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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 15 June 2015

THE SECULAR CHALLENGE by FATHER STEPHEN FREEMAN (plus) my rsponse

The Secular Challenge
by Fr. Stephen Freeman 


Fr. Alexander Schmemann held that secularism was the single greatest challenge of the modern era. I took up this understanding and made it the heart of my book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. It is at the heart of every serious challenge the Church faces in our time. The news is not so good.

A recent article by Damian Thompson in the British publication, The Spectator, estimates that at the present rate of decline, British Christianity will cease to exist by 2067. The numbers are simply staggering. The most precipitous decline is within the Church of England (Anglican). The culprit, well-noted in the article, is secularization.

Secularism, in the sense that I use it, is a view of the world in which God is optional. God, if He is seen to exist at all, is in no way an inherent part of life. The world is a neutral zone, not good, not bad, not religious in any way. Religion, God, etc., is nothing more than a belief system that some may choose to bring into their lives. As I have written, many Christians quietly, even unconsciously, hold to this view. Awash in the cultural waters, they feel the world to be devoid of God. The world has been “disenchanted.”

This view of the world has been centuries in the making and it permeates Western societies. Many of the Christians who live here have long ago adapted Christian theology to secular culture, and believe in a form of “secularized” Christianity. I would even venture to say that the vast majority of Orthodox living in the West have a fairly secularized view of their faith. One reason this is so common is because, within our culture, it does not present itself as a rejection of the faith.

Recent conversation on the blog about the nature of language is a very good example. Secularized culture is also Nominalist culture. It presumes as a matter of course that words only have meaning within the minds of their listeners. And by the same token, things only have a particular meaning within the mind of a person. In that way objects are never intrinsically holy, but are rather considered to be holy. They are sacred because someone thinks they are sacred. Religious beliefs may be asserted as personal rights and freedoms, but not because they are inherently true and holy.

The world view of Nominalism/Secularism is atheism waiting to happen. Christianity that has this as a worldview need only drop the “extra baggage” of religion to feel like everyone else. No other change is required.

But what of those who hear about the earlier form of Christianity and wish to practice it. How do they go about acquiring a worldview that is foreign to the world they live in?

I have thought and wrestled with this transformation for over two decades. It is a gift of grace, but we may cooperate in the work.

One beginning step is to recognize the flaws within the secular worldview. Christian teaching holds that God not only created all things, but also holds them in existence moment by moment. It is relatively easy to question the claims to self-existence of the secular worldview. I sometimes engage in “thought experiments” in order to re-train my mental habits.

I generally start with the so-called Big Bang itself, as well as the whole unlikely scenario of the formation of the universe and its Laws. Many Christians have strong and very reasonable beliefs in the necessity of a created universe. The universe is not an accident. It is but a small step from that to the recognition that every atom and particle exists at every moment only by the will and Divine Energy of God.

A second thought experiment might seem odd. There is a heresy called “Pantheism” that holds that all created things are, in fact, a part of God. I imagine such a worldview, but step back from it, to the Orthodox position of everything having a created logos, a spiritual meaning that gives it order, direction and purpose. Indeed the logoi are identified with the Divine Energies. This is not Pantheism itself, but Pantheism would be closer to it than the emptiness of secular Nominalism.

We go through our days treating objects as solid, even though we know scientifically that atoms are mostly nothing. We use language that says, “The sun rose in the East,” even though we know that it is the earth that turns and makes the sun appear to rise. Learning to engage creation as the sustained work of God, representations and participants in the Divine logoi, is not unlike this. The difference is found in paying attention to the truth of things, remembering and considering their constant and continuing relationship with God.

Nominalism and secularism are perhaps the most convenient worldviews ever imagined. If the things around us are self-existent and have no inherent relationship with me, then they may be ignored. Other than those times in which I want to use something or in which it gets in my way, I can live as though the world has nothing to do with me. In Nominalism and Secularism, the idea is the thing. All that matters is what I think about something, and how I relate to your thinking about something. The patent absurdity of such a life hardly requires comment. We are materialists who live as idealists (when it suits us).

Repentance (metanoia) means a change of mind – and this is a change of the deep mind (nous). That it means a change of worldview should not surprise us. How could it not?

And do not be conformed (suschematizo) to this world (ainos), but be transformed (metamorpho) by the renewing of your mind (nous), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2)

I think the words of St. Paul’s admonition are very much to the point. Being “suschematized” to this “ainos” (the schematic of this age) could easily be rendered “see the world according to the spirit of the age.” Having our minds renewed includes a rejection of the age’s worldview.

The world is sacrament and icon, a manifestation of the Divine Energies. Our words and actions are themselves a participation or rejection of those same Divine Energies. That is to say, how we see and approach the world and everything in it is part of our salvation.

In the life of the Church, through sacraments and icons, we are being taught how to see and think, how to rightly handle the things of this world. The challenge of Secularism is not political. It is on the most fundamental level of our existence. Be transformed. 


COMMENTARY

Once more I have read an article in "Glory to God for All Things" that has made my scalp tingle for the very truth of it.   We who are just starting on the way of "New Evangelisation" are asking people to change their way of looking at things, to read the world through a different filtre, to
look and see that

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;       And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.  And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;         And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent   World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.(Gerard Manley Hopkins)
"The world is charged with the glory of God," wrote the great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.  The Dominican Fr Aidan Nichols writes of another great Jesuit who made this the foundation of his theology:
Balthasar presents the beautiful as the 'forgotten transcendental', pulchrum, an aspect of everything and anything as important as verum, 'the true', and bonum, 'the good'. The beautiful is the radiance which something gives off simply because it is something, because it exists. A sequel to this work, intended to show the theological application of its leading idea, was not written until forty years later but Balthasar had given clear hints as to what it would contain. What corresponds theologically to beauty is God's glory. The radiance that shows itself through the communicative forms of finite being is what arouses our sense of transcendence, and so ultimately founds our theology. Thus Balthasar hit upon his key theological concept, as vital to him as ens a se to Thomists or 'radical infinity' to Scotists. In significant form and its attractive power, the Infinite discloses itself in finite expression, and this is supremely true in the biblical revelation. Thus Balthasar set out on his great trilogy: a theological aesthetics, [16] concerned with the perception of God's self-manifestation; a theological dramatics, [17] concerned with the content of this perception, namely God's action towards man; and a theological logic [18] dealing with the method, at once divine and human, whereby this action is expressed.

He goes on a little later:
In his person, life, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ is the 'form of God'. As presented in the New Testament writings, the words, actions and sufferings of Jesus form an aesthetic unity, held together by the 'style' of unconditional love. Love is always beautiful, because it expresses the self- diffusiveness of being, and so is touched by being's radiance, the pulchrum. But the unconditional, gracious, sacrificial love of Jesus Christ expresses not just the mystery of being — finite being — but the mystery of the Source of being, the transcendent communion of love which we call the Trinity. [25] Thus through the Gestalt Christi, the love which God is shines through to the world. This is Balthasar's basic intuition.
The beautiful is the radiance which something gives off simply because it is something, because it exists.   What corresponds theologically to beauty is God's glory. The radiance that shows itself through the communicative forms of finite being is what arouses our sense of transcendence, and so ultimately founds our theology.

God communicates to us through the communicative forms of finite being, hence our world is, as Fr Stephen Freeman says, sacramental and iconic. St Thomas Aquinas tells us that God is nearer to us than any part of the cosmos because it is he who gives us and the cosmos being.  St Augustine says that we are made for God and that we naturally desire God.

   The whole universe cries out to God, and it is only in God that we and our world have any meaning.  The world points out to us something that is beyond itself.  Our meaning is not revealed in our desire for God, but in his free giving of himself that this desire demands.  God has so made us in such a way that we and the whole of creation are incomplete without the further gift of God's love revealed in Christ.  This union between God and creation is perfect, firstly in Christ through his resurrection-ascension and secondly in the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the Church that he has saved and brought to completion.  

The rest of us, and the rest of creation, are still in process, the union between heaven and earth, God and creation, is not yet complete; which is why the myth of the two-storey universe has become possible.   But the intimate communion we already enjoy with Christ in the Eucharist indicates that a two-storey universe is only an inadequate picture of the reality: Christ is already on earth in and through the Church, and our glory is already hidden with Christ in heaven.   Imperfect as that union is, heaven and earth have already become one.  We sing the Eucharist together with the angels and the saints, and the whole host of heaven and earth.

The New Evangelisation must introduce the world to this perspective; and to do so, we must live in it ourselves.

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