Category Archives: Theology

Converting to Time A Lesson from Theoretical Physics

by Nicole Roccas

“I used to believe in the essential unreality of time,” wrote theoretical physicist Lee Smolin in the introduction to his somewhat controversial work Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe.

The book traces what I like to refer to as Smolin’s conversion to time. Like many in his field, Smolin spent much of his career in the realm of abstraction, analyzing phenomena through the lens of theories and formulas so far removed from the actual texture of lived reality that temporality—perhaps the most given element of our universe—had become illusory, nonexistent:

“Time is the most pervasive aspect of our everyday experience. Everything we think, feel, or do reminds us of its existence. We perceive the world as a flow of moments that make up our life. But physicists and philosophers alike have long told us . . . that time is the ultimate illusion.” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, xii)

How has mainstream physics come to regard time as an illusion? Over the long centuries of the Newtonian paradigm (and more recently relativity and quantum mechanics), theoretical formulas—the lifeblood of physics—have become more real to physicists than the world they seek to describe, a world in which something as tiny as an untimely dust particle colliding with a spacecraft can render even the best theories tragically irrelevant. Continue reading

Why Are Orthodox Christians “Unethical”? The Virtue-Ethical Task of Orthodox Christians in the West

by Stephen Meawad

A quick glance at the modern field of ethics might convey a false reality—one in which Orthodox Christian are decades, if not centuries, behind the West in developing viable ethical frameworks. In fact, Orthodox Christians might often be hesitant or even reluctant to speak in terms of ethics, since the language of ethics challenges the integrity between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Yet, it seems that a critical tool by which Orthodox Christians are to witness in the West to the transformative power of Orthodox Christian life is by conceptually transliterating Orthodox praxis into Western ethical language. Becoming a vessel of this transliteration is no small task; it requires not only a faithful embodiment of one’s own tradition but also an awareness of and willingness to engage one’s surrounding context. The payoff, however, is well worth the toil; it would allow Orthodox Christians to make fundamental contributions to contemporary Western ethical discussions not just for the sake of joining the conversation but in order to offer a distinct means by which to navigate the myriad of difficulties in this broken, ever-mending, world. Continue reading

The Death Penalty and Hell Entanglement and Evolution

by Roberto J. De La Noval  |  ру́сский

“There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma.” These are the words of Pope Benedict XVI, from a 2015 interview, on the sharp contrast between the teaching of the Council of Trent on the postmortem fate of the unbaptized and later Catholic teaching stemming from Vatican II. I was reminded of this comment when I read about Pope Francis’ 2018 change to the Catechism concerning the absolute inadmissibility of capital punishment—a move long anticipated in the theology of recent popes, especially Pope John Paul II. Speaking in February of this year to the 7th Global Congress Against the Death Penalty, Francis reiterated the point that the Catholic Church’s stance on the issue had “matured.” A profound evolution of dogma has indeed taken place in Catholicism on this question. But there are other reasons that this line from Benedict came to my mind, since there is a logical connection between Benedict’s admission and Francis’ emendation, precisely on the question of punishment and its purposes from a Christian viewpoint. In Pope Francis’ words, there is no ‘justice’ in a punishment that attacks the “inviolability and dignity of the person.” And this includes punishments both now and in the life to come.

Now, Francis’ teaching stems from Christian logic of God’s justice in Christ issuing in human mercy. But the correspondences between the 20th century shift on the possibility of salvation outside the Church and the movement towards a full proscription on the death penalty suggests that the same logic was propelling both: certain forms of punishment fundamentally violate the image of God in the human person. This Christian logic shone particularly brilliantly in 19th and 20th century Russian Orthodox thought, and its articulations there indicate subterranean points of connection between Eastern and Western theological development on the question of temporal and eternal punishment.

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I Am a Traditionalist; Therefore, I Am

by Aristotle Papanikolaou  |  ελληνικάру́сский  |  српски

Amidst the culture wars, the word “traditionalist” has gained currency and has been co-opted in a variety of ways. Broadly, it is a self-naming mostly by those who identify as religious and are seemingly faithful to their religious tradition in the face of attacks either against religion in general or by others within their religious tradition who challenge various givens of that tradition. For the Orthodox Christian crowd, a very simple example would suffice: a self-named traditionalist would typically oppose the ordination of women to the diaconate, while a non-traditionalist—usually called, pejoratively, a liberal—might challenge the givenness of the non-ordination of women.

An extension of “traditionalist” is “traditional values,” which has come to mean a very select set of “values” related to gender and sexuality. “Traditional values” has very recently become a transnational slogan, which cuts across the East-West divide, since there are Westerners (American Evangelicals) making alliances with Easterners (Russian Orthodox actors) in order to advance “traditional values” through established national and international legal structures.

The meaning of “traditional values” has been further amplified with the neologism: “Orthodox morality.” I say neologism, because never in the history of Christianity—at least Orthodox Christianity—has the word “Orthodox” functioned as an adjective for “morality.” Never. This neologism has a very non-traditionalist—dare I say, modern—ring to it. It may appeal to those attracted to a version of the so-called “Benedict Option,” but this Donatist logic of purity was condemned a long time ago by the Church.

My thesis is very simple: the use of the word “traditionalist” and its derivative forms (“Orthodox morality,” “traditional values”) is philosophically untenable, i.e., it’s wrong. Continue reading