Sunday, May 24, 2015

Fantasyland

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen. On this day the Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in the year 325. It is very revealing of the state of modern Christendom that only a small minority of people appreciate the importance of this ancient council or the vital contributions made to our faith by the Fathers who attended it. These men were the instruments God used to keep the Church from falling headlong into Christological error, and yet they are either marginalized or maligned by so many of our fellow believers today. I couldn't count all the times I've heard people claim that the Nicene Council was entirely unnecessary because the Almighty God doesn’t need the help of men to preserve His Truth. Of course this completely ignores the all the facts of what actually did happen, and substitutes an airy-fairy, hyper-spiritualized fantasy of what God could have done. Make-believe seems more important than reality to some people. Others say that the Nicene Council was one of the worst things to ever happen to Christianity, as it supposedly allowed Constantine to seize control of the Church, blend it’s teachings with paganism, and form the dreaded Roman Catholic church, to the eternal rue of true believers (i.e. Non-Catholics) everywhere. Again, this scenario is simply another fantasy, not reflecting truth or genuine history in any way. Yet, it is widely-accepted without question and perpetuated in churches everywhere. The fact that there exists within so much of contemporary Christendom a pronounced preference for make-believe over reality and fantasy over historical fact should come as no real surprise to us, since this has become the preferred method for deciding what is true throughout the world in general. It seems there is no longer a strong trust in external canons for objectively measuring the truth of personal belief. Church doctrines—regardless of denomination—are increasingly regarded with suspicion or even outright contempt by modern people. Even the authority of the Bible is eroding in the minds of many. A generation ago the phrase, “The Bible says…” still carried a measure of weight with folks. They at least knew that the Bible contained truths that were genuine, whether they liked them or not. But today, and especially among the so-called Millennial generation—said as those born after 1982, and who are leaving Christianity in droves—the Bible is seen less-and-less as authoritative or as bearing any relevance to modern life. The Bible has been reduced to being “your Grandpa’s book,” and thus filled with dusty, old values and out-dated morals that are increasingly in opposition to modern sensibilities. Of course, the Bible has always been a bit in opposition to modern sensibilities, regardless of the age. St. Paul pleaded with the newly-converted Christians of his day to refrain from fornication and sacrifice to idols, which were very common. The old idea of correcting our behavior to align with the teachings of the Church has largely been replaced by the call to condemn Christian teachings and live however we please. And so if these things have been superseded, what are the new canons of faith and practice that have replaced them? All things objective and external are being replaced by all things subjective and internal. It is feelings that mostly guide people in deciding what is true today. If I feel good about something, it must be true. Conversely, things that make me feel bad, or make me unpopular with my friends, must be wrong. When surveyed as to why they are leaving Christian churches these day, many Millennials answer that they found their churches to be judgmental, anti-gay, and in some cases, too doctrinal. Perhaps that is true in many cases. But it could also be that many folks take their cues from a fallen and worldly culture whose values and narratives they have absorbed without question. If you have accepted the argument that being opposed to gay marriage is equal to gay-bashing, hatred, and the denial of equal rights to all, well then, what decent person wants to a part of that scene? If since grade school you’ve been indoctrinated in value-free sex education that purposefully delinks sex from commitment and emphasizes freedom, experimentation, and personal gratification above all, then what use will you have for church morality, which, we are told, only makes people feel guilty? (Guilt makes me feel bad and therefore must be wrong.) We understand that people don’t like to be told what to believe or what to do with their own bodies. Resisting such commandments is what the progressive spirit calls “freedom.” And yet if we look a little closer we see that there is very little freedom involved here, and far more bondage. People are being told what to believe, with much greater force than any church wields. If you do not toe the line drawn by the forces of political correctness, you risk alienation, hatred, economic retaliation, and persecution. It is true that the persecution endured today by Christians who stand up for their faith is far from the level of being burned at the stake. While some people have lost jobs or had their businesses destroyed by others who found their beliefs unacceptable, most suffer little more than social tension from those who consider them hateful or out-of-step. But even that little bit of pressure makes many Christians fold like a shirt on wash day. People clam up and refuse to bear witness to the truth. Worse yet, they may call their own church’s teachings into question, rejecting them with an air of moral superiority, and perhaps even reject their church itself to find something more in line with their own feelings. I personally believe that as the culture of the world continues to “progress” away from traditional values, the Christians who still hold these values will face stronger and more focused persecutions. I don’t envision ISIS-type beheadings; honestly, we are not worthy of such holy martyrdom. But I can easily see punitive lawsuits being brought against churches that refuse to do gay weddings, for example. There is no “live and let live” sentimentality in the hearts of activists! The goal is to make Christians conform to the new “freedom.” Many churches will fold simply because the parishioners who now barely contribute enough to keep the lights on will not wish to fund expensive legal defenses. When faced with the challenge of mortgaging their own homes to defend their faith, many Christians will undergo a sudden transformation of conscience to decide they no longer wish to be a part of the so-called “hate community” of Christianity. However, I can also see real good coming from all this. The “white-picket fence” Christians and those who were never quite comfortable with their church’s teachings will fade away. In their place will arise the kind of Christian who is willing to suffer for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s. Perhaps these will be the ones who already feel a bit out-of-place in the white bread world: the tattooed hoards, the lower-income families, the minorities and so forth. The people who have often had a hard time fitting into upper-middle class Christianity and even into Orthodoxy itself may well become the Church of the future. I’m not a prophet and I really don’t know what is to come. And neither should my comments be taken as an “old guy” rant against the young folks of today. Sadly, much of this apostasy was initiated by people of my generation, and the Millennials have merely inherited the bitter fruit of our stupidity. One thing I do know is that the more uncomfortable we become with the teachings of the Church, the less we have in common with God. The Christian faith is supposed to be challenging. It is supposed to knock down what is false in us and form us in the Truth. The Holy Fathers knew this, which is why they fought so hard to preserve our faith. While much of the world and even many Christians may choose to live in the fantasyland of their own feelings, we should choose to live in our Holy Orthodox Faith and allow it to form, inform, and transform us in opposition to the world. +To the Glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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