Patriarch Kirill’s Speech at Students’ Forum Faith and Works, III

Continued from part II.

Here I would like to proceed to a very important issue, that of values, for, firstly, a norm, upon the foundation of which one can filter incoming information, is a system of values, which are inherent in man. However, the informational flow inundating man also presumes to form certain values according to the design of those who create that flow. This is specifically why there is a battle between values in the informational flow, and for man it is very hard to orientate himself; while modern philosophy, the so-called philosophy of an epoch of post-modernism, if this is accepted, it creates even more difficulties.

Post-modernism is a kind of philosophy of life, which suggests the equality of all ideas and all viewpoints so that each person can choose; truth does not exist, truth is subjective. Of course, scientific truth, objective truth exists: two times two is four; but what I’m talking about is values. In the philosophy of post-modernism there are no value systems, which could claim to be true. This creates a relativistic approach to the perception of information.

Currently, as you know, by order of the president a committee is being formed to combat the falsification of history. Using the Great Patriotic War as an example we see how, truly, such an approach to history is being formed, which completely overturns all of the achievements, including our people’s, in the victory over fascism. This is offered to society as one of the viewpoints. And why not? In a market of ideas that which has the biggest attraction, is better advertised, and better supported by the information machine is the one that wins. How easy to lose truth, how easy to accept a lie in its place when in the social philosophy of the epoch of post-modernism the very conception of truth is absent.

That which is loudly, for the whole world, today said by the Church is said by very few others. We are aware of what risks are connected with that witness, because, in that sense, the Church goes against the flow. We say that objective truth exists in the values system, because God, having created man, instilled in his nature a few qualities determining that objective system of values. God created man, having given him His image, and an integral part of that image is moral feeling.

The moral foundation of man is the criterion of truth. Morality is the ability to distinguish good from evil by the means of an inner signal system. We have such a signal system: the voice of our conscience. Of course you can drown out or drink away the voice of the conscience and the Apostle Paul talks of a seared conscience (I Tim. 4:2) but, nevertheless, there is a striking fact: people, living in different cultures and even in different epochs, have one and the same understanding of good and evil-the fundamental understanding, not in details, but in essence-which is identified by the voice of the human conscience.

Those philosophers, who do not agree with such an approach, who adhere exclusively to a materialistic viewpoint, including the origin of the conscience, would convince us that the conscience is a product of societal development, that the formation of the conscience is influenced by culture, education, climate, geography, and social status. Well known is the Marxist approach to this issue: the conscience is formed under the influence of class affiliation, and, therefore, there is nothing, they say, mystical here at all.

If we look into all those approaches then they turn out not only to be mistaken but also very dangerous for human life. If the conscience depends upon external circumstances, if the understanding of good and evil in Russia are not the same as in America, if the voice of the conscience is determined by external factors, then morality truly doesn’t exist. But at that point something very dangerous happens in human relationships. Let us remember, “That is good which is good for the working class,” and how many millions of people were killed! “That is good which is good for greater Germany,” and how many millions of people were wasted!

There where there is moral relativism there is no morality. And if we are taught today that the conscience in Papua New Guinea is different from that in Vladivostok it is not just a mistake but a dangerous doctrine, which suggests the relativity of moral feeling.

The filter, necessary in order to critically perceive the flow of information inundating us, is, first of all, our moral voice. We need to, according to our conscience, distinguish what is good and what is bad. But to do this is quite difficult; besides moral feeling there also needs to be a certain world view, a certain set of ideas. Where, then, do we get this set of ideas? Where does this system of values, which we could apply to the informational flow of the modern informational society, come from? There is a concept of tradition. I imagine how many people react to this word, “Tradition, what’s that? Some sort of pluperfect, and what do I have to do with it, and why do I need some old truths?” In fact, tradition is important not because it preserves the past, for in the past there were a lot of both good things and bad things. Tradition is not called to preserve everything from the past. We throw out the trash from our house, and that trash is also the past; true tradition does not preserve trash, it preserves only values.

Sometimes the preserving of those values receives a certain cultural form, which, in some cases, helps modern people to accept these values, and, in other cases, it hinders. When we speak about the tradition of the Church, about Christian tradition, which comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, we speak about eternal and unchangeable values, which are preserved in the tradition and are passed consecutively to the next generation. These are not archaisms or old philosophy but are values originating from, among other things, the moral nature of man and that which have been enriched by human experience. If we deny tradition as the bearer of that criterion of the truth of values, then we become completely disarmed before a huge flow of information and it is difficult to sift the truth from a lie or to understand what is happening. Therefore, to be a Christian today, in the first case, means to have a criterion, through the use of which, we can enrich ourselves with the information flow and protect ourselves at the same time from negative and destructive trends and influences.

But how can we get a hold of this criterion? Simply by reading the Gospel? Our highly intellectual age demands from people constant labor of the mind. If that work stops, man becomes easily controlled from outside. We should perceive tradition creatively, for tradition is passed over, among other ways, by the Church. We should not just read texts but must think, must create a system of intercourse, in which we would have the opportunity, by talking, to mutually enrich each other, to exchange our understanding of the huge spiritual and intellectual experience, which is passed to us through tradition.

This, perhaps, is what is lacking in the Church today. Of course, in the churches we give homilies, in which we try to help people to accept that criterion of truth. But we still have hardly any other opportunities; maybe because such work is yet poorly organized: we don’t have discussion groups, we don’t have youth gatherings or other sorts of gatherings where people could actively discuss their faith in the light of modern problems.

It is impossible to have living faith and, more so, understand the use of it when that faith is associated with some kind of book standing on a shelf. But if faith becomes a part of constant reflection, of a person’s creative efforts, if faith is used as the motivation of one’s personal, familial, societal, professional, and governmental actions, if faith is united with real problems of modern life, it becomes living and effective and everyone sees its use.

I would like to take an example from my own life. I was a believer from birth as I grew up in such a family, but sometime at 14 or 15 I became very interested in the exact sciences and especially because they came easily for me. I read a lot of popular scientific literature, and, at that time, such literature was very ideologically biased towards atheism. Of course, I started to have doubts. So, in order to deal with those doubts and to solve many questions I began to read. Fortunately, my father had a wonderful library with outstanding books, which for our people became accessible only in current times. That helped me to reappraise and rethink much of what I had been taught by my parents and this taught me a certain theological introspection, with which I’ve lived up to now. Theological introspection is the capability to respond to the surrounding world not through emotions and feelings but through one’s own convictions. It is the ability to subject the information, which is aimed at you and which devours you, to a critical analysis, which is founded on your own convictions.

I don’t see any other way for the spiritual rebirth of our people besides bringing the religious factor  from exclusively the realm of folklore and culture into the realm of real reflection and real creation, so that religious truths would help man to deal, among other things, with phenomena of crisis, which exist in modern civilization and which most likely will not disappear from this civilization with the end of the current economic crisis. In other words, today, in order to preserve oneself, one’s country, one’s cultural identity, so that one were not crushed by the information flow, we should learn to unite our convictions with reality.

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