Category Archives: Theology

An Open Letter to Paul Griffiths Leisure and the Christian Life

by David Bentley Hart

Dear Paul,

We have been friends for some twenty years or so now, and you know that I revere the lucidity of your mind, as well as the serene inflexibility you bring to your theological and philosophical convictions, with an admiration bordering on idolatry. I even sometimes find that semi-Jansenist pall of gloom that you so often seem to like to cast over the Christian picture of reality strangely appealing, in all its grim Cimmerian grandeur. You sometimes exhibit a positive genius for the poetry of cosmic disenchantment, the strange, austere music of everything arid and the dismal about life.  I appreciate also that you and I share many likings and a great many more dislikes. And, for what it’s worth, I forgive you unreservedly for being so aggressively resolute in your decision to be much taller than I am, and for being able with such ease to overshadow me with that preposterously imposing aquiline profile of yours. But, all this said, I find myself unable to take in your recent reflections on the issue of “leisure” (or otium) in the online edition of the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal on July 18 of this year.

If this is an unfair summary, feel free to correct me, in as dry and witheringly British a manner as you wish. I’ll bear it manfully. But, as I understand your article, you tell us not only that Christianity does not encourage us to seek or cherish moments of otiose bliss, or days of wine and roses, or years of serene reflection on the mysteries of the inner self; you tell us also that it essentially forbids such things, and that leisure is not a thing Christians should pursue. You tell us that to wander in a Wordsworthian idyll, absorbed in the beauties of nature, is the birth of narcissism within us, while to be fascinated for any length of time by the depths of our inner lives is its consummation. In this vale of tears, you remind us, even when the work of our hands affords us a moment of delirious transport or sober delight or even simple satisfaction, we are obliged to regard that as an ephemeral epiphenomenon of the deeper and unremitting command to labor at our tasks, till the dust claims us. And you tell us also that the only respite from these toils allowed to us is the Sabbath of worship, which (I have to say) you somehow make sound like just another obligation to be discharged with obstinate rigor and fidelity. All time this side of the Age to come, you claim, is the death-dealing “metronomic time” that oscillates between labor and prayer; and only in that Age will we be freed from labor—and then not for leisure, but for an ecstatic love that will more or less annihilate our first-person awareness of our own experience in an endless rapture of absorption in God’s glory. “There is no otiose time,” you proclaim, with the stern finality of a humorless school teacher telling the children that there will be no recess today, or tomorrow, or in fact any time before they die and are buried (and not even then, damn it).

Well…nonsense. Twaddle, tosh, balderdash. Dare I say piffle, or even—more daringly—poppycock? Continue Reading…

Fundamentalism as “Orthodoxism”

by Haralambos Ventis

Our long-standing captivity to a sad caricature of Orthodoxy that could be called “orthodoxism,” and whose main characteristics will be summarized in what follows, has been largely consolidated by a widespread attitude in the Church known as “the fear of theology.” It is this fear that has propelled the substitution of theology with a shallow, stale “spirituality” based on an excess of pious yet vacuous sentimentalism.

Let us examine more closely the particular features of this “orthodoxism.” What is it made of? It is a fundamentalist travesty of Orthodoxy that shows a heightened aversion to thought, particularly of the critical kind. It has an equal aversion to the materiality and historicity of human life, and a corresponding near-exclusive emphasis on “spirituality” revolving around the salvation of one’s soul in heaven, in a way bordering Plato’s anthropology and metaphysics. More substantially, we might say that Orthodoxism is structured around the following theoretical pillars:

1). The fetishization or idolization of the Church Fathers as infallible and direct purveyors of divine truths. Continue Reading…

Is Christian Theology Possible Without the Fall?

by Paul Ladouceur

Over the centuries the notion of a fall of humanity from a state of primeval bliss and communion with God has been, faute de mieux, a convenient theological coat-rack to hang such important Christian doctrines as the origin of evil and death, original sin, human moral weakness, the Incarnation of Christ and baptismal theology. The problem, as we pointed out in an article in 2013, is that it is not possible, despite brave attempts to do so, to reconcile a historical understanding of the biblical account of paradise and the fall of Adam and Eve with scientific data and theories. Genesis 1-3 must instead be read as allegory or literary myth, intended to convey certain fundamental truths, such as the divine origin of creation and of humanity and the reality of human evil.

In the project of de-historicizing Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and the fall, three areas predominate: the nature of human existence; the origin of evil; and the motivation for Christ’s Incarnation. Genesis predicates a form of human perfection prior to the fall (“prelapsarian”), and a much-weakened human existence after the fall (“postlapsarian”). In the standard interpretation, Adam’s fall introduced evil (and the decay and death which accompanied it) into creation. The alternative narrative, we argued, is that God created a world which was neither perfect nor imperfect, but perfectible; decay and death, whether on a galactic or microscopic scale, were inherent in creation from the first moment.

Did God create death? At first blush, the answer is evident: A good God could not have created something as evil as death; to suggest otherwise is outrageous, if not blasphemous. Continue Reading…

(Review) “The Wheel” Issue 13/14- Being Human: Embodiment, Sex and Marriage, Pastoral Challenges

by Luis Salés

The Wheel is a quarterly journal that strives to articulate the Gospel “intelligently and constructively for the 21st Century” from Orthodox perspectives. It offers an accessibly thoughtful and well-researched platform for Orthodox self-expressions and often features world-renown contributors. Andrew Louth edited this volume, which “initiates discussion” (14) concerning Orthodoxy and sexuality. I commend the editorial decision to incorporate vehemently disparate viewpoints as an overture to a multi-partisan and long overdue conversation. I treat here some of the salient discussions in this issue, though I warmly encourage reading it in full.

Louth calls attention to an increase in cultural sexualization and a positively correlated “coolness and lack of physicality” (17) that runs the risk of reducing all human relations to sexual terms. Behr proposes a different vision whereby Christian asceticism (married or not) ought to sublimate sexual difference by becoming human in Christ (28). On Behr’s reading, sexual difference corresponds to being “in Adam, not in Christ” (29). This framework invites deeper reflection on human embodiment. Kelaidis’ article calls for just such an engagement with “the human body as a site of divine revelation” (33), but unfortunately it sometimes deals in platitudes (e.g., its handling of Platonic dualism and “Gnosticism,” pp. 34–35) and I would suggest that the author’s tacit disappointment (33) that Orthodoxy has not produced something of the same “scope and magnitude” (33) as John Paul II’s Theologia corporis is misguided. Collectively, the many extant Orthodox meditations on the body and sexuality are tesserae in a kaleidoscopically shifting mosaic, whose complexity hints—and no more—at the mystery of embodied personhood. Continue Reading…