Interpretation and Politics

Scripture and the Church” by Fr. Stephen Freeman

Father Stephen has a very concise description of the issues surrounding scriptural interpretation and church tradition.  Most interesting to me is the connection he draws between interpretation and politics.  He suggests that sola scriptura is directly tied to the rise of the State in the West.

I wonder if there is also a connection with sola fide, the second pillar of Protestantism.  Could it be that the emphasis on faith as intellectual assent outside of works paved the way for the Secular State?

Maybe that’s a dumb question.


Star Trek vs. The Gospel

I love Star Trek, and now that we’ve been married for a few years, so does my wife.  We’ve been watching all the episodes from the first and second series via Netflix for a few months now.  We love the characters and episode plots, and the whole Trekkie atmosphere.  Star Trek has a knack for exploring important social issues, whether racism in the Original Series or the culture of assimilation represented by the Borg (also known as “Leviathan” to some in this century) in the Next Generation.  However, I must say from first-hand experience that growing up in both the Church and the Federation is a setup for some massive cognitive dissonance.

The meta-narrative of Star Trek is that, a few centuries hence, mankind, having shucked off its old religious superstitions, has gained such a mastery of technology that we have eliminated poverty and most disease.  By extension, crime is virtually non-existent.  We have narrowly made it through the “threat of self-destruction” phase of our civil (and even biological) evolution, and now seek only to better ourselves as individuals and a race, to learn and to grow. Having discovered faster-than-light transportation, we have set out to explore and colonize the universe, making peace with and learning from the other life-forms we encounter.

This is essentially the secular humanist’s utopia, and in my opinion, it is totally at odds with Christianity.  (It is interesting to note that there is still plenty of room for “spirituality” in Star Trek, as can be seen in Mr. Worf’s practices of Klingon asceticism and ritual, but this is highly personal, and focuses on self-improvement, not truth as such.)  There is certainly no room for a personal God or a religion that might require something of you or be interested in your well-being.  We are agnostic, at best.  (The Original Series made a few references to the faith of some individuals on the crew, but by the Next Generation (late 80’s/early 90’s) it was safe to drop this pretense.)

Of course, Christianity says that mankind has a very deep problem, of which crime is only a symptom, and that problem is sin.  The Humanist Utopia was tried a long time ago: they called it Babel.  We cannot pull ourselves out of our troubles with technology because the troubles are a part of us.  We do not need to be scientifically enlightened, we need to be healed.  We do not need a sense of accomplishment and human progress when we die, we need resurrection and eternal life.

So we have been watching Star Trek with a degree of awareness of the tension between its seductive worldview and our own.  That said, last night, Star Trek admitted defeat.  The episode was “Who Watches the Watchers” from the 3rd season of Next Generation.  In it, a group of “anthropologists” (sic?) are on planet Mintaka III studying a race of “proto-Vulcans”, that is, a highly-rational humanoid species who are early along in their cultural evolution, at a point equivalent to our bronze age.  In order not to violate the Prime Directive — the Federation’s highest law which forbids any interference in the cultural development of less technologically-advanced races — the anthropologists are using a holographic projector to disguise their facility as part of a cliff face.  Their subjects are unaware of the researchers’ existence.

Unfortunately, the anthropologists have lost their power source, and while the Enterprise is hurrying to bring them a new one before their batteries run out, there is an explosion and their facility is exposed to the Mintakans.  To make a long story short, the Mintakans, who have long since dropped superstitious and religious ideas, when they are exposed to Federation technology begin to worship the humans as gods, with Captain Picard as the Supreme God.  This is a major problem for the crew of the Enterprise, as they would be responsible for setting the Mintakans back centuries in their development.  In order to convince them that humans are no gods, Picard beams one of the Mintakan leaders aboard his ship and tries to explain the situation to her.  He is unable to get through, however, until she sees one of the anthropoligists die in sick bay, and the doctor powerless to help her or bring her back.  It is only after she sees that Picard and the humans cannot raise the dead that she agrees they are not gods.  There is more to the episode, but in the end, the Enterprise leaves and the Mintakans continue their cultural evolution, free of the contaminating influences of superstition and religion.

In Star Trek, death is regretable and often may be delayed, but it is ultimately unavoidable.  Death is part of what it means to be human.  Technology cannot defeat death.  But this is where Christianity holds the “trump card”, for Jesus Christ has defeated both sin and death.  They have no more power, as Christ demonstrated in his resurrection.  Death is not a natural part of life, says Christianity.  It is seperation from God, the separation of a living thing from that which gives it life, as unnatural a thing as has ever existed.  Star Trek has admitted that death is something mankind cannot defeat — it is a problem suited for gods.  And this is where the Christian agrees, and proclaims the Gospel.

Pro-America, in the only Good sense of the expression

Fr. Jonathan Tobias has an excellent set of articles called “Prospects” concerning (Orthodox) evangelism in America. I have tried in vain to select a few short quotes to tease your interest, but I’ve found it impossible, as the whole thing is just so good. Therefore, I will simply link to the four posts.  The fourth is the best, if your time is limited.

Part 1: Ebb Tide
Part 2: Bad News before the Good
Part 3: The American Genius
Part 4: The American Gospel – Orthodoxy at the End of the Sawdust Trail

Regional Culture

This hymn is said to have originated in Tennessee.  (Collected by John Jacob Niles.)  I know it’s a bit late for Christmas, but I thought it was worth posting, anyways.

Jesus the Christ is born,
Give thanks now, every one.
Rejoice, ye great ones and ye small,
God’s will, it has been done.

Ye mighty kings of earth,
Before the manger bed,
Cast down, cast down your golden crown
From off your royal head.

For in this lowly guise
The son of God do sleep,
And see the Queen of Heaven kneel,
Her faithful vigil keep.

Two angels at His head,
Two angels at His feet
Beside His bed the flower red,
Perfuming there so sweet.

Jesus the Christ is born,
Give thanks now, every one.
Rejoice, ye great ones and ye small,
God’s will, it has been done.



God, Judgement, Evil, and Hell

Or, “The River of Fire“, by Alexandre Kalomiros.

I’m not all the way through this, yet.  You have to get past the fact that he is a bit harsh on “Western theology”, which I am certainly an heir of.  Still, what I have read so far is an excellent interpretation, based largely on the Church Fathers, of how a loving God and hell can both exist in the same universe.

Demons, Doctrines, and Ethics

Last night, some friends were discussing the difficulties for us in these days to believe in concepts like demons and Satan. It was put forward that issues about esoteric doctrines (like the question of the existence of demons) can be a distraction from the more important matters of our Christian walk and witness. I respectfully disagree, and I’d like to put out the idea (not mine) that doctrine and ethics are “two sides of the same coin”. What I mean is that the above is a false dichotomy, and that what we believe informs how we live, although I guess some “doctrines” may not be as important as others.

The quotes are from N. T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope”, and the issue he is dealing with is not demons but questions about what happens after we die. I think the principle, however, is the same.

This book addresses two questions that have often been dealt with entirely separately but that, I passionately believe, belong tightly together. First, what is the ultimate Christian hope? Second, what hope is there for change, rescue, transformation, new possibilities within the world in the present? And the main answer can be put like this. As long as we see Christian hope in terms of “going to heaven,” of a salvation that is essentially away from this world, the two questions are bound to appear as unrelated. Indeed, some insist angrily that to ask the second one at all is to ignore the first one, which is the really important one. This in turn makes some others get angry when people talk of resurrection, as if this might draw attention away from the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern. But if the Christian hope is for God’s new creation, for “new heavens and new earth,” and if that hope has already come to life in Jesus of Nazareth, then there is every reason to join the two questions together. And if that is so, we find that answering the one is also answering the other. I find that to many — not least, many Christians — all this comes as a surprise: both that the Christian hope is surprisingly different from what they had assumed and that this same hope offers a coherent and energizing basis for work in today’s world.

And after comparing the Platonic (upon death our souls leave the prison of the body and waft up to heaven) and Christian (bodily resurrection, new Heaven/new Earth) views of the afterlife:

The classic Christian doctrine, therefore, is actually far more powerful and revolutionary than the Platonic one. It was people who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and went in for a mere spiritualized survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era. A piety that sees death as the moment of “going home at last,” the time when we are “called to God’s eternal peace,” has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends. Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but to a robust determination to oppose it. English evangelicals gave up believing in the urgent imperative to improve society about the same time that they gave up believing robustly in resurrection and settled for a disembodied heaven instead.

To bring this back to the question of whether or not demons and Satan exist, you could say that it could make a difference in (at least) this sense: What you believe about the nature of the evil forces you are confronting affects how you confront them. So, granting that the question of the existence of demons may not be as important as the questions about resurrection above, I think it still does matter.