Tag Archives: campus ministry

Respecting Human Weakness

Unjust consent.

While we usually think about chastity in narrowly sexual terms, I often suggest to people that we think of it in a broader, more anthropological sense.

In a negative sense, the chaste person doesn’t exploit human weakness. Important here is that this includes not only my neighbor’s weakness but my own as well.

In a positive sense, the chaste person respects human weakness and sees it as an opportunity not to exploit but to make a sacrificial offering of self for the benefit of the other. This I think helps us understand what self-restraint is essential to a chaste life.

Limiting this self-restraint to sexual behavior is an act of self-deception. Sins against chastity (or sins of sexual immorality) are almost always the result of a series of self-indulgent thoughts and actions that exploit the immaturity or vulnerability of others.

A recent post in Just Thomism touches on the importance of this wider, deeper understanding of chastity.

Reflecting on the popular, contemporary notion that “consent” is the only ethical limit on sexual activity, James Chastek points out what I would call the unbearable naiveté of such a standard.

Drawing from the business world, we see the insufficiency of consent as a moral standard. In the economic realm,

…all kinds of consent are exploitive. Consent is usually given in timeshare sales, phone bills 50-100% greater bottom lines than announced in the big print, donations or campaign contributions that are functionally equivalent to bribes, payday loans, loans made to those in dire circumstances, loans made at no risk to the lender, most college loans, most historically existing forms of debt peonage, accepting perpetual slavery as a punishment for default or as the price for anything at all etc.

Just as in business, consent in the sexual realm can also be unjust. After all, “Since sex might be the only thing we want more than money, there are as many ways in which sexual consent is exploitive.” Chastek goes on to say, that

People agree – consent – all the time to exploitive, wrong, and unjust things, and it is silly to protest that their agreement makes everything right. But this is where everything gets interesting, since we find ourselves trapped by the question of what justice looks like in sexual relations, i.e. what are sort of sexual relationships to which one ought to consent? This is, however, exactly the sort of question that the Sexual Revolution wanted to replace with an economy of sheer consent, and it’s here that one sees the contradiction at its heart.

The contradiction is overlooked because we naively (and often implicitly) contrast consent with physical (or at least) emotional violence.

But coercion in human relationships is broader than physical violence. Working with college students, I frequently find that students feel great social pressure to be sexually active.

The practical effect of this is that free consent between two individuals is compromised by the social coercion. This puts sexually active students in the curious–and emotionally and morally untenable–role of being both victim and perpetrator.

Especially with the young, social pressure can rob individuals of the ability to consent. This shouldn’t be a surprise. We know that the opposite is equally true. Fidelity to the promise we make depend, at least in part, on the support of family, friends and the wider community.

And so back to chastity.

Chastity is not simply a private virtue; it is fundamentally social. Not simply interpersonal (i.e., between two people) but communal. We avoid exploiting the weakness of self and others, I need a community that supports and sustains me in my acts of self-restraint and self-denial.

Put another way, the self-sacrifice at the foundation of love is not only something we engage in for others but the fruit of the community’s sacrifice on our behalf.

Consent as the primary moral norm in sexual activity, then, reflects not enlightenment but a mere affirmation of human poverty and loneliness. While consent is personal it is also fundamentally communal. Consent abstracted from a community founded on self-restraint, self-denial and the self-sacrifice of love is simply an illusion.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Evangelizing the “Aspirational Class”

Benjamin Schwarz in his review of The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett  writes that the author describes

…the process of “assortative mating” and elite bunching that Murray previously elucidated, Currid-Halkett explains that “smart people want to be around other smart people…over time that results in highly stratified hyper-educated affluent places.”

The practical social result of this Schwarx says is a growing “cultural divide” in which cities like “London, central Paris, the westside of Los Angeles, the northside of Chicago, Manhattan, Seattle, Northwest D.C., Toronto, and San Francisco” are becoming “increasingly … culturally homogenous echo-chambers” that “resemble each other more than they do their outlying districts and suburbs.”

Given the socially progressive, and frankly anti-free market sentiment (and it is rarely anything more than sentimental), these cities are dependent economically on the “engines of global capitalism.” The wealth generated by the market  (and the business and entrepreneurs who the cultural elites often disparage) enable “these cities and their inhabitants” to pull “away with growing momentum from their native countries and cultures.”

As a result, these cities (which include Madison, WI where I live) are

Untethered from their localities, [and] are being transformed into an archipelago of analogous islands. Currid-Halkett is surely right that this process represents a divide between (to somewhat simplify matters) the cosmopolitans and the provincials, but it is hardly an equal struggle. The wealth, dynamism, and consequent self-belief are all on one side; the unorganized, self-defeating resentment is all on the other. The cosmopolitan elite will shape the world as that elite wishes, even if the results ultimately prove disastrous to all.

Historically, the Church–East and West–has often drawn her leadership from the cultural elite. Whether raised to the episcopate, set aside as presbyters, or asked to open their homes for the celebration of the sacraments, the wealthy and socially powerful members of the Church didn’t serve an abstract “common good.” Rather they respond to Christ and the Church’s invitation to offer tangible and immediate service to the whole Church but especially to the poor.

For the Christian tradition, those in the social elite have a moral obligation to serve others.  And again, to do so concretely and personally. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I have PhD and my wife a JD, so, yeah, I’m look at us too.)

Unfortunately, Schwarz point out, the “aspiration class” (Currid-Halkett’s term for the social elite) share a “social and political outlook based on self-fulfillment” that “easily lapses into self-indulgence.” Again, I know this from my own experience. The temptation to self-satisfacation is a real one for me.

One of the reasons I am attracted to college campus ministry, is because the Orthodox Church has largely left the university (and especially the secular university) to its own devices. Doing so, however, means that our brightest young people are being formed morally according to the ideals of the aspirational class and not the Gospel.

Thank God for those Orthodox Christians who are well-educated, wealthy and socially powerful! It’s from this group in the Church that God will raise up for our age the new St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great, St Augustine, St Ambrose, St Helene, St Nina, St Macrina, St Maria of Paris and other leaders (men and women) the Church needs.

But, if we don’t evangelize those Orthodox Christians in the “aspiration class” (to say those who haven’t heard the Gospel), what then? How can I stand before Christ at the Last Judgment and say I failed to answer affirmatively when He called me to help raise up the new fathers and mothers for this age?

In Christ

+Fr Gregory

For Consideration: Liberal Education?

Don’t expect to find much guidance on liberal education in the mission statements of leading American colleges and universities. They contain inflated language about diversity, inclusion and building a better world through social transformation. Missing are instructive pronouncements about what constitutes an educated person or on the virtues of mind and character that underlie reasoned inquiry, the advance of understanding, and the pursuit of truth. Instruction on the ideas, norms and procedures that constitute communities of free men and women devoted to research and study are also scarce to nonexistent.

Source: What’s the Point of a Liberal Education? Don’t Ask the Ivy League.

Since many (probably most) American colleges and universities don’t teach the foundational texts and ideas of Western culture, the Church must. Or at least we should these things if we expect to see our young people grow to become mature and committed Orthodox Christians.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

For Consideration: Think!

At many colleges and universities what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion” does more than merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views on moral, political, and other types of questions. It leads them to suppose that dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them.

Since no one wants to be, or be thought of as, a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies.

Don’t do that. Think for yourself.

Thinking for yourself means questioning dominant ideas even when others insist on their being treated as unquestionable. It means deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions—including arguments for positions that others revile and want to stigmatize and against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.

The love of truth and the desire to attain it should motivate you to think for yourself.

From: Some Thoughts and Advice for Our Students and All Students