On Our Cultural Failings

Thank you to Fr Hans Jacobse for his recent essay (Catholic Online: The Republic is Finished and the America We Knew is Gone) and for the many thoughtful comments it has inspired.

As to whether or not the latest decision of the SCOTUS supporting the constitutionality of the Patient Affordability Act is the end of the Republic or not I can’t say. If however our’ Republic is rooted in virtue understood as the fruit of human obedience to Natural Law then this needn’t be the end. In fact since virtue grows best in adversity I see this as a potentially good thing since it might inspire just the moral awakening and cultural renewal that America needs.  On the other hand, if our Republic is not really and truly rooted in virtue and obedience to “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” then we are better off for the loss and of our pretense to being a virtuous and “almost chosen people.”

Contrary to what some might want to believe, the Public Square and American culture were not taken by the forces of moral corruption. Rather I think we are where we are as a People became we became complacent, we withdrew from the Public Square and the culture. We forget that vice is not a real thing but the absence of virtue, of those habits of thought and action that make human flourishing possible.

Vice never wins.

It is rather that we retreat from the hard work of virtue. We see this around us in those who would drive the Church from the Public Square. That some of these voices are Christian, and even Orthodox Christian, is a source of great shame and sorrow to me.

Looking more specifically now at the American Orthodox Church I am saddened by how little this ruling effects the Church itself. Metropolitan Jonah has asked us where are our hospitals, our nursing homes, and our schools. His asking this highlights for me  the fact that we have no hospitals, that  we have only a scant few nursing homes and parochial schools and except for our seminaries no institutions of higher learning. If these things are essential to the faith (and they are) and if they are essential to the health of our Republic (and they are) then as Orthodox Christians we need to shoulder at least some portion of the blame for the Republic’s moral collapse. Why? Because that collapse has is evident   in (among other places) our parishes, our dioceses and our jurisdictions, .

We can bemoan what was decided by the SCOTUS but we are where we are because as a culture we have abandoned the pursuit of virtue. Worse, as Orthodox Christians we have neglected to develop those institutions that foster virtue. We have instead grown slack and lazy preferring the State (or what is only slight better, our Catholic or Protestant brethren) to educate us, to heal our bodies and to care for our elderly.

As citizens we are within our rights to be disturbed–but what right do we have to do so as a Church in America? I’m not so sure we have the institutional right to complain. Yes we have stood up to defend religious liberty in general and the Catholic Church in particular in the face of the HSS mandate and good for us that we have done so. But we can’t forget that personally and institutionally, American Orthodox Christians have profited from the welfare state, public education and the rest.

Putting our tradition aside for the moment, American Orthodoxy is as secular as the rest of America. Like the Catholic Church and the various Protestant communities around the country, we have discovered that he who drinks the king’s wine sings the king’s song. To quote Pogo, that great American political philosopher, we have met the enemy and he is us.

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