Fr. Patrick Reardon writes on the Touchstone Blog:

Two days ago James Kushiner included in this place his own criticism of the essay of Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff, “How Should Orthodox Christians Vote?” which was posted on Beliefnet. Boutneff’s very confused and confusing essay, we regret to say, has now been posted on the web page of The Orthodox Church in America. In response to it, other Orthodox Christians are weighing in. Yesterday Dr. Jonathan Chaves, professor of Chinese at The George Washington University, sent around to some friends the following sage comment, which he has given us permission to post here:

My take would be this: This essay is yet another example of the false “angelism” that afflicts so many of our contemporary intellectuals: “you can’t pin me down, I’m above the polarities of the moment.” But there is no “above;” at this point in history, the ideas that activate conservatives, certainly the traditionalist conservatives, are grounded ultimately in the great Christian heritage; contemporary liberalism is equally grounded in the Enlightenment and its essentially anti-Christian conception of human nature. A believing Christian today will have a very tough time accommodating to the current liberal doctrines, and will find that to do so will eventually necessitate relinquishing one Christian teaching after another.


  1. I am at a loss as to how many “Christians” purport to know the inner workings of Professor Bouteneff’s mind. I’ve seen him attibuted with the most amazing motivations. Today’s is the most absurd of all – intellectual arogance. Anyone who ever met and spoke with Bouteneff (as I have) would know that he is a very thoughtful and humble man. He may in fact be wrong (although I don’t think he is) but we can at the very least accord him the respect of ceasing to attibute false motivations to him.

  2. With all due respect to Fr. Patrick and Dr.Chaves to assert that the “ideas that activate conservatives, certainly the traditionalist conservatives, are grounded ultimately in the great Christian heritage” is more problematic than Dr.Bouteneff’s common and obviously well intentioned confusion.

    Traditionalist conservatives can be and often are just as dogmatically wrong about the nature of man in society as are the liberals, they are just better a wrapping it in theological language. They are just as guilty of a materialistic/rationalistic approach as are the liberals. Theophany plays no role in their understanding of man,culture,nature or society.

    Our bishops have to stop dithering around with ecumenism, old country politics, and petty power sqaubbles and start teaching the true Orthodox heritage. After all, they are the ones responsible for “rightly dividing the word of truth”.

  3. Dr. Bouteneff’s statement was unsatisfactory on several levels, primarily because such a complex subject was discussed in such a short essay. However, this response to Dr. Bouteneff partakes of a false dilemma reminiscent of the modernist/fundamentalist debates of a century ago. The extreme right is identified with Christian tradition, while the extreme left is identified with the Enlightenment, the failure of which is evident to many intellectuals. The implication appears to be that only the extremes are available options. I do not accept the false dichotomy, and I find Dr. Bouteneff’s statement, though rather less than satisfying, far more comprehending of the contemporary intellectual life of Orthodox Christians.

  4. I think it is clear that he is being accused of intellectual arrogance, or at the very least elitism. And knowing Professor Bouteneff I can tell you he is neither of these things. I agree that his reponse leaves me with no more answers than I had before I read his article. On the other hand, should we have either the church, leaders of the church, bishops, or church teachers telling us how to vote? I think our faith must inform our decision making – and certainly I think Bouteneff would agree.

    And with regard to my own personal politics – I tend to favor some of the social policies (health care, etc.) of the Democrats but I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to vote for Kerry. He is a disappointing cantidate. However, neither do I find myself entirely happy with the other choice. I think I am a reluctant Democrat who will be relucantly voting Republican.

  5. Ann, perhaps I should make my question more specific. Where, in any of the posts or responses on this blog, has anyone accused Dr. Bouteneff personally of being intellectually arrogant and elitist? Unless I’ve missed something, every response has been to his article, not to him. You are stating, or at least implying, that he is being attacked ad hominem.

    There are at least two other people who contribute to this blog who also know Dr. Bouteneff personally. I am one of them, as I noted earlier. Neither of us have attacked him ad hominem, so who are the others?

  6. The ad hominem jabs are indirect and implied, a snide, academic way of getting around the ad hominem charge. When Dr. Chavez writes, “This essay is yet another example of the false ‘angelism’ that afflicts so many of our contemporary intellectuals: ‘you can’t pin me down, I’m above the polarities of the moment,'” it is entirely logical to infer that he is ascribing this affliction to Dr. Bouteneff. You just cannot then infer that he is attacking Dr. Bouteneff, because, technically, he has only attack Dr. Bouteneff’s writing. It’s an academic loophole that laymen see right through.

  7. Basil, why do you think that Dr. Kushiner’s critique of Dr. Bouteneff’s thinking is inferred? It’s very direct and unambiguous as I read it.

    And what in the critique causes it to be an ad hominem attack? Is it because the critique is directly aimed at Dr. Bouteneff? If so, how does it differ in substance from the critiques made toward Dr. Kushiner by yourself and others here?

    Dr. Kushiner’s thesis is that contemporary liberalism has abandoned its Judeo/Christian moorings and adopted the values of the secular Enlightenment project. He argues that contemporary intellectuals avoid the conflicts this shift inevitably engenders by assuming a posture of benign neutrality (he calls it “angelism”), particulary towards divisive social issues of moral character. He names Dr. Bouteneff as one commentator that does this, but his comments are not any more an ad hominem attack than, say, calling Dr. Kushiner a conservative (which he clearly is).

    I should point out that Dr. Kushiner argues elsewhere that the posture of benign neutrality has consequences of its own. See his latest editorial First Things First for example.

    One final point. Anyone who treads the waters of social commentary has to expect flak here and there. Dr. Bouteneff, I assume, can defend his ideas against the critiques that come his way if he is so inclined.

  8. “Ascribing an affliction” to a person’s intellectual work on the evidence of a document they have written does not qualify as an ad hominem attack. It qualifies as a critique of that person’s ideas. This line of argument reminds me (to use a vulgar example) of the Hollywood stars who criticize politicians and then, in the face of counter-arguments, whine that their First Amendment rights are being infringed. They seem to want debate to be limited under the First Amendment, a dizzily self-contradicting notion.

    I am surprised that those who have written in defense of Dr. Bouteneff have assumed that he is being personally attacked. He is not. His ideas are, and he is perfectly free to defend them on his own, as Fr. Jacobse said. I wish he would come and defend them on this blog. We’d have a lively debate, and we all might learn something.

  9. Dr. Bouteneff’s article has stirred a great deal of debate in these pages. My response is drawn from Bouteneff’s statement: “Neither is there any one system of governance, be it monarchy, democracy, plutocracy, or theocracy, which the Church would sanction as such to be the Christian way of estasblishing and maintaining a state…Christians are not ipso facto socialists, capitalists, or monarchists. And such as we Americans are accustomed to the logic of democracy, democracy is neither the way in which the Church is govers itself, nor is it the only or obvious Christian kind of state…Christians…have to decide in each particular case what best meets the criteria of Christian life.”

    There are many ideas packed in this statement, and I am limited in time in commenting on them. I start with a question. Through her long experience in history, has the Church had a period (until the time of America’s great experiment in democracy) in which the state has not directly attempted to control ecclesiastical affairs? Emperors, Czars, and dictators have all had their hands inside the doors of the Church, attempting to muzzle the voice of the Gospel. As an Orthodox Christian, I cannot imagine wanting to live in a state governed by the whims, greed and power-madness of absolute rulers. Christians for Czarists? No thank you.

    Bouteneff is dimissive of the importance of democracy for the Church,simply categorizing it among the various types of state. We only happen to be Orthodox Christians living in a democratic style of government. It appears to me Bouteneff is values- neutral when it comes to democratic institutions. They just happen to be. What account do they have for the Church?

    American style democracy is based on the principle of the “limited state.” Governmental coercion is strictly limited by the expressed guarantees of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There are built-in checks and balances, the safeguards that work well on occasions and fail in others. To be sure, American democracy is a messy business; it is highly competitive in both the markeplaces of economics and ideas. For some people, this is disquieting and assaultive of the ideal. All in all, what would replace it?

    This leads me to to the question of the proper relationship between Church and state. Bouteneff is off-center here. The state should not confess a faith. It does that, however, when, in hostility to the faith confessed by its people, it confesses the ersatz religion of militant secularism. The great antidemocratic danger comes from the secularist creeds imposed by governments that recognize no higher (transcendent) sovereignty.

    That was the reality of Nazism and communism. That danger is also present in our democracy when “the separation of church and state” is taken to mean the separation of religion from public life. The public square, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If it is not filled with the lively expression of the most deeply held convictions of the people, including their convictions grounded in religion, it will be filled by the quasi–religious beliefs of secularism. Christians should be encouraged to lively, sometimes heated, debate and decision-making in the public square.

    One may well ask whether Bouteneff’s perspective is capable of informing democratic deliberation and decision by reference to an Orthodox grounded moral discernment.

    Democratic deliberation and decision–making is necessarily conflictual. Short of the End Time, even among people of the best will (and it will never be that everybody will be of the best will), there will be different and frequently conflicting understandings of moral truth and the common good—and, increasingly, there is disagreement over what might be meant by words such as “truth” and “good.” The public square must always be open to all—at least in theory that is supported by determined effort.

    Democratic discourse can be sustained by an awareness that God calls us to care for the earthly polis, and by the knowledge that opponents have access to truth and a capacity for reason even when they seem determined to prove that they don’t. And again, it helps to know that the most important things to be communicated and agreed upon are not in the realm of politics.

    The Church must acknowledge the limits of her competence in political and economic life. In relation to politics she strives to maintain a principled, firm, and nonpartisan stance. Admittedly, that is not easy. In specific circumstances of partisan conflict, even the most carefully crafted statement of principle will be viewed by some as partisan. Therefore, a good rule of thumb when it comes to statements that intend to invoke the Church’s moral authority is this: When it is not necessary to speak, it is necessary not to speak. At stake is the danger of turning the gospel into an ideology or party platform. Politics is not the vocation of the Church. The Church is to help equip the faithful for the exercise of their vocations in the public square. The vocation of the Church is to help sustain many different vocations.

    American democracy may not be the ideal, but is there an adequate replacement? Approximation to the ideal is the best we can hope for this side of the Kingdom of God.

  10. So maybe I’m reading you wrong. When you say his essay is an example of the “angelism” that afflicts many modern intellectuals, the first part of that sentence refers to his essay but the last part refers to people. I don’t think it I would be the only person to assume that this critique of intellectuals was being applied to Dr. Bouteneff. Further, Fr. Reardon on his blog implies that Professor Bouteneff should not be educating students at St. Vlads. Naturally I may be making assuptions here, but they are at least marginally based on evidence. Also, I am quite sure Dr. Bouteneff can indeed defend himself. I merely assumed that this comments forum was to express ideas from both sides, not merely for disagreement with the essay.

  11. Ann, both parts of that sentence refer to the ideas that many modern intellectuals espouse in their writings. They refer therefore not to the persons themselves, but to their functional actions as modern intellectuals. Yes, Dr. Bouteneff is on the receiving end of this critique, but not personally, only intellectually in a professional sense. The arguments are not trying to undermine his essay through accusations of personal deficiency, and are therefore not ad hominem. Fr. Reardon expresses doubts about the teaching at SVS, but not about the teachers themselves as persons. Identity is incidental to the issue.

    And yes, this forum is for expressing ideas from both sides, as anyone who has read posts from long-time readers like Dean, Jim, and James is aware. Without these guys, this blog would be a lot less interesting (I hope they would say the same about Fr. Jacobse, Daniel, Michael, Missourian, and the other conservatives). But those who participate should expect to be challenged.

  12. Fr. Johannes,

    Father, bless. First let me be clear that in these comments, I am referring to the post you quoted above, which is the Priest Patrick Henry Reardon quoting Dr. Jonathan Chavez, not the original post wherein James Kushiner tackles Dr. Bouteneff’s article directly. Second, in the quote above, Dr. Chavez does not directly attribute the affliction to Dr. Bouteneff, he implies it. Thus, I must infer it.

    Second, when I opine that “[t]he ad hominem jabs are indirect and implied, a snide, academic way of getting around the ad hominem charge,” I mean, he did not directly describe Dr. Bouteneff’s thought as being afflicted by a malady. He only implied it. Sure, it’s not textbook ad hominem. It’s perfectly acceptable in the academy. It’s fun, in fact, to use sharp words like that and narrowly escape namecalling. The thrill is in seeing just how far we can go before someone accuses us of argumentum ad hominem. If we couldn’t use sharp verbal jabs like that, academic discussion would be more boring than the Hollywood stereotype of a history professor’s lecture.

    Kissing your right hand, I remain your unworthy servant.

  13. Ann: Thanks!

    Basil: The comment wasn’t a jab, or meant as an exercise in academic fun, but a serious and direct claim. But this still doesn’t make it ad hominem. See my last post above. I think your definition of ad hominem is too broad. Nobody is attacking Dr. Bouteneff in personal terms. They are simply arguing with a professional publication of his thought in a public arena which they take very seriously.

  14. Bill, I recognize the seriousness of the subject. However, in my own experience, there have been countless times when the first thing I wrote was probably ad hominem. Thus, I revise, keeping the tone sharp while deflecting the criticism away from the man. (There are, also, many instances where I should have done more revision before hitting the “Submit” button.) Frankly, if public discussion must be dull, I’d much rather just escape from it altogether. Thank heavens for sharp tongues and clever wits.

  15. I agree, Basil, but prefer to limit the wit and sharpness to the material at hand rather than the contributors. The only place I can think of where ad hominem argument is expected and enjoyed is the British House of Commons!

  16. Basil, the “unworthy servant” of Fr. Johannes,

    Kind regards for your elucidation of the intriguing and subtle twists that prevail the narrow escapes of the argumentum ad hominem. It is well said.

    Going back to Dr. Chavez’s comment, though, he points out that liberalism is “grounded in the Enlightenment and its essentially anti-Christian conception of human nature”. However, from an Orthodox point of view, couldn’t the same be said against American conservatism?

    American conservatism and its principals are also born out of the Enlightenment and Reformation, and Dr. Bouteneff’s article points out that Othodox theology recognizes a different view on the nature of man than most conservatives believe.

  17. Stephen,

    You are absolutely correct! The conservative/liberal split in the U.S. is a secular version of the Reformation and Enlightenment. Two bifurcations of man that became popular during the Dis-enligthenment and the Reformation still are prevalent in much of the political and social debate today. Before any one hits the roof, the following analogies are over-simplified approximations only, but IMO show the continuing influence of the great debates in Western Europe’s intellectual hey-day (the structure of them does reflect my own bias): #1. Man must act as an individual and all hierarchy is to be miss-trusted [Protestantism/humanists] (today’s political conservatives and libertarians) vs all authority flows from the state [today’s liberals] (Rome and the monarchists). #2. Man must act on the belief of the heart–logic and reason are secondary [Pietists] (modern day liberals) vs logic and reason must rule over the heart [humanists, early Protestants, and Enlightenment scholars] (modern day conservatives).

    The influences can be difficult to recognize and follow because the have become so twisted and intertwined with each other. Classic Orthodox anthropology holds that both dichotomies are false—they give an inaccurate and incomplete vision of who man really is. At best, they describe aspects of our fractured fallen nature and are the result of sin. Perhaps Dr. B’s confusion is the result of being unable (as most of us are) to apply the Church’s understanding of man in a political landscape that seems to force us to choose between two inaccurate and incomplete visions of man in society.

  18. Greetings –

    Now that I’ve been alerted to this blog, and the Touchstone one, I thought I’d come in with some responses.

    First, a clarification on the genesis of my short piece. I was asked by the OCA to write something on this subject for their website. That this article was then taken up by Beliefnet, Orthodox News, and who knows where else, was none of my doing. The article reached way past its intended audience.

    That it was solicited by and intended for the website of my church explains why it had to be short – and I agree that its short length is one of its main liabilities. It’s hard to do justice to complex issues in a few paragraphs, to address them without sounding sketchy or shallow. It also explains why it does indeed smack of “angelism.” I didn’t feel that the OCA website was a place for me, who (for better or worse) teaches at SVS, to deliver a position paper, advocating this or that party. I considered it my job, in this case, to set out issues on both sides.

    Still, there is a de facto position being argued, namely that neither party in its current manifestation and context, has a monopoly on Christian values. I maintain this position without confusion or hesitation, though with regret.

    Nearly everyone who has responded with objections has simply quoted the platforms of the two parties, where it’s pretty easy to make a case for the Republicans. But the platforms aren’t everything.

    I believe that looking at the candidates today and not just the party lines, “abortion” as such might not the make-or-break election issue that some people think is. Bush himself has said that the hearts of Americans would need to turn before abortion was made illegal — he’s not about to overturn Roe v. Wade, and none of his Republican predecessors did either. No matter who’s been in office, from Reagan to Bush Sr. to Clinton to Bush, you look in the yellow pages and see all the clinics are open for business. To say that the lives of millions of unborn hang in the balance with this election is hyperbole. (Please read on.)

    I believe the strongest argument for voting against the Democrats has to do with late-term and partial birth abortion. That is something which may indeed be affected by who is in office. All abortion is wrong, but these are particularly horrible acts whose legalization should be resisted fiercely. The stem cell issue is another one where Republicans have the more Orthodox Christian approach, and I take that with utter seriousness as well. I completely respect people for whom these issues alone would tip the balance against the Democrats. In any case, our common objections to abortion and stem-cell use should lead to intense lobbying, regardless of who is in power.

    To raise questions about the effect of a given candidate’s abortion policy (and I’m sure that there are some important responses to that), as well as raising the issue of how we got into Iraq (that’s what I was hinting at, poorly, in the article by mentioning “war”), that of economic disparity (the beneficiaries of Bush’s economic and tax policies are shamefully obvious), and that of gun control, is not “making a huge mush of things.” These are life-and-death issues that need to be considered by any thinking person. To dismiss them as “secular,” “academic,” “signs of being imprisoned by the Enlightenment,” or whatever people’s preferred demonization-word might be, is simply wrong.

    In fact, it’s wishful thinking. Most of the objections to my article effectively state that I’m clouding up an issue that is in fact completely clear. In the words of one respondent who wrote me personally, George W Bush and the Republicans today will “uphold the universal practice of humanity and the teaching of Orthodoxy.” I maintain that such a view, rather, is making false clarity out of a situation that is in fact not clear at all. Unclarity makes a lot of people very nervous, and, apparently, pretty angry too.

    (BTW, to see a compelling case for sitting this election out entirely, I recommend Fr. John Garvey’s excellent piece in the current issue of Commonweal.)

    Anyway, thanks for reading. Let the discussion continue.


  19. Michael,

    I like your comment about how the “political landscape … seems to force us to choose between two inaccurate and incomplete visions of man in society”. We are certainly obligated as Christians to be good citizens, to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we are not obligated to bow to Caesar by accepting and condoning the “genius” of the American political system and how it bastardizes morality. It seems too often that political involvement leaves us defending a corrupted view of mankind and morality.

    At the same time, George S. asks in his post above, “American democracy may not be the ideal, but is there an adequate replacement?” To this I would have to respond, “What business would the Church have in speculating about a better form of government?” Yes, we pray that the “laws of our land would be just” and for the “pacification of the ragings of the heathen”, but the Church also teaches that governments are put in place by the hand of God and as the servants of God. The early Christian church believed this, even though their government was pagan, commiting almost every atrocity imaginable, and even feeding Christians to lions. Even amidst their martydoms, the early Christians did not see themselves as battling against the government. The business of the Church is the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom not of this world. The saints of the Church show us that being involved in the Kingdom of Heaven has far greater social and cultural implications than by attempting to do battles according to earthly laws which only bring about death.

  20. I find that Dr Bouteneff started off reasonably but in the end resorted to knee-jerk polemics. It is shamefully obvious that my middle class family benefited from the tax cut that it received last year, and it is shamefully obvious that my family and other middle class families would suffer under another Democratic administration.


  21. “I believe that looking at the candidates today and not just the party lines, “abortion” as such might not the make-or-break election issue that some people think is. Bush himself has said that the hearts of Americans would need to turn before abortion was made illegal — he’s not about to overturn Roe v. Wade, and none of his Republican predecessors did either. No matter who’s been in office, from Reagan to Bush Sr. to Clinton to Bush, you look in the yellow pages and see all the clinics are open for business. To say that the lives of millions of unborn hang in the balance with this election is hyperbole. (Please read on.)”

    I would just like to add that this is very far off. President Reagan tried to stack the Supreme Court with those who would overturn Roe V Wade but made some judgment mistakes with the people he picked. President Bush signed the partial birth abortion ban. President Bush cut funding to the UN’s population control policies–several million dollars were slated to be sent to China to murder its civilians. These are concrete steps. The Democrats would never do this, as Clinton increased funding on abortions overseas.

    3 of the 9 Supreme Court justices have said that they would overturn Roe V Wade. That means we need 2 more justices. And those 2 might come in the next 4 years if some of the others retire. Are we willing to take that chance? President Bush also voted to stop funding further murder of embryos! Truly, millions of lives hang in the balance.


  22. A quick description of the main political parties:

    Democrats: Steal from the rich and give to the poor

    Republicans: Let’s make enough rich so that the Democrats can steal from them.

    Libertarians: “Let’s party!”

    Green: Let us pray to the earth and keep the cancer,man, from harming her.

    Socialist: Let’s make everybody poor except us.

    But you get the idea.

  23. Anastasios, to refute your claim that Reagan tried to stack the court with justices that would oppose abortion, I present Sandra Day O’Connor and her record.

  24. Basil,

    I clearly said, “he tried but made some judgement errors.” Sandra Day O’Conner was the biggest error Reagan made. I watched a biography on Reagan once and one of the contributors said that Reagan always regretted appointing her.

  25. Dear All,

    Because my comments of yesterday were somewhat strong, I would like to make it clear that there is no perceived personal animosity on my part towards Dr Bouteneff, whom I know personally and respect just like other posters here. I will admit that certain choices of words in his posts got me riled up but that doesn’t change the fact that I think he is a very sincere, thoughtful, and intelligent man.


  26. As an Orthodox Christian who happens to believe that man’s judgments should always be seen as some degree of evil in comparison to God’s kingdom, I clearly understand the intent of Dr. Bouteneff’s article and fully agree in principle. I am thankful to the leadership of the OCA for posting it.

  27. Why would man’s judgments be defacto evil, even to a small degree? Further, what is the source for determining the precepts of God’s kingdom that enable us to render this first judgment? (Do you really mean man’s judgments are “evil” here, or do you mean you are cautious or skeptical of them?)

  28. As Orthodox Christians (with the Catholics and against, say, the Calvinists), we believe that God’s grace empowers us to make good judgments in obedience to him. Luke, your comment is more than a little dualistic.

  29. Why would man’s judgments be defacto evil, even to a small degree?

    Because man is….a sinner?

    “Render the things of Caesar unto Caesar, and the things of God unto God”. This eternal Gospel truth ought to be understood dynamically, and not statically. The difference and the delimitation of the two kingdoms remains eternal, but the relationships between the two kingdoms within the history of Christianity do not remain inalterable, they change at various stages of Christianity. Christianity does not know petrified forms, which might define for always the Christian ordering of the kingdom of Caesar. One only doth dwell unshakable. Christianity does not deny the kingdom of Caesar whether it be mechanical or revolutionary, it recognises it as a particular sphere of being, distinct from the kingdom of God, but necessary too for the ends of the Kingdom of God. The Church of Christ has its own particular foundation, independent of the elements of this world, it lives according to its own particular law of spiritual being. But the Church of Christ at the moment of its appearance was surrounded by the elements of this world and was compelled to live in a pagan state, which fiercely persecuted Christians. The “kingdom of Caesar” does not signify a monarchy, it is a figure designating the kingdom of this world, the order of sinful nature. – N. Berdyaev

    Also I find it interesting that the following, which is very reminiscent of the theme of Dr. Bouteneff, is posted elsewhere on this web site:

    What then is a Christian to make of conservatism? The danger, it would seem, is not in conserving, for anyone may have a vocation to care for precious things, but in conservative ideology, which sets forth a picture of these things at variance with the faith. The same is true of liberalism. From time to time Christians may find themselves in tactical alliance with conservatives, just as with liberals, over particular policies, precepts, and laws. But they cannot be in strategic alliance, because their reasons for these stands are different; they are living in a different vision. For our allies’ sake as well as our own, it behooves us to remember the difference. We do not need another Social Gospel-just the Gospel.

    In a previous essay, “The Problem With Liberalism” (FT, March), I described liberalism as a bundle of acute moral errors, with political consequences that grow more and more alarming as these errors are taken closer and closer to their logical conclusions. Conservatism may be described as another such bundle. The parallel is not perfect, for American culture is balanced at the top of a liberal ridge and is only now considering the descent. Because conservative moral errors have had less time to work among the powers and principalities, we cannot always discern their political consequences. But we can anticipate their fruits by their roots. The moral errors of conservatism are just as grave as those of its liberal opponents.

    The Problem With Conservatism
    J. Budziszewski

  30. But there is a difference between being a sinner and being evil (although can lead to evil when a lie is created to masquerade a sin as a good). It doesn’t follow though that everything a man does is sinful. Sometimes he does good.

    I’m fighting two things in the current cultural climate: 1) ideology (a closed system of thought that purports moral and thus social perfection); 2) the notion that if a system is not closed (if moral perfection is not attainable), movement towards relative good — ie: making the world better, is essentially pointless. The second is a corollary of the first, but one adopted by many, including Christians. I argue in the end, that Christianity repudiates ideology. The commandment to love God and neighbor is entirely existential, never philosophical.

    This is deep structure stuff with tightly held assumptions we often don’t realize we hold. As a result, I’m often perceived as advancing a counter-ideology, which I’m not, but this is not apparent until discussion starts. (IOW, people read my words through the lens of their own ideology, even if it functions no more than the corollary.) This is why the precise meaning of words is very important and why I asked you if you really mean “skeptical” instead of “evil” above.

    This is one of the words I push Dr. Bouteneff on as well.

  31. Luke,

    IMO, Berdyaev’s statement that you quote reflects the dualism which Bill caution’s against. One must always guard against the error. The Incarnation radically altered the way in which we live, Christian or not. The Incarnation re-created to a limited degree the Theophany and communion of the Garden. It is not just man’s soul that is saved, the entire creation is redeemed and restored. We see the redemption more clearly and experience its reality more fully the more we repent and participate in the sacremental life of the Church (not just the litrugical sacrements). The ordering of human society (Caesar) is also effected. It is a demonstratable historical fact that (with some monstrous exceptions) human government has become more just and less destructive since The Incarnation.

    The separation proposed by Berdyaev and that you seem to agree with, is more of a western position (both Catholic and Protestant) than Orthodox. To maintain such an idea requires either as a result or as a precursor a belief in an anthropology that is profoundly non-Orthodox. [BTW Such an anthropology really has more to do with the continued divisions in Christianity than any of the more widely discussed theological questions.] Such a dualistic anthropology is also at the heart of the culture war and political idelogies (see my post #20 on this topic).

    Fr. Hans has undertaken a daunting task, trying to activate the Orthodox anthropology in a pluralistic, hedonistic political culture with the hope of bringing healing and positive change. There are many who do not see the possibility or the worth of such a task. Certainly in human terms, the task is not possible, but in Jesus there always is hope and in fact the victory has already been won, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

  32. Al, that response was posted first on this blog, as response #22 in this thread (see above). Also, it’s “Bouteneff,” not “Betendeff.”

  33. Michael,

    It is not just mans soul that is saved, the entire creation is redeemed and restored.

    This is true enough. But I believe it is a false dichotomy to set it up against Berdyaev, whose propositions are more nuanced. The anti-dualistic tradition of the Church has more to do with the salvation of man (through Christ’s person via the Incarnation) than the ordering of civil society, although they are interrelated as Romans 13 indicates. Berdyaev goes on to write:

    The Kingdom of God cometh unperceived, its comes neither through monarchy nor through revolution. But both an outwardly stable order of life and an outward upheaval of life always denote events of the inner spiritual world, they are not situated outside my own particular destiny, as merely something begotten of the lower material world. Christianity is not dualistic, or more precisely: Christianity acknowledges a religio-ethical dualism, but not at all an ontological dualism.

    Christianity does not deny the state and the rule of authority. From the lips of the Apostle Paul, the Christian Church has recognised, that the rule of authority issues from God and that rulers bear not the sword in vain. The rule of authority has an ontological source, it possesses a positive mission within the sinful world, it averts the chaotic disintegration of the world, and prevents the ultimate triumph of anarchy within it. The ontological principle of the rule of authority plays within society the same role, that conformity to law plays within nature, — it upholds the cosmic order within the sinful chaos.

    The separation proposed by Berdyaev and that you seem to agree with, is more of a western position (both Catholic and Protestant) than Orthodox.

    I don’t know that to be the case. But I don’t want to get bogged down on this point in any case. Your point is understood.

  34. Fr. Jacobse,

    Your statement that “Christianity repudiates ideology” is true. The saints of the Church are testament of this. The twentieth-century reality of somebody like Saint Silouan of Mount Athos is a complete victory over present day ideologies. His words may not have anything direct to say about communism, capitalism, liberalism, conservatism, etc., but his monastic witness and deification completely repudiates them.

    I have heard it said before that “to be American is to be ideological”. I don’t think this necessarily means that American hubris has become overly “liberal” and/or “conservative”, but rather it seems to be a reference to the underlying political and cultural architecture of America itself. As you have pointed out:

    “America is primarily a nation of laws, not class”


    “There is no institution of moral arbitration in the American system, no designated cultural elites, no monarchs, and no national church.”

    I agree that America presents itself this way, but I also believe that if we accept and live as though this is true, then we have succumbed to an ideology of Americanism. My concern with political involvement in America is that it seems to ask us to accept these notions in order to participate. Religion can inform the system, and to be sure, the system will be altered, but the end result doesn’t justify swallowing the ideologies of Americanism. Certainly America exercises great power in the world, and the stakes may seem insurmountably high when presented to us at the voting booth. However, if grappling with this power causes us to be engaged as part of another ideological system, then we will have damaged, and possibly even destroyed, ourselves and many others.

    Fortunately, as Orthodox Christians in America, we are blessed to have a real spiritual heritage for this country which repudiates Americanism. This can be found in the lives of the American saints: St. Herman, St. Peter the Aleut, St. Juvenaly, St. Innocent, St. Iakov, St. Tikhon, St. Raphael of Brooklyn, St. Alexis Toth, and St. John Maximovitch (I assuredly missed some too). These are the people who have sanctified this land, some even with their blood, and these are the people who have given us an Orthodox vision of America, although admittedly, it is a different vision than the popular and ideological ones.

  35. Stephen, first off let me say how inspiring it is to talk to someone who grasps the concepts. They are important. I develop these ideas a bit further in the latest issue of “Again”, btw.

    I don’t think however, that religious freedom necessarily leads to an ideology of “Americanism” however. It certainly could, but that would be a perversion of the intent and direction laid by the Founding Fathers, rather than its inevitable fulfillment. American cannot prosper apart from a virtuous citizenry, and Christianity is the source of this virtue they believed.

    For that reason the Saints you mentioned are particularly appropriate because they taught how to live the Orthodox faith in a particularly American context — a statement also entirely appropriate because every Saint did the exact same thing in their respective country.

    We agree on much, although I probably see the founding of America a bit differently.

    BTW, I develop the them of a vituous citizenry a bit more in my articles on Sept. 11 if you are interested:

    Revisting Solzhenitsyn after September 11 and Terrorism and Liberty.

  36. I am truly astonished at the number of comments generated by my own on Dr. Bouteneff’s piece. It may simply be that Democratic voters are struggling to reconcile their faith with their politics, even as they intuitively grasp that a party which has embraced the public validation of homosexuality is at odds with Christian morality. Changing political loyalty indeed requires a huge leap, almost like a true religious conversion.

    But deeper than this lies what I see as the unfolding of a wrong turning in modern thought, tracable directly to the Enlightenment doctrine of the innate goodness of human nature (Rousseau especially). This is turn I think has evolved from a false ontology and epistemology. Nothing less is required for believing Christians and indeed for anyone interested in truth is a counter-revisionist intellectual history. I have attempted to lay this out in some detail in an on-line article which readers may find of interest, “Kicking the Stone and Viewing the Icon.” It may be accessed directly at The editor of Praesidium, John Harris, PhD, disagrees with certain of my arguments, and has written a most interesting rebuttal immediately after my own piece. One word of caution: the last section deals with intellectual historian Eric Voegelin, beloved of many conservatives today, because the paper was prepared for a conference on Voegelin. I actually find his reputation to be overinflated, as will be seen.

    Orthodox co-religionists will notice that I do not assume the key dichotomy to be “Western” vs. “Eastern = Orthodox” Christianity. On the basic level of ontology and epsitemology, I find the differences to be far outweighed by the common axioms. Overcoming its anti-westernism is the single biggest challenge facing the Orthodox Church today, certainly in the West. The melt down of many Protestant churches and some Catholic dioceses results not from some kind of innate flaw in them, present through all of history, but on the contrary from the BETRAYAL of these churches by their own clergy and hierarchs, eagerly importing what are really anti-Christian ideologies into the church and thus undermining it from within.

    I might note that I am a Jewish convert to Orthodox Christianity. My name, Chaves, is the anglicized version of the genetive of Khava, “Eve” (as in Adam and Eve) in the Yiddish rendition. You may recall the charater Khava in Fiddler on the Roof. The spelling identity with the Portugues CHAVES is purely coincidental.

  37. Correction to my correction, and then I stop.

    Than a counter-REVISIONIST etc. [Although yes, this is part of a larger counter-revolution against the appropriation of historiography by the intellectual and cultural left.)

  38. Jonathan, I have not read your article yet, but your ideas are intriguing. I too believe that the anti-Western bias is an unsustainable assertion. Regarding Rosseau (who Solzhenitsyn argued was the father of modern totalitarianism), the primay contribution, if we can call it such, was the rewriting of the west’s cultural narrative, ie: rewriting Genesis to place the point of the Fall at the socialization of man rather than in the Garden.

    And yes, mainstream meltdown is largely due to capitulation to the modernist ethos. There are plenty of responsible Protestants who moved in the opposite direction, Thomas Oden to name one.

  39. Jonathan writes: “It may simply be that Democratic voters are struggling to reconcile their faith with their politics”. As a registered Democrat and dues-paying church member I’m not struggling at all. I’m a multi-issue voter who may agree with some positions of my of my party and disagree with others, but on the balance think the general philosophy and current Presidential candidate of my party is superior to that offered by the other party. Many Republicans feel the same way – they are troubled by some specific positions of their party, but remain loyal due to affinity for its general philosophy and candidate.

    The first presidential debate once again clarified the degree to which all Americans to some degree rely on pleasing lies. Defending the neccesity of national commitment to Orwellian double-think, President Bush stated that if we admit that invading Iraq was a mistake, our troops in Iraq may question the mission, so for the sake of the troops we all have to go on pretending like it was not a mistake despite all evidence to the contrary.

    The Democrat who supports Roe v. Wade must brainwash his or herself into believing that the fetus is not a person and ignore the little face revealed by the Obstetrician’s ultrasound scanner. The Republican who supports President Bush has to convince himself that tax cuts that result in permanent structural deficits are necessary to balance the federal budget, that global warming is a liberal lie despite the melting polar ice shelves, and that Saddam Hussein ordered the 9-11 attacks and had weapons of mass destruction.

    In truth it is impossible to reconcile faith with politics without making compromises.

  40. Dean,

    Your comment that, “it is impossible to reconcile faith with politics without making compromises” is interesting, because most people view their political choice as a moral choice, an expression of their belief or faith. I think many would agree with your comment, but would also assume that the compromise they are making is somehow purely political. They would believe they are making a political compromise based upon some sort of “moral calculus” of their own devising. However, the political system is not actually compromised by whatever choice they make. Instead, the political system is empowered. Votes empower government. What actually seems to be compromised then is the morality, or faith, of the person engaging the political system.

    Conversely, it could be said that if people do not vote, then this would compromise the political system and empower some dangerous form of anarchy or worse. The problem with this view point is that it emphasizes governance as a separate entity outside of man. It emphasizes that the responsiblity of governance comes from outside of man rather than from within.

    What then is our moral relationship with our external government? Certainly we should pray for our government, be thankful for it, respect it, and pay our taxes. I would draw the line at empowering it though. Even if it would appear that my external government is trying, or is even capable, of doing something good, I would not want to empower that. I think its better to emphasize more my own need for internal government.

    I think participation in voting is the current holy grail of political correctness. It has to be the most unfashionable thing of the moment to be a non-voter. Although I try to be as politically correct as I possibly can, I do have a problem with this one.

  41. Dean, apology accepted on the other post. Your comments here though construct a false moral template.

    Abortion can’t be lumped in with the other policy issues like taxation, deficit spending etc. Abortion transcends the polar categories you construct (here shaped as political parties) because it violates the commandment not to kill — a commandment that transcends politics, thus parties, thus the polar categories. I’m pushing here for a responsible hierarchy of values. Thus your conclusion — one that requires the necessary although illegitimate claim that party affiliation requires the acceptance of a “lie” — is incorrect.

    There is a world of difference between abortion, taxation, false intelligence, all the factors you threw into the stew. The only way to reconcile the disparate mix is to argue that none, ultimately, have any value. Clearly they all do, but their value differs and on some responsible people can hold to opposite sides of the issue. No compromise can be made on the morality of abortion however (which is not to say that implementation of policy concerning abortion ought not to be discussed). Compromise here, and your erode the foundation for any moral clarity whatsoever.

    (Don’t fall into the same relativism Dr. Bouteneff fell into. There is no “lesser of the two evils.” There is no, to put it in your words, a lesser or greater lie. Yes, lies can infect public discourse and sometimes do, but if everything is a lie, there is no use for the truth, and the belief in truth is something we cannot relinquish even when it hard to discern or even find at times.)

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