Secularism and Christianity

This is a fine article – The Offer You Can’t Refuse (the Secular World)

One thing that comes out of this is that for as long as churches try to ape the secular world (bureaucracy, steering committees, etc.) we know who will win. It’s just the same as when they put on “entertainment” liturgies and compete against modern professional television presenters, performers and choreographers. Churches lack intimate human relationships like in families and groups of friends. Intimacy and relationship are essential for the survival of a religion. This is an idea of which I have been convinced for a very long time.

Of course, religion is about our relationship with God and not only with each other. That being said, human love and friendship are icons of God, without which we cannot relate to God or any impersonal notion of a church. This is why some of the most “successful” churches have been built on expatriate and ethnic communities – that is until the bureaucracy moves in.

All this needs a considerable amount of thought, and we might be able to emphasise the positive advantage of small Churches in which people know each other over large ecclesiastical bureaucracies and impersonal structures. Yes, food for thought…

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12 Responses to Secularism and Christianity

  1. We must make Western Europe mission territory for the Russian Orthodox Church. In fact, I would cordially welcome an invasion from Russia. If Europe were annexed to Russia, traditional, liturgical Christianity might stand a chance and we could stem the tide of Muslim migrants.

    • Yes, Patrick, I saw your little posting. I am also following the news, and from “unconventional” sources. There has been quite a scuff between Putin and Obama at the big UN meeting. Putin pointed out that the only people qualified to decide whether they want Assad are citizens of the Syrian Republic. He does have a point and the Americans are coming out as the Axis. I find the idea according to which Daesh was set up by the US to fight a proxy war against Assad credible. It is also a hangover from the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Irak. I have a lot of sympathy with Putin, but I am cautious. He has his past as a KGB agent and there are legitimate questions around.

      Russia is carefully avoiding anything like looks like colonialism, just what it is accusing the USA and EU about. Perhaps if the US crashes economically and the EU splits apart over the immigration issue, some European countries might want more to do with Russia. That is as much as would happen unless Putin wants to run the risk of starting World War III. He is already having to be very careful in Syria and there is the problem of Ukraine.

      We “live in interesting times”. There will be blowback against ever-increasing Muslim immigration when distinctions are clearly made between refugees fleeing Daesh / ISIS and others on the bandwagon wanting to take advantage of the various European welfare state systems – pushing Europeans to the back of the queue. I’m glad to live in the countryside!

      • J.V. says:

        Putin is attempting to pose an alternative to US/EU agenda. Certainly, between Russia and China, perhaps Brazil, there is room for an alternative proposal. The exact precepts of this proposal remain somewhat undefined, other than that it is critical of the West. It would seem that any EU countries on the wrong end of the stick of either the immigration crisis or austerity restructuring could become proving grounds.

      • Dale says:

        As I mentioned on Patrick’s web, one should study the history of those Eastern and Baltic nations that found themselves under both Imperial as well as Communist Russian control, often for centuries; none of them would consider any move that would involve being placed, once again, under Russian sovereignty. Have we already forgotten the mass exterminations of Ukrainians, Poles, and Hungarians under the Russians from 1933 to the 1950s? Russian imperialism is not a pretty thing at all. It is forced and immediately followed by the Russification of subjected peoples, with the Russian Church happily joining in. Do we not know that abortion is legal and morally accepted in Russia? The average Russian women has ten of them, it is the preferred form of birth control. Recently, when the New Rite Patriarch of Moscow spoke against abortion, it was not from a moral imperative, but because it was contributing to the drop of real Russians in Russia. Hardly comforting. The life-span for a Russian male is 64, the lowest in Europe, because of widespread alcoholism.

        My own hope is that the nations of Central and Eastern Europe would from their own union, free of both the destructive liberalism of the west and imperialism so evident in the Russian soul.

    • J.V. says:

      I won’t go that far, but the West is in a sorry state.

  2. J.D. says:

    There’s a part of me that wants to stay here in my homeland no matter what, but another part of me that almost relishes the idea of getting more serious about learning Russian so I can eventually move to that Slavic land of my ancestors. While I’m not Orthodox I’m definitely close in spirit, prayer and ancestral roots with Russia and, should I ever move there,would have no problem getting used to Slavic Orthodoxy. Heck I’d probably join Valaam,Optina or some old ritualist parish somewhere.

    Whatever might be said for Putin, or whatever his motives may be, there’s something kind of exciting going on in Russia these days. There’s a serious revival of Orthodoxy and it seems as if Russia is now about the only place where Christianity is making a revival in a big way.

    • I have often had similar thoughts, but it is a culture that is so far out of our reach. There is the language, the whole view of life. I have had the experience of expatriating from England and living in France. I am stuck where I am in a place where I have no roots, and England has become repulsive except in small doses. It’s no use listening to Elgar or Vaughan Williams. That sublime music didn’t come from the country but from individual persons. I often suffer from nostalgia for “England”, though my rational faculties inform me that contemporary England does not correspond with the dream that belongs only to heaven. We can only be nostalgic for the life that awaits us after our earthly pilgrimage.

      I don’t really know what is going on in Russia. The level of materialism and atheism remains high. The country was a shit-hole in the 1990’s and the Orthodox Church certainly suffers from the corruption of power. The “traditionalist” churches are fine for those born into them.

      Our best bet in Europe or the US is to get away from the cities. Combine the kind of work that can be done by computer and internet (eg. translating) to earn hard cash with some kind of small farming and gardening. I am not one of the “prepper” fraternity, but getting out to a remote place is sensible. Property is still affordable in France. I live in Normandy, but it is still too close to cities like Paris and Rouen for comfort. I would prefer to be out in Brittany or the Cotentin peninsula.

      I cringe to contemplate the mixture of Islamic barbarism and Orwellian secularism, but we are finite and will only live for so long. Our civilisation ended more or less in 1914 and we have been on borrowed time since then.

      What I would hope is that the capitalist world would collapse like Soviet Communism in 1989 and that Russia would become an inspiration for the rest of us to re-find our own roots, perhaps through another Renaissance and the discovery of both Christianity and Classical civilisation.

  3. Stephen K says:

    Father, I don’t understand what the comments are saying. To my mind, the point of Perceptio’s article is that the very notion of a “secular” world as the “enemy” of the Church is a grave category error: any thing that we think of, and usually speak of, as “Church” is indistinguishable from it, immersed as it must or has been in the world which informs as well as brings it into degrees of sharp relief. In other words, the moment one thinks of this or that Church solution as a solution to the “problem” of the “secular world”, whether it be liturgy (of whatever kind) or any other strategy, one has in a sense missed the point of it all. To think of Christianity as somehow non-incarnate, pure or unsecular is to be deluded; to think of a Church as a “thing” that can be defined to within an inch of its life rather than perhaps as a mysterious effect of the efforts and relationships of people and their God and each other – a kind of flow or energy if you will – is to destroy it by suffocation. Yes, we coalesce into groups and busy ourselves in “communal” activities, put on liturgical extravaganzas – whether High Masses or High Hoop-las – and think we are special, quarantined, when all most of us do most of the time is, as Rowan Williams would call it, “making religion”, achieving what might at first glance appear an oxymoron – secular religiosity or religious secularism –but which reveals the limitations of our conceits.

    Perceptio is, if I have understood him correctly, is making a very effective criticism of religious tragics of all kinds and the pre-occupations or prejudices of many “Churches” and their advocates. Jesus appears to have dealt from first to last in counter-intuitive paradoxes, and as the nature of matter may be understood in the presence of anti-matter, so to speak, so it is anti-Church-ness that helps us avoid the illusions of Church-ness. Perceptio is not, the way I read him, saying that only tight, intensive evangelical Christianity works but rather that a first step here to wisdom is to reject the Manichaeism that thinks in terms of a secular-religious divide and recognise that what we are talking about is not only an intimate continuum, but an inescapable mirror-image or that the Churches are not counter-worlds but sub-sets of the World.

    • I’m not sure about you mean about “the comments” – the comments in my posting or the comments (those of others and my own) following it which have mainly digressed onto a different but related subject. We are all part of the secular world, as soon as we say “hello” to a friend or buy something in a shop having earned the money needed. We live in the same world (saecula). Some aspects of this existence are more human, others more mechanical or bureaucratic and yet others more hostile to a spiritual outlook on life.

      I don’t see the Church as any kind of “solution”. From one point of view, Christ is incarnate in all humanity, including sin and sinners. Another view is to see the Church as an aspect of Berdyaev’s “aristocracy of the spirit” which is shared by all those who seek a “high” view of everything, from artists, composers, philosophers to all those who are not content to live in the low “mechanical” world. I am not aiming darts at man-made technology (I am using it right now) but the anti-human aspects of the “Orwellian dystopia” we might have to face in one form or another.

      My point, in complementarity with Perceptio’s article, is to outline this more “human” aspect of secular life in which spirituality and Church can incarnate. Parishes and dioceses are more modeled on state ministries, the civil service and large private companies – they have to be given their size. From whence the reaction of Bonhöffer, loosely paraphrased as “checkmate for the churches”. There is nowhere to go. Conservative Catholics hang onto this “secular” model of Church, because otherwise they have to share “true church” claims with others, including Protestants.

      I spend most of my life without the least contact with “churchy” people. Only when I’m on the internet! That gives me another perspective. I try to cling to the notions represented by Fr Charles de Foucault – go it on your own and try to be some kind of invisible leaven for all that is spirit, moral good and a difference in relation to “The Machine”. It is my motivation in trying to map out some kind of “new Romanticism” for myself and those who feel and think along such lines. It can’t be a movement or a group, because such contains the seeds of its own destruction. We live in the world, queue up at the bank, argue with the moron behind the counter for whatever, but we try to live according a higher consciousness and express it in love and beauty.

      I try to see things in the context of modern scientific discovery, the notion according to which consciousness is not the brain. Proof: some people have very seriously damaged brains but yet reason and function normally. Insane people about to die have been known to recover their reason shortly before passing away. What is matter? Is it also a manifestation of consciousness or what religious people call “spirit”. Materialists dismiss spirit as illusion, but the truth is likely to support the idea of matter as simply the “interface” between consciousness and the particular “frequency” it is called upon to live in. At the end of this earthly life, spirit will remain without matter or (which orthodox Christianity forbids us to believe) will reincarnate (but not necessarily in this world or our “frequency”).

      My concern, as for many others, is to resist the reduction of everything to materialism – and all the consequences flowing therefrom.

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, Father, I meant the comments that followed, not your own posting. And yes, I think that the spiritual dimension in our lives is important but not synonymous or identical with Church organisation or our institutionalising proclivities! I understand your reply completely.

  4. ed pacht says:

    CAUTION! Here comes one of my long-winded proclamations. I’ve been resisting getting into this, but ultimately I couldn’t help myself.

    As I see it, there is a difference between the purpose or calling of Christianity (be it the church as a body or the lives of individual Christians) and the realization of this purpose. There is indeed a dynamic opposition between the Christian vision and the secular world, in that, though always incarnate in a particular society, the Faith is called upon to question and even reject every aspect of that society out of accord with God’s expressed intentions as to how humanity is to live. I don’t believe there is any part of human experience that Christians can unreservedly bless. The concept of ‘original sin’ and similar ideas stems from the simple observation that our species, in all its undeniable magnificence, is almost unbelievably screwed up. When we do right things, we so very often do them for the foulest of reasons, and all too often the best of intentions manage to lead to really ugly actions.

    The Savior called for a kingdom that is NOT of this world, and constantly made ‘impossible’ demands on his followers, reaching in to the level of inner thoughts, attitudes, and attentions; and yet, most of the time, his people, as individuals and as churches, are so conformed to their society that it is hard to tell the difference. Both ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ evidence far more conformity to the ways and thought patterns of this world than to the transformative power of the Gospel., and both, if one looks deeply, can be seen to fall under the judgment He declared of the Pharisees.

    Every aspect of my society and of my personal thought and action stands under judgment, and needs to be questioned, perhaps rejected. Examination of my church and of myself will always reveal how far away and “unrealistic” are the goals, but I need to submit it all to judgment, and to plead for the transforming power of the promise he continually gives.

    The amazing thing about the Christian Tradition is that, though it is mediated by persons and churches so notably conformed to the world, it does faithfully carry within itself the core of the message that not only the secular world, but the church itself needs to hear, and there will be something deeply radical about a truly traditional Christianity, even when the developed institutions seem to militate against it.

    I could yammer on, but it’s past time to quit.

    • Everything is in the definition of the “world”. St John uses the word a lot, but it would be necessary to do some real exegesis on the use of this word as it appears in Greek. I think that for St John, it represented a cosmology consisting of corrupt and evil nature (ό κοσμος, ή σαρξ, και ό διαβολος) contrasted with spirit and God, and not the beautiful world as (imperfect but redeemed) creation of God.

      One possible interpretation of κοσμος is “the massive, unintelligent forces of nature, heat and cold, winds, rivers, matter and energy”. It is true that humans are no match for the force of the elements. That is made obvious to anyone who puts to sea in a small boat! The beauty of nature is one of the few things that give me a sense of awe and speak to me of God, but we are still divided between a Gnostic cosmology (the world created by the Demiurge, an entity who claimed to be God but who is not God) and the classical Christian notion of perfect creation that fell because of the sin of man and had to be redeemed by Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection.

      It’s a really difficult one, and I would appreciate input on it.

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