Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Response to David Dunn: When heretics get it wrong

The New-martyr Hilarion (Troitsky)

In David Dunn's latest post seeking to justify his position on "gay marriage", he writes:

"I support gay civil marriage. This puts me at odds with the official views of my bishops. If I had been asked about that on air, I would have said something about how I am personally uncomfortable disagreeing with my hierarchs, but I would also have said that in the Orthodox Church, just because a synod or council meets and says something does not mean it is right. Let me give you a few examples…"

He then goes on to cite examples in which parts of the Church embraced Arianism, Iconoclasm, and Papism: "In the year 360 Orthodoxy became Arian... In the year 754 Orthodoxy became Iconoclastic... In 1274 and 1439 Orthodoxy became Roman Catholic..."

It is oxymoronic to say that Orthodoxy became heretical. When any part of the Church embraces a heresy, it becomes an ailing member of the Church, and is either restored to health by the correction of the Church, or is finally cut off from the Church.

This is something that you will find explained in just about any text on the Orthodox Faith, but here are a few texts that address this subject specifically:

The Church is One, by Alexei Khomiakov:

Christianity or the Church, by the New-Martyr Hilarion:

On the Unity of the Catholic Church, by St. Cyprian of Carthage:

In each of the above cases, David Dunn pointed out how a group (not the entire Church) embraced a heresy. In the case of Homosexuality and marriage, the Church has a constant teaching on those subjects. Therefore, if a group of people are now coming along and embracing something new, it is that group that is now the ailing member, and will either be corrected, or they will finally be cut off from the Church.

David Dunn: "The problem with seeing the tradition as an unchanging deposit is that it masks the fact that we only know what is orthodox because we have the benefit of history. To a certain extent, at any one point in time, knowing orthodoxy from heresy is a matter of perspective. That does not mean we should be relativists, or that we should speak without conviction, only that we also need to exercise a little intellectual humility. We should make every effort not to confuse an unshakable faith with obstinacy and hubris."

At any given point in Church history, the Church has always had the Scriptures, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Ecclesiastical Tradition to guide it. In the case of each of the heresies that are named, they can be shown to be at odds with the Tradition that preceded them. But the case at hand is not a debate over some arcane point of theology that has not been well defined by the Church in the past. Any 13 year old who has actually been raised in the Church and taught the Tradition knows that homosexuality is a sin, and that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. If anyone had even raised the question of "gay marriage" even 30 years ago, they would have been thought to be insane.

St. Hilarion (Troitsky) wrote:

"Christian faith joins the faithful with Christ and thus it composes one harmonious body from separate individuals. Christ fashions this body by communicating Himself to each member and by supplying to them the Spirit of Grace in an effectual, tangible manner.... If the bond with the body of the Church becomes severed then the personality which is thereby isolated and enclosed in its own egoism will be deprived of the beneficial and abundant influence of the Holy Spirit which dwells within the Church (The Holy New Martyr Archbishop Ilarion (Troitsky), Christianity or the Church?, (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 1985), p. 16).

The hubris is with those who ignore 2,000 years of Christian Tradition, thousands more of Old Testament Tradition, and the unanimous affirmations of every local Orthodox Church in the world today. David has previously appealed to "living Tradition"... but if the living Tradition excludes everything that has come before, and every local Church today, I would have to wonder what it could possibly refer to, other than his own opinion.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Hypocrisy of the "Christian Left"

In a Huffington Post article, David Dunn has pointed out what he sees as hypocrisy on the part of Christian conservatives:

"It is the view that Christians should vote their values, and this means we should legislate moral evils into oblivion. Thus if we believe life begins at conception, we should vote against abortion! If we believe marriage is between one woman and one man, we should vote against gay marriage! And if we believe in caring for the sick and the poor, we should vote against "Obamacare!" ...Wait a minute! Do you see the political hypocrisy? The Christian Right votes for candidates who are anti-abortion and anti-gay (at least on paper) because it believes we must pass laws to protect marriage and protect life (at least embryonic life), but it is unwilling to apply the same principle to "Obamacare." Infants in the womb have a right to life, but apparently adults do not have a right to life-saving medical care." 

There are several problems with the logic here. For one, you could simply flip this question and ask why the Christian Left thinks a baby has a right to free medicaid after it is born, but doesn't think we should prevent that baby from having a doctor induce a partial delivery, stick a pair of scissors in the back of its neck, and then suck out its brains with a suction machine.

Another problem is a failure to recognize where the government's powers can rightly be used, and where it cannot. Does anyone have a right to medical care? Everyone should certainly have a right to purchase it, but if you say that you have the right to medical care, you are saying you have a right to someone else's labor. Last time I checked, that was slavery. I don't have the right to go to a doctor, hold a gun to his head, and make him treat me or my family members.

On the other hand, does a baby have a right not to have a doctor insert scissors into the back of its head and suck its brains out? Yes. Regardless of what the Supreme Court may say, every human being has a right to life, liberty, and property that comes from God, not the government. The government cannot grant those rights, they can only respect and protect them, or allow them to be violated.

Now do the Scriptures say that we should give to the poor? Yes. The Scriptures do not say that we should lobby the government and force our fellow citizens to give to the poor. The Scriptures say that we should give to the poor.

The Scriptures certainly do not forbid a government from providing charity with tax money, but whether or not that is a good thing, and how that should best be handled is not a matter that the Church has a definite teaching on. Christians can disagree.

I have spent 20 years now, in my secular job, working in social services, which have included Medicaid, Food Stamps, TANF (formerly AFDC), and Child Support. I think some of these programs have some good aspects and should continue, but there is also a lot of waste, fraud, and abuse connected with these programs, and there are also problems with the way the government delivers them that encourage dysfunctional behavior.  And so while all Christians agree that helping the poor is a Christian responsibility, it is not a self evident truth that the best way to accomplish that is more government welfare, or universal health coverage. I certainly would not suggest that those Christians who disagree with my take on that are not Christians because they don't see it my way, but they should return the favor, since the Church has no clear teachings on how government should handle public charity. For more on my opinions on welfare, see this podcast.

However, when it comes to baby killing or gay marriage, these are questions that the Church does have a clear teaching on. If you think it is OK for the government to not only allow for babies to be murdered, but have no problem when the government wishes to make Christians pay to kill those babies, then you are not only a hypocrite, you have departed from the Christian Tradition.