In some respects, the global coronavirus crisis has brought to light ruptures that in normal times were often dismissed as marginal problems of small groups. Unresolved and underestimated social injustices became obvious and were recognized as threatening more than just the existence of the respective groups. A similar effect of the coronavirus crisis can also be observed for the Churches. Many conflict issues of the past years were dismissed as opinions of small groups or of particularly liberal or conservative individuals. Accordingly, solution processes were postponed. For the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), this is true especially of the question of how to relate to modern society in the 21st century. The Church—despite growing requests—felt secure in its symphonic interaction with the political elite and in its role as moral authority in an increasingly complicated, globalized world. In this respect, the ROC was able to see itself as unquestionably relevant to the system.
In conflicts, the Church’s leadership often reacted incomprehensibly, even irreconcilably and hard-heartedly. This attitude was particularly justified by the alleged and yet so-difficult-to-prove existence of a fundamentalist wing within the ROC. Arch-conservative circles could cause a split within the Church, and the patriarch would only try to keep all currents together and prevent a split. The same happened in view of the spread of Covid-19: the indecision of the Church leaders in Russia and Belarus, but also in other Orthodox countries like Georgia or Serbia, was justified among other things by possible tensions within the Churches.
In May 2018, I graduated with my Master of Divinity, and immediately following the graduation ceremony, I boarded a plane to Rome, where I intended to undergo the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Although I had attended a renowned Jesuit university with one of the largest Jesuit communities in the United States, I chose to go to Rome to do the Exercises because the retreat director was an “orthodox” Jesuit, one who was not afraid to speak “the truth” and one who despised the way “liberals” had destroyed the Society of Jesus. As a reasonably conservative Roman Catholic with an overabundance of zeal and vocational angst, I seized the opportunity to make a retreat under this particular Jesuit, leaving the local Jesuits— who helped me grow as a person and a scholar—far behind.
“Fundamentalism” is a difficult concept to define. The difficulty does not primarily stem from the demanding task of describing certain actions, beliefs, and ideas and drawing general patterns that would help us differentiate “fundamentalist” phenomena from what they are not. The way the concept of “fundamentalism” is often employed, both in the public discourse and in academia, shows that the major obstacle consists in the underlying logic behind many implicit or explicit definitions of fundamentalism, which differentiates between actions and ideas that “they” propagate and do (which can be labeled as “fundamentalism”), and same or similar actions and ideas that “we” do. That means that the concept of “fundamentalism” is more often than not used as an honorific term, whose lack of descriptive value is compensated by a strong judgment value.
Take, for instance, the categories that Leonard Weinberg and Ami Pedahzur offered in their attempts to define “fundamentalism” in Religious Fundamentalism and Political Extremism (2004). They identified a couple of main types of “fundamentalist” groups and movements (such as “reactive” groups and movements; movements that “define the world in dichotomous and Manichaean terms…Choices between good and bad are always clear-cut and straightforward”; fundamentalists that hold the sacred texts to be “of divine origins and consequently inerrant and beyond questioning”; and so forth).
Certainly all of us can think of those religious radicals and fanatics who conform to some of these descriptions, or maybe to all of them at the same time. The problem, however, is elsewhere. Continue Reading…
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…