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.