Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Orthodox Christianity and the Post-Christian Intelligentsia: A Response to Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo): Part 1

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. Colossians ii.8
The understanding with which man apprehends the Divine also serves him for apprehending the truth in general...The apprehension of reality is a function of the knowledge of God. Ivan Kireyevskii
The European man is without God; he has degenerated on account of his humanistic education...Our intellectuals who have been cut off from their roots are already carrying from these centuries "the lights" of this humanism in order to "rehabilitate" the Orthodox people. The result has been to transform Orthodox countries into slaughter-houses of souls. St. Justin of Chelije


Recently, a paper by Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo), a retired hierarch of the Orthodox Church in America was published on the Orthodoxy Today website. The paper is entitled Approaching The Educated Person in the Post Christian Era, and was originally presented by the Archbishop at a symposium on the Post-Christian Era, in Romania.

The major premise behind the address by Archbishop Lazar is that it is Christianity itself that is responsible for the de-Christianisation of the West, and that, due to tendencies toward "Fundamentalism", "dry moralism", "spiritual abuse", "Hyperclericalism", and an obscurantist "war against science", the Churches of both the East and the West (but especially the West) have alienated the ranks of the "cultured and educated", who now see Christianity as useless, hypocritical, anti-intellectual, and outmoded.

Certainly, Archbishop Lazar has raised some keen observations about the poor witness that Christians in general, and Orthodox Christians in particular, have, on manifold occasions, presented to this unbelieving world, and even to our own faithful. This address, however, is also marked by a rather trendy-but-philosophically-superficial worldview, by sweeping (and often misrepresentative) generalisations, by errors of historical fact, by erroneous assertions, by an acceptance of the idea that there is a "neutral ground", as it were, between the believer and the unbeliever in apprehending reality, and by an evident need to appear sophisticated in the eyes of the world intelligentsia.

The Archbishop prefaces his paper with a story that bears repeating:

The late Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia, Count Ignatieff always attended divine services at the small Russian Orthodox Church in Belgrade. His secretary told us this story. Ambassador Ignatieff once excused himself from a reception at President Tito's residence in order to attend the vigil on the eve of a feastday. President Tito asked Mr. Ignatieff, "You are an intelligent man, Mr. Ignatieff. Why do you attend church?" Mr. Ignatieff replied, "Because I am an intelligent man."

Count Ignatieff gave an excellent response to such a question. Indeed, if we are to hold true to the demands of the Christian Faith, and to the self-revelation of the God-Man Jesus Christ, we must understand that, as Ivan Kireyevskii posited, "The understanding with which man apprehends the Divine also serves him for apprehending the truth in general…The apprehension of reality is a function of the knowledge of God." Christianity is, in the words of the Reformed philosopher Cornelius Van Til [1], "the only rational faith." As Van Til elaborates:

The Christian's position is not merely just as good as the non-Christian's position. Christianity is the only position that does not per se take away the very foundation for intelligible scientific and philosophical procedure [2]...Only the Christian theory of knowledge, based as it is on the absolute authority of the Word of God speaking in Scripture, makes communication of any sort possible anywhere between men. Without this presupposition men would have no integrated selves and the world would be a vacuum. Without this presupposition of the Christian theory of being there would be no defensible position with respect to the relation of men and things. Neither men nor things would have any discernable identity. There would be no science and no philosophy or theology, for there would be no order. History would be utterly unintelligible. Finally, without the presupposition of the Christian theory of morality, there would be no intelligible view of the difference between good and evil. Why should any action be thought to be better than any other except on the supposition that it is or is not what God approves or disapproves? Except on the Christian basis there is no intelligible distinction between good and evil. [3] We as Christians alone have a position that is philosophically defensible. [4]

But I am not altogether sure that this is what His Eminence means to convey by the anecdote. He seems, rather, to believe that there is some neutral sphere of reality and factuality about which all "educated" people, regardless of their differing religious committments, regardless of the fact that the unregenerate have an agenda, whether spoken or unspoken, to replace God with man, can agree.

Archbishop Lazar begins:


In causal terms, the presence of oxygen is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for fire. Oxygen plus combustibles plus the striking of a match would illustrate a sufficient condition for fire. (William L. Reese)

The general subject of this conference is "The Cultured (or Educated) Person in the Age of De-Christianisation."

The process of de-Christianisation in Western nations did not begin just recently; nor is it the product of any single era, movement or influence. In part, the disintegration of a unified Christian entity in Western Europe was the result of the degeneracy and corruption of the clergy, from the very highest levels to the lowest. This disintegration laid the groundwork for the mistrust of the Christian faith that slowly grew in the more educated classes of Western society.

Certainly, there is some truth in this. The disintegration of Christendom and the corruption of the clergy are, of course, factors in the growth of Humanism from the late Middle Ages to the present, but as for laying the groundwork? That is hardly the case. The groundwork lies in the unbelief of men, who love darkness rather than light, actively suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and attempt to replace God with man.

If one could place a single incident at the root of actual de-Christianisation, it would likely be the trial of Galileo. The condemnation of Galileo by fundamentalist forces in the Latin Church set off a chain reaction throughout Europe that powered the original process of de-Christianisation. Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake a short while earlier for the "crime" of Copernicanism: he asserted that the earth moves around the sun, and that the heavens are not mobile, translucent solid rings pulled by spiritual entities. Galileo confirmed the ideas of both Copernicus and Bruno, and was threatened with death if he did not renounce the truth.

There are, in this paragraph, a number of factual errors. First, Giordano Bruno was not, as Vladyka [5] states, executed for the "'crime' of Copernicanism"--he was executed for being a Docetist heretic. Additionally, this was an age in which it was de rigeur to execute heretics, and not only in Italy. One need only be reminded of the execution of the Archpriest Avvakum in Russia over a century later to realise that the issue of such treatment of heretics by the state, while it is something of which we are not particularly accepting today, was then not an abnormal occurrence anywhere (Orthodox countries included) within Christendom.

Neither can the trial of Galileo Galilei be placed as the root of the De-Christianisation of Europe. Rather, as St. Justin of Chelije very rightly points out, it is in the Humanistic impulse of the Papacy, and its concomitant failure to communicate the Gospel to the people; its transformation from being the living community of the Saints to being one more example of the tyranny of evil men, that the roots of de-Christianisation lie. Beginning with the rise of "humanistic idolatry" in the Renaissance, "Europe applied itself to the task and began to create the new man without God, society without God, humanity without God. The Renaissance had filled many hearts with hope. This was natural since European man had essentially withered on account of the Vatican. Throught its illusory scholastic philosophy and its cannibal Jesuitism in ethics, the Vatican had drained the creative, vital powers of European man. Therefore, the renewal of European man with the humanist spirit of ancient Greece was seen as essential in order to prevent his impending death. For this to be realised, it was necessary for European man to be carried away from Christ and to sever his every bond with the invisible world." [6] This great Serbian Saint then traces the growth of Humanism through Rousseau, Descartes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Darwin, Nietzsche, and on into the disaster of the Modern Age.

The trial of Galileo, while significant, is only one example of the way in which Papal tyranny acted, and Vladyka's treatment of it is misleading--he retroactively applies ideas of religious "fundamentalism" to what was a verdict that accorded with what nearly everybody thought at the time, and fails to notice that the root of the problem is that, in the Papacy, Christianity was transformed into Humanism long before Galileo, or even Copernicus.

It was not until the so-called Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century that Galilei began to be held up as a "martyr for truth." Many of his contemporaries, educated scientists to a man, like Tycho Brahe and Francis Bacon, were also not inclined to adopt his cosmology--and this neither from fear of the Catholic authorities nor committment to "fundamentalist" religious principles.

Further, virtually nobody, educated or otherwise, accepted the heliocentric model during this period of time. Although this fact may, in retrospect, seem to us moderns to be "unenlightened", the reality is that the heliocentric model is not something obvious, and in the Seventeenth Century appeared to most people to be nonsense. It was not until much later that it was generally recognised that the heliocentric model appears to provide a more accurate mechanism for predicting the motions of heavenly bodies than did its geocentric predecessor.

This is, by the way, part of the nature of the scientific endeavour. Science, based as it necessarily is, on inductive reasoning and empirical observation, can never really provide a universal assertion (though the form of modern Humanism usually referred to as "Scientism" often asserts its claims in a dogmatic fashion that fails to accord with its inductive method). Hypothetical models are constantly being shown false and replaced by newer hypothetical models.

Since his works, banned in Italy, were nevertheless published in Northern Europe, educated and cultured people throughout the West would see these incidents as a Christian war against truth.

I reiterate here that this was not the prevailing view of Galileo's contemporaries. It was a over a century later that the cases of Galilei, Bruno, et al, were co-opted by the anti-Christian revolutionary spirit of Enlightenment Humanism and retroactively crafted into examples of martyrdom for the cause of "truth"-- a word which for the Encyclopedists, Deists, Empiricists, Rationalists, and other "enlightened" groups, signified whatever their unbelief could turn to its own purpose and exalt against the revealed knowledge of God.

There was no immediate tidal wave of de-Christianisation, but the glacier had begun to melt and the trickle of doubt would soon become a torrent. Christianity was so deeply engrained in the cultures of Europe that it would take another three centuries for something like a general de-Christianisation to become obvious.

With the trial of Galileo, a process of deconstruction began. At first this process was slow and related only to doubts about cosmological doctrines. It began to pick up speed, however, and accelerated, like the ball which Galileo had rolled down an incline whose velocity accelerated at (x) ft/sec. With each century, this deconstruction increased like the squaring of the seconds in the acceleration in Galileo's experiment.

Vladyka here makes an unfortunate choice in the use of the word "deconstruction". He is, evidently, an educated man, and as such, surely realises that the word deconstruction denotes a particular stream of post-structuralist textual analysis. Quite obviously, this is not what Archbishop Lazar intends to convey [7], even though he uses the term, or its relative, "deconstructionism" (which is even more denotative of Derrida's post-structuralist text-critical method) no less than twelve times in this and the three subsequent paragraphs. From the context, I can only assume that he actually means to say "disintegration", and will proceed on that assumption.

The Protestant Reformation, which had made the dissemination of Galileo's works possible, was the greatest process of deconstructionism in history.

It should be unnecessary to point out that it was not the Protestant Reformation that made the dissemination of Galileo's views possible, but rather the advent of the moveable-type printing press on the European scene. Perhaps the Reformation contributed to some extent to the free use that was made of the printing press, but I think that Vladyka has underestimated the actual effect of such technology. It is a notable fact that most historians credit Gutenberg, rather than Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin, with initiating the matrix that allowed the spread of Protestant ideas. The advent of the printing press was a revolution in the availability of information comparable to the advent of the internet in our own day, the effects of which are only beginning to be felt.

I am not precisely sure what Vladyka means here, though, once the incidental clause is put on the shelf. If he means that the Reformation was destructive to the unity of Western Christendom, my response can only be to agree with the tautology. At the same time, however, if his assessment is not a deliberate hyperbole, I cannot but disagree that the Reformation constitutes the "greatest process of [disintegration] in history". Apart from the fact that that distinction belongs to the Fall of the First-Created Man, I can think of a number of other such processes of disintegration in history that dwarf the actual effects of the Reformation, at the very least in the sheer number of people and societies affected. Among them are the barbarian invasions of Europe and North Africa in the first centuries A.D., the rise of Islam in the Seventh Century, the spread of the Mongol Empire, the Black Death, the transformation of Latin Catholicism into Papal Humanism, and most of all, the rise of AntiChrist Humanism from Renaissance to Enlightenment to the mass graves filled to overflowing by an increasing number of the inevitable "supermen" - Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Pavelic, Amin, Castro, Hussein, and so on....

For centuries since the great schism, doubt had arisen about many of the teachings which developed in the Western Church. These doubts were greatly increased by the avarice and degenerate lifestyle of the clergy, especially the bishops and the highest ranking clergy of all. The deconstruction of the Latin Church had already begun by the thirteen hundreds. In that era, the various Gnostic movements had gathered strength in Western Europe as they had earlier in the East. Much of the strength of the Gnostic movements lay in their protest against the degenerate living and the remoteness of the clergy in both the Byzantine and Latin Churches. After the sixteen hundreds, however, much deeper doubts arose. The accusations which Martin Luther had nailed to the door of All Saints Cathedral in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 concerned only ecclesiastical matters.

This is a surprise to me. Having read the 95 Theses on several occasions, it appeared to me that, though they certainly do address ecclesiastical questions, particularly the corruption of the clergy - from top to bottom - in the matter of the selling of Indulgences, the Theses actually deal with the relationship between man and God in Christ, which had, through the degeneracy of the Vatican, become distorted and defaced in Latin doctrine and praxis. This is hardly a bare "ecclesiastical matter."

The doubts which were given birth by the burning of Giordano Bruno and the condemnation of Galileo on 21 June 1633 (both were deemed guilty of "Copernicanism") were of a more all- encompassing nature. When Luther expressed doubts about the theology, life and worthiness of the Latin Church, he was only giving voice to doubts that had been arising regularly for centuries. With Luther, the Western Church became engulfed in a flood of deconstructionism that we call the Reformation. It was inevitable that both streams of deconstruction should merge.

The deconstruction ushered in by the Galileo affair pertained not only to the Western Christian Church, but to Christianity itself. The Protestant Reformation led to the deconstruction of Christian Church history and tradition. It would ultimately undermine the very concepts of tradition and hierarchical structure. At first this affected only the Church. As this deconstruction gathered force, however, regard for all tradition and hierarchical structure in society would be undermined. This would have enormous consequences which are still being dealt with in the twenty-first century.

In the Archbishop's historical recounting, there are clear errors - like the one, already addressed, about the nature of the condemnation of Bruno. It is, at the very least, an unwise exercise in hyperbole to assign to Martin Luther the responsibility for a "flood of deconstructionism"; likewise, calling the Reformation such a thing is surely an overstatement, quite apart from the improper use of the word "deconstruction".

Further, it was not the Lutheran Reformation, or the Calvinist Reformation, or even the English Reformation, that undermined the concepts of tradition and hierarchical structure; indeed, those groups all tenaciously held on to some form of both, even though their teaching was divorced from the contect of the living Tradition of the Holy Church which the Papacy had abandoned five centuries previously. But the Magisterial Reformation was not a simple rebellion - a reformation, or rather, a return to the Una Sancta, had become necessary - the Reformers were attempting to return to the point where the Papacy had gone wrong, and were not altogether successful, since their efforts were outside of the Church. But once can hardly lay the blame for the disintegration of Western Culture at the feet of these Godfearing men who were doing what they could in the light that they were given.

Nay, rather, it was the Anti-Christ force of the nascent Humanism that was the real threat, and later proved itself to be the true enemy.

The undermining of the traditional family paradigm would be one of the most notable casualties of Protestant deconstructionism.

This is possibly one of the most irresponsible and manifestly untrue statements I have ever come across in the works of this particular hierarch. Perhaps he does not know any real Protestants - I don't mean the adherents of the mainline denominations which adhere to a thinly veiled Secular Humanism, or to the chaos of the post-Reformation groups, but rather true, confessional Lutheran and Reformed, or continuing Anglicans. Perhaps he does not realise the high regard for the traditional family held by those who have remained faithful to the Reformation. But, more likely, he is engaging in his usual tactic of boldly asserting an untruth, which he will later use to underscore a point which requires such a false foundation.

That other form of deconstruction, for which we take the trial of Galileo as being the first milestone, formed a direct challenge to the whole of Christianity and to religion itself. It was not that the emerging scientific revolution was in opposition to Christianity. Science did not create this deconstruction; rather it was the overbearing reaction of Christian leaders and intellectuals that created this process.

Here we see Vladyka begin one of his most characteristic tactics: to demonise his opposition with an unsubstantiated assertion which he lays out as axiomatic. His further argumentation is only reasonable if one accepts the premise.

It has already been pointed out that +Lazar's analysis of the Galileo case is simply incorrect. He has read the opinions of later intellectuals back into an era in which no such issue existed. Further, he does not comprehend that Christianity has never been opposed to science; in fact, it was Christianity, the only body of truth that makes reality intelligible, that paved the way for science to develop. Where Christianity has, in fact, been opposed to that which is called "science" has been restricted to a specific sphere, to wit, the mythology of Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian Biological Evolutionism, along with its infiltration into other areas of scientific endeavour.

And that is the crucial point in the Archbishop's thinking on this matter - he is an Evolutionist, and is thus compelled by his prior commitment to Evolutionism to cast his Scripture and Tradition believing co-religionists as unstable, fearful, parochial bumpkins.

It was Christian leaders themselves who created the greatest doubts in the minds of ordinary people about Christianity. The Reformation was the beginning of liberalism and liberal democracy. It ultimately made it possible for people to deny all forms of authority. Not only was tradition abandoned in the understanding of faith and of the Scripture, but now each individual became his own personal authority in the interpretation of Scripture and of the Christian faith itself.

Perhaps, in his zeal to blame the Reformers for the sorry state of the modern West, it has escaped Vladyka's knowledge that, until, during the Enlightenment, the centres of education and of power both in Europe and America, were seized by an elite consisting of Deists, Masons, Unitarians, and proto-socialists, who introduced mandatory government schooling in an effort to gradually separate children from the "religious superstitions" of their parents and forebears, "ordinary people" largely remained faithful to their confessions of faith? That in the course of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, the enemies of God and Christ, by this mechanism - the Public School transformed into the Ekklesia of the new religion of Secular Humanism - succeeded in their takeover of virtually all institutions, including the mainline Protestant faith-communities?

Perhaps he is heedless of the very apt words of St. Justin of Chelije: "Everywhere the main objective is to organize man, society, and the world without God, without Christ...Towards this direction humanistic education occupies itself with the creation of the new man. The plan for this new man is simple: Christ or anything of Christ cannot exist in the new man." [8]

Likewise, his assessment of the Reformation betrays a fundamental failure to understand the historical currents of the West. He ignores the resurgent paganism that appeared in the Renaissance, and gradually became the Secular Humanism we know today, while placing the blame on the Reformers for the disintegration of Western Culture. His statements about the Reformation are vast oversimplifications and generalisations, of the type that a thinking person should not make. Treating Protestantism as a monolith is a grave error in any kind of reasonably dispassionate historiography; blaming it for all the ills of the West is simply absurd.

The nearly hysterical reaction on the part of some Christian leaders to the writings of Charles Darwin only fed the flames of this deconstruction of Christianity. It is not that Darwin could not be read critically and not that one could not disagree with his conclusion, but the panic with which the response had been carried out has had a profoundly negative affect.

What a very bizarre assertion this is. It might be nice if the Archbishop were to provide us with any examples of hysteria or panic. But he does not. Nor does he mention the measured and reasonable opposition that arose against Darwin's ideas from his contemporaries in both the scientific and religious communities: Louis Agassiz, Richard Owen, Adam Sedgwick, David Livingstone, and Samuel Wilberforce, et. al. Nor the measured and reasonable opposition to Evolutionism that is offered in more recent times by such minds as William Dembski, Philip Johnson, J. Budziszewski, Nancy Pearcey, Michael Behe, David Berlinski, James Barham, Gordon Clark, and numerous other scientists and intellectuals.

Perhaps it can be conjectured that some simpler people reacted with hysteria or panic, but again, he has provided no evidence. More likely, Vladyka is, true to form, just painting his opponents as ignorant and overly-emotional fools, while avoiding the very serious questions raised by those who do not share his dogmatic acceptance of the Evolution myth. It appears that he derives his view of the Creationist not from history or reality, but rather from Stanley Kramer's hit 1960 adaptation of the Darwinist propaganda play Inherit the Wind.

Worse still has been the clearly dishonest response on the part of many Fundamentalist Christians, not least of which is the fraudulent "scientific creationism," which is enough to make many educated people leery of Christianity.

Here +Lazar betrays the extent of his captivity to the dogmatism that so insidiously plagues Evolutionist academia. For him, Evolutionism is neutral science - he assumes that, upon examination of a certain body of evidence, the only reasonable response is to assert Evolutionism. Any attempt to show that the body of data does not necessitate the conclusion that Darwin, Teilhard, Dobzhansky, and Puhalo have reached is categorically dismissed as "Fundamentalist" and "fraudulent". [9] So much for open-mindedness and critical analysis. For Archbishop Lazar, it is as Teilhard de Chardin pontificated: “Evolution is much more than a theory – it is a general postulate to which all theories, all systems henceforth must bow and which they must satisfy in order to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illumines all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow”.

Archbishop Lazar, like all so-called Theistic Evolutionists who try to make a hybrid of Darwinian Humanism and Christianity, is found to be entrapped by Evolutionist dogmatism; he takes his stand against all the many generations of Christians who believe the revelation of God in Scripture and Tradition, having cut an untenable deal with those who say to Christ "In place of your Gospel we discovered biology and zoology. And now we know that we are not descended from You and Your heavenly Father, but from orangutans and gorillas, that is to say, apes. And we are perfectly able to become gods because we do not recognize any other god than ourselves." [10]

Thus we must in all honesty assert that the process of de-Christianisation was really inaugurated by Christian leaders and apologists.

Do we? I submit that this is so, once again, only if we accept the Archbishop's unverified premises.

Fundamentalism, coupled with the undermining of regard for authority and tradition, could only result in the undermining of the institution itself. If fundamentalist Christians were confused and led into hysteria by the truth itself, and if, as the Protestants taught, sacred tradition and hierarchical structure are evil, then there is essentially nothing left of the movement founded by Jesus Christ and His apostles.

"Fundamentalism" is one of Vladyka's favourite words. It is the category by which he discards everything he considers unenlightened, ignorant and philistine. It is the category into which he throws all his opponents. It is his trump card. Nobody likes to be called a Fundamentalist, except for a certain segment of Independent Baptists. +Lazar makes masterful use of this term in order to present himself, like an Orthodox Bill O'Reilly, to be the maintainer of a "no-spin zone" that is "fair and balanced", even when the spin is gyroscopic and fairness and balance are thrown to the wind.

It is important to realise, however, that "Fundamentalism" is the great juggernaut that he sees standing against the progress of Orthodox Christianity in the world. More than Humanism, Militant Atheism, Materialism, Consumerism, Militarism, or any other -ism, Fundamentalism, whether Protestant or Orthodox, is, in +Lazar's eyes, "more responsible for the de-Christianisation of society than any other force in the world." He does, in fact, blame Fundamentalism for the creation of all the -isms listed above. I submit, in fact, after having read the bulk of what he has written over the years, that it is precisely the key to his thinking on virtually any issue.

With that thought, we will end Part 1 of this response without commenting on the rest of Archbishop Lazar's prologue. He says a number of things below, some of which are quite true, some of which are patently false. Much of what he says is by way of general introduction to what he will say later in the address - so general, in fact, that it would be pointless to deal with it at this juncture.

There is no foundation left in a Christianity which has no living sacred tradition or authority by which it interprets the Scripture and symbols of the faith. Without a foundation there is left only a structure which will collapse when struck by a flood and an earthquake. The flood began slowly with the trial of Galileo and reached its peak with the debates about Darwin. The earthquake was unleashed earlier by the Protestant Reformation which itself destroyed the foundation and caused the structure to begin to crumble.

This is why I have chosen to speak about the manner in which many of our contemporary clergy and Church leaders continue to undermine the possibility of faith and loyalty to the Church in our younger and more educated generations. We ourselves are a great part of the movement of the deconstruction of the Christian Church and faith. I wish to suggest that this conference will be of little value if we do not discuss this aspect of the condition which we are calling "the age of de-Christianisation." The term "de-Christianisation" now seems to us in the West to be a bit obsolete. For the past fifty years, we have been speaking of our "post-Christian era." Let me begin by illustrating what we mean by the "post-Christian era."

The focus of this term has been on 1. the pulling back of church institutions from direct attempts to control public life, 2. the aspiration of those who preach the Gospel to be free to do so without having to do it within state influenced frameworks which threaten the political independence of the church, the increased recognition that the people of God are not the majority much less the moral majority, but may always be leaven in the bread of our common life.

Let us approach the specific subject of "de-Christianisation" from a point of view that is all too often ignored. I would like to discuss briefly the manner in which some Christian leaders support and advance the process of the de-Christianisation of society.

I teach and lecture regularly at a number of universities in both Canada and America; including two or three Protestant institutions. I am also director of the Orthodox Christian Clubs at two universities in Vancouver, Canada. During any given year, I will have an opportunity to speak to thousands of students, and to actually have conversations with hundreds of them. The doubts which are aroused in students at civil universities are not always different than the ones expressed by students in Christian colleges and universities. Both will mention Christian bigotry and hypocrisy, but the anti-science bias of fundamentalists will be mentioned more often in civil institutions. The factors that push students in both types of universities or colleges away from Christianity are often the same, although Christian students are more likely to raise genuinely theological questions. There is a tragic variation in these factors among the Orthodox Christian young people that I speak with, but these particular factors are not limited to the educated youth. While we have many educated Protestants converting to Orthodox Christianity, we also have more and more people born in the faith failing to attend divine services. Please allow me to offer some observations about these matters.

Educated young people are not less spiritual than previous generations. If anything, they are more spiritually inclined, and are seeking some spiritual foundation more than those who took religion for granted in earlier generations. Why, then, is Christianity less often the spiritual vehicle of choice and why are so many people who were reared in one or another of the Christian religions opting to find spiritual sustenance in other philosophical or religious movements? In the brief time that I have, I would like to share some of the conclusions of my own rather extensive experience in confronting these very questions "on the front line," to borrow a military expression. I would also like to aim my remarks primarily at those of our own tradition, the leaders of the Orthodox Christian Church. There are four particular areas that I wish to touch upon today. Some of them may not yet be so obvious in Romania, but they will be, and they are quite important to our subject:

(1). Foremost among the afflictions which drive people away from Christianity is the spiritual illness called "fundamentalism." It includes both a hyper-literalist interpretation of Scripture and a dry, dead moralism.

(2). Clergy arrogance and remoteness. This includes the failure of many priests and hierarchs to interact with the faithful in a meaningful and personal way. It also includes the failure of clergy to continue to educate themselves so that they can give meaningful and convincing answers to the questions raised by educated and cultured people.

Moreover, far too many priests, even those ill-equipped for it, declare themselves "spiritual fathers" in order to exercise power and manipulative control over their flocks, while not understanding the real meaning of parenthood (which is the true pattern for the spiritual father).

(3). Folk superstitions being taught as if they were doctrines of the faith, rather than the teaching of sound theology. This is often done by clergy who wish to manipulate and wrongfully control the faithful through fear. This problem affects Orthodox Christians more than any other Christian body, and occurs most frequently among monastics. It forms the most salient distraction from a Christ-centred spiritual life in the Orthodox Church. Often these superstitions completely distract one from an awareness of the fullness of the grace of the Holy Spirit.

(4). Among educated people raised in the so-called "evangelical" denominations of Protestantism, the most common complaint I hear is called "spiritual abuse." This is one of the more common reasons given by converts for leaving those denominations and becoming Orthodox Christians. This "spiritual abuse" includes the enormous unhealed guilt complexes that are heaped on people for even the most basic aspects of their humanity.

Evangelical fundamentalism, along with our own scholastics and fundamentalists, are more responsible for the de-Christianisation of society than any other force in the world.

Part 2 of Orthodox Christianity and the Post-Christian Intelligentsia: A Response to Archbishop Lazar (Puhalo) will be forthcoming.


[1] Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), Profesor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was, among Reformed, one of the first twentieth century philosophers to grasp the Biblical and Patristic position that the chasm between Christians and unbelievers in the area of epistemology is basic to all human predication, and that there is no area of neutral common ground between them other than their creation in the image of God, which the Christian accepts and embraces, and which the unbeliever seeks to suppress in unrighteousness, constructing his system of thought in such a way as to free himself from the need to acknowledge, fear, and obey his Creator.
[2] Cornelius Van Til, The Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, In Defense of the Faith, Vol. 1, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1967, p. 52
[3] Ibid., p. 62
[4] Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1947, p. 8
[5] Vladyka (Vla-DI-kah), a Russian word, lit. "Master", which is the familiar form for addressing or referring to a Bishop.
[6] Fr. Justin Popovich (1894-1979), Humanistic and Theanthropic Education, in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, translated by Asterios Gerostergios, Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994, p. 57
[7] That is, unless the Archbishop is, himself, a Deconstructionist. In that case, any time spent in formulating a response to his paper is a colossal waste of effort, since the text might really indicate that the rabbits that live in the briar patch behind my house are about to have bunnies, or virtually anything else, other than that which it actually appears to say.
[8] Fr. Justin Popovich, Loc. cit.
[9] One feels compelled to ask: Is +Lazar simply blind to the vast amount of fraud that has gone on among Evolutionist scientists since 1859? Or does he just overlook it because of a priori considerations?
[10] Fr. Justin Popovich (1894-1979), Humanistic Ecumenism, in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, translated by Asterios Gerostergios, Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1994, p. 192


Fr. david said...

[Originally posted 2005-6-1 @ 2:06:41 am]

Cornelius Van Til- It reminds me of my “TULIP” days.
Thanks for the review. You hit the nail on the head in
recognizing “evolution” as his starting point and everything
building from that false premise.
Fr. David

Joe Suaiden said...

[Originally posted 2005-6-1 @ 9:06:14 am]


J-D said...

[Originally posted 2005-6-1 @ 12:06:51 pm]

Very nice, Hugh. I am consistently amazed, though should not be, with the propensity of some to base arguments on not only unproven but un-demonstrated assumptions - mere assertions with no, or very little, resemblance to actual fact.

God have mercy on us all!

Al Green said...

[Originally posted 2005-6-2 @ 6:06:23 am]

I think Ephrem is letting personal dislike for the archbishop get in the way of a full understanding of what +LAZAR is really saying. I have yet to see Ephrem agree with anything +LAZAR says or writes, and that in itself makes his motivations suspicious.

Theophan C said...

[Originally posted 2006-6-22 @ 3:06:54 pm]

"Archbishop" Lazar is indeed a very sick heretic- but you are in Communion with him. You praise the writings of Vladimir Moss (which indeed should be praised!) and yet to us you and Lazar are basically the same- "World Orthodox", probably more dangerous than Lazar because you appear more the real thing.

Doesnt that make you think?


Ephrem replies: Yes. It makes me think about the contrast between Vladimir - a fine Christian gentleman who, despite our differences in ecclesiology, has never treated me with anything but generous cordiality - and you, who come on my site with such a confrontational tone. It is a relief to me, however, that I know enough fine people in the jurisdiction to which you belong not to take you as representative thereof.

Patrick Pummill said...

[Originally posted 2006-7-26 @ 3:07:42 pm]

For a complete examination of the Galileo question and the truthfulness of the Geocentric position check out Robert Sungenis “Galileo Was Wrong” doctoral thesis. It is available on CD and is 0ver 1100 pages of overwhelmingly convincing research. The world along with virtually every Christian has been duped for over 400 years. I do not expect to many Orthodox to own up to it because an endorsement for it is an endorsement for the Roman Catholic Church and their vidication. God forbid that we should help them even if they are speaking the truth. However, since I know you and believe you are a reasonable man I think you will be interested to explore this.
Patrick Pummill

Flacius said...

[Originally posted 2006-9-1 @ 10:09:05 pm]

Thank you for such a clear, concise and informed refutation of the Archbishop’s pseudo-scholarship. I mean no disrespect to the man (I am not Orthodox, so please excuse me from using the term “Vladyka”), but having read many of his writings available on the internet it seemed to me his thought was but another example of the typical superficial analysis of Western Christianity one often hears from Orthodox writers on the subject, replete with the usual “Romanidian” cliches.
As an educated Western Christian inquiring into Orthodoxy, it is precisely such all-too-easy to make generalisations about East and West that His Eminence is fond of engaging in which dissuade one from seeing in Orthodoxy a viable alternative to continuing to live and believe in the midst of the current disintegration of our own churches.
The egregious use of the term “fundamentalism” in his writings is especially grating. The days when that term referred to mythical rustic Protestant know-nothings from the South with a supposedly congenital inability to accept the findings of modern science are long gone. Orthodox who use this term in a derogatory manner ought to realise that its current usage in public discourse in the West refers to anyone who believes his religous beliefs are universally valid. By that measure, we “right-believing” Christians are all “fundamentalists”, are we not?