Monday, March 21, 2011

Diagnosis of Our Age

PAUL EVDOKIMOV (1901-1970) was a well-known writer, professor and lay theologian of the Orthodox Christian Church in France. Part of the Russian emigration in the aftermath of the Revolution, he became fully part of Western culture and life. His life experience was varied and wide-ranging, and included work in factories, rail yards and restaurants. For years he ran an ecumenical hostel for the poor, immigrants and students, thus bringing to his theological writing the Gospel's love for the world and Christ's compassion for the suffering. As professor of moral theology and St Sergius Orthodox Institute in Paris, a teacher at both the Ecumenical Institute in Geneva and the L'Institut Catholique in Paris, and official Orthodox observer at Vatican II, Evdokimov served as a bridge between the tradition of the Eastern Church and the Churches of the West.

The following passage is from his book The Struggle with God, which can be purchased HERE, or downloaded in pdf form HERE. (I have broken up Evdokimov's very long paragraphs into shorter ones for the benefit of the reader.)

Atheism compels attention and impresses everyone by its massive diffusion. It is no longer the privilege of an enlightened minority, but expresses a norm common to all classes of society. A civilization has been consciously built on a refusal of God, or more precisely, on a negation of all dependence on any power beyond this world.

In fact, science no longer has need of God as a hypothesis.

Moreover, from the moral point of view, God seems not to be all-powerful since he does not suppress evil, or if he does not wish to do so, then he is not love.

Built thus on a negation, atheism has no metaphysical content proper to itself and no constructive philosophy. Explicitly expressed, it still remains rare. Its dominant and widespread form is an atheism of fact, invertebrate but practical. Philosophic considerations intervene only afterward to justify attitudes or to provide an excuse. Its reasons are never truly rational, and they cannot be, for they fall short. Being of an empirical order, they are utilitarian and pragmatic.

This explains why the problem at this level simply ceases to interest man. Since he is more concerned with economic and political questions, religious beliefs no longer mean anything to him. His attitude is strengthened by his often justified distrust of philosophers, who have abdicated and betrayed their social function by their own skepticism.

St. Paul knew well what he was doing when he centered his teaching on what immediately aroused a reaction from the men who relied on discursive reason. Indeed the incarnation is always a folly and a scandal for human thought. The latter in its historic criticism demythologizes and distinguishes between the historic Jesus and the Christ rigged out in the dogmas of faith.

The archaic state of knowledge in past ages makes every scholar mistrustful and little inclined to take into account a so-called “revelation”. They find no certitude at the outset of the alleged event and, in every way, a truth buried in the centuries is unacceptable to the contemporary spirit that is interested only in the here and now. One must choose between verifiable facts and texts visibly originating in a myth.

To the atheist, it is inconceivable, even offensive, that God should enter into time and confide his truth to a handful of obscure disciples and to the precarious transmission of texts, written twenty centuries ago. The life of Jesus shows only anecdotes and miscellaneous facts without any guarantee of objectivity.

Can a contingent fact, scarcely remarked by historians, touch the heart of the man in the street in this 20th century? How can an event dated and fixed in time and space lay claim to an eternal value— the authority of God and the universal importance of the salvation of every man? There is here something monstrously out of proportion, even unbearable for critical reason.

The man Jesus could very well have lived in Palestine. It is not so much his divinization by his disciples as the humanization of God that is declared impossible. A moral ideal, a philosophic concept could, if need be, receive the title of divine, but the philosopher refuses a God-man, refuses a God speaking as a human being and taking on the face of a man.

Thus the authority of the apostolic witnesses crumbles away, and with it, that of the Word. Through lack of hearers, it is more than ever a voice crying in the historic wilderness. Like the wise men of Athens in former times, the man in the street now repulses all discourse with “We will hear thee again on this matter.”


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