This essay was first published in Greek at Polymeros kai Polytropos, the blog of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.
In our time, racism has many faces. Sometimes it manifests itself in a more visible way and other times in an invisible way. Whether it is racism of gender, race, religion or social class, of ethnic origin or sexual orientation, it is certain that the enemy is always the other. It does not matter if the other amounts to whole nations, social groups, or individuals, the other in this case becomes the “red cloth” of a blind ideology, which does not define people as unique and irreplaceable persons in the image of the Triune God, but primarily based on certain natural characteristics.
This is, one might say, the very source of racism and the rejection of otherness. Hostility towards the other, or rather hatred for the different is what defines our identity. This counterpoint is the cornerstone on which all kinds of ideological or religious justifications for discrimination between people are based. Not only each of us, but also entire nations form their collective identity in an oppositional way, in the name of a national, political, cultural, economic, but also religious superiority over others.
Before resuming my “itinerary” of the argument of That All Shall Be Saved, one additional point seems worth stressing. Though in the last installment the issue was raised of whether God intends or permits evil, the book’s argument has nothing to do with the traditional problems of rational theodicy. The question is not “Why does God permit evil if he is both omniscient and omnipotent?” or “Why is the possibility of evil necessary for creation?” or even “Is this the best of all possible worlds?” All of those are perfectly interesting queries in their proper place (or so I hear); but that place is not this book.
It is a good mereological rule that to try to understand the whole in terms of its parts and to try to understand the parts in light of the whole are two very different operations of reason (induction and deduction, to be precise). It is one thing to attempt to judge the relative goodness or badness of a discrete evil in relation to some final purposes we cannot see, but another thing altogether to judge the goodness or badness of a supposedly total narrative that pretends to describe the whole rationality of all its discrete events. The former judgment can never be more than conjectural; the latter is a matter of logic. There may logically be such a thing as an evil that is redeemed in the greater good toward which it leads; there is no such thing as an unredeemed evil that does not reduce any good end toward which it might lead to a mere relative value. In the former case, it is logically possible that evil may be non-necessary in the ultimate sense, but a real possibility in a provisional sense—though even then only as a privation that will ultimately be effaced from the “total picture.”
In 2016, the prison where I was working as a chaplain received a transgender inmate named Michelle, who is serving a life sentence for rape and murder in his late teens, when he identified as “Michael.”
Not surprisingly, Michelle’s arrival had a significant impact on the institutional staff. Many felt helpless and uncertain as to how to engage with her on any level. Others simply viewed her as a “piece of garbage,” the personification of evil and degeneracy. As an Orthodox priest serving in this secular context, I was not immune to the challenge that her presence posed. For instance, policy prohibited me from refusing to use her chosen name and gender pronouns. Beyond wanting to keep my job, I complied for two reasons. First, I could not engage with her pastorally if I could not speak to her, and she would not speak with me unless I addressed her by the name she had chosen.
More than that, though, I have called this person Michelle and used feminine pronouns (even in this context) because I believe there is something essentially mysterious about her identity, which may well be tied to transgenderism. Continue reading →
When we first meet someone, we do not immediately expose to them our deepest secrets, the events in our lives that we are most afraid to reveal, which could include our own actions, something that has been done to us, or something that has happened to which we are indirectly related. We would not reveal to them certain truths, such as if we had killed someone in a car accident, regardless of who was at fault; or if we had been raped; or if we had an alcoholic uncle. Although we may reveal some truthful aspects of our lives, such as our names, where we live, or where we work, for the most part we are always presenting ourselves to strangers, to our family members, to our friends, and even to our self, with masks on. The mask protects us from the penetrating objectifying gaze of the other; it keeps the other from knowing who we are; it allows us to control the image that we hope to project onto the world, and to ourselves.
In the fallen world, life is one big masquerade party where we parade ourselves in “garments of skin.” And, yet, the mask cannot always protect us from the projections that others place upon us, or that we place on ourselves. Continue reading →