Friday, 13 November 2009

Love and Authoritarianism

Readers may know that we have puzzled for some time about the nature of the right-wing Christian phenomenon in the West, and it’s relation to Orthodox doctrine. We would like to begin a reflection on this matter by addressing in the various forms of Christianity the difference between love and authoritarianism as modes of relation both to God and to other persons.

There might be issues that arise from the theological doctrine of the Christian right, largely based on Calvin. There might also be issues that arise from the negation of asceticism in this form of Christianity: if there is no asceticism, you might look outward to see where the problem in your life lies that has to be solved, not within yourself; and this might lead to an externalization of the problem of personal evil so that you might take up political action in cases where the Orthodox would undertake asceticism. However, apart from these issues there is also the issue of conceptualizing Christianity as a matter of love or as a matter of authority. Now it is certainly true that there are relations of authority in every group that calls itself Christian. But it might be good for us to look at the role of love and the role of authority in the various forms of Christianity.

We are not suggesting Orthodoxy is ‘touchy-feely’ while right-wing Christians are authoritarian, but there is a sense in which the two groups understand Christ in a completely different way. For example, the Conservapedia Bible would remove ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do,’ from the Lucan account of the crucifixion. But we ourselves think that this saying of Christ is both authentic and the fruit of Christ’s own commandment to love your enemies. For love is an outpouring of compassion on the other whether worthy or not. We think the Conservapedia Biblical scholar (if we can indulge in irony) considers that the doctrinal problem that urges the removal of this supposedly very late addition to the Lucan narrative is this: to be forgiven you must first repent. We are not negating the need for repentance—after all Jerusalem was destroyed as foretold in the Lucan narrative—but the whole point of the incarnation is not God’s justice but his mercy. As St Athanasios of Alexandria said, God became man so that man might become god by grace. This is an outpouring of love on lost man.

We will continue this reflection as we can.

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