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Orthodox Greekness Vs. Greek Orthodoxy

I read yesterday something by the Orthodox priest Father Andrew Stephen Damick [1] that brought together a couple of things I was talking about on the blog yesterday: specifically, the case of the gay Greek Orthodox man who is outraged that a priest wouldn’t give him communion [2], given that he, the layman, believes that he is a “good person,” and the most recent post I did on Paradiso [3], in which I discussed the importance of cultivating the right attitude towards learning truth — including working on the ability to abide patiently in love until things become apparent to you. Fr. Damick writes:

Because Orthodoxy comes with a vast set of expressions of its tradition, you can never exhaust it all. There is always something new not just to learn but to become. While we don’t really “arrive” until the next life (and I’d argue even that is not an arrival; that is, it’s not the end of the road of salvation), there are many way-stations in this life that delight and grant joy. The difference between Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism in this regard is that I’m talking about not just growing in wisdom, which is common to all religious traditions, but that Orthodoxy tracks many stages of spiritual development throughout a whole lifetime.

I remember one time hearing a monk explain the response he got from a holy elder on Mount Athos after asking him many questions. The elder replied that some things just wouldn’t make sense to him until later, until he’d received some level of illumination (theoria). It’s true. One cannot read a “Statement of Faith” from Orthodoxy (not even the Creed) and say, “Ah, yes. That is everything Orthodoxy teaches. I understand it now.”

Again, that’s not a bug. It’s a feature. Yes, we like things to be simple, to be readily accessible to everyone, but any faith that is not complex enough to address all the complexities of human experience is not worthy of the dignity of mankind. Orthodoxy provides that in a way that I haven’t found anywhere else.

He adds:

There seems to be a constant battle these days, especially within Protestantism, over whether God should be perceived as loving or as a judge. Even those who preach that God is love still tend to preach a God Who is angry at you for your sins and has to be appeased. But Orthodoxy preaches the God Who is consistently loving, a God Who loves with such strength that His love will change you, if only you will cooperate with it. The change won’t be lousy, either, turning you into some goody-goody prude. Rather, it will be a change into authentic personhood, where virtue is striven for because of communion, not because of adherence to arbitrary rules.

I do not use this blog to proselytize for Orthodoxy, and will not. Please do not read this as opening up a discussion about whether Orthodoxy is true, or not. That is not a conversation I’m interested in having, or hosting on this blog. I post these excerpts from Fr. Damick’s essay because they illuminate themes we were talking about yesterday.

First, on the matter of the dissenting Greek. He grew up in the Orthodox Church, but on evidence of his writing, he never understood Orthodoxy as anything other than the tribe at prayer (or more precisely, the tribe at prayer before getting to the real stuff, which is coffee hour, Greek festival, and so forth). That is, he doesn’t give any evidence that he understood Orthodoxy as the means God gave us to transform our lives to become more like Himself, and therefore to move toward unity with Him. Here’s the key thing: Orthodoxy is a way, not a destination. If you do not experience Orthodoxy as a constant pilgrimage toward theosis [4]then you are missing the essential meaning of the Orthodox faith.

Pappas, the angry Greek man, sees the Orthodox Church as something that exists to make him feel good about himself, and a part of the community. From his Washington Post column: [5]

I’m no activist. I don’t want to have a “big, fat, Greek gay wedding” in my church. I’m not going to march outside the Archdiocese headquarters. I love it the way it has always been—a place of love and compassion, a community of good, hard working people and an institution that realizes that we’re all broken in one way or another, and the church’s sacraments should be celebrated to heal us and make us whole. Because, while I may not be a biblical scholar, I believe I’m a good person; my Church taught me how to treat my fellow human, how to be compassionate and, more importantly, the difference between right and wrong.

Emphasis above is mine, because it’s the critical point: Pappas doesn’t see himself as broken and in need of healing, not as regarding his sexuality, or, apparently, anything else, given that he believes he’s a “good person.” Judging from his self-description on his blog [6], he’s a man who is passionately in love with being Greek (who could blame him?), but the Jesus thing, well, it’s not there. This Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is all so far from Orthodoxy it beggars belief. It appears from his blog that Pappas is a good Orthodox Greek, insofar as he is a joyous and faithful servant of Greekness, but his Greek Orthodoxy seems — again, only judging by his writing — to be on much shakier ground. Pappas’s priest is presumably denying him access to the chalice for his own spiritual good. If he were to allow Pappas to take communion, it would be to Pappas’s own spiritual harm, according to Orthodox teaching.

Let’s imagine, though, that the priest in question made an erroneous pastoral decision. The fact that Pappas narcissistically declared himself to be a “good person,” and therefore entitled to communion, is a clear sign that he is very far from an authentic understanding of Orthodoxy. Furthermore, the fact that Pappas, in his public rant against this priest, pointed to the sins of others as an example of why he should be allowed to receive communion, is another clear sign of how very far from Orthodoxy he really is. Every Sunday, before we receive communion, we say a pre-communion prayer that begins like this:

“I believe, O Lord, and I confess that you are truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

In this, we reference St. Paul, who in one of his letters declared himself to be the chief of sinners. The idea here is that we approach the chalice not thinking of the sins of others, but of our own sins, for which we are responsible towards God. It is possible, I suppose, that Pappas was treated unfairly. Even if he were, to go onto the Washington Post site and grouse about the sins of others as somehow justifying his own sins is alien to Orthodoxy (besides being tawdry).

As an Orthodox Christian and a great sinner, I have benefited greatly by the Church’s guidance on confronting my own sins, which mostly have to do with pride. It has been difficult. Really difficult. But my spiritual father has not let me fall into self-satisfaction, but rather has kept me going farther into repentance. Under his guidance, and by participating in the sacramental life of the Church, I have had sins I’ve hidden from myself brought to light, and I’ve been given the grace and the impetus to deal with them, and turn from them. This is a process that will continue until I draw my last breath. It is the same way for all sincere Orthodox Christians — sincere, in that they want to be healed from their brokenness, not confirmed in it. Put simply, there is no way, no way in the world, that any true Orthodox Christian can call himself “a good person” and also “the chief of sinners.”

Second, I love what Fr. Damick says about how you can never understand Orthodoxy quickly, or by reading a book. Some things — most things — only become clear to you over time, by faithful practice. This is a hard thing for us Americans to understand, but it’s pretty much the same thing Aquinas, in Paradiso XIII, told the pilgrim Dante. If you want to know the truth — and in Christianity, the Truth is a Person — you have to approach it prudently and methodically, not rush toward it, thinking that your passion will be enough to help you find it. The Orthodox Church has been tending the path toward Truth for 2,000 years. It knows better than we do how the individual soul makes his or her way towards God: through prayer, fasting, the sacraments, repentance, and trusting in the mercy of God. If, in humility, we submit to the wisdom of the Fathers, which is the wisdom of the Church, and abide with the Church in patience and love, then the Truth will eventually make itself clear to us. I can testify that this is true from experience. And I can testify that this is a hard thing to do. But what else is there?

Pappas dwells in the Dark Wood, and expects the Church to tell him he’s in the Garden of Eden. He will be able to find a priest who will do that, no doubt. But if he wants to live, he will listen to the Pittsburgh priest who has drawn down his wrath for daring to be the Greek community’s good servant, but God’s first.

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129 Comments To "Orthodox Greekness Vs. Greek Orthodoxy"

#1 Comment By Rob G On June 16, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

“I keep squinting real hard and trying to see the distinctions you’re drawing”

Like I said, apply the logic of the thing to adultery, and see how it works. That’s the comparison I’d make as opposed to race.

#2 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 16, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

Rob G, don’t know if this is responsive because, as I fully admit, I may be misunderstanding you. But: the general view on the left, I think, would be that adultery is very unlikely to meet with “cultural approbation” because it usually involves lying and other direct harms to at least one other person. It’s not just immoral, in other words, but also unethical. (See my comment above about baby harp seals.) Adultery may be come to be, indeed already is, more tolerated or less actively punished than in the past, but it’s hard to see how it’s ever going to come to seem fine, no problem, go-right-ahead “approvable.”

How, then, does that analogy bear on gay marriage?

#3 Comment By Rob G On June 16, 2014 @ 6:49 pm

Try to imagine a cultural push towards “open marriage” in which those negative aspects of adultery you mention are downplayed or dismissed, and instead the “love” and “liberty” angles are promoted. Traditionalists would argue that such marriage isn’t really marriage but is in fact adultery. The traditionalist antipathy towards people espousing and/or engaging in such arrangements would be based, not on what those persons are, but on what they do.

Now these people may be oversexed, or suffering from nymphomania or satyriasis, or have high hormone levels or whatever; what they are is not the issue, and does not draw the antipathy. It’s the behavior. Likewise this, I’d argue, is the basis for the antipathy of traditionalists towards homosexuality.

With racism, the root of the antipathy is not the behavior of the person, but the race. Certain behaviors, as you say, may be attributed to the race, but these are not the primary reason for the opposition. Racists don’t dislike blacks because they think they’re lazy. They dislike them because they’re black, and they see the imagined laziness as a feature of the race.

#4 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 16, 2014 @ 7:17 pm

The racism of old, which I’ve studied closely, was all about behavior too.

Oh, come now, worldly professor. You mean its TRUE that people of African descent were congenitally incapable of understanding a classical education, fit only for vocational training? Are you saying Vardaman was on the path to truth when he described “the Negro” as a “lying, lazy, lustful animal”? Because when you argue that racism was about BEHAVIOR, you are saying that certain behavior traits were INHERENT in “being black.” What was wrong about racism was that even if 99 out of 100 black people had an IQ under 90, even if IQ were irrefutably accepted as an objective measure of intelligence, there is no reason a black person with an IQ of 145 shouldn’t go to Harvard… and racism categorically denied any such person that opportunity.

As far as SSM goes, nobody is denying anyone a college education, or a job, or the right to cohabit with the love of their life… the only question is whether to extend the formal approbation of the community to their happiness, and if so, under what name.

Turmarion offers a reasonable modus vivendi:

There never has been “gay marriage” of the type we know, and homosexuality has never been seen as totally A-OK. Still, many cultures have had social niches that gays filled–the two-spirits of some Amerindian and Siberian tribes have been mentioned, the hijra of India, the kathoey of Thailand, and so on. In short, while there has never been a society that had what we’d define as SSM or which considered homosexual relationships as analogous to heterosexual ones, lots of societies have also refused to consider homosexuality intrinsically evil or incapable of being integrated into society.

That is also more consistent with the facts on the ground. A gay couple is not “the same thing” as a heterosexual couple, two men is not even the same thing as two women, but these are real phenomenon, they aren’t going away, and we would do well to create a bit of social space for them. We don’t have to pretend in order to do that.

Yeah, yeah. Religion is about submitting, transformation, dying to the small self to live for the larger self.

But why SPECIFICALLY does this have to involve denouncing gay sexuality? You are straight and get to make judgements about whether gay people get to have a sex life?

Actually, there seem to be some gay people who offer the same judgement. They even write about it. Why does religion have to involve fasting during Lent? There is no rational scientific reason. Why does religion have to involve sipping wine on Sundays? Why do prayers have to be offered kneeling, or prostrate, or standing, all of which certain faiths promote? Why does being right with God require one to abstain from pork, scallops, crabs?

Religions that teach homosexual acts are to be avoided believe it is contrary to a divinely established order. In this, they may be right, or may not. They don’t have to answer to anyone who sees things differently. If you don’t agree, find your own church, or join none. If a gay person, out of faith, has no sex life, that is a choice they make, perhaps believing it IS what they are called to do. If they don’t wish to make that choice, they too will find themselves a different church.

All systems agree that your wife doesn’t sleep with another man…

But… but… but what if you fall deeply and sincerely in love with a married woman, and she with you (or reverse the sexes), and this silly social construct prevents you from finding true love and lifelong fulfillment???

#5 Comment By Turmarion On June 16, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

William Dalton: My impression is that those who say, “You can’t enforce morality”, have only sexual morals in mind, and that only because those are the rules under which they themselves chafe.

The purpose of human law is to lead men to virtue, not suddenly, but gradually. Wherefore it does not lay upon the multitude of imperfect men the burdens of those who are already virtuous, viz., that they should abstain from all evil. Otherwise these imperfect ones, being unable to bear such precepts, would break out into yet greater evils… (Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II, q. 96, a.2, ad 2; courtesy of [7])

Elaborating, Aquinas argues that the main purpose of laws is to deal with things that would make ordered society impossible (e.g. theft, murder, etc.) and leaves other things, even if they’re sinful, alone. The example he gives later in the above section is prostitution, which in his judgement is better legal than illegal, though it is still sinful and morally wrong.

This is especially striking if one recalls that when St. Thomas’s family brought a prostitute to his chambers to seduce him from his determination to join the Dominicans, he furiously chased her out with a poker from the hearth, and that he was well-known for his chastity. One can argue against “legislating morality” without “chafing” under restraints!

#6 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

But: the general view on the left, I think, would be that adultery is very unlikely to meet with “cultural approbation” because it usually involves lying and other direct harms to at least one other person. It’s not just immoral, in other words, but also unethical

Not really.

More extramarital sex than you would think (among both sexes) happens with the consent or at least toleration, or in some cases even enthusiasm, of the other partner. So the analogy has more in common with gay marriage than you would think.

This is not to say I agree with Rod or William Dalton. I don’t think matters of the heart are an easy subject for moral reasoning, and I think both the traditionalist and free-love type can make a good case for their position (no pun intended). But it’s precisely for that reason that you can’t simply duck the question by burbling something about consent, lying, and harm.

#7 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2014 @ 9:31 pm

Ah, Rob said what I was going to say, only in more detail.

I wouldn’t be particularly critical of either the gay couple or the ‘open marriage’ couple, actually. The older I get the more appreciation I have for the fact that matters of the heart are complex, and the less stomach I have for policing other people’s sex lives. I don’t think those who *do* disapprove of gay sex, or open marriages, or what have you, are bigoted though. They’re disapproving of a behavior, not an unchosen identity. And it’s precisely because these questions of sexual morality are murky and don’t always have clear answers, that I think it’s important to hear and listen to lots of different viewpoints- including, yes, viewpoints like Rod’s or William’s.

#8 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 16, 2014 @ 9:35 pm

Siarlys, now you’re just losing it. I think you must know perfectly well that I don’t agree with the old racist canards about black behavior, I’m pointing out that they existed. Wasting keystrokes arguing with nothing really isn’t good for you; carpal tunnel is a serious problem nowadays.

With racism, the root of the antipathy is not the behavior of the person, but the race. Certain behaviors, as you say, may be attributed to the race, but these are not the primary reason for the opposition. Racists don’t dislike blacks because they think they’re lazy. They dislike them because they’re black, and they see the imagined laziness as a feature of the race.

Rob G, it’s pretty clear that you just haven’t studied this; you’re describing what it’s convenient for you to think racism was, not what actual racists of the time actually argued. If we replace “black” with “objectively disordered,” though, and “lazy” with something like “wanton,” “debauched,” “un-self-controlled,” then it seems to me your own account applies just as well to today’s religious homophobia.

#9 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 16, 2014 @ 10:26 pm

I think both the traditionalist and free-love type can make a good case for their position (no pun intended). But it’s precisely for that reason that you can’t simply duck the question by burbling something about consent, lying, and harm.

Burbling something, Hector? Do tell, what makes one argument in these forums a “burble” and another a reasoned statement? Or do you just insult people because you think it’s fun?

Anyway, this seems to be the point in the conversation where somebody like yourself says something bafflingly vague, I ask for clarification, and then {crickets}. So I fully expect to get no answer to this, but here it is anyway: What question am I ducking? (And as a follow-up, since I’m no zoologist: do ducks burble?)

#10 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 16, 2014 @ 10:47 pm

Also, Hector, you get to be not only the Baffling Vague Guy this time out, but also Pointless Pedant Guy, the one who delights in making a show of knowledge that in no way affects the point at issue. You say, “More extramarital sex than you would think (among both sexes) happens with the consent or at least toleration, or in some cases even enthusiasm, of the other partner. So the analogy has more in common with gay marriage than you would think.” But the quote of mine you’re responding to included the word “usually.” Adultery USUALLY involves lying, etc. So your brilliant rispose is, no, it doesn’t always! Right, like I said: usually. U-su-al-ly. If it doesn’t involve those things, then it’s generally not going to be condemned on the left, because the left burbles about harms to others as opposed to burbling about “sins” and “objective disorders.”

That said, we’re all impressed that you know so much about Free Love. 😉

#11 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

Because when you argue that racism was about BEHAVIOR, you are saying that certain behavior traits were INHERENT in “being black.” What was wrong about racism was that even if 99 out of 100 black people had an IQ under 90, even if IQ were irrefutably accepted as an objective measure of intelligence, there is no reason a black person with an IQ of 145 shouldn’t go to Harvard… and racism categorically denied any such person that opportunity.

Siarlys has it in one, as usual.

#12 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 16, 2014 @ 11:37 pm

Hector, the racists’ arguments were more complex than that — again, I’ve read them, you apparently haven’t — but even in your oversimplified form, they would seem to serve the analogy that SSM advocates make with them pretty well. Isn’t denying people the right to marry just as much a “categorical” denial as excluding them from Harvard?

#13 Comment By William Dalton On June 17, 2014 @ 1:26 am

Turmarion:

I agree with what you have quoted from the writings of Thomas Aquinas. I think he makes much the same point I made referring to the Jesus’ assessment of Moses’ liberal enforcement of God’s teachings against divorce. Laws have to be tailored to the particular society of people they will be enforced upon. You don’t demand more than you can effectively enforce. To try to do more will not only meet with failure, it will result in loss of respect for the law in general by those who are not persuaded the law you are seeking to enforce is just, and by others who simply observe the failure in enforcement.

But you have to remember there was a time in American history when there was no particular problem with enforcing laws against blasphemy, against sodomy, against adultery, against fornication. There was no problem because a substantial majority of Americans believed those laws were just, lived by them, and believed those that didn’t should be punished by the law. When they ceased to do so, then it was time to stop the enforcement. But it was also (past) time to consider how and why public opinion about the rightness of these laws had changed.

#14 Comment By Rob G On June 17, 2014 @ 8:29 am

~~Rob G, it’s pretty clear that you just haven’t studied this; you’re describing what it’s convenient for you to think racism was, not what actual racists of the time actually argued. If we replace “black” with “objectively disordered,” though, and “lazy” with something like “wanton,” “debauched,” “un-self-controlled,” then it seems to me your own account applies just as well to today’s religious homophobia.~~

Actually, I have. WHY did racists of the time think those things about the Negro? Because the Negro was held to be of a lower, less-developed “race,” and his general behavior supposedly demonstrated that fact.

The traditionalist’s argument against homosexuality is clearly different. It is based in its entirety on a moral rejection of certain sexual behaviors, and not on antipathy towards a group of persons qua persons.

#15 Comment By VikingLS On June 17, 2014 @ 9:37 am

“No offense, but your interpretation of the Orthodox take on this stuff betrays a rather thoroughgoing ignorance. If you were never Catholic or Orthodox you wouldn’t understand how Tradition, church canons, rubrics, etc., work in those bodies. Hell, most Protestants don’t even get it. It’s something that’s best understood from the inside, as it were.”

This is a fundamental problem that a lot of the commenters here have. It’s more or less presumed that Orthodox Christianity is just Western Christianity with an accent.

#16 Comment By VikingLS On June 17, 2014 @ 9:44 am

“Liam, thanks for that explanation. So, what — technically, hemophiliacs can’t take Communion at all? A heart patient shouldn’t be communed in the midst of a life-threatening crisis because he’s on blood thinners? Way to discredit your whole enterprise, Orthodox people!”

Honestly you should be above this kind of strawman argument.

A hemophiliac can take communion if he’s not actively bleeding and a person on blood thinners isn’t going to be shedding blood. A person in the middle of a nosebleed would be asked to refrain as well.

Bear in mind as well that you’re talking about a time when communion would have been available daily.

As to the Jewish physicians, at the time the cannons were written Jewish doctors still would have been prescribing amulets for certain conditions.

You are talking about a tradition to which you are an alien and you know very very little. Please bear that in mind before you make further comments.

#17 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 17, 2014 @ 10:31 am

OK, Rob G, fine. Good luck with that argument. As I just said to William Dalton on another thread, I think the willingness of traditionalists to argue their cause the way they do is just helping the gay-rights people at this point. Which is fine with me.

#18 Comment By Rob G On June 17, 2014 @ 12:21 pm

“I think the willingness of traditionalists to argue their cause the way they do is just helping the gay-rights people at this point.”

And? The rightness or wrongness of an argument isn’t based on its utility. The fact that modern people can’t see the difference speaks far more to their moral denseness than to the argument’s weakness. As Richard Weaver said way back in the 40’s, “There is ground for declaring that modern man has become a moral idiot.”

#19 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 17, 2014 @ 3:06 pm

And? The rightness or wrongness of an argument isn’t based on its utility.

You can’t take “yes” for an answer, can you?

#20 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 17, 2014 @ 3:11 pm

Actually, Rob, that was too glib. What I should say is that your point is irrelevant, because I’m not arguing that the utility of an argument makes it true. So Richard Weaver can stop spinning in his grave. Here’s what I’m saying: I have reasons (as I’ve tried to explain) for believing what I do, just as you have reasons for believing what you do. I also have, relatedly, ways I would like to see things go in the world. As do you. All I was saying is that at the moment, I think that YOUR views, or at least your ways of stating them, are — contrary to your intentions — helping advance MY goals in the world. That’s all. But that’s a political analysis, not an argument on the merits.

#21 Comment By JonF On June 17, 2014 @ 8:26 pm

VikingLS,

I don’t think we can blame medical-magical thinking for the anti-Jewish doctor thing. Christian medicine was also rife with magical mumbo-jumbo for centuries– they cited astrological influences for the Black Death.
We really do need to acknowledge that Church authorities all too easily slipped from anti-Judaism to anti-Semitism*. The one saving grace being that strictures like this one were never truly received and became (as I noted above) null and void.

* I have often reflected that Chrysostom, among others, may have had some ‘splaining to do when he came into the company of those 1st century Jews, the Apostles, the Magdalene, and the Mother of God.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 17, 2014 @ 10:56 pm

Isn’t denying people the right to marry just as much a “categorical” denial as excluding them from Harvard?

Not at all. In the latter example, some authority decreed YOU, individual person, MAY NOT enter Harvard, because you are not worthy, or inherently incapable (without bothering to test your knowledge or intellect), or you have cooties and may not come among our clean kind of people.

Nobody has been denied “the right to marry.” What has been denied is that what you have entered into CONSTITUTES a marriage. If there is an “analogy” to being denied entrance to Harvard, it would be “you, mean and petty man, are not WORTHY of any woman living, therefore YOU may not MARRY one.” I think those arguing for SSM have made an admirable case that a gay man should NOT marry a woman. But that’s not what SSM is about.

I think you must know perfectly well that I don’t agree with the old racist canards about black behavior…

I’m sure of it professor. Thus, I was sure that pointing out the fallacy in your logic in this manner would strike a nerve. I was not calling you a racist. I was calling your argument that American racism was about behavior utterly unsubstantiated, flying in the face of reality, absured, unsustainable, and foolish. You grasped at straws, and they came loose in your hand. Now M_Young might take you up on the premise, and try to show us that, yes indeed, American racism IS based on distinctly different black behavior… but you would find that abhorrent, methinks.

You have too much overweening pride as to your expertise in the black experience. I admit to have fallen into that pit myself now and then, which is how I know it when I see it. On the whole, I’m happy to have lived a diverse life, embracing physical labor and intellectual endeavor, living for prolonged periods in a variety of cultural contexts, and among other things, having had many years to get to know people with high epidermal melanin levels as friends, neighbors, comrades, brothers and sisters. But there’s nothing unique or difficult about it, and it doesn’t make me an expert.

I’ve read quite a bit, and published quite a bit, of the same periods and areas of history you reference. We may come to different conclusions. We are probably both wrong to some extent. But pulling on your professional familiarity to assert a dubious analogy, and when challenged, to resort to “trust me, I’m an expert, what do you plebians know” does not impress.

#23 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 18, 2014 @ 3:53 am

Siarlys, gee whiz, you really are better than this (or maybe not?):

You have too much overweening pride as to your expertise in the black experience.

I have ZERO expertise in “the black experience.” I have some expertise, hard-won from having read loads of really awful tripe, on what racists of the Jim Crow era believed and argued. Which of course was not AT ALL “the black experience,” but a crude misrepresentation of it.

But pulling on your professional familiarity to assert a dubious analogy, and when challenged, to resort to “trust me, I’m an expert, what do you plebians know” does not impress.

I never said “trust me.” I did what you and virtually everyone else here does every day: I said (paraphrasing), “There are facts and sources you are overlooking. If you want a more complete understanding, you should go look at those sources. They do not support your point.” Please note for me anyplace where I suggested that only I should have access to the sources, and everyone else should have to rely on what I say they contain. Bonus points if you can find any comment of mine where I insinuated that others are “plebians” or that I’m in any sort of different class than anyone else here.

On the issue at hand, we were evaluating an analogy that depends on a certain historically accessible set of facts: the arguments that were made in books, articles, speeches and sermons of roughly 90 – 150 years ago. On this and other threads, I’ve named some of the relevant authors: Thomas Dixon, Madison Grant, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Lothrop Stoddard. I could name others. Go to [8] and look the stuff up for yourself. The people I’ve been debating here claim to know it, but they don’t name names and they’re really unspecific, and by my reading they’re just factually wrong as to what was in those old books. Regardless, nobody has to trust me on that; nowadays, evidence that used to be stuck away in rare-book rooms at university libraries is just a click or two away.

I was calling your argument that American racism was about behavior utterly unsubstantiated, flying in the face of reality, absured, unsustainable, and foolish. You grasped at straws, and they came loose in your hand.

No idea how that metaphor applies, but it’s nicely colorful, I’ll give you that. I pointed to evidence. Evidence is not “straws.” We can debate the evidence, but we really should debate the evidence, and until you’ve spent some time with it, you have no idea whatsoever whether a particular claim about it is “unsubstantiated” or not.

From my own reading of that evidence, I can very confidently assure you that the racists of yore talked a LOT about behavior / conduct and were extremely concerned about it. (But again: don’t trust me on this. Go have a look.) Now, you and the other hairsplitters here want to say that’s different from today’s homophobic arguments. I’m prepared to grant that, maybe, at some deep level of theory, which we can maybe see if we squint real hard, the links from A to B to C in the one set of arguments are slightly different from those in the other set. Even if that’s so, I’m saying, it’s not politically a good ground for SSM opponents to be arguing from, because to most people, who won’t be interested in getting that deep into the theory, it’s going to look like a distinction without a difference: back then, they wrote books citing nature, Scripture, logic and “science” to thwart the aspirations of blacks; today, they do the same to thwart the aspirations of gays.

“But OUR books are coming to [very similar-looking] conclusions from a technically different analysis!” Well, that’s — let’s just say — not a platform that I, for one, would want to find myself standing on in a public debate. But for that very reason, the rest of you are welcome to it.

#24 Comment By Hening On June 18, 2014 @ 8:49 am

The author of the article was dishonest. It’s great that everyone has an opinion on the Church, but for two-thousand years it remains consistent, and will remain so. Clergy, laity, people with no education in Orthodoxy do not make up or vote on Christ’s Church. It is a matter of faith and obedience, which is why it will stand against the gates of hell. The USA has plenty of examples of churches that simply want to follow social and political etiquette, which have or are circling the drain and becoming social clubs.

#25 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 18, 2014 @ 10:05 am

Professor, you write at great length when a few words would do. I’m pleased you have finally begun listing your sources. I was perturbed by your habit of saying little more than “I’ve done a lot of reading on this subject,” implying that you know what you’re talking about, and the rest of us don’t. I assume you’ve also read up on James K. Vardaman, Benjamin Tillman, and J.C. Ballagh?

Certainly many ATTRIBUTES of behavior were alleged as peculiarly being associated with dark skin. But people defined as black were not treated differently BECAUSE these distinctions in behavior were real. Rather, these behaviors were rhetorically ASSOCIATED with dark skin, attributed to people who might or might not behave accordingly (while people defined as “white” also might or might not), out of a desire to disparage and discredit dark skin.

The ONLY reason anyone has the slightest problem with “gay” people, or even thinks of anyone AS “gay,” is the result of a discreet set of actions that ARE, by definition, peculiar to those defined as “gay.”

There is a difference. You are blinded to this difference by your passionate desire to prove a case that your instinct tells you must be right… and tha analogies you resort to are not very scholarly.

#26 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 18, 2014 @ 11:56 am

But people defined as black were not treated differently BECAUSE these distinctions in behavior were real.

Siarly, again, good grief. Did you think I was arguing for a moment that they were real? Have you missed the entire point here? We’ve been comparing the rhetoric of homophobes with the rhetoric of racists, which happens to sound remarkably similar whatever distinctions you think you can squeeze from the arguments. It’s had nothing whatever to do with anything that’s actually true about either black people or gays.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 18, 2014 @ 9:56 pm

Professor, I am not questioning your knowledge of history. I am questioning the way you spin facile analogies to justify a position that is rather weak.

The term “homophobe” is rather misplaced, but accepting it arguendo, the rhetoric of homophobes and racists may be similar, but the BASIS is DIFFERENT.

Homosexuality is defined by a set of acts, race is not. When it comes to gays and straights, the differences in behavior ARE real, in fact, they are the very difference glorified by Pride parades.

Gays are those who
a) indulge their sexual hormones in a different manner than the rest of us, or,
b) are guided by their natural passions to do so, but refrain for some reason that seems good to them.

Gays are not people who want to have sex, just like the rest of us, they are people who DO have sex, differently from the rest of us. There is no intrinsic category “gay” apart from what is different about their sexuality.

Blacks, Negroes, colored, Afro-Americans, whatever the term du jour is are NOT defined by behavior, but by skin color. Behavior is actually all over the map, as it is for “white” people, for “Hispanics” for various types of Asians, etc. etc. etc.

Your repeated resort to “good grief” sustains my argument. You are indeed horrified when your facile analogies are taken to their logical conclusion. Instead of painting another layer of veneer in an unsuccessful attempt to make them look pretty, you should reconsider the analogies you resorted to in the first place.

You didn’t want to hear it when I belittled your MAD Lib methodology. You are digging yourself in deeper and deeper, and its not even a decent joke any more. Think again.

#28 Comment By WorldWideProfessor On June 19, 2014 @ 2:58 am

Come on, Siarlys. “Skin color”? Then why was there a “one-drop rule”? At best the question of who was white and who was “colored” was strenuously contested, with the many American courts that were called to rule on the question winding up all over the map regarding what “the” “BASIS” was.

Contrary to what you implied earlier, I think that armchair historians and philosophers can sometimes see the issues more clearly than trained but hyper-specialized academics. So I’ve got nothing against them at all. I just thought you were a better one.

#29 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 19, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

Professor, I’ve mentioned before that you seem to shift your ground when your argument runs into a dead end. You’ve done it again. The “one-drop” rule has nothing to do with behavior.

It was hard to tell who was “white” and who was “colored” because people don’t tend to live their lives in the neat little categories racists devised. Yes, the “one drop” rule shows how silly it was to even label people by “race,” or to base racial definitions on colors like “black” or “white.” (Remember Steven Biko’s exchange with the South African judge? “Why do you people call yourselves black? You’re more brown than black.” Riposte: “Why do you people call yourselves white? You’re more pink than white.”) And occasionally an Afrikaner family would have a mildly “black” child — ever see the movie “Skin”? It is well worth watching.

Now let’s go back to the beginning. This tangent began when you pronounced that racism was, just like homophobia, based on behavior. I called you on that. You tried to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but failed. Racism employed false allegations of behavioral characteristics, but it was not motivated by objectively pre-existing categorical differences in actual behavior.

To the extent that there is actual “fear” of homosexuality (homophobia could, technically, refer to “fear of man” or “fear of homogenization”), it is based precisely on behavior. Boys and girls have separate locker rooms so they don’t see each other’s naked bodies, and some guy gets all wound up about a gay classmate looking pruriently upon his naked body, because that’s their thing. Or something like that. I know lots of hard-hitting humorous responses to that fear, including the military veteran who said when we’re under fire we want to know if the buddy to our side is covering us, not what turns them on when they’re on leave. But the distinction is about discrete acts.

You desperately wanted to establish a valid analogy between racism and bias against homosexuality. You failed. Now you’re just trying to score a brownie point, if you can.

I’m not even saying there is ground for bias against homosexuality. In almost every area of public life, sexual orientation is completely irrelevant, and should not be the basis for disparate treatment. Except when it comes to sexuality, which is the matter as to which there are genuine differences.

Make your case on its own merits, not by drawing facile and unsupported analogies. I despise the gay movement, the pro-life movement, PETA, or anyone else wrapping themselves in the mantle of the civil rights movement. Make your own case. (I might add that you have been very persistent at doing a particularly unpersuasive job at trying to create analogies that just aren’t in the facts of the matter.)