Wednesday, October 19, 2011

When East Belittles West

In general, I often enjoy reading the spiritual writings of members of Eastern Orthodox (That is, Orthodox Catholic Church) congregations. I often find their views on theological issues engaging and their perspectives on the history and condition of the Western branches of Christianity informative. From time to time, I do run into ideas that trouble me, or that I find myself strongly disagreeing with. It is one such idea I want to take just a few moments today to speak about; the relationship of God and Creation.

In reading Orthodox blogs, I have run across excerpts from the book Against False Union by Alexander Kalomiros on more than one occasion. Being staunchly Ecumenical myself, I have suspected many disagreements between myself and the author, but have not run into a sizeable enough passage to be sure that I was receiving the author’s view, and not a selective quote by a blogger. That changed over this past weekend, when I read a lengthy passage from a speech by Kalomiros at Saint Nectarios Press. In this, the author puts forward that all of the Western branches of the church are of the devil, because they make God responsible for suffering.

I actually think that he makes some interesting points well worthy of further discussion, but it is not what he asserts that I wish to confront, it is what he fails to put forward about both the Western and Eastern theologies. First looking to the West, is the simple fact that he presents one unified narrative of the most extreme branch of Western thought, a theology which might be appealing to a strict Calvinist but which would be viewed as suspect by many good and faithful members of Western churches, lay and ordained alike. In this his argument is weakened as it takes on the form of a straw man, allowing many to avoid confronting valid issues he raises by painting a picture they can comfortably say is not of them. Given that the author opposes reunion of the various denominations, perhaps it is not shocking that he elects to speak in a manner which would appeal only to those already of the Orthodox fold, and alienate those looking to find common ground.

But what really caught me was his argument which begins with the assertion: “For the pagans, God and creation are one and the same thing.” In which he goes on to claim that Western Christianity is pagan, and Eastern Christianity is the true heir of Abraham’s faith as the only people who properly know to separate God from Creation. While I am happy to concede part of his point, that God is more than creation and exists beyond it in any way one cares to measure, I do not feel this supports the claims he tries to make. He uses this distinction to claim that Western theology therefore makes God responsible for evil as evil is in creation and (he claims) Western thought limits God to the scope of creation. The problem of suffering and justice is one which theologians have struggled with for ages, and likely will for ages more.

His argument for the more righteous nature of Orthodox thought seems to be that with God being separate from creation, God does not have to have any suffering ascribed to him, as it is a trait of creation which is finite, not God who is infintie. Ironically he goes on to fault the West for a system of beliefs which separate the material from the spiritual and places much evil at the feet of such belief. I would turn the mirror back upon him. If one claims that all of Creation is NOT to be considered of God, that some elements of the universe do not share his nature, then one claims there is something other than God which is eternal and which exists beyond his creation. This begins quickly to lead towards the conclusions of the Gnostics, a belief in a greater Good God of our well being and our souls, and a lesser demiurge responsible for evil and suffering in the physical world.

I do not feel that Kalomiros harbors Gnostic beliefs, or that he seeks to promote a belief in a reality in which entities beyond God exist without limit, I am sure such ideas would provoke outrage and condemnation from him. What I mean to illustrate by this is the folly of Kalomiros’ own arguments. Theology must always remain subtle and ready to change as we learn more. To assert “Their Theology is a house of cards, mine is a house of brick,” is to invite ridicule upon you for your vanity. His position existing outside of generations of Western thought may give him a good vantage to see flaws in some of our ways of thinking and acting, but in turn he should not hold up his own traditions as unassailable, but rather ask us who exist beyond his walls to point out the cracks in his foundation. In the end, all religious thinkers must remember to tend to the beam in our own eyes, and I hope it is clear from this essay I am not seeking to claim that my Anglo-Catholic tenets are more Godly than his Orthodox ones.

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