Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Post-Modernism

Russian Orthodox Church, Petropavlovsk

Russian Orthodox Church, Petropavlovsk (Photo credit: GlobalCitizen01)

Off this morning to teach at Acton University.  I’m presenting a lecture on asceticism and consumerism. My thesis is that consumerism is not the fruit of a particular economic system but of human sinfulness. Yes, a given system might very well be more (or less) fertile ground for consumerism, but from my own perspective as an Orthodox Christian and social scientists, consumerism as such requires first and foremost an ascetical response.  Anyway, for those who are interested, I’ll post at least my notes later this week.

What I wanted to offer today are a few brief thoughts about the recent scholarly debate about whether or not Muhammad actually existed (you can read an excellent summary of the discussion here). Let me say up front, the scholarship that underlines the historical debate is well beyond my area of familiarity much less competency. My own scholarly frailties aside however, the discussion does raise an interesting question for the pastoral life of the Orthodox Church.

Like the Orthodox Church, Islam is now learning that secular culture and thought matter.  There are to be sure great points of difference and divergence between the two traditions but shouldn’t cause us to overlook or minimize what is a significant point of convergence. Whether or not Muslims can successful respond and even integrate to post-modern thought in a manner consonant and supportive of Islam and whether the Orthodox Church can evangelize post-modern thought, is an open question for both communities as it is for the Roman Catholic Church.  Pope Benedict XVI, like Pope John Paul II before him, has made a good start that Orthodox Christians would do well to study, understand and adapt to our own situation.  This is to say that (speaking simply for myself) the Orthodox Church needs to step up our game and engage secular culture in a more assertive, evangelical and winsome manner.  This isn’t a matter of joining the culture way but of more confidently preaching the Gospel.

If we don’t do this we may very well find ourselves in a marginalized cultural position not unlike at least some members of the Islamic community. For Christians such marginalization is not necessarily a bad thing if it fosters fidelity to the Gospel and the sanctification of the believer. Unfortunately at least in America this doesn’t seem to be the case for Orthodox Christians. Secularism has made great inroads and has done so for reasons that (to me at least) are not wholly clear.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Enhanced by Zemanta
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 8.5/10 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Post-Modernism, 8.5 out of 10 based on 2 ratings
  • Michael Bauman

    Father, my own stab at some reasons secularism has made great in roads in the Church:  1.) the sapping of the strength and vitality of the Church in her traditional homelands by centuries of subjugation to Islam in a state of dhiminutude;   2). The oppression of the Russian Church by the demonic rule of the communists;  3) The consequent refusal of the old country Patriarchs to help the Church in the U.S and other western countries to become a vital, free and potent evangelical force as we should be. 

    The concentration on the ‘ethnic’ which includes the American ethnic of many converts (largely shaped by secularized Protestantism and ‘Enlightenment rationalism’)  has created a situtation in which the reality of God being “everywhere present and filling all things”  is often forgotten. All that matters is the created thing.  The Natural Law approach of the RCC is of little help with this IMO, simply because it tends in the direction of a deitistic separtion between God and us–His creation (the main problem I have with RCC ecclesiology and soteriology BTW).  What develops is an impotent gnosticism in which aceticism becomes self-torture and the torture is then attributed to God so asceticism is not pursued (even more marked in the Calvinist derived Protestants)  Certainly we Orthodox are not immune from such self-destruction either.  The mystical delusion is a frequent story even in the lives of saints.     

    BTW: The nilhism that pentrates and lies just under the surface of so much of American letters (from Emerson forward) is marked, but largely invisible because it is the assumed manner of thought. What is presented is the gradual dissolution and destruction of the human soul.  Oh the heroic man or woman may for awhile by superhuman effort attempt to escape from the darkness, but they, at best, remain in an extential grayness.  At worst, they are sucked back into the darkness from which they were attempting to escape.  So, why not eat, drink and be merry?  Is that much different from pray (indvidualistically), pay and obey? 

    If we were ever to actually enter into the two great evangelistic statements and live them, all of that would be shattered.  “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and “Christ is Risen!”  The way to do that, it seems to me, is to worship God in community rather than the created thing.  True asceticism is an effort at doing that.  It is not an heroic denial of this world, it is a constant recognition of from where and from whom our life actually comes and how close He is (“nearer than hands and feet”). 

    Joy is a God given gift.  It too is ‘at hand’ 

    “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” 

     

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • Michael Bauman

    As regards the convergence of Islam and the Church in some matters:   Let us not forget the vast difference in approach.  Islam seeks to bring all into subugation under the Will of Allah–thus Sharia Law, violent jihad and all of the assorted cruelty that flows from that.  The Church seeks, in the Persons of the Holy Trinity, to free and transform all that God has created with we humans as the center of that work.  Thus, despite what may seem to be similar challenges and even common ground can get really squishy really quickly because of the vast divergence in the understanding of the divine will. 

    Just a thought.   

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  • http://araborthodoxy.blogspot.com/ Samn!

    The academic environment for the study of early Islam is rather different than that for the study of early Christianity. By and large, most scholars of Islam are either Muslims themselves (often converts) or are highly sympathetic to that religion, and very sensitive to the historical injustices perpetrated against it by Europeans and Americans. For this reason, it’s really impossible at the moment for practicing specialists in the field to undertake a study of the Qur’an and Muhammad using the methodology used in Biblical Studies and Early Christian studies. So, the gap is often filled by people who aren’t particularly well-positioned to undertake the task. For example, Cook and Crone wrote “Hagarism” when they were graduate students as a deliberately provocative thought-experiment. Tom Holland is a Classicist writing without expertise in the primary texts (let alone the necessary languages). Then there are the overtly polemical writers, like Robert Spencer or Christoph Luxenberg, who work with questionable credentials and motives, making flashy-but-dubious assertions.

    There are a few exceptions to this, most notably Gabriel Reynolds at Notre Dame, but their research tends to be carefully considered and much, much less headline-grabbing….

    So, in my opinion as someone in the field, one should be more impressed with Islam’s ability to insulate itself from modern scientific inquiry than anything else… 

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)