21 July 2010

Beginning at the Beginning

As mentioned in the previous post Democracy, Anyone?, I've been working on exploring some interesting connections between religion and government and, because I'm an Orthodox Christian (and happen to believe that in Orthodoxy all of the human experience is capable of being restored by the operative power of God's grace) I, quite naturally, wanted to try to understand it from that point of view. I am aware that there are other points of view; this on-going study is not really an attempt to convince anyone not starting at the same baseline. And, while I would like to convince people in my own tradition, I am aware that so many of us are unwilling to give up some fundamentally held beliefs that have been inculcated in us Westerners (and those cradle Orthodox who have grown up and been educated in the West)--specially Americans—that this whole project may be about as useful as fairy wings on a cement truck. Nevertheless, I think this is a worthwhile thing to look at, and, frankly, I am pretty shocked that the subject is so taboo among modern Orthodox.

Since I need a way to break all this down and organize it in some fashion, and because I'm terribly out of date and old-fashioned, I decided an Aristotelean approach would be best. So as I make these posts, I'll be breaking down the Orthodox political worldview accordingly by attempting to answer the following four questions: What does the Orthodox political vision contain, or, of what is it made? Second, how does it manifest itself in the world? Third, what principle(s) guide or move Orthodox politics? And, finally, what is its aim or purpose? I will, of course, be drawing parallels from the reality of the political world, particularly America, by way of contrast and explanation.

There are, of course, simple answers to each of these questions—and those simple answers, which I have encountered many times in my relatively short time in Orthodoxy, are true up to a point, but they often are subject to misinterpretation through omission and ambiguity (whether these are honest or intentional I am not sure, but, nevertheless, they lead to distortions and confusion about what the Orthodox Church has taught about the political life of human beings for centuries). There is also a shocking amount of political agnosticism among contemporary Orthodox in America (of course, there is also a shocking amount of American politicization, too; both are, I think, bad). Then there is the tendency among the descendants of those cradle Orthodox (and, it must be said, the ex-Uniates) who came to the U.S. in particular seeking escape from political oppression and the economic disasters of 19th and early 20th century Europe not to criticize the form of government which allows them the protection of “freedom of religion.” This is entirely understandable and even, on some level, a noble impulse—I'm sure that some view it as a corollary of Japeth and Shem walking backward and throwing a cloak over their father, so as not to see him in his nakedness and shame (Gen. 9:23). But the simple fact remains that many of the dearest-held beliefs about the origin and intent of the liberal government of the U.S. is nothing more than deception and delusion.

Consider what has been said by the much-beloved Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, on this very subject:

As long as the "American experiment" remained rooted in its Christian soil, it worked. It was truly the worst possible form of human society, except for all others. It deteriorated to its present condition not only by evil and sin, or as some say, by ceasing to be overtly Christian, and even Protestant. It decomposed when democracy became an idolized end-it-itself and every participant and group demanded its right not only to be respected and tolerated, but to be affirmed and approved without condition or question. It collapsed, and continues to collapse, not only through the loss of basic Christian doctrine and ethics, but through the loss of the conviction that there is truth and righteousness for all people in any form at all. Because of this, the transformation of modern American liberal democracy into a post-modern pluralistic plethora of hostile and warring interest groups, including some which bear the name "Christian", was inevitable. [1]

What Fr. Thomas says here is true to a point, but it misses the fact that the “American experiment” was never imagined to be a democracy, nor does he seem to understand the roots and origins of democratic government (perhaps even believing the liberal lie from the Enlightenment that selfish human interests are a good thing and will, when unfettered, lead to unlimited progress and social good—aka “enlightened self interest”) or its historically predictable outcomes, nor still yet that the grand experiment was never rooted in explicitly Christian soil. (Certainly not Orthodox or even “orthodox” Christianity.) It is probably better understood now than ever that the deistic/theistic impulses of many of the Founders of the U.S., while dressed, perhaps, in the trappings of Christian heritage, had at its root not Christianity, but a rival religion inspired by (and in many causes purporting to be the continuation of) the pagan mystery cults and “rational religion” of pre-Christian antiquity. Among these many groups (Freemasons, Rosicrucians, the 'Illuminati,' among others) was conceived and articulated a “new” conception of humanity: a brotherhood of all men, transcending nationality and creed, dedicated to the ideal of perfecting humanity through knowledge, learning, and freedom from the traditional confines of European culture and society (which must, no matter what one thinks of Western Christianity since 1054, be understood as deriving from the Church and upheld by the institution of monarchy).

The pervasive nature of these ideals, and their inculcation as tenets to be held against tide and time at all costs, shows just how influential these groups promulgating their doctrine of man's perfectibility through his own means have been; and yet, it does not take a saint or even a particularly good biblical scholar to detect as an enthymeme in that declaration the words of the serpent from Genesis: “For God doth know that in what day soever you shall eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened: and you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). The liberal promise has always been the exact same...to make people better through “freedom.” We contrast this to the words of the holy Orthodox elder of modern times, Elder Paisios the New of the Holy Mountain, who said “Freedom is good when the person can use it appropriately. Otherwise it is a disaster.”[2] And it is precisely through the promise of greater and greater “freedom” (or, in more modern terminology “justice”) that the “new” liberalism—that is, socialism—devoid of its sacred cow of private property as a basic human right, has ensnared generations of Westerners with the promise of freedom from want and necessity. [3] It makes for n interesting juxtaposition for anyone familiar with the wording of the Great Ektenia from Eastern Rite liturgies where the priest asks God “For our deliverance from all tribulation, wrath, danger, and necessity...” [4] Apparently, we don't need God; human progress can do that all on it's own.

That the roots of this political and spiritual plague are in the Schism between the Churches I hope to demonstrate more fully at a later time; and while it is in the East that the purity of Orthodoxy was preserved, there were many from the East that were responsible in large part for the rise of humanism which elevated the worth of pre-Christian antiquity (primarily Greek, but Latin as well) over and above the esse of Western civilization which is Orthodox Christianity (and which, like it or not, the Russo-Byzantine east is actually the major and only surviving part)...leading directly to the religious and political factiousness of the 15th century (not only the Protestant reformation, but the ultimate fall of the Eastern Roman empire in 1453). That this disease manifests itself first as a hostility to tradition, and to the traditional of the principle of monarchical power, and then moves on to the Church, then to the principle of “religion” in general, is not coincidental, and I hope to demonstrate those connections more thoroughly in subsequent posts. I also hope to point to a more specific cause (or causes) than has generally been the wont of historians or theologians or philosophers, or anyone else who has bothered to look into these things.

This, then, is the beginning of the beginning. I make the commitment to this to finish it as best I am able, by God's grace, and to be dedicated only to the truth—as best as it can be judged by a sinful and unworthy man. May the prayers of our fathers among the saints Justinian the right-believing emperor of the Romans, King Alfred the Great of England, King and Martyr Edmund of East Anglia, Prophet and King David, ancestor of the Lord, and all the holy Orthodox monarchs of all ages enlighten and bless this work which is dedicated to them and the memory of their wise and just rule and their dedication to the Holy Orthodox faith. In name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Fr. Thomas Hopko, "Orthodoxy in Post-Modern Pluralistic Societies." (http://www.svots.edu/fr-thomas-hopko-orthodoxy-in-post-modern-pluralistic-societies/).

[2] Elder Paisios, Elder Paisios the New of Mount Athos. (http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english elder_paisios_mount_athos.htm#_Toc61750930)

[3] F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. pg. 77.

[4] from The Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom. (http://www.orthodoxyork.org/liturgy.html)


mathens said...

A great post. I have come to the same conclusion after many years of research and peeling back of the secular American life I grew up in. I am a firm believer that the reason the Orthodox faith is so weak in the USA is because we have not identified our foe correctly, which really should be called the heresy of Luciferianism. At one time I was able to read the rites to the "ordination" of a 3rd degree Master Mason and within these rites their beliefs are clearly stated, to be repeated by the candidate, almost word for word with what you stated "a brotherhood of all men, transcending nationality and creed, dedicated to the ideal of perfecting humanity through knowledge, learning, and freedom". I only realized later on that they just basically accept the lie of Lucifer.

The problem we Orthodox have like the Catholics and Protestants have is that we have Masons among our Bishops, Metropolitans and Priests, and they serve to move the focus of the Church to more humanistic efforts. They will also serve to outwardly unite the faith to the upcoming global religion (please Google "Congress of World Religions" and see the Vigilant Citizen article on the Masonic city of Astana). Most of the members don't notice this, unfortunately, because it just jives with the society around us. Plus, one is labeled as a "conspiracy theorist" as soon as one breeches these topics - true intelligent discussion (and research) is seldom done in this arena and so few understand or see.

I remember reading on a German website that among Nicolas II's possessions at the time of his death were two books - a copy of the Bible and a copy of the Proto cols of Z ion, which he has said to have read to his family in their last days. They knew what was coming, for them and for the world, and our holy elders, through their prophecies and teachings, have warned us accordingly.

It is our task to be ready for when the Antichrist comes as we'll be the ones who will have the task to save others from receiving the mark of the beast. Can you see how fast everything is developing?

Justinian said...

Thanks. I suspect that many people will label me a nut and a conspiracy theorist; but, oh well. People say vicious things about those who tell the truth all the time. If I encounter stiff opposition, I assume that means I'm on the right track. You are correct, of course, about the penetration of the Masonic presence into our own Church hierarchy; I think, however, this may not be a modern development. The teachings of the Masons are not unique to them, and derive from western occultism; in a future post I hope to show how the "father" of western hermetic magic is not 'Hermes Trismegistus' (as the occultists claim) but really the Emperor Julian (the Apostate); the Orthodox considered him as representing the spirit of Antichrist in the late fourth century. What we are witnessing now is the inexorable movement toward the final manifestation of that spirit which has been at work in the world since Jesus' ascension.

Preston said...

You are such a nut and a conspiracy theorist! I mean, who would ever believe that democracy would cause people to consider themselves gods? Such a crazy idea! Seriously now, I think we are reaching similar conclusions, you from an Orthodox standpoint and I from a more aesthetic reading of Scripture (which probably tends towards Orthodoxy.) Equality as a concept does not prepare one to face the total otherness of the divine. The problem with the Western monarchies probably happened when the rulers lost sight of the One who they were supposed to represent on earth. But demoncracy (an accidental mis-type which I will allow to stand) is far worse, for it cannot even represent God at all.

Justinian said...

Thanks for the comment, Preston. Yes, there are corruptions of monarchy by monarchs--that is undeniable. But so long as the institution itself is untouched, bad monarchs are usually done away with with relative ease. It is interesting to me that the 'democratic' revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries did not seek to destroy the Absolutist state, they merely put the control of it in the hands of others. And you're right, when the iconographic understanding of the Emperor (on the level of he oecumene) or the king (on the local level)as reflecting the same love and paternal care for his people as God does, then there is a problem.

This Sunday (on the New Calendar) in the East was the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, the original version of the troparion to which is: O Lord, save thy people/And bless thine inheritance/Grant victories to the Emperor/Over the barbarians/And by virtue of thy Cross/Preserve thy commonwealth.

Amen, Amen, Amen.