The Intercessions of the Theotokos

“The Mother of God, who is also the Mother of all humankind, pleads at the tribunal for universal mercy, not for the forgiveness of sins (which is impossible, for sins must be completely expiated and suffered through) but for mercifulness to sinners. The existence of hell is surrounded not by the cold of an egotistical indifference but by the radiant cloud of the caring love of saved humankind, that is, of the Church which abides for ages of ages in its sobornost as one, holy, and universal. In the Church, the one humankind is not divided into two and is not reconciled with the severing of its parts – hell – but sorrows over this part.”  (Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb, pp. 193-194)

According to Fr. Sergius, the Theotokos intercedes for us all – pleads that God will be merciful to all of us.  She does not ask God to forgive sins, but rather that the God of justice will show as much mercy, leniency and compassion as is possible to everyone who lived on earth.  She does not ask God completely to lay aside judgment, but rather to behave according to His nature – God is love.  If it is necessary that God corrects us or punishes us, may God do it in His love and His mercy, not to destroy us but to bring us to holiness.

Fr. Sergius’ imagery is most interesting, for he doesn’t envision the saints in heaven being self-satisfied as they leer down on sinners in hell.  The saints aren’t rejoicing in the punishment of sinners but rather the saints of God surround hell with their prayers and love.  Saints do not rejoice that any of humanity is punished in hell.  Saints do not rejoice that humanity can be divided between those in heaven and those in hell, but rather those in heaven continue to extend love to their fellow humans by joining the Theotokos in beseeching God: “Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy!

Caring for the Poor: Lending to God

If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 5:17-21)

Adam, Eve and Jesus
Adam, Eve and Jesus

In Western Christianity there has been endless debate about justification, especially between Reformers and the Roman Catholics but also between various Protestant denominations.  Righteousness and justice are grouped as synonymous terms, often interpreted in a juridical way.  But righteousness can also mean holiness more than legal justice, which seems to me how it is interpreted more in the Orthodox tradition.  Righteousness can also be equated with salvation.  When the first generation of Lutheran Reformers approached Orthodox Patriarch Jeremias to discuss theology, they changed the language in their documents to read “salvation by faith” rather than “justification by faith.”  They were savvy enough to realize this would sound more theological correct to the Orthodox.

Apparently at one time in Judaism, righteousness/ justice was also  used to mean almsgiving/ charity.  Certainly if one reads the New Testament substituting almsgiving for righteousness  we get a totally different view of God and salvation [Try it in the quote above from Romans 5:17-21)].  Biblical scholar Nathan Eubank writes:

“The Ancient rabbis used to tell the story of King Munbaz of Adiabene, a first-century C.E. convert to Judaism, who emptied his storehouses to feed the hungry during a time of famine.  The king’s brothers were outraged and demanded that the king explain why he would throw away the family’s great wealth.  In response, the king argued that by feeding the hungry he had acquired a greater, longer-lasting fortune.  He cited Psalm 89:15 to prove his point: ‘Justice (tsedeq) and judgment are the foundation of  your throne.’  The rabbis commonly understood ‘righteousness’ when it appears in the Hebrew bible to mean ‘almsgiving.’ Read in this light, the psalm seemed to promise that possessions given to the poor would earn treasure in heaven, under the very throne of God.

Jesus speaking with the rabbis
Jesus speaking with the rabbis

 King Munbaz explained: ‘My ancestors stored up treasures below, but I have stored up treasurers above . . . in a place where the hand cannot reach’ (Tosefta Peah 4.18).  According to the rabbis who recorded the tale, this Gentile king learned that the best way to prepare for the future is to give to the needy and be rewarded by God, if not in this life then certainly in the life to come.  The belief that God faithfully repays good deeds has deep roots in the biblical tradition, going back well before the birth of Christianity.  As Proverbs 19:17 puts it, ‘Whoever cares for the poor lends to the Lord, who will pay back the sum in full.‘”  (“The Repayment of Good Deeds in Matthew’s Sermon”, THE BIBLE TODAY, January/February 2017)

The notion that God receives every gift of alms we give to the poor and stores it up for us in heaven was widely believed and taught in the early church and is common sermon fare among the Cappodician fathers.   Whether or not they were familiar with this Jewish tradition, I don’t know, but obviously they came to the same interpretive conclusions about what the Scriptures taught about the importance of charity.

Sometimes philosophers work so hard to get a word to mean  only one thing, so that they can use that word in one and only one way.  Sometimes, to understand the Word of God, we have to move in a different direction, realizing the depth and layers of meaning found in a word or phrase.  Read again St. Paul in the text below putting in almsgiving/ charity where the text says righteous/righteousness.  We begin to hear another message about God which is consistent with the theology that God is love.

Jesus and Moses
Jesus and Moses

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:21-26)

The Parable of the Rebellious Tenants

Jesus taught:

“Hear another parable.

There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country.

When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them.

Afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  (Matthew 21:33-42)

Jesus tells this parable in the context of asking some of the religious authorities what they thought about certain situations and what judgment they would render.  These same officials had been putting Jesus to the test with their questions, but then Jesus reversed the process and asked them to render their own judgments and opinions.

Jesus set the scene – the owner of a vineyard knows harvest time has come and he wants to collect some of the reward from having a vineyard.  But the tenants working for him rebel and decide to keep the profits for themselves.   Jesus asks the religious leaders, what do they think the owner of the vineyard should do with his rebellious tenants.  The leaders come down on the side of retributive justice, declaring the rebels are to be rightfully put to death.

But if we go back and think about the parable, is there any indication that the vineyard owner is at all a man of retribution and punishment?  None.

The owner’s initial reaction to his servants being killed and beaten, is not retribution nor punishment.  He simply decides to send more servants.  The larger group of servants is also not shown any respect by the tenants but rather are treated the same, some being murdered, others being physically driven away.

But again, the owner does not react with anger or revenge, rather he now sends his own son to the tenants, still looking for and hoping for a good response from his tenants.  The owner continues to treat the rebel tenants with respect.   But the tenants do not respond in kind, but rather become irrational declaring if they kill the heir, the inheritance will be theirs.  That claim makes no sense at all.  No just law would give the inheritance to the murderers of the heir.   The bloodthirsty tenants have lost their minds and proceed to murder the owners son.

No where in the parable does Jesus ever give us the sense that the owner of the vineyard is cruel and terrible, or that he is vengeful, or would seek retributive justice.   The rebellious tenants of the parable may have deserved such treatment, but note it is not Jesus who ever says this, but rather it is the conclusion of the opponents of Jesus.

Jesus is using the parable to reveal to his opponents what is in their hearts and on their minds.  They think in terms of retribution and punishment.  But if that is their idea of God, then why don’t they live accordingly?  Why don’t they live in total fear of the God who they think is nothing but perfectly just and exacting?  If they believe God is so absolutely just as to punish every sinner, why don’t they themselves see their own need for repentance and the need for their own salvation?   The measure they give is the measure they will get – at least that would be consistent thinking.  Why then are they so unafraid to reject God’s prophets and God’s word?

It is a questions we might ask ourselves.  Are we exactly like those opponents of Jesus who teach and demand absolute retribution and punishment for all other sinners (except ourselves, of course!)?   Do we condemn the rebel tenants exactly like those opponents of Christ did and feel righteous indignation at the rebels behavior?  Do we find ourselves agreeing with Christ’s enemies?

Then whose side are we on?

What do we need to do to rethink our position in order to be more like Christ?

Or, do we too reject the stone which is the head of the corner and favor the position and teachings of the enemies of Christ?

Do we, like Christ’s enemies, believe in retribution and justice only for others but not for ourselves?

Is Christ offering us a different idea about our Creator, the God who so loves the world?

Mercy is Justice

“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.”   (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

“Since justice insists that all people get their due, and since mercy implies that at least some receive what is not their due, how can the two claims avoid contradiction?

Wisdom and Justice

The answer lies in the biblical understanding of our relation to God. He does not owe us our existence but grants it as sheer miraculous gift. There is nothing we could possibly do to compensate for this gift, to make it something deserved – not even to return it. We would be totally indebted even if we were unfallen. Sin hugely magnifies our obligation to the triune God. His deliverance of us from bondage through Israel and Christ and the church makes the debt absolute.

Elijah, Christ, Moses

In the deepest sense, therefore, God’s mercy precedes his justice and serves as its very basis.

His judgement is but the enforcement of his mercy: God insists that we live by the same merciful measure wherein we have been created and redeemed.  [Author JRR] Tolkien repeatedly demonstrates his understanding of this profound paradox that mercy is not contrary to justice but the true realization of it. Over and again we encounter characters who have done wrong and who deserve punishment, but who receive justice in the form of mercy – as their bad deeds often issue in surprisingly good things.” (Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, pp 96-97)

SS Peter & Paul
“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

(James 2:13)

Desiring to Return Us to Paradise

“Desiring to return us to Paradise,

Christ was nailed to the Cross and placed in a tomb”

Every eighth week when we come to Saturday Resurrection Vespers Tone 6, I am struck by those words above from the Aposticha verses.   It adds such an insight into salvation, and what Christ has done for us – not limiting the work of Christ to some legal/juridical accomplishment to pay for our sins.  Salvation is so much richer than the mere payment of a debt.  Salvation restores our humanity to us be reuniting humanity to divinity.   Christ’s desire was to bring us to Paradise, not just cancel a debt, but to save us, restore our humanity and unite us to the divine life.

In the Baptism ceremony itself we pray about all the things that baptism brings about.  This is where we see the depth and riches of salvation.  The priest prays over the baptismal waters:

“And grant unto it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities, the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with Angelic might; that those who would ensnare your creature will flee far from it. For we have called upon your Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful and glorious, and terrible unto adversaries.”

“But do You, Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. For You have said, O Lord: Wash and be clean; and put away evil things from your souls. You have bestowed upon us from on high a new birth through water and the spirit. Wherefore, O Lord, manifest Yourself in this water, and grant that he who is baptized therein may be transformed; that he may put away from him the old man, which is corrupt through the lusts of the flesh, and that he may be clothed upon with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him; that being buried, after the pattern of Your death, in baptism, he may, in like manner, be a partaker of Your Resurrection and having preserved the gift of thy Holy Spirit, and increased the measure of grace committed unto him, he may receive the prize of his high calling, and be numbered with the first-born whose names are written in heaven, in You, our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

These multitude of blessings and the effects of salvation are what we should have in mind when we read in the Gospels the lesson about the resurrection.   Think about that prayer from the baptismal service above as you read Luke 24:1-12.   The Gospel concludes with the Apostle Peter “marveling… at what had happened.”   The reality for that moment was he could not know all that had happened or would happen as a result of the resurrection.   We Christians today now know these things and experience them in all of the Mysteries of the Church.

Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb.Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?“He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee,“saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’”And they remembered His words.Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them, who told these things to the apostles.And their words seemed to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.But Peter arose and ran to the tomb; and stooping down, he saw the linen cloths lying by themselves; and he departed, marveling to himself at what had happened.

What had happened?   The world of the Fall had been overcome.  Death was overthrown.  Hell was emptied of the dead.  The dead arose.  The destruction of Satan was achieved.  Humanity was freed from the curse of the Law.  Paradise was opened to us.  The Kingdom of God began its reign over everything.

[One would have to go through all the hymns and prayers of the Sacraments and Feast Days to list all that was accomplished by Christ.  I will note only one other item here because it also stands out in my mind every time I hear the Akathist, “Glory to God for All Things.”   In the 10th Kontakion we sing:

“No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes; You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope.  With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed.  You are Love; You are Creator and Redeemer.”

I find those verses so totally  beautiful.  Christ restores all things – not only the physical, but the spiritual as well – our consciences, our souls, our minds, our hearts.  Absolutely amazing!]

As a final note:  Christ did not descend into Hell and stay there to pay endlessly for our sins.  He goes to Hades to destroy it and to end its tyranny over us.  No one, including Jesus Christ, needs to pay for the sins forever.  Christ does not continually pay for our sins, but once for all He brings an end to the power/sting of sin and death.   He quickly triumphs over them and lifts us all up from the corruption of Hell.

An eternal hell cannot ever bring justice to the universe – if it could, there would be no need for Christ.  Justice would be obtained simply by sending all sinners to hell for all eternity.   But God so loved the world that God overcomes the need for death, hell, retribution or an eternity of suffering.  Christ dies on the cross because death is the final enemy, and it is temporary and is annihilated in the eternity of God’s Kingdom.

Lessons from Sexual Abuse Convictions

Two prominent cases involving sexual abuse that went to trial were resolved in court this past Friday.  The first case does not involve the church.  Former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of crimes which were committed over a fifteen year period.  The crimes include: involuntary deviate sexual intercourse; indecent assault; unlawful contact with minors; corruption of minors; endangering the welfare of children; and aggravated indecent assault.  The 23 June 2012 NEW YORK TIMES reported the story at Sandusky Guilty of Sexual Abuse of 10 Young Boys.

My interest in the story is that it does have implications for the Church as a whole, because predators are attracted to wherever children are present, even in churches.    Whereas we cannot stop every predator, we can take some measures in our parishes to encourage safety for all.  But we must always remain vigilant to what is happening in the lives of our children and fellow parish members.   As the NY TIMES reported regarding Sandusky:

“People expressed shock that a man they knew as a committed and selfless coach, a prominent fund-raiser for charity and a gregarious father figure to scores of aspiring football players and ordinary children alike could be capable of such crimes. Many, at least initially, refused to believe it.”

It is often just that disbelief that enables a predator to get away with his/her crimes.

The other story reported in the NY TIMES, Cardinal’s Aid is Found Guilty in Abuse Case, involves sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.  This case is important because Msgr. William J. Lynn was not charged directly with sexual abuse but was on trial for his role in supervising other priests, some of whom were accused of sexual misconduct.   The former cardinal’s aide was found guilty of endangering children basically for covering up sexual abuses by priests under his supervision.  The implication for our diocesan chanceries as well as the OCA’s chancery is notable.

“The trial sent a sobering message to church officials and others overseeing children around the country. ‘I think that bishops and chancery officials understand that they will no longer get a pass on these types of crimes,’ said Nicholas P. Cafardi, a professor of law at Duquesne University, a canon lawyer and frequent church adviser. ‘Priests who sexually abuse youngsters and the chancery officials who enabled it can expect criminal prosecution.’”

For example, the Roman Catholic bishop from Kansas City, Robert W. Finn,  awaits “trial on misdemeanor charges of violating the state’s mandatory reporting requirement by allegedly waiting six months to tell the police that a priest had taken lewd photographs of girls.”  It is another case in which the accused is not himself guilty of sexual abuse, but as a bishop is charged with failing to report such criminal behavior by one of his priests to the police in a timely fashion (he eventually did report the incidents but only 6 months after learning of them).

As is obvious in the Philadelphia Roman Catholic Church case, it is not just the abusers who are guilty of crimes, but the supervisors who failed to do due diligence and failed to report the criminal sexual misconduct to the civil authorities.  We all have a responsibility to protect all of the youth of our parishes as well as all the members of church.  It is an aspect of our practice as Church which falls under the rubric, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”   In America, “Caesar” has taken a special interest in removing sexual predators from wherever they may be trying to hide, including among the clergy.

The goal is not to make us paranoid of everyone but rather to teach us Christian vigilance.   “Dirty old men” have existed throughout history.  This is not something new.  What maybe is new is that our individualistic culture which values personal freedom and privacy happens also to be an environment in which predators can move about freely.

Prophet Daniel

We have only to think about the Septuagint’s story of Susanna found in the Greek translation of the Book of Daniel, the story of the men of Sodom (Genesis 19), or the story of the righteous Joseph in Egypt being sexually harassed by his master Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) to realize sexual abuse was not unknown in the biblical world.

Sin is not new, but is quite ancient.

A Test Case – Applying Neuroscience to Law

This is the 15th blog in the series which began with The Brainless Bible and the Mindless Illusion of Self and is exploring ideas about free will, the mind, the brain and the self. The previous blog is Implications of the Free Will Debate.   This blog series is based on the recent books of two scientists who are considering some claims from neuroscience about consciousness and free will:  Michael S. Gazzaniga’s  WHO’S IN CHARGE?:  FREE WILL AND THE SCIENCE OF THE BRAIN and Raymond Tallis’  APING MANKIND:NEUROMANIA, DARWINITIS AND THE MISREPRESENTATION OF HUMANITY.

Arguments about whether or not humans have free will are not abstract debates with no practical implications.  As Tallis makes perfectly clear those he labels as the ideologues of Darwinitis and neuromania are intent on reshaping all of human culture according to their philosophical presuppositions.  Tallis warns that we all should be paying attention to this debate and not allowing ourselves to be deceived by scientism which pretends to be science.  Gazzaniga is not so confrontational and rather wants us all to recognize that there are different realms of knowledge and that questions about free well, consciousness and self are after all philosophical debates and not scientific ones since they are dealing with immaterial concepts and science by definition is limited to the study of the material world.   We can look at one issue which Gazzaniga spends some time on: the legal implications of the free will debate.  Both Tallis and Gazzaniga see the neuroscientific technology of the fMRI being brought ever more frequently into the courts as evidence and neuroscientists being called upon to offer their expert opinions on behaviors and free will.  Since the modern Western  sense of justice requires that a person must be capable of making a choice before being found guilty of having committed a crime, the neuromaniac’s claims that there is no such thing as free will has absolute implications for justice of any kind.

Leaving aside the ideological claims of the neo-atheist’s faith in scientism, we can see wherein there are problems.  Gazzaniga outlines the judicial problem in the following way:

“Justice is a concept of moral rightness, but there has never been an agreement as to what moral rightness is based on: ethics (should the punishment fit the crime, retribution, or be for the greater good of the population, utilitarian?), reason (will punishment or treatment lead to a better outcome?), law (a system of rules that one agrees to live by in order to maintain a place in society), natural law (actions results in consequences), fairness (based on rights? based on equality or merit? based on the individual or society?), religion (based on which one?), or equity (allowing the court to use some discretion over sentencing)? Nonetheless, the judge tries to come up with a just disposition.”   (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3270-75)

First, Gazzaniga may overstate the problem – there was a fair amount of broad social agreement on dealing with issues of justice that governed Western civilization for some time.  It is the case that as modern Western society has moved away from a purely modernist view point and relied more on human reason than divine revelation that more diverse viewpoints have come to the forefront.  Multiple perspectives on any issue have become increasingly accepted in our totally individualistic and autonomous based thinking.  The seeds of the Enlightenment’s fight for the absolute rights of the individual have taken root.  Post-modernism and its rejection of any meta-narrative tying together individuals is a fruit of this evolution in thinking.   So under the influence of several very prominent current philosophical trends, agreements about morality and normality and what is acceptable have eroded.  This is the cause of the very partisan and divisive politics in our country.  Some would also say it is simply the nature of modern democracy.

The neuroscience contribution to the fray is that in courts more appeals are being made to fMRI technology to excuse or defend individuals based on the notion that they have “abnormal brains” and thus cannot be held personally accountable for their behavior.  Gazzaniga points out some of the problems with the courts uncritically accepting fMRI scans as scientific proof for excusing behavior:

“There are other problems with the abnormal brain story, but the biggest one is that the law makes a false assumption. It does not follow that a person with an abnormal brain scan has abnormal behavior, nor is a person with an abnormal brain automatically incapable of responsible behavior. Responsibility is not located in the brain. The brain has no area or network for responsibility. As I said before, the way to think about responsibility is that it is an interaction between people, a social contract. Responsibility reflects a rule that emerges out of one or more agents interacting in a social context, and the hope that we share is that each person will follow certain rules. An abnormal brain does not mean that the person cannot follow rules.”   (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3078-83)

Gazzaniga in the above statement comes closer to the position and concerns that Tallis raises.  Personality responsibility like consciousness and free will do not reside only at the level of individuals but are part of the shared social space in which all humans participate.  Gazzaniga points out:

“Diagnosed with schizophrenia after the fact by a psychiatrist for his defense, John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for his attempt to assassinate President Reagan. This attempt, however, was premeditated. He had planned it in advance, showing evidence of good executive functioning. He understood that it was against the law and concealed his weapon.”  (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3092-94)

Wisdom, Justice, Vice & Crime, Corruption, Slander, Deception, Despotic Power

The push by some neo-atheists to deny the existence of free will in humans carries with it an extensive agenda to reform society  based on the ideology of scientism, which is a system of belief which denies many of the ideals, aspirations and hopes that have traditionally guided society.  It calls into question the purpose of legal consequences by denying that a person has the ability to make the choices they do.  Gazzaniga counters:

“No matter what their condition, however, most humans can follow rules. Criminals can follow the rules. They don’t commit their crimes in front of policemen. They are able to inhibit their intentions when the cop walks by. They have made a choice based on their experience. This is what makes us responsible agents, or not.”   (Gazzaniga, Kindle Loc. 3432-34)

Lady Freedom

Thus the push for changing how human society has dealt with social problems based in the belief system of scientism is an effort to deceive for it claims to be based in pure science while it based in the philosophical beliefs of materialism.  This is why Tallis warns strongly that we should be afraid of those who believe they can scientifically engineer human morality.  Scientism may be a child of the Enlightenment but it intends to gut the very nature of American idealism which is based in human freedom and personal responsibility.

Next: Do We have the Brains to Deal with Ourselves?

The Source of Social Evil and the Good of Society

Humans throughout history have tried to comprehend why evil and social chaos occur.   I found it interesting to compare the thought of the Jewish work The Wisdom of Solomon (scholars place the writing 100 -10BC)  with the Hindu writing the Bhagavad Gita (which scholars place ca 200BC – 200AD).   They are thus roughly contemporary writings though from different parts of the world and with different religious assumptions.

The Bhagavad Gita offers at one point an explanation of what is the cause of evil and the disintegration of society.   It blames the intermixture of castes – intermarrying of men and women of different castes which thus leads to the total destruction of family and society.  It is a vicious cycle dragging families and society to hell.

“When the family is destroyed, the ancient laws of family duly cease; when law ceases, lawlessness overwhelms family; when lawlessness overwhelms the women of the family, they become corrupted; when women are corrupted, the intermixture of castes is the inevitable result.  Intermixture of castes drags down to hell both those who destroy the family and the family itself; the spirits of the ancestors fall, deprived of their offerings of rice and water.  Such is the evils of those who destroy the family: because of the intermixture of castes…”  (Bhagavad Gita)

Wisdom, Justice, Vice, Crime and Corruption, Slander, Deception, Despotic Power

The Wisdom of Solomon on the other hand blames the ruination of society on idolatry: the worship of false gods.

“Everything is mixed together: Blood and murder, theft and treachery, depravity, unfaithfulness, tumult, perjury,  confusion over what is good, ingratitude, corruption of family, breakup of marriages, disorder, adultery, and debauchery.  For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil.”   (Wisdom of Solomon 14:25-27)

The chaos that results in both works is similarly portrayed – the breakdown of family life which leads to all manners of evil.  Both would say the problem is a breakdown in traditional religious values which results in total social dysfunction and destruction.

Roman Philosopher Cicero (10b-43BC) writing in a similar time period wrote, “In all probability, disappearance of piety toward the gods will entail the disappearance of loyalty and social union among men as well, and of justice itself, the queen of all the virtues.”  Once piety towards the gods disappeared he said, “life soon become a welter of disorder and confusion.”

We could also compare these teachings with another that comes from about the same time:  the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Jesus taught:

Christ the Wisdom of God

“For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”  (Mark 7:21-23)

Christ places the source of evil as the human heart – not in society, nor in Satan, but in each human being.

If we had no other texts from the these religions to consider but what is mentioned above we might conclude that in Hinduism the antidote to evil is the adherence to traditional cultural norms:  it is adhering to traditional cultural values which will preserve society from evil.    In the Jewish text, there is also a call to faithfulness to tradition with a clear notion that false religion must be cast out in order to maintain the purity of society and its goodness.  In Christ, while there certainly is an appeal to Jewish tradition in terms of what is considered sinful and thus detrimental, He places the purification of society in the heart of each person.  It is through personal repentance of sins that evil is defeated.

Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State

In a previous blog, Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book, I mentioned a couple of postings from a sportscaster regarding the ongoing turmoil at Penn State involving a coach accused of sexual misconduct with some young boys.  I felt the Church can learn some lessons from that case on the risks of child sexual abuse and also a need to openly, transparently, immediately and without fail to deal with these types of allegations.  Whereas some may have anesthetized  themselves by believing that these type of problems only happen in the Roman Catholic Church, the allegations at Penn State show that they can happen anywhere and that any institution can fail to deal properly with the allegations.   Institutions can be more interested in defending the interests of the institution than in dealing with the personal crimes of rogue employees.  Institutions might assume that if they can avoid public entanglement with scandal that is better than having to deal with the crimes individual employees might commit.  That strategy in recent times has often backfired to the tenfold detriment of institutions.

I will note again that for me the issue of greatest concern is not that the allegations happened at a college or were allegedly done by a football coach.  My interest is the implication for the Church, and also parallels the Penn State situation might have with cases that have happened in other churches and could happen in the Orthodox Church.

I also mention again, I am not a great sport fan, so it is not that this issues involves a sports program that interests me.   Like in my previous blog, I had never even heard of the commentator I am going to quote below.  The significance to me is that some sportscasters are getting exactly right what a number of church leaders miss completely in dealing with sexual misconduct.

I accidentally heard Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN interviewed on the radio on Saturday afternoon and he made some very strong comments about Joe Paterno’s actions beginning with when Coach Paterno first learned of the allegations.   A lot of what he said is also in an article he wrote for ESPN (The Tragedy of Joe Paterno)  which I quote extensively below.    I quote it because in it are important lessons and reminders for Church leadership in dealing with clergy or any church sexual misconduct.

The first words I heard when I turned my car radio on (and what kept me listening) was Wojciechowski taking Paterno to task for trying to control the terms of how he (Paterno) would be dealt with by the university – Joe offered to retire at the season’s end and told the Board of Trustees not to worry about him or waste even a minute talking about him.  The Board to their credit decided Joe doesn’t get to dictate the terms of how he is handled.    Gene W. was adamant that Joe PA was in the wrong from how he handled the case on the day he learned about it, and so now he doesn’t deserve the right to dictate how he should be dealt with.  The Board of Trustees of  Penn State knew what had to be done and they did it swiftly and unapologetically.  Below is what is for me the relevant portion of Gene W’s article:

Paterno had equity at Penn State, the kind of equity that gave him the power to essentially stiff-arm the school’s efforts to coax him into retirement in 2004. He tried the same audacious tactic earlier this week when he announced his decision to retire at season’s end and added, almost as a warning it seemed, that the PSU board of trustees had more pressing matters to deal with than his job status.

It was the final, tone-deaf act of a man who failed to realize his own power base had eroded. Wednesday night the trustees informed him by phone of their decision to fire him, effective immediately.

A statement released that night from Big Ten Conference commissioner Jim Delany included a six-word sentence that was perfect in its simplicity. The entire situation is so sad.

Profoundly sad because of the victims affected by the alleged acts of Sandusky.

Sad because a great university has been kneecapped by its very own.

Sad because there are so many questions involving Paterno’s role in the chain of events that led to his forced departure.

For example:

Why didn’t Paterno contact the police when first informed in 2002 by then-graduate assistant Mike McQueary of an alleged locker room incident involving Sandusky and a young boy?

Why did Paterno heir apparent Sandusky unexpectedly resign from Penn State in 1999?

Why was Sandusky granted special access to the Penn State athletic facilities even after the 2002 incident?

Why did all of this remain secret for so long?

“Joe doesn’t know why [Sandusky] resigned?” says a former athletic director at a rival institution. “Bull—-. That was the first cover-up. … In ’99, when Sandusky resigns, you think this coaching staff didn’t know what was going on?

“In 2002, this could have been a two-day story: ‘Ex-Penn State assistant coach is arrested.’ I’m not saying it wouldn’t have been a painful story, but it would have been dealt with. But there’s so much arrogance to think they can keep it a secret. And it starts with Joe … Monumental ego and arrogance.”

These are the kind of opinions and statements you had better get used to. That Paterno had better get used to.

As a promised comprehensive and exhaustive Penn State in-house investigation begins, as the Sandusky trial hearings approach, as the expected civil lawsuits are filed, there are likely to be revelations that test the faith of even Paterno’s most vocal supporters. This is what happens when more than a decade’s worth of dirt is swept under a blue and white Penn State rug.

A list of other blogs I’ve posted on church sexual misconduct with links to them can be found at Blogs on Church Sexual Misconduct.

Taking a Page from the Old Coach’s Book

The allegations of child sex abuse occurring at Penn State involving a football coach has caused literally a riot among fans, friends and the public.  Though a lot of the energy which has been reported has focused on what some see as the head coach being treated unfairly, what everyone in the Church should note is the direction in which U.S. law and the courts are headed when it comes to child sex abuse.  Zero tolerance means just that.

I’m not particularly interested in Penn State, I take note of the events because I serve on the OCA’s Sexual Misconduct Policy Advisory Committee.  I point to what happened at Penn State as yet another wake up call to bishops, priests and parish members.  Sexual predators are real, they aren’t limited to a minority of Catholic priests.  They exist in every walk of life, and our Church is no less susceptible to their predations than any other organization in which children are present.

I advise you to read two articles from SPORTS ILLUSTRATED about the events.  I’m referring to these articles from a sports magazine as I’ll assume the magazine is not involved in current politics but is viewing the events from the point of view of sports writers.  Both articles are written by Andy Staples (I know nothing about him, I admit I don’t normally read SI and am a luke warm sports fan at best).  The first article is titled, “With no explanation for inaction, Joe Paterno must go.”  The second article is “Paterno’s Penn St. legacy forever marred by Sandusky scandal.”

I want to repeat and emphasize I have no real interest in this being related to sports, football, Penn St., or Joe Paterno.   I have nothing against any of these institutions.  My interest is purely what implications any of this has for the Orthodox Church.   Already the press, including my home town newspaper are making the connection:  Institutions in Sex Scandals try to Protect their Own.

Coach Paterno is not accused of sexual abuse.  The story is that someone reported to him witnessing a sex act between a coach and a 10 year old boy in the college football complex.  He reported it to Paterno, Paterno apparently following policy reported the event to a campus atheletic director.  But then nothing happened, no follow up, no outcry, no report to the police.  Life went on as if nothing happened.   As it turns out there were other victims of sex abuse from the same accused coach.  I think I heard he is indicted on 40 counts.  (You can read the indictment on line.)  Some of those might have been prevented had Paterno and others taken the allegations seriously and followed through in an investigation.  No one did.

All Orthodox in America need to pay attention to these events.  Child abuse is not merely unfortunate, nor is it merely a deadly sin [the type of which Jesus Himself suggested the perpetrator of such a horrible sin should have a millstone put around his neck and be drowned in the sea (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2)],  it is also a crime.  That is the part of child abuse that is now coming to roost in every church.  It will not be enough for us to feel sorry that sin happens.  The state in the case of child sexual abuse is saying we must actively and proactively work to prevent it from happening.  If we fail to do so, we will make the headlines of every news agency in the country.  But that isn’t the worst part.  The worst part is we will have failed to protect a child.  However terrible the behavior of the predators and sex abuse, it is those who suffer abuse whose suffering we should be concerned about.

Bishops, priest and parishioners of the Orthodox Church must not stay silent or on the sidelines on this issue.   We must all actively work to prevent child abuse in our parishes.  Wherever there are children, predators are interested in being there too.  Fortunately, predators are a very small portion of the total population.  But we must work proactively against them.   We each and all should be demanding our parishes, parish councils, priests, bishops and dioceses to take every step possible to help prevent even one child from being abused in our churches.  (See also my blog Lessons Learned on Sexual Misconduct from Penn State).

We also should take note that we cannot hide behind having good policy.  Joe Paterno appears to have followed policy.  He reported the event to an atheletic supervisor, just not to the police.   Bishops and priests especially should take note of this.  If we try to “protect” ourselves by merely following policy, rather than by following up with real investigation of reported sexual abuse, we will find ourselves both in the scandalous position of Coach Paterno, and with the searing knowledge that we failed to protect our children.

Maybe the publicity of the Penn St. case will awaken more of us to the problem.  Too many have thought this a problem of the Catholic Church, or that it could only occur somewhere else.   We see now the problem is in society and the world of the fall.  This is the world in which we too abide.

See also my blog series which began with State Wants to Hold Bishop Accountable for Priest’s Misdeeds