Recently I came across an online Washington Post book review about ‘Born Bad’: How the idea that we’re all sinners has shaped Western
culture, by an author
named James Boyce. The review (by Michael Dirda) summarizes points made by the
author, some of which I could refute along the way, and concludes with these
“Ultimately, original sin, he argues, isn’t about humanity’s
exile from Paradise but God’s exodus from
in a sense,’ he concludes, ‘the history of the West is an account of what
happened when a people were brought up to believe that their deity had turned
his back on his own creation.’ What we need now, he suggests, is to bring grace
back to earth, to understand that the care of our world is intertwined with the
care of our souls.”
The immediate reaction of any knowledgeable
Christian ought to be a complete rejection of this description of the doctrine
of Original Sin. It is not even accurate enough to be a caricature. Obviously,
the Gospel is about the Logos Himself,
incarnate to save the world from sin and death. The Gospel does not call on us
to “bring grace back to earth,” because God Himself has been giving His grace
all along, especially in the coming of His Son, who died for our sins and rose
again, and has sent the Holy Spirit to the Church.
came across the review because my brother (no – the other one) posted it on
Facebook, where it became a topic of discussion. Because the book focuses on “the
west” I knew what to expect, and sure enough I was not disappointed. In the
comments was a link to a website where one could read the Eastern Orthodox
doctrine that supposedly corrects this grievous western error. I am willing to
believe that the person who posted that link was trying to be charitable.
Nonetheless, it was insulting; why would a member of the Orthodox Church
actually think that the “western” doctrine of Original Sin teaches that God
exited the earth and turned His back on His creation? No one has ever taught
any such thing in the history of Christian theology.
the days that followed a young convert to Orthodoxy postulated, also on
Facebook, that the Orthodox view of man provides the best way to heal people of
addiction. That may be so in some hypothetical and unproven way; but I pointed
out, accurately, that the people who in fact have the best track record of
helping people overcome addiction are Pentecostals. This has been widely
recognized since David Wilkerson founded Teen
Challenge. It is no matter of pride for me, an Anglican Catholic, to give
this credit to others. It is simply a fact, and we ought to give credit where
credit is due.
the theme of my young friend’s post was that the “western” view of the Fall is
responsible for causing addiction. Maybe the idea came to him from reading the
same book review. I cannot say for sure, but the thinking was along the same
have encountered this before, converts to Orthodoxy who are quick to pounce on
anything “western” because they see us as a mission field. The symptom of this
delusion that seems most disturbing is that they seem unable to remember the
beliefs they had held before swimming the Bosporus.
Let them think back to a time when they were also “western” Christians, and
recall that they never believed such things as they now ascribe to us. That is
because they were never taught such things, for these ideas are alien to all of
Christianity, east or west.
coming across silly modern atheists, the ones my brother (yes – that one) has described
so well in Atheist Delusions and in The Experience of God, I have repeatedly
heard something to the effect of “I don’t believe in the man in the sky with
the long white beard.” My response is simple: “Thank you, I don’t believe in
Zeus either.” Well, from such an unlearned and unthinking lot as admirers of Christopher
Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, such dribble is to be expected. They cannot disappoint
me because I expect so little.
from other Christians! Several years ago I saw long detailed ramblings by a
young convert to Orthodoxy, one who came from a background I know well, explaining
that “western” theology believes in a false god, one that is not Wholly Other,
but instead merely the highest Being in an order of beings that includes all
created things as well. And, this was blamed on all the usual suspects, rounded
up neatly, such as Augustine and Anselm, and was also firmly intertwined with the
introduction of filioque. Really, it
was in response to him, rather than the atheists, that I first used the words “I
don’t believe in Zeus.” And, I never have.
takes more than a long stretch of the imagination to ascribe such nonsense to “western”
Christianity. It takes amnesia on the part of converts (assuming they had ever
learned anything before), and blissful ignorance on the part of some life long
members of the Orthodox Church who might buy that line. But, at the end of the
day it is based on nothing genuine or accurately understood. Really, if one wants
to state disagreement with some theological view that is widespread in the
west, it would be far preferable, to us, if they would cease from setting up
straw men to shoot down. For that is nothing but a distraction.
It gets even better if you are a protestant. Every time one of the Orthodox makes a ridiculous statement, another pounces and screams, "What is this protestantism!?" My only solace is the back channels with the educated are different in character. They will instead simply state what they believe. I can am free to agree or not.
I remember one, years ago, telling me about the western doctrine that God the Father took delight in, as in received pleasure from, the suffering of His Son. I replied, rather heatedly, that nobody has ever taught any such thing. He never said anything that stupid to me again.
Some of these arguments don't even make sense. If God had abandoned the world, sending his some would be a poor way to show such abandonment. Why would anyone worship an absent God in the first place, it would seem to me to be pure folly to do so and most likely that such an absent God would be uninterested in the worship of those he left in the first place. As for the addiction being caused by this abandonment, well it seems to me that nowhere in any version of scripture will you find any claim that God is a fan of addiction. As a matter of fact being a drunkard is spoken of quite poorly. So if I wanted to encourage this supposedly absent god to come back, despite my fall, I think addiction would hardly be the solution to the problem.
The only substantial difference between east and west regarding original sin, is the western notion of inherited guilt
How do I like this on Facebook? Hat tip to John Beeler for directing me here.
What is even more bizarre about so much of this is the fact that the true eastern Christians, Copts, Syrians, Chaldeans etc. consider Byzantium to be part of the western church. Personally, I had no idea that God's kingdom was so tied to geography.
Post a Comment