July 28, 2014

As Iron Sharpens Iron: Debating Our Differences

As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.

Prv 27:17

I am generally encouraged by comments made by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his recent speech (“A Changeless Faith for A Changing World”) delivered November 3, 2009 at Georgetown University.  Unlike his recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, I found his Georgetown speech a clear presentation of the Gospel and one in which he made his case that there is a direct connection between care for the environment and the Church’s sacramental and ascetical tradition.  Most importantly he clarified his earlier comments about the unity of environment; the unity of creation is not merely the result of physical forces or laws but, as His All Holiness states, the result of the personal and creative action and presence of the Most Holy Trinity.

Let me please begin, however, with where I disagree with His All Holiness.

Classical American political philosophy counsels a limited government.  At our best, Americans, like St Augustine, understand that just as sometimes wars must be fought, so too the government must exercise its coercive power. But, and again like Augustine, we do not always see a substantive difference between Alexander the Great and a pirate captain (see The City of God, Bk IV, 4) and so we say governmental power must be limited and should only be exercised under narrowly defined circumstances.  As asceticism is for the individual, so is limited government is for the body politic.

Given His All Holiness’ understanding of the condition of fallen humanity his unqualified call for a governmental solution to climate change is surprising.  Because of Adam’s transgression “many human beings have come to behave as materialistic tyrants. “  Ironically, and tragically, “Those that tyrannize the earth are themselves, . . . , tyrannized.”   Though we “have been called by God, to ‘be fruitful, increase and have dominion in the earth’ (Gen 1:28)” many, especially in the technological advanced and materially wealthy West, have closed their hearts to God’s command and instead embraced (as the late John Paul II has called it) the “culture of death.”  In our age, as in every age and among all people, human relationships are often about power and control, falling far short of being an “eschatological sign of the perfect Kingdom of God, where corruption and death are no more.”  This is as true for governments as it is for individuals; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rm 3:23).

What I don’t understand in this speech is the disconnect between the sober theological analysis of the human condition and the Patriarch’s advocacy of progressive political positions.  If implemented such laws would concentrate more power in the hands of fallen human beings who are just as inclined toward materialistic tyranny as those whose pollution of the natural world His All Holiness decries.  In any event, my concern here is not with politics, but theology.  Specifically I want to offer an appreciative but critical response to the theological content of the Patriarch’s Georgetown speech.  It is his theological analysis that I think is the most fruitful foundation for a debate about a Christian response to environmental matters.

In his speech Patriarch Bartholomew returns to his concern for the environment.  “Just as every human life is a gift from God, to be treated with love and respect, so is all the rest of Creation – which is why the Orthodox Church has also been a leading voice for healing the environment.”  But the “love and respect” we owe to each human being is qualitatively different than what we owe to “all the rest of Creation.”  In Orthodox cosmology, humanity exists as the apex of Creation and not merely as a part of it.  Again, as in the Wall Street Journal opinion piece, we see in Bartholomew’s rhetoric a tendency to abstraction and moral leveling.  That is to say, he uses language that lends itself to viewing the human and non-human world as having equally moral weight.

But is this a reasonable charge?  I think not.

To be sure, Patriarch’s words are inelegant but I don’t see them reflecting any fundamental cosmological or anthropological error or lapse on his part.  As I have said before, I don’t agree with either Bartholomew’s science or his politics; to see his environmental views  as theological error however, strains against not only the plain meaning of his speech but does violence to truth and charity.

Our care for environment must be rooted in the gratitude humanity owes to the Creator for the gift of creation itself.  His All Holiness invokes the memory of “the late Patriarch Dimitrios” and his invitation to “the whole world to offer, together with the Great Church of Christ, prayers of thanksgiving and supplications for the protection of the gift of creation.”  Yes, he overstates the case when he says that “September 1st, the beginning of the ecclesiastical calendar . . .  [is] a day of prayer for the protection of the environment, throughout the Orthodox world.”  But it does seem that those who object to the secularism of the environmental movement might do well to incorporate this service into our own spiritual lives.  Let me be clear, I would include myself as one who ought to do so.

The conversation that His All Holiness has undertaken is difficulty both theoretically and personally.  Speaking with a highly educated and culturally sophisticated laity, more than one clergyman has wondered along the lines as does the Patriarch who wonders if there is anything beyond “platitudes, [that] Orthodox Christianity contribute to the movement to protect the environment?”  In his answer, Bartholomew points us in a markedly Orthodox Christian direction.  “We believe that through our unique liturgical and ascetic ethos, Orthodox spirituality can provide significant moral and ethical direction toward a new awareness about the planet.”

Where in his previous discussion, he adopted the language of a European Union bureaucrat, at Georgetown his language is explicitly Christian with a stress on soteriology.  “Our sin toward the world – the spiritual root of all our pollution – lies in our refusal to view life and the world as a sacrament of thanksgiving, and as a gift of constant communion with God on a global scale. “  While we might want to debate the finer points of what is meant by “pollution” and what is meant by the assertion that humanity has sinned against the world, no Christian who has read St Paul (Rm 8:22) can deny that all creation suffers because of humanity’s lack of gratitude toward the Creator.

But it isn’t simply non-Christians who reject the sacramental character of creation.  Even among Orthodox Christians we often see a deeply rooted indifference to the sacramentality of life; think for example of all the Orthodox Christians who will not be at Liturgy this Sunday; think of those who will not approach the Chalice for Holy Communion or, if they do approach, do so without preparation.  The lack of a proper appreciation for the sacraments of the Church is not a secondary matter to the argument being made by the Patriarch—even if it is a matter that he does not address directly.  I dare say that for many us the Gospel and the sacraments of the Church are seen as consumer goods which we expect to be there, waiting for us, like loaf of bread on the grocery store shelf.

There is a general need therefore “to raise the consciousness” of both those within the Church and those outside her.  This shift in consciousness is more than the cultivation of a vague sentimental appreciation for environmental causes and requires from all human beings a real and substantive change; a conversion not simply to environmentalism but to Jesus Christ.  “At the heart of the relationship between man and environment is the relationship between human beings. As individuals, we live not only in vertical relationships to God, and horizontal relationships to one another, but also in a complex web of relationships that extend throughout our lives, our cultures and the material world.”

The unity of creation rests ultimately not in the laws of physics but God.  “Human beings and the environment form a seamless garment of existence; a complex fabric that we believe is fashioned by God” (emphasis added).  Further it is because we are “created ‘in the image and likeness of God’ (Gen. 1:26)” that God calls us “to recognize this interdependence between our environment and ourselves. “  Though not developed in the speech, the argument is made that we have a “responsibility for the environment” because we have been entrusted by God with the ordering of creation.  Or as Bartholomew says in his speech, “human beings participated in Creation by giving names to the things that God created.”  Our care for creation is vocational and not merely instrumental or self-referential.

In addition to clarifying the ambiguity in his Wall Street Journal editorial, His All Holiness does something that the late Pope John Paul II did consistently and well.  He articulates the anthropological implications of Christian asceticism and applies them to a contemporary concern.  “There is also an ascetic element in our responsibility toward God’s creation. This asceticism requires voluntary restraint, in order for us to live in harmony with our environment.  By reducing consumption – known in Orthodox theology as ‘encratia’ or self-control – we ensure that resources are left for others in the world.”

Mindful of the different (mis-) understandings that might exist among his listeners, he clarifies for them that asceticism “is not a flight from society and the world, but a communal attitude of mind and way of life that leads to the respectful use, and not the abuse of material goods.”  He contrasts this with the “[e]xcessive consumption” which is rooted in the anti-ascetical spirit of a person estranged “from self, from land, from life, and from God.”  An important anthropological truth is being presented and defended here.  Consumption as such is not sinful; what is sinful is the “unrestrained” consumption of “the fruits of the earth” by which results in the eventual consumption of our lives “by avarice and greed.”  The human problem here is with that type of “consumption [that] leaves us emptied, out-of-touch with our deepest self” and it is as “a corrective practice” to this dissonant consumption that the Church holds up “a vision of repentance,” her ascetical practice. “Such a vision can lead us from repentance to return, the return to a world in which we give, as well as take from creation.”

Where I think the Patriarch goes astray is when he says that “We must challenge ourselves to align our personal and spiritual attitudes with public policy.”  Yes, certainly, ascetical effort bears the fruit of self-control (encratia) and so “frees us of our self-centered neediness, that we may do good works for others.”  But this is rather different then aligning ourselves with public policy which is more often than not the result of compromise among different, and even contradictory, political interests.

It is not personal lives that need to be aligned with public policy.  Rather, and to the degree that we are able, Orthodox Christians must work in the political sphere and in the public square so that public policy is guided by our “personal love for the natural world around us” and our fellow human being.   Rarely, and only imprecisely, do public policy decisions embody the human vocation “to work in humble harmony with creation and not in arrogant supremacy against it.”   For all that we will fall short of the ideal, we must as Orthodox Christians nevertheless work, as part and parcel of our commitment to Christ, to shape public policy in harmony with the human vocation.   That said, we must also acknowledge that while the ascetical tradition of the Church does provide us with “an example whereby we may live simply,” it is an example that is often not followed even by those government officials who profess the faith of the Orthodox Christian Church.

As I said at the beginning of this essay, the theology and politics outlined in Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s do not seem to me consonant with each other.  But I am willing to take the Patriarch at his word when he says “By calling Christianity revolutionary, and saying it is dedicated to change, we are not siding with Progressives – just as, by conserving it, we are not siding with Conservatives.”   But as much as I appreciate his theological analysis, I wish he had clearly distinguished the Gospel from progressive politics.

But I don’t wish to end on a negative note.

It speaks well both of His All Holiness and of the health of the Church that a hierarch addresses publicly an issue such as climate change.  Not only through not her bishops but her clergy and above all her laity, the Church must do this issue and others if we are to remain faithful to our prophetic and evangelical vocation.  Along the way our words will engender discussion, debate, and even sharply drawn disagreements both with those outside the Church and among ourselves.  This however is to the advantage of all since “iron sharpens iron” (Prv 27:17).

Whether we agree with him or not, His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew deserves our praise, our prayers, and our support for examining as a pastor of souls, questions pertaining to the environment, climate change and public policy.  In doing so, he has proven himself profitable to all of us.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Comments

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    Andrew says:

    Fr. Gregory’s eloquent words give the reader a moment of pause. I wish I could muster up his optimism but I cannot. In the end the EP hitches his horse to the cause of Progressive Politics while ignoring basic human rights issues. He presents himself as the great moderate and man of dialogue. By lending his pastoral authority to the Center of American Progress he shows a certain tone deafness to the many issues CAPS promotes which are incompatible with Orthodoxy. Why the EP offers a polite disclaimer or two I doubt the EP will reciprocate by lending his pastoral authority to a pro-life or pro-family cause. Defending these truths are not politically expedient. This is not a Patriarch who is comfortable rowing upstream.

    Progressive Politics is the medium that shapes the message of the EP and the GOA and for this reason I think you can make the case that re-branding of the EP into the Green Patriarch is a fashionable fundamentalism. More and more, I get the impression that the EP is a weather-vane who points in the direction where the political winds are blowing. Very rarely does he turn and challenge the winds of modern culture and say NO.

    One thing that we must all remember is that the EP buys into the theory of man made climate change and the partisan solutions being proposed by progressives. On this visit he endorsed them and promoted them. This is unquestionable and for this reason Orthodox Christians of good will can say NO to the Green Patriarch and his support of policies that will trap millions in a vicious cycle of Poverty.

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    Andrew,

    Thank you for your kind words.

    I have not read enough of the EP’s public statements to say definitively whether or not he has hitched his wagon to progressive politics. But I also would be hard press to deny your claim that he has.

    Whatever the man’s politics, however, I do think you are correct. We have no need as Orthodox Christians to agree with his views on climate change or to pass over in silence the policies he advocates.

    Where I agree with you most is I too would like to see HAH lend “his pastoral authority to a pro-life or pro-family cause.” That he has not is a scandal and undermines (in my eyes at least) the integrity of his witness and leadership.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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    George Michalopulos says:

    In my opinion, Fr Greg, you were being very charitable. To be sure, I found much to like in the EP’s speech. For one thing, it was more Christocentric than any other speech he gave while here (admittedly, a very low bar). That said, there was one particularly passage that he made that the entire premise of environmental theology suspect if not completely untenable:

    Simply put, man cannot be a seamless garment with creation if at the very same time we –and only we–”…are created in the image and likeness of God.” This is a logical fallacy pure and simple. If man is an icon of God (duh–Christianity 101), then unless Genesis says that the rest of Creation is as well (and it doesn’t), then nothing else is. This is oxymoronic, one cannot believe both things at once.

    Again, this is not to say that because only man is a person (like God) and thus the apex of creation (as explicitly stated in Scripture and the writings of the Fathers), that he has the right to despoil the rest of creation. Certainly the case can be made that man does have that right but it does not logically follow that he must have that right or that the Bible gives him that right. In fact, I totally agree with His Holiness that the Bible does no such thing. Man is the steward of Creation, not its consumer.

    From a practical point of view, the implications of this novel interpretation of Orthodox cosmology as explicated by the EP leads me to make the following indictment as well: that because a problem exists (not proven, but assume so for the sake of argument), we must entrust even more power to man in order to “correct” it. This is pace Andrew, a horrible prospect. This fallacy has never resulted in anything good happening. The hyperinflation and immorality of Wiemar Germany led to the National Socialists taking over. The ineptness of the Czarist regime during the Great War led to the Bolshevik revolution. The ancien regime led to the Jacobin Terror which led to the Napoleonic autocracy. Etc. Fr Greg is right: we need to recover the writings of St Augustine, at least in the realm of our relationship with the secular world. As +Hilarion Alfeyev states, Orthodoxy must “be the religion of the nation, not of the state.” (We Orthodox must radically rethink our relationship with and dependence upon, the state.)

    He is right in that if we lived more Orthodox lives (i.e. ascetic struggle) things would be better for the world, but we aren’t serious in this regard. As Fr Greg states, we Orthodox are certainly not leading the way. Leaving aside the Godzilla-sized carbon prints left all over America during this journey, Fr Greg’s indictment about the lack of sacramental participation gives the lie to our propaganda.

    All of this in retrospect reinforces more earlier belief that this entire enterprise was not well-thought out by his handlers. Cetainly not the speeches. The question remains, cui bono? (who benefits?). I think this was not only a desperate effort to remain relevant on the world stage and thereby augment the see of Constantinople’s crumbling status vis-a-vis Orthodoxy, but it was a last-ditch effort to derail American Orthodox unity and autocephaly. (What tipped me off to this was his speech before the Archons in which he totally ignored the primacy of the Russian mission in America.) Completely gratuitous and graceless.

    There is no way at present of knowing whether the GOA will be able to leverage this visit against the other jurisdictions in the ongoing tussle of “who’s on first.” I have a feeling that once the EP leaves for Istanbul, whatever excitement was ginned up by the GOA will dissipate. That said, it will be interesting to compare the lack of media coverage on this “apostolic journey” with the upcoming visit of +Kirill. I for one, don’t imagine that either one would receive the same amount of media interest that the Pope’s visit would receive, but if the MP receives any TV coverage at all, then it would be a significant coup on his part. Of course, the MP has his own designs on America so this could prove to be very interesting in the upcoming Episcopal Assembly.

    BTW, this just popped into my head: Is the entire premise of the GOA from this point on going to be concern for the environment and Left-wing activism? I’m not being snarky here, but an unwitting side effect of this visit has been to pain the GOA into another mainstream liberal denomination. To the extent that this received any political coverage at all (lunches, banquets at Congress, reception at the White House, etc.) This opens up several cans of worms with potential converts, the other jurisdictions, and the culture in general. In fact, it may be the worst possible thing that could happen to Orthodoxy in America since the massacre at Ligonier. Is Orthodoxy a Christian faith or is it just another ecclesial body that prides itself on its tolerance and concern for the cultural fads of the moment? I wouldn’t be surprised if conversions decrease because of this. I hope that the other jurisdictions will not take up this cause as it will likewise diminish us as serious participants in the socio-cultural dialogue. Especially now that global warming has seemed to have lost its social cache and scientific underpinnnings.

    Time will tell.

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      Andrew says:

      George,

      The last paragraph in your observation is completely accurate and should be repeated over and over. Tragically I think we have not only seen the transformation of the EP into the Green Patriarch but we are also seeing the slow transformation of the GOA from a Church into just another denomination that looks alot like the Episcopal Church with a three-bar cross.

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    John Panos says:

    It’s called Eastern Rite Episcopalianism, and inquirers flee from it as from a fire. They know what it means for them, and their children.

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    If I may, a few random thoughts.

    While I appreciate (and share) the criticism offered here, what I worry about is the effect of our criticisms on others. What I mean is this, while the EP has evidently said and done things that he ought not have, merely pointing this pointing this out is insufficient. What we must have, and forgive me if I’m wrong here, is a clear, positive alternative to what John calls “Eastern rite Episcoplianism.”

    The power of a positive message as both the message and the context of criticism is seen in Metropolitan JONAH’s ministry. More than that, however, I worry that if those of us who criticize the EP are not careful, we may drive people away from the Church or at least give them reason to ignore what we say.

    The temptation is always to prefer power to service. This is especially the case when we are responding to those who already desire power for themselves.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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    Michael Bauman says:

    Being polite in the face of untruth is not being Christian. As long as the EP or anyone else is calling for statist solutions to spiritual problems, untruth is being spoken, no matter what theological wrapper is placed around it.

    I’m in the Orthodox Church because I was called to be here. I’ve partken of the Holy Mysteries, listened to the preaching of my priests and bishop, read, studied, debated and prayed. However, in over twenty years, no one has ever challenged me to a higher level of spiritual obedience other than to remind me of the rules of the fasts. I’m on my own.

    In general we resist the temptation to actually talk about the life of the Church lived in the modern world out of fear of offending. Equivocation is the rule it seems. So, we each set up our own little Orthodox Church, or so we call it, and hope our “leaders” don’t get too far out of hand and steal and misdirect so much money the Feds start applying RICO and the Patriot Act. Of course these same ‘leaders’ could simply bankrupt the Church financially by continuing to turn a blind eye to sexual abuse and other forms of corruption.

    We are not much different than the Russian situation described in http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/2009/11/russian-monasticism-and-the-legacy-of-communism/

    We don’t know community, nor do we particularly want to because we have been raised on and follow individualism as formed in us by the secularized Protestant mind and the hedonism of the 60′s. We interpret the life of the Church from a worldly point of view rather than the other way around.

    We don’t have the faith to do what George M calls for, ‘baptize a country’(In any case countries don’t get baptised, persons do). We don’t even have the faith to say anything coherent to the modern mind. Until we free ourselves from both the dhimmi mindset of the past and the indvidualism of the present, we cannot do much more that accept the folks whom Christ has called to sup with us. I don’t think that there will be an Orthodox Church in this country until all of the current ‘jusrisdictions’ fail because of our hubris and apathy. The few who are left will pick up the pieces and start bringing folks together in love and humility based on genuine obedience (not blind legalism) to Holy Tradition. With no money, the old world Patriarchs would cease to have any interest in us any way.
    We will contract before we actually grow–we must die before we can receive the life of the Holy Spirit.

    Despite all of that there is a life so much different from the world that graces our parishes. Unfortunately we are mostly blind to that life as we are too busy ‘doing our own thing, man’; ‘making a difference’; appearing on Charlie Rose; building our careers and families; having ‘unity conferences’ that mean little.

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      Chrys says:

      Michael: Wow. You’ve put your finger on some pretty foundational issues that account for the relative anemia of the Church in America. While it is important to address the various jurisdictional issues that separate us, organizational unity – as Fr. Hans has pointed out elsewhere – will have little value if it is not informed by the Spirit of God. (Babel, after all was organized, but to no good purpose.)

      It is hard to disagree with much of what you have written. I think you are right that we are in a very similar situation to that of the Russian Church, if for different reasons. While their individualism reflects the consequences of decades-long terror which severed that trust that is essential to community, ours is the consequence of a consumerist approach to life in which everything and everyone is reduced to a commodity to serve “my” particular need or purpose. (Or, as has been said about public policy: we are doing “retail” what the Soviets did “wholesale.”) In the end – by choice or by force – the Church membership is deeply infected by the fractured and self-enclosed existence of fallen humanity (of which I am one). The solution, as always, depends on cultivating a powerful spiritual life to that is able to transform us – as both individuals and as communities.

      This gets to the critical and heart-wrenching point you made: “no one has ever challenged me to a higher level of spiritual obedience other than to remind me of the rules of the fasts. I’m on my own.” Unless and until we begin to address this central issue, all the other issues will remain merely academic exercises, for they depend on this. I have been fortunate to know some true Spiritual Fathers, who have – at least in general terms – offered that kind of challenge. Yet, when it comes to specifically personal direction, like you, I often feel that I am too much on my own for my own good. (Unlike you, this is probably my own fault.) What I think we need is the equivalent of a spiritual “coach”: someone who is willing to work closely with folks like us to help us go beyond where we are, “push” through points of resistance and address challenges. Unfortunately, most priests are neither formed for this nor “allowed” to serve in this capacity. They seem to have an implicit job description that either exhausts and depletes them (meeting every need of every “squeaky wheel” or “faction leader” in the parish), or reduces them to a mere liturgical functionary. As a result, we do get the priests we deserve – though it may not be what we, or the priests, really wanted.

      What is needed, in the short-term, is to find someone who (near or far) is willing and reasonably well-suited to serve as a spiritual coach in the relatively intimate manner required. But the long-term solution, as I and some others see it, may require a somewhat different understanding of the priest’s functional role, a more spiritually-focused formation process, and a suitable support system that would allow priests to do what is needed to serve as a spiritual “coach” for their community. Fr. Gregory has long recognized this need and has examined many of the underlying issues that need to be addressed in order to begin to move in this direction. (For two very recent examples, see here and here.)

      As your insightful comments make clear, nothing meaningful will happen – in us, our Church or our country – until we ourselves begin to be transformed. (And everything I have read indicates that this is always a rigorous, demanding process.) This is one of the reasons for the Church’s very existence and until it begins to focus on that mission, we are doing little more than going through the motions. If, however, we are content to just continue “playing around” with this most important part of life, God have mercy on us.

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        Chrys,

        I think you and Michael are on to something–and it helps me understand my disappointment with the EP’s focus on the environment.

        Let us assume that climate change is a problem and it is a problem we can solve (to big IF’s to be sure). The solution the RP and others are lobbying for are “downstream” solutions–they seek to address the immediate problem but do so at the expense of more “upstream” factors. Put another way, the BEST we can hope for a governmental solution is to solve this problem even as we set ourselves up for the next one. What that next one will be is not something we can predict–read The Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb–but THAT it will come is certain. And because we are so focused on the immediate when the next problem comes we will be unequipped to respond in much the same way, and for much the same reason, generals are always prepared to fit the last war not the current one.

        But if, as Michael asks, our leaders challenged us to holiness, or at least did not undermine our attempts (and yes, I can testify that this happens) we develop the virtues–spiritual, intellectual and social–that makes a creative and effective response to not only our current problems but the next ones down the road more likely.

        The problem is not the environment, or the economy, it is me. It is my lack of virtue, my lack of holiness and indifference to the Gospel.

        Finally, and as I emailed Chrys, I think here in American, we have oversold Orthodoxy. Yes the tradition is AMAZING and even a mediocre celebration of the Divine Liturgy with only an iffy sermon is usually better than what many American Christians get on Sunday morning. But so what? I mean really, where’s the trick of outrunning the lame?

        ANway, well said gentlemen.

        In Christ,

        +FrG

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          Chrys says:

          Father, very helpful and insightful. I think identified the key aspect of my own frustration with the EP focusing on a particular policy agenda. The downstream/upstream analysis says it all. Focusing on a specific policy leaves completely unaddressed the sin that IS the root cause of all pollution (environmental, personal, social, spiritual, etc.), and consequently leaves unaddressed the spiritual capacities that will be needed to address all crises, not just this one.

          I love the Black Swan citation. (Taleb became something of an oracle to the financial services industry – of which he was himself once a part – last September when we had the equivalent of a run on the financial system.) His work notes that once we have identified and comprehended the current unanticipated events, we are invariably lulled back into unwarranted complacency, once again blind to our own limited understanding. Even though the financial industry has focused on the book’s examination of statistical “fat tails,” it’s really a book about “the science of human hubris.” Addressing the problem of hubris and its attendant blindness, however is something for which our Tradition is ideally suited. Yet rather than focusing on the Big Picture – the hubris, sin, selfishness, spiritual impairment and other upstream issues that are foundational to each crisis du jour – the focus expressed in most of the publicized efforts seems to be on the current “bus.” It’s a mistake expressed well in the distinction between the urgent and the important. Yet what is the unique mandate of the Church but to call people’s attention to and cultivate our capacities in regard to the Eternally Important? (Again, by ALL accounts, cultivating these capacities properly is an incredibly demanding effort.) If the Church leadership fails to focus on the Important, but instead focuses its efforts on the urgent, then we both abdicate what we alone are uniquely called to do and at the same time do poorly what others are better equipped and called to do.
          And you are right, there will be a new crisis “tomorrow.” There always is.

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    George Michalopulos says:

    Michael, I appreciate your insights. I myself am wavering as to whether to speak truthfully in love or simply not speak at all in order not to offend. as per Fr Greg, I don’t want to drive people away from the Church or embitter my brothers in the GOA, but we can’t continue to be silent or say “right on” to idiotic pronouncements that are injurious to the Faith, no matter how venerable the bishop is who says it. I like your style and way of saying things.

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    Michael & George,

    Thank you both for your comments–we shouldn’t deny the truth, any truth theological or empirical. My point though is that when we offer criticism, we need to be mindful of the unintended consequences of our speech. Wrongly I think to be sure, there are those who think AOI is anti-EP. It isn’t but we need to be careful that we don’t only criticize him.

    I think George has put it well, while we can’t be silent in the face of error, insofar as we are able, we must express our opposition in a way that does not embitter other. Will some take offense anyway? Yes, certainly, but if they do, that’s their sin. My sin is to be indifferent to the “little one’s of faith.”

    As I alluded to my original post, it is hard to escape the fact that the overall spiritual health and level of theological education in the Church–and not just the GOA–is rather low. Of the two, I am more concerned about our spiritual than intellectual health though both be improved. If people don’t know that they are loved by Jesus Christ–and many of our faithful and clergy do not know–they will put their faith in other gods–money, ethnicity, political power, or “being right” to name only a few.

    WE must criticize but as far as possible I think our criticism should be done in a way that doesn’t simply point out error but offers the Gospel. While the latter will always accomplish the former, we can do the first without necessarily doing the second.

    In Christ,

    +FrG

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  1. [...] Let me please begin, however, with where I disagree with His All Holiness.  (Read the rest over at AOI’s blog The Observer.) [...]

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