OCF to Present Interfaith Debate at University of Maryland

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, light your candles!

Source: Antiochian.org

The Orthodox Christian Fellowship of UMBC, in collaboration with the Secular Student Association of UMBC, is excited to present to the campus community and the general public a debate entitled, “The Source of Human Morality: Interfaith Debate.” How do we define morality? Do people need God to be moral? If not, where do our morals come from? Are good works behavioral, biological, or biblical? What does it mean to be human? The Secular Student Alliance at UMBC and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship at UMBC have come together to present a debate on the topic of human morality– what is it, how do we know we have it, and where does it come from? Two presenters, with wildly different backgrounds and philosophies will face off on this topic, in the common interest of pursuing truth.

Our Speakers:

Matt Dillahunty is the president of the Atheist Community of Austin, and host of the popular public access television and internet show “The Atheist Experience.” He was raised as a fundamentalist Baptist, and was on track to become a minister until he started asking questions about the reasons for his belief. He rejected religion, and now serves as a public voice for rationality and secular morality.

Father Hans Jacobse is an Antiochian Orthodox Priest, who administers the website Orthodoxy Today and heads the American Orthodox Institute. Fr. Hans is convinced that Orthodox Christianity has an important part to play in American moral renewal. He views the current world as a battle between competing moral visions of the secular and the sacred, and hopes that Christianity can restore the moral tradition of the

Event Information:

This event is at 7 PM on 11/16, in the UMBC ballroom. This event is fully free of charge, and open to the entire UMBC community and the public. There are limited seats available, so plan to arrive early. Come with an open-mind, and be prepared to challenge your conceptions about human morality and commonly seek the truth about what makes us human.

For more information contact: umbcocf@gmail.com


  1. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovch The Prologue from Ohrid
    HOMILY on how only the foolish deny God

    The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt. They have done abominable works (Psalm 14:1).
    The mind is the rudder of man’s entire being. It counsels, persuades and guides. Both the soul and the body act according to the mind. If the mind is upright before God, then the whole man is upright. If the mind is iniquitous before God, the whole man is iniquitous. Even if someone merely thinks, “There is no God,” the thought immediately manifests itself in his deeds. Evil thoughts come first and evil deeds inevitably follow. Do you see how well the inspired prophet knows the nature of man? First, he underlines the cause, then he cites the consequences. Evil deeds necessarily proceed from evil thoughts. That is why, brethren, you should not believe those who say: “I do not believe in God, but I do good deeds.” First of all, he who does not believe in God does not know what good is, nor can he differentiate good from evil. By his disbelief, a man cuts himself off from the greatest Good and the Source of every good! Furthermore, let us carefully study this: you will see that all the deeds of the ungodly are corrupt and hateful. They are corrupt because they are evil, worthless and transitory; they are hateful, because they are contrary to the will of the Living God. The godless cannot distinguish good from evil, for only in the light of God’s law can one determine precisely what is good and what is evil. However, it can also be that those who merely say they believe in God do corrupt and hateful deeds, acknowledging God with their lips but denying Him in deeds. It is good to confess God with your lips, but that is a long way from being enough! One must also acknowledge Him with the heart, and confirm one’s faith by good deeds. Even so, it does happen that a man believes in his heart, and confesses with his lips, and still sins. This happens either from the weakness of the will or from the devil’s arrows. Let such a one repent, and he will be forgiven immediately. Repentance is salvific even for the godless; how much more so for a believer? As long as a man is on earth, he has a chance for repentance. But who can be certain that his time will extend beyond this night? Hence, delaying repentance is utter foolishness.
    O most gracious Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; help us to repent as Thou dost help us to breathe.
    To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

  2. I heard something like the short version of this from a fellow who is a recovered alcoholic. He indicated that his “crisis of faith” was self-inflicted; he said, “I knew I was in deep —- with God and so I decided to demand proof of His existence.” This, in turn, is right in line with an online conversation among pastors that i came across about a year or so ago. They agreed that most college apostasy is not a function of the intellect but the appetite: folks want to “sleep around” and God gets in their way. If I understand the Scripture correctly then, it is saying the same thing: the fool is a fool because he is catering to his own desires. He chooses delusion because it serves his purpose. And that IS foolish.

    • In Communist prisons people were tortured for years, yet many of the survivors have chosen to serve Christ till the end of their lives. I would like to have an atheist explain me how is this possible.

      They would be tortured and humiliated in many ways, and in particular forced to see or participate in blasphemy. Fr. Roman Braga told me that, with no calendar, they could not know what season of the year it was, but could take their cues from the guards’ songs; if they were singing a blasphemous version of a Nativity hymn, they would know Nativity was nigh. Fr. Roman also told me that one of the things guards said to torture them was that the Lord Jesus had had an affair with St. Mary Magdalene. He told me that, in Communist prison, this constituted torture; in America, people eagerly pay money to read this in a book, like The DaVinci Code, or watch it in a movie.

  3. If a video is made, post a link!

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Will do.

      • Yes, even if just a voiced recording, it would be good to hear. I think your event is being structured in such a way that you will be more pointed than I in mine and that will be interesting to see and/or hear, father.

        • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

          I’ll check with the organizers to see if a recording is planned. And yes, I think mine might be more contentious.

          Meanwhile, I am trying to lay out answers to possible objections.

          For example, the secularist/atheist (properly, in many cases) eschews fundamentalism. At the same time they argue that the various readings of scripture that Christian come up with, such as one group using scripture to justify slavery while another uses scripture to oppose it, proves that the moral teaching of scripture is unreliable.

          But in fact, that’s just a reading of the fundamentalist notion of infallibility back into the scripture. Having disputes about the meaning of scripture does not mean scripture has no meaning or that its instructions are unreliable. It may mean that some teaching (or modern application of it) is unclear, or even something as simple that not every person agrees. But name me anything else in life on which there is complete uniformity. Not even atheists agree on much — except of course about their unbelief in God.

          You can’t decry the fundamentalism of some Christians on one hand, and then demand a fundamentalist reading of scripture on the other. It doesn’t work. That there will be disputes and debates over meaning is inevitable, even necessary and can sometimes lead to a better understanding of it.

    By someone who was going to devote himself to atheistic propaganda 🙂
    ANDREI KURAYEV is now a priest.

    Father Andrei gives lectures in Moscow and in provinces. Lecture-halls on these occasions cannot accommodate all those who wish to listen to him.

    How did the skeptical mind of a Soviet atheist made a turnabout? We shall try to explain it, but warn you straight away that all the words expressed will still leave behind them a MYSTERY — a MYSTERY of Divine influence on human life, a MYSTERY of the Holy Spirit Who breathes where he wills

  5. Well, I see the atheists was a former baptists, I think that among evangelical christians there is a tendency to drive some people away. These days the Evanglecial churches tend to be almost too Montanists. Like Montantus always predicting the heavnly Jerusalem coming down in Phyrgia or the US. Or trying to get members by being the most modern that has drove members away.

  6. It would be dismissive to assert that all those who question or deny the existence (or goodness) of the Christian God do so because of some moral failing. The problem of evil and human suffering is sometimes an intellectual problem that is insurmountable for some who might otherwise embrace the notion of a Creator from the evidence gathered from the natural world.

    That is, the presence of evils like Auschwitz and even natural evils like tsunamis, birth defects and disease might lead us to conclude that:
    a) God is capable of alleviating these types of sufferings but is unwilling to do so (He is not all good)
    b) God is incapable of alleviating these types of sufferings (meaning He is not omnipotent).

    Scripture does not always resolve these questions. As in the book of Job, God’s ways are inscrutable and beyond questioning. He has his reasons, but they may or may not be revealed to us in this life or the next.

    While I understand the Christian hope in the ultimate goodness of God, I sympathize to a degree with those who are unable to resolutely place their faith in One who cannot be understood.

    Frankly, I question the “faith” of those who think they have God’s ways figured out in a nice, tight theological box. They have apparently not approached the God of the Bible.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      There’s a lot of truth to this. Further, in talking to the event organizers, they aren’t looking for a “prove God exists” approach (something I would not do anyway) but desiring a deeper look at the ground and foundation of morality, which I take to mean human anthropology. It’s a pressing question particularly between the campus secularist society and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus, and I take the event organizer’s word at face value that the question is taken seriously.

      As for the atheist, I can’t help but wonder if the God he rejected is indeed the God of scripture. I have in mind here Alexander Kalomiros’ “The River Of Fire” (a bit overly-polemical, at least for American audiences, but still very good). If so, I’ll have to make a distinction between his conception of God, and the God of scripture.

      I think the reconciliation between suffering and God comes when one recognizes that suffering is woven into the fabric of a broken creation and understands that the suffering is brought into God Himself through the cross. It’s that awareness, that tenuous hold of existential reality, where, in the Spirit, you can bear some measure of the suffering of others (often through prayer, materially if necessary) and bring them hope and maybe even healing. It’s a deep mystery, and the reconciliation is ongoing.

      • George Michalopulos :

        Or the God of Calvin? Maybe that’s the one he rejects? Cynthia, I wouldn’t say that it was Evangelicals who produce atheists as much as Fundamentalists who take a Calvinistic approach to Scripture and theology. Anyway, that’s my take.

      • It’s a pressing question particularly between the campus secularist society and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship on campus, and I take the event organizer’s word at face value that the question is taken seriously.

        I am afraid that it will be really difficult to bridge the secular and Christian way of thinking. Secularism is blinded by materialism and it can’t think new. It can’t see anything.
        The “modern” man is accustomed to amusing himself to death and then looking for a moral justification for it. Living this way he is transformed. He cannot look for anything higher and forgets that he was meant to fly. The modern man is transformed much like the chickens in a poultry farm: they have been bred for excessive weight gain, especially in their breasts and thighs.
        Elder Arsenie Papacioc explains the six kind of temptations. The modern man is mostly tempted from below and from above. He wants to ‘play’ as much as as possible and occasionally think of something higher. Then, he wants to know “otherwise than it’s been revealed” or ” as he wants to see it.” Only those who grow closer to Him become wise. Sometimes even children are leaving play behind and are moving on to something higher.

        From below, you do not do as much as you are commanded to do. In the temptation from below, you sit like a fool on this earth, without flapping your wings which were made for you to use. Because it is not enough for you to have wings, as you must also to use them! The temptation from below, you do not do anything.

        From above, is the temptation when you want to know more than you know. That is, otherwise than it’s been revealed, as you want to see it. The same way how it was with St. Augustin and the angel. When he wanted to write a book about godliness as it was never written before! And as he approached the sea shore with this thought in mind, he sees a little child who took water in his cupped hands from the bottom of the see and was putting it in a sand pit over here. “What are you doing?” “I want to move the sea in this sand pit!” “Well, how will it be possible for you to do that?!” But how are you going to fit in your mind God who made the seas?” Thus, the temptation from above is where you want to know more than you know, and than it was said for you to know.

      • At the risk of talking way above my pay grade, it is my understanding that one’s Will and understanding (or at least perspective) are intertwined. Evil is often seen to discredit faith, though it may well serve that person’s view to do so. (The pastoral experience I noted before indicated a strong link, though no one claimed that this exhausted the reasons for doubt.) These same folks often fail to consider that the presence of Good – even the expectation of Good – offers a very different challenge. This has been commented on by many, including C.S. Lewis. Fr. Stephen recently posted on it as well.
        At the same time, I think it is indeed true that many reject a distortion of God rather than God Himself. Fr. Hopko has spoken about this at length. Indeed, it may be considered a healthy sign to reject a “sick” understanding of God. There is an interesting and helpful letter from a nun to a layman which speaks well to this issue: Safely Home to Heaven.

    • RZ:

      The problem of evil and human suffering is sometimes an intellectual problem that is insurmountable for some who might otherwise embrace the notion of a Creator from the evidence gathered from the natural world.

      Well, same people would believe all sort of stories like the narrative telling that the evolution took place over millions of years. Many believe that the earth is hurling through space at incredible speeds, or that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. These are things that they won’t ever be able to check themselves, yet they believe it. They don’t even realize that these “truths” are a matter of faith for them.

      The events of the 20th centuries (wars, holocaust, Communist Holocaust) were the “fruits” of the post-Christian Europe. I say post-Christian Europe because true Christian nations would not attack each other. The Communist ideology is the fruit of Europe.
      “By their fruits you will easily recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from brambles?” How can we recognize them by their fruits if God would not allow evil? Natural evils like tsunamis and birth defects should lead us to be even more grateful to God just because they are rare occurrences.

      So, I ask again, how come that there are those who suffered a great deal and did not deny God? Am I supposed to believe the words of fallen minds who, in their ignorance, are serving the devil? To be atheist means to be ignorant or blind. It is that simple! Now, why are they ignorant? Mainly because those in charge with their education rejected the Tradition of the Church and the apostolic succession ceased among them. They do not recognize the authority of saints and they are not capable to value the sacrifice of the martyrs. In saints we venerate God’s grace, which resides in them; we venerate God, Who is “wondrous in His saints.”


      I heard [the colonel’s] steps in the corridor, and I knew that the guard was about to tell him what happened in the cell. He was approaching the cell…and I prepared my answer. Now it was like in a theater, in a play or a movie: I knew he would come, I knew his question, and he knew my answers. He opened the door and, as I had done with the guard, I looked at him and said, ‘Christ is Risen!’ He looked at me and said, ‘Did you see him?’

      “‘No, I did not see him, but I believe that Christ is risen because of those who testified: the apostles, the martyrs, the bishops, the patriarchs and all the Christians who for two thousand years affirmed that Christ is risen and who answered, ‘In Truth He is Risen!’ You believe in things you have never seen. Did you see the North Pole? It exists, and you believe in it on the authority of the men of science. Did you see Marx and Engels? You didn’t see them, but you believe in them because people of authority told you that they existed. You didn’t even see Stalin, our contemporary. But you know that he existed because someone told you. Because of this authority concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, I believe in His Resurrection.’

  7. In my experience, the folks who bring up the suffering dilemma are rarely serious. It is an excuse to remain blind. The question really is: If God exists, why isn’t everything perfect?

    Unfortunately, any attempt to answer the question with truth is often rejected outright because they don’t accept the authority of the answer; they don’t want to struggle; they don’t want to change; they don’t want to be subject to authority in the first place.

    I had a friend many years ago who refused to believe (or so he said) because if he did, he’d have to change and he didn’t want to. He was honest in his subborness.

    As Eliot rightly points out, the ‘proof’ is in the lives of the saints, but since even they were not ‘perfect’ God still doesn’t exist.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Michael, you’ve got it pegged just right. Whenever I hear some atheist on TV prattle on about all the suffering in the world, Auschwitz, etc., I think about that little epigram of Elie Wiesel. Once, he was asked where God was at Auschwitz, to which he replied: “Where was man?”

      • George: Correct … “Where was man!?”

        A Book to Read: Valeriu Gafencu The Saint of the Prisons

        Q: What do you see in today’s world?

        A: I see internal chaos, a decomposition that is leading toward nihilism, because people are obsessed with the nothingness of matter, with the fiction of forms, with sensual exhaustion, with historicism without transcendence, with ceremonialism without God, with consumerism without spirituality, by the falseness that conceals itself within the self-deification of Man. Disaster is unfolding on all planes of fortitude of human life. Much suffering will be necessary in order to re-orient the world spiritually and to change its way of life,

        Q: Why did God allow the world to sink into this present crisis, after some 2000 years of Christianity?

        A: This crisis is not from God, nor is it from faith, but rather from the freedom of the human conscience, In the past few centuries, man has profaned the world, devastated souls, encouraged sensuality and has fallen prey to the pride of materialism and atheism. At the same time, satanic forces are more refined and better organised in the 20th century than in the first Christian age. The way in which saints are killed by the beast and perish in the 20th century is much more diabolical, more perverse, more complete, better studied, more horrible than the way in which martyrs were killed during the age of the catacombs’ (p. 248).

  8. Saint Siouan the Athonite On the Knowledge of God

    The Lord loves man and reveals Himself to man, as it pleases Him. And when the soul beholds the Lord’s, she humbly rejoices in the Master’s compassion. From that hour, her love for her Creator is greater than any other love–though she may see all things and love all men, yet she will love the Lord above all.
    We may study as much as we will but we shall still not come to know the Lord unless we live according to His commandments, for the Lord is not made known through learning but by the Holy Spirit.
    Though a man be eager to investigate everything he sees on earth and in heaven, if he is not given to prayer and does not know the Lord, or seek to know Him, then when he hears other men teaching of God he says: ‘Now, how is it possible to know God? And how is it that you know Him?’ I would reply: ‘The Holy Spirit is witness. The Holy Spirit knows, and He instructs us.

  9. Well, I believe that a lot of what is discussed here causes problems for people about God. I’m honest sometimes it has for me. Anyway, unsual little circumstances in my life make me believe. Before the stock market fell in 2008 about two weeks prior to it, I open the bible and it fell to the scripture about the lillies of the field how God cares for them, not always easy in my own life to think this way. Also, once I was looking at catacomb art and saw the beardless Chirst as the good shephard and when I later turn open the bible it fell on that scripture about Christ being the good shephard.

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