact on the Universal Church, but Protestantism forever divided the Western Christian world into halves, and then the Protestant half fractured further, and continues to fracture, like a pane of glass dropped down a flight of stairs.  In the process, it has swept away not only Roman Catholicism's claim to "ultimate truth" in the West, but the very idea that an "ultimate truth" can be arrived at that is the same for one and all.  It is not a great leap from, "I am a Baptist, and you are Pentecostal, and we can believe differently and both be saved so long as we call on the name of Jesus" to "I am a Christian and you are a Muslim (or Rasta, or Hindu, or whatever) and we can both take different paths and arrive at the same destination of salvation".  I don't deny that religious pluralism plays a part, but I think that a relatively undivided Christianity has a much better chance of weathering the storm in such an environment than a Christianity that allows for "personal interpretations" and "personal revelations".  We may know that the Church is undivided, and that those who self-identify as "Christians" and are not Orthodox are outside its bounds, but to the average young person living in the West, Orthodoxy appears to be one more denomination among many claiming to be the Church.
« Last Edit: August 07, 2010, 09:40:48 PM by Antonious Nikolas »
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Offline Taylor

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #19 on: August 07, 2010, 11:28:00 PM »
"...but to the average young person living in the West, Orthodoxy appears to be one more denomination among many claiming to be the Church."

Indeed, this was the trouble I faced and am still facing today.  I was one of those young people.  When I first decided to pick up and read the Gospel in sincerity (about one year ago today), one of the first tasks I felt I needed to do was find a church (the one I went to growing up had by then become a mega church, more of a personality cult surrounding the pastor than a place of worship).  It was only then that I noticed how fragmented Christianity is.  It is truly bewildering, and at the time it made me intensely frustrated.  I did not know where to turn.  Coming from agnosticism made this especially difficult in some ways, as I had no reference to go by, but it also made it in at least one way easier.  I had a tendency even before I was Christian to attempt to follow an idea to its root, its origin, rather than focus on how it is expressed today.  This, of course, led me to the Orthodox Church, but only after a year of searching.  I live in a area where Orthodoxy is almost completely unknown (a sea of Baptists instead), and at my college I am literally the only Orthodox student (and the majority of them are atheists or agnostics).  The big problem I see today and that I saw when growing up is that the sheer diversity of Christian "churches" out there has caused most people to look at religion itself as no more important than sports.  To many, you pick a church like you pick your favorite sports team; there need not be any truth to your choice, and nobody can sincerely say that you picked either the wrong or the right church.  The lack of sincerity in most of the "Christians" I knew is probably what made me rebel against Christianity all together at an early age.  Now, most of modern Christendom seems to be this way, but Orthodoxy stands out from the crowd as affirming that it is the true Church (the same may have been true of the Roman Catholic Church not too long ago, but even they have nearly stopped saying this).  When I was searching, what I found was that most of the Christian groups I encountered held to the idea that it does not really matter what church you belong to, just so long as you belong to one.  I can easily see this going from "it does not matter what church you belong to" to "it does not matter what religion you belong to", as Belloc says.  The greatest question of all becomes trivialized.  In my own family there are five churches that are attended!  I am truly glad to have found the Orthodox Church.  I don't think anything else even begins to compare to it.  But joining the Church has made my view of the rest of world unbearably bleak and depressing.  I don't know if this is right and proper, or not.
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Offline Antonious Nikolas

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #20 on: August 08, 2010, 12:34:05 PM »
I don’t mean to flatter you, Taylor, but you are obviously a thoughtful and honest individual with a nose for coursing out the truth.  I think that this is what has saved you and drawn you into Orthodoxy.  Because of the relativism you’ve described, so many young people are willing to cling to what makes them comfortable, or what seems easiest to them, in defiance of logic and the facts.  I have encountered more than a few individuals over the years who have realized intellectually that the Orthodox Church is indeed the Church established by Christ, and does indeed cling to the deposit of Faith delivered once and forever for all the saints, and yet they have stubbornly declared, “It just isn’t the church for me!” because the Orthodox don’t worship with praise bands, Power Point, and “Christian mimes”, or allow for explosions of emotion during services.  Such thinking boggles my mind!  You realize that this is the Church and yet it “isn’t the church for you”?  You are confronted with the Church established by Jesus Christ and yet you are content to remain in a church established by Joe Neckbone in Nashville in 1893?  Wow.  It’s hard not to despair of society when this kind of thinking is prevalent.  If this isn’t the sort of egocentric, personalized religion both you and Belloc have described, I don’t know what is.  The question is, how do the Orthodox reach such individuals?
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Offline Taylor

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #21 on: August 08, 2010, 02:53:51 PM »
"The question is, how do the Orthodox reach such individuals?"

I think this is the necessary question that follows the answering of the previous questions.  Given these statements:

That modern society (especially intellectual, political, educational, and media figures) is marked by relativism as regards both epistemic and moral truths. 

That the Orthodox Church claims to be the "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church", (so, the True church), in an absolute, objective sense and holds to an absolute Truth.

That part of the mission and duty of all members of the Orthodox Church is to evangelize or teach this absolute truth to those around us who are unaware of it.

How do we evangelize or "reach" people today?

There are many ways that I suspect will not work, at least not completely.  Pointing out and emphasizing the historicity of the Orthodox Church (as seems to be the primary method currently) may work to evangelize some (it did, eventually, for me), but not nearly all.  This is because the popular sense of relativism pertains to history as well (people today like to tell Truth by the clock; "something that is old can't be true because it is old").  Proving that the Orthodox Church is the Church of the New Testament may actually drive some people away, then.  Additionally, it will not work to give in to the modern fad and simply claim to be one of the many "truths" out there (in, perhaps, some hope that we will seem more "open" or "tolerant" and thus appeal to a wider audience).  Neither will it work to simply bash all other Christians and nonbelievers as idiots or infidels, as this is also contrary to the Biblical command: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15). 

As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware points out at the beginning of The Orthodox Church, the Church today is becoming more and more like the early Church because it is coming more and more under persecution (not nearly as harsh persecution, surely, but I would argue much more destructive).  But it was also out of this early Church under persecution that Christianity became the most prominent religion in the Roman world.  So how did they do it?  Perhaps the best answer is in the place where it should have been most obvious to look:  the lives of the saints.

The only thing, if anything, I can think that would hinder this approach would, again, be a part of this modern relativism.  Namely, we mimic the lives of the saints in as best a way as we can, but we will then be considered only as good as Buddhist, Hindu, secular humanist "saints", or modern Protestant philanthropists, and thus still no more desirable or true to society than them. 

It seems to be the case that currently the one thing popularly touted as unique about the Orthodox Church (other than its Truth, though that is the one thing moderns will not accept) is its historicity, but I think we need to think of something else.
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Offline Taylor

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #22 on: August 08, 2010, 08:32:17 PM »
Well, something must be happening.  Just an hour ago the popular CBS show "60 Minutes" had a segment about Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Orthodox Church under suppression in Turkey (it was first broadcast in December of last year, apparently).  They gave a very positive image of the Church and rightly called the Orthodox Church the "oldest Christian church".  At least the Church is now beginning to make sporadic appearances in the popular media, though I do not know what this may mean concerning the acceptance of the Church and its claims.  They also portrayed the Church as dying, and the refusal of the Ecumenical Patriarch to leave Turkey as rather silly, given that 99% of the populace is Muslim.
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Offline Antonious Nikolas

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #23 on: August 08, 2010, 09:58:55 PM »
Your assessment is a grim one, but accurate.  Evangelization in such a cultural and intellectual climate is a difficult proposition at best.  There's another discussion taking place on these boards as we speak about new converts zealous for the Faith who do their best to be sure they're changing themselves to suit Orthodoxy, and as a result, face some sort of ridicule or an accusatory attitude from their fellows.  Well, it might not be as thoroughly documented, but the opposite extreme and attitude is also present in some potential converts.  As Fr. Seraphim Rose once noted (in an article referenced in that same discussion, and found here http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/rose_wv.aspx for those who are interested) we're dealing with a culture in which self-gratification, "what empowers me" and "what makes me happy" is what counts.  As a result, we're sometimes faced with individuals who, while they're genuinely interested in Orthodoxy, could best be described as stiff-necked.  Even if they find themselves attracted to the Orthodox Church or Orthodox spirituality, they won't amend or change some of their core beliefs which contradict the Faith to suit the Church. They have to stick with what makes them comfortable or what they've convinced themselves to be true.  As a result, some of these souls actually want Orthodoxy changed to accomodate them by incorporating elements of their old faith tradition, and when they're told that'll never happen, they accuse the Church of being "legalistic" and "dogmatic".  Some elements of the Orthodox Christian life are indeed difficult (a priest once jokingly described Orthodoxy to me as "the spiritual Marine Corps...not for wimps") and I still struggle sometimes, but I know I'm not free to pick and choose which elements of the Faith suit me and which I'd rather ignore or replace with something analogous from outside the Church.  While some are able to accept this reality, it can also be a tough pill to swallow for those whose major focus in church for most of their Christian lives has been "feeling good" by the end of the service.
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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #24 on: August 08, 2010, 10:30:00 PM »
I'm curious: are you two even meaning the same thing by "Orthodoxy" and "the Orthodox Church"? If not, how can you carry on such a conversation with integrity?

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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #25 on: August 09, 2010, 01:06:26 PM »
Is this a legitimate question or are you trying to be provocative?  We can both read and our jurisdictions are clearly labled just above our avatars.  Why would you assume that we would carry on such a discussion with anything other than integrity and good faith?  If it will placate you, I have no problem stating unequivocally that I consider both the Oriental and Eastern families to be fully Orthodox.  I hope that Taylor would make the same assessment, but whatever the case, I sincerely hope that the thread will not be derailed by yet another debate as to which of the two families are the "more Orthodox".  I think it would be much more constructive to continue in the same vein we were in before this interjection.

What is the best way to address those inquirers into Orthodoxy who, in contrast to the "lay monastics" described in the other thread, are desirous of seeing the Orthodox Church changed to accomodate some of their personal proclivities and beliefs which contradict the Faith itself?  In this time, which Fr. Seraphim describes as "'the age of narcissism,' characterized by a worship of and fascination with oneself that prevents a normal human life from developing...When the 'me generation' turns to religion—which has been happening very frequently in the past several decades—it is usually to a 'plastic' or fantasy form of religion: a religion of 'self-development' (where the self remains the object of worship)", how does one address those inquirers into Orthodoxy who want the Faith on their own terms or not at all?
« Last Edit: August 09, 2010, 01:21:41 PM by Antonious Nikolas »
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Re: The Personalizing of Religion in History
« Reply #26 on: August 09, 2010, 08:36:48 PM »
Is this a legitimate question or are you trying to be provocative?

It's a legitimate question. You two seem to be carrying on as if you have a common understanding of what "Orthodoxy" and "the Orthodox Church" are, and I just don't see how that could be possible unless you are Branch Theorists or something of that sort.

If it will placate you, I have no problem stating unequivocally that I consider both the Oriental and Eastern families to be fully Orthodox.

As in both part of the Orthodox Church?