This morning I was reading Vladimir Solovyov’s The Justification of the Good where he talks about pity being the foundation of altruism. He criticizes Shopenhauer, who said that pity arises out of an identification of the self with the other; the boundary between two separate things gets blurred. Solovyov criticizes this idea on the basis that there are not two purely separate things to begin with. Were that the case, and people were constantly confusing themselves with others, then not only would children eat while their mothers starved, but it is just as true that mothers could grow fat while their children starved. People would be in a constant state of confusion. That is manifestly not the case. Continue reading “Thoughts on Solovyov and the Social Trinity”
I recently read/pillaged an article by Linell Cady which calls for a re-evaluation of the role and methods of public theology in light of our post-secular context (brill.com/ijpt).
The term “public theology” appears to have been coined by Martin Marty. It was a liberal Christian response to a growing religio-political fundamentalism. Of course, religio-political fundamentalism (i.e. the religious right) was itself responding to secularization. So, in a way, public theology attempted to be a better, more “right” kind of response. Think of it as the “B” side of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, but with a smaller PR budget. Continue reading “Public Theology in the Post-Secular?”
Pretending to be an ostrich is not an effective Christian social theory, but we Orthodox do just that when it comes to sex and gender-identity issues. For example, now that I have said those words, someone is sure to tell me that I am sowing confusion. “You see,” they will say, “the Orthodox Church has been clear and consistent in its position on ‘homosexuality’ for centuries.”
Except it hasn’t! The claim itself is offensive! Why? Well, obviously, those of us who keep talking about “homosexuality” are either ignorant of the clear teachings of the church or we are just stubborn, preferring intellectual gymnastics to intellectual humility necessary to accept what the truly spiritual Orthodox Christians know in their hearts what’s right.
Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine of Hippo both agree that sex poses a spiritual risk, but each thinks about the nature of that risk, and thus the best response to it, in terms not easily reconciled, so that what is of secondary importance for Augustine is primary for Nyssen. For Augustine, the problem with sex is not pleasure. It is pride. Pleasure is only a problem because we are fallen. It contributes to the self-delusion of pride and thus weakens the will by dividing its loves between the true love of God and the false love of self. The spiritual danger of sex is thus, in a word, spiritual. But pride does not feature in Gregory of Nyssa’s anthropology, at least not when he thinks about the Fall. He agrees that we are disordered, but this disorder has to do with an imbalance between the internal and external life rather than the internal life with itself. Pleasure caused the Fall by distracting us, and pleasure keeps us fallen by continuing to distract us, siphoning off spiritual energy that could otherwise go toward our beatification. Disciplining the body and bringing it under the rule of the rational mind begins to return us to Eden. This is not anthropological dualism; Gregory does not deny the goodness of the body. This is to misunderstand asceticism. Ascetic discipline does not reject the body because it needs the body to train the soul. Chastity is the foundation of the ascetic life because it refocuses our energies onto the Good, putting us back on the path toward prelapsarian integrity. By withdrawing from the distractions of the flesh, we begin to master it, transforming sarx back into soma.
Gregory of Nyssa thought of sex in eschatological terms. He was born an aristocrat. Citizens of his rank were taught that, apart from the expectation to produce male offspring who would grow up to oversee the family’s estates, sex was innocuous. As Peter Brown has noted, for a Christian of Gregory’s rank, celibacy was an act of protest against this passing order for the sake of the kingdom to come. It was a martyr-like decision. St. Athansius cited Christian fearlessness in the face of death as proof that Christ was raised from the dead. The same was true of the abstinent. Aristocrats had babies because they feared death, and with it, the loss of property and reputation. But Gregory believed that birth only feeds the grave. Whether adult children find the cold body of their grandmother in her bed, or terrified parents try to cool their gasping, feverish infant, both witness the order Christ came to vanquish by the power of the cross. Death is the last enemy to be overcome (see 1 Cor. 15:26), it gnaws away at the living, and it is a foe against which both martyr and virgin have declared war. Continue reading “Gregory of Nyssa on Sin and Sex”
A Plan for Eerdmans to Make More Money
Let me start off by saying that it is not entirely accurate for me to say that Augustine mysteriously disappears from Bulgakov’s theology. He is more like a ghost, occasionally manifesting himself in the open, but most of the time he lurks in the dark corners of Bulgakov’s books, leaving his slimy ectoplasm between esoteric lines of prose. But “Mysterious Disappearance” sounds more intriguing than “the Invisible Augustine,” and I cannot resist the opportunity to plagiarize the wit of Tony Baker (who crafted possibly the best title for any paper I have ever heard presented anywhere).
Some evangelical Christians and black church leaders say we should not vote this election season because the choice is between a Mormon and a man who supports gay marriage. For them, “The lesser of two evils is still evil.” This saying implies that voting a candidate who is not Christian or moral enough would be sinful. This argument is straightforward, but it is also a modern version of the Manichean heresy.