Vote ACT on Saturday

This election really is a no-brainer.  Seymour is going to win Epsom, so a vote for ACT will always count.  It will support a National Party led government against the coalition of nutcases that make up every other political party.

ballotpaperinmouthI won’t do a long list of endorsements, but here’s what it looks like:  Vote for Labour’s Kelvin Davis in Te Tai Tokerau to eradicate Internet Mana once and for all.  Vote for David Seymour in Epsom.  Vote for Stuart Nash in Napier, because God knows the Labour Party will one day be in power again and it will need some sane people in it.  Otherwise, vote for your local National Party stooge.  But pretty please, Party Vote ACT.

Why not just vote National?  Well, because they will end up doing some grubby deal with the CCCP or NZ First.  ACT will not be part of such a thing with Winston, so you know your vote for them will support Centre-Right government and will not end up supporting a disaster like the one we had between 1996 and 1999.  To just two tick National would give them carte blanche to join up with these frauds.  Vote ACT, a vote that will always count, and always get a better quality of MP than whoever is #55 on National’s list, and you will avoid sanctioning anything stupid.

This is my ballot paper.  Make yours look similar:
VotingPaper

ACT is the only game in town where they are not trying to bribe you with your own money.  If you want good government that does not spend more than it earns, that eliminates waste and pointless programmes, and gives people greater freedom and more individual responsibility, then ACT is your only option.  Like all politicians, they are going to suck and disappoint you, but probably a lot less than just voting National.  Let’s get as many ACT people in as we can.  Vote ACT!

Why the Filioque is Important

To many modern Western Christians, the Great Schism of 1054 seems incomprehensible.  Not only are definitions of the Holy Trinity seemingly so irrelevant to modern Evangelical practice, but the heated distinction between the two views almost seems like a sinful dispute over something that shouldn’t really matter.  I mean, who cares who proceeds from what, right?  It’s all God, right?  We love Jesus, don’t we?

trinityAnd yet, that is the problem.  The reason for the Filioque comes about precisely from the attitude that “it’s all God”.  Because while it is “all God”, it’s not all the same.  And to pretend that it is so goes beyond the bounds of theoretical intellectual musings, and into how one directly experiences the Holy Trinity of the great I AM.

Who is God?  What is God?  What is the nature of God?  If we are to truly know God, which is necessary for salvation, then these questions are actually important.  Because if you believe something else about God, you are not worshiping God, but something else.

The Filioque – the proposal that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also God the Son, stinks of the driest of dry theology.  But what is it really saying?  What is the real implication?

Here is what it is necessary to know:  Originally the Church agreed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father.  This is not in dispute.  God the Son also proceeds from (or more correctly, is begotten by) God the Father.  This was the original belief held by the Church.  Not even Latins disagree with this.  This is the formula.

Nichols-Punch-MemeHowever, in the 6th Century, some Christians, spurred on by former Arians who had been chrismated into Orthodoxy, wanted to emphasize a particular view of God that the 4th Century Bishop Augustine of Hippo had put forward – that of Divine Simplicity.  In other words, God has a unity to Himself that comes down to His Essence.  He is Holy, and He stands alone and apart from His creation.  Therefore, the Spirit also proceeds from the Son.  Because it is All God, and the Incarnate God should breathe life into the Works of God.  And as the Franks replaced the Byzantine Roman influence in Western Europe in the 8th and 9th Centuries, this view of God as Divinely Simple and set apart became the predominant view of God.

It’s a view that makes logical sense to a point, but is not part of the teaching of the Church and its Fathers.  God is not separate from His creation in the sense that he is “somewhere else”.  He is everywhere!  Furthermore, He is Relationship, He has Three Persons, and He seeks to relate to us.  To say that the Incarnate God initiates the Spirit God subordinates the Spirit to the Incarnate, and reduces God to His Essence, One that is set apart from the material world, and from us.  It causes an imbalance in the Trinity.  It is the Spirit that gives Life and that fills the material world, so if we reverse the order to say the Spirit proceeds from the Incarnate, then we are saying that the Spirit is not someone that already fills all things – He is merely a Gift deigned to be given by Christ to the worthy, and the implication is that this Gift is created, not pre-existent.  The Spirit reduces in importance.

Icon of the ParacleteThe Orthodox teach that God is not only Essence, but Energy, and that furthermore, we can partake of this Energy and become One with it.  This is, in fact, the very purpose of our Christian life.  The first thing that most Orthodox pray during their prayer time is a prayer to the Holy Spirit:

“O Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of Life – come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord!”

It is this process of theosis which distinguishes Orthodoxy from the West, and the distinction that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and not the Son is both a symptom and a cause of this view.  Rather than being a minor theological hangup, it determines in a very basic and fundamental way how an Eastern Christian approaches their faith as distinct from a Western one (ie. Roman Catholics, or most Protestants).  Orthodoxy sees salvation as a journey of theosis through continually seeking the Spirit of God.  The West, on the other hand, believes Divine Grace to be created, and seeks mostly justification, with the gifts of the Spirit philosophically limited to evinced proof of that justification.

It remains to ask what is the truth of the matter.  Obviously I support the Orthodox view, but I won’t make a defense of it here, since there are numerous Internet articles doing so.  What those articles don’t do is tell you what the big deal is, and I hope I’ve given readers a partial understanding here.  All theology ultimately informs practices, and to be pietist and say that the theology does not matter as long as one lives to follow the moral practices of Christianity begs the question:  What sort of Christianity?  Defining the Trinity properly is therefore crucial.

Politics Shmolitics

david2I’ve been fascinated with politics most of my life.  When I was eleven, I remember following the 1987 New Zealand parliamentary election very closely, and cheering National Leader Mr Bolger on as he took on the charismatic, but almost asbergically awkward Labour Prime Minister Lange.  At the time my knowledge of policy was limited to the fact that Labour were driving farmers off their land, and ignoring massive petitions to stop dudes from legally being able to hook up with dudes.  I barely knew what that entailed, but I knew I didn’t like it.  Lange had to go!

Most people never quite move beyond this juvenile sort of analysis.  In the United States it is practically a point of pride to indulge in this shallow sort of discourse.  I am fortunate to be one of the few who has realised life is a little more complicated than that.  And there’s the rub:  People like me will always be in a minority.  And guess what?  The minority in a democracy always loses.  To get anywhere in a democracy, one basically has to lie and pretend one is as stupid as one’s potential voters.

Sarah Palin and Senator Ted CruzThis very fact is what has completed my disillusion.  If you were to examine my political views alongside people like Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, there would be very little daylight.  But I cringe whenever I hear them talk, because they are dumbing themselves down all the time.  Calling Barack Obama a socialist and saying he violates the US Constitution may play well with the bulk of ig’nant voters, but I know both those statements are not true.  Don’t get me wrong, I loathe Obama’s politics, and I dearly wish this great nation had not been cursed with his Presidency.  He is vain, he prevaricates, he is himself shallow, he is a poor leader… but a socialist and a violator of the constitution he is not.  And I feel awkward when the people who are supposedly “on my side” are essentially making hyperbolic or false statements about him.  I can’t participate in that.  And look, I’d love to see President Ted Cruz, or President Rand Paul, but I can’t condone saying that stuff, because if I said it, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror.  That’s why I’ve never seriously tried to be a political activist in my time in the United States.  Too many rats to swallow.

On top of it all, my political philosophy is starting to change.  I’m not really sure if I’m a libertarian any more.  I struggle with the valuelessness of a libertarian viewpoint.  To me it encourages a vacuum in values, which those with bad values (ie. Muslims) are all too eager to fill.  And frankly, while I agree that people should be able to do whatever they want if they are also prepared to take responsibility for it, a large part of me also asks the question “If an action is universally bad, and has universally bad consequences, even if it doesn’t cause direct harm to others, why shouldn’t it be illegal?  What good purpose does it serve to be legal?

Justinian-EmporerAll this led me to unsubscribe from all my political Facebook feeds a couple of days ago.  I don’t want to read that crap any more.  I feel that world is not going to change with my participation any time soon.  I prefer to leave it in the hands of God.  And I don’t want to be angry any more.  Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to the Dark Side.  It doesn’t seem very compatible with my spiritual journey, and with the Orthodox faith, where I am called to love.

Does this mean I will never furthermore engage with the political world?  Not necessarily.  If called, I will serve.  But if I have anything to do with it, I couldn’t care less.  Politics is of the World, and if I am going to engage with the World, it had better be for a bloody good reason.  I’d rather focus on the spiritual life, and if the spiritual life leads me back there, then well and good.  If it doesn’t, so much the better.

 

I am an Orthodox Christian!

After nearly a year and a half of attending Orthodox churches, I have now been admitted into the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by Chrismation as of last Sunday.  It was also a delight to have my fiancee and my twin daughters, who turned five on Sunday, baptized straight after my chrismation.  You can watch my chrismation service below:

Some of it may be hard to hear, so here is the text of the service.

Filipp,_mitropolitt_of_MoscowAs you will hear on the video, my Church Name is Philip.  Philip was the name on my original birth certificate, before I was adopted by my parents, so in my adoption by the Church I thought it appropriate to take the name back.  My Name Saint is Saint Philip of Moscow, a brave Metropolitan of the Church who stood up to Ivan the Terrible by denying him communion, and paid for it with his life.  I liked the idea of a Saint who stood up to politicians!

It is an indescribable joy to finally be united with Christ’s Church.  In the words of the Divine Liturgy:

We have seen the true light,

We have received the heavenly Spirit;

We have found the true faith,

Worshipping the undivided Trinity:

For He has saved us!

Roman Catholic Critiques of Orthodoxy

Since my post Orthodoxy Versus Protestantism has finally replaced Fox News Foxes as my most popular post, I thought I’d address one of the comments on that post, which links to a Roman Catholic (or Latin church) critique of Orthodoxy.

I understand that the critique is not an exhaustive or complete set of arguments from that perspective, but nonetheless it is worthwhile examining.  So let’s look at what Mr Armstrong had to say:

The Nicene Creed, adhered to by most Christians, contains the phrase, “One, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” From a Catholic ecclesiological perspective, Orthodoxy — strictly speaking – is not “one” Church, but a conglomerate of at least seventeen, each with separate governance. The Encyclopedia Britannica (1985 edition, vol. 17, 867) states that, “Since the Russian Revolution there has been much turmoil and administrative conflict within the Orthodox Church.” Although Orthodox theology is fairly homogeneous, nevertheless, a Catholic would respectfully reply that none of these “autocephalous” churches can speak with the doctrinal definitiveness which existed in the Church before 1054, and which indeed still resides in the papacy and magisterium of the Catholic Church.

This is basically a difference in definition of what “one” Church looks like.  Ultimately, for the Latin church, they can’t envisage the Church being One unless it has a Pope/single leader with ultimate authority.  Armstrong says there are “at least seventeen” churches, but this misunderstands how Orthodoxy works.  In Orthodoxy, Christ is the Head of the Church, and all His Bishops are equal in authority.  By extension of Armstrong’s logic, every diocesan Bishop in Orthodoxy heads a “separate” church.  No, the Oneness in Orthodoxy comes from the communion of the Bishops – that is, they are all agreed on dogma and the original faith of the Apostles.  They can run their diocese in different ways, but this does not separate them from the One Church.  It is only if they teach a different dogma.  And if one Bishop deviates from this dogma, it does not mean the Church is divided, but that that the Bishop has simply removed himself from the One Church.  This is actually the Bishop of Rome’s problem – since the 11th Century he has without exception been out of communion, not by his own decree or even Orthodox decree, but by teaching dogma that is at variance with the Church.  Initially, this was merely the filloque, but the list of false dogma has grown since.

There is no issue of “doctrinal definitiveness” in Orthodoxy.  All the Orthodox Bishops are of one mind and One Church, and they say the same thing.

Catholics assert that Orthodoxy’s rejection of the papacy is inconsistent with the nature of the Church through the centuries. No one denies the existence of the papacy in some form in the early period. Orthodoxy, however, regards the authority exercised by popes historically (or which should have been exercised) as simply that of a primacy of honor, rather than a supremacy of jurisdiction over all other bishops and regional churches. To counter that claim, Catholics point to biblical Petrine evidences and the actual wielding of authority by renowned popes such as St. Leo the Great (440-61) and St. Gregory the Great (590-604), honored as saints even by the Orthodox.

The papacy, according to Catholic Tradition, is a divinely-instituted office, not merely (as Orthodoxy considers the papacy and Roman supremacy) a political and historical happenstance. Rome was apostolic, and preeminent from the beginning of Christianity, whereas Constantinople (the seat of the Byzantine Empire) was not.

benedict-xvi-and-bartholomew-iiWhole books have been written on this topic, so I will try to be brief, but the Latin view of history is inconsistent with what actually happened.  No Ecumenical Council affirmed the modern Latin view of the Papacy.  Instead, the Orthodox view of the Bishop of Rome as “first among equals”, the “Chairman of the Board” as it were, is explicitly stated.  Without going into detail, the Bible verses the Latins cite “do not mean what they say they mean”, and if they did, then their Pope would be the current Bishop of Antioch (where we know Peter had diocesan authority), not the Bishop of Rome (where nothing other than tradition indicates he was the presiding Bishop there).

The role of the Bishop of Rome in the first millennium was indeed one of leadership of the worldwide faith, and it would return to that status should future Bishops of Rome return to Orthodoxy.  But there was no evidence of the Bishop of Rome possessing the authority of a modern Pope within the Latin church.

Orthodoxy (and Eastern Catholic Christianity, from roughly the second half of the first millennium) has been plagued with caesaropapism, which, in effect (in terms of exercised power and de facto jurisdiction, if not actual Orthodox doctrinal teaching), places the state above the church -– somewhat similar to early Lutheranism and Anglicanism.

In Catholicism, on the other hand, it is significantly easier to maintain the notion that the Church is regarded as above all states (which Orthodoxy also formally believes), and is their judge, as the carrier of God’s Law, which transcends and forms the basis of man’s law. The papacy is the bulwark and standard and symbol whereby this dichotomy is supported. Patriarchs — oftentimes — were put into power by the Emperors in the East according to their whim and fancy and were all too frequently little more than puppets or yes-men. Noble exceptions, such as a St. John Chrysostom or a St. Flavian, more often than not had to appeal to Rome in order to save their patriarchates or necks or both.

This argument is a joke and a slur – there’s no other way of putting it.  There was no Patriarch more beholden to temporal kings and rulers than the Papacy under the Franks, from Charlemagne onwards.  Inasmuch as it is possibly true of Orthodoxy (and it is not), the Latin Pope has even less claim in this regard.  Between the Harlotocracy of the 10th Century, the Borgias and the Medicis, there is nothing for Latins to brag about here.  They also forget that the Popes themselves were invariably appointed by the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor for several hundred years.  The truth is that the Church remains the Church regardless of the unworthiness/sinfulness or otherwise of a Bishop, or of their collaboration with temporal rulers.

Orthodoxy accepts the first seven ecumenical councils (up to the Second Council of Nicaea in 787), but no more. From a Catholic perspective, this appears incoherent and implausible. Why have an agreed-upon system in which Councils are central to the governance of the Church universal, and then all of a sudden they cease, and Orthodox Christians must do without them for 1200 years?

Either ignorance or dishonesty is in evidence here. Just because an Ecumenical Council has not been held, doesn’t mean one couldn’t be held in future.  The Great Schism in itself has not helped matters in this regard.  But it is not clear why this “appears incoherent and implausible”.  It would be stupid to think that the Church cannot govern itself without regular Ecumenical Councils, which were called mainly in response to significantly threatening heresies.  It comes back to whether one thinks a Pope can override councils of the Whole Church.  The Latin church believes he can – Orthodox do not.

Likewise, Orthodoxy accepts the doctrinal development which occurred in the first eight centuries of the Church, but then allows little of any noteworthiness to take place thereafter. For instance, the filioque, i.e., the doctrine that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, rather than from the Father alone (which the West added to the Nicene Creed), was rejected by the East, and has been considered by the Orthodox a major reason for the enduring schism, yet Catholics would reply that it was a straightforward development of trinitarian theology (one of many accepted by both East and West).

Aspects of doctrines such as the Blessed Virgin Mary and purgatory (not defined doctrine, although the Orthodox pray for the dead), which experienced a measure of development in the Middle Ages and after, are not recognized in Orthodoxy. For example, Orthodoxy doesn’t define the Marian doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, but it should be noted that Orthodox individuals are free to believe these without being deemed “heretical.” Catholics feel that Orthodoxy is implicitly denying the notion of the Church (past the eighth century) as the living, developing Body of Christ, continuously led into deeper truth by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 16:13-15).

This argument is simply wrong.  Firstly, there is no such thing as doctrinal “development” in the Church, only doctrinal clarification.  This is motivated solely by responding to innovative heresies.  This has continued ever since the Ecumenical Councils – the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas (13th Century) are a prominent example.  Right up until the modern day Orthodoxy continues to develop and deepen their understanding of the faith.  What the writer is really saying is that Orthodoxy does not innovate, and that is the point of Orthodoxy!

Catholics would argue that Orthodoxy has not come to grips with modernity and the new challenges to Christianity that it brings, in terms of how to effectively communicate the gospel to modern man. The Catholic Church renewed itself along these lines in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). One need not compromise doctrine in order to deal with the modern situation. Pope John Paul II does not do so in his stream of extremely relevant and cogent encyclicals on present-day issues such as moral theology, labor, the family, the role of women, the place of laypeople, etc.

Although, as a result of this undertaking (i.e., due to a corruption of the nature of the Council by ambitious heterodox Catholics), the Catholic Church suffers from a modernist crisis within its own ranks, this too will pass, and Orthodoxy is not altogether immune from such things. Signs of a revival of orthodoxy in the Catholic ranks are increasing, and the nonsense will fade away like all the other crises and heretical movements in the past. The long-term benefits of the strategy to confront the culture boldly and with fresh insight and innovation (within the bounds of traditional Catholic orthodoxy) will be evident in the years to come.

I’m not even sure I understand what Armstrong is trying to say here.  Until 1970, Roman Catholics worshiped in Latin, whereas Orthodoxy has always sought to translate its liturgies into the local vernacular.  As for relevance, Orthodoxy is currently the fastest-growing tradition of Christianity, well ahead of Catholicism and Protestantism, both of which are receding in places.  “Modernity” is a failing strategy for both Protestant churches and Roman Catholic ones.

Orthodoxy, although praiseworthy in its generally traditional stand for Christian morality, differs from Catholicism over the question of the propriety and morality of contraception, which was universally condemned by all branches of Christianity until 1930. Thus, Catholics feel that they (almost alone today) are more in accord with apostolic Christian Tradition on this point, and that an acceptance of contraception is a giving in to humanistic sexual ethics. Catholics regard it as a mortal sin, whereas much of Orthodoxy does not even forbid it. To be fair, it is true that some of the more “conservative” or “traditional” branches of Orthodoxy have retained the traditional view, but the very fact of plurality in such a grave moral issue is highly troubling.

Given the argument that Orthodoxy has supposedly not adapted to the modern world, to follow it up with this is amusing!  I’m not qualified to say what is right or wrong on this issue, but only that it is the discretion of the Bishop – it is not a question of dogma.  So your Bishop (of Rome) is tougher than mine?  Whoopdeshit…

Catholics also believe that Jesus and the apostles, and ancient Christian Tradition, considered a valid sacramental marriage between two baptized Christians as absolutely indissoluble. An annulment is essentially different from a divorce in that it is the determination (based on a variety of possible reasons) that a valid sacramental marriage never existed. Orthodoxy accepts second and third marriages, with, however, a measure of penitential sadness commensurate with a falling short of the Christian ideal, and feels that this is a tragic pastoral necessity, in light of the fallen human condition.

Again with the “my Bishop is more badass than yours” schtick.  There doesn’t seem to be any real argument being made here.  But I will say that refusing communion to divorced people forever is pretty stupid.  Divorce is a sin, but sometimes it is not your sin, and sometimes it is improper, or even impossible despite all human effort, to reconcile.  Orthodox Bishops rightly consider that in such situations, the divorcee has discharged his or her moral responsibilities, and should be allowed to receive the healing medicine of the Eucharist.

A lot of this stuff seems to deliberately distort history.  But ultimately it is not a matter of accepting the Pope or not.  Orthodoxy accepts that the Bishop of Rome is the greatest of the Bishops.  But only if he is Orthodox, and right now the Bishop of Rome is not Orthodox, and therefore not actually a Bishop of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

No More Rock Action

stooges_1stMy Facebook feed has just informed me that Stooges drummer Scott Asheton has passed away, following his brother Ron, the guitarist (and erstwhile bassist) in the band, who left us five years ago.  A sad thing, since in the history of rock and roll, there is no band that has ever rocked harder, or made such beautiful noise together.

The Stooges were never appreciated in the time they were originally together, but there was no band wilder.  Their debut, and their sophomore effort Funhouse, are pioneering works.  And while I’m a fan of both albums, the real genius of Scott Asheton and his pile-driving drumming style is most readily apparent on the second incarnation of the band, when James Williamson took over the guitar and Ron moved on to bass.  The drum attack on the Raw Power album is utterly relentless.  He makes opener Search and Destroy sound like the napalm attack hinted at by singer Iggy Pop’s lyrics.

stoogesoldFormed in the late ’60s, the Stooges crashed and burned violently in 1974, but in the meantime, Scott, with his brother Ron, Williamson and the irrepressible Iggy Pop had created punk music.  It was a privilege to see “Rock Action” as he was known, back in action in the last decade as the Stooges reformed and, on one famous occasion, played the Big Day Out festival in Auckland.  And now so sad to hear he is no longer with us.

Memory eternal, Scott Asheton.  May God grant you repose on your Death Trip!

Orthodoxy Sunday

In the Orthodox Church, the first Sunday of Lent is celebrated as Orthodoxy Sunday.  That was yesterday.

Triumph of Orthodoxy 007Orthodoxy Sunday celebrates the day in 843AD when the Roman Empress Theodora ordered the restoration of all the icons to their proper place in the churches, after a century of controversy and iconoclasm.  As a former Protestant, I was fairly ignorant of the high-level debate around icons in this period of history.  I thought praying to icons was just some pointless, superstitious religious exercise that old Russian babushkas did.

But icons are a big deal, and iconoclasm a real threat to sound doctrine.  So much so that at the second Nicean Council of 787AD a Bishop declared:

“This heresy is the worst of all heresies. Woe to the iconoclasts! It is the worst of heresies, as it subverts the incarnation of our Savior!”

Really, what icons say is that people can be Holy, and objects can be Holy, and furthermore, they depict real, material people who were filled with the Spirit of God.  In the case of Christ, they testify that He came in the flesh, that He purified bodies, that He resurrected bodies (especially His own) and made them Holy.  They testify to what we see in Acts 19:11-12 – that if even the Apostle Paul’s discarded snot-rags can work miracles, how much more can the Holy images of Christ and the Saints?

Icons are your friends.  Honestly, I don’t know how I used to pray without them.  They’re not idols, but Holy windows to Heaven by which we can glorify Christ and Christ can bless us. They transform Christianity from an intellectual (gnostic) faith that seeks escape from the material world and its trappings, to a faith of both soul and body, that saves and restores both.

These are the ones I have at home:

100_2628

In the words of Nicea II:

“The Holy Synod cried out: So we all believe, we all are so minded, we all give our consent and have signed. This is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the orthodox, this is the faith that has made firm the whole world. Believing in one God, to be celebrated in Trinity, we salute the honorable images! Those who do not so hold, let them be anathema. Those who do not thus think, let them be driven far away from the Church. For we follow the most ancient legislation of the Catholic Church. We keep the laws of the Fathers. We anathematize those who add anything to or take anything away from the Catholic Church. We anathematize the introduced novelty of the revilers of Christians. We salute the venerable images. We place under anathema those who do not do this. Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols. Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images. Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols. Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods. Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God. Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols. Many years to the Emperor!”

Hell Continued… Forever…

In my last post I backgrounded the arguments around the eternality of the punishment of hell, and explained the Orthodox view of it.  Let me now explain why I, while not *absolutely* certain of the truth of the matter, favour the idea that hell torments the damned eternally.

Let me first state that the view that hell ends in annihilation is not necessarily unorthodox (or even unOrthodox).  It’s entirely possible and plausible.  An argument can be made that this is the case.  But in my view, the odds favour the opposite theology – that the damned suffer eternally.

Three-Holy-HierarchsI must at this point admit that I was prepared to be convinced of the Rethinking Hell arguments.  I attend an Orthodox church, so my approach is different to theirs, but I could see the logic there.  However, being Orthodox, one hits a major snag, and that is the Three Holy Hierarchs of the 4th Century, who wrote in support of ECT.  Now, just because a Saint has postulated a certain view does not mean that this view is infallible, or the view of the Church, or that the view is absolutely true simply by the testimony of those who put it forward.  But it does carry weight.  And there are few weightier Saints than John Chrysostom, who was adamant that the punishment of the damned was eternal.  See his sermons here and here.  Since there are fewer Christians in history more authoritative, his support for ECT institutes a high threshold by which the idea should be debunked.

What is this based on?  The Rethinking Hell folk would have you believe that the rhetoric of Holy Scripture is purely existential – that the Bible, in speaking of the “destruction” of the wicked, guarantees their non-existence.  In reality, this involves taking a bunch of Biblical passages and saying that they are completely literal – that when the Bible says “destroyed”, it means these people literally cease to exist.  Again, I could never discount this possibility.  But the reality is that there is too much Scripture that says the opposite.  There are several passages, and I am not going to waste time quoting all of them, because frankly, the RH people should know the Bible well enough to know where they are, even though they have compelling excuses for all of them.  But I will look at 1 Corinthians 15, because basically it makes the RH people look very foolish:

SignorelliOrvietoSBrizioResurrection1502Firstly, we examine 15:22.  Adam’s sin caused death in everyone, good and wicked.  But this verse tells us this situation will be reversed.  So if Christ resurrects the good, he must also resurrect the wicked.  This is expanded upon in 15: 35-44.  The passage explains that our physical bodies will be resurrected, not just our soul or our “essence”.  But more than that, it tells us that our perishable bodies shall be made imperishable.  No distinction is made between the saved and the damned, the good and the wicked, in this passage.  It is clear that all have the same eternal fate in this instance.  The clincher is 15:52:  “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  It is clear that this passage does not just apply to the “righteous” but to everyone.  Everyone is going to be made incorruptible and immortal.

Basically, this passage puts the RH people in a tight spot.  Their only recourse is to say that the physical resurrected bodies of the damned are materially different, when resurrected, from the righteous, and therefore, their bodies are perishable, this being their judgment.  But nothing in 1 Cor 15 suggests anything other than a resurrection of both righteous and wicked with the same types of bodies:  The incorruptible kind.  Uh oh!

the_transfiguration_of_our_lord_by_starcross-d5e8lcqThe only conclusion that can be reached is that the damned get incorruptible bodies like the rest of us, then they experience the full force of the Divine Energies of God, and then, being incorruptible, they suffer eternally under the strain of God’s presence.

It’s not a nice position to be in.  And as I have said, there’s no real philosophical issue of God’s justice in this, since Hell is self-inflicted in this scenario.  But more than this, it says that human life is valuable.  To believe in annihilation is to believe that God does not value life, and that He does not want to restore humanity to its place of communion with God.  Ultimately if there is no real punishment, then there is no real restoration of communion.  A soul that can disappear is also one that can never truly be saved.

UPDATE:  Many of the Rethinking Hell people like to claim that, because of the words used in the Bible for hell, the way we think of hell as eternal torment is an innovation unknown to the Apostles and the early Church.  It is true that the Greek and Hebrew words used (“Sheol”, for example) could simply mean “the grave” or “the pit”.  It is further true that Hades – the place/situation in which disembodied souls find themselves – is not the same as hell, and is sometimes erroneously translated that way.  But that does not necessarily mean that the early Christians believed in annihilation (although the Rethinking Hell folk love to quote the Early Church Fathers out of context to back up this claim).  To the contrary, the book of Judith in the Deuterocanon, states:

“Woe to the nations that rise up against my kindred! the Lord Almighty will take vengeance of them in the day of judgment, in putting fire and worms in their flesh; and they shall feel them, and weep for ever.”(Judith 16:17)

It’s clear from this that the Jewish understanding at the time was one of eternal conscious torment.  And as for the early Church, we see in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John, the following quip to his persecutors:

But again the proconsul said to him, I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.

But Polycarp said, You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will. (Martyrdom of Polycarp 11:2)

This retort shows that Polycarp fears the eternal fire, rather than a temporal one.  He knows the fire of this world will not hurt him for long, but that the Fire of God will eternally consume and punish those who choose to separate themselves from Him.  It shows that the doctrine of ECT was in no way innovative, but was there from the beginning of the faith.

Hell

rethinking-hellYour intrepid blogger recently had the displeasure of engaging, online of course, with a group of armchair theologians dedicated to “Rethinking Hell”.  These folk have their own Facebook and web pages dedicated to the idea of “Evangelical Conditionalism” – the practical consequence of which is that they believe damned souls do not suffer eternal conscious torment (or “ECT”, as they put it), but are punished, ultimately, unto non-existence.  It’s an intriguing idea, and they believe vehemently that not only is it true, but it is vital to Christianity that hell is understood as an annihilating, rather than a perpetuating, torture.

These folk are, of course, all Protestants and “Bible-believers”, with all the accompanying approaches to faith.  For them, hell is a matter of God’s justice – it’s a place you get sent against your will by someone else, and if you are sent there by someone else, it becomes a very serious matter to ask who, why and for how long?   It’s an approach to hell that refuses to inquire too deeply into the human condition – “What in humanity is so flawed that its existence ultimately ends up in hell?” – and instead inquires of God’s condition – “What in Him requires this terrible place?”

Thermal-InfraredIt’s been a wonderful thing to discover that the Orthodox view of hell is so vastly different, and renders the sting of these questions largely redundant, because Orthodoxy is not concerned with a supposed legal status that a soul may hold, or a change in how God “feels” about us, but with the actual condition of a soul as it journeys towards death and the life to come.  What saves us is faith that transforms us through our lives through theosis – the process of the soul becoming one with the energies of God.  And either the soul humbles itself and seeks God, allowing God to heal the soul, or it seeks the World and moves away.  So where our soul “ends up” is based on its actual condition when the final judgment occurs.  And what is the judgment?  Not a legal status, but nothing less than final, ultimate exposure to the Divine and Uncreated Energies of God.  If we have lived in faith, this Divine Fire will illuminate and transfigure us, as Christ was transfigured!  But if we do not know God, then final exposure to His Holy Energies will truly be the most dreadful experience imaginable!

Some familiar with the Western tradition of hell might complain that hell is unjust because God has not revealed Himself fully to us.  But in Orthodoxy, hell IS God finally revealing himself to the damned.  And since God is love and all-merciful, it is His mercy that He does not at this time, for no soul could otherwise suffer it.  We see this in Genesis where Adam and Eve hid from God after their sin, and again when Moses cannot see God’s Glory and live.  So since God could not reveal Himself to us without tormenting us through our own choice to separate, we see the necessity of the Incarnation of God in the form of Jesus Christ – the Way that God reveals and redeems.  Not only that, but we see that this is the perfect expression of God’s love, a God-Man who suffers for us and with us, then destroys death by death, bestowing life and purifying us to receive His Light, so that it glorifies us and illumines us.

dantehellSo hell is not God’s choice (God’s choice is to seek to save us through Christ!), but ours.  It’s not something God “decides” for us, based on whether we jump through the right hoops to His satisfaction.  It’s not contract law.  Hell is the reality of discovering God exists and is Holy, after your soul chose to have nothing to do with Him and be unholy.  There is no need to “justify” hell as if it was something separate that God creates.  God is holy, and we create hell for ourselves by not being holy.

So you can see there is no real issue of God’s justice at stake in this view.  It justifies God and avoids those pesky “How can a loving God…?” questions.  This is also what the Conditionalists hope to do by saying that the torment has an end and that the end is annihilation/non-existence.  But as you can see, to my mind it “solves” a problem that was never there in the first place.

It remains to ask, however:  Is annihilation the true end of damned souls, or are they eternally tormented?  It’s still an interesting question, not because of God’s justice, but because it would help explain the nature of our souls and bodies after our earthly death.  It has no immediate impact on the major doctrines of Christianity or of the Gospel message, but it’s helpful for our understanding of what exactly it is that we seek when we seek to draw near to God.  It gets into the specifics.  And that is why I wanted to engage with Rethinking Hell and explore their arguments.

DontBotherMeUnfortunately, their arguments are pretty awful.  It all comes down to semantics, and what you think words mean.  For example, when the Bible uses the word “destroy”, does it mean “annihilate unto non-existence”, or does it mean “you die, but your immortal soul is in deep trouble”?  When the Bible says that the fire is “eternal”, does it mean the torment is eternal also, or that you get annihilated “but we thought we would mention the fire is eternal, even though an eternal fire will be unnecessary once you are annihilated”.  I became, very early on, convinced that no good could come of simply examining the scriptures on this basis – the Bible can mean whatever you want it to mean ultimately, and especially when you start applying a “new” predetermined definition of a word, you can literally reverse millenia of established theology.  The reality is that context is everything, and in the case of Christianity, context can only be found by examining the Holy Tradition of the Church.  The solution can only be found by looking both at the Bible AND outside the Bible at Holy Tradition and the history of the Church Fathers’ thoughts on the subject – something hard for these Protestants to swallow when they are convinced… CONVINCED… that the Bible teaches conditionalism/annihilation and not the dreaded ECT.  Sorry, no.  And in fact, there are too many difficult passages of scripture present to seal the case.  You can’t expound on the literalism of certain sets of scripture, yet dismiss others as metaphorical just to fit your preconceived viewpoints!  There must be another standard to hold scripture to.

After quite some time of grappling with these folk, I can’t say that I am 100% certain that “ECT” is true and annihilation is false.  I could still be wrong.  But I think, based on my own reasoning, that it is far more likely that the damned do suffer eternally.  And I shall explain why… in my next post.  Stay tuned!

Lou Reed

loureedDeath is a tragic thing, and doubly so when an artist whose work you admire and love so much dies.  Lou Reed made so much music that meant so much to me, and continues to inspire me.  And you will find few artists who made such a lasting impact on both music and culture.  Possibly only Paul McCartney and Bernard Sumner were comparably innovative in modern popular music.

For me, Reed was one of the Holy Trinity of rock and roll.  He was Rock the Father to Bowie’s Rock the Son, and Iggy’s Rock the Holy Ghost.  As another writer pointed out, he really gave us Bowie, and made Bowie possible.  And even if he had done nothing else, that would have been enough.  But there is such a legacy there in the form of simply great songs, right throughout his whole career.

I saw on one blog someone had tried to make out that with Reed, the Emperor had no clothes, and that his music was pretentious, art student wankery with no real merit.  And sure, at his worst Reed fit this stereotype.  And yes, there are a lot of pretentious, art student wankers out there who like to cite Reed and pretend that some of the stuff he did is more profound than it is, when much of it is him simply barking doggerel over bland, undistinguished MOR.  You can usually tell these people, because they’ll all say how much they like his late 1980s album New York!  Well New York has some great lyrics in it, but to pretend to like it as a set of songs just betrays you as a dick.  Those are not real songs.  No, Reed’s infamy is deserved not because he was cool to namedrop, but because he really did write some amazing music that people like to listen to because it is so damned good.

I don’t have all of Reed’s albums in the same way that I have slavishly collected Bowie’s, and after 1977 he never made an album you’d want to listen to the whole way through anyway.  But so much of his early work is indispensable.  There’s the four Velvet Underground albums (The Velvet Underground and NIco, White Light/White Heat, “The Grey Album”, Loaded), all classics, as well as several songs recorded for an album never released – Ocean, I Can’t Stand It, Lisa Says, Countess from Hong Kong.  Then there is the epic 1973 albums Transformer and Berlin, as well as the live albums Rock and Roll Animal, and Lou Reed Live.  You can’t go wrong with any of those.  Add to that the stellar Coney Island Baby from 1976 and the marvelous Street Hassle of 1977 and you’d be hard-pressed to find a collection of more perfectly-formed works.  I can count the duff songs on all those with one hand.  And even on much of his other work, flawed and/or dull as some of it is, there are still gems.  A song like Baton Rouge, from 2000’s Ecstasy, for example.  Perfect.

Lou Reed was a curmudgeon who lived a fairly dissolute life, but, to paraphrase one  of his own songs, his life was saved by rock and roll.  He was not a nice guy, but that was part of his charm.  His music was where you found his warmth and love, and it was where thousands upon thousands of people, including myself, have found such pleasure and enjoyment from him, and connected with him in a way that one could never do with him as a real life person.  His songs redeemed him, and they will always be with us to treasure.

Memory Eternal, Lewis Allan Reid.

Album Review: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

ninSurveying the current state of ’90s alternative musicians is somewhat depressing.  Of that original gang of cultural iconoclasts, who is left?  Who is still doing relevant stuff?  Even Beck seems to have disappeared up his own rear end somewhat.

Trent Reznor is increasingly seeming like the last man standing.  His latest album, the first in four years, may prove to be one of his finest.  While Reznor has generally been pretty consistent in producing good quality music, most of it has been after a certain fashion, and very little would not have sat comfortably on his landmark album The Downward Spiral.  However, working on film soundtracks, and collaborating with Atticus Ross has had a profound, and positive, effect on Reznor’s music.  The songs here are more electronic, more danceable, slightly more subtle, and less ragingly distorted than one has normally come to expect from Nine Inch Nails.  Singles Came Back Haunted and Copy of A retain all the trademark menace, but without resorting to the quiet/loud/quiet/loud device that Reznor hitherto liked to employ.  And you can dance to them!

This is a great album, and it has been on high rotate on my stereo recently.  And for what it’s worth, my four year old twin daughters love it too, and like to practice a lot of their ballet moves to it!  Even if you are someone who has traditionally not liked Nine Inch Nails, you may well like this one.

Why Going to Hooters is Legitimate Council Expenditure

This fellow Tony Marryatt sounds like all kinds of dodgy.  So it’s bizarre that the focus of the article is not on the fact he went on so many junkets in the first place, but on the fact he went to Hooters twice, and spent – OMG!!! – $120 there.

Outgoing Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt racked up nearly $9000 on his ratepayer-funded credit card in the last year, including more than $120 on two visits to the bawdy Hooters restaurant in the United States.

Figures released to The Press under the Official Information Act show Marryatt twice visited the restaurant chain in Phoenix, Arizona, famous for its young busty waitresses. He was there on a council managers’ conference a year ago.

Cr Tim Carter, who chairs the council’s audit and risk committee and often signed off credit card reports from senior staff, said he was “struggling to understand how spending money at a Hooters bar was council business”.

hootersBecause it’s not just a bar.  It’s actually a restaurant.  Two visits to a restaurant for two people and spending $120 over those two visits is not unreasonable at all.  It’s a meal and a couple of beers, nothing more.

Now to be sure, Hooters is not an upmarket establishment.  Its target market is married, middle-aged men who want to get a good meal, drink beer, and look at pretty college girls while they are doing it.  But it’s not a strip club.  Nobody takes their clothes off.  As weird as it seems to us New Zealanders, you see families with children eating there.  And the food is, by all accounts, pretty good.

If you were at a conference, and wished to bond with another middle-aged male over a reasonably priced meal and some beers, to discuss matters relating to local government, Hooters is not an unreasonable place to do business at all.  In fact you could do a lot worse.  It’s not my cup of tea personally, but that’s due more to matters of taste than any question of morality.

You would think Cr Carter, and Fairfax reporters, would never so much as let butter melt in their mouths!  They ignore the real issue of the junkets themselves, and focus on what is really a fairly benign aspect of his bill – a restaurant with a cheeky name and pretty girls who wait on your table.  Bugger me, but that describes half the Auckland Viaduct!  It’s not a story.

Review: Rewind the Film – Manic Street Preachers

rewind the filmThe Manics, despite having political views that are the complete opposite of my own, are one of those bands to whom my fandom goes beyond mere carnal delight and extends to something akin to genuine romance.  It’s more than just objectively assessing their work and playing what I like.  It’s more like a sports team that you are cheering on and want desperately to win.

On Rewind the Film, alas, they lose the match.  While single Show Me the Wonder is brilliant, yet another classic Manics anthem, and the title track a melancholy, brooding masterpiece, it would have been lovely had these gems been placed in a collection of songs equally worthy of affection.  Unfortunately the rest of the album is horrible.

Fights between lovers are often the more vitriolic for their passion, and so it is with Rewind the Film.  I hate this album.  I hate the production.  I hate that it sounds like they are trying to be Mumford and Sons.  I hate that they think they sound so freaking “Welsh”.  I hate crappy folk music, and this is crappy, inauthentic, bad folk music.  Someone should take that trumpet and bash James Dean Bradfield over the head with it until he can rediscover where he misplaced his electric guitar.  This thing is a stinker.

Singles aside, it’s only saving grace is in the lyric of Thirty Year War, where Nicky Wire bemoans three glorious decades of Thatcherism.  It’s such a sad, self-pitying song, wailing about how “the old boy network won”, that, were it not so turgid and boring, you’d want to play it over and over again just to gloat and taste the sweetness of his tears.  Maybe it’s recorded badly deliberately just so as to avoid such a fate.

They get points for trying, and not producing yet another album of populist guitar anthems, even though that is what they are good at.  The great thing about the Manics is that they often take risks, and those risks often pay off.  But, like Lifeblood before it, this album is a failure.  It’s not completely impossible that it could grow on me.  I may give it a couple more spins.  I recall feeling the same about This Is My Truth, which I now regard as one of their best works.  But somehow, this time, I doubt it is going to bear up.

Here’s what can be salvaged:   This is a great song!

Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Roman Catholicism

This post is sort of an addendum to my previous posts on the differences between Orthodox and Protestant (or “bible-believing”) Christianity.   You can read my previous posts as follows:

Since many of the arguments I used to explain the Orthodox viewpoint also apply to Roman Catholicism, it could be easy for Protestants to assume that Orthodoxy is simply a more antiquated version of Roman Catholicism without the Pope.  Indeed, this seems to be how many Catholics themselves view things.  But there are serious differences both in doctrine and in the entire approach to faith.  Orthodoxy is no less than a different mindset from both Catholicism and Protestantism.

Some of the more theoretical theology (such as the filloque dispute) may not seem like a big deal, but these “minor” deviations have cancerous practical consequences.  The fundamental differences are:

original-sin-garden-of-eden1.  Original Sin.  Originally both the Eastern and Western Church were in communion, a situation which lasted for the first thousand years of Christianity.  But separation began as early as the turn of the 4th Century, when Augustine first postulated the idea of “original sin”.  While Augustine made invaluable contributions to Christian theology, his Greek was poor, and this doctrine in particular sprung from a mistranslation of Romans 5:12 in the Vulgate.  It soon gained widespread popularity in the West, where Latin was spoken, but was never adopted by the East, where the original Greek was understood.  Tied in with this is the idea of Complete Corruption – that to be human is inherently to be sinful regardless of our actions.  This later became popular among Protestants during the Reformation.

Orthodoxy has instead held that sin is not a pre-existing condition of being human, only that the consequences of Adam’s sin were death and decay, and God’s curse (Genesis 3:15-25 – LXX), from which we must still be saved.  In Orthodoxy, our sin is a result of our free will and choice only, and therefore our own responsibility.

filioque2.  The Filloque.  At the Council of Toledo in 589AD, the local Bishops proposed an addition to the Creed stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Son as well as the Father.  Since the purpose of the Council was to reconcile Arians back into the Church, the error of what became known as the filloque came about from the influence of the Gothic King Reccard and other new converts, who could still not quite bring themselves to view the Trinity as a co-equal entity.  The Bishops, eager to reconcile the Arian Goths to the Church, acquiesced.  While not formally agreed to by the Pope at the time, reciting the filloque as part of the Creed also became popular Western practice, and at the turn of the 9th Century was adopted throughout the Frankish Holy Roman Empire, which covered the bulk of Western Christendom.  Eventually, the Papacy itself acquiesced to adopt it in 1014AD, despite the Third Ecumenical Council of 431AD specifically forbidding further additions to the Creed.  This in time triggered a break in communion with the rest of the Church in 1054AD, also known as the Great Schism, whereupon the Pope officially tried to excommunicate the Ecumenical Patriarch.

To this day, Orthodoxy holds that the Spirit proceeds from the Father as an equal Person fulfilling His saving acts, and not from both the Father and the Son.

popepatriarch3.  Papal Primacy.  The filloque controversy was, in many ways, simply an excuse for the Papacy to wield what it saw as its rightful powers as “the Holy See of Peter”.  While the Church always regarded the Bishop of Rome as the “first among equals” in honour, and made use of him to settle disputes, the Papacy gradually began to interfere proactively in other jurisdictions, especially during the 9th Century, when Pope Nicholas tried to interfere in the election of the Patriarch of Constantinople, and claim that the Pope had primacy over the whole Church, not just his diocese or his Patriarchate.  Ever since, Popes have made this jurisdictional claim, which Orthodoxy completely rejects.  Orthodoxy sees all Bishops as equals, and that only the Whole Church can discern doctrine.  While the Bishop of Rome is the most important Bishop, he is not regarded as the “Vicar of Christ”, or a “Bishop of the Bishops”.

thuggee-from-indiana-jones4.  Satisfaction.  Traditionally Orthodoxy has described salvation in a variety of ways – Christ saves by conquering sin and death, by an exchange of love between God and man, by atoning for sin Himself where man could not, by an exemplary life, by incarnation as both God and man, and so on.  None of these descriptions are complete in and of themselves, or stand alone separate from each other as a discrete explanation of salvation.  However, in the late 11th Century, Anselm of Canterbury propagated the idea that sin was a crime against God that offended God’s honour (similar to the way crime offended the honour of Western medieval Kings), and therefore implied salvation involved not personal transformation, but satisfying this honour – the crime must be paid for one way or another.  This soon became the standard primary explanation of Christ’s saving acts in Western Christianity.  But while Christ’s suffering is regarded as an atonement by the Orthodox Church, this does not imply that God separates from Himself by sacrificing Himself to appease Himself – a veritable “god of the volcano” into which things must be hurled to prevent eruption.  Anselm, while well-meaning, turned salvation into a legal transaction or contract rather than a process of rehabilitation.

These four innovations to the faith, sometimes in concert with one another, had massive implications for what followed.  Just for starters:

  • The Roman doctrines of purgatory and indulgences – unknown in Orthodoxy –  came directly from the ideas of Satisfaction and Original Sin, and triggered the Reformation in the West.  But instead of repudiating the underlying doctrines, the main point of contention between Roman Catholics and Protestants became not over whether or not God’s justice, honor, or wrath needed to be satisfied, but whether man could add anything to that satisfaction in penance;
  • Original sin also led to an unnecessary need for Mary’s conception to be “immaculate”.  As Orthodox see it, this has in turn caused an undue focus on the uniqueness of Mary as a separate heavenly entity in Roman Catholicism, instead of stressing her humanity and her relationship to her Son.  Meanwhile, Protestants took it in the opposite direction – if humanity is Corrupt through original sin, it is impossible for Mary to be anything special, or to be “More honourable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”;
  • There was a degrading of the sacredness of sexuality in the West into something inherently sinful in itself (since original sin is sexually transmitted).  Sex ceased to be a sacrament, and more of an activity allowed only because it was the only way humans could reproduce.  This in turn solidified the practice of Priestly celibacy in the West;
  • Papal Primacy led to Papal infallibility, and, combined with the Filloque, into a weakening of the Holy Tradition and a strengthening of the role of the ecclesiastical office-holders at its expense.  The Roman Catholic Magisterium became the determinant of Truth, not the Orthodox councillar approach of what has been believed “always, and everywhere, by all”.

healing_sm…and there are numerous other ways in which these innovations have created theological differences.  While a lot of the externals remain similar to this day, Roman Catholicism became a very different beast from the Orthodox faith which spawned it.  The same rituals and trappings soon took on quite different meanings.  And while the Protestants of the Reformation repudiated the Roman church’s innovations, they did not break from the underlying theology behind them, which is what really separates the West from the East.  Nowhere is this difference better articulated than by Alexandre Kalomiros in his famous 1980 presentation The River of Fire.  While this sermon is unfortunately shrill, and lacking in charity towards Western Christianity in its accusations, it lays things out very well.  On one hand, we see a judicial and rationalizing faith on the part of Protestants and Catholics, and on the other, a rehabilitative, experiential and mysterious one on the part of Orthodox.  In a nutshell:  Is Christianity merely a restoration of our relationship with God, through Jesus, or us, or both of us, being justly punished?  Or does Christianity restore our relationship with God by using all of His saving acts to heal us of our sinful passions so we are ultimately holy and at one with God’s Energies?

Moa Beer is a Con

moabeerI see that the bubbles have recently burst on the con job that is Moa beer.

Having last October described its New Zealand distribution deal with Treasury Wine Estates as “the perfect partner to super-charge growth”, the company came out last week and blamed TWE for its failure to hit the prospectus sales volume target of 195,100 cases this year.

The shortfall would be big, 30 per cent, implying sales of about 136,000 cases in the 12 months to March 2014. Investors were naturally spooked and the shares were gutted by more than a quarter.

I can’t believe that there were seriously suckers out there that would invest in this dog of a company.  Moa is the Enron of beer.  While it has a good distribution network (I’ve seen it on sale in my local supermarket here in San Antonio), it’s completely priced out of the market.  Nobody is going to pay eleven bucks for that crap.

For eleven bucks, my beer had better actually come from a Trappist monastery in Belgium, be bottle fermented, and taste like God’s nectar.  Moa beer does not meet these requirements.  It is a bog standard craft brew which tastes nice enough, but nothing special that can’t already be gotten for half the price.

There seems to be no effort on Moa’s part to either make beer, or brand their beer, so that it is actually competitive in the marketplace.  The whole point of Moa, in fact, seems to be to have a product that looks flashy so that investors will part with their cash.  It seems to me to be nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.  The goal is not to make beer and sell it at a profit.  The goal is to run a company, get investment, and look like you are doing something to justify that investment by putting overpriced bottles on as many shelves as you can.

Eventually Enron Beer is going to run out of money, and some people are going to lose their shirt.  But nobody should pretend that anything about this is actually about selling beer.

Zoo Substitutes Dog for Lion

Easily confused species of animals…doglion

A Chinese zoo’s supposed “African lion” was exposed as a fraud when the dog used as a substitute started barking.

The zoo in the People’s Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily.

It quoted a customer surnamed Liu who wanted to show her son the different sounds animals made — but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled “African lion” was barking.

It’s like some sort of real life Monty Python sketch!  In fact, it’s sort of like this one:

Engaged

In latter years, I have tried to be more modest about putting my personal life online, but I would be remiss not to share the happiness of myself and my fiancee at our recent engagement.  I am very proud to have this beautiful, intelligent and wonderful woman at my side!  The photo below was taken at Enchanted Rock, Texas, a few minutes after I proposed:

fiancee

Orthodoxy, Protestantism and the Church

The concluding post of my series comparing Orthodoxy with Protestantism.  Though obviously not my last post on Orthodoxy!  I may do another one on Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

When I originally listed the main differences between the two traditions of faith, I neglected to mention one big difference:  How they view the Church and what they believe “The Church” to consist of.  Orthodoxy especially is concerned with the questions of what, where and who the Church is.  And in both traditions, the definition is very different, and very complicated.

Protest by the fringe Westboro Baptist ChurchProtestantism defines the Church as the full body of saved Christians, including those who are not part of any individual churches.  It then becomes a matter of what a “saved Christian” is.  Often it will come down to simply “believing that the Bible is the inspired Word of God”, and whatever group of Christians do that, then that is the Church.  But of course it is more complicated than that, and there are also standards of (“little-o”) orthodoxy that come into the equation.  Of that group of “bible believers”, some would consider Mormons to be part of the Church, others look at their lack of belief in the Trinity and Christ’s nature, the addition of the Book of Mormon to the Canon, and their strange views on the afterlife and say no.  Some look at Catholics and Orthodox and regard them as idolaters for their prayers to Mary and the Saints, and would exclude them from the Church.  Beyond the Bible itself, there is no hard and fast standard.  It ranges from the idea that anyone who believes Jesus died and rose again is a Christian and part of the Church, no matter what outlandish ideas they add to that;  through to the other extremity of those who believe their Protestant denomination or church is The Only True Church, and all others are lost to the fires of hell!

bishopsOrthodoxy does take a similarly exclusionary view of what the Church is, namely that no church other than the Orthodox Church, its Bishops, and its visible and invisible (ie. passed on) members is the Church.  They believe this because all Orthodox Bishops are preceded by a line of Bishops going back to the laying on of hands by the original Apostles, and because they have kept the “right beliefs”, those held “everywhere and always, by all”.  But this is not a condemnatory stance – remember that in Orthodoxy salvation is not a contractual arrangement that predetermines the final destiny of the soul.  A humble pagan living by faith based on his limited knowledge of God may receive God’s grace at the last, while the strictest, baptised at birth Orthodox monastic may yet fall from grace and not finish the race he has begun.

Being in the Church is not a guarantee of God’s mercy, and being outside of it is not a guarantee it will be withheld.  Rather, Orthodoxy sees the Church as the vessel of salvation – it is the Way, not the destination.  And its claim to be the One True Church is a positive one only, not a negative one.  As the English Bishop Kallistos Ware says:  “We know where the Church is but we cannot be sure where it is not; and so we must refrain from passing judgment on non-Orthodox Christians.”

A good analogy of how Orthodox Christians view the Church is that of marriage.  A couple may live together, and consummate their relationship, and spend the rest of their lives together in complete happiness and fidelity to one another in an identical fashion to a married couple.  But they are not married.  They need to actually hold a ceremony for that to happen.  It is not a judgment on their relationship to say they are not married, merely an observation.  So it is with the matter of the Church, and what is the True Church.  It is possible for God to work in your life outside of the Church if you “fornicate” with Christianity, and God will bless you and bestow His grace if you know no better.  But just as only marriage allows one to experience the full blessing of a relationship, so the Church is the only means of experiencing the fullness of Jesus Christ and His salvation.

eucharistI could write screeds of theological detail on the Orthodox view of the Church – it is an almost inexhaustible subject.  But if one were to boil it all down, the Orthodox Church is the Eucharist – the imbibing of the real Body and Blood of Christ in communion with those of the same “orthodox” faith.  Rather than the Protestant view of Communion as a unifying ritual whereby they partake in holy symbols of Christ’s saving acts, Orthodox see the bread and the wine of the Eucharist as literally Christ’s Body and Blood, and their participation as literal salvation.  This is in keeping with the Orthodox view that Christianity is not just the intellectual exercising of faith in the metaphysical, as Protestants usually view it, but something that can also be seen, touched and tasted.  It is also entirely Biblical, as detailed in John 6.

Because Orthodox see Communion this way, they guard it zealously.  You can’t just rock on up to an Orthodox Church and take it.  You must be baptised in the name of the Trinity, chrismated with oil from the Bishop, and have made a recent confession verified by a Priest.  In short, you must be all square before God and already in Communion with the Church intellectually before participating in reality.  It’s a big deal.  After eight months attending an Orthodox Church I still cannot partake of the Eucharist, and will not be able to do so until the Priest deems me ready for chrismation.  Which is fine by me – it is not unusual for catechumens to wait up to two years in a church before they are deemed ready for baptism and/or chrismation.  My Priest likes to joke that if he can’t have sex with your wife, why should he let you take the Eucharist?  Both are covenant relationships that are exclusive to those who are in them and have formalised them before God.

This all causes Protestants to come back to the basics of their tradition – aren’t we all saved by grace through faith, not through our own effort?  Aren’t baptism, chrismation and confession merely outward works that do not save in and of themselves?  And why should these rituals, and the consent of a Bishop through his Priest, be a “barrier” to God?  The answer is that, first of all, if our faith is there and found to be true, the invitation is always extended to us to partake, and if we hunger for God, there is no other Way offered, either in the Bible or in the rest of the Holy Tradition of the Church.  The Way is Jesus, and Jesus is the Way.  We must be baptised into Him, receive His Spirit, confess our sins to Him, and imbibe His Body and Blood.  This is what we stake our faith in.   Secondly, neither we, nor the Church by itself can ultimately save our souls, but we are saved, and undertake the journey to salvation, through the Church.  God uses these things, the water of baptism, the oil of chrismation, the transformed bread and wine of the Eucharist, to purify us, to seal us with His Spirit, to revive us and work from within us, so that we are pure, holy and fit for the Life to come.  We can partake falsely, by deceit instead of faith, in which case these acts condemn us.  But to partake truly is to receive eternal life.

IgnatiusIf the Church is the Eucharist, and the Communion of orthodox Christians, then what makes bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ?  Only the consecration of the Bishop, or his appointed Priests.  The word “bishop” simply means “overseer”, and it is clear that, just as Jesus separated the twelve Apostles from the rest of his disciples and gave them divine authority, so the Apostles in turn passed on that authority by the laying on of hands and appointed Bishops to safeguard the faith wherever they founded churches in their missionary  travels of the 1st Century.  One of these Bishops, Ignatius of Antioch, was a contemporary of the Apostles and latterly a disciple of the Apostle John, and it is from him that we see much of the theology surrounding both Bishops, and the Eucharist, established at the turn of the 2nd Century.  In his letter to the Smyrnaeans c110AD, he states:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid…

…Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.”

So Christ’s Church was from the earliest, and still is today, a Church of Bishops, of orthodox faith, and of the Eucharist.  It still invites all those who seek God today to receive Christ in all His fullness, for the salvation of their souls.  For me personally, Orthodoxy has been an illumination – it has tied up all of what I had perceived to be the “loose ends” of Christianity and made it all make sense.  In every sense of the word, it “completes” Christianity and rounds it out from being a mere “textbook” faith of a Holy Book dropped from the sky in isolation.  All that remains is an invitation, for Protestants and “Bible-believing Christians” especially, to explore the true history of the Church, examine the doctrinal claims of Orthodoxy, and especially experience a Divine Liturgy service for themselves (since Orthodoxy is lived and experienced, not just thought through).  From there it can be decided if this ancient tradition of faith is merely antiquated custom, or if, in fact, it does represent the completeness and fullness of Christianity.

Atheism and Moral Arguments

I found it interesting recently to read a blog called Godless in Dixie – a former Christian who is now an atheist.  It got me thinking about this particular group of people, atheists in general, and the arguments they use to justify their point of view.  It also made me think about myself, and why I personally believe in a god, specifically the Christian version of God, and every belief that flows from that.

There may be other types of argument out there, but from observation, arguments surrounding the existence of God tend to take one of three forms:

  1. Historical/Testimonial:  Arguments surrounding the testimony of others and their experiences;
  2. Philosophical:  Arguments related to observing the world as it naturally is; and
  3. Moral:  Arguments related to perceptions of right and wrong.

In justifying my own faith, I’ve tended to lean on #1 & #2.  With regards to #1, I find the testimony of the apostles, evangelists and bishops of the first century regarding Jesus of Nazareth and His claims convincing.  With regards to #2, you could jazz up my arguments and make them more Aquinian, but my view is that the existence of the universe makes more sense allowing for the existence of a God as testified to by Christians, than it does should that God not exist.  But if I were to engage in a debate with atheists on the subject, I don’t imagine I would lean too much on philosophical arguments, and I would certainly not make a moral case for God’s existence.  While it’s true that philosophical thought stimulates a search for meaning, and for an existing God, that doesn’t necessarily make a concrete case.  Rather I tend to focus on the reliability of the gospel account of Jesus, a unique figure in history who claimed to be the incarnation of God.  This seems to me to be, by far, the most compelling case for God’s existence, since history has the possibility of being verifiable.  Anything else will always remain in the realm of guesswork.

thomasaquinasThat’s why I don’t understand why apologists for theism don’t talk about Jesus more.  The bulk of Western theists are Christian.  It would seem like the incarnation of God would be your starting point in any argument.  But they don’t – they start talking about uncaused causes and other such whimsy, as if God were a vague philosophical concept.  And I don’t think that’s ground you can win on.

Which brings me to how atheists argue.  It seems like #1 arguments are little discussed at all, and that atheists are most concerned with #3 type arguments.  It seems that many atheists either become or remain atheists, for the most part, because their own view of morality defines the Christian God as “immoral” and therefore illogical.  You can see it in the Godless in Dixie discussion of hell, in which hell cannot possibly exist because to send someone to hell for eternity for something done in a short period of time doesn’t make sense.  Or in the number of atheists who cite the Problem of Evil (ie. an all loving, all powerful God ought to stop bad things from happening, but doesn’t, therefore can’t exist).

Cthulhu-rlyeh-risingThe problem with these arguments is that it does not follow that if God’s nature is apparently morally contradictory to your subjective view, then His existence can be questioned on that basis.  Just because you don’t like the idea of hell, doesn’t mean such a place does not exist.  The idea of the fictional Lovecraft deity Cthulhu, for example, or the Scientologist nemesis Xenu, is far more malevolent than the Christian God.  And yet nobody would argue that Cthulhu couldn’t possibly exist because it would make the world a more dark and woeful place than it appears by observation to be.  They argue that Cthulhu doesn’t exist because HP Lovecraft made him up.

This seems to be a mistake that many people, Christian and atheist, make.  They steer the debate away from one of testimony, and put it in the realm of what God *should* be like.  This doesn’t strike me as particularly scientific, or in fact, any sort of good reason for being an atheist.  The real questions, in terms of a Christian God, are:  Is Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God, and is the testimony of the Church, including the gospel accounts of him, reliable and accurate?  An atheist must then face CS Lewis’s trilemma – that either Jesus and His Church are liars, or that they are mistaken/deluded, or that Jesus is Lord and His Church is true.  Nowhere in that equation is morality an element.

For atheists to dismiss the notion of a Christian God on moral grounds is the equivalent of Einstein’s argument against quantum theory, where he famously said that “God does not play dice”.  Maybe God does play dice, and maybe He doesn’t.  We know one way or the other through the testimony of what is observed, and accept or reject any theory of the universe on those merits.

Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Salvation

So far on this blog I’ve discussed why I decided to explore Orthodox Christianity and given some background to this branch of faith, highlighting the main differences from Protestantism.  In probing those differences, I’ve covered the Holy Tradition, the role of icons, and the role of Mary in Orthodox faith.  However, the most crucial difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism is their respective views of salvation – what it means to be “saved” by God.  Of all the differences, this is the one I have struggled with the most.

sola-fide1Many writers and commentators I have seen in the course of my examination have liked to put the differences in terms of whether mankind is justified by faith alone (sola fide), or by a combination of faith and good works.  Indeed, to my dismay I have seen some Orthodox defend their faith in such terms!  It seems to me that this is more a problem of the language used, than where any real difference lies.  I am completely convinced that both traditions regard salvation as being 100% dependent on the grace of God through faith, as is stated in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Where the difference lies is in approach.  Generally speaking, Protestantism is intellectual, metaphysical and fatalistic, while Orthodoxy is experiential, dualistic and mysterious.  So you get very different thought patterns on this subject emerging.

itisfinishedThe Protestant approach is to focus on Jesus’ saving acts as an event – a one-time thing that occurred at a specific point in history, that forever affects the eternal fate of mankind.  It is something that has already happened, that Jesus has already done.  It follows that mankind must choose how to respond.  To be saved, we must accept this act as a sacrifice for all our sins.  His sacrifice is a completed work, and once we accept it, we are assured of a place in Heaven.  This gives us the freedom to love God and follow Him.  Godly living is dependent not on our works or our efforts, but on trusting in the event of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection; an intellectual realization of what He has done for us which will permeate our lives with His Spirit and bear the spiritual fruit of Galatians 5:22-23.

There is a beauty and a simplicity to this sort of gospel, best encapsulated by hymn-writer Fanny Crosby:  “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”  Assurance of salvation is, without a doubt, the main selling point of Protestantism.  But is it too simple?

judaskissThe Orthodox Christian would certainly say so.  Firstly, Orthodoxy does not believe in predestination as understood and often taught by Protestants, though He created us to be of a certain nature, and foreknows all our actions.  We have complete free will in how we interact with God.  And while God does not change, and His promises toward us are assured, how we utilize our free will is not.  We are unable to be 100% sure of our ability to walk with God in the future throughout the rest of our lives.  Even Peter, who was confident he would never deny Jesus, did so within a short space of time.  Likewise, Judas was an apostle and shared in Christ’s ministry, but fell away.  To say that one is “assured” of salvation is to place confidence in the flesh – our flesh, rather than in God.  It’s an interpretation of how we are saved that is, ironically, legalistic, rather than one based on God’s grace.

Instead, Orthodox believe that salvation is a process of theosis – becoming more like Christ, becoming God’s image (or icon, if you like), becoming who God originally intended us to be before the Fall.  This occurs through the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, through the faith He has given us.  But God requires our co-operation and our ongoing vigilance in these matters.  We do not pass from death to life intellectually, or in our spirit, at a fixed point in this life – there is no Billy Graham moment where we make a “decision for Christ” and we are “saved” from that point forward.  It is true that God knows our hearts, and that, like the thief on the Cross next to Jesus, we can live a deeply sinful life, and yet appeal for Him to remember us in His Kingdom at the last and be saved.  But for most of us, the decision to repent and follow does not represent the end of our earthly lives, but represents the first step of the journey into Life.  We are saved by faith alone, as Paul tells us, but it is ongoing faith that must be committed to with mind, body, soul and spirit, on a daily basis.  And as James the Just tells us, faith that is not shown by deeds is dead, and cannot save us.

Ladder 3In this view, salvation is not just a ticket to heaven for our soul and spirit at the end of our lives.  It is a gradual renewal of our whole being on a daily basis as we live out this life, and pass on to the next.  And this renewal must be sought on an ongoing basis, through physically living out our faith.

This new (or old!) way of looking at salvation has been by far the most challenging aspect of Orthodoxy for me.  Intellectual, event based salvation, with its Country Club “in or out” view of Christianity is so pervasive that adjusting one’s thinking to something different can be very hard.  The Protestant doctrine of assurance, based on predestination, can also be very difficult, and frightening, to let go of, and initially when I studied Orthodox salvation I felt cheated – like I was giving something precious up in exchange for something less.  Without assurance it can appear that the only alternative is salvation based on human effort, and every religion teaches that!    But of course, the opposite  is true, because in rejecting predestined assurance, we are no longer presuming our future faithfulness, but relying on God’s grace to maintain our faithfulness.  And God’s grace is assured.  His promises are faithful and true.  We stop relying on ourselves, or an inaccurate view of ourselves, and start relying completely on Jesus this way.

It remains to rebut the charge that Orthodoxy is not properly Christian because it is “salvation through works”.  It is true that Orthodoxy is loudly and proudly overt about its physical nature and the set prayers, fasts, sacraments and liturgies that constitute the religious activity that follows from being part of the Church.  But is Protestantism in all its many forms any less “religious”?  Protestants are told to pray, read their Bibles, and worship with others – the distinction seems rather fine.  The reality is that most Protestant churches themselves encourage people to live their faith by these means, and that without this activity, a Christian can only be so in name only.  As the old bumper sticker says, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Orthodoxy is no different.  To quote the 19th Century Russian Orthodox Monk Seraphim of Sarov:

“Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my son, only the good deed done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this.”

There is no Christian faith without it being displayed through Christian religion, and no Christian religion can save if it is not inspired by Christian faith.  That seems an obvious hallmark of both the Orthodox and Protestant traditions, whatever armchair theologians may have to say on the subject.

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