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.
Inevitably, life issues raise up the political hackles. Right vs. Left and Republican vs. Democrat. Many of us are tempted to dig our trenches. For some, everything hinges on abortion; for another, war; and for yet another, the environment etc etc etc.
So hunkering down into political bunkers...well...don't go there...it's a bad idea I believe. In my "old age" I am finding myself less and less inclined to see ANY answers in the political spectrum...I think appealing to the government to stop abortion these days makes about as much sense as expecting them to end poverty. It's just not going to happen, which of course isn't to say that we should throw up our hands about either issue and give up voicing our strong pro-life message. I am not one to suggest that who we vote for makes NO difference with regard to life issues: be they war, abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, poverty etc. What I am wondering is IF the political arena is the place where we can expect to succesfully fight the dreaded "culture war"?
Check out Terry Mattingly's article on Paul Weyrich. And you can read the referenced Weyrich letter here. I find myself leaning in the direction of agreement with Weyrich - at least on a few issues - and in particular the notion that getting the right people in office is going to turn back the tide of our cultural proclivities. To some degree, I wonder if bringing the "culture war" into the political arena was a huge mistake made by the religious right which could perhaps be seen as a knee-jerk reaction in fear after seeing the wild "success" of greater and greater secularism and humanism - particularly in colleges and universities, pop-culture, and major media outlets. I'm never quite sure how much I believe there is/was much of an organized effort (conspiracy?) to destroy traditional values (no more than efforts to preserve them, right?), but I do believe we are fast approaching (or are well within)a period of history that can rightly be called "post-Christian" and perhaps even "post-religious"...a sort of new secular enlightenment. What do we do with that? Legislate? I think not. BUT, by the same token do we let someone else legislate books we'd consider immoral into our kids' public school library? At some point all voices must be heard...and one is left to wonder how exactly we can possibly avoid the culture war? Perhaps there is a pacifist version of it to be fought?
Is gay marriage inevitable? I tend to think so, but how much should I care? Especially given that I don't think the state officiates or performs the marriages of ANYBODY! But where I do concern myself is the degree to which those who uphold ANY semblance of religious misgivings about the "legitimacy" of homosexual behavior will be seen by the near future culture like today's culture sees the racist. What then? Can it be stopped? Should it be stopped? How? Does it matter?
Personally, I think the solution to the fearful bickering in the political sphere is to remove more of the political sphere from our LIVES' spheres. Let me offer one example: schools. If you think about it for a minute, you have people with extremely opposing views on life trying to EDUCATE their children from an ever expanding early age through high school via public schools and public funding - all in an age of increasing political correctness and an absolutely over-the-top interpretation of the establishment clause in the Constitution. Bending over backwards to appeal to a single moral value ("Celebrate Diversity"), the schools will increasing find themselves approaching the breaking point as one parents wants "Johnny has Two Dads" to be required reading for 2nd graders, while another wants it absolutely banned from the schools library. What can they possibly do as we seemingly are widening this cultural gap and people grow in fear (whether rightly or wrongly) in concern for where things are headed next?
Well what would happen if we simply shut the public school system down and take the funds that are ALREADY attached to our kids presence and let parents decide where they want their kids to go to school. Yes, even religious schools! Of course religious schools! WHY NOT RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS?!?! As long as there are NO restrictions, there is absolutely no violation of the 1st Amendment. It wouldn't matter if the kid went to a Muslim School, a Hindu School, or the Richard Dawkins Elementary School for Atheist...we would have suddenly taken the "culture war" out of the political arena (where we all worry and fear the power government can wield over us) and placed it in the context of chatting with a neighbor and perhaps doing a little intellectual sparring over a beer. No one worries what policies will be instituted by the federal government because WE are now free to educate our children however we like.
Yes, it really seems to me that the ONLY way to stop the ugliness of this stupid culture war is to get the government OUT of the business of overly regulating culture! Not likely to happen, and since that is the case, I personally commend everyone to make the best political decisions they can, but expect very little. That said, sometimes the little things can be big...but these candidates we vote for I think are often far less leaders and far more followers of whatever side of the cultural battlefield they feel may have the best chance of winning at any given time.
So where does this leave us Orthodox for this Sanctity of Life Sunday? Yes, abortion SHOULD be an illegal act. But it is also true that if all life is sacred, does this somehow change if that life is on a battlefield or in a death row prison? No, of course it does not change it. I don't believe the ending of ANY life is to be seen as anything other than a horrible revelation of our fallen condition. To this point, Met. JONAH is of course right when he says that being Pro-War is not being Pro-life. I don't think war is ever anything to celebrate, and so that, by my definition, means I am NOT pro-war. I believe we are obliged to honor those who serve and I personally believe there is a time to use force (the decision therein is of course the sticking point). We have our Jim Forests and we have our Fr. Alexander Websters. The Church has historically embraced both pacifist and soldier-saints...what are we to make of that? Let me spell out my take: I have no idea.
How's that for being clear?
For some reason in thinking about the Sanctity of Life, I am reminded of this:
He did not stop on the steps either, but went quickly down; his soul, overflowing with rapture, yearned for freedom, space, openness. The vault of heaven, full of soft, shining stars, stretched vast and fathomless above him. The Milky Way ran in two pale streams from the zenith to the horizon. The fresh, motionless, still night enfolded the earth. The white towers and golden domes of the cathedral gleamed out against the sapphire sky. The gorgeous autumn flowers, in the beds round the house, were slumbering till morning. The silence of earth seemed to melt into the silence of the heavens. The mystery of earth was one with the mystery of the stars....
Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it. He could not have told why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all. But he kissed it weeping, sobbing, and watering it with his tears, and vowed passionately to love it, to love it for ever and ever. "Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears," echoed in his soul.
What was he weeping over?
Oh! in his rapture he was weeping even over those stars, which were shining to him from the abyss of space, and "he was not ashamed of that ecstasy." There seemed to be threads from all those innumerable worlds of God, linking his soul to them, and it was trembling all over "in contact with other worlds." He longed to forgive everyone and for everything, and to beg forgiveness. Oh, not for himself, but for all men, for all and for everything. "And others are praying for me too," echoed again in his soul. But with every instant he felt clearly and, as it were, tangibly, that something firm and unshakable as that vault of heaven had entered into his soul. It was as though some idea had seized the sovereignty of his mind -- and it was for all his life and for ever and ever. He had fallen on the earth a weak boy, but he rose up a resolute champion, and he knew and felt it suddenly at the very moment of his ecstasy. And never, never, his life long, could Alyosha forget that minute.
Not a moment passes that we are not given an opportunity to experience a profound revelation...a chance at conversion. Were we to truly embrace life...all of life for what it is and for Who is in it, I wonder if we'd have so much need to worry about the political "solutions." This is true for both Democrat and Republicans, liberal and conservative...and yes...even crotchety libertarians like me.
One more thing. However you obtain movies to watch, seek out this one NOW: Bella.
I don't know why, but in Athonite churches the choirs on either side of the church are all, or nearly all, frescoed with military saints. It looks like the choir should be rattling and clanking with all the armor, mail and weaponry. Very bellicose looking singers with all the martial scenery.
I was tracking with most of what you read, until I got to Dostoevsky. It's funny, 20 years ago, a young Russian lit major and a convert, I loved Dostoevsky. Now, and the passage you provide is a great example, I'm just left cold. It seems preposterous, impractical.
My main fear of the private school solution is that it will have the effect, if indeed it already hasn't, of so fracturing society, that no one will have any shared values or "intellectual furnishings", and even more importantly, no one will realize that there should be any commonality, any "culture." Some people think this is absurdly exaggerated, I would argue that it's already happened. When it comes to religion, movies, books, information, opinions, there just seems to be an explosion of diversity, and the vocabulary to have a decent conversation "over beer" has been lost. So I get uneasy about just flushing the public schools.
I'm not sure that is necessarily a criticism. Much may be deemed impractical.
So I get uneasy about just flushing the public schools.
I guess the argument would be that keeping the present system and trying to mold schools into what would be required to satisfy ever diversified needs would eventually neuter the schools to a point of sterility. In other words...fighting the ongoing culture war with all the emotionalism attached to the rearing and education of our children - does that ugliness codified into public school policy (for good and for ill) make for a better system than freedom of choice and whatever ill effect it may have on a sense of community and culture? I'd suggest the former would and IS far more damaging to our sense of community.