Evil and Delusion

It is understood within Orthodoxy that the fundamental problem with mankind is that our nous has been darkened.

I am, it is important to state, not a theologian. When I was an Anglican, I fancied myself sort of an armchair theologian. In Orthodoxy, the only real theologians are those who have truly come to know God. In the 2,000 year history of the Church, only three have been granted that title. So, what I have to say here will be my best effort to describe Orthodox theology a little bit. Forgive me for any errors.

The fall of mankind, contrary to Western views, did not result in an angry God punishing us. Rather, it resulted in our separation, by our own actions, from the grace of God. This separation, leads to our death, and the fear of death drives everything we do. Our greed, lust, and enslavement to the passions is driven by the knowledge of an impending death.

At the same time, due to our separation, our nous, that “organ” with man that allows us to apprehend God (different than the two words it is translated into in English, mind and heart), grew darkened by all of the sin and continued separation we strive for in our lives. This increased darkening through our lives is why you often hear of children having visions of angels and other things during the Divine Liturgy, but seldom hear of such among adults (except for people on their way to sainthood).

As a result of this darkening, our ability to perceive all around us is severely limited. Frequently, it is entirely wrong. We perceive ourselves as being really nice people, we perceive other people as having wronged us, when it is more likely that we are the ones who are guilty of wrong. At the same time, our inability to perceive God, to perceive truth and righteousness, means that our ability to perceive falsehood and evil has become greatly limited.

I came to ponder this after reading an article in Oprah magazine by the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the boys responsible for the Columbine massacre over 10 years ago. In the article, she tends to focus on two things: that the killings were part of Dylan’s desire to commit suicide, and that she had no idea that he was depressed.

At first, feeling very judgmental and self-righteous, I was rather annoyed with the article. After all, I would clearly have seen this evil living within my household. Planning a major assault on a school, killing a bunch of innocent children, ultimately blowing up the school (their plan, which thankfully failed in that regard). One thing that I disagreed with was the notion that this was simply a suicide, one of the rare ones that involved the taking of other lives, but a suicide nonetheless. Those usually involve the killing of loved ones to protect them from whatever pain the perpetrator was suffering from. The only other variation is a suicide after a murder, which this may be similar to, but the scale was clearly beyond anything previously experienced. I had reached the conclusion that this was an act of evil. How else can one describe it? That realization on my part, however, changed everything.

I began to wonder, in light of the fall and the darkening of our nous, how, exactly would I do at seeing the evil. If I have a difficult time seeing the God that is everywhere present, seeing the eternal Truth, would I be able to see what is in front of me as evil? It takes few examples from recent times, even current events to throw doubt on the notion.

On a more subtle level, although maybe it isn’t that much more subtle, how much evil do we overlook or ignore in our own lives and our own behaviors. How much hatred do we permit ourselves. Christ tells us that the mere thought of hatred toward another is equivalent to murder. I think that this clues us in to how far away we are from the sort of love God has for us, that actual physical murder, and a measure of hatred in our heart, are basically equivalent. I think about how so many people can support abortion, under the guise of “choice.”

So, I am left thinking that maybe I wouldn’t have been any better. Perhaps, my own blindness to my own evil behaviors would allow me to be similarly blind to this sort of evil. The thought makes me shudder, but then maybe that is a good thing.

Who Left Whom

News today that two San Diego County parishes have failed in the legal battle to retain their property was truly sad. Holy Trinity, Ocean Beach, and St. Anne’s, Oceanside, both former parishes in the Episcopal Church, chose to leave the ECUSA over a variety of issues, not the least of which was the the ECUSA’s embrace of both modernism, and of homosexuality as an acceptable, if not even honored, lifestyle. The oft cited argument is that the Episcopal Church, itself, left the “orthodox” behind, and not the other way around. Although I am unsure if this had any bearing on the courtroom arguments, I found myself wondering if this was really the case. A while ago, in the wake of the GAFCON meetings, I had questioned whether what was being accomplished was much more than simply hitting a reset button that would lead the program back to the current state of affairs, but just a little bit further in the future. In exploring this question, my assertion was that Anglicanism, itself, was from nearly the outset, designed to tolerate mutually exlusive positions. Catholic and Reformed are really contradictory. The repetition of the phrase from certain members of Anglicanism doesn’t make it otherwise. Anglicanism, at its heart, is an attempt to create the first Unitarian denomination within Christianity. Although, early on, it would not tolerate truly Catholic ideas within its fold, the day would come when it would. While Newman and Pusey, et al., would receive challenges, they would ultimately be tolerated, then welcomed, within the Anglican fold. Roman Catholicism is distinctly contradictory to Protestantism (regardless of which one may be wrong or right with regard to historic Christianity). One cannot maintain a belief that confession is necessary and unnecessary, that a prepared reception of the the Body and Blood of Christ is required and that the ceremony is simply a memorial of something that happened 2,000 years ago, and so grape juice and crackers work just fine. This only scratches the surface of all of the contradictions that are tolerated within Anglicanism. St. Paul exhorts us 5 different times in his epistles, to be of one mind, yet the Anglican response is not to ensure a uniformity of belief, but rather to expand the definition of what that uniformity entails. 400 years ago, that meant dismantling loyalty to ecclesiastical authority in lieu of loyalty to secular authority. It meant the addition of human reason to God’s revelation, it ultimately meant that a day would come when one parish in the ECUSA was telling us in their newsletter how evil the “apocrypha” was, while another, literally 5 miles away, was teaching how they were part of Scripture. When modernism started to creep into the world, it could find no more fertile ground than that of Anglicanism. By that time, every contradiction within the vast milieu of those who called themselves Christian was tolerated. Now a moral relativism, a doubting of the divinity of Christ, and a tolerance of behaviors previously understood to be condemned by God Himself would need to find a home. They became part of what reasonable Christians could be understood to believe. That meant they needed to be accepted within Anglicanism. So, if finding a way to tolerate all views is traditional Anglicanism, then who is not being traditional when the assert the need to conform to a particular subset of beliefs? Isn’t it the so-called orthodox? I think that it is. So, if the court cases ever turn on who is actually being more “Anglican,” then I think it is the ECUSA that would win that argument. Those who have decided that it is the early 20th century collection of beliefs that define the boundaries of Anglicanism are being dishonest. Those who would assert that such a broad range of beliefs has always been acceptable within the bounds of historic Christianity are, quite frankly, delusional.