The Amsterdam Symposium: An Abuse of Authority?

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

The recent meeting in Amsterdam by various academics, one bishop, seminary faculty, priests and others (names listed below) to “to reflect on a wide range of matters concerning human sexuality” was ostensibly “not monolithic” in opinions about sexuality according to one participant. No doubt that is true given the range of participants but it is far from informative.

More instructive is that only a few of the participants have any substantive experience or training in pastoral theology. Why is this important? Because many of the ideas most likely bandied about in the symposium have grave pastoral ramifications. Ideas are one thing. The effects that the ideas have once they are adopted are another thing altogether.

So why did they meet? It’s a fair question to ask because some of the participants draw their ideas from the left wing of the dominant political culture rather than Orthodox tradition (more on this below). Secondly, since the participants listed the institutions with which they are affiliated, those institutions lent their authority to the symposium whether they intended to or not.

Academics are free to call any symposium they want to but are they are not free to invoke the imprimatur of the institutions they represent, particularly as an afterthought and especially when they lack expertise in the subjects discussed. They abuse their authority when they do.

Many of the academics are associated with St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVS). They include:

  • Fr. Michael Bakker
  • Fr. John Behr
  • Fr. John Jillions (adjunct, Chancellor of the Orthodox Church in America)
  • Fr. Philip LeMasters (adjunct)
  • Gayle Woloschak (adjunct)

This is a strong showing by SVS faculty, some of whom work with organizations that hold views on sexuality inimical to Orthodox moral teaching. Gayle Woloschak for example serves on the advisory board of The Wheel, an online journal populated with homosexual apologists, gay “marriage” activists, and more. Woloschak is free to associate with anyone she pleases and The Wheel is free to publish anything it wants. SVS however, is not free to associate its name and reputation with the the self-styled “reformers” at The Wheel and their social justice activism.

Other participants included Aristotle Papanikolaou who along with George E. Demacopoulos edits Public Orthodoxy, another online journal that publishes occasional articles that undermine Orthodox moral teaching. In a recent issue Public Orthodoxy published “Conjugal Friendship” by defrocked priest and homosexual Peter J. (Giacomo) Sanfilippo that argued that the Orthodox moral tradition implicitly sanctions sanctions homosexual activity and homosexual “marriage.”

Like The Wheel, the editors of Public Orthodoxy are free to publish anything they want. They are not free to represent the journal as Orthodox when it publishes essays such as Sanfilippo’s. St. Vladimir’s Seminary has a close association with Papanikolaou and Democopoulos through the work of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University where both men teach.

Fr. John Jillions’ participation is dicier because even though he is the Chancellor of the OCA, he represented himself as a member of the SVS faculty. He is also on the record as sympathetic to secular political definitions of homosexuality. This is one reason why he failed to anticipate the outcry over Fr. Robert Arida’s essay “Never Changing Gospel, Ever Changing Culture” a few years back on the OCA youth blog that made a (laborious) case for sanctioning sodomy. Reaction was swift especially by priests and the essay was quickly removed but he offered no explanation why it was posted in the first place.

Not all participants at the symposium hold to a secular reading of the homosexual condition of course, but it should be clear to any informed observer that the long-term ramifications of homosexual behavior for both the individual and the Church are more than what The Wheel or Public Orthodoxy think that they are. The folks at The Wheel draw their ideas exclusively from the secular left. They argue using the language of identity politics. The folks at Public Orthodoxy take a different approach. They teach that only the dogma of the Church (theological statements about the nature and character of the Trinity and Jesus Christ) is unchangeable. The moral teachings on the other hand are culturally conditioned and therefore relative.

The homosexual issue arises in Orthodoxy because folks at publications like The Wheel and Public Orthodoxy make it one. They have a very poor grasp of why the the moral tradition prohibits the behaviors in the first place. They lack pastoral training and concrete pastoral experience and either don’t see or refuse to see that homosexuality distorts authentic manhood. Men are not created to engage sexually with other men. Doing so retards the development and can even destroy the masculine self-identity necessary for healthy and mature manhood.

The activists are captive to the primary moral assertion of identity politics that states if a person has been abused for being homosexual, then we must submit to the claim that homosexual behavior is morally acceptable without any criticism or dissent. The Orthodox moral tradition makes no such claim. No one should be abused for being homosexual but homosexual behavior is nonetheless prohibited because it inflicts harm to the soul of the person engaged in it.

There is also a deeper anthropological shift taking place. Homosexual ideology argues that homosexual desire is innate, part of a person’s created being. Put simply, if a person experiences homosexual desire, that desire ought to considered good and true and given by God. Homosexual desire is seen as part of our human identity, and not as a passion or sinful desire, or an occasion for struggle as all other sinful desires are. If homosexual desire is part of created identity (“God made me gay”), then there is no reason to help the person struggling with same-sex desire and ultimately no rationale by which he can be helped.

On a Church wide level the shift is more ominous. If we sanction homosexual behavior in the Church as normative (as blessed by God), then the Church becomes emasculated. Healthy men don’t want anything to do with it and they will leave. This is why the mainstream Protestant and Episcopalian churches collapsed after they became homosexualized.

Does SVS President Fr. Chad Hatfield understand that when seminary professors lend their credentials to views inimical to the moral tradition that they confer the moral authority of the seminary to those views? Does the SVS Board of Directors? Do Metropolitan ZACHARIAH Mar Nicholovos, or His Grace, The Right Reverend DAVID, or Metropolitan JOSEPH who serve on that board? Certainly they must because they are men of the tradition. Do they want the seminary associated with the kind of social justice activism that The Wheel and Public Orthodoxy promote? Are they aware that the seminary appears to be complicit, even unwittingly, with attempts to drag the American culture wars into American Orthodoxy?

Orthodox polity is conciliar and the locus of conciliarity is the Synod of Bishops. The OCA bishops appear reluctant to address the growing conflict about homosexuality (Fr. Arida for example has never been publicly reprimanded). If they do not assert their leadership, then the issue will be decided for them. The secular juggernaut is powerful and it will swallow emasculated Orthodox men as easily as it swallowed emasculated Protestants and Episcopalians.

Orthodox practice is local and occurs in each parish. Priests are the people who deal with the real problems caused by the deleterious ideas that some participants in the conference hold and promote. Priests who understand the dynamics behind homosexual desire and who comprehend human anthropology as it is handed to us, can instruct and guide a person struggling with same-sex desire. We don’t need or want the fanciful locutions of those who market ideas but have no real experience with the ramifications that their ideas unleash.

Given the consternation and confusion promulgated by the Amsterdam Symposium, several things need to happen.

  1. SVS President Fr. Chad Hatfield needs to clarify if the seminary knew about the meeting and condoned participation in it. Is he aware of the symposium’s content, aims and objectives?
  2. Given Fr. John Behr’s prominence at the seminary and his international reputation, he should publish a record of his participation in the symposium and clarify its purpose and goals.
  3. The SVS Board of Directors should publish a statement to clarify the seminary’s position on Orthodox anthropology and marriage givens the strong representation of SVS faculty at the symposium.
  4. The bishops of the participants attending the symposium should clarify if they gave their blessing to hold and attend the meeting.
  5. Met. Tikhon of the OCA should clarify if the participation of the OCA Chancellor Fr. John Jillions met with his approval and blessing.

When academics swim in waters outside of their specialty, others are enticed to swim with them and the weaker drown. That’s why the Church needs to correct these abuses of authority.

The participants included:

  • Bishop Maxim (Vasiljevic) of Western America (Serbian Orthodox Church)
  • Nikolaos Asproulis (Volos Academy)
  • Fr. Michael Bakker (ACOT)
  • Fr. John Behr (St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, ACOT)
  • Brandon Gallaher (University of Exeter)
  • Edith Humphrey (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)
  • Fr. John Jillions (SVOTS)
  • Pantelis Kalaitzidis, (Volos Academy)
  • Fr. Philip LeMasters (McMurry University, SVOTS)
  • Fr. Joan Lena (ACOT)
  • Fr. Andrew Louth (Emeritus Durham University, ACOT)
  • Fr. Nicolae Mosoiu (Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu)
  • Aristotle Papanikolaou (Fordham University)
  • Fr. Vasileios Thermos (University of Athens)
  • Gayle Woloschak (Northwestern University, SVOTS)

A Letter From Russia on an Article Defending Same-Sex Marriage and Defaming Fr. Pavel Florensky

Fr. Pavel Florensky and Sergius Bulgakov (Mikhail Nesterov, 1917) <em>Click to enlarge</em>

Fr. Pavel Florensky and Sergius Bulgakov (Mikhail Nesterov, 1917) Click to enlarge

Editor’s Note: This letter is a response to the essay by Peter J. (Giacomo) Sanfilippo published on Public Orthodoxy, May 2, 2017 where the teachings of Fr. Pavel Florensky are misrepresented and his character defamed. It caused consternation in Russia where the teachings and life of Fr. Florensky are well known.

The author of this letter is a leading authority on contemporary Russian philosophy and the holder of a prestigious position at an important academic institution in Russia, has previously taught at one of Russia’s finest seminaries, and is the author of numerous books on the topic he discusses below. The author has international standing as a scholar and asked AOI to maintain his anonymity because being drawn into public polemics jeopardizes his opportunities to speak in the West given the reflexive hostility the clarity of his language would generate. AOI granted the request since the reasoning in this letter is clear and unarguable.

The long quote from Archimandrite Andronik Trubachev, Florensky’s grandson and the foremost authority on Fr. Pavel’s life and work, is used with his permission. This letter, originally sent as part of a personal correspondence, is published here as a contribution not just to the “same sex marriage” issue, but also to set the record straight on the personal and academic integrity (sophrosyne) of one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century and one of the holiest martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr. Pavel Alexandrovich Florensky.

After reading the article (Conjugal Friendship) of a former priest who fell into a deadly sin and who tries not only to justify this sin, but also to corrupt those who do not know church doctrine, I doubted whether it was even worth responding to something so vapid.1 What conclusions can be arrived at given this article’s lack of evidence and argument? Indeed, instead of arguments, we get only sly insinuations. It is aimed at gullible people who know nothing of church doctrine, the history of art, or the history of the Russian philosophy and who are likewise completely unfamiliar with the biography of Fr. Pavel Florensky.

To distract the attention of readers, the author has added two images, the first an illustration of two holy martyrs (St Theodore “the General” and St Theodore “the Recruit”) stylistically depicted holding hands and the second a photograph of the young Fr. Pavel Florensky with his seminary companion Sergei Troitsky. These two images, then, are the only form of “evidence” brought to bear in Sanfilippo’s article. But far from having been a “couple,” as the author’s prurient conjecture insinuates, the two saints may not have even met, and some believe that rather than there being two saints at all, there are rather two sets of narratives about a single saint, probably “conjoined” because two pilgrimage sites are relatively close to one another.

Or we may consider the contemporary photograph. Troitsky was the son of Archpriest Simeon Troitsky, Rector of the Church of the Resurrection of Christ in the village of Toptygino, located near Kostroma. On holiday the two friends went to the village to help Fr. Simeon with the restoration of the church, held lectures on religious topics, opened a library in the church for the local peasants. They collected local folklore, recording songs and old tales. Florensky himself often expressed his great appreciation for the ambience of piety and holiness in the Troitsky housefold. Hardly, as Sanfilippo asks us to believe, a homosexual fling that was somehow clandestinely pursued under the roof of Sergei’s priestly family home.

In 1909 Troitsky married Fr. Pavel Florensky’s sister, Olga, before being tragically stabbed to death the following year by a deranged student. If he, in particular, is memorialized in Florensky’s book, it is largely to honor this pure soul following his untimely death. No further conclusions can be drawn from this photograph except in the form of wishful fantasy. One might as well conclude that, for example, that the photo depicts suicide bombers bidding farewell to life, or is an image of characters in a play, or close relatives or a hostage-taking. In a word, any fantasy that does not in any way correspond to reality may be elicited by the undisciplined imagination.

In order to intelligently interpret facts, any approach must be based on historical criticism, knowledge of the sources and the laws of reason. If these three conditions are ignored, we cannot but present ourselves as malicious observers intent on manipulating reality…

In order to intelligently interpret facts, any approach must be based on historical criticism, knowledge of the sources and the laws of reason. If these three conditions are ignored, we cannot but present ourselves as malicious observers intent on manipulating reality for some unknown purpose. In the case of Sanfilippo, his article deals with nothing more than such malicious speculation and attempts at distorting reality to his own purpose. It doesn’t take much to expose his whimsical distortion of the images—we need only look to three sources of correct inferences. Again, these are:

  1. Historical criticism. This is a basic academic research method that assumes that a person takes into account the historical context of a particular era, the canons and customs accepted in society and the social ethics of one or another group under study. It may be that, for example, what in the past was considered to be a sign of extreme disrespect, in our modern world would be regarded as a sign of praise or vice versa. If we do not take into account the historical context of an image, then the value of our judgments and conclusions for this are nil.
    Without such respect for historical context, modern scientists could, for example, develop absurd conclusions in an attempt to prove the existence of democracy consisting of two opposing parties in ancient Egypt from the uncontextualized evidence of associated figures to the left and to the right of an enthroned Pharaoh. Should such ‘researchers’ then call the Pharaoh a president, and on this basis go on to argue that he is re-elected every four years, for example, they laughably expose their ignorance of the entire context of ancient Egyptian culture, known written sources and evidence of other civilizations. Given our awareness of ancient Egypt, no sane person can conclude such absurdities merely from superficial circumstantial evidence. Historical criticism is inseparable from historical context. In the given case, far more is known about the life and times of Fr. Paul Florensky than of ancient Egypt, and Sanfilippo exposes his ignorance of historical context and his contempt for it in his attempt to draw bizarre conclusions from a bare image.
  2. Source study is a key discipline of any historical or philosophical endeavor. Without this there is neither science nor culture. If someone does not know the sources or doesn’t bother to read the available literature and research of those who went before, then he cannot make any claim to a scientific approach or academic credibility, to say nothing of claiming to be a literate individual.
  3. The laws of reason. While the rules of logic are well known, it is clear that nowadays they are often ignored, replaced with non-rational assumptions, errors in critical thinking, manipulation of facts, and replacing facts with interpretations. Sanfilippo’s article abounds with logical fallacies, including several modes of equivocation, i.e. using a term one sense and then surreptitiously “reframing” it into a totally different signification.
[T]he canons of the Church and the decrees of the Apostolic Councils…are unambiguous in condemning the sin of sodomy, the ecclesiastical language for same-sex relationships, as a mortal sin. It entails a death of the soul that renders individuals incapable of either communication with God or the reception of grace.

Considering these three pillars of literate thinking, we must assume that Sanfilippo has only a child’s grasp of the basic principles of scholarship employed towards the end of justifying sin and his own fall. Or perhaps he has been corrupted by certain postmodern epistemologies, such as “deconstruction,” in which nothing more than fantasy and free association form the foundation of his conclusions. The fact is that believing people of previous eras, unlike modern Christian converts, have based their thinking on the Gospel, the canons of the Church and the decrees of the Apostolic Councils.

These sources are unambiguous in condemning the sin of sodomy, the ecclesiastical language for same-sex relationships, as a mortal sin. It entails a death of the soul that renders individuals incapable of either communication with God or the reception of grace. According to St. Paul, a person who adheres to drunkenness, sodomy, and bestiality will not inherit the Heavenly Kingdom (1 Cor 6: 9-10). There are many well known, articulate and severe statutes of the Ecumenical and Local Church Councils on this subject.

The manifestation of sinful behavior is not a justification of is existence. We cannot, for example, convince ourselves and others that the sin of murder is a normal behavior inherent in human nature. “After all,” we may say, “there are moments when a person wants to literally kill others. Why should we judge a person so harshly for murder? Anger and irritation — these are manifestations of human nature. We need to feel sorry for the poor thing, to allow him to kill, and perhaps even to give the murderer the right to affirm this moral standard for the suffering he has endured.” If someone should to argue this way, he will rightly be ostracized and publicly censured.

For Christians of all ages, except in our own age of apostasy, the error of this manner of thinking was clear as day: the sin of sodomy is a glaring example of the fall of man. Christian consciousness has always been protected by certain ecclesiastical boundaries, always enabling a distinction between good and evil. This higher awareness is why holy icons can depict the kiss of friendship between the Apostles Peter and Paul, which symbolizes the call of communication in love.

The main indicator of love, of course, is sacrifice and rejection of self-love and the passions. In iconography, although extremely rare, there are examples of martyrs holding hands. In the same way, because consciousness was informed by Canons, people had no fear of false, fleshly interpretations — such an interpretation would have never even occurred to them! In the same way, sexually-charged interpretations of photographs of individuals holding hands or embracing each other in a friendly manner cannot have any ecclesiastical, cultural or historical legitimacy. If we look at any family album, we will invariably find men or women, relatives, friends and acquaintances posing in photos in an embrace. Only a perverted and sick mind can see in these friendly gestures something more.

I brought Sanfilippo’s defamatory article to the attention of Archimandrite Andronik Trubachev, the grandson of Fr. Pavel Florensky, the most renowned Russian expert on his personal biography and body of academic work. He has published many books and articles on Fr. Pavel Florensky, most recently an authoritative multi-volume monograph.2 Fr. Andronik told me:

Only a sick mind can take as self-evident such ideas from the works of Fr. Pavel Florensky. However, this is not surprising in itself — the whole world now moves in this direction, in the direction of sin. Man’s nature is fallen and there are, as a result, various distortions in it. The Church does not deny that among the various passions a person has such a propensity for debauchery. By no means does this recognition mean that it’s good. We are aware of sources that clearly indicate the attitude of Fr. Pavel himself to this sin, namely in the published correspondence of V.V. Rozanov and Fr. Pavel Florensky3 in which certain letters reflect on this sin. In the correspondence. Fr. Pavel writes that the sin of homosexuality leads to a final falling away from God.

To this can only be added that, unfortunately, little is known about Fr. Pavel Florensky in the West beyond the translation of his work “The Pillar and Ground of the Truth.”4 His other works, his correspondence, as well as the biographical works of Fr. Andronik Trubachev and other Russian researchers and academics are apparently unknown. Manipulators take advantage of this ignorance for their own purposes, which is very sad and even surprising, since such intentional perversion of well-established facts does no credit to scholarship or to popular understanding.

Textual analysis affirms the obvious: Fr. Pavel wrote that the sin of homosexuality is a perversion of nature, fully in accord with the strict confessors to whom he was obedient, such as Bishop Antonii, who had no tolerance for homosexual relations.

Textual analysis affirms the obvious: Fr. Pavel wrote that the sin of homosexuality is a perversion of nature, fully in accord with the strict confessors to whom he was obedient, such as Bishop Antonii, who had no tolerance for homosexual relations. And much of this early work, just cited, is in fact taken up with discussions of chastity, his translation of the Greek sophrosyne, the virtue of having a well-ordered soul. Florensky, a family man blessed with a marriage that many saw as a model of marital harmony, praises friendship because he was blessed with many deep and meaningful friendships in his life. Along with many in his intellectual milieu, he was highly appreciative of the work of Plato, for whom friendship and eros (which is diametrically opposed to porne or lust) was seen as essential to the life of the spirit.

Moreover, it is important to take into account the historical context. Russian philosophy of the early 20th century was built on the basis of several important ideas, among which was the idea of unitotality, all-encompassing, general consciousness or conciliarity. Only in conciliarity does man know God, inasmuch as outside community (sobornost) man cannot receive any knowledge and would not even possess the language necessary to express thoughts. Through this universal, ultimately ecclesial consciousness, multitudes are united in a single impulse to truth, good and beauty to comprehend God.

Early on in Fr. Paul’s thought this idea took the form of turning to God through the Other inasmuch as only in another person does a man comprehend himself. Not only have Russian thinkers written about similar matters, but also Western philosophers, for example, English Philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty. No one in their right mind would conflate Berlin’s analysis of the types of moral freedom to make him out as a promoter of homosexuality. And far from propounding any notion of “conjugal friendship,” Florensky’s early work, in each of its four occurrences, uses the word “conjugal” in (often explicit) contradistinction to friendship.

Sanfilippo wrenches Fr. Pavel’s letter “Friendship” away from its philosophical and religious context — even going so far as to make lewd remarks about the innocent, playful cherubim on the engraving beneath the chapter title — so that that unsophisticated readers are not exposed to the Russian religious and philosophical tradition where white becomes black and facts are conflated into a contrived interpretation. His judgments are based on a false mythology imported into the text, corresponding neither to the truth about Florensky’s life and thought, the teachings of the Church or the writings of the Holy Fathers.

Sanfilippo and others like him are dangerous precisely because they subvert such concepts as pure friendship, devotion, and nobility of purpose through which mutual aspirations, joint labor, interwoven preaching, service to others, sympathy for one another and other wonderful feelings and situations that people can experience.

These selfish interpolators want to steal friendship and purity from us. It is necessary to stop them with common sense, sound scholarship and prayer for their understanding.


1 Giacomo Sanfilippo, “Conjugal Friendship,” “Public Orthodoxy,” May 2, 2017,
2 Archimandrite Andronik Trubachev is the author of a six-volume study on the life and works of Fr. Pavel Florensky: The Way to God: The Person, Life and Work of Priest Pavel Florensky. (in Russian) 6 Vol. Moscow, 2012-2017.
3 Rozanov, V.V. Collected Works: Literary Exiles. Volume II, Moscow, Respublika Publishers. St Petersburg, Rostock Publishers, 2010.
4 Ed.: The author may be unaware of the new translation in 2014 by Boris Jakim of Flornsky’s important 1921 lecture course, titled in English “At the Crossroads of Science and Mysticism,” as well as Jakim’s forthcoming translation of a number of key essays by Florensky. An earlier translation of Florensky’s major work “Iconastasis” was completed by the late Thomas Sheehan, and several essays on art were published as “Beyond Vision.”



One Word of Truth Outweighs the Whole World

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Editor’s note: I wrote this 8 years ago and while some ideas I hold today are more developed, I don’t think I’d change today what I wrote then.

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

This essay is drawn from a talk given to the leadership of Orthodox Christian Laity on March 9, 2009, in Pinellas Park, Fl.

When Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave his Nobel Lecture in 1970, he quoted this Russian proverb: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

Let me say it again: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

We know Solzhenitsyn’s story. In WWII Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Army officer who was arrested and sentenced to eight years in the Gulags under Stalin. In prison Christ captures him. The encounter changes him, so much so that he clandestinely wrote the three volume “Gulag Archipelago” that laid bare the moral bankruptcy of Marxism. His work caused the collapse of the Marxist intellectual establishment in Western Europe and tilled the cultural ground that led to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

“One word of truth outweighs the whole world” is a proverb that draws deep from the well of Christian anthropology and cosmology. Solzhenitsyn, like the simple peasants from whom he drew this wisdom, grasped that the most powerful agent of change in the world is a word spoken in truth.

We see it in Holy Scripture. In the opening pages of Genesis we read that God created the world by speaking it into existence. Unlike the polytheistic religions where the world is created out of the stuff and the substance of the gods (thus barring any ontological distinction between Creator and created), or the eastern religions where the material creation is merely differentiated and impersonal energy, the God of Abraham stands outside of space and time because he creates through speech, through the spoken word. Creation comes from God but is not of God. Language is key here.

God said “Let there be light” and out of nothing light appeared. He separated the land from the sea, created the sun and the stars, and all the other events of the creation by the same spoken word. Only man is created differently. Man becomes a living soul when God breathed into the dust of the ground that was already spoken into existence.

Later, after the world that God spoke into existence fell through the disobedience of Adam, God begins the work of restoring His creation anew. Again God speaks, first through the word of the prophet, then through the word of the apostle. The first spoke of the coming of the Christ, the second reveals Him through the preaching of the Gospel.

The Risen Christ Revealed

When the Gospel is preached, Christ is revealed. Christ is Savior, and our introduction to Christ — the means by which we awaken to His existence and become aware of His benevolent love towards us — occurs when we hear the Gospel. And the Gospel, in order to be heard, must first be preached. The Gospel is not a series of propositions, but the doorway into concrete, existential encounter with the Risen Christ.

We can say then that God first enters the world through a word. Further, when a word is spoken in truth, it draws from and references Him who is Truth — Jesus Christ. Christ said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” The Apostle Paul wrote that, “All things were created through Him and for Him…He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). Any word of truth references the Truth, even if the words make no direct mention of Christ.

A word spoken truth is never morally neutral. And a word spoken in truth contains its own verification because its final referent is Him who is the Truth. It commends itself to the conscience of those who have ears to hear, which is to say an inner orientation — the tilled soil of the heart that receives the word with gladness.

Further, the creative potency of a word spoken in truth elicits the warning to count the cost of speaking it. The man with a darkened heart will spit out the word of truth because of indifference, surfeit, preoccupation with mundane things and other reasons, and may persecute the speaker. Thus, sobriety and courage are necessary virtues in following Christ’s command that his followers bring truth into the world. Solzhenitsyn understood this. He wrote knowing that he would be killed if his writings were ever discovered.

When the word of truth is heard however, it redeems and restores the hearer. It can foster freedom and unleash deep creativity. The old can become new. Corruption can become wholesomeness. Sinners can become saints. It changes individuals. And as individuals change, their relationships change. As relationships change, culture changes. As cultures change, institutions change along with it. One word of truth outweighs the whole world.

Book Review: “On Human Nature” by Roger Scruton

Book Review by Ben Johnson

Book Review by Ben Johnson

Source: Acton Institute

On Human Nature. Roger Scruton.
Princeton University Press. 2017. 151 pages.

By Rev. Ben Johnson

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On Earth Day, April 22, tens of thousands of activists held the first “March for Science” in cities around the world. “Science brings out the best in us,” Bill Nye, the star of two eponymous television programs about science, told the assembly in Washington. “Together we can – dare I say it – save the world!” he said, earning the enthusiastic approval of an estimated 40,000 people. Many of the participants – in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, even in the Eternal City of Rome – carried signs saying, “In Science We Trust.”

The marchers’ slogan is misguided from a philosophical, not to mention a theological, standpoint. Science is mechanistic and analytic, not ethical and prescriptive. That makes it, at best, an incomplete guide and at worst, corrosive to human dignity. Yet increasingly, Western society turns to science as a panacea for statecraft and soulcraft. Secularists maintain that their idealized version of “science” offers irrefutable solutions to everything from contentious policy disagreements to longstanding moral and ethical quandaries. Some researchers, such as Harvard’s Marc Hauser and former National Institutes of Health scholar Dean Hamer, contend that evolution hardwired human neurological circuitry with the very notions of morality and religious belief in the first place.

Edward O. Wilson, the apostle of sociobiology, popularized this school of thought. “The brain is a product of evolution,” he wrote in his 1978 book, On Human Nature. All “higher ethical values” are merely “the circuitous technique by which human genetic material has been and will be kept intact. Morality has no other demonstrable ultimate function.”

Can all human nature be reduced to assuring reproduction? Are we no more than the curvature of our grey matter and the neurological links between synapses?

Almost 40 years after Wilson, Roger Scruton explores the interplay of science and self in the first chapter of his new book, also titled On Human Nature. For Scruton, humanity is not to be found apart from our physical reality but arises from its fulness and complexity. “The personal is not an addition to the biological: it emerges from itin something like the way the face emerges from the colored patches on a canvas.” (Emphases in original.)

Humanity expresses itself above all in self-awareness, the ability to treat others as subjects and not objects, and our sense of responsibility – the moral culpability which we accept and ascribe to our actions and those of others. Persons are “free, self-conscious, rational agents, obedient to reason and bound by the moral law,” he writes. The human formula may be expressed in its simplest form as “first-person perspective, and responsibility,” a notion he explored in his 1986 book Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (chapters 3 and 4).

The essence of our common human nature buds forth as a “social product,” lived out in a myriad of I-You relationships (a phrase he borrows from Martin Buber), including that of citizen of a nation. Many of these are unchosen and not necessarily preferred. Yet fidelity to these obligations, which he designates “piety,” determines our moral character. It is in these contexts that our ability to treat others as co-equal persons is exercised.

The Nature of Liberty

Those tempted to say the abstract definition of human nature is too esoteric to be of value would do well to ponder its practical consequences. Scruton writes that I-You relationships, exercised within these contexts, have created “all that is most important in the human condition … responsibility, morality, law, institutions, religion, love, and art.” Not least among these considerations is the kind of society that subsists, germ-like, within each worldview.

Biological determinism has produced Nazi Germany, the society and ideology of Senator Theodore Bilbo, and the miasma of their modern-day disciples. Significantly, Martin Luther King Jr. cited Buber in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to say that segregation “substitutes an ‘I-it’ relationship for an ‘I-thou’ relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful.”

Scruton dedicates another lengthy discussion to consequentialism, the notion that the ends justify any means. Moral good reduces to an arithmetic formula: The correct decision brings the greatest good to the greatest number of people, irrespective of any properties inherent in the act itself. But its proponents, such as Peter Singer, overlook “the actual record of consequentialist reasoning. Modern history presents case after case of inspired people led by visions of ‘the best’ and argues that all would work for it, the bourgeoisie included, if only they understood the impeccable arguments for its implementation.” Since privilege cloaks their benighted eyes, “violent revolution is both necessary and inevitable.”

As a result, Scruton writes, Vladmir Lenin and Mao Tse-tung brought about “the total destruction of two great societies and irreversible damage to the rest of us. Why suppose that we, applying our minds to the question of what might be best in the long run, would make a better job of it?” Instead of learning this lesson, he notes, generations of consequentialists have “regretted the ‘mistakes’ of Lenin and Mao.”

Juxtaposed to these two systems is human nature rooted in the moral interaction of equal persons. An accusation of wrongdoing yields an investigation, not an annihilation. Mutually agreed rights and responsibilities carve out a zone of autonomy inaccessible to anyone, even the State, and expedite social harmony.

This conception of human nature facilitates a free and virtuous society. “Cooperation rather than command is the first principle of collective action,” Scruton writes. “Morality exists in part because it enables us to live on negotiated terms with others,” both accountable to the tenets of right reason. He regards the “principles that underlie common-law justice in the English-speaking tradition” as “a natural adjunct to the moral order” and latent within natural law. He explicitly names six principles:

  1. Considerations that justify or impugn one person will, in identical circumstances, justify or impugn another.
  2. Rights are to be respected.
  3. Obligations are to be fulfilled.
  4. Agreements are to be honored.
  5. Disputes are to be settled by negotiation, not by force.
  6. Those who do not respect the rights of others forfeit rights of their own.

Although he does not elaborate on the kind of economic life that flows from this, it is noteworthy that he cites Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments explicitly in this context.

The Role of Religion

While he holds these truths to be self-evident apart from any supernatural origin, he finds believers their natural repository. “Religious people … have no difficulty in understanding that human beings are distinguished from other animals by their freedom, self-consciousness, and responsibility,” he writes:

Take away religion, however, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art, and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down,’ which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. And abolishes our kind – and with it our kindness.

In four brief chapters Scruton, with characteristically elegant prose and clarity of thought, furnishes theists with an introductory grammar to defend their deeply held beliefs without relying upon special revelation. Believers, and society, are the better for it.

Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

Adieu, France

The French Government plans to demolish 2800 Churches. Meanwhile 1000 Mosques were built in the last two decades.

Macron and his ilk promote an ideology of “universal human values,” of a “common culture” for the whole world. In reality, however, he and other proponents of “diversity” are creating its exact opposite: a soul-numbing singularity, a dreary sameness of thought and inaction. For all the outward differences, Macrons on both sides of the ocean share with the mullahs and sheikhs and imams a desire for a monistic One World. They both long for the Great “Gleichschaltung” that will end in a Single Global Authority, postnational and seamlessly standardized, an “umma” under whatever name. The Christian vision of the Triune God Who allows choice, diversity, individuality, and free will is the enemy of this vision.

Source: Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture

By Srdja Trifkovic

Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French presidential election provides conclusive proof that no major European nation can save itself from demographic and cultural suicide through the electoral process. That outcome is not merely a victory for status quo politics, which millions of lower-middle-class French people prefer, but a triumph of the globalist establishment.

Macron is a paradigmatic pastiche, almost a caricature, of Europe’s postmodern transnational elite. He is a former international banker and fanatical Euro-integralist who wants an ever-tighter union ruled from Brussels. He is an Islamophillic open-borders globalist, lovingly known among France’s urban progressives as the “French Obama.” Last January he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that critics of Angela Merkel’s open-door migration policy were guilty of “disgraceful oversimplification.” In his opinion, by allowing over a million unassimilable and unvetted aliens into the country, “Merkel and German society as a whole exemplified our common European values. They saved our collective dignity by accepting, accommodating and educating distressed refugees.” Last February he lampooned Donald Trump’s promise to protect America’s southern border by promising never to build a wall of any kind.

More seriously, Macron’s “solution” to jihadist terrorism is more Euro-federalism: “We must quickly create a sovereign Europe that is capable of protecting us against external dangers in order to better ensure internal security,” he declared last March. “We also need to overcome national unwillingness and create a common European intelligence system that will allow the effective hunting of criminals and terrorists.” This is nonsense. Many terrorist attacks in France, Germany, Belgium, etc., were carried out by Muslims who had been arrested or registered and presumably supervised by their host-countries’ security services. The problem is not the absence of information sharing; the problem is that the number of Muslims exceeds the capacity of the security mechanism to manage the threat.

Most seriously, Macron is wilfully blind to the civilizational threat we all face. He has said he believes that French security policy has unfairly targeted Muslims and condemned those who would “make secularism a weapon of combat . . . against Islam.” Last fall he lambasted President Hollande’s meek statement that “France has a problem with Islam.” “No religion is a problem in France today,” Macron replied. “[I]f the state is neutral, which is at the heart of secularism, we have a duty to let everyone practice his religion with dignity.” Parroting Obama, he has said that the Islamic State is not at all “Islamic”: “What poses a problem is not Islam, but certain behaviors that are said to be religious and then imposed on persons who practice that religion.”

Macron is an evil idiot, so he will naturally occupy the Élysée Palace after a grotesque predecessor. Marine Le Pen’s predictable defeat shows that the political process in the Western world is a charade with preordained outcomes. The refusal of the Parisian elite class to protect France from Islam reflects a global problem that is a synthesis of all others, and goes beyond “Culture Wars.” It is the looming end of culture itself.

Macron and his ilk promote an ideology of “universal human values,” of a “common culture” for the whole world. In reality, however, he and other proponents of “diversity” are creating its exact opposite: a soul-numbing singularity, a dreary sameness of thought and inaction. For all the outward differences, Macrons on both sides of the ocean share with the mullahs and sheikhs and imams a desire for a monistic One World. They both long for the Great Gleichschaltung that will end in a Single Global Authority, postnational and seamlessly standardized, an umma under whatever name. The Christian vision of the Triune God Who allows choice, diversity, individuality, and free will is the enemy of this vision.

Macron belongs to the elite class: rootless, arrogant, cynically manipulative, and irreversibly jihad-friendly. He will “fight” the war on terrorism without naming the enemy, without revealing his beliefs, without unmasking his intentions, without offending his accomplices, without expelling his fifth columnists, and without ever daring to win. He embodies France’s loss of the will to define and defend one’s native culture, and the pan-European loss of the desire to procreate.

Communities bonded by memory, language, faith, and myth might still be revived, but a catastrophic, life-altering event is needed. And in adversity the eyes of men and women might be lifted, once again, to Heaven. Even before this happens—and it will happen—normal people should not succumb to passivity. The game is not up. The Dar al Islam is not the inevitable end of the road for France, Macron or no Macron. We are endowed with feelings and reason, with the awareness of who we are. The struggle of true Frenchmen and women to defend themselves against population replacement and cultural suicide is just, even if the outcome is uncertain. In the face of this uncertainty they will hold on to life, and beauty, and truth. And the political process be damned.

Srdja Trifkovic, foreign-affairs editor for Chronicles, is the author of several books, including The Sword of the Prophet: Islam — History, Theology, Impact on the World.

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