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Equal Freedom Über Alles

Damon Linker, who supports same-sex marriage, says if you had told him 20 years ago that in 2015, we would have gay marriage anywhere, much less in Ireland, he would have thought you were crazy. And yet, here we are [1] — and again, Linker thinks this is marvelous. But he can’t leave it at that:

This is a very big deal in the history of Christian culture and the moral evolution of Western civilization. Perhaps more than any previous milestone in the West’s headlong lunge toward the complete public acceptance (and affirmation) of homosexuality, this one cries out for sober reflection on how we got here — and where we’re going.

I agree, it is exactly that. Linker says that the advance of gay rights reveals that institutional religion is stuck in a Catch-22.

Traditional religion, he contends, cannot withstand the appeal to equality, which Linker defines as “the equal dignity of all persons” — a position that is profoundly Christian. (But what, I would ask Damon, is a person? “Equal dignity” does not mean that everyone should have an equal right to believe and to do whatever they want. But that’s a different argument.) Any dogma or doctrine held by churches that is deemed contrary to Equality melts like wax before a flame. The Catholic writer James Kalb has called the essence of liberalism — that is, the post-Enlightenment forms of thought that define both conservative and liberal politics in the West — “equal freedom,” which he explains in this interview [2], about his book The Tyranny of Liberalism [3]:

 By liberalism I mean the view that equal freedom is the highest political, social, and moral principle. The big goal is to be able to do and get what we want, as much and as equally as possible.

That view comes from the view that transcendent standards don’t exist–or what amounts to the same thing, that they aren’t publicly knowable. That leaves desire as the standard for action, along with logic and knowledge of how to get what we want.

Desires are all equally desires, so they all equally deserve satisfaction. Nothing is exempt from the system, so everything becomes a resource to be used for our purposes. The end result is an overall project of reconstructing social life to make it a rational system for maximum equal preference satisfaction.

That’s what liberalism is now, and everything else has to give way to it. For example, traditional ties like family and inherited culture aren’t egalitarian or hedonistic or technologically rational. They have their own concerns. So they have to be done away with or turned into private hobbies that people can take or leave as they like. Anything else would violate freedom and equality.

Equal Freedom is the absolute telos of our civilization now. It is the real religion of the West. And yet, this liberalization is bad for liberal forms of institutional religion too. Back to Linker:

As observers and critics have long pointed out, liberal Christianity tends to downplay the importance of formal worship, set liturgy, fixed traditions, and the imposition of sanctions for bad behavior. In their place, it substitutes a moral critique of existing norms and practices that is easily dispersed throughout the wider culture. That’s why it’s perfectly possible, and even predicable, that at a time when liberal Christian moral ideals are gaining in influence and cultural power, the actual churches that preach liberal Christianity are in steep demographic decline. (This might also explain why Pope Francis’s enormously popular, non-judgmental, pastoral approach to the papacy hasn’t translated into any measurable uptick [4] in mass attendance or other forms of religious observance among Catholics.)

Apostasy to the left of them, apostasy to the right of them. It is hard to see how institutional religion as a mass phenomenon survives this. Liberalism is a universal solvent of religion, even its own favored forms of religion.

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82 Comments To "Equal Freedom Über Alles"

#1 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 29, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

HeartRight… equality of outcome is at the heart of the argument for SSM as a fundamental right…

#2 Comment By Jesse Ewiak On May 29, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

“Call me an aspiring totalitarian, but I derive great pleasure from the fact that increasingly, people like you, rather than the people you want to supress, are treated as sick freaks. This is how things should be.”

Yup, I’ve got no problem with people who oppose SSM in their church or whatever, but the fact that polite society will no longer accept the idea that homosexuality is the same thing as drug addiction is an absolute positive.

#3 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2015 @ 2:00 pm

Rob G and Michael Guarino, to my thought-experiment “magic wand” question — and thanks for addressing it — I’m frankly kind of surprised that neither of you just flatly said “no,” you wouldn’t trade away Christianity for universally practiced cultural conservatism.

I mean, I think that if I were an (o)rthodox Christian cultural conservative, I would not find that question difficult, at least after a few moments’ reflection. Yes, the vision of a non-licentious culture of restraint, free of the social and, especially, the sexual pathologies that conservatives decry in the modern West, free of LGBT movements and SJW brigades, liberated at last from the death grip of the Kardashians and their ilk, would be attractive and tempting. (Some of it’s tempting even to me.) But in the end — I think I would say — you need the Christian revelation at the heart of it, not the Qu’ran or Joseph Smith’s fantasies or rabbis steeped in Torah and Talmud, or the Tao or whatever the East might supply, because those alternatives would all represent building on sand, and therefore would be unstable over the truly long haul. And they would at best produce a culture in which, for a time, people might live outwardly “good” lives, but without knowledge of the greatest cosmic truths, starting with what and Whom had put them right with God.

And so (I think I would add), I would rather be a conservative fighting what looks for now like rearguard actions in a culture war I was losing, but fully in alliance with the Savior of the Universe, than the apparent victor in that war watching the chaste citizens of the Remodeled West wearing their tallits or bowing toward Mecca on prayer rugs five times a day.

If something like that is not conservative Christians’ answer, I find this interesting.

#4 Comment By Rusty On May 29, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

… the ideal of equality originated with Jesus Christ, “who taught the equal dignity of all persons, and declared in the Sermon on the Mount that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.”

I suppose what I object to, ultimately, is the lurking idea that such a potent and revolutionary notion loses absolutely all of its power if severed from divine revelation.

It’s still a good idea.

#5 Comment By Rob G On May 29, 2015 @ 4:48 pm

~~~I’m frankly kind of surprised that neither of you just flatly said “no,” you wouldn’t trade away Christianity for universally practiced cultural conservatism.~~~

Can’t speak for Michael, but for me, as I said, the question as posed entails a false distinction (I find it impossible to pose a form of Christianity that doesn’t entail a moral dimension) and thus can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.

#6 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 29, 2015 @ 5:25 pm

the fact that polite society will no longer accept the idea that homosexuality is the same thing as drug addiction is an absolute positive

But what if it should turn out to be true? Its all about the endorphins, you know?

Personally, I think homosexuality is more akin to cystic fibrosis than drug addiction. It happens, its unfortunate, the normative majority should not go out of our way to make life difficult for those born with this condition, in fact, we should make some space for those with this condition to make their choices and live their lives, whether Eve Tushnet style or Andrew Sullivan style… but let’s not pretend its anything to be proud of, any more than its anything to be ashamed of. It exists. Its a condition.

#7 Comment By Scooter On May 29, 2015 @ 5:27 pm

Panda and Jesse :

I don’t think a man racking up hundreds of anonymous sexual encounters with utter strangers in bathhouses qualifies as addictive behavior either.

#8 Comment By David On May 29, 2015 @ 6:02 pm

Let’s be honest.
Marriage equality is about equating sodomy to heterosexual sex, specifically contraceptive sex. If it weren’t for the Pill, we would not be talking about same sex marriage.

#9 Comment By Turmarion On May 29, 2015 @ 6:27 pm

Michael Guarino: That this statement is false is not controversial: “We think morality–sexual or otherwise–is the precondition or prerequisite or foundation for the faith.”

I’m not at all sure that it’s not controversial. I think an awful lot of Christians actually do believe this. In my neck of the woods, at any rate, it’s certainly common to hear people speak of church in fully instrumental terms, as a good means to make sure the kids grow up right. Anyway, following Capon, I’m not sure I’d even say morality, sexual or otherwise, to the Christian life. Let my tie this in with what Rob G. says in terms of Orthodox asceticism.

The goal of Eastern asceticism, and in fact of all Christian life, is theosis–unity with God. Asceticism, to which all are called to varying degrees, is the means towards this goal. In this respect, it’s not unlike Buddhist or Hindu asceticism aimed at liberation from samsara. There’s a big differnce, though. In Dharmic thought, it is believed that very, very few at any given time are ascetic enough and focused enough to attain liberation. The average person–and even most monks–can at best hope for a better rebirth. The idea is you are moral to get a better rebirth so that eventually you can have an incarnation in which you can become a renunciate and attain liberation (which in the Hindu context is much like theosis.

Now the problem is that Christianity believes in only one life. However, it is Christian teaching–even Orthodox–that sincere repentance can result in salvation, even for a former reprobate, even at the point of death; cf. the Good Thief. Thus, the ascetic monk who lives in the desert for forty years seems to have no clear advantage over Dismas.

Thus, it seems that asceticism cannot be constitutive of salvation or even theosis. Yes, there is the intermediate state–which Orthodox don’t call “Purgatory”, but which is more or less the same–but that’s not asceticism in any way we normally understand it. We don’t know what it’s like. I’d say something like this: Asceticism–including, yes, chastity–of the monastics, clergy, and laity, all in appropriate degree, helps to align one more with God in light of the salvation and justification already given while we were yet sinners. It also provides a form–the Church on Earth–which can hold the content of the faith, which is once more John 3:16, full stop.

I think one could argue that sexual continence is the key to asceticism, and that sublimation is an important thing. However, we aren’t saved by asceticism or sublimation, or by morality or good behavior. We are saved by the unilateral action of God in Christ, period. That’s why Dismas was able to be with Jesus in Paradise that very day. Asceticism helps align holy people to God in a special way, enabling them to propagate the faith; but it’s a instrumental means, not a vital core of the faith. It might aid towards theosis–I’m sure it does–but God is clearly capable of divinizing us by other means, as He sees fit.

Bottom line: Asceticism as a necessary component of divinization is a Hindu concept, not a Christian one. It may be useful and salutary, but it is not central in the way being claimed here. To assert that it is would be completely to reject Paul’s strong assertions that we were saved by the Cross of Christ, while we were yet sinners, and that we are dead to the law. That can sound antinomian–which is why it gives people the willies–but it’s not. It just reminds us who’s in charge–God.

#10 Comment By Michael Guarino On May 29, 2015 @ 6:27 pm

Rob G and Michael Guarino, to my thought-experiment “magic wand” question — and thanks for addressing it — I’m frankly kind of surprised that neither of you just flatly said “no,” you wouldn’t trade away Christianity for universally practiced cultural conservatism.

I wanted to stick to the issue at hand.

But let’s just say I am not entertaining thoughts to relocate to an Islamic country anytime soon. Nor would I use a magic wand with the power to transform the US into a Christian utopia, much less an Islamist or Orthodox one.

#11 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 29, 2015 @ 7:54 pm

I mean, I think that if I were an (o)rthodox Christian cultural conservative, I would not find that question difficult, at least after a few moments’ reflection. Yes, the vision of a non-licentious culture of restraint, free of the social and, especially, the sexual pathologies that conservatives decry in the modern West, free of LGBT movements and SJW brigades, liberated at last from the death grip of the Kardashians and their ilk, would be attractive and tempting. (Some of it’s tempting even to me.) But in the end — I think I would say — you need the Christian revelation at the heart of it, not the Qu’ran or Joseph Smith’s fantasies or rabbis steeped in Torah and Talmud, or the Tao or whatever the East might supply, because those alternatives would all represent building on sand, and therefore would be unstable over the truly long haul. And they would at best produce a culture in which, for a time, people might live outwardly “good” lives, but without knowledge of the greatest cosmic truths, starting with what and Whom had put them right with God.

And so (I think I would add), I would rather be a conservative fighting what looks for now like rearguard actions in a culture war I was losing, but fully in alliance with the Savior of the Universe, than the apparent victor in that war watching the chaste citizens of the Remodeled West wearing their tallits or bowing toward Mecca on prayer rugs five times a day.

If something like that is not conservative Christians’ answer, I find this interesting.

Eamus Catuli,

+1000 to this. And also to your comments on the “evangelicalism vs. liberal Protestantism” thread. I’m in Florida on work for a couple weeks and wasn’t able to comment on that thread, but I agree with you that while liberal Protestantism, Pentecostalism, and Catholic/Orthodox traditionalism all make sense on their own terms and are coherent accounts of religious truth, I think the ‘sola scriptura’ way of looking at things is essentially flawed. (For different reasons, I now think the Anglican branch theory is fatally flawed too, which is part of the reason I’m moved more in the direction of Siarlys and liberal Protestantism; I wouldn’t self identify now as an Anglo-Catholic or as someone as sympathetic to (small-o) “orthodoxy” as I was even a couple years ago).

Religious truth is a very very murky thing, and I don’t (anymore) have enough faith in any of the early or medieval church councils to believe that they got it mostly right. And looking at episodes like the Albigensian Crusade, I can’t even pretend to myself anymore that I think the side of good won that conflict. Scripture, tradition, reason and experience all need to play a part in our understanding of the divine, but I increasingly would place more emphasize on the second two (and most importantly of all the last) as opposed to the first.

#12 Comment By heartright On May 29, 2015 @ 7:56 pm

Siarlys Jenkins says:
May 29, 2015 at 1:56 pm

HeartRight… equality of outcome is at the heart of the argument for SSM as a fundamental right…
Excoot that it is not, that is mere hipocrisy.
Proof of [email protected]: if That Lot were serious about equaloutcomes,they would have compaigned for the right of the poor and the homeless to use bedsits, paid by the State,funded through taxation of provate wealth and income. rather tham DINKS

Take a good look at what political vehicles they use in reality:

UK – Conservative Party.
France: nr 1 party of choice for homosexuals is…. FRONT NASTIONAL
In the Netherlands, the vehicle was the racist anti-immigrant and openly homosexual Pim Fortuym.

Liberals are just permissive, far right freaks.
Realistically speaking,I consider the DP be to the right of the UK Conservative Party,which is to say,too much right-wing extremist to be considered polite company.

I must warn you, Siarlys, ( lest you mistakenly keep too high an opinion of me ) that I am about to abandon Labour for….
the Partido Socialista,
(I told you I was bouncing my CV about, right? )

O’er the hills and farawayTo Flanders, Portugal and Spain!

#13 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 29, 2015 @ 7:57 pm

I suppose what I object to, ultimately, is the lurking idea that such a potent and revolutionary notion loses absolutely all of its power if severed from divine revelation.

This. More generally, if you’re going to offer “Jesus was morally perfect” as evidence (in combination with other things) for His divinity and as a reason to believe in Him, that sort of presupposes that you have a standard of moral perfection independent of God. Which we may get from intuition, reason, conscience, evolution, or wherever, but in essence, it can’t (mostly) come from revelation, otherwise Christianity is essentially circular.

Or, you know, what Plato said, at more length than I can spare right now.

#14 Comment By heartright On May 29, 2015 @ 8:29 pm

Eamus Catuli says:
May 29, 2015 at 2:00 pm

And so (I think I would add), I would rather be a conservative fighting what looks for now like rearguard actions in a culture war I was losing, but fully in alliance with the Savior of the Universe, than the apparent victor in that war watching the chaste citizens of the Remodeled West wearing their tallits or bowing toward Mecca on prayer rugs five times a day.

The ethnic stereotyping is strong in this one. Racist, much?
As I said before, the Enlightenment is racist to the core.

#15 Comment By heartright On May 29, 2015 @ 8:39 pm

panda says:

Call me an aspiring totalitarian, but
So don’t whine to Rod for editorial intervention when I call for liberalism to be completely and totally purged

#16 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2015 @ 10:12 pm

Rob G, nothing in my thought experiment entailed “a form of Christianity that doesn’t entail a moral dimension.” I presumed that Christianity does have this. The essential premise was just that other faiths do as well, and that they too can be the basis of a sober, dutiful, abstemious culture of “renunciatory control.” Michael G. seems to have understood this well enough, so I think I made it clear.

Now, if you said that it’s impossible to install morality culture-wide while eliminating Christianity (as I posited), because a non-Christian culture is inherently immoral, or lacks a moral center, or something like that, well, I think that would be a perfectly logical answer too. So again, I think it’s interesting if conservative Christians aren’t prepared to say this.

#17 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2015 @ 10:14 pm

Hector, thanks for your comments. Also, this is an excellent point:

…..if you’re going to offer “Jesus was morally perfect” as evidence (in combination with other things) for His divinity and as a reason to believe in Him, that sort of presupposes that you have a standard of moral perfection independent of God. Which we may get from intuition, reason, conscience, evolution, or wherever, but in essence, it can’t (mostly) come from revelation, otherwise Christianity is essentially circular.

Seems obvious when you put it that way, but I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before.

#18 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 29, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

Rob G,

How do you know that your conception of what constitutes the “moral dimension” of sexuality is, you know, correct?

#19 Comment By Michael Guarino On May 29, 2015 @ 10:36 pm

I’m not at all sure that it’s not controversial. I think an awful lot of Christians actually do believe this. In my neck of the woods, at any rate, it’s certainly common to hear people speak of church in fully instrumental terms, as a good means to make sure the kids grow up right.

I would avoid generalizing over the theological beliefs of everyday believers. Many will be poorly considered, which is of course not their fault but the fault of the church. It is very difficult to prioritize moral behavior over grace as far as salvation is concerned, and I don’t think there really is much debate over that. But maybe you have encountered a very different brand of Christianity than I.

Regarding your discussion of asceticism and salvation, I don’t necessarily disagree with your account of salvation, but I don’t think it is the only question. My concern is that your account of faith — John 3:16 full stop — is far too thin.

I have become increasingly persuaded that it is in fact a much more essentially lived, sociologically thick phenomenon, and that the way we speak of it should reflect this. Even the meaning of the language in which it is expressed is better understood as an inherited set of linguistic practices. In other words, the faith is a form of life. But this is likely a fundamental disagreement, and I would rather not flog a dead horse. I am also not the best exponent of this sort of thought, my instincts are too mathematical. But it still strikes me as far more fruitful than a purely creedal account.

#20 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 29, 2015 @ 11:34 pm

heartright, you are just so weird:

The ethnic stereotyping is strong in this one. Racist, much?

You seem congenitally unable to follow what’s being discussed. My thought experiment imagined Westerners all converting to Islam, or conservative / Orthodox Judaism, or some other creed that involves stringent rules and self-discipline. If that happened, they would all still be Westerners, of exactly the same races and ethnicities that they are now. Perhaps you’re not aware of this, but tallits and prayer rugs are not inherited conditions, they’re objects people use if they profess a particular faith.

#21 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 30, 2015 @ 7:30 am

Heartright,

Islam isn’t a race.

#22 Comment By RB On May 30, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

Panda, I know some recovered addicts. They’re fine, human people.

I think it’s interesting how you say “sick freaks” and “filthy addicts”. No religious person or angry Puritan-type church lady I know could come close to your dismissive contempt.

Is this what the new enlightenment looks like? Sounds tolerant and loving.

#23 Comment By heartright On May 30, 2015 @ 12:50 pm

Eamus Catuli says:

or some other creed that involves stringent rules and self-discipline
Such as Christianity when properly practised. Of course, brought to the West by Egtptian and Maghrebine Church Fathers, such as Saint Augustine.

If that happened, they would all still be Westerners,
But then agaim, at the same time,you depict that as alien.

they’re objects people use if they profess a particular faith.
But THEN again, Faith is an inherent part of being truly European,in the positive sense.

You seem congenitally unable to follow what’s being discussed.
On the contrary,I know exactly what is going on.

You are trying to depict ‘some other creed that involves stringent rules and self-discipline. ‘ as the Other, rather than treating it as the Default Option to which no individual deviation can ever be accepted.

Since we are at it, I must express scepticism towards the idea that Ascetism, uncompromising Disciplinarianism and unbending self-discipline should be seen as matters of creed.

Neither Roman Republicanism nor the Spartans seem to have understood it in particularly religious terms. Ditto for the Marxists of the 20th century,at their zenith: for example at Stalingrad.

And these are the very qualities that make the European stand apart from, say, the Persian at Thermopylae or Marathon.

Perhaps you’re not aware of this, but tallits and prayer rugs are not inherited conditions, they’re objects people use if they profess a particular faith.

Identity, group-identity included, includes the choices you make. There is nothing inherent about identity: being born in a stable does not make you a horse. As I have said before, the European Nation-State is the result of mergers of Spiritual and Secular allodia.

He who renounces the intergration of Sceptre and Altar is not so much an alien – but a renegade – no longer a member of the group, but a cancer-cell to be extirpated. And that is a political choice.

As a passing ‘funny’ I note that some of the most interesting Anglicans I ever met were decidedly atheist. But they were also completely on-board with the Union of Throne and Altar, to the point of Occasional Conformism.

Group-membership is not an inherent condition,and non-comformism hath no rights.

#24 Comment By heartright On May 30, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

Hector_St_Clare says:
May 30, 2015 at 7:30 am

Heartright,

Islam isn’t a race.

True, but it is diffult be a Muslim and a good Myanmarian ( whatever the correct term is ) st the same time. As even Aung San Suu Kyi notes, there is just a tiny bit of a contradiction between those 2 things.
No group-membership without Conformity.

#25 Comment By Rob G On May 30, 2015 @ 2:34 pm

“Asceticism as a necessary component of divinization is a Hindu concept, not a Christian one. It may be useful and salutary, but it is not central in the way being claimed here. To assert that it is would be completely to reject Paul’s strong assertions that we were saved by the Cross of Christ, while we were yet sinners, and that we are dead to the law.”

Turmarion, you seem to be trying to force a synergistic peg into a monergistic hole. Won’t work. The Eastern Church is unabashedly synergistic while maintaining a belief in the total dependence for salvation on grace. As I’ve heard it put, the only thing man brings to the table when it comes to his salvation is his freedom, and even that is a gift of grace. Yet it is still our freedom.

Eamus, I apologize but I misread your question to be something along the lines of “would you rather have full traditional morality without Xianity, or full acceptance of Christianity without acceptance of its morality?” Sorry about that.

Of course, if the question is simply, would I prefer the whole world Christian, or the whole world moral, but w/o Xianity, I’d choose the former.

But if that IS the question, it seems to me to be one that the answer to which doesn’t say very much.

~~How do you know that your conception of what constitutes the “moral dimension” of sexuality is, you know, correct?~~~

The same way you do. By faith. In my case, faith in revelation, in reason, in the lessons of history, the authority of inherited language, the validity of just laws, etc. etc.

Of course, you can throw revelation out of the mix for yourself if you wish, but your commitment to morality still requires faith.

#26 Comment By Eamus Catuli On May 30, 2015 @ 7:20 pm

But if that IS the question, it seems to me to be one that the answer to which doesn’t say very much.

Well, even if it doesn’t, Rob G, thanks for answering. I expect a serious, well-read Orthodox Christian like yourself to give that answer, because I believe that you genuinely care about the doctrines and understand them in detail. My suspicion is that there are many on the Christian Right, though, who basically don’t — they’re conservative people by temperament, and they want some standpoint from which to criticize what they feel is an immoral society, and in the West, one of the most familiar, readily available, off-the-shelf bodies of thought that sets forth moral principles, while grounding them in some theory of history, human nature and the universe, happens to be Christianity. So that’s the one they choose. But it’s really the moral impulses that are primary, and if they happened to live in Bangalore, for instance, the religious framework they would fit these into would more likely be some conservative, moralizing strain of Hinduism. And so on. There are empirical studies that could be done on this, I think.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 30, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

it is diffult be a Muslim and a good Myanmarian

Although it appears that the Burman ethnics of Myanmar (who practice a kind of civic moral therapeutic Buddhism — apparently a rather violent brand) have some emotional difficulty accepting the Rohingya ethnicity (who practice some form of Islam) as co-equal members of a polity called Myanmar, all it would take conceptually is to acknowledge that such a polity exists, without reference to ethnicity or religion. I believe that was one point of adopting the name Myanmar, rather than Burma.

Whether the ethnically Karen, who are predominantly Baptist, would accommodate themselves to such a polity, is an open question, but its not what has been offered to them.

As for the poor, we all know that the hard core SSM crowd don’t care about equal opportunities OR outcomes when it comes to economics… that’s why its called SOCIAL liberalism vs. SOCIAL conservatism. Neither of which are to be confused with socialISM. Congratulations on your new political loyalties. No pasaran, or hasta la victoria siempre, and hang los quatros generales.

#28 Comment By Turmarion On May 30, 2015 @ 10:44 pm

Rob G., I’m familiar with the theological concept of synergy in this context. I guess it comes down to whether or not this (my emphasis) is coherent or not:

As I’ve heard it put, the only thing man brings to the table when it comes to his salvation is his freedom, and even that is a gift of grace. Yet it is still our freedom.

It is said that we must be moved by grace to respond, and both our response and our freedom are moved by grace. [5], my emphasis:

A Calvinist and a Catholic alike can say that our cooperation is produced by God’s operation.

Much more quotes could be produced, but that’s sufficient. It seems to be a contradiction. I think there is a real tension in Christian teaching between the idea of true free will and synergy–what we do is in some way related to our salvation–and the idea of salvation by God’s grace–that is, nothing we do earns our salvation.

I’ve recently been reading [6] of the Praktikos of Evagrius Ponticus. In the introduction, the translator describes Evagrius’ complex ascetic theology of ascent, and at one point makes the observation that it’s hard to see how to reconcile this with the saving action of Christ. In short, it makes sense to have a system wherein ascetic struggle gradually moves one towards salvation–Hinduism and Buddhism are two good examples. However the teaching of Christianity is crystal clear that we are saved by Christ, period, while we were yet sinner; and we are given abundant examples of last-minute or deathbed saints who underwent no ascetic struggle at all.

In what I described above, one’s assent in faith to the already-existing salvation one has through Christ could be a sort of synergy (though Capon would take issue with that). I wouldn’t say we’re saved against our will, certainly, nor do I say it doesn’t matter how we behave.

My point is that there seems to be inherent to Christianity a paradox between the notion of synergistic ascetic struggle as a sine qua non of the Christian life, and on the other hand, the notion of the absolute inability of humans to contribute to their own salvation and the completely sufficient action of Christ.

In this world, this is a circle that can probably never be squared. I’m not arguing that ascetic struggle is useless or unimportant–I should be clear about that. What I am saying is that it seems hard to argue that it’s absolutely necessary for, or at the heart of, the faith, and it’s hard to reconcile it with the notion of salvation by Christ’s totally sufficient action. Probably in some way we can’t understand, it’s a both/and proposition. Go too far one way, you’ve got antinomianism; go too far the other, you’ve got Pelagianism.

#29 Comment By John Spragge On May 31, 2015 @ 12:39 am

The central transcendent standards defined in Christianity are commandments from the Torah: Love G-d with all you are, and love your neighbour as yourself. The Bible makes thse clear and church practice pretty much affirms them. The relations between the foundational ethics of Christianity and the approach to sex we live out depends, in large part, on what we believe about sex. If you believe sex is an orientation; if you consider attraction to a particular gender essentially immutable, then love of neighbour will impel you to act in one way. If you consider it a dangerous but changeable self indulgence, then you will act another way.

#30 Comment By Rob G On May 31, 2015 @ 3:06 pm

“My point is that there seems to be inherent to Christianity a paradox between the notion of synergistic ascetic struggle as a sine qua non of the Christian life, and on the other hand, the notion of the absolute inability of humans to contribute to their own salvation and the completely sufficient action of Christ.

Eastern Christianity considers it a mystery in the strict sense. Our view is that both Pelagianism and the Western Augustinian counter to it try to explain too much. The “both/and” cannot be resolved without it collapsing into some sort of dialectical either/or.

Fwiw, it was a theological and historical study of this very issue that led me to Orthodoxy as opposed to the RCC when I left Protestantism many moons ago.

#31 Comment By heartright On June 3, 2015 @ 4:17 am

Although it appears that the Burman ethnics of Myanmar (who practice a kind of civic moral therapeutic Buddhism — apparently a rather violent brand) have some emotional difficulty accepting the Rohingya ethnicity (who practice some form of Islam)
Considering that Islam has bloody borders, I do not think that is an emotional difficulty but rather the only rational response.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating: the separate existence of a country called Pakistan is ample evidence that the existence of a sunni muslim subculture cannot be tolerated.

#32 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 3, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

The existence of a country called Bangla Desh is proof that a Sunni Muslim subculture cannot constitute a nation.