A Defense of Christian Faith Against Disbelief

Defense of Christian Faith Against Disbeliefby Fr. Grigori Dyachenko (written in 1900) -
Our times can in all truth be called the times of disbelief: from all directions all sorts of teachings inimical to Christian religion comes to us, and in our midst too there unceasingly come about all manner of fantastic ideas contrary to the spirit of Christian faith. These ideas are usually born among the so-called educated. Contemporary disbelief utilizes for its own ends the liberty that it finds throughout the civilized world. Apparently, disbelief is preparing to engage faith in a decisive battle. Disbelief uses all its efforts and rejects no means in order to uproot faith from the hearts of men.

The press proves to be a suitable tool for this purpose in the hands of unbelievers. No misconceptions of human reason are too monstrous to be released by it. How much blasphemy, how much mockery of all sorts, how many words of ridicule, both crass and subtle, are directed against the holiest and most heartfelt feelings of the faithful! These attacks against our faith, both obvious and concealed, can be found in almost all kinds of contemporary secular literature: in novels and stories, in works historical, scientific and philosophical. “Down with faith; there is no God!” – such is the slogan displayed on the military standards of the armies of faithless fanatics who with feverish zeal devote themselves, as they say, to the cause of education and the good of mankind. In reality it would have been better if they had expanded their zeal on some cause other than their ostensible one.

The press proves to be a suitable tool for this purpose in the hands of unbelievers.

The spirit of falsehood has captured contemporary scientists at the moment when they began to trust nothing but man’s reason, began to deify it and to trust the sinful freedom of man’s will. They began to understand free will in terms of liberty to do any kind of evil: liberty not to know and honor God, liberty not to obey God’s laws, liberty for any kind of protest, liberty to give vent to one’s passions, liberty not to accept Christian teachings. All the intellectuals subscribe to such views and corrupt the simple, less well educated people.

Learned professors and teachers in their pride have directed the natural sciences not toward the praise of God but toward the mockery of His holy Name. They have found out that the earth is one of the smallest planets and have consequently concluded that mankind could not have been worthy of the Creator’s attention, and that He did not descend on earth, live there, suffer and die for mankind. They even teach their students that such Christian beliefs are fantasies. They do not believe in God’s goodness and in His truth, most marvelous, joyful, and life-giving. They perish because of their disbelief and the wickedness of all kinds that results from it.

How many Christians are there who say: “I believe in God,” but do not reveal their belief in their actions! How many lips remain closed when it becomes necessary publicly to defend the glory of God and of His saints, whom the sons of this world blaspheme! We keep silent whenever there is an opportunity to talk about God or to put a stop to some kind of unruliness or some presumptuous remark.

Considering that the struggle of disbelief against faith has reached in our times its greatest intensity, we may regard the warning of the great Apostle Paul to be written directly to us: “Be not carried about with diverse and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein” (Hebrews 13:9).

The basic commandments of the Gospel became subverted and interpreted in a way grossly inconsistent with Christian doctrine.

It is no longer surprising to observe in contemporary society a cold, indifferent, even contemptuous attitude toward everything that reminds us of religion. Questions of a higher order, namely those dealing with morality, and answers given to them by our contemporaries, frequently reveal an unclear, confused grasp of even the most elementary rudiments of the Christian outlook. The basic commandments of the Gospel became subverted and interpreted in a way grossly inconsistent with Christian doctrine. The highest demands of Christian morality are rejected as Utopian, a dream never to be fulfilled and inapplicable to life. A whole series of concepts whose content should wake men to moral energy and transform their spiritual selves, are re-interpreted in a way which does not at all suit these concepts and seems to derive from them some basic meaning or other.

At the same time we see revealed a broad realm of new phenomena of extreme importance. A whole new way of life is being developed, foreign to any direct influence of religion, yet universally acknowledged to be natural and reasonable. Its supporters categorically assert that the religion of Jesus Christ has had its day, has said all it had to say. They declare that the moral of the Gospel was useful only to simple fishermen of Galilee, while the contemporary educated man needs different guidelines. These guidelines, they say, can be given him only by science. Science, they say, is a lighthouse before the brightness of which the light of religion grows dim and must go out completely.

Yet look with an unprejudiced eye at the religion of the New Testament during the last nineteen centuries. You will be surprised to see how much it has done for mankind. What an ineradicable trace it has left upon our civilization, our customs, manners, laws, sciences, arts! How much has it changed mankind for the better! It has ennobled man and put into his life much warmth and love. Millions have derived from it strength to live in the name of goodness and truth, have put on its altar their best feelings and thoughts and found in its service their greatest joy.

Can this faith now have lost its life-giving strength? Can the spring which used to satisfy the spiritual thirst of hundreds of generations have suddenly gone dry? Can an encyclopedia take the place of the Gospel? Does science have the strength to replace religion as the guide of man into the bright distance of the future? This is a serious question, impossible to be solved lightly. A mistake can lead to a catastrophe.

The history of Christianity is almost two thousand years long. We can embrace and measure the internal, constant process of its development, as well as the degree of its mighty influence upon the conscience and the life of mankind. We should be able to see that Christianity is as yet far from having expressed the entire content of its thought. It is far from having said all it has to say.

In order to make the Kingdom of God on earth a reality, mankind must still continue for a long time to work diligently at improving the moral condition of its heart. The Gospel has awakened many good feelings in man. It has touched in man’s heart such strings as he had theretofore not known, has evoked from them sounds of magical beauty and irresistible power. Yet these sounds have not yet united in a mighty chord, a hymn of triumphant love and truth.

It is not for science to renew men’s hearts and to lead them toward the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth.

If science wants to replace religion, it must take upon itself the responsibilities of religion. If it wants to be preferred to religion, it must give man more mighty means and a quicker path than does religion to the realization of the ultimate ends in his life.

The realm of science is vast; if you wish to say so, it is endless. Its problems are great. It has achieved much for mankind, and will achieve even more. Its very name must be holy for anyone who thinks about it. Still, intelligence is not the only force behind moral progress, and education alone does not make us better human beings. Science broadens our intellectual horizons, increases our power over nature, but it is unable without the cooperation of religion to make man spiritually reborn and to elevate him morally.

It is not for science to renew men’s hearts and to lead them toward the realization of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Science can improve the future of mankind in its own way, but this is not a complete improvement. Science explains the laws of the universe, reveals how we can use the forces contained in matter, and thus gives us enormous power over nature. There was a time when man trembled before every tremendous natural phenomenon, but now he is the master of nature.

Science has converted the sun into a printing machine, has saddled the wave, enchained the free wind, yoked steam to do work, has made lightning to do the postman’s work. Diamond drills go through the deep heart of rock and get water in the midst of a hot desert. Gigantic hammers with no effort compress masses of metal. The telegraph, the telephone, the telescope have abolished distance. Spectral analysis has determined the composition of planets. Millions of factories with a minimal application of muscular strength accomplish work impossible even for the giants of mythology.

If in antiquity men were able to look into the future and see what science has accomplished by now, they would have decided that ours is the Golden Age, about which their poets always dreamed. Yet despite all the victories of man’s intelligence, the Promised Land continues to elude us like a mirage. In many places there is still deep ignorance,over-work and abysmal poverty side by side with idleness and luxury.

In spite of its promises to create by its own powers a kingdom of highest truth and equality on earth, science has shown itself powerless in this respect.

In spite of its promises to create by its own powers a kingdom of highest truth and equality on earth, science has shown itself powerless in this respect. The age of electricity has as many vices as the ages of greatest barbarity. Instead of uniting under the guidance of God and then struggling against the universal enemy – darkness and injustice – men struggle under the banners of science for nothing except gain. The basic slogan of everyone’s life is “Might is right.’ Man is like Ishmael, about whom the Bible says: “His hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (Genesis 16:12). Everyone struggles and toils on his own behalf and for his own sake only. There thus is universal enmity, universal distrust, irritability, anger. Nowhere can we find restfulness, justice, mercy, love.

Science declares that the severe, merciless law of the struggle for survival moves the world and rules it.

“Be firm,” say philosophers like Nietzsche. “Give no way to mercy, sympathy, love. Oppress the weak, climb higher on their corpses. You are children of a higher race. Your ideal is the superman.”

A horrible theory! According to it, not the best, but the strongest and greediest, triumph. Goodness, love and truth must step aside and give way to violence, shamelessness and vice. Those who have behaved like the Nietzschean ideal are Dionysus the tyrant of Syracuse, Herod the Great, Nero, Cesare Borgia, Lenin and Stalin.

Where, then, is the happiness of all the members of the family of man, a happiness promised by science? Where is the triumph of the highest love and truth? Why does not science, along with material progress, bring an improvement of morals? Why does it not remove evil, root and all? Alas, to do so is not the provenance of science. The origin of evil is of a moral kind, and science can do nothing against moral evil. It can break a rock, compress a glob of metal, but cannot make mild a cruel, hard heart.

If you wish to change life and the world surrounding you, says Christianity, change yourself first and change your heart.

Nineteen centuries ago the Gospel proclaimed that the heart is the origin of all thoughts, both evil and good. The divine Knower of heart, Christ the Savior, first showed that man’s spirit is the only source of social, political, and every other kind of life, and that the more perfect man will become, the more perfect will be all that he creates. If you wish to change life and the world surrounding you, says Christianity, change yourself first and change your heart. It is possible for a brotherly life filled with love, in short, for the Kingdom of God, to exist on earth, but we must look for them not somewhere in our surroundings, not in something external, but inside ourselves, in our hearts. And our hearts cannot be influenced by science but are influenced by religion.

The Gospel tells us about God as the perfect Love and absolute Truth, about His attitude to the world and our duties toward Him. It fills our souls with reverent adoration of the Highest Being, wakens in us a desire to become worthy of His love, evokes in us subjection to His commandments as expressing incontrovertible moral law. Christianity alone, in the name of Supreme Holiness, which is God Himself, ceaselessly motivates man to go on growing morally.

The highest universal ideal of the whole mankind is revealed in the Gospel. This idea is the Kingdom of God. The way to the Kingdom of God is a moral rebirth of man’s whole spiritual nature, a development in him of a Christian outlook, and a formation of his will in the spirit of the New Testament love and truth. The moving force in this development is religion. Science can in no way find this preeminence of religion humiliating for itself and can have no reason to quarrel with it. . . .

All of mankind has not yet completed its search for the eternal meaning of life. Therefore it is strange to say that religion has played out its part, and that science alone must be the guiding star and the moving force of future civilizations.

During the nineteen centuries of its existence, Christian religion has made a strong and indelible impression upon a long series of generations, their laws and institutions, their intellectual and moral upbringing. No matter what our own religious views, we are all, every minute of our lives, under the influence of Christianity.

The way to the Kingdom of God is a moral rebirth of man’s whole spiritual nature

A considerable number of the ideas first announced to the world by Christianity have now become common property. Although the opponents of Christianity will not acknowledge it, they owe to the Gospel almost everything of which they are proud. However, let clouds conceal the sun! Daylight surrounding us is not independent from its origin, even when that origin is hidden. Once the clouds are dispersed, the sky grows bright and shines in all its beauty, and the sun pours forth streams of warmth and light. The day becomes bright and glorious.

When will such a day come? No one can answer this question. Jesus Christ has said that we cannot know this. But although we cannot know the time when He will come, we must always be ready to meet Him. We must be watchful like the master of a house. We must be prepared like the virgins whose lamps are ready for the coming of the bridegroom. We must work with all our strength toward the coming of that hour, as worked the recipients of the talents in the parable.

It is not within our power to save mankind and to change the nature of the world. But it is within our power to correct our own spiritual nature, to perfect our character, and to educate our will in a Christian way. All these actions are within our power and are, moreover, our duty, the personal obligation of each one of us.

All the enemies of divinely revealed teachings, all those who deny the existence of God, must grow silent before the arguments presented by ordinary common sense enlightened by divine Revelation. The simple logic of human intelligence should be able to convince them.

If they continue in their error despite the incontrovertible proofs of theology, despite proofs taken from the Holy Scriptures, despite the history of mankind from the most ancient times, and despite the belief in a Supreme Being by even the most savage peoples of the world; if they are not convinced of the existence of God and the eternal life of the soul by the greatness, endlessness and beauty of the material world, and the very eternity of time and space, in which an infinite number of bodies perform their movements, all of them enormous and mysterious; if, finally, they are not convinced of the truthfulness of many of the Biblical accounts by the archaeological excavations in ancient Assyria, Babylonia, Chaldea, Palestine, or Egypt, then they should at least on the basis of simple common sense come to the conclusion that, besides the visible world, there is also an invisible one, since the chain of causation must have a Final Cause, namely, God, the basic Source of all that is.

If there is in the universe the apparent, the not hidden, then there must be, contrasting with the apparent, also the mysterious, the hidden, the supernatural. If there exists the material, the seen, then there exists also the spiritual, the unseen. The former is the object perceived by our bodily senses, the latter, by our inner, spiritual feeling, our faith.

If our bodily senses have objects of perception, there are similar objects to be at least partially perceived by the inner senses. Thus there exists in the world a whole series of contrasting objects, phenomena, and actions, for instance good and evil, the infinitely small and the infinitely large, complete inertia and complete activity, light and darkness, etc..

If my self exists, then there must be others like it, and those that are higher than it (angels). If we and those higher than us exist, then there must exist One incomparably the Highest and Most Perfect of us all and of the whole world, the Beginning, the Cause, the Foundation, and the Creator of all that exists.

If there are in the universe beings progressively lower, as compared to me, and if there are, then, lower, higher, and even higher beings, then above all of us creatures of earth, and above the more perfect bodiless spirits, there must be the One Highest and Most Perfect, Who has created us all and is governing us.

This most Incomparable, Eternal, Endless, All-filling, Most Perfect, Most Holy, Almighty and All-High Being is God in Holy Trinity.

He is that greatest, incomprehensible Cause from Which everything originated; that living and all-wise, eternal and almighty Power Which upholds all and provides for all. The inquisitive mind of man cannot go farther. Here is the limit beyond which none of the creatures ever has stepped, nor will any ever do so.

If the world which surrounds us is inexpressibly marvelous and lovely, if it is created incredibly wisely and surprises our weak mind with its severe and majestic harmony both as a whole and in its details, in the limitless expanse and in the small things seen only under the microscope; if it is marvelously ruled according to great and eternal laws by an invisible, all-powerful Hand, in accordance with a wonderfully strict order and harmony, then there must exist also the most wise and great Power That has created it and supports it even now.

Look at the sky in silent, clear, starry night. Does not the inexpressibly beautiful value of heavens, studded with a countless multitude of enormous worlds, speak to you about God and His wondrous greatness and wisdom? It will overwhelm you even more if you will look at it through a telescope. Will not your heart tremble at these countless sources of light: the constant stars, the planets, the comets, all of which proceed on their unchanged paths, set in accordance with eternal laws, all of them separated from us by immeasurable, terrifying distances? Do we not then understand the divinely inspired words of the holy prophet and psalmist: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork” (Psalm 18:1)? And not only in the great things of this universe do we see the marvels of God’s creation – we see them also in the immeasurably small. Look into a microscope and you will see a whole world of creatures in one drop of water. Do we not see everywhere the undoubtable wisdom of God’s creation? Can these wonders of wonders have come about of themselves, without a cause, without a Creator? Does anything in the world come about without an external cause, all by itself?

Can those who consciously deny the existence of God and the immortality of the soul be called normal, psychologically balanced people? Hardly.

Can those who consciously deny the existence of God and the immortality of the soul be called normal, psychologically balanced people? Hardly. Otherwise, how could we explain the strange contradiction between, on the one hand, their knowledge of the Bible and their acquaintance with weighty theological proofs of God’s existence, and on the other hand, their inability and unwillingness to know that great and most perfect truth which has been revealed to the world from the first times of creation, and then continued being revealed in many ways by the Lord of the universe Himself; and finally was clearly and undeniably attested by the Son of God, our Savior, Who assumed flesh and exactly fulfilled all the prophecies and witnessed to the truth of His teachings by countless signs revealed to the Christian world at various times through His divine power? Speaking of the exact fulfillment of prophecies, we may remark that at present we seem to see clearly an exact fulfillment of the scriptural revelation concerning the appearance in the world of many false prophets and false teachers, who deny the truth and teach men not to believe in God (Matt. 24:11-24, I Tim. 4:1-2, II Tim 4:3-4, etc.).

The believers need no proofs of the existence of God, the existence of the soul, the supernatural world, etc.. All these they acknowledge with their believing heart, enlightened by the divine teachings, and with their uncorrupted reason and will.

Nothing in the world will replace for mankind the divine revelation attested by the Bible. The truthfulness of the Bible has been in many respects confirmed also by science.

Let the wise of this world understand that the truthfulness of the Bible can be perceived also from the strict simplicity and order of the Biblical narrative itself, and from the deep sincerity and conviction which fill the entire content of this holy and divine book.

The burden of proof is on them. Let them quite definitely, with scientific exactness, deny the Biblical narrative about the Creation of the world, the Flood, and other events of like nature.

How can they explain such strange and mysterious occurrences as when lightning incinerates one man so that he is on flame like a bunch of straw, while another man struck by lightning has his hands burnt to a cinder while his gloves remain untouched? Why can lightning forge together the links of an iron chain but on another occasion kill a hunter without discharging the gun in his hands? How can it melt the earring in a woman’s ear without doing any harm to her skin? How can it undress a man and leave him naked without harming him, but on another occasion burn only his shoes or his hat? …

In addition to the questions already offered, we should like to put before contemporary wise men some other questions of a different kind, namely: With what doe they expect to replace the faith in God and in the divinely revealed teachings of the divinely inspired faith? Will the Bible be replaced by all sorts of philosophic books, systems of morality concocted by man, materialistic theories, all sorts of Utopias and inventions of human reason denying the truths of divine revelation? Having lost religion and rejected divine laws, will mankind be happier, more perfect, more upright, more humane, more honest?

With what will they replace the comfort which religion alone gives man in sorrow? If, as these false men wish, Christianity should disappear, where will people find a replacement for the fountain of divine faith from which they have been drawing pure spiritual joys, patience in the midst of toils, obedience to fate, meekness, brotherly love, strength for their struggle against evil, hope for a better future?

Will they be able to get all this from some kind of philosophic teaching, some moralistic pamphlet, or some materialistically scientific theory? The fruits of work over a microscope in a laboratory will not substantially improve man’s life.

Excerpted from Archimandrite Panteleimon’s translation from the Russian of The Spiritual World, by Fr. Grigori Dyachenko, written in 1900.

HT: The Saint Gregory Palamas Outreach