Where the West is headed now, and how the Eastern Church might play a role
...offered by Dn. fdj, a sinner at 1:24 PM [+]
As I said before, I truly believe there is an intricate relationship between our enchantment with relativism and diversity and the supposedly antiquated individualism. The individualism of the modern age is still with us, is it not? And I believe there is another factor, which I will bring into play here shortly, that is the binding agent between the three (relativism, diversity, and individualism): rationalism. I think a brief look at the origins of individualism would help clear my thinking a bit, in particular the spilling over of the philosophy into the life of Christianity.
You will recall that I believe the womb of the “modern age” extends back much further than Veith suggested and I think we can see Protestantism being born shortly after it’s rather solid establishment. Modernism arose from the enlightenment in which rationalism (the belief that the exercise of reason, rather than experience, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the primary basis for knowledge) began to take root in society. Now, of course Protestants believe in spiritual revelation, but they believe it exists primarily – and in many cases exclusively in the written word of the Bible. Applying rationalism to the Bible would become the flagship of Protestant belief and practice.
I’ve heard it said that the Protestant reformation rejected an infallible Pope and in his place set up millions of infallible laypersons all of whom have Bible in hand and presuppositions in mind. Thus began the great splintering of Christianity. (I understand of course that this was not the first splintering, it was, however, the first one in which philosophical and theological innovations would, if not directly, certainly indirectly clear the way for more and more schism – the numbers of which are today staggering.) Individualism was – almost subconsciously…perhaps covertly - holding Protestantism’s hand all the way and the two have walked a good distance together since. The Protestant experiment was/is essentially to recover Christianity and to fully understand what Christ intended for His Church by relying solely on and by rationally examining the scriptures. And furthermore individuals were naturally qualified to do just this. The end and continuing result of this hypothesis was naturally selected as if Darwin himself had proposed it: diversity…lots and lots of diversity. (Sorry I couldn’t resist.)
We reconcile this diversity to the biblical concept of Christian Unity by way of relativism. Enter the doctrine of the “unseen church”. We reduce the faith to it’s lowest common denominator in order to still say that the invisible unity of the church is secure. Folks lets be honest, that common denominator is getting lower and lower. Where are we going to draw the line…I mean seriously, where specifically are we going to draw the line and say this you must affirm in order to be a Christian? Are we not simply protecting our precious individualism?
As postmodernism arises, we as a culture emerging into something different (I hesitate to say new), are beginning to frown upon the idea of individualism. We are beginning to see a tremendous benefit to a more intimate communal experience, which our society (and by that I mean primarily our western society) has been deprived of for quite sometime. But I wonder if we are really willing to let go of individualism…or at least on some subconscious level we are continuing to integrate aspects or offspring of individualism into our new postmodern Christianity: such as relativism and diversity – just like the reformers developed the doctrine of an unseen church that I mentioned above. What new doctrines will we espouse in this postmodern age?
Here is the crux of the matter; the point where I think the Eastern Church may be able to offer some input. Many of the emerging postmodern groups of Christians are looking for affinity with and indeed guidance from the ancient and earliest church. They seek such by looking backwards to try and discern what was done in pre-modern times and are thereafter trying to bring such practices back into their church experience. I truly laud them for this. As the oldest branch of Christianity on Earth…a branch, which as Laura mentioned in one of her comments to me holds to "old beliefs and is resistant to change", the Orthodox Church ought to have something to offer these people. I believe we do.
More to come…