My problem

If there has been a consistent “theme” or “interest” to my extracurricular reading in the last couple of years, it has been between the tension of reason and revelation. The 20th Century Jewish thinker Leo Strauss perhaps did more than any other modern mind to identify this tension and cogently argue that both, by being in tension, became the twin pillars of Western society. Though Strauss’ disciples, students, and critics have differed as to whether or not Strauss thought one ought to win out over the other or if a synthesis between the two could ever be accomplished, it seems clear to me that Strauss was extremely wary of one becoming subordinate to the other. Even if Strauss may have chosen “Athens over Jerusalem” in his own life, it remains unclear to me whether or not that is the desirable choice.

It is important to note that the tension of reason and revelation was for Strauss a phenomena best exemplified by the Jews, though I see no evidence why it ought to be limited to the Jews. Still, for Strauss the tension became strikingly apparent in the “Jewish problem” of modernity. In the wake of the Enlightenment, Jews were finally extended the chance for equal citizenship in civil society; and yet the “price” of that citizenship was that Jews could no longer be, well, Jews. Liberal democracy with its mind oriented ever towards pluralism could not accept the exclusive truth claims of Judaism. Instead, it offered the Jews new claims that oftentimes failed to square with identity of Jews as the chosen people of God in possession of the Law. Strauss thought that there could be no satisfactory answer to the “Jewish problem” or, at least, none that liberal democracy was capable of providing.

What has come to strike my interest now more specifically is whether or not there is a “Christian problem” developing in Western society today. Perhaps that problem ought to be narrowed down more to an “Orthodox Christian problem” as history has provided ample evidence of Protestantism’s assimilationist tendencies along with the Catholic Church’s proclivity for synthesis, even when it means its own weakening. Now, even with that being said I do have to admit that unlike the wider whole of Christendom or Judaism, Orthodoxy only occasionally blips on the sociopolitical radar; it is not a present force pluralism feels it must contend with directly nor does it, by and large, concern itself with a full fledged dialogue with the rest of the world. Orthodoxy is insular in many ways, though it seems inevitable that it will stop being so in the years to come.

My concern for the moment then revolves more around how Orthodox Christians individually ought to relate to liberal democracy and the claims of pluralism. It is true that liberal democracy has given the Orthodox Christian the right to be Orthodox, but surely not the means to be Orthodox. To be Orthodox in the truest sense seems to me to be nearly impossible if one expects to live their faith honestly. The claim to Truth in Orthodoxy is one that supercedes any claims liberal democracy could make, even those grounded in natural human reason. And while I am hesitant to say there is something fundamentally anti-intellectual or anti-reason in Orthodox Christianity, there exists little doubt in my mind that the claims of Orthodoxy, rooted in revelation, cannot be explained by reason nor find support from it. There is simply an arena too exclusive and pure to allow anything else in it. To do so would be to blacken that purity to the end result of no longer having Orthodox Christianity at all.

For my part, I wonder how far I can take my faith into the wider society and what I could ever bring back from it that would not poison my faith. I must live “in the world” but can I allow my thought to be “of the world”? More confusing to me is what “the world” even is. Is it the thought of this world—that is, the modern world—which I must throw off, or the thought of the world as it has always existed? Should I simply live a sham social existence as a good citizen of an arbitrarily drawn nation despite the fact nothing it says can be anything but superfluous at best or complete lies at worst? Perhaps there are important distinctions I haven’t even considered yet. I worry, however, that this problem will remain the problem of my life and one I have not a single hope of resolving.

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3 thoughts on “My problem

  1. I haven’t read really any specific Jewish history so I just go by the few things I’ve come across; so here’s a question, I thought the Jews basically weren’t “Jewish” after the desctruction of the Temple in 70 AD?

    I have a few quotes (of course) that I think pertain to the question at hand(and I will do my best to expound some on them):
    “He is a ‘natural man’, who attributes everything to reasoning’s of the mind and does not consider that he needs help from above…Eyes are beautiful and useful, but should they choose to see without light, their beauty profits them nothing…So you will notice any soul, if it chooses to see without the spirit, even becomes and impediment to itself…The things asserted require faith, and to apprehend them by reasons is not possible, for their magnitude exceeds by a great deal the meanness of our understanding.
    St John Chrysostom”

    However St. John also looks to reason as a guiding light in the soul: “…in us also surely there is a light, the light of reason, ever burning.”

    We must use our reason but not solely depend upon it. According to St. Nikolai Velimirovic “Christian Faith is mighty not only when it agrees with sensory reasoning and sensory logic but when, and especially when, it contradicts sensory reasoning and sensory logic.”

    To me it seems that while reason is reckoned as beneficial it only penetrates to the level of sensory perception while faith is what extends beyond that reason.

    According to St. Basil the Great the Holy Spirit perfects us “reason-endowed beings”.
    George Metallinos explains St. Basil’s thought thus: “The distinction and simultaneous hierarchy of the two kinds of knowledge have been pointed out by Saint Basil the Great when he states that faith must prevail in words concerning God and the proofs made by reason. That faith originates from the action and energy of the Holy Spirit. Faith for St. Basil is the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the heart. (P.G. 30,104B-105B). He also gives a classic example of the Orthodox use of scientific knowledge in his Hexameron (P.G. 29, 3-208). … The central message of this work is, that the logical support of dogma is impossible based only on science. Dogma belongs to another sphere. It is above reason and science, yet within the limits of another knowledge. The use of dogma with wordly knowledge leads to the transformation of science into metaphysics. Whereas the use of reason in the domain of faith proves its weakness and relativity.”

    Metropolitan Hierotheos defines Reason (logiki) as: “The power of the soul through which we perceive the surrounding world and we develop our relation with it. We aquire experience of God by means of the nous and we formulate this experience, when required, by means of reason, in so far as it is attainable.

    He puts reason as a power of the mind/soul (distinct from the heart) when he says, “My mind was not functioning. Reason had ceased. Only my heart was aflame.”

    He goes on to define Purification: “Purification (Katharsis) refers mainly to the soul. In patristic theology the term “katharsis” –purification– is employed to denote three states. The first one is the rejection of all thoughts (logismoi) from the heart. The thoughts-logismoi are so called because they must be in the reason (in Greek: logiki- logismoi). The second state is the ascetic effort so that the powers of the soul, intelligent, appetitive, irascible move in accordance with nature and above nature –which means they must turn towards God– and not contrary to nature. The third state is the ascetic method by means of which man reaches from selfish love to unselfish love.”

    Met. Hierotheos defines Noetic Prayer thus: “The prayer which is done with the nous. When the nous is liberated from its enslavement to reason, to the passions and the surrounding world and returns from its distraction within the heart, then noetic prayer starts. Thus noetic prayer is done with the nous within the heart, whereas the prayer of the intellect is done within the reason.”

    Once again reason is useful to a point but then a higher state is reached.

    This higher state is described by Adam’s state in paradise: “Adam’s nous saw God and his reason had the ability to formulate this experience.” The Holy Fathers (and many since) also attained Adam’s state and had an illumined nous but the Heretics “usually have a darkened nous and a hypertrophic reason.”

    Our nous in its fallen state is equated with the reason and “The reason attempts to meet God since the nous is unable to commune with Him. Thus idols of God are created and all idolatric religions, as well as all heresies.”

    As far as “living Orthodoxy in the modern world” goes it seems to me that it is to be done in the quiet of ones heart. I don’t have the quotes but I’ve read before about holy people who have attained to a point where the world around them does not bother them. Even when they are exposed to the sins of the modern world they can block it out. This is a state we all need to attain to. I think it is a fact of being Orthodox that one will always struggle with how to live in the world (I personally very much need to remember this-it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder).

    Ps. “There is no such thing as a man who is sinless simply because he is living according to the rules of reason or the Mosaic law. The possibility of living according to universal reason entails, also, the possibility of being without sin. But for Paul this is a myth, because Satan is no respecter of reasonable rules of good conduct and has under his influence all men born under the power of death and corruption.
    Fr. John Romanides”

  2. I haven’t read really any specific Jewish history so I just go by the few things I’ve come across; so here’s a question, I thought the Jews basically weren’t “Jewish” after the desctruction of the Temple in 70 AD?

    I have a few quotes (of course) that I think pertain to the question at hand(and I will do my best to expound some on them):
    “He is a ‘natural man’, who attributes everything to reasoning’s of the mind and does not consider that he needs help from above…Eyes are beautiful and useful, but should they choose to see without light, their beauty profits them nothing…So you will notice any soul, if it chooses to see without the spirit, even becomes and impediment to itself…The things asserted require faith, and to apprehend them by reasons is not possible, for their magnitude exceeds by a great deal the meanness of our understanding.
    St John Chrysostom”

    However St. John also looks to reason as a guiding light in the soul: “…in us also surely there is a light, the light of reason, ever burning.”

    We must use our reason but not solely depend upon it. According to St. Nikolai Velimirovic “Christian Faith is mighty not only when it agrees with sensory reasoning and sensory logic but when, and especially when, it contradicts sensory reasoning and sensory logic.”

    To me it seems that while reason is reckoned as beneficial it only penetrates to the level of sensory perception while faith is what extends beyond that reason.

    According to St. Basil the Great the Holy Spirit perfects us “reason-endowed beings”.
    George Metallinos explains St. Basil’s thought thus: “The distinction and simultaneous hierarchy of the two kinds of knowledge have been pointed out by Saint Basil the Great when he states that faith must prevail in words concerning God and the proofs made by reason. That faith originates from the action and energy of the Holy Spirit. Faith for St. Basil is the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the heart. (P.G. 30,104B-105B). He also gives a classic example of the Orthodox use of scientific knowledge in his Hexameron (P.G. 29, 3-208). … The central message of this work is, that the logical support of dogma is impossible based only on science. Dogma belongs to another sphere. It is above reason and science, yet within the limits of another knowledge. The use of dogma with wordly knowledge leads to the transformation of science into metaphysics. Whereas the use of reason in the domain of faith proves its weakness and relativity.”

    Metropolitan Hierotheos defines Reason (logiki) as: “The power of the soul through which we perceive the surrounding world and we develop our relation with it. We aquire experience of God by means of the nous and we formulate this experience, when required, by means of reason, in so far as it is attainable.

    He puts reason as a power of the mind/soul (distinct from the heart) when he says, “My mind was not functioning. Reason had ceased. Only my heart was aflame.”

    He goes on to define Purification: “Purification (Katharsis) refers mainly to the soul. In patristic theology the term “katharsis” –purification– is employed to denote three states. The first one is the rejection of all thoughts (logismoi) from the heart. The thoughts-logismoi are so called because they must be in the reason (in Greek: logiki- logismoi). The second state is the ascetic effort so that the powers of the soul, intelligent, appetitive, irascible move in accordance with nature and above nature –which means they must turn towards God– and not contrary to nature. The third state is the ascetic method by means of which man reaches from selfish love to unselfish love.”

    Met. Hierotheos defines Noetic Prayer thus: “The prayer which is done with the nous. When the nous is liberated from its enslavement to reason, to the passions and the surrounding world and returns from its distraction within the heart, then noetic prayer starts. Thus noetic prayer is done with the nous within the heart, whereas the prayer of the intellect is done within the reason.”

    Once again reason is useful to a point but then a higher state is reached.

    This higher state is described by Adam’s state in paradise: “Adam’s nous saw God and his reason had the ability to formulate this experience.” The Holy Fathers (and many since) also attained Adam’s state and had an illumined nous but the Heretics “usually have a darkened nous and a hypertrophic reason.”

    Our nous in its fallen state is equated with the reason and “The reason attempts to meet God since the nous is unable to commune with Him. Thus idols of God are created and all idolatric religions, as well as all heresies.”

    As far as “living Orthodoxy in the modern world” goes it seems to me that it is to be done in the quiet of ones heart. I don’t have the quotes but I’ve read before about holy people who have attained to a point where the world around them does not bother them. Even when they are exposed to the sins of the modern world they can block it out. This is a state we all need to attain to. I think it is a fact of being Orthodox that one will always struggle with how to live in the world (I personally very much need to remember this-it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder).

    Ps. “There is no such thing as a man who is sinless simply because he is living according to the rules of reason or the Mosaic law. The possibility of living according to universal reason entails, also, the possibility of being without sin. But for Paul this is a myth, because Satan is no respecter of reasonable rules of good conduct and has under his influence all men born under the power of death and corruption.
    Fr. John Romanides”

  3. So here’s a definition of “the world” from St. Isaac of Syria:
    The World is the general name for all the passions. When we wish to call the passions by a common name, we call them the world. But when we wish to distinguish them by their special names, we call them the passions. The passions are the following: love of riches, desire for possessions, bodily pleasure from which comes sexual passion, love of honor which gives rise to envy, lust for power, arrogance and pride of position, the craving to adorn oneself with luxurious clothes and vain ornaments, the itch for human glory which is a source of rancor and resentment, and physical fear. Where these passions cease to be active, there the world is dead. … Someone has said of the Saints that while alive they were dead; for though living in the flesh, they did not live for the flesh. See for which of these passions you are alive. Then you will know how far you are alive to the world, and how far you are dead to it.

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