Ambiguorum Blogis: The miscellaneous thoughts of Fr Michael Butler — goes live.

I always welcome the emergence of new contributions on Orthodoxy and culture by thoughtful commentators. Orthodox Christianity has much to give this country, indeed all of the Christian West, but our thinking has been underdeveloped and our contributions sparse. Much of this is due of course to historical circumstance; Orthodox Christianity is only now finding its voice in the public square. We’ve seen the contributions primarily in the new media, blogs mostly, but also in journals and elsewhere. We see it on all levels too, from the academy to cultural gatekeepers to those of us who, as Hayek says, are “merchants of ideas.”

Fr. Michael Butler

Fr. Michael Butler

Fr. Michael Butler, a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, just entered the fray and, if his first few posts are any indication, it looks like a blog deserving a place in your favorites folder. John Couretas, Communications Director at the Action Institute wrote a fine introduction copied below. Fr. Michael blogs at the Ambiguorum Blogis.

Advising the Poor to Do Less With Less

By John Couretas

Source: Acton Power Blog

John Couretas

John Couretas

On his recently launched Ambiguorum Blogis site, Fr. Michael Butler is reviewing Elizabeth Theokritoff’s Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009). Fr. Michael, who joined us for Acton University 2010, examines the author’s exhausted earth meme, beginning with this quote from the book:

It is hard to escape the conclusion that with an ever-growing human population, it is not enough for humanity as a whole to do more with less; individually, we must also learn to do less with less (Theokritoff, p. 21).

Fr. Michael comments:

This statement is astonishing. It is a call to reduce our quality of life, and I find it hard to square with her concern for the poor and the weak, for whom learning “to do less with less” is a recipe for catastrophe. She says, on p. 19, “most environmental problems take their toll on the poor and weak long before they affect those who can afford to live far from the landfills, upwind of the factories or power plants, and well above sea level”. If the poor and the weak suffer in our current economy, their suffering in a reduced economy will be unspeakable. A vibrant economy helps everyone; poverty in the United States, for example, is incomparable with poverty found elsewhere in the world. The poor and weak will not be helped by making everyone else poorer and weaker.

The author spends some time describing a “culture of control,” which is “a way for us to arrange the world for our own convenience, with no reference to some higher will for the world or for us” (p. 22). She goes on,

Many people regarded it as quite normal, for instance, to have strawberries to eat in mid-winter, relax and a cool house in mid-summer in a subtropical climate, or sit on a well-watered lawn beside the swimming pool in a semi-desert. (Theokritoff, p. 23)

I freely disclose that I eat strawberries in midwinter. My winter strawberries come from Mexico and Chile. What is for me an “indulgence” (Theokritoff’s term) is probably not an indulgence for the Latin American farmers who grow the strawberries and depend upon their sale for their livelihood. Taking to task people who live in the South for air-conditioning their homes strikes me simply as mean-spirited. She might as well take northerners to task for presuming to heat their homes in the winter. I don’t have a swimming pool, so I won’t comment on that part.

Fr. Michael has been a priest in the Orthodox Church in America for more than 15 years in Michigan and Ohio. See his bio and scholarly interests here. And put him on your blog roll and newsreader today.


  1. Great effort Fr. Michael. Welcome to the blogosphere! I’ll be visiting often for articles and resources to link to and share with our readers.

  2. It’s good to see an Orthodox Priest quote Hayek, and make economic sense. My new hero! You either support planning that goes against competition, or planning that supports competition. As a Christian there’s nothing wrong with supporting a little competition. 🙂

  3. The only reason the comfort of the comfortable currently is thought to contribute to whatever wellbeing (oops, almost said welfare!) the poor and working classes enjoy is because a single model of wellbeing and comfort is being upheld, ie, Suburban USA. The First World didn’t so much abandon colonialism as refine it as neo-colonialism, or “globalization” as it’s called more commonly in the USA (Snickerization in Russia [snikerizatsiya], Disneyfication in the Arab world). It replaced most chattel slavery with wage slavery; the bullwhip, with dangerous working conditions. There’s nothing Christian about “Greed is good.” Orthodoxy is supposed to embrace asceticism, or so I have read. The Fathers said “wealth” has been stolen from the poor … and they didn’t say this in the 20th century when it became clearer to all how extraction industries and cheap-labor transnational corporations impoverish the Two-Thirds World, their neighbors and employees … but over a millennium ago, clearly as Divine prophets warning not only their contemporaries but us too. There is and was privation among the world’s Indigenous Peoples before their Great White Benefactors forced themselves on them, but many also had all they needed and wanted, working only four hours a day or less. ISTM real Orthodoxy has a real critique of the kind of politics/economics endorsed by this website. A rising tide may lift all ships, but not those torpedoed by their enemies and exploiters; and then it swamps and drowns the majority lacking ships, even as we’re seeing as close as Alaska, and New Orleans.

    I realize analysis such as this won’t make me the best Orthodox missionary to the comfortable, but I can’t reconcile myself at this time, so it may be just as well that God seems to have closed off that career to me! I don’t say this with pride or smugness, either, but deep sadness and conflictedness. Lord have mercy on me, on my fellow poor and oppressed (and those even worse off) and Indigenous, disabled and work-injured, and on all of us.

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    PO’F, you should know that there is no real patience with finger wagging here. We just aren’t interested in moralistic pronouncements. The world is full of it and we don’t want to add to the blight. If you want to scold, go to the Huffington Post or somewhere like that. They will applaud you. Here we expect better.

    • Father bless—

      First, I intended to sign off with a name, but forgot; I am Leo Peter (sometimes just Peter).

      With every respect for your Priestly office, please understand I am being utterly sincere — I’m not much of a politician, obviously — when I say I don’t understand what you are saying. As I have always been under the impression the words moralistic and scolding mean in common United States English usage — and I have a degree in English, and it is my first language — there is little else on, if rather one-sided. Since it presents itself as an Orthodox site, I don’t understand what’s wrong with bringing the Fathers into what I think has actually been one of my more direct, on-point, even personal Comments here. Certainly we don’t believe anybody is infallible except God Himself, and even some Fathers have made mistakes, but I’ve actually been familiar with Patristic Economics (so to speak) longer than with Orthodoxy in general, and I have never encountered solid o/Orthodox t/Theological argumentation against them, yet. I have loads of graduate work in Religion, including an M.A., though admittedly not from an Orthodox institution, as I became Disabled before converting to Orthodoxy.

      To explain myself a little more… I really don’t come here looking for trouble, just Orthodox Church news, especially about the Chambesy Process. It’s been clear pretty much from the start that we represent different approaches to politics/economics/etc. But sometimes I just feel the need to share some information in hopes of bringing (what I consider to be, of course!) some enlightenment to this or that discussion, factual correction, or other help; you may have noticed I don’t broadside on every post — just ones that I in my probably-not-so-humble opinion believe a contribution might mean something. I also stay away from personal Church politics — BARTHOLOMEW, Schaeffer, molestation, DEMETRIOS, whatever.

      In this particular case, I thought that along with all the above, speaking as a Disabled person, a poor person, a working class person, an Indigenous person, a person at risk of homelessness, etc., a Comment from such a person in a discussion as to whether the current economic system is helping me and my people (so to speak) might be uniquely informative. If it’s not welcome, I have other concerns in my life I need to attend to. But to accuse me of things I don’t understand myself as being guilty of when it seems we may be using the language differently, concerns me. Maybe I’m still too much with my Passions; OF COURSE I am. But I would like to know, if I’m mistaken about something I’ve said in a Comment here, because one thing I’ve had time for since becoming Disabled is learning Right Belief and Life, or beginning to. I guess I just look for more explicit Orthodoxy from an American Orthodox Institute; America’s already heard plenty from heterodox preachers, economists, political activists and candidates and officeholders, and look at the mess we’re in.

      So, Father, if you or anyone can help me, so to speak, I just might appreciate it. Shutting me off only shuts me up, here. True, you aren’t my pastor; this isn’t my parish; but you have thrown open this site for Comments without prior moderating, presumably relevant questions and dialogue too, at least among the participants here who do so as I observe. It’s possible, even given the above, that I’ve misperceived your purpose here; that’s a very real possibility too, for reasons I wish to keep private for now. If I have, I beg forgiveness. And I wish a Good Fast to readers on the Old Calendar.

      Leo Peter

  5. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Leo, I know you are being sincere, but sincerity and clear thinking are two different things. Second, “one-sided” is a charge that too often is used to deflect ideas rather than engage them and you are doing that here. Third, personal difficulties don’t automatically qualify ideas as sound and true.

    You initial posting is packed with unexamined assumptions. I won’t unpack them here. Your response to my complaint that it reads like a moralistic screed is simply more of the same, albeit in less polemical terms. Further, your implicit conclusion that disagreement with your assumptions amounts to a lack of compassion remains. In fact, you buttress (but don’t explain) the initial assertions with the claim that the Church Fathers endorse your view.

    Sorry, but I don’t accept drafting the Fathers into service to the American compassion industry as legitimate. Jim Wallis type socialism doesn’t play well here. Neither do charges that disagreeing with socialist ideology is somehow anti-Christian. There is a world of difference between true compassion and manufactured compassion. Manufactured compassion debilitates human character. It makes man a dependent slave.

    You need to break open the matrix of ideas through which you see the man and society. Start with this: Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.

    Now, please think the next part through:

    Don’t make the mistake of reading this response as “shutting you out.” I am not shutting you out. I am taking your ideas seriously and I am not letting my response to them be clouded by false virtue. Take that as a sign of respect because it is. Failing to point out that you blur the line between manufactured compassion and true compassion would be the failure, not my refusal to coddle your ideas simply because you hold them in sincerity.

  6. George Michalopulos :

    Leo, as a disciple of Hayek, Friedman, etc. (me), I don’t want you to automatically think that your concerns are not met with concern by those of us on the libertarian Right. Your point as well about the Church Fathers are well-taken. In defense of the Church Fathers however, I think that their concern for the poor was justified and they had a method for dealing with it: the Church.

    IMHO, the state has taken way too power unto itself –always to “help” the poor–and we have very little to show for it except the intergeneration transfer of poverty and people who don’t need charity gaming the system at the expense of those who do (i.e. people like you).

    This is why I’m so distressed that a genuine good-guy bishop like Savvas can write enconia to the statist Left as represented by Obama. What is the purpose of the Church once the State takes on all charity? Pretending to dress up like a Byzantine court and erforming complex rituals? It was Schmemann I believe who said that Jesus didn’t die to give us pretty rituals.
    But I digress. It’s up to us to wrest back control from the State those things which properly belong to the Church. By this I mean charity, philanthropy (this includes hospitals), and education. Not only has the State made a hash of things, but it’s only exacerbated the problems and from a fiscal standpoint, this is why our debt is growing exponentially. Because we have chosen to make an idol of the State, we are literally at the breaking point. The collapse will be horrible.

    Please forgive me for the preachiness of the above, but I wanted to stress to you that for many of us on the Right, we’ve come to these conclusions based on a careful reading of Scripture (which has a lot to say against the mixing of Church and State) and history. For those of us in America who are Constitionalists, we think that the Federal Govt should be restrained to what it says in our Founding Document: the defense of the land (this includes protecting our borders), the coining of a common currency, treating with foreign powers, and not too much more than tbat.

    • It’s up to us to wrest back control from the State those things which properly belong to the Church. By this I mean charity, philanthropy (this includes hospitals), and education.

      Most of all education… It is an act of mercy to educate, to give people spiritual food, to teach them about the dignity of humanity, the eternal soul, and the mercy of the loving God. The decay of our contemporary world is due to our one-sided materialistic education system and to the influence of the media. For a human to be whole, he needs to be given the right and the opportunity to know about both the material and the spiritual world. There is no conflict between faith and reason. Deprived of the spiritual component, life becomes, when placed under the microscope of our human reasoning, aimless, and death hopeless.

  7. cynthia curran :

    Well, the Byzantine Empire wasn’t poor for its time period, actually there were more wealthly landowners and merchants than in Western Europe. Granted, there was extremes of poverty in that time period, people that blinded their children to beg. But the Byzantines were smart enough to know you could not run an economy without lending. When it comes to economics there is no utopia. But trying to force the world to radical ascestism leads to a society similar to the Great Leap Forward under Mao or the Stalinist era. Force globial equality will mean economic experiments where millions starve to death like under Mao in the 1950’s or sent to labor camps. This is a possibly that people on the left don’t believe could happen again. Even Satan tried to tempt Christ by becoming the Caesar of his day to correct all the evils of the world but he refuse that.

  8. cynthia curran :

    Another interesting point about wage and price controls in the middle ages, unlike the modern left, the medieval church aim at both just prices and wages. Not only the greed of the businessmen but also the worker which is different view from the modern left that sees the only greedy people as businessmen and not workers. In fact, in both the Justinian Plague and the famous Black plague wage controls were also placed on workers as well as merchants. Different from the modern Marxist theory on the subject.

Care to Comment?