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Agreement and Unity

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Written by Basil on 10/11/2004 8:25 PM. Filed under:

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There is a very good discussion on The Light Fraction (Victoria Theodora) about unity and why people from Lexington drive by two Orthodox parishes to attend St. Athanasius.

Victoria’s latest contribution to the discussion was to respond to Karl wondering why unity did not mean agreement (that she did not think everyone should be Orthodox). She said:

Well, Karl, it probably has to do with the fact that I’m in sustainable agriculture as a profession.

Diversity is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY for the proper functioning of any ecosystem. I suspect it’s the same for human ecosystems as well. Ecosystems are very messy places, but they are what resulted from the Laws of Creation (to coin a phrase). It’s desperately difficult to keep a monoculture functioning. When the church becomes a monoculture it gets corrupt.

Also, since God is ever so much larger than we are, even the Orthodox church only has the tiniest glimmer of understanding of God. I fail to see any reason at all to deprive others of their understanding just so they can agree with us.

I don’t think agreement and unity are the same thing at all.

Well, there is diversity, and there is division. I would never dream of making everyone believe that 20th century scientists have the lock on the origins of the universe or of denying the insights that I can gain from people who see it differently. Nor would I dream of making everyone agree that the Jerusalem Rite of processing, reading the Gospel and beating down the doors on Pascha is preferrable to the Russian tradition of simply processing around the church.

If, however, one does not believe that God is a Trinity, then one is in error. I may be able to gain some wonderful insights about all kinds of things from, as an example, a panentheist, but her beliefs about God are false (actually, “ultimate reality” since “God” is meaningless in pantheistic systems). That’s what it means to disagree about things that have real meaning. A ≠ ¬A (Yes, I know, Eastern philosophers dispute the law of non-contradiction, too. If the law of non-contradiction is false, then all of reality is an illusion; that’s their point. They’re wrong.)

Do I want people to agree with me on things that I know are true? Yes, because somehow their salvation is in some manner wrapped up with their rightly believing. Not in the same ways as an Inquisitor would think so (God have mercy), but somehow rightly recognizing the Real and no longer living in falsehood is part of our healing. That’s what the Orthodox are talking about when they talk about communion.

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29 Responses to “Agreement and Unity”

  1. James Says:

    “Yes, because somehow their salvation is in some manner wrapped up with their rightly believing.” You know, I’ve always wondered about that. When I was Anglican (Catholic-lite) I believed that the Eucharist was the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I remember meeting several people who believed that it was only bread and wine (interestingly enough I now agree with them about what their church offers in Communion).

    As a Roman Catholic I ran into people who believed that there was no purgatory (again, I now agree) and that the pope isn’t infallible. I saw one Catholic Singles’ site where a woman said she believes the pope is infallible but she doesn’t agree with the Church’s teaching on premarital sex. Well, regardless of what she disagrees with the RCC on, it’s funny that she says the pope is infallible but then disagrees on a matter of morality with him.

    As an Orthodox Christian I cannot think of anytime someone who is active in church has come out and disagreed with Orthodox teaching. What if they did, though? What if WS or BW or even Mat. RR doesn’t exactly agree with some tenant of Orthodoxy. Yes, they’d be wrong but who am I to think it would affect their salvation?

  2. Chris J. Davis Says:

    Well for one thing you are required by your profession of the Orthodox Faith to gently, with love correct those who are in error. And also I would argue that it depends on the size and gravity of the error as to whether or not we should fear for their salvation. To disagree that the Son of God is unoriginate, and disagreeing that… well I can’t thnk of anything that can be seperated out like that, but I am sure someone else can. The point being, is what they have decided not to believe integral to the faith, or merely a custom, or local tradition (little t).

  3. basil Says:

    Well, for example, disbelieving in the Assumption — a well-established Orthodox belief referred to often in the Dormition hymnography, but said by some bishops to not be dogmatic — would probably not require a chastising. However, disbelieving something clearly foundational — that the Father is unoriginate, that the Son is begotten of the Father, that the Spirit proceeds from the Father — exists on a different level. Even believing filioque in some ways could be overlooked. But there are some things that require our assent.

    What gentle chastisement looks like is an entirely different matter. I admit with chagrin that I still do not know how to speak the truth in love.

  4. Victoria Says:

    This is an awful lot of WORDS flying around.

  5. Karl Thienes Says:

    “This is an awful lot of WORDS flying around.”

    Obviously. This is a blog. You have to use words on a blog if you want to communicate. Some arguments require one to use more words to be more precise.

    The question at hand is what do you think of Basil’s point?

  6. James Says:

    I think I know what Victoria is meaning … sometimes we converts blab a lot and thinking less (not saying that about anyone specifically; just explaining what I think Victoria means).

  7. Karl Thienes Says:

    “I think I know what Victoria is meaning…sometimes we converts blab a lot and thinking less.”

    That is true. However, Basil is making an important point and is carefully using words in a very effective manner to convey it. Are you really saying he is “thinking less”? Can someone explain the crime in Basil’s method or argument?

    In any case, I’d still like to hear a substantial and equally thoughtful response from Victoria, or MHG, or whomever agrees with Victoria’s original sentiments. (I’m still utterly fascinated and stunned by her perspective)

    And, yes, you’ll have to use words to do it. There’s no way of getting around it! 🙂

  8. Erich Says:

    I don’t know. It seems to me that there are a lot of psychological and emotional reasons for people to believe different things, and that some of them can’t be dismissed in the name of “right belief”. However, I tend to rather see disagreement within the Church settings than without. All of my work deals with people who are both vocally outside of the Church, and those who are vocally inside of the Church. However, neither set of people always got along with the Church or any of the members of it. Rozanov believed in God, but disliked Christ seeing him as a revolutionary, yet took communion 5 times before he died and was never threatened w/ excommunication. Berdyaev was facing the possibility of excommunication for some of his theories until the revolution gave the Church more important things to worry about. Kazantzakis was threatened repeatedly with excommunication by the Greek Church, but they never did it because he didn’t want to be excommunicated. Tolstoy had to deny Christ’s resurrection and refer to him simply as a good moral teacher, as well as virulently attacking the Church as a sham and fraud before he was excommunicated. It is even possible that he would not have been excommunicated if he had not desired it himself. I’m personally quite happy the Orthodoxy has proved itself slow to pull out the excommunication weapon, and like the fact that people can disagree on very profound issues within the Church, rather than having to be relegated to the Outside. That being said, American culture is different and there is no Church to which everyone belongs (pity), just a whole crapload of churches. Thus, it makes these kinds of healthy internal disagreements impossible bcs everyone is defining themselves against everyone else.

  9. basil Says:

    Certainly I am sympathetic to the complexity of the epistemological enterprise. However, I tend to take a commmon-sense view of truth: Propositions are true when they correspond to reality. Unfortunately, correspondence is regarded as naïve by many academic philosophers these days. How we come to believe is a very complex question, and I tend to take a more sympathetic view of insights from Kant, Wittgenstein and modern psychology.

    With regard to the specific persons you mentioned, it seems that there is something in the evidence of their lives that speaks of a wide lattitude offered before the schism is manifested at the chalice. Two thoughts: Excommunication always manifests a schism that has existed for a long time. Second, judgment in such matters is truly the domain of spiritual fathers.

    Yet, it does give one hope that one’s own failures to believe according to the canon of faith will not necessarily meet with the axe, as long as the spirit of humilty is invoked in all things.

    Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  10. Victoria Says:

    What I meant about words was, we can use a lot of jargon. The examples mentioned above would mean very little to anyone but an Orthodox Christian, or at least someone with a fair amt of Christian education. It would certainly mean nothing to someone mourning a loss, dealing with hunger, pain, etc., and looking to any church at all for answers.

    This isn’t quite the thoughtful response you wanted, but: I’m equally stunned by your perspective that everyone should be the same! If I may ask, what is the main thing that informs the way you think about things (mine being ecological perspective)?

  11. Karl Thienes Says:

    “The examples mentioned above would mean very little to anyone but an Orthodox Christian, or at least someone with a fair amt of Christian education.”

    True. But the subject matter at hand is being discussed by a) Orthodox people and b) educated people in general. I don’t understand your point here.

    The bottom line here is that “you are using lots of words” doesn’t count as a valid argument and totally fails to address Basil’s post (or my initial comment).

    “I’m equally stunned by your perspective that everyone should be the same!”

    But I have not said such a thing! As Basil said, there is a subtle but crucial distinction between diversity, and division. Orthodoxy has lots of diversity–thank God! But what it doesn’t have (and what we *must* pray against as we do in the Liturgy but what appears to not bother you), is division, or contradictory truth claims allowed to peacefully coexist.

  12. basil Says:

    Victoria, I sympathize with the jargon accusation. I struggle with that problem myself, but I would probably need an entirely different blog to avoid jargon altogether. In any case, those who do not understand most of the jargon I’ve used here are not my intended audience for the present discussion, as Karl pointed out. (Although, in my own defense, I have tried to avoid jargon in my Apologia series, or at least to explain words that strike me as being outside the mainstream. It is perhaps naïve for me to think that anyone would read those articles when the rest of my blog is so supercilious.)

    As far as being words of comfort for suffering, lonely individuals looking for hope, they are clearly not the audience for this dialogue. Not that I am not capable of them — I think I am — but this discussion is not the place for them. Unless, of course, that is exactly where you feel yourself to be….

  13. alana Says:

    Reading this whole thread, and also the one over on V’s blog is elliciting a very strong reaction in me, and I know not from whence exactly, it is coming, because it almost seems off topic, but maybe it is not: To those who tire of words or for those whom whom words are unintelligible, etc., make some sandwiches, go down to Woodland Park at lunch time, and give them away. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

    Personally, I don’t see anything intrinsically wrong with words, per se, especially given the context of this being a blog. Generally, the sandwich type activities remain a secret, as they should…

  14. johanna Says:

    As I understand it, a very important teaching in the Orthodox faith is that God has given man free choice, & salvation is absolutely meaningless unless man has the free will to choose his direction. Therefore, in the vast possibility of choice-making that is out there/in here, is anything really “wrong”, from the higher perspective? Are not all of these choices simply man finding his way to God? And if it is not up to us to judge our fellow man, but instead to look at our own failings & fumblings in our effort to find this way, how can I possibly correct or judge or even know what is best for another, as well as God can see all of the complexity of that?

    I actually wholeheartedly agree with Victoria’s comments. Thank you for putting them forth.

  15. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Once again, I believe we’re attempting to understand an issue with two differing ideals/modes of approach.

    Before you can even hope to “get into” this discussion, you first have to agree on a means of expressing your ideas.

    I, for one, believe that teaching is about the adequate expression of truth, ideas, thoughts and opinions through language and vocabulary that relates to the intended audience. Granted, everyone is at varying levels of comprehension, but it’s problematic, at the very least, for a person not to curb their jargon so that the rest might follow along.

    Basil, you should understand where I’m coming from with this. Prof. Sparks took special delight in stringing together words and phrases that required his students to record his lectures and define his words later, if they hoped to understand one iota of what he was saying.

    Many of the writers here are guilty of the same abuse.

    You can express ideas and opinions all day long, but if you’re using language, jargon or “church-speak” that isn’t easily accessible to your audience, then you’re destroying any chance for active dialogue, let alone, undermining yourself and the ideas that you’re attempting to express . . . unless of course that’s exactly what you want to do – striking fear into those that would oppose you and creating such a quagmire of vocabulary that true dialogue isn’t feasible, ala my former professor. Now let me make it clear. Did I just say that anyone here was doing that? No. I did not. I did say, however, that that could be a possibility. Only those doing this know their own hearts.

    Attempts at control or dominance through vocubulary is juvenile, at best and, at the very least, reveals the “superiority complex” and insecurity of the speaker.

    Your claim that your words are intended for those of an Orthodox persuasion and therefore, should be easily accessible doesn’t hold up in light of the fact that most of the comments here are from Orthodox believers who admit that they aren’t completely following you.

    Also, Karl, I believe I have provided a more thorough statement over at Victoria’s blog. Granted, Victoria’s statements dealt more with Orthodoxy and I transposed them onto our original discussion regarding Orthodoxy and Protestantism, because I believe that many of her arguments hold true in that regard as well. She may disagree.

  16. James Says:

    I said, “sometimes we converts blab a lot and thinking less (not saying that about anyone specifically; just explaining what I think Victoria means).”

    Karl replied,”Are you really saying he is ‘thinking less’?”

    Well, I said I wasn’t talking about anyone specifically, and since Basil is a specific person and not a philosphical construct I’d have to say, “No.”

  17. Victoria Says:

    You are right. First, I had rather forgotten that this blog is for an audience with copious education. Should have kept that in mind and probably stayed out of it if I wanted to discuss more tangible issues.

    Second, although I hadn’t thought of it quite this way before, it’s true that contradictory statements of truth don’t particularly bother me, when they are matters of faith. The truth IS whatever it IS, whatever anyone believes; I don’t know the answers, except what the Church tells me are the answers, and as I’ve said in my own blog, I think the answers are bigger than even the church. I’m content to trust God to sort it out as long as I do my part to understand what I am given. I don’t want to be a gatekeeper.

    Probably the fact that I am married to someone who is not only non-Orthodox but non-Christian is pretty much diagnostic. It’s less important to me that we agree on specific doctrines than that we agree with the way we want to live our lives – he calls it enlightenment and I call it salvation – and that we behave with love, forbearance, faithfulness, and kindness to one another. That is unity to me, the kind I meant to convey with my ecosystem metaphor.

  18. Chris Dmitri Says:

    What gentle chastisement looks like is an entirely different matter. I admit with chagrin that I still do not know how to speak the truth in love.

    Same here, I was merely stating what is required of us, not a way to do it well.

  19. basil Says:

    Many of the writers here are guilty of the same abuse. […] Did I just say that anyone here was doing that? No. I did not.

    ***basil scratches his head.

    Mr. Hibbity Gibbity, I can only recognize a superficial similarity between myself and Prof. Sparks. I hope other students of his will back me up on this point.

    I emphatically reject the notion that I am trying to “control” or “dominate” anyone with language, and my beliefs about the superiority of Christian faith to other forms of religion certainly do not arise from an inferiority complex.

    So far, no one in the intended audience has expressed difficulty “following” my reasoning, only their disagreement or agreement with it. So far, the discussion is very helpful and enlightening. The use of symbolic logic was over the top, and I apologize for that. Other than that, I have not said anything that would be beyond the grasp of most of my readers, as far as I can tell.

    You are absolutely correct to recognize that Victoria’s position supports your relativism with regard to the truth of various opposed Christian teachings. That is why it is so important to discuss it. You should also recognize that nothing separates your Christian relativism from a more general religious relativism that abolishes any compelling reason to believe in Christ versus any merely human religious system.

  20. basil Says:

    Victoria, discussing tangible issues is so much more refreshing, and I loved your post on the monastery in California. In fact, I posted a comment that seems an appropos balance to this discussion.

    I’m with Lewis on this one. And Bp. KALLISTOS, who wrote, “It is wrong to believe that everyone WILL be saved eventually, but not to believe that everyone COULD be saved eventually.” Perhaps not a direct quote, but very close. Unfortunately, my copy of The Orthodox Way is in Fr. David’s office safely secret[ed] away.

    I think being deified, while certainly dependent upon recognizing Reality at some point — see previous discussion on the matter — may have an unconscious element. At least, I hope so. I may be in the right Church, but my life is certainly a pale imitation of the right Way. Asian Buddhists are fond of saying, “I am a Buddhist, but not a good one,” since “good Buddhists” have a very strict rule of life they must follow. Sometimes I think I should adopt that [aphorism] as a Christian.

    It comes down to the Holy Spirit being “present everywhere and filling all things.” He is leading everyone to union with Christ, even those who do not yet recognize his face.

    We must hope that everyone will one day know him even as they are known, but we have little room to make judgments about where their pilgrimage is leading without that divine charism of spiritual x-ray vision.

    I also do not want to be a gatekeeper, because I would exclude a great many people. In truth, I would rather people see the very wide inclusiveness and catholicity of the Church. I think Christian faith scares many because dogma strikes them as exclusive and sectarian instead of inclusive and catholic.

    It seems to me that this is the great irony of dogma: that by protecting the awesome fact that we are united to the God who became flesh, we have excluded the very people he sacrificed his divine flesh to heal.

  21. basil Says:

    Johanna, your point about judgment is well-taken. I think that the question about the rightness or wrongness of particular choices is probably best framed as a question of whether any particular choice leads toward God or away, whether it heals or hurts, whether it is life-giving or a little more death. Ultimately, we do not know all the wonderful ways that providence will eventually redeem even the most horrendous choices, but we cannot be silent in the face of hurt and death. After all, we have been incorporated into the body of Christ; we are the flesh of God. As a popular Christian rock band sang back in the eighties, “We are his hands; we are his feet.”

  22. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Wait . . . so you refer to my statements as “Christian relativism”, then you praise Johanna’s statements, which at the very least, propose a type of Orthodox relativism?


    Once again, I’m utterly flabbergasted at the hypocrisy of those that profess Orthodoxy. It boggles the mind that one moment (not in this specific post) you can rail against Protestantism, but then you turn right around and do the very thing that, in the past, you’ve condemned Protestants of doing. I would expect more from a denomination that professes itself to be the “one, true Church”.

    I may be “relativistic” (though you’ve failed to provide any real insight into your accusation) but at least I’m not an elitist.

    And as for my comments about Prof. Sparks . . . don’t know what to tell you.

    Also, “Many of the writers here are guilty of the same abuse. […] Did I just say that anyone here was doing that? No. I did not.” My bad . . . should have read, “Did I just say that anyone SPECIFICALLY was doing that?” It was my attempt to prevent a flame war. Whether or not you wanted to take offense was your own choice.

    Also, you’re correct, no one did express difficulty following your statements, but it was mentioned that a lot of “words” were flying around, which I took to mean that words, without defintion or context, make for a futile attempt at dialogue – something I thought we were attempting.

    Guess I was incorrect?

    Finally, “You should also recognize that nothing separates your Christian relativism from a more general religious relativism that abolishes any compelling reason to believe in Christ versus any merely human religious system.”

    Why? Because my “form” of Christianity isn’t as structured and dogmatic as yours? Because mine relies more on faith than the assumption that I have all the answers? Because I’m comfortable with the fact that I’ll never know all there is to know about Christianity or God and consider any form of Christianity that professes otherwise as suspect? Because I believe that a healthy balance between faith and understanding is necessary, as opposed to all “head knowledge” or all “heart knowledge”?

    Then I guess you’re right . . . I am a relativist . . . by your definition, at least. Though wouldn’t a true relativist throw up his/her hands and try to “fold” your beliefs into his/her own? Or better yet, a true relativist would say “it’s all good”, but I’ve done neither.

    I am willing to say that I believe all the various denominations that hold true to my “core” statement are based upon truth and undertake Christianity as they understand it. I would also say the same thing for Orthodoxy – more or less. At the same time, I believe there is truth in other forms of thought and even *gasp* other religions. In fact, I believe that Christians can even incorporate those other forms of thought into their Christian faith, so long as the things being incorporated don’t contradict any Christian principles.

    While that may seem relativistic to you, all I’m really proposing is that we follow the guidelines and principles set forth in the Bible; many of which, are also found in the other religions of the world. It’s what’s at the “core” of these other religions that we need to guard our hearts against.

    Alright. I’m done. Said all I’m going to say.

  23. pete Says:

    Mr. Hibbity Gibbity,
    It’s remarkable to me that your attempt was “to prevent a flame war.” Saying so is one thing, but doing so is another. So you disagree with people who post here. Get over it. It’s not like you’ve never read this blog before, and it’s not like you don’t know what the primary posters/readers believe. If you don’t agree with the posters here, that’s fine–nobody is forcing you to. But nobody is forcing you to read this blog, either. You shouldn’t be surprised at their positions, certainly at this point, and you definitely shouldn’t get upset if they take issue with your attitude regarding their positions. More often than not, it seems to me that the only reason you post responses here is to fan the flames of argument. Seems like a double standard to me.

  24. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Gee Pete, look at a pot lately?

  25. pete Says:

    Ooh. So we’ve resorted to the pot vs. kettle idea again?


    I’m not the one trying to prevent a flame war here.

    I also go by my real name.

  26. basil Says:

    Mr. Hibbity Gibbity, I am dumbfounded that you would describe my response to Johanna as praise. I don’t know what to say. I did not praise Johanna. I accepted her criticism gracefully and then rebutted her remarks while trying to recognize our common ground.

    I have responded in the past to specific quotes by you which illuminate why I think there is no distuingishable difference between glossing over differences among Christian doctrinal systems and glossing over differences between religions. The words people use in support of both positions is exactly the same. The words you use to support your position are exactly the same words non-Christian friends use to tell me that I am arrogant to believe that Christianity is superior to other religions.

    Am I elitist? Perhaps. People who believe in the possibility of knowing the truth usually do seem elitist. I imagine it will always be that way. If you believe — as I have assumed you do — that Jesus alone is the savior of man, then you, too, are an elitist to those who are not Christian.

    It is extremely heartening to read that you want to find a balance between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” (Though the dichotomy between head and heart is false, I recognize what you are getting at, I think.) That attitude is at the core of Orthodox spirituality; we are closer than you think.

  27. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Oh . . . you got me Pete . . . gosh . . . darn . . . no . . . wait . . . I have no idea what the heck you’re trying to say . . . and I’m going to give up trying.

    Great. Good discussion.

  28. Karl Thienes Says:

    Basil and Pete,

    This last little exchange is proof of why I vowed, many months ago, to stop responding directly to Nick’s comments. Maybe ya’ll have more patience than me…

  29. pete Says:

    it’s not that complicated really. i think i MIGHT be able to count on one hand the number of posts you make to this blog on matters of religion (almost always Orthodoxy vs. Protestantism) that display a genuine interest in dialogue. all of which has lead me (and possibly others) to wonder: why do you bother? while i am still proudly a protestant and probably have more in common with you than you might think on matters of faith, i don’t think that you’re doing much of a service to anyone here by constantly haranguing them (if so, i am open to correction, though.) i think that one can be proudly protestant without having to pick fights all the time, which is pretty much what i see you doing here and elsewhere in this blog.

    but go ahead and give up trying to understand if that’s what you’d prefer–no sleep will be lost on my end.