Gandhi famously said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Alas, I have much contempt for my fellow Christians these days. It’s not my wish to judge anyone, and I readily admit my own failings and shortsightedness. So I don’t talk much about such issues. One thing that has been on my mind grapes of late, and a thing I feel I can speak on without running the risks that come with judgement, is the vacuous and contemptible nature of the faith in this part of the world.
Some years ago I stumbled into the mystical tradition of the Eastern churches and they have since been a lifeline to me. A lifeline through isolation, through time, into the heart of what it means to follow Christ and to wish to be like Him for He is Life and Love and the good as such.
In understanding the short but rich history of Eastern Christianity here in the West, I felt at once encouraged but wary. There seemed to be a friendly bulwark of Eastern thought here, from Paris on westwards to Alaska, that was wending its way to the surface of Western religiosity, albeit at a glacial pace. This Eastern thought could, I felt, correct many of the errors we live with daily as Western Christians, from Roman Catholic to infernalist Evangelical. Not because Eastern Christianity is strictly rosy or completely pure, but because it offers a lens into the diversity of Christian thought and a civil history that is at least closer to the truth than much of the example set by Europe, from antiquity through the colonial period to the present day.
However my great fear these days is that, rather than critiquing its Western cousins and causing that gradual shift away from things like hellfire and brimstone and the “Protestant work ethic,” Eastern Orthodox Christianity is instead becoming shaped by the forces of western civilization and the abysmal culture war that seems to drag itself on and on. What could have been a helpful bending of the current towards gentleness, thoughtfulness, the spiritual life, and generally keeping one’s mouth shut, has instead been sucked into the vortex of “life and death” sociopolitical activity, a sport proposed and encouraged (in my opinion) to pit the haves against the have-nots and one whose flames are consistently stoked by Evangelical Christians more motivated by fear than love or virtue.
My experience is largely anecdotal and largely online. I’m not a part of real parish life in any way, nor am I involved in any church at any level at present. So, that is to say, my opinion here is skewed and I am hopeful for correction. But even if it is mostly online and even if it is a small party, the fact that there is still a gradient of right wingers, even as far right as white nationalists, among Orthodox converts in the United States and Canada is supremely sad. Though I suppose it isn’t all that surprising.
For said gradient is a slippery slope that cuts across many demographics. From the outright racist, white nationalist who wants his country for himself, to the well-meaning “conservative” who just wants fewer taxes but becomes embroiled in the slide towards QAnon, even to those who lean in the direction of openness on this sociopolitical or theological gradient, all are products of our American culture. It’s hard to explain to someone the effects of their cultural biases, perhaps harder than explaining to a fish its own watery captivity. Even if I am educated and traveled and read enough to begin to see the forces of my own formation, I am certainly not positioned to help others to see theirs.
And so the sink of many Orthodox converts (again, at least online) towards their doom as another sack of frothing, talking (Tweeting?) heads on one side of a constructed sociopolitical system becomes all the more aggravating for me. Here we had (and still have, I guess) an opportunity to amend the destructive beliefs of eternal conscious torment, of bigotry masked as piety, of the insane and patriarchal warrior god, of the conflation of Christian thought with so-called political conservatism. Instead what we are getting is more of the same, but with prayer ropes in hand and skufia on top.
It’s not that every hate-spewing convert is completely wrong on every single point at every single moment in time, it’s that the emphasis is all wrong. What could be a refreshing of the Christian faith here in the west, a reckoning and rebirth into a religious group that practices what it preaches and can meet the culture on common ground when necessary and is able to generally mind its own business, has instead devolved into more of the same. The attitude of embattlement, of needless opposition, of pugnacity for pugnacity’s sake (or really, I believe, the sake of toxic masculinity under fire), of spouting counterfeit persecutions, of endless doomsaying, of framing all leftward political movement as demonic, will, to any outside observer, appear simply as the Moral Majority or Southern Baptist Convention in cassocks (and perhaps even more sworn to its own self-righteousness as it now has “tradition” on its side).
No change, no hope, no future.
Again, I have no wish to judge persons. I truly believe that every human soul craves the good as such and so directs itself, and its activity, towards that end. Yet I also truly believe that we live in a world of deception and darkness, where all motivation, while ultimately good, remains cloudily suspect, and that no good can be done through hatred, real or perceived. The west needs honest Saints more than it ever has before if it is to escape the horrible vacuum that has been set in place by centuries of falsity.