Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Interwoven in amity

The painting reproduced above depicts the Russian priest and martyr Pavel Florensky (left) walking with the philosopher Sergei Bulgakov. In 1914 he wrote his dissertation About Spiritual Truth. During his life he published works on philosophy, theology, art theory, mathematics, and electrodynamics. Thus, he was both a scientist and a Christian.
An Orthodox brother sent me a link to a televised debate between ‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye and an Australian creationist, Ken Ham. This is not the sort of thing I am interested in, debates, especially debates on artificial antagonisms such as ‘creation versus evolution,’ but I looked at it, enough to know that, yes, just another waste of precious time. I certainly don’t blame my friend for forwarding it to me. I’m not sure where he stands on this issue, as I do know that there are many Orthodox Christians who hold to very literal and fundamentalist beliefs. Many of these are former Evangelicals, ‘born again’ Christians, disillusioned by the drift of their original fellowships into spiritual anemia.

Myself, not exactly a ‘cradle Orthodox’ but almost, I did start out holding staunchly to what would now be called creationist views. It would be difficult indeed, living in America, the seedbed of ‘fundamentalism,’ not to be affected at least a little, whether pro or con, by the vigorous promotion of such views, in the street, in the media, sometimes even in church regardless of denomination. But after growing up within the Orthodox koinonía, observing both beliefs and behaviors of those inside and outside the Holy Church, I came to the conclusion that what is called ‘fundamentalism’ is really a misnomer. A true fundamentalist deals in foundational faith, not in divisive opinions.

What I noticed very early in my life among Orthodox Christians was their unique way of presenting the Bible and its stories, especially those in the Old Testament, simply and without questioning or challenging them from a rationalist angle. When Adam and Eve were discussed, we never talked about who Adam and Eve were historically, or even if they existed at all as depicted in the Bible, but what their story meant for us and for the whole human race. Even, no, especially, in our holy ikons, the creation not only of Adam, and Eve, but of the whole of creation, is shown in beautiful and compelling color, and we are told, that ikons can represent only real events and real people. They are a graphic Bible.

So we were taught, and we accepted without resistance, that the right way to read the Bible and to view the holy ikons, is simply to accept them ‘as they are’ without raising the voice of dispute or dissension. This isn’t to say that we were forbidden to come to our own personal beliefs about either. On the contrary, it seemed we were quietly encouraged to ‘dig deeper’ and to ask the Lord, who is ‘the Only Teacher of mankind,’ to enlighten us. In fact, I would say, we had a sense that it was ‘very meet, right, and our bounden duty’ to study and seek, to further our enlightenment, not to teach others, but so that our lives would shine with the knowledge and love of God, not to argue, but to affirm.

What is at issue in controversies such as these is not really the rightness of one set of views over another, but the warfare of one barely concealed, nearly naked antagonism against another, both equally bent on personal triumph. Yes, let me reiterate, equally bent. In the debate I witnessed this evening, I was amazed at the ignorance of both the scientist and the creationist, displayed in their inability to cut through their own material spiritualism and spiritual materialism. In closing the debate, each was asked what was the driving force of his beliefs. The creationist answered first, predictably praising the Bible’s absolute, literal truth, tacking on Christ’s work of salvation as a final coup de grâce.

The scientist, or perhaps the evolutionist, for evolution is what he seemed to believe science itself is, offered as the reason for what he believed, science as an ongoing, adventurous, liberating, fulfilling, and victorious invasion and investigation by the human mind, his or anyone’s, of the material world, of all there is, and that is all there is. The universe, the whole show, and we as particularly favored to be, for no special reason other than we evolved, we fit in, the witnesses of this grand spectacle of which we are a part. He praised his teacher Carl Sagan by name, so we knew that even an atheist can look up to someone. If I seem to favor one debater over the other, forgive me, brethren. I found much to admire, and much to pity, in both.

You see, I myself am a scientist. I have no degree, but my primary and secondary education was in mathematics and the natural sciences. It was only when as a young adult at college I discovered that ‘the proper study of mankind is man’ that I switched over to history, political science, and philosophy. It suited me better, and there I have remained ever since. It was no accident, then, that when my heart awoke to love, I should seek Him, the Bridegroom of the soul, in His ancient habitation, Holy Orthodoxy. Also no accident, that in the faith of Christ and His holy apostles I should find no rend in the garment of either knowledge or wisdom. ‘Science’ and ‘religion’ are both at home here, interwoven in amity.

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