Casuistry, Virtue and the Fruit of the Spirit

We sometimes draw an unappreciative distinction between the Orthodox Church’s “therapeutic” model of the Christian life and the “forensic” or legalistic model of Western Christian traditions. While not wholly without some foundation, this is basically silly.

Western Christian traditions also are concerned with healing the soul and, as Orthodox Christians, we have a long history of law. Not only canon law governing things like how a diocese functions but also very legalistic teaching on sin and confession.

In others, Orthodox moral theology can be every bit as legal (and legalistic) as anything in the West!

Looking at the ways in which moral theology become moralizing, some Orthodox Christians have downplayed or even dismissed the importance of moral theology. But as youth ministers, having no familiarity with the moral tradition of the Church is like trying to be a physician without knowing anatomy or an engineer who doesn’t know mathematics. It just ain’t gonna happen!

We need to know something of moral theology if we hope to guide young people successfully through the many struggles they’ll face as they move from childhood into adulthood.

Broadly, moral theology has two concerns: casuistry and virtue formation.

Casuistry, or the objective analysis of moral issues, has a bad reputation (and not just among Orthodox Christians). But to help someone live a virtuous life, we need to know what are the moral limits of our life in Christ, Casuistry is how we discern the moral boundaries that we can’t transgress and still remain in communion with Christ and the Church.

Casuistry is also important because, unlike virtue, sin is boring. We are all of us good in unique ways. There are an almost infinite number of ways for us to live morally good but moral goodness reflects the Infinite Goodness of God.

Sin, on the other hand, is monotonous and predictable. If a morally good life opens us to God neverending love, sin is narrowing our vision. Virtue makes us more than we were yesterday, sin makes us less than were.

But we need to remember, objective morality isn’t an end in itself. It does, however, remind us that we are all broken in similar ways (for more see Be the Bee #124). We aren’t going to grow in holiness as disciples of Jesus Christ because we don’t violate a short list of moral do’s and don’ts.

The priest who received my wife and me into the Church summarized the importance of objective morality this why: “You’re not a Christian because you keep the Ten Commandments but you can’t be a Christian if you don’t!”

So in addition to keeping the Commandments, to not sinning, the fathers say we need to cultivate virtue. We need to not simply do good things now and then, we need to be in the habit of doing good things.

I would define virtue this way. Virtue is made up of those habits of thought and action that lead to a life of Christian holiness. If casuistry, objective morality, sketches out the boundaries of the Christian life, virtue provides us the content of that life.

Not just young people but all of us need to know not only the moral limits but also the moral content of what it means to follow Christ. The Apostle Paul gives us a good summary of the virtues we need to cultivate as Orthodox Christians:

**But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).**

In addition to thinking of sin as individual, morally bad actions, we also need to think of it as any habit or action that undermines the fruits of the Spirit.

What, for example, am I doing that robs me or others of joy or peace for example? How am I being unkind? What are the ways in which I’m unloving or selfish preferring my own will to what’s best for the people in my life?

In the next few classes, we’ll look at particular moral issues that are currently being debated in the culture. We’ll do this with an eye to answering the kinds of questions I asked here. While we shouldn’t use the moral tradition as a club to beat people or as an excuse to not love others or for self-promotion, we need to understand that what the Church says is objectively immoral are those things that undermine love and the other fruits of the Spirit that St Paul lists.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

…for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

I must respectfully disagree with Casey Williams’ essay in the NYT (Has Trump Stolen Philosophy’s Critical Tools?):

Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.

He goes on to say that

For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.

It isn’t Trump who weaponized critical theory; it’s always been a weapon. Critical theories of one sort or another have been used to undermine the Great Tradition, Christianity, natural law and now even simple courtesy.

William’s complaint is that, now, the weapon has been turned on those who used it first. What did Jesus say? I remember,

Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:52, NKJV)

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For Consideration

(Acton Power Blog) Key quotes from the work of the Austrian/British economist Friedrich Hayek:

 

On Faith in Freedom: Freedom necessarily means that many things will be done which we do not like. Our faith in freedom does not rest on the foreseeable results in particular circumstances but on the belief that it will, on balance, release more forces for the good than for the bad. (The Case for Freedom)

On Equality: From the fact that people are very different it follows that, if we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position, and that the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are therefore not only different but are in conflict with each other; and we can achieve either one or the other, but not both at the same time. The equality before th

English: GFDL picture of F.A. Hayek to replace...

F.A. Hayek (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

e law which freedom requires leads to material inequality. (The Constitution of Liberty)

On Democracy: A limited democracy might indeed be the best protector of individual liberty and be better than any other form of limited government, but an unlimited democracy is probably worse than any other form of unlimited government, because its government loses the power even to do what it thinks right if any group on which its majority depends thinks otherwise. If Mrs. Thatcher said that free choice is to be exercised more in the market place than in the ballot box, she has merely uttered the truism that the first is indispensable for individual freedom, while the second is not: free choice can at least exist under a dictatorship that can limit itself but not under the government of an unlimited democracy which cannot. (Letter to The Times (July 11, 1978))

On Wealth and Power: [W]ho will deny that a world in which the wealthy are powerful is still a better world than one in which only the already powerful can acquire wealth? (The Road to Serfdom)

On Private Property: What our generation has forgotten is that the system of private property is the most important guarantee of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not. It is only because the control of the means of production is divided among many people acting independently that nobody has complete power over us, that we as individuals can decide what to do with ourselves. (The Road to Serfdom)

On Ignorance: All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. (The Constitution of Liberty

Reasons to fail

NIMBY is just one specific physical manifestation of a broader mentality of stasis. There is also: 

  • NIMEY—Not In My Election Year 
  • NIMTOO—Not In My Term Of Office 
  • LULU—Locally Undesirable Land Use 
  • NOPE—Not On Planet Earth 
  • CAVE—Citizens Against Virtually Everything 
  • BANANA—Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything 

One upshot of this current Zeitgeist of community-enforced social stasis is that our physical infrastructure won’t get much better anytime soon.

From: Tyler Cowen, The Complacency Class:The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream

Marriage & Parenthood

Remember the song? First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby carriage. The data suggests that this order is best for all concerned, children and parents. 

… children born to a cohabiting couples are about twice as likely to experience a parental breakup by age 12 as children born to married parents. This is true even for children born to more educated cohabiting mothers. 

For more go here

The Moral and Spiritual Blessings of Trade Among All Nations 

St John Chrysostom (c.349—407) Archbishop of C...

St John Chrysostom (c.349—407) Archbishop of Constantinople (398—404) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Sarah Skwire, Literary Editor of FEE.org and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc., writes:

Free trade doesn’t just make us better off.

It makes us better people.

Donald Trump claims that raising barriers to trade is one of the things it will take to “Make America Great Again,” but he is wrong. Greatness—both of wealth and of moral character—comes from trade. And we have known this for a very long time.

She goes on to quote St John Chrysostom’s argument “that God had arranged the geography of the world in such a way that humans would be required to trade with one another to meet their needs.”

Read the rest: here.

No Free Lunch, No Free Argument

The opportunity cost of enchanting one’s fellow economists is alienating noneconomists.  There is no such thing as a free argument.

Deirdre N. McCloskey (1985/1998), The Rhetoric of Economics, p. 83.

Constitutional Liberties Under Assault

More thoughts on Pussy Riot at UW-Madison…

Like many Orthodox Christians (I won’t speak for those outside the Orthodox Church) I think the Russian government and the Church of Russian over reacted to Pussy Riot. I think that the ROC is too closely identified with Putin.

At the same, Pussy Riot wasn’t simply pointing out that Church and State are too close in Russia. They desecrated Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow. The original Cathedral was destroyed by the Communist. Pussy Riot “performance” was in the new Cathedral. Pussy Riot’s protest in the Cathedral was, is, offensive to many Orthodox Christians in Russia and around the world. They choose a place that is sacred to the Orthodox Church not only because it is a cathedral but because it is a memorial to millions of martyrs. And frankly, I find it impossible to believe that UW’s Center for Russia, East Europe, & Central Asia (who are co-sponsoring the event) doesn’t know this. More likely they just don’t care.

What concerns me more as both a Christian and an American citizen is that now twice within one week UW has shown a marked hostility to fundamental human rights. UW has signaled its willingness to limit free speech by regulation and to support those who made a thuggish assault on the freedom of religion.

Pussy Riot didn’t civilly engage the Church on her position on homosexuality. They desecrated a church. And now UW is giving them a forum as if they were something other than common criminals.

Since I was an undergraduate, I’ve gone to church with Christians who suffered for the Gospel under fascism and communism. What I’ve learned from them is the resilience of faith. And from their example, I know that the  idea that UW represents any credible, long-term threat to me or the Orthodox Church is laughable.

And yes, I understand why people are upset about someone wearing an Obama mask was seen with a noose around his neck (here). Likewise, I understand why people at UW are swooning over Pussy Riot.

However, it is worrisome to me, as a citizen, that there is seemingly no willingness to even entertain the idea that the noose was not a racist act but a legitimate form of political protest. Likewise, Pussy Riot is invited to campus with seemingly no awareness that their protests were an assault (however feckless) on the conscience of the Orthodox Church and on religious liberty more generally.

Come UW, you’re better than this! At least I hope you are.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Pussy Riot At UW-Madison

University of Wisconsin–Madison

University of Wisconsin–Madison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There has been much discussion of late about hate speech on the UW-Madison campus and in the current presidential debate. In light of this, I wrote the following email to the Chancellor expressing my concern that the University has invited Pussy Riot to speak on campus.

This is why even though I have never been paid, I have been involved with campus ministry for the last 25 years. The Church’s intermittent presence, or worse absence, from college campuses is (in my view) a major reason we lose so many young adults.
We have to start funding campus ministry.

In Christ,
Fr Gregory

Dear Chancellor Blank,

I’m writing to bring to your attention that “Pussy Riot” will be speaking at the University Thursday evening, November 17 (here).

As an Orthodox priest and as the chaplain for Orthodox students at UW, I find this to be deeply offensive. Pussy Riot is an anti-Orthodox hate group who desecrated an Orthodox Church. I find it inconceivable that the University would invite a racist group to speak. Why then is an anti-Christian group provided a forum?

I appreciate that neither you nor your office had any involvement in the invitation. And while I understand that Pussy Riot has a First Amendment right to speak, I want to protest in the strongest possible terms their presence on campus.

It is simply inappropriate for a hate group to be sponsored by the University. That this was done without consultation, or even notice, to the Orthodox Christian community on campus merely compounds the offense.

Fr Gregory Jensen

Chaplain
Orthodox Christian Fellowship

Taxes, Justice, Charity & A Fair Share

Moral posturing on economic matters is always risky. When it works it tends to do so because, as with most populist arguments, it appeals to some combination of greed, envy, and/or fear.

This doesn’t mean, I’d hasten to add, that economics and morality are divorced from each other. Like the rest of my life, economic decisions are subject to moral scrutiny and criticism. Like in other areas of my life, my economic decisions can be virtuous or sinful.

Contrary to what we hear from some libertarians or anarchists, taxation isn’t theft. I have not only a legal obligation to pay taxes to support the common good, I have a moral obligation as well.

That said, paying taxes doesn’t have the same moral weight as the obligation I have to care for my family. To my family, I owe a debt of love. To the tax collector, on the other hand, I owe a debt of justice.

Contrary to what Senator Warren would have us believe (see video), Donald Trump’sfair share” in taxes is same as it is for everyone else: it’s what the law says it is and not a penny more. Moreover, if the tax laws of my nation allow me to reduce my tax burden either through deductions (e.g., the mortgage interest deduction) or by sheltering a portion of my income (say in a tax-deferred retirement savings account), it is just—fair to use Warren’s word—for me to do so. The only way it is unfair for someone to minimize his or her tax burden according to what the law allows is if the law itself is unfair.

This maybe the situation in Trump’s case but this isn’t the argument that is being made. Again, as long as things are done within the limits of the law—and those laws are themselves just—it is fair to pay as little tax as one possible can.

While it is in my economic best interest to pay as little tax as the law allows, this doesn’t mean my actions are unfair. Why? Because minimizing my tax bill is more than mere naked self-interest.

I owe a morally weightier debt of love to my family (and to myself), it is not only fair for me to reduce my tax burden, I’m obligated to do so. And again, as long as I stay within the law.

Failure to take advantage the means that the law allows for reducing my tax burden is both unjust (because I give the government more than is due) and uncharitable. Overpayment of taxes is something like spending money on alcohol rather than on food for my children; both are sins against charity.

I’ve not seen the Senator’s tax return but I imagine that, like Trump, she takes all the deductions allowed by law. If she takes those deductions than, by her own logic, Senator Warren isn’t paying her “fair share” either.

Like I said, economics matters are—and should be—subject to moral analysis. Failure to do so is harmful both to the individual and the common good.

But equally harmful, is the all too common tendency (on both the Left AND the Right) to substitute moral posturing for serious reflection.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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