The rhythm of the contemporary world is frenetic. The escalator, once a symbol of progress, cannot anymore serve the needs of modern humans, who are always in a hurry. Not only work but also personal life is structured according to the new tenet: “speed is everything.” “In a world where everything is moving so rapidly, simply being fast isn’t enough; you have to be faster than anyone and everyone. Accelerate until you’re at the front and move fast to stay there”—in the words of an entrepreneur in digital marketing. But high speed is not merely a means for accomplishing the goals of productivity and personal happiness, both evaluated in terms of success and innovation; it has become the ultimate “objective” reality: you “really” exist as long as you fully experience the worldly culture of acceleration (see Hartmut Rosa, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity).
This intense rhythm continues despite the COVID-19 pandemic, greatly affecting even existential conditions such as love and death. Crisis itself ceases to constitute a sudden rupture of a fixed way of life; rather, it emerges as the “new normal,” as people become adjusted to a variety of continuous crises that happen very quickly.
The term “Orthodox morality”—in combination with “traditional values”—is unquestionably a neologism. A passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Genealogy of Morals” gets right to the point of Aristotle Papanikolaou’s recent essay on Public Orthodoxy: “We need a critique of moral values, the value of these values is […] to be called into question—and for this purpose a knowledge is necessary of the conditions and circumstances out of which these values grew, and under which they experienced their evolution and their distortion.” One does not have to agree with Nietzsche’s conclusions in order to agree on the validity of his endeavor, especially if one aims, like Papanikolaou, to answer contemporary questions without threatening the internal coherency of the tradition. On that note, I would like to draw the attention to the fact that in Russia, the term “Orthodox morality” has not only a modern, but also a Soviet ring to it.
As for its “modern ring,” one of the commonplaces about Russian thought in general is its “concentration on ethical problems.” According to the Slavophile Alexei Khomiakov, “Russia should be either the most moral, that is the most Christian of all human societies, or nothing,” and the concept of ethics as the cornerstone of Russian mentality was shared by the “Westerners” and most Russian philosophers of the Silver Age. Russian literature is famous for treating moral questions, and Dostoevsky has been praised for having anticipated Nietzsche: “If God does not exist everything is permitted” Continue reading →
One might not expect Seraphim Rose and David Bentley Hart to agree on much, but they do share one crucial perspective: that modernity is essentially nihilistic. However, while their diagnoses of modernity may be similar, their prescriptions are diametrically opposed. To stem the tide of modernity’s nihilistic encroachments, Rose rejected ecumenism as a modernist heresy, and he later promoted a patristic style of young Earth creationism against evolutionary biology. Hart, on the other hand, promotes instead ecumenical unity and the importance of creation as a philosophical and theological doctrine, not a historical event per se, that can be harmonized with science (provided science is rescued from its tendency to reductionism). Such distinct responses highlight the degree of variability within the American subspecies of Eastern Orthodoxy.
In Rose’s view, nihilism is the “root of the revolution of the modern age,” and this nihilism is not just a lack of faith but rather an active belief in nothingness: “No man…lives without a god,” and the god of the nihilist is “nihil, nothingness itself” (Rose 2001, 68-70). It begins with the rejection of God but manifests itself in four modern schools of thought: liberalism, realism, vitalism, and destruction. His clearest critique is on liberalism, which he describes as a more urbane nihilism—tempting, but ultimately flawed, because it cannot evade its own fundamental problem: its inability to justify its own existence (Rose 2001, 33). Likewise, Hart has written that the modern predicament is to “believe in nothing,” which he clarifies is not a faith in just anything, but rather “in the nothing, or in nothingness as such” (Hart 2009, 1-2). Hart shares Rose’s view that contemporary political liberalism is a “soporific nihilism,” but his discussion traces a different intellectual genealogy (Hart 2017, 323). Continue reading →
In a recent post, Aristotle Papanikolaou argues that the terms “traditionalism,” “traditionalist,” and “Orthodox morality” are unhelpful identifiers. For Papanikolaou, these terms construct a false traditional/non-traditional dichotomy that conceals the fact that everybody belongs to some tradition. The real question is what the presuppositions of one’s tradition are, and consequently “the implications of presuppositions or beliefs held in common by those who adhere to [that] tradition.” The logic of purity that underlies attempts to constrict “tradition” to narrowly-defined doctrinal and moral positions animates much of Papanikolaou’s essay. I want to extend Papanikolaou’s argument further by introducing two spiritual temptations of those who claim “tradition” for their own side as part of the culture wars, especially in the US.
The philosopher Max Scheler once called those who hold their deepest beliefs from a place of “intrinsic meaning and worth” the “resurrected.” Particularly apt examples of the “resurrected” are the saints, who love God for God’s own sake. Yet, in addition to this “resurrected” type, there are today a considerable amount of what Scheler calls the “apostate” and “romantic” types. For Scheler, to be either an apostate or a romantic is a particular form of spiritual resentment. Continue reading →