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Orthodoxy vs. Modernity: Defending a Common Heritage

Srdja Trifkovic

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By "common heritage" we mean the underlying unity of the Eastern and Western wings of the Christian civilization--long split by the tragedy of the Great Schism, and now threatened by the rot of disbelief, Christophobic norms and functional nihilism rampant throughout the Western world, but still one.

This beautiful part of the world is an especially apt spot from which to contemplate such unity. Here in Northern California the expansion of the West, the Latin Church--embodied in the conquistadors and missionaries from Spain--achieved its maximum geographic outreach some 250 years ago near San Francisco. Not long thereafter, the eastward expansion of the Orthodox Church, embodied in Russian monks, hunters, traders and sea-farers, stopped at the same location, Marin Headlands. The meeting point of the Catholic move northward along the Pacific coastline by the Spanish and the Orthodox move southward along the same coastline by the Russians, marked the termination of the expansion of the Western and Eastern wings of the Christian Civilization. (I would not go so far as to claim that this meeting point between the East and the West qualifies San Francisco for the title of The New Byzantium--some would say that New Sodom is more apt--but let us not exclude the possibility: miracles can and do happen.) It is therefore apt to ask, from this of all locations, what those two wings of one civilization can offer to each other today.

That the heritage needs defending is obvious. The present technological, military, and financial might of the Western world are a mere façade. They conceal an underlying moral and spiritual weakness that may yet undermine the entire edifice. The symptoms of that malaise start with the loss of religious impulse, manifest in the fact that, in today's Britain, France, Belgium, and Germany, more people pray in mosques on Fridays than in churches on Sundays. Unbelief and unconventional sects that are "Christian" in name only are on the rise in America. The loss of a sense of place and history experienced by millions of Westerners goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of the European Union, a transnational hyper-state in Europe, and the quest for global dominance by the political duopoly in the United States. Both share the same distaste for traditional societies and cultures. Globalism destroys the remnants of the old order, and causes drastic demographic change within the West. Europe is dying. North Americans of European descent are reproducing below replacement levels and, within a decade, will start the precipitous decline that has already taken place in Europe. By allowing vast Third World immigrant subcultures to emerge within their societies, the Western nations have permitted the emergence of an alternative social and political structure, of which Islamic terrorism is but one consequence. In both America and Europe, multiculturalism has ensured that Western nations have lost the capacity to define and defend themselves vis-à-vis other civilizations. Muslims, in particular, have profited. Their utter disdain for the secular-democratic institutions of their host countries notwithstanding, they gladly invoke those institutions and demand democratic privileges to organize and propagate their views, while knowing that--given the power to do so--they would impose their own beliefs and customs and eliminate all others, on pain of death.

All of these symptoms of Western decay are compounded by the visceral antipathy that some segments of the post-Christian elites in the Western world feel for the Orthodox tradition, culture, and spirituality. The geopolitical context of the Yugoslav crisis of the 1990s, in particular, cannot be understood without some grasp of the cultural context that has made the all-pervasive Serbophobia--the hallmark of the Western policy in the Balkans for over a decade--both legitimate and attractive.

This cultural context is mainly in the perception, on the part of the elites, that nations shaped by Orthodox Christianity belong to a tradition that is different, alien and possibly sinister. Writing in "Chronicles" seven years ago, James Jatras noted that the "odd consistency" of the reaction of the West to Orthodoxy and Orthodox cultures is a kind of prejudice based on ignorance, fear, an unreasoning phobia that goes beyond mere anti-Serbian, anti-Russian, anti-Greek sentiment. Pravoslavophobia, he called it, putting the emphasis squarely on the distinctive difference created by the incarnation of the Orthodox faith in human cultures.

But is it not possible, one may ask, that the hostile reactions to Orthodoxy by the Western elite class are not necessarily "prejudices," in other words that they are not caused by their misunderstanding of that tradition but, quite the contrary, that such reactions are due to their accurate assessment that that tradition is an obstacle to the realization of their political, economic, and cultural preferences in the modern world? Is it not the case that the forces of modernity regard any attempt to bridge the gap between heart and mind as inherently subversive? Indeed, the heart of the matter, as my friend Vincent Rossi has said, is a matter of the heart, or, more precisely, a matter of a schism in the soul of modern man:

"The key to the problem of Orthodoxy and Orthodox cultures like Serbia, Greece or Russia being heard, understood and respected in the modern world lies above all in the fact of schism. But this schism is not primarily that of church organizations, such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, or of cultural, political and historical entities, such as the "Greek East" and the "Latin West." The primary schism, however, the schism as it exists today in its most acute form, is a schism of the mind from the heart and the heart from the mind."

When magnified across time and history, and multiplied in generations and cultures, Rossi points out, this schism is a vast shaper of souls, creating impenetrability and fear and hostility. The modern world, called "Western" because its genesis lay in the "emancipation" of the West from traditional religious restraints through the rationalism, humanism and secularism of the Enlightenment, has created a culture whose values are dominated by a rationalist-humanist-secularist world-view that alienates mind from heart, and gives priority to mind over heart. The Orthodox world, by contrast, is not shaped by the values and patterns of modernity, much less post-modernity, but rather by traditional cultures that resist rationalistic humanism. That resistance is perceived, by the Western elite class, as subversive and dangerous. They hate Orthodoxy because it has at least the potential of fanning the dormant embers of revival and resistance in their own societies, which must not be allowed.

That sentiment can explain the reluctance of American and West European officialdom, even in these post-9-11 times, to call Chechen child-murdering terrorists just that, terrorists. It is along these tracks that the decision-makers in Western capitals have acquired a bias in Balkan affairs that by now goes way beyond any one piece of policy, and falls totally outside the parameters of rational debate. That is why in Serbia five years ago they carried out a premeditated aggression on par with anything engineered from Berlin in 1939 or 1941, and in Kosovo they criminally aided and abetted destruction of Orthodox Christian shrines, and the illegal secession by a lawless minority that, once completed, will render many European borders tentative. That is why in Croatia they assisted the most monumental ethnic cleansing operation in post-1945 Europe, and in Bosnia-Herzegovina they opened the floodgates of Jihad to the heart of Europe.

"Rational" reasons are insufficient to explain such premeditatedly duplicitous policy. The answer is in the desire of the ruling elite to use the Balkans as a testing ground for the emerging global empire. They are repeating the folly of the West that is exactly 800 years old this year--the sack of Constantinople during the infamous Fourth Crusade--and this is one of the many important anniversaries in 2004 that are passing almost unnoticed. The Franks did not understand that New Rome was the guardian and protector of the West. The treachery of the Crusaders opened the way for the Ottoman onslaught against Europe that did not stop until it reached Vienna.

Today, the same confrontation continues on a much larger scale. Its consequence, the price of the emerging post-modern global empire, is the obliteration of the ethnic identity of peoples, their special color and uniqueness, in the loss of diversity of social evolution that goes side by side with the diminishing diversity of nature. At home the ultimate price of empire is the death of the very people and civilization of the society that is cajoled onto the self-destructive path of imperial over-reach. As Sam Francis has warned,

"not only the destruction of self-government and republican liberty, not only the absorption of independent institutions by organizations no longer under the control of those whose lives they regulate, not only the transference of loyalties and commitments to strange peoples and places with whom we have no connection, and not only perpetual war for perpetual peace are the prices of the imperial path but also the eventual extinction of the very people on whose backs and bones the empire was constructed."

The alternative is enlightened nationalism, consistent with Christianity. Some wars may have to be fought, but only those that are just and touch us personally. Reality is always more complex than we think, and the more distant it is from our own experience the less we can understand it. This is the moral basis for nonintervention, for staying out of other peoples' problems: because we are aware of our limitations, of our inability to know what is best.

A non-interventionist foreign policy would facilitate the switch from the pernicious notion of progress to the maintenance of tradition, from the neurotically endless becoming back to being. It needs to be expressed in defending the values of a real, historical America in the teeth of its progressivist reduction to technology and intellect. In the struggle for the eternal against the temporary the Orthodox need to avoid the temptation to cocoon themselves. They should be willing to reach out to their natural allies among other Christian denominations. Of course the schism of over nine centuries is real. It involves many doctrinal and liturgical differences that cannot be eliminated by a hasty compromise, let alone by accepting the possibility of "multiple truths." But dialogue and mutual help among Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditionalists is both possible and desirable. Taken separately, they are utterly powerless to fight the modernizing, relativizing cancer.

All Christians need to retain an awareness of their own fallibility when using human fallibility as an argument against the errors of the modern world. But they should also have faith that all is not lost, not yet: anti-Christian beliefs and assumptions of the elites are at odds with the majority of the people in every traditionally Christian country in Europe and America. But this majority is embattled. It is being steadily and deliberately whittled away by the continuing onslaught on "conventional morality" in schools and the media, and by the attack on the demographic structure of our societies by immigration.

The problem is compounded by an ongoing betrayal from within the Christian camp, and the conquest of many churches by Marxists, sexual perverts, and radical feminists. These people have their secular agendas, their political and social objectives; that they have no serious faith of any kind goes almost without saying.

The true Christian tradition has saved and sheltered many Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditionalists from the arrogant belief that people can solve all the mysteries of the universe by their own unaided intellects. Those traditionalists are our natural allies on the side of common decency, traditional values, and Truth. They should be prepared to endure sacrifices. Instead of being thrown to the lions, they may be subjected--by some judicial mechanism dictated by bureaucrats--to mandatory "sexual diversity orientation sessions," or feminist-led pro-abortionist "right-to-choose education workshops," after which the refusal to recant could lead to "therapy" and forced medication. This scenario is not farfetched on either side of the Atlantic. Be prepared for martyrdom.

Is a political theory of Christian resistance possible? Perhaps; the key is to draw the distinction between "liberal democracy" that promises freedom "from" things, and Christian liberty that upholds freedom "for" things. This model should be broad enough to provide the consensual platform for different Christian traditions. To regain the war-ravaged remnants of "Christendom," its embattled majority of manipulated citizens needs help to become conscious of the power that it still possesses, but to that end it should be admitted by every Christian that others--people outside his particular tradition--may share Christian virtues and lead good lives. They need to hang together, in these trying times, or else they will most assuredly hang separately.

Read this article on the Chronicles of Culture website. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Posted: 9/14/04

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