Category Archives: Fordham-Exeter Bridging Voices Project

Secularization, Multiple Modernities, and the Contemporary Challenge of “Multiple Orthodoxies”

by Fr. Dragos Herescu

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

“Have you secularized?”

That was the question that I was asked, regularly and over the course of many years, by friends and colleagues every time I was travelling back in Romania from the UK. It became such a refrain of my hometown visits that at some point it turned into a sort of running joke.

Although the question was always coated in a lighthearted banter gloss, it was never just that and always rang contrarily to the nagging teasing of old mates people love to complain about. To me it had the markings of a litmus test. People who had known me for a long time, who had been educated together with me, whose theological, moral and self-understating as Orthodox individuals I shared (or thought that I did), felt compelled to administer this kind of litmus test to me. Continue reading

Would the True “Nature” Please Stand Up?

by Rev. Dr. Vasileios Thermos

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Thomas Aquinas

Does anyone still believe that the biblical “confusion of tongues” (cf. Gen 11:1–9) refers only to the proliferation of human languages? Popular discussions about homosexuality and gender dysphoria today suggest, similarly, that what seemed commonplace about human sexuality to previous generations is not so common anymore.

Contemporary moral objections to phenomena like homosexuality or gender dysphoria often rely on what we might call the “nature argument”: “this is unnatural,” “this is against nature,” and so on. Such an argument is not confined to those outside the Church. Orthodox Christians, too, make it. Indeed, one crucial hindrance to the Orthodox Church’s efforts to shape a more constructive attitude towards homosexuals and trans people is the idea of “nature” held by many of her members.

Should the Orthodox Church, however, cherish the same logic used by those outside the Church, some of whom invoke the nature argument not only to exclude homosexuals and trans people but also to rationalize hostility or even violence towards them? Is Orthodox theology at all compatible with such an idea of “nature”? Continue reading

Eastern Orthodox Identity and “Aggressive Liberalism”: Non-Theological Aspects of the Confrontation

by Dmitry Uzlaner  |  српски

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

angry mob

I am not a theologian, and I am not going to speak as a theologian. I am scholar of religion. And my perspective is that of an outside observer. It is the perspective of a person who has been studying contemporary Orthodoxy (in Russia) for many years—with special focus on religious conservatism in its different manifestations.

In the discourse of contemporary Orthodoxy (Russian), one of the most important topics in recent years has been the struggle with what is called in this rhetoric “aggressive liberalism” or “aggressive secularism.” “Aggressive liberalism” is a multidimensional concept, but the most threatening part of it which is often mentioned as an evidence of why liberalism is dangerous is “sexual diversity,” in particular non-traditional sexual relations, same-sex marriages, feminism, etc. It seems that Church’s vision of itself is structured around this confrontation, around this feeling of being attacked by an aggressive ideological enemy imposing some alien values and practices. Continue reading

Christian Teaching on Sexual Morality

by Richard Swinburne

This essay is part of a series stemming from the ongoing research project “Contemporary Eastern Orthodox Identity and the Challenges of Pluralism and Sexual Diversity in a Secular Age,” which is a joint venture by scholars from Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center and the University of Exeter, funded by the British Council, Friends of the British Council, and the Henry Luce Foundation as part of the British Council’s “Bridging Voices” programme. In August 2019, 55 scholars gathered for an international conference at St Stephen’s House, Oxford. These essays are summaries of presentations given in preparation for the conference and during it. They together reflect the genuine diversity of opinion that was represented at the conference and testify to the need for further reflection and dialogue on these complex and controversial topics.

Moral principles are principles about which actions are morally good or bad, and which among good actions are morally obligatory and which among bad actions are obligatory not to do (=wrong).  A moral obligation is an obligation to someone else, and we wrong that someone if we fail to perform the obligation. To wrong God is to sin. There is a longstanding controversy among Christian philosophers as to whether the fundamental moral principles are necessary truths about the moral natures of different kinds of action, or whether they are made true by the will of God. I recommend the former view, which was the view of, among others, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus; it’s simply part of the nature of helping those in trouble that it’s a good action, and simply part of the nature of torture that it is wrong to torture someone. God just sees that these things are so and from time to time tells us this. Actions which are good in all possible circumstances are intrinsically good, and actions which are obligatory in all possible circumstances are intrinsically obligatory. It is intrinsically obligatory to keep our just promises (that is, promises which we had the right to make), and it follows that adultery and divorce without the consent of the other spouse are intrinsically wrong.

I now suggest that if we are given a gift by some benefactor on the condition that we use it for a certain purpose or do not use it at all (that is, he commands us not to use it for any other purpose), it is intrinsically obligatory not to use it for any other purpose. God is our creator; and everything we are and have is a gift from God, except those few gifts given to us by others, principally our parents, whose ability to give their gifts is itself a gift from God. Hence it is a derived moral principle that it is wrong to use any God’s gifts for a purpose other than the one for which God gave it. Our sexual organs are a gift from God. Hence it would be sinful to use them in a way forbidden by him. Continue reading