An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Yesterday in writing the previous post I did not have physical access to the book in question and in reviewing it last night I realized that I did not also give credit to Friedrich Engels who played a huge role in the development of Soviet “scientific” atheism. Engels was an avid proponent of “freeing” philosophy from the idealism of theism and melding it with his materialistic worldview. He further believed and taught that ultimately the natural sciences combined with social progress would lead necessarily to the death of religion.
Engels, Marx, and Lenin all felt that religion arose from ignorance and need. Ignorance about the natural world (and our inability to have much control over it) and need of basic necessities. In their thinking it was easy to imagine unenlightened people (of the past) suffering greatly from need (imagine lack of food, natural disasters, poverty, infant mortality etc) looking to an unseen deity and an associated spiritual explanation for it all. If you educate and provide for the people - or more aptly phrased “the masses” – then you will drive the final nail in the coffin of religious faith.
In today’s modern western world we have unimaginable health and wealth. We have education to a degree never before seen and as we all know we live in the “Information Age” (even if it is often disinformation). You have heard me lament the powerful sociological role we have given over to science these days, in which one need only start a press release with the words “Studies show…” and you can expect to make front page news. The early Soviets worked VERY hard to create a sort of scientific religion (complete with ceremonies), but they never really succeeded. I rather wonder if we have not done a better job here and now. And so, that is my question: Have we proved Marx, Engels, and Lenin right in their proposition that by educating and providing for people we can end religious faith?
Well clearly religious faith still exists, particularly here in the USA, but no one can deny the extent to which it’s importance, authority, and potency is waning. This, I believe is happening via methods that are generally unintentional (though make no mistake in assuming there are not some who wish to drive this seemingly blind and deaf movement). First, as I mentioned before, we have little to worry about these days. We have an unbelievable quantity of leisure time which we readily fill with things that typically make us forget precisely how much leisure time we actually have. Our entertainment options are innumerable and I think much could be said about the strange success of “Reality TV”…seemingly showing that our lives are so mundane that we require invented and yet “real” drama and excitement while sitting in easy chairs while inflating our lipid cells via food of such caloric values as has never been seen in the natural world. The point being that we really have very little in life by which we need to take it seriously serious. You’ve no doubt heard talk about having “come to Jesus” moments, but those moments are becoming more and more rare I suspect and if you give it some thought I think you’ll see how we tend to work very hard (and effectively) at shielding ourselves from them.
On top of this, we have largely bought into the intellectual scheme that brought us the misnomer of “separation of Church and state.” On this point I would again appeal to Fr. Stephen and his two story universe analogy in that we really have compartmentalized our lives to a huge degree and no greater example of this exists in how we order a secular and a sacred world into separate entities. Our culture largely supports this by increasingly relegating religious belief into a special realm of “personal” and “private” life. I believe that the now “common sense” habit of checking one’s religion at the door of their employer or school or whatever is a new concept and almost certainly ascribing a virtue to this on again off again faith is new.
Yes, I realize that I do not abandon my faith when I walk into my lab, rather I turn it WAY down. You might have read about my surreal experiences in Uganda where religious faith is freely worn on one’s sleeve at their place of employment. Now, I realize we live in a pluralistic society here (but then again, so is Uganda!) and so I am not advocating for anything such as having a work sponsored prayer time or something to that effect, but by the same token I KNOW that I am not imagining the pressure that is put on us to be secular in certain circumstances...circumstances that often take up a large portion of our lives.
While there is no doubt in my mind that some aspects of our educational systems is erroneously indoctrinating a form of scientism and thus a default atheism-materialism, it does not of course compare with the deliberate and intensive work done by soviet sponsored groups and organizations. More of what drives us toward our brand of secularism can be found in things like Diversity Training. The Soviets had re-education camps and we have Diversity Training at schools and TV at night.
Now you may laugh at this, but I truly believe we are swiftly indoctrinating our children and ourselves through schools and the media to believe in essentially nothing. For we learn that to be sensitive to others and their beliefs and cultures we must come to understand that there are no absolute truths in regard to these issues. No culture is better than any other and no religion more true than any other. At nights, American families with “nothing better” to do, gather around the “campfire” (TV) not to hear tales and stories that lay out the landmarks their fathers have set, but rather the unanchored and invented fantasies of a generation gone mad that further supports a compartmentalized and purely subjective reality in terms of religion and morals. In the end, when we are told to “Celebrate Diversity” what we are really being told to do is to recognize that the ONLY thing we have in common in a pluralistic society is materialism.
I think Lenin, Marx, and Engels would be proud...even if they perceived far more work to be done and it will certainly hinge on the common materialism we’ve come to recognize as foundational in our secularized culture. More to come...
One of the more subtle fallacies that secularism (which typically has a materialistic metaphysic behind it) foists upon Man is that there is such a thing as the "natural" world that autonomously runs in accordance with natural laws.
For one thing, such a view cannot see the necessary relationship between God as Creator, whereby He brought all things into being out of nothing by the Logos, and the providence of that same God, whereby He continuously upholds all things by the Word of His power (Heb. 1:3). Nature, in the philosophic materialism typically underlying secularism, is just "there," and if it has any meaning at all, such meaning is self-generated by autonomous Nature.
Secondly, worldviews that portray Nature as autonomous, not pointing beyond itself to its Creator but instead either (a) generating its own meaning, or (b) denying the very meaning of "meaning", obviously have nothing approaching any Biblical view of the Fall. (A) is really a religion floating in a void. (B) is far more characteristic of modern Western man. Camus, Sartre, and Beckett all correctly observed that the only philosophical question left for modern man is that of suicide. For instance, Beckett wrote, "How am I, an atemporal being imprisoned in time and space, to escape from my imprisonment, when I know that outside space and time lies Nothing, and that I, in the ultimate depths of my reality, am Nothing also?" This is where philosophical materialism, and thus consistent secularism, really leads, and I must confess that I have far more respect for this view than the one that pretends that secularism leads somewhere worth going. It's just too gutless to follow its presuppositions to their conclusions.
There is next to nothing (maybe absolutely nothing, except God) in this existence that is the way it's supposed to be. Everything is broken, everything wears out, everything tends toward an arduos, mind-numbing cycle, everything weakens, everything tends to fly in the face of its intended function, everything (including our hearts) resists our best efforts to reform them, everything dies, and NONE OF THIS IS NORMAL. Until we see this, I don't even know how we can really be saved.
Interesting. My own internet work is a combination of the "secular" and the "religious" because I view them as part of a seamless continuum. To split these two apart is like trying to saw Christ in two by using a dull buzzsaw. All it does is to leave a bloody and lifeless corpse, good for nothing.
It is why most westerners cannot understand the Orthodox or Muslim mindset. Everything is mixed together thoroughly, and there are no neat and simple boxes in which to segregate things. I think that this is the hardest thing for western converts to "get" in Orthodoxy, and, frankly, many don't (especially ex-Anglicans).
Westerners wonder why we can party hearty on Saturday and pray just as fervently on Sunday. I say it is because we haven't "boxed" things as neatly as the westerns do. We Russians want the "real thing": a bracing slug of real vodka and a straightforward whiff of heaven in the liturgy... at one and the same time!