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orthodoxy versus christian materialism

Fr Stephen Freeman

Fr Stephen Freeman

Over the years I find myself coming back to a number of ideas within the modern world that differ markedly from Orthodox thought. These are ideas that are imbedded so deep within our culture that they seem self-evident to most people. Many Orthodox believers hold to one or more of them, distorting their understanding of the faith. This article is an effort to create a list and address each one. If it succeeds I will use it as a touchstone in future work. I have left off the specific issues of the Modern Project, which forms a subset of these ideas. Perhaps they will be added in a later version. 

The ideas:

1. Things are self-existent. They require nothing outside of themselves to exist.

2. Relationships are psychological.

3. Meaning is only a thought.

4. Time is a chain of cause-and-effect. The Cause cannot come after its effect.

5. Good and bad only describe behavior.

1. A Self Existent Collection of Things

This idea is similar to the understanding of the universe held by strict Materialists. A strict Materialist thinks that there is nothing other than material (or material as energy). He assumes that there is no God and that the only relationship things have to each other are those relationships described within the confines of physics. Any description of a non-material relationship is either “mumbo-jumbo” or merely and idea (see numbers 2 and 3).

For Christians (should I call them Christian Materialists) who hold to this understanding of the world, there is no denying that God exists. But God exists outside of and removed from the material order. He may intervene in the material order, but only by interrupting its Laws and Principles (cf. “miracle”).

The Sacraments are deeply problematic in this world view. If water is water, how can it be something else (in Baptism)? If wine is wine and bread is bread, how can it be something else (in the Eucharist)? Any language of “real presence” is inherently troubling. For an “extra-material” reality is either psychological (see number 2) or merely imputed (see number 3).

In very common extensions of this materialist Christianity, the sacraments are bracketed as miraculous exceptions. Things are just things, unless the Church and Scripture (or some accepted authority) says they are something else. But these instances of miraculous exceptions are not seen as in any way pointing to a different understanding of the world. The Eucharist therefore says nothing about bread and wine – only about this bread and this wine. Baptism says nothing about water, only about this water. But the sacramental teaching of the Church is strictly confined to the liturgical walls of the Church and have nothing to say about the nature of things.

Read the rest at "Glory to God for All Things"...