From July 25-28, 2017, the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church in America held its 40th Annual Diocesan Assembly in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The theme was “Accepting Christ’s Mission in a Fragmenting Age.” Recorded by AFR Podcaster Fr John Parker, of Lord, Send Me.
Fr. Stephen Freeman:For many Orthodox, Clark Carlton is best known for his Faith series. That first book, The Faith, has an introduction by Archbishop Dmitri. In that, he said, “Every part of the book is expressed in a lively and absorbing manner. In my mind, one of its most important features is the way in which the author makes the presentation of each doctrine or dogma a call to life in Christ.” In the 1970s, when I first got interested in Orthodoxy, I bought books to read about it. I bought pretty much everything St. Vladimir’s published, and it didn’t fill a shelf. They were books by Dr. Meyendorff and others—Vladimir Lossky and things—and I had no idea what I was looking at, but I thought it was very neat.
The difficulty of becoming a convert in America in the English language was a genuine problem that’s only been solved in the last few decades. In the first book in English on Orthodoxy wasn’t published until 1962 with Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Church. Vladyka Dmitri found out about the Orthodox Church by reading articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1940. (That’s the hard way.) But Clark has certainly been one of those who has pioneered in writing the faith in a clear and concise way and a way, as Vladyka called it, that attracts people to the very life of Orthodoxy.
Dr. Carlton was born in middle Tennessee, earned a B.A. in philosophy at Carson Newman College in east Tennessee, near Knoxville. He discovered Orthodoxy while a student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and converted at the small OCA mission in Raleigh on Pascha of 1988. He finished his M.Div. at St. Vlad’s, wrote his thesis on St. Maximus the Confessor under Dr. Meyendorff, earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in early Christian studies from the Catholic University of America, and wrote his dissertation on the fifth century ascetical theologian Mark the Monk.
He’s currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Tennessee Tech, and I think a great treasure in our state to have someone with his training and background and his writing. The author of The Faith series and numerous articles published by Christian Bioethics, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, The Journal of Early Christian Studies, and other writings as well. As an author myself, I couldn’t resist going on Amazon and I’m thinking, “Am I leaving out some books?” because periodically you like to go and figure out where your book ranks, and I ran across a book by Clark Carlton that was called Prophets of the Ghost-Ants. [Laughter] I checked it out carefully and researched it, and it’s not you. [Laughter] Yes. But, nonetheless, you never know. [Laughter] So I thought with the zombie-apocalypse thing going on this weekend, ghost-ants would work perfectly well. But please give a warm welcome to Dr. Clark Carlton, Tennessee’s own. [Applause]
Dr. Clark Carlton: I don’t know if it’s the same guy, but there’s a Clark Carlton who wrote the movie Face/Off. Yeah, he lives in California with his dog and his boyfriend, so… [Laughter] I’d just as soon not be confused with him. I’m sorry we’re just a little bit late, but Fr. Marcus Burch was at the restaurant before we did, and he ate all the food and slowed everything down terribly, but we’ll be all right. I asked Fr. David how long I had, and he said that we had the room until midnight, so… We’ll get going here. [Laughter] Actually, I’ve got about three hours’ worth of notes, but don’t worry: I’m going to edit. I’m going to edit this down.
The title of my talk is: “The Future of Orthodoxy in the Post-Modern World: Welcome to the Catacombs.” It’s only slightly a tease, because I really do think we are headed for a somewhat catacomb-ish existence, although I think it may be actually worse than the original catacombs. I was interested in Vladyka’s comments this morning, because you were awfully hard on those Romans. I happen to think that if you’re going to be invaded by any alien empire, the Roman Empire was probably the best one to get invaded by. But nonetheless, I think we’re headed for some rough times ahead, and I want to talk a little bit about that and hopefully—I’ll move the microphone down to my diminutive stature so you can get it—we can understand a little bit about the world in which we live and the direction in which I think that things are going. If we’re going to preach and teach and do anything outside the four walls of the church, we need to be aware of what’s going on; we need to be aware of the gravity of the situation.
We live in a fragmented society. What do things like abortion on demand, the Black Lives Matter protests, same-sex marriage, the current transgender movement, and the removal of Bobby Lee from his perch in New Orleans—what do all those things have in common? Well, they’re all signs of this fragmentation of society, and I don’t think anyone here questions that society is certainly more fragmented than at any time in my lifetime. Look at the tensions that have arisen as a result of the election in November, tensions which are higher now probably than they were on November 3. I think race relations in this country are worse now than they’ve been in my lifetime, and that’s having a “post-racial” president for the last eight years. Things got a lot worse, I think, in terms of tension rather than getting better.
Where is this fragmentation coming from? Well, I think Jonathan’s going to talk a lot about this, and I assume he’s going to talk more on the artistic side. We haven’t compared notes. What I want to do tonight is give a slight historical sketch of how all this came about and make just a few observations, and then tomorrow we’ve got a couple of break-out sessions. We may have some time for questions tonight, and then tomorrow during the break-out sessions we talk a little bit more about this in some more detail.
What I’m going to argue is that the fragmentation that we’re experiencing today is, to a large degree, manufactured. It’s not simply accidental that the wheels are coming off and society is coming apart. I think that there are forces which are deliberately manipulating, and these are forces that are present at the highest levels of the economic, political, entertainment, and cultural power structures in the world today, and I think we have to be aware of that sort of thing.
Certainly, as we watched the video of the nuns last night, at the level at which most of us experience life and at which you have to deal with parishioners, particularly if you have to deal with people in their 30s, college students, and even younger, you know the fragmentation, you know the moral confusion is real. You know the sense of rootlessness is very, very real. What I’m going to argue, however, is that that is, to a large degree, being manipulated. I’ll get into that as we go on a little bit later on.
Seraphim Rose was absolutely correct when he wrote that “the root of the revolution of the modern age is nihilism,” belief in nothing. But nihilism has a very limited market appeal, and primarily to the psychologically imbalanced. [Laughter] The devil does not show up and present himself as the inhypostasization of evil. He shows up as an angel of light. So what we are seeing is nihilism camouflaged in idealism, nothingness camouflaged as the greatest of goods. This is a secular and, I think, demonic caricature and counterfeit of the Christian vision of the eschaton, the Christian vision where there will be true human integration, true human fulfillment.
We’re presented then at every turn today with skepticism toward any claim of objective knowledge, the dissolution of even the most natural and biologically necessary of human bonds, and the utter fragmentation of a society that once built Chartres Cathedral, produced Dostoevsky and Mozart. But notice something: most of these cultural attacks are aimed squarely at Christianity and anything that is even remotely resembling Christianity. How else do you explain this bizarre preoccupation the modern Left has with Islam, which is not a religion particularly noted for its liberalism? Could you have imagined 30 years ago that in 2017 feminist authors would be writing articles praising the [hijab] as a symbol of feminine emancipation? Or back-pedaling from their previously vociferous renunciation of the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation? Now that’s just a cultural difference. What’s going on here?
What we are facing is a deep-seated and pathological hatred of Christianity—but why? Well, I would argue the reason why is because Christ and antichrist cannot inhabit the same space. Our Lord suggested and the Church Fathers confirmed that Christ and Caesar could co-exist, because Caesar only claimed temporal authority. But antichrist wants it all; the spirit of antichrist wants it all: it wants body and soul.
Where do we fit into all of this? Well, I think for the most part Orthodox Christians in the West have gotten a bit of a pass. We’re tiny and insignificant in numbers, and when we are noticed, our foreignness lends an air of exoticism. Every priest in here has been asked if you’re a rabbi at some point or another: we’re exotic. And that’s given us a good bit of a pass here. I am afraid, however, that the pass is ending, and we will no longer be able to hide behind our incense and brocade, especially now that Vladimir Putin is the new Hitler and Russia is the new Nazi Germany. I fear that the OCA’s recent attempts to inure our parishes from public accommodation laws are only going to be a temporary solution to the problem. Our tax-exempt status will go away at some point in the future, and then lawsuits will start coming.
In many ways, then, what we are witnessing today on college campuses, in the streets, and in the courts is a systematic breakdown of the liberal political order. This breakdown is accompanied at the same time and it abetted by direct attacks on Christianity and the Christian heritage of the West.
Next I want to talk about: How did this situation come about? How did we get where we are? Just a couple of comments before I get started. First of all, I mentioned antichrist. I don’t think any of us would question St. Paul’s comment that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.” Ultimately, we’re dealing with spiritual warfare here. We understand that we’re dealing with the spirit of antichrist, but whether that’s antichrist with a little a or a capital A, I don’t know, because I don’t glow in the dark when I pray, and I’m not going to go out on any eschatological limbs and predict the second coming or anything like that. So I have no idea how long we have left. Should the Lord tarry another few years or another millennium or two, it’s irrelevant: what we’re dealing with is the spirit of antichrist in one form or another.
A second point I would make here is—I can see the wheels turning in some people’s heads. Maybe this is just sort of conspiracy theory, one where Apple and Amazon and the Federal Reserve are colluding to deprive us of our precious bodily fluids. [Laughter] But my only comment about that is: You don’t really need conspiracy theory. All you have to understand is that when people’s perceived interests coincide, even temporarily, they will band together and they will push certain ideas, certain movements. You don’t have to have a coordinated conspiracy, and I’m certainly not suggesting anything like that.
I would point out, however, that a borderless world, where deracinated individuals celebrate their own individual self-actualization through ritual consumption, is more or less the goal of neo-Marxists, global capitalists and financiers, and political elites. This doesn’t mean they push for the same policies for exactly the same reason; it just means that the end goal is something they can all live with in one form or another. Such a world means an endless supply of cheap labor for big business. It means the disruption of traditional ways of doing things and the emergence of a commercial monoculture in which people can be treated as bare economic units.
On the other hand, it also means a world in which the particular and the rooted can be dismissed as parochial, xenophobic, and exclusionary. To a neo-Marxist, a unified, borderless world is desirable because it clears away centuries of entrenched privilege, structural racism, sexism, and all of the other “isms” and phobias out there that have prevented individuals from achieving their own special self-actualization. And if you don’t believe that Marxists and capitalists can agree on anything, read the fan mail Karl Marx sent to Abraham Lincoln.
What I want to do is divide my talk into three broad topics, what I call the pre-modern period, the modern period, and, hopefully, have some time to talk about the post-modern period and the challenges that we are facing today. Right off the bat, there’s a problem here, because the terms “pre-modern” and “post-modern” suggest that modernism is the standard, that modernism is the norm, and somehow “pre-modern” is not quite right and “post-modern” is not quite right, either. For us, however, the pre-modern world is the norm. Orthodoxy is a pre-modern religion. We believe that Orthodoxy is the faith that established the universe.
Fr. Florovsky famously argued that we cannot strip Hellenism out of Orthodoxy, completely disincarnate Orthodoxy from its historical road. Our Lord could have chosen any people on earth to be the vehicle of his self-revelation, but he didn’t do that. He chose Israel, a particular people. And he could have theoretically come at any time, but the Scripture says he waited until the “fullness of time,” and the Fathers remind us that that “fullness of time” included the fact that the world had been Hellenized by that point and Judea was living firmly within the Pax Romana. This is an essential element of our Church. The Church grew up in this kind of world. All of which is to say, then, that the contours of our faith, from the formulation of dogma to the ascetical and disciplinary canons to the shape of the liturgy, have all been determined within and shaped by a specific cultural milieu and specific historical events. For this reason, what we call the pre-modern world within which the Church was born and grew to maturity is normative for us.
It’s certainly true that Orthodoxy is for all people in all places at all times. We have to be aware of the fact that translating Orthodoxy into a non-Hellenstically influenced culture requires careful attention. We have to pay attention to this normativity. We also have to recognize the fact that sometimes translation is just not possible. Sometimes the only thing we can do is transliterate. It requires a cultural shift. We just have to deal with that.
Now what I’m going to say about the pre-modern era is that even for pagans, pre-modern people, even pagans, were probably closer to us as Orthodox Christians than most of our neighbors are now, because there’s been that much of a shift in the way people think about themselves and think about the world. It was frankly a lot easier to evangelize in the first centuries, even in times when the Romans were deliberately suppressing the Church, because at least our pagan neighbors could understand us when we talked to them. I’m not so sure that’s the case any more. We’ll come back to that in just a minute.
I think the most important thing to say about the pre-modern way of looking about the world is that human beings located themselves firmly within the cosmic and social order, and that, in the loftiest forms of pagan thought, this order was or should have been reproduced within the human soul itself. To put it another way, the ancient Greco-Roman saw himself as a member of a family, a tribe, a political order such as the Greek polis, and ultimately as part of an all-encompassing rational cosmos. A good life was to be found in getting these relationships right. It is an organic as opposed to a mechanistic view of reality.
While there were some exceptions—the atomists famously argued that the universe consists of nothing but matter moving through space, and one of the fellows in the movie actually said that last night—most ancient Greeks and Romans believed that they inhabited a rational universe and that they had a place within that universe. Plato believed that the world of sense experience was at best a copy of the real world of ideal forms, but Plato seems to have believed that this world was in fact the best possible world of its kind. At least in some of his dialogues, like the Timaeus, Plato suggests that by observing the forms within the created world, the material world, we can actually raise the mind to this higher world. This is going to be the basis of later mysticism of Plotinus. Gerhart Ladner actually argues that this is actually part of the iconodule justification of icons in the eighth and ninth centuries.
Now, unlike Plato, Aristotle was not religiously inclined. He claimed that if there is a Good with a capital G, we can’t know it, so we’re going to have to content ourselves with an earthly good. But even Aristotle believed that there was an order of nature, that everything had a natural purpose or telos, and that a good life consisted in living in accordance with this natural order.
The Stoics believed that the universe was filled with divine providence, which they called logos. The world is as it should be; it doesn’t need to change. And if anything needs to change, what is it? It’s us, not the world that needs to. So no Stoic ever gave a commencement lecture and told students to go out and change the world. That would have been absurd to just about any pre-modern. We need changing. As Epictetus said, “Some things are within our power and others are not, and the key to a good life is realizing which is which.”
With few exceptions, then, Greek philosophers located humanity in a world that was rational and purposeful. Anyone then educated would have believed in a world governed by the gods or by fate, a world in which Oedipus kills his father and marries mother in every single performance in spite of his best efforts. What no one would have done was thought of himself as an autonomous individual with the right to define himself, herself, or “zerself” and seek one’s own private happiness.
My students are always amused when I tell them that the Greek word for individual is quite literally “idiot.” [Laughter] But it ceases to be a laughing matter when we consider that we are living in an idiocracy today.
Pythagoras seems to have believed that the cosmos was consisted of number and that if man is to achieve salvation, his soul must come to reflect the celestial harmony. Plato, clearly influenced by this, argued that nothing in life was as important as becoming as wise and just a soul as possible. But what does Plato mean by justice? Well, in one sense justice is simply the summation of all the virtues. It is in the proper ordering of the soul, which mirrors justice in the city, and presumably in some sense mirrors the cosmic order of the forms themselves, at least that’s how Platonism’s going to develop later on.
While neither Aristotle nor the Stoics paid much attention to the attention of life after death, they nonetheless built on Plato’s psychology and stressed that the path to happiness consisted in conforming to the natural order of things. Indeed, the Stoics invented their own special vocabulary. They called man a microcosm. We are a world in miniature, inside the big cosmos. And a good life is one in which we get the two in line, in harmony with each other. You probably know that Gregory of Nyssa had a great deal of sport with that particular line, but St. Gregory’s snark aside, it’s a fundamental assumption that is shared by Christians as well, namely, that a good life is one in which we get ourselves in harmony with reality.
Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, wrote this:
This thou must always bear in mind: what is the nature of the whole and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what kind of part it is to what kind of a whole. And there is no one who hinders thee from always doing and saying the things which are according to the nature of which thou art a part.
That’s not bad for a pagan. [Laughter] Even Epicurus, the materialist and atheist, still believed that the human was a unique part of the world; there was something special about the human soul. When people said, “Hey, Epicurus, you’re insulting humanity. You’re saying that we’re just these pleasure-seeking missiles; we’re like pigs!” And Epicurus’ reply was, “No, you’re insulting humanity, because I think human beings are capable of higher pleasures than merely physical.” Epicurus believed a good life consisted in cultivating the intellectual pleasures, these higher pleasures.
So we can see then: ancient Greeks and Romans, whether overtly religious like Plato or functionally atheist like Epicurus, believed that man was a rational, living animal, living in a rational universe. There may be little for us to admire in the writings of Epicurus, but we have to understand that he shares a lot of the same assumptions that the pagans and Christians did. Epicurus could have a conversation with a Christian, had he lived long enough, and at least they would have been able to talk to each other. I think our task is very difficult. It’s getting even more difficult to have conversations with people today.
I’m going to skip a whole bunch of notes about what’s unique about Christianity, assuming that you all know that. Christianity does introduce a lot of new things into this: creation ex nihilo, the radical otherness of God, a linear view of history, the doctrine of the resurrection. All of these things are going to be extremely important. Many Fathers spoke of pagan wisdom as a kind of preparatio evangelicum, and I believe they were able to do that precisely because pagans and Christians shared so much cultural assumptions that Christians were able to build on and perfect that which was there in part in pagan writing.
Like most pious pagans of the age, Christians believed that they inhabited a world that was not of their own making and that was not under their control. Furthermore, they believed that how they used the limited freedom they enjoyed would determine the content of their character and the quality of their life, both here and hereafter. That is, they saw themselves as part of a providential cosmic order or hierarchy. I’m going to shamelessly suck up by quoting Vladyka’s book on Dionysios here.
A hierarchy is therefore a community, a single corporate organism, bound together by the exercise of a loving and mutual providence whose origins and enabling power come directly from God. This corporate element means that the given creature—angel or human being—discovers its salvation and deification as the member of a community. The path to union lies through and within hierarchy, not outside of it.
Plato would have understood that passage just as—not as well as Dionysios, but he would have certainly understood that. That reflects the general pre-modern attitude.
But all of this is going to change. This attitude is diametrically opposed to the attitude that is going to obtain over the next several centuries, as Europe moves into what we call the modern period. In modernity, man comes to see and celebrate himself precisely as an autonomous individual, his godlikeness confined to his reason and to his creativity, and his telos defined by his own dreams and capacities. In other words, man is no longer a member of a community, but is a self-defining individual. Freedom in this new world is not the freedom to actualize one’s natural or God-given telos, but precisely the freedom from all constraint, whether natural or divine, and from all hierarchy, whether celestial or human. In this way, history becomes not the unfolding of God’s providence but the story of man’s self-creation.
This didn’t happen overnight. Modernity did not just spring, fully formed, from the head of René Descartes in 1642. It was a long time in the making, and in fact historians don’t even agree when modernity begins. I dated it 1600, because it’s just a nice, round number, and it’s easy to remember. A lot of people will go a hundred years or more earlier.
There are four things that will set the stage for modernity. I’ll just go through them very quickly. The first is nominalism, the rise of nominalism in the Middle Ages in high Scholastic philosophy. This is the view that there’s no such thing as a universal, like Plato’s forms, that universal terms are just that: they’re names; they’re terms; they don’t actually reflect a real thing. Richard Weaver famously argued that every problem in the modern world stems from nominalism. I think that’s an overstatement, but you can certainly see how nominalism would have an effect on things like anti-Trinitarianism, once you get into the Reformation period, and also the influence of individualism. After all, if there are no universals, then there can’t really be a humanity, either. There can only be individual humans.
As a causal factor, however, I am far more concerned with the second factor, which is the loss, at least among philosophers, of any sense that there may be a form of cognition that goes beyond the discursive reason. Socrates often went into meditative trances, and Plato clearly thought that there was a higher form of cognition than the discursive reason. I agree with Fr. Andrew Louh’s interpretation that in order to get to the highest of the forms, the good and the beautiful, you have to leave dialectic behind. Plato’s vocabulary would prove decisive as Christian ascetics in the fourth and fifth centuries sought to schematize their experiences. Eventually they would settle on the Platonic term dianoia to mean discursive reason, that is, reason that takes place in language—when you think through a problem, you’re using the discursive reason—and nous to mean the specific faculty of the soul of pure, intuitive apprehension of spiritual reality. The entire Philokalic tradition of the Church is based on this distinction, and it comes, ultimately, from Plato.
For whatever reason, this distinction begins to fade in the late Middle Ages. Theology becomes increasingly rational and scholastic, while the kind of spirituality that you and I consider to be normative gets shoved off to the side as “mysticism.” Generally, if a modern person calls you a mystic, they’re not being complimentary. This is not only going to have deleterious effects for theology, but for philosophy in general. Eventually we’ll get to the point where Western philosophy just forgets entirely there is this noetic component to the human mind, to the human psyche. In one of his letters, Ludwig Wittgenstein states outright, “All thought takes place in language.” That is standard modern interpretation.
Practically speaking, this has had the effect of limiting the scope of human thought to two things: sense data and logic, or, as Hume put it, thinking about matters of fact and relations of ideas. In fact, you could describe the entire history of modern philosophy as a battle between the relative importance of these two things, with empiricists on the one side emphasizing sense experience and rationalists on the other emphasizing reason. This tension, then, is ultimately going to give rise to two completely different concepts of modernity. I’ll briefly mention that in just a minute.
The next two factors that will lay the groundwork for the arising of this modern mentality don’t need much comment on our part, and that’s the Renaissance and the Reformation. Renaissance means rebirth, but it’s really not a rebirth; it’s a recreation. It is a scholarly, intellectual recreation of what Italians and northern Europeans thought the classical world was supposed to look like, based on their study of texts: very intellectualistic. And the Reformation, of course, destroyed the unity of Europe. I highly recommend Brad Gregory’s book, The Unintended Reformation. Gregory’s a scholar at Notre Dame—at least he was when he wrote the book—but it’s a very good book on that subject.
Now these factors, combined with the codification of the scientific method in the very beginning of the 17th century will give birth to modernity, a world in which the individual genius separates himself from the past. Using the most up-to-date methods and tools, he unlocks the secrets of nature, and in so doing learns to bend nature to his will, creating an ever more perfect world. The crown of modernity, then, is scientific rationalism, which remains to this day, and in spite of post-modern critiques, the dominant paradigm of the world in which we live, and certainly in terms of the way in which governments operate and justify themselves and in terms of the way universities—and I know we have a lot of people connected with a university. Universities are still modern institutions in spite of the lunacy in the English faculties and social science faculties, and occasionally philosophy faculties. [Laughter]
By scientific rationalism, I mean four things: materialism, positivism, scientism, and progressivism. I’ll quickly go through this. Materialism is obviously the belief that the universe consists of nothing but physical matter moving through space. I’ve already mentioned the Greeks had their own version of this—the Atomists, the Epicureans—but materialism in the pre-modern world is a minority viewpoint; it was never the dominant viewpoint socially or culturally. In the modern era, materialism comes to dominate, and that is the dominant ideology today. Those of you who went through the public school system, you were indoctrinated in this from first grade on. It’s the dominant ideology.
From this flows positivism. This is the view that the scientific method is the ultimate criterion of truth, and it follows from the first. If the universe consists of absolutely nothing but matter moving through space, and the scientific method gives us the best, most efficient way of knowing that and analyzing that, then it stands to reason then that science gives us truth. Science gives us Truth with a capital T; science is the ultimate arbiter of truth.
From this follows scientism. Now this word gets used differently by different people. What I mean by that is the belief that the scientific method can be applied across the board in every conceivable discipline. If science is the ultimate arbiter of truth, if the universe consists of nothing but bodies moving through space, then anything that can be studied can be studied as a science. So in the 19th century, we get the rise of the social sciences and the behavioral sciences. I irritate my poly-sci majors, because I point out that Aristotle says that you can’t have a science of ethics or a science of politics. “Yeah, but he says that right here.” Well, what Aristotle means by “science” is not the Baconian definition of “science.”
This leads finally to progressivism. What gives birth in the modern world is an almost religious and naive view that things are getting better and better. Science is cumulative. We know more now than we did a hundred years ago. Presumably, if we’re not living back in the stone age, we will know more in a hundred years than we do now. This creates the illusion of progress. When you add technology to that, the fact that we are inventing new ways of measuring things and new ways of doing things, that creates the illusion that everything is getting better. You have all heard commercials on TV saying, “Now, [for] the first time in human history, we’re this close to curing cancer!” Well, no, we’re not. But the idea is this idea of progress: we’re going to constantly improve, and everything is going to get better and better and better.
So that’s what I mean, then, by scientific rationalism. This is the dominant dogma. Now in the English-speaking world, this dogma, which I call the Baconian tradition, has several assumptions, and the first assumption is that there is an objective natural order. I’m going to stress this, because that’s exactly what post-modern people deny, that there’s any such thing as an objective order. But early modernists, particularly in the English-speaking world, believed that there is an objective order of nature and that if we just study it using the right methods, we’ll not only be able to predict future events, we’ll actually be able to shape those events. The practical implication of this is that empirical data is supreme, what William James called “stubborn and irreducible facts.” You remember Sergeant Friday from Dragnet? The woman wanted to tell him her life story: “Just the facts, Ma’am.” But that is the motto of the Anglophone empiricists: facts drive everything; science goes where the facts tell us.
This particular version of modernism, however, I want to point out, is concomitant with the rise of certain other political and economic ideas, including capitalism. Mercantile capitalism, later merchant capitalism, industrialism, empire-building, colonialism: all of these things grow up hand-in-hand with this modern mindset, this modern mentality. All of which was summed up ably by the British as “the white man’s burden.”
Since science can only deal with quantifiable data, however, human progress can be conceived only in terms of quantifiable improvement: more wealth, longer life, less poverty, and the like. So this form of modernism is not particularly utopian. It’s not positing a heaven on earth. It’s just positing a progressively better earth, a progressively more efficient earth. And who’s bringing this to you? Well, we English people are, because science is a Western European invention. That necessarily means, then, that Western Europeans are on the top of the heap in terms of social and even evolutionary development.
The problem with all of this is that if you talk about simply improving wealth, making money, colonial expansion, it all sounds rather materialistic; it all sounds, well, less than inspiring, spiritually, morally, whatever. Scripture says without a vision, the people perish. So we need something to make this look better. And what you get, at least in the English-speaking world, is secularized puritanism. The Puritans come to New England with the aim of turning North America into the New Jerusalem, to build a city on the hill. But very early on, Puritanism becomes secularized: they become Unitarians very quickly. Harvard Divinity School was created as a school for Unitarian ministers. This happened very early on. And it’s not but a hop, skip, and a jump from Unitarianism to just outright secularism and atheism.
But what these New Englanders did not give up was their penchant for moralizing. They retained their strong sense of election. New Englanders at the turn of the 19th century, schoolchildren were taught to sing a song: “Rule, New England! New England rules and saves!” They had a messianic sense of their own importance, and also a Manichaean sense of life or death struggle with evil. They just changed the sins. Instead of fornication or drunkenness, the sins became social sins: poverty or whatever it happens to be. But they kept this Manichaean sense that the world is locked in a battle between good and evil, and we’ve got to be on the side of good.
Furthermore, there is a firm conviction that they have a moral duty to remake North America in their own image, and almost every social reform movement comes out of New England: abolition, the suffragettes eventually, what would become Prohibition, the anti-alcohol movements and things like that, almost all come out of New England. And what they represent is a secularization of the Christian vision that we are in a struggle with evil, with sin—we would say with death—but now these become social evils. This becomes a kind of a replacement.
What happens in the U.S. is that the Whig party collapses in the early 1850s; it just collapses, leaving the Democrats with the field. Northern Whigs got together and created a new political party called the Republican party, and it was composed primarily of bankers, railroad people, lawyers. Abraham Lincoln was a railroad lawyer, so he could combine both of those. But it wasn’t just Whigs and business people. The Republican party also attracted Puritans, social radicals. The Republican party was designed to be a big-tent party, bringing together all of these different people.
So what happens is that this neo-puritan zealotry gives a kind of moral approval to what was, in fact, highly exploitative capitalism: the emergence of empire. By 1914, the world is largely going to be dominated by two Anglophone empires: the older, larger British empire and the American empire. By 1914, we’d already stolen Hawaii. New England businessmen used U.S. Marines to overthrow the royal house of Hawaii, which was a Christian royal house, I might add. And then, of course, what may or may not have been a false flag operation down in Cuba led to the Spanish-American War and the United States’ taking over what was left of Spain’s minor empire at that point. By 1914, the U.S. has an empire which stretches from Cuba to the Philippines. All of this is being justified by the fact that we are a progressive and morally righteous people.
Now I keep emphasizing the word “1914,” because that is, of course, when the not-so Great War begins. I think it’s wrong to call it World War I because it really doesn’t end until 1989, and darned if some people aren’t trying to start it up all over again. It’s in 1914 that belief in unlimited human progress comes to a bit of a speed bump. I won’t say a grinding halt; it certainly doesn’t disappear entirely, because it’s still with us. Every time you hear somebody say, “You’re on the wrong side of history,” and if you’re doing anything right, somebody, at some point, is going to tell you you’re on the wrong side of history—that’s progressivism. So progressivism didn’t disappear.
Nevertheless, the 20th century witnessed an unprecedented degree of social, political, and economic upheaval. These helped forge a new kind of modernism, a kind of hyper-modernism that we generally refer to as post-modernism. So I want to spend my remaining time talking about post-modernism and the challenges that it presents to us.
The first problem is trying to define this. It’s almost impossible to define. The best definition I can come up with was by the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard. He defined it as “incredulity toward metanarratives.” That cleared it right up, didn’t it? [Laughter] A metanarrative is a grand story, a story that has explanatory power. All myths are by definition metanarratives. Religions are all metanarratives. But Marxism is also a metanarrative: it’s a story that tells us how the universe works. Not a very good one, but it’s a story. Belief in the American vision of democratic republican liberal intervention: that’s a metanarrative.
Post-modernism is a general attitude of skepticism, or a willingness to question not only the verities of the pre-modern world but also the verities of the modern world. This is what really marks somebody as a post-modernist. Modernists question religion all the time. Modernists question tradition all the time. Descartes tells us he quite literally locked himself in his room one day, vowing to doubt everything custom and tradition had ever told him. What Descartes never questioned, though, was reason. But post-modernists will. Post-modernists will question Marxism, they’ll question reason, they’ll question logic. When you hear occasionally someone on the internet claim that logic is sexist or that math is racist, that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s this post-modern questioning of even things that modern people took for granted, took to be certain.
Now modernity never really ended. People ceased to take the idea of perpetual progress for granted, but they never give it up entirely. I would suggest that what we’re looking at is not so much post-modernism as hyper-modernism, because what we’re doing is we’re taking one particular aspect of the modern world—and that is the individual—and we’re blowing that up to its most absurd proportions. Indeed, individual autonomy and self-actualization are, without question, the highest social values today, and all so-called post-modern critiques are based on this very modern assumption.
There are two major aspects—and I’m running out of time, but I want to just briefly mention these, and we can talk about these later if you want to. The two major things that come to create post-modernism as far as I am concerned are, one, what Allan Bloom called the Nietzsche-ization of the left and, two, the fact that the Marxist left abandons economics in favor of culture critique. I think the two things are actually related. Whatever else Friedrich Nietzsche was—and he was stark, raving crazy; there’s no question—he was a man of the right. Nietzsche is the prophet of the exceptional, of the superior, not the common, not the ordinary, not the plebian.
The technical term for Nietzsche’s philosophy is perspectivism. Nietzsche writes in The Will to Power, “Contrary to the positivists”—he’s actually setting himself up against the dominant modernist dogma—“against the postitivists who say there are only facts, I say facts are what there are not. There are no facts; there are only interpretations.” Nietzsche sets out a radical epistemological relativism: “There are no facts; there are only perspectives.” For Nietzsche, however, not everybody gets to give a perspective; not everybody gets to come up with and give an interpretation of the world. Only certain people can.
You’ve probably heard Nietzsche referred to as a nihilist. Nietzsche would have objected. In his own mind, he’s an anti-nihilist. Nietzsche uses the word “nihilism” in two different ways. He considers Christianity to be nihilist because it is what he calls a “slave morality.” It is the morality that says that we must care for the weak, the poor; we must cultivate humility rather than a sense of our own supreriorness. Nietzsche says that’s life-denying. He considers the conversion of the Roman Empire to be one of the colossal calamities in world history. So Nietzsche says, against Christians who say we must deny the world—“Take up your cross and follow me”; “Deny yourself,” right?—against Christianity, which he sees as life-denying and nihilistic, Nietzsche says we must embrace life, we must accept life, including its pain, its suffering, accept it all in a kind of joie de vivre.
But not everybody can do this. Why not? Well, it has to do with the second use of “nihilism” in Nietzsche. Nietzsche says that this higher type of person he calls the Übermensch or over-man has to go through a stage of what he calls psychological nihilism, when you come to terms with the fact that you live in a universe in which there is no God, no truth, no value, and no facts, a universe of nothingness. He calls it the abyss. The only one who is really capable and entitled to create value out of nothing is somebody who’s been through that abyss, who has faced up to this terror. But Nietzsche also says if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back. I always imagine that old cartoon, you know, when the kid looks into his closet in the middle of the night, and two eyes show up in the black. That’s what I think is going on here.
Most people don’t want anywhere near that abyss. As I tell my students, you are not over-men; you are sheeple. [Laughter] You don’t want anywhere near that abyss. I happen to think that this is what drove Nietzsche crazy; I’ve never bought the syphilis diagnosis. I think Nietzsche just stared into the abyss just a little too long, and it broke even him.
So the over-man is not every man, and not every man is an over-man. Only the special, the truly exceptional are capable of staring the abyss down and willing meaning where there isn’t any, willing truth where there isn’t any. What happens in the 20th century, particularly after World War II, is that Nietzsche gets democratized. Everybody gets to be an over-man. Just like the Reformation made everybody a pope with the right to interpret Scripture, so Max Weber and Walter Kaufmann and a few other people turned Nietzsche into a modern self-help guru. Everyone has the ability to self-create, and indeed if you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of values, self-actualization is right at the top there. All traceable back to Nietzsche.
So what we’re dealing with today is a universe full of little Nietzschean over-men. Now, Nietzsche would be spinning in his grave as fast as he could go, listening to some of this stuff, but it’s not what he meant, but it doesn’t matter what he meant because there’s no text. There’s no objective fact, so there’s no text. What Nietzsche meant, what Nietzsche thought he meant had nothing to do with it. It’s how you read Nietzsche that matters. You get to be your own self-creator.
This goes hand-in-hand with the left’s abandonment of economics. Marx thought he was doing science. He was wrong, but he thought he was doing science. And the test of any scientific theory is how well it predicts the future. Well, Marx did a terrible job of predicting what was going to happen. By the 1920s, when the Institute for Social Research is created at the University of Frankfurt, all the major socialist revolutions but one have failed. There are all sorts of revolutions in Europe in the 1800s, especially in 1848 there was a whole mass of those. They all failed. The only successful Marxist revolution you had on a large scale was in Russia which was the absolute last place you should have had a Marxist revolution, because Russia wasn’t an advanced capitalist industrialized society; it was a quasi-feudal society.
So everything Marx predicted was going to happen didn’t happen, and this becomes obvious even as early as the 1920s and ‘30s. This Institute for Social Research was founded in Frankfurt deliberately to be a school of Marxist social analysis. They end up having to leave in 1933 for I think obvious reasons and end up in the United States at Columbia University in 1935. What these guys are going to do is they’re pretty much going to abandon economic analysis. A classical Marxist likes nothing better than to sit down with a thousand-page tome on surplus value and the means of production; it’s like porn to a Marxist. [Laughter] These guys aren’t interested in economics; they’re interested in culture, because they realize, whether they want to admit it or not, Marxism fails as a scientific theory of history and of economics, but they still hang on to this vision of a classless utopia that Marx prophesied.
So what they do is they go back to Marx’s early works—[The] Paris Manuscripts, [The] German Ideology—into Marx’s intellectual master Hegel, and they start thinking about these sorts of issues: culture, and what we end up with is a critique of culture, a critique of language.
I’m not sure any of the Frankfurt School openly quoted Nietzsche, but there’s a Nietzschean strain running throughout all of this, and that’s this hyper-individualism. Because what is the standard by which… If you’re a classical Marxist, you have a clear standard: the abolition of private property and the abolition of the division of labor is your standard, and you can judge everything by these economic relationships. If you abandon economics, what’s your standard; what’s your litmus test? Individual emancipation.
Fr. Stephen is saying, “Emancipation from what?” Well, we would say from sin and death, but these are atheists, so they’re not worried about that. Emancipation from hierarchy. Emancipation from objectivity. Emancipation that would in any way, shape, or form prevent an individual from being his or her own special snowflake. [Laughter]
So what we have in post-modernism, even the neo-Marxist variety of the Frankfurt School, is a kind of hyper-individualism. And anything that constrains the individual is deemed to be some sort of a tool of oppression. The goal is human emancipation. Erich Fromm, one of the Frankfurt School writers and one of the major psychiatrists, writers in psychiatry, emphasized this aspect of Marx’ early writings. You and I are accustomed to thinking of Karl Marx as a collectivist, but in The German Ideology he sells the Communist revolution in terms of individual emancipation and self-fulfillment.
The technical term for all of this—you know it as cultural Marxism or political correctness—is critical theory, and its name is legion, because there are any numbers of critical theory. You had critical legal studies. I remember reading about, as early as the early ‘80s and ‘70s, critical race studies as a staple on university campuses. Most post-1960s feminism is. All queer theory comes from this. So this is just metastasized all over the place.
The purpose of critical theory is to identify and subvert those structures that oppress individuals or groups that are deemed to have been marginalized. The most obvious place that we experience this is in language. I always ask my students: Your dorm room’s on fire. Who comes up the ladder to carry you out? [The firefighter.] The firefighter. Occasionally I have some sexist troglodytes who will say, “Fireman,” and I point a finger at them and say, “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘firefighter.’” Why? Well, because if you say, “Fireman,” that tells little girls that they can’t join the fire department, because they’re not men.
So we have to change the language, you see. Little Susie is reading her Golden Book of Fire Trucks, and she reads about Fireman Bob. Well, that sends a message to Little Susie, and we can’t have that, because maybe Susie wants to be a firefighter, and it would be wrong of us to not allow her, even if she’s 4’6”… It’s wrong to tell somebody, “You can’t do something. You can’t be something.” If Susie wants to be Bob… [Laughter] Well, you know where this is going. I mean, you see this.
Now, you’re laughing, and it’s easy for us to laugh, but, trust me, my colleagues take this deadly serious. There has been a wholesale attack on the very nature of language, and it’s coming precisely out of this. Nietzsche says to create an interpretation of the world and impose it on others is an exercise of the will to power, and that is what is going on here. The will to power: it’s not an accident. They’re trying to rip… Remember, there is no objective frame of reference; there is no objectivity. There is no text; it’s all interpretation.
Therefore, at least in the modern world, you have two people and they’d argue about an issue, and they’d at least appeal to something outside of themselves—nature or reason or something that we can appeal to and settle this argument. In the post-modern world, there’s nothing to appeal to; the only thing we’re left with is re-framing. Re-frame the discussion. Change the language—and you change the direction of the entire discussion. You get people thinking the way—using the language that you want them to use, they’ll end up thinking the way you want them to think, and then eventually they’ll end up acting the way you want them to [act], which is why there’s so many battles for this going on.
C1: That’s pure manipulation, and it has nothing to do with the freedom of acquisition.
Dr. Carlton: No, it’s like this obsession with Islam. I can’t believe all the people saying how wonderful Islam [is]. They don’t care anything about Muslims. They certainly don’t know anything about Islam—that’s obvious—but they don’t care about Muslims. It’s just a cudgel.
The one constant in all of this is that European cis-gendered male Christians are the source of all evil in the universe. [Laughter. Amen.] That’s the one thing that all post-modernists agree on. It’s the only thing they agree on, but… “Let’s just gang up on the Christians. Oh, fine. We’ll do that. Why not? It’s safe.” History has no objective… That’s what all this business about the monuments is about. I know a lot of you aren’t Southerners. Don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you to go back where you came from. [Laughter] Not yet. [Laughter] “Not my ancestors. I don’t care.”
This is an attempt to rewrite history, in some cases just plain old… History… The Confederate flag doesn’t mean what Robert E. Lee thought it meant. It doesn’t mean what the Sons of Confederate Veterans means it thinks it means. The Confederate flag means whatever some idiot on the internet says it means. There is no text; there is no objective reality: there’s only my subjective interpretation. That’s where all of this stuff is coming from.
The biggest play on Broadway the last several years has been Hamilton. Are you familiar with this? [Oh, yeah.] Okay. This is a play, a musical, in which the founding fathers are portrayed as a multi-cultural, multi-racial group of people led by the wonderful multi-racial Alexander Hamilton. Well, the real Alexander Hamilton wasn’t multi-racial. He was, quite literally, a bastard. I mean, seriously, he was a bastard. He wasn’t multi-racial, and he was, in fact, the high priest and guru of capitalist acquisition. He is the spiritual father of Wall Street. Turning Alexander Hamilton into a leftist icon is bizarre on so many levels. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what Hamilton was really like: this is what the play is. We want him to be this, so that’s what he is. We want him to be this, so that’s what he is.
Even science itself: everything’s a social construct nowadays. Gender’s a social construct. It has nothing to do with biological sex. Everything is disjointed. Nothing is there.
I see the public square today dominated by three primary groups. There are old-fashioned modernists. These are the people who make the money, run governments, certainly run the Pentagon, and run most of the universities, at least the STEM side of the university. I kind of wish I wasn’t being recorded. Maybe it’s the end of the talk and people will have lost track by this time. Unless your children are super-geniuses or want to go into STEM, don’t send them to college. It’s a colossal waste of time and money. Don’t tell anybody I said that. [Laughter]
C2: Your secret’s safe here.
Dr. Carlton: Yeah!
There are old-fashioned modernists left, but increasingly we’ve got a very vocal group of people [who] to one degree or another are either outright Frankfurt School neo-Marxists or they’re just old-fashioned secular Puritans. We were talking about social justice warriors at dinner. These are the people that go around looking for problems to get upset about.
There’s a third group, and I don’t pay them much attention, and this is what we call ironists. Richard Rorty: some of you are familiar with Richard Rorty. Rorty described himself as a bourgeois literal ironist, meaning he believed in bourgeois liberalism, the bourgeois liberal welfare state, individual autonomy and all that nifty wonderful stuff; at the same time, Rorty said he’s an ironist, which means he can’t actually give you an objective reason why that’s better than something else. He can’t give you an objectively convincing argument why bourgeois liberalism is better than, say, Marxism or monarchy, tsarism. He just likes it better, and that makes him an ironist.
I don’t think you need to have worry about these people. My one criticism [is that] my buddy, Chris Englehart, takes Richard Rorty and the ironists way too seriously, because this is from the incestuous world of academics writing for other academics. When you go out in the public sphere, what you’re going to encounter is people who really believe either in the modern agenda of a world that’s progressively moving toward a better world, or this neo-Marxist agenda which is blatantly nihilistic, trying to pull down everything in the name of social justice and peace and all that sort of stuff.
Well, where’s our seat at the table in all of this? We don’t have one, and if there’s one point I want to get across to you tonight, we do not have a seat at the table. The world has gotten to the point where most people can’t understand us at all. Everyone has grown up imbibing either modernism or this post-modern chaos. Nobody believes in hierarchy. I’m not even sure some Orthodox believe in hierarchy. OCL doesn’t. [Laughter]
Let me make a couple of comments. What are our options for evangelism in this kind of world? I think that the first thing I want to point out is that they’re getting limited and more limited as time goes on. We’re not going to have mass conversions. The world is not going to beat a path to our door, and if they do it’s not to convert. It’s to beat the doors down and carry us outside. I think we’re going to have to face… And I’m not saying, “Don’t evangelize.” We have an imperative to evangelize. There’s plenty of broken people out there. There’s plenty of people who need and are receptive to the Gospel. But we have to understand, I think, that our first and foremost evangelistic need is for our own lapsed and for the next generation. We’ve got to evangelize our own people so that we don’t lose them, because I’m telling you the public schools are evangelizing your children. Colleges are evangelism. Facey-space is evangelizing them. The interwebs are evangelizing them, all day long.
We have to counteract that, so we’re going to have to do a much better job of evangelizing our own people, a better job of catechesis, a better job of training up. I think that’s especially clear in terms of moral catechesis. I have a friend from Birmingham who insists that the greatest need of the Church is moral catechesis. People need to be taught right from wrong. How many of your own children think that homosexuality is just a choice or just an alternative lifestyle like being left-handed? How many of your own children understand that pre-marital and extra-marital sex is a mortal sin which excommunicates us? You’ve got to go to confession and deal with that before you can take communion. How many people really know that in our parishes?
You cannot assume that children will simply absorb Christian morality by osmosis. This isn’t tsarist Russia. The culture is going in the opposite direction. We’ve got to be clear. I was delighted to hear that the Synod of ROCOR publicly corrected Sister Vassa’s intemperate, publicly given advice. I wish more synods of bishops would publicly correct Orthodox people when they make public statements that are blatantly contrary to the teaching of the Church. We say, “Well, you’ve got to be pastoral.” Yeah, when you’re in confession, you’ve got to be pastoral. When you’re having conversations with your parishioners, when you’re talking with somebody who’s come to your office with a terrible sin or a problem, yes, you have to be pastoral. But you also have to be clear about what the Church is teaching.
I think of Vladyka Dmitri. Was there a kinder, gentler hierarch anywhere than Dmitri? I’ve been in this Diocese going on 30 years. I know a lot of the dirt. There have been some spectacular clergy flame-outs over that 30 years. I know of one case where Vladyka was actually warned about a particular priest ahead of time, but he still put him in a very visible position, and it didn’t turn out well. In hindsight, it was a bad decision, but I have to think that Vladyka did it for the best of reasons: because he wanted to utilize that priest’s gifts and he wanted to help that priest… It just didn’t work out. I bet there are cases here—please don’t raise your hands [Laughter]—where Vladyka gave some of the priests in this room a second chance. I bet there are a lot of situations that we don’t know about because they ended in rehabilitation and repentance and restitution rather than flame-out, and we just don’t know about them. But I am sure that Vladyka’s concern and his pastoral concern was there.
I remember he was in Raleigh for Liturgy, and I wasn’t even living there at the time. I had gone over, I guess, from Tennessee, and at the end of the service, I went up to venerate the cross. I did a real sloppy—I call it the seminary cross, you know. And Vladyka looked at me, and I saw him looking at me, but he didn’t say anything. Later, during the potluck in the hall, Vladyka said, “And we really need to think about how you make the cross. We need to be careful about how we make the cross.” And I knew he was correcting me, but he did it in a way that didn’t put me on the [spot]. He didn’t say, “Look at this guy! He’s a seminary graduate and doesn’t know how to make a cross!” No, he didn’t put me on the spot, he didn’t single me out, he didn’t do anything to embarrass me. He corrected me as gently as he possibly could, by making it sound like it was just a general piece of admonition to the whole group, when I knew he was talking about me. That’s who Vladyka Dmitri was.
But—and this is the point of my little digression here—when Vladyka got on the amvon to preach, when he stood up at a podium like this to speak publicly, when he wrote for public consumption, he told it like it was. Somebody say, “Amen.” [Amen! Yes!] Vladyka left you in no doubt what the Church’s teaching was. We have to have moral clarity. Priests, have to be more—when you’re preaching and teaching and writing on the interwebs publicly, you have to be clear about what the Church’s teaching is. You can be pastoral when you get people alone, but you can’t be pastoral when you’re talking to a group of people, because people will inevitably take the wrong conclusion. They’ll take it as justification for what they’re doing.
The third thing I’ll mention just very briefly: be very careful, and in fact I would counsel just avoiding getting involved in issues broadly categorized as social justice for simply this reason [which] is that what we mean by equality and justice and fairness is not what anybody else means by that. And you get involved in these discussions… The discussion has already been reframed, and you can’t reframe it on your own. You’re going to say things and other people are going to take it a different way.
This meeting in Crete—I’m not going to call it a council—I think the worst document that they put out—and most of the document’s actually okay—was not the one on ecclesiology, although I understand why there was opposition to this—it’s the one everybody signed. It’s about the mission of the Church in the world. Let me read what it said, the problematic paragraph.
The Orthodox Church confesses that every human being, regardless of skin color, religion, race, sex, ethnicity, and language, is created in the image and likeness of God…
Well, that’s absolutely true. I wish they’d stop there, because that’s true, absolutely dogma of the Church.
...and enjoys equal rights in society.
Now, wait a minute. The one does not follow from the other. Equal dignity does not guarantee equal rights in every single respect. What does that mean, anyway?
[Consequently, c]onsistent with this belief, the Orthodox Church rejects discrimination for any of the aforementioned reasons since these presuppose a difference in dignity between people.
No, it doesn’t! How many of you people think [or] believe [that] because we do not ordain women that women are different in dignity from men? Let me tell you what’s going to happen. Some woman is going to sue a bishop for not ordaining her and letting her play priest. And some fool federal judge, probably in the Ninth Circuit, is going to agree to hear this case. [Laughter] Contrary to all precedent in this country, but these cases will get heard within 20 years, I guarantee you. And we’ll go to court: “Well, the Church has never ordained women,” and we’ve got all this stuff about this. And the plaintiff’s lawyer’s going to get up and say, “Welp, look here, your honor. This is what this here ecumenical council of Crete said. And the ecumenical patriarch, who’s the Orthodox pope, he says this council is binding on all churches.” And the judge is going to go: “Well, if the pope says it’s binding, it must be binding on them.” [Laughter] And we’re going to go: “No, no, no, no. That’s not what we meant.” There is no text. What the bishops meant doesn’t matter; it’s how other people read it that matters. And if you’re going to get involved in issues of social justice, you’d better tread very, very carefully.
We don’t need to have a public… I don’t think we need public condemnations of racism. Not that we’re not against racism; it’s just that it’s—what’s the point? People need moral clarity. They need to understand what the Church is about morality, about human nature. The enemy for us is corruption and death and sin; it’s not social problems. Certainly, we have a duty to be light and salt where we are, to engage of works of mercy. All our parishes should be actively involved in the community of helping and reaching out to other people. But when we start turning ourselves into a social service institution, we will go exactly the same way as every other denomination that has done that. I guarantee you. We’ve got a couple of ex-Baptists in here, right? Within 20 years, the Southern Baptist Convention will be welcoming and affirming of active homosexuals. I guarantee it within 20 years.
Q1: What kind of guarantee are you giving?
Dr. Carlton: I’ll put five bucks on it. [Laughter]
So I think we have to be aware of the situation we’re in. We have to be aware of the kind of society that we are living in and the uphill battles that we face. It’s become more and more difficult for us to even speak publicly about this issue. If you say a man cannot be a woman, you’re going to get condemned publicly. You’re going to get your Twitter-whatever-feed cut. You may get expelled from Facey-space, which is the best thing that could possibly happen to you. [Laughter] And I hope when we have the break-out sessions and we have the chance to talk—we’re over time again; that’s Fr. Marcus Burch’s fault—I’ll stay here and answer questions if anybody wants to, and then we’ll have the break-out sessions tomorrow if you want to talk about this, but we really need to keep this in mind, just the cultural seriousness and the level of disintegration that’s taken place culturally. You can’t just… It’s not just 1950-something any more. You can’t send your kids off to state college and expect them to learn patriotism and basic morality. It’s just not going to happen.
Anyway, I thank you for your time. [Applause]
Fr. Stephen: Why don’t we open the floor just for a question or two, and knowing that the opportunity exists for the focus groups tomorrow, but if there are any burning questions, we’ll take a couple.
Q2: Dr. Carlton, you spoke quite plainly and eloquently about the difficulties that we have in our current cultural circumstance, one of those problems being that we lack a common vocabulary with the zeitgeist. And you say that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to talk to people about the faith and to evangelize, that we should not expect mass conversion. Again, I agree. With regard to what we can do, really, what does that look like as far as what we can do to preserve what has been given to us and to transmit it to whomever we can?
Dr. Carlton: Well, I think we need to stick with the Church’s vocabulary. Don’t try and talk the lingo of the kids. [Laughter] I said at the beginning sometimes translation is not possible; you just have to transliterate. I think that’s what we’re going to have to do. We need to stick to the Church’s vocabulary. We’re not moralists. Sin is not primarily a moral problem; it is an ontological problem, and we need to talk about sin and its connection with death and the fact that Orthodoxy is the revelation of life: “I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” So I think we need to focus simply on being ourselves and not trying to fit in and not trying to relate. I think with the nuns, with the movie we were talking about last night, if you simply present Orthodoxy as it is, those who are broken and those who need to hear that message I think will hear it. If, however, we try to update the message and be au courant and try to be hip with it… “post-modern Orthodoxy”—no, that’s a contradiction in terms. You can’t have it.
Q2: […] Except we are seeing that with some people…
Dr. Carlton: Sure.
Q2: ...with priests and so on, people speaking on behalf of the Orthodox Church. What do we need to do about that?
Dr. Carlton: Well, that’s for the bishops to deal with. I would like to see bishops take very clear stances. Most of the documents that the Synod of Bishops of the OCA has produced are perfectly fine; they’re perfectly orthodox. I’m not questioning the orthodoxy; I just would like to see more robust a defense when people clearly violate those publicly established teachings.
Q2: Thank you.
Dr. Carlton: This lady back there.
Q3: I was thinking about, when you were talking about pre-modernism, when Orthodoxy, you say, was the most accepted, and what I sense is that there was a world that was less diverted. Is there a way—I’m just thinking off the top of my head—to replicate some of what obviously valued Orthodoxy and helped to—how can I say it?—it was successful, in terms of being able to have a society that was homogeneous, almost? And is there a way for all of us in some [way] to be able to replicate that, some of it?
Dr. Carlton: I think that’s really the challenge, actually, because you’ve got this really diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural sort of society that didn’t really exist… The pre-modern world was diverse, but it was diversity amongst cultures; they weren’t all in one big melting-pot. The question is: How do you do that? I think that is the real question. I don’t… I’m not sure I have an answer for that. I think we have to… One of the reasons that Orthodoxy has not grown, I think, in North America, outside of Alaska—that’s the only part of North America we really tried to set down any real kind of cultural roots.
I’ve said before that the South is probably the most conducive area of the country for doing that, simply because in the South it’s still the most biblically literate part of the country, although that’s changing. I can tell from my students. I can tell from my students: they know less and less about the Bible as we’ve gone on, so we’re losing that. The South in many ways was a pre-modern society. The South got drug, kicking and screaming, into the modern era, with cannonballs flying and that sort of thing. I think we look for those genuine cultural aspects of culture to which we can tie, that we can affirm, and tie ourselves to that. But it really is a question of: How do you have a lasting Church in a culture that is itself completely rootless? It’s a struggle.
Q3: So many of those social sciences can in fact rebuild society, slowly but surely…
Dr. Carlton: Well, I think we’re going to have to do it from within. I think we’re going to have to create a Church culture, a Church culture whereby we evangelize ourselves—certainly reach out, but we educate ourselves. Why we’ve never created a parochial school system—that is the great missed opportunity in this country among Orthodox. Education is essential; charity is essential—that we do these things, and I think we have to make parishes centers of this sort of activity.
Q4: I’m intrigued with your talk, and I was glad to hear you mention the Frankfurt School. However, the people that I know on a day-by-day basis elevate feelings to… If there’s no objective truth, then what do people have left, and that’s their own experience or their own perception, their own feelings. “I feel this way, I feel that way, and that way is true, factual.” I find that extremely difficult on so many different levels. How does that come into what you’re saying?
Dr. Carlton: Well, that becomes the engine for a lot of this, because a lot of lawsuits have to do with feelings. “You’ve hurt my feelings.” Students can get professors fired, they can get entire administrations fired, because somebody did something or said something which “hurt my feelings.” So there’s a level of… Spiritually, it’s infantilism. “You made me feel bad. You hurt my feelings.”
Q4: But if feelings become a substitute… On the spiritual level, at least when I came into Orthodoxy, people said: In this faith we value our experience, our noetic gift. […] But my experience has something to do with that.
Well, the only way that I, in my simple-minded way, could get in touch with noetic experience is to talk about my feelings. But if feelings are… I also believe feelings come and go, […] but how do you, how do we—can we address that fallacy, that feelings are the benchmark of truth, and still retain the notion of revealed truth?
Dr. Carlton: I think in terms of the general public, we address it simply by producing people who are healthy, normally functioning people. Because what we have today in society is a fetishization of the psychologically disturbed and abnormal. [Laughter] And just by producing parishioners who are healthy and in their right minds, that itself is a powerful counter-balance. But the question that you raised goes back to the point I made: this loss of the sense of the noetic. If all you’re left with is cold, hard logic, like a Vulcan, and empirical sense experience, that just opens the door for emotionalism, and that’s what… I get so irritated every time I hear this, and I noticed one of the young ladies said it in the movie last night: “I’m not religious, but I consider myself a very spiritual person.” [Laughter] I mean, you hear that all the time. You hear that all the time. Even people who don’t identify as “nones,” that’s actually what they really believe.
So, you’re right, feeling… The only thing I can say is that we just have to develop within our parishes, within our own spiritual life an Orthodox way of thinking and talking and disciplining. You don’t have to enjoy everything. I hate fasting. After 30 years, I still hate it. [Laughter] I hate confession. Fr. Stephen hates it, too, because I do the same thing every time. He has to hear the same thing over and over again. A, B, and C again. I hate these things. It doesn’t matter if I hate them! I need them. I know I need them. They are essential, so we have to just focus on the basics, focus on living an authentic Orthodox life and not worry about the zeitgeist, because the zeitgeist is crazy. You’re not going to be able to argue with it. Well, Paul said, “Be all things to all people.” Paul wasn’t dealing with psychopaths, and we are. [Laughter] We are dealing with psychopaths. The only way to deal with that is to be true to the Gospel and to stick to the basics. I mean, that’s the only thing I can think of right now. Maybe in some of the break-out sessions we’ll come up with something else. Fr. Stephen?
Fr. Stephen: I think you’ve put a finger on it when you talk about Orthodoxy in terms of life and death. The truth is that no matter how they want to structure the conversation, they’re all going to die, and what we have on our side is the fact that we know the truth and that at some point that conversation is pertinent to their experience. They’re going to die.
Dr. Carlton: I was struck by how many people in the film were concerned about death and what happened. I was really surprised by that, the number of people who were really worried about whether or not there was life after death. Now, the general view that you get—and this is what Epicurus said, and even the Stoics said this—you’ve got two choices: either death is the end of sensation or death is a happy event. Well, we know there’s actually a third option here. I was surprised how many people were actually worried about that. That might be an entrée to some of the existential angst that people are feeling. That may be an opportunity, but we can only exploit that to the extent that we are true to our own Tradition and stick with our own teachings and not try and repackage things in order to be heard. Father?
C3: I just wanted to say—it’s a comment, actually; I don’t know that I have a question. There was one study on the internet in which it was a kind of a window into religion in the United States. Of course, Orthodoxy was included in the Christian denominations. One of the peculiar aspects of this study is that they found that pretty much for Christian denominations, Orthodoxy is the youngest. In other words, typographically we are a younger group. It was a surprising finding. It’s not really surprising, I don’t think, among younger Orthodox Christians, though.
To speak to the point about normalcy, there are a number of Orthodox Christian young adults and children that one of the things that they love about the Church is how normal and consistent things are, and they see the Church as the place to raise children. I think it’s kind of come to fruition, and the study reveals this, is that that’s not a new thing. Young adults have been looking for that for a while, and now we’re finding ourselves in a situation where that’s playing out.
I guess what I’m saying is that we can’t understate the importance of the normalcy that young adults and young families are looking for, and they’re actually finding it in the Church; it’s strong. It’s important deep in our minds. Oftentimes there’s a lot of bad news associated with religion, with religious landscape, but actually this is a pretty unexpected light. We should pay attention to it.
Dr. Carlton: I think there are a lot of seekers. There are a lot of broken people, there are a lot of seekers who are looking for [Orthodoxy]. They just don’t know it yet, but they really are looking for Orthodoxy. But they’re only going to find it if we’re true to ourselves and if we’re true to the patristic Tradition and if we stick with the basics. Once we try to be… it didn’t work for the Episcopal Church. I mean, John Shelby Spong spent 20 years talking about how the Episcopal Church needed to change, and he single-handedly destroyed the Diocese of Newark. Single-handedly destroyed the Diocese of Newark! And he kept going about how the church needed to… I mean, that is psychosis of just a monumental level. We have to be normal. Somebody over here had a comment. Yeah.
Q5: Quick question. What can you say we failed at and quite understand how it happened—no parochial schools. We have two college and university choices right now: Hellenic College or St. Katherine’s, on the coasts. You even mentioned on a podcast that I’ve listened to that if you’re going to truly have an Orthodox school, you have to be tied to the earth in some way. So I’m just curious. I have a daughter about to start at the University of Arkansas. I’m about to spend a hundred thousand dollars on her education…
Dr. Carlton: See my earlier comments. [Laughter]
Q5: I also teach as an adjunct in philosophy in the university system of LSU. I feel the same way that you do on many levels, but what are we supposed to—I wrestle with this constantly—what am I supposed to do? I know ultimately what she needs to become is an icon of Christ, as they all do, but also I know I may not be there four years from now or however many years from now to take care of them. They need to do something in society. I’m going to send them off to Fr. John Wehling’s care pastorally. I feel good about that, but I know what I’m about to introduce her to and give her over to, and I’m troubled by that greatly for her soul and the battle that she’s about to engage in. So how do we… and what do we [need to do] to start something? What do you see in regards to parochial schools: what does that look like? And what does an Orthodox college, an Orthodox university, really look like?
Dr. Carlton: Well, anybody got $40 or $50 million laying around? I can show you. I think one of the most important things we can do, particularly in terms of… She’s got to earn a living. She’s got to find a way to feed, clothe, and shelter herself at some point. My sister went to college in 1966 to get her “M-r-s,” but that’s less common today than it was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I think we really need to work with each other to network to create not only educational institutions but economic institutions. I like the little “Ortho-guide to Chattanooga.” I’d like to see a diocesan yellow pages, with all the Orthodox-owned businesses. We can even talk to the Greeks and the Antiochians and ROCOR. You could probably sell enough ads to pay for the thing; it’s not going to be a money-maker, but I’d like to see that. We need to learn to go to each other first. Before you go to evil, godless, satanic Walmart, [Laughter] find out if there’s somebody in your parish that sells something. Yeah, they’re going to be more expensive than evil, godless, satanic Walmart—that’s the idea—but at least you’ll be supporting somebody in your parish, you’ll be supporting an Orthodox Christian. So we really need to create networks where [there will be] a kind of a parallel society.
C4: Like Mormons do.
Dr. Carlton: Like Mennonites do. Listen, Mormons are crazy as all get-out, but they take care of each other. They take care of each other. We need to steal that from their playbook. Marriott was founded by a Mormon. We need to steal that from the playbook, because we’re going to have to learn… Because the world is not going to take care of us, or if they do the price they’re going to charge is more than we should be willing to pay. We really need to establish not only… I’d like to see…
People homeschool. I’d like to see networks of homeschoolers. Treat it almost like a co-op. Come together a few days a week. Give mom a break. Come together. You don’t have to hire teachers. You don’t have to have overhead. You can do it in the parish hall. But there are things that we can do as long as it’s still legal. You know, in Germany you can’t homeschool; it’s illegal to homeschool in Germany. The state is not going to let children out of its grasp. We can still do that here; we need to take advantage while we still can. I’d like to see financial… Look at Wheeler did with the finances of the diocese. This diocese would be a fraction of its size had it not been for the “bank of the South.” That was pure genius.
We need to do that in many, many ways. We need to provide jobs for each other, so you don’t have to send your children… Because pretty soon you’re going to need an MBA to flip burgers at McDonald’s, unless, of course, those burger-flipping machines are done in time, in which case nobody will have a job at McDonald’s. But this cult of credentialization, which is a modernist idea—the idea that you go to a school and you get a piece of paper and that magically makes you competent to get a job—is ridiculous. We could bring back apprenticeship, which is by far the most sensible way to learn how to do anything. We could bring these things back if we would really focus on developing locally owned and support… Even if they’re not Orthodox, if you’ve got local farmer’s markets, if you’ve got mom-and-pop stores, support your local [businesses]. And it can even be an invitation to evangelism as you get to know these people and you show that you’re supporting them and that you share the same vision of locally sustainable agriculture and finance and micro-loans and these kinds of things. That can even be a way of witnessing and bringing people into the Church, because these are people who do to a large degree share at least some of our cultural presuppositions, and they’re going to be the ones that are going to be the most open to hearing what we have to say.
C5: I’m currently doing talks for Rotary Clubs on the Russian Revolution and what led up to it. I point out that Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Marx and Hegel…
Dr. Carlton: Those poor Rotarians. [Laughter]
C5: ...they were out to destroy the religion. Once the religion is destroyed, then destroying the culture is easy. What’s been happening in this country, and one of my favorite phrases is “How can things collapse? Slowly, then all at once.” What is happening in this country happened 100 years ago, plus, in Russia, with the destruction of God comes the destruction of our culture.
Dr. Carlton: But it’s not just destruction; it’s replacement. Paul Gottfried calls this the post-Christian religion of the modern world. God hasn’t been eliminated; he’s just been replaced with a different god, a different eschatological vision, a different good. That’s why I’m saying we have to find ways of protecting our families and our parishes from this. One of the ways to do this is to embed yourself in your local community. The statement: “Think globally; act locally”—well, my motto is: “Think locally and act locally.” [Laughter] That’s what we need to do.
Thank you. [Applause]