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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Elitism

I've been running into a lot of this these days.  Particularly among Orthodox, but it is everywhere.  We have no respect for people we disagree with, and feel free to insult them... because we believe our insults to be true.

The Orthodox here in America suffer from two forms: the 'ethnophyletistic' hyper-nationalist variety that exults a particular nationality, and the more convert-borne type emanating from years of inter-Protestant contention with other sects and a big dose of Calvinist predestination.  That's not to say you can't cherry-pick a few humdinger quotes from various Fathers of ages past to prove your point that the 'bad guys' really are super-duper bad, but even the most pugilistic of quotes often come from those who didn't base their entire religious experience on those statements, unlike the modern users do.

The Church is not about its theological strongmen who write the most forceful documents, but rather those who repent and come to experience the glories of God in His merciful healing.  However, there are plenty of people running around who have not really experienced this profound sense of repentance.  That's OK, but don't posit yourself as the great authority.

Perhaps I am being a bit hypocritical in condemning elitism, because this also elevates my own standing over others.  Yes, I am willing to admit that I do struggle with my own pride, and I do engage in being 'judgy.'  One thing I do know: I am not particularly qualified to say much of anything, and I don't hold myself up as an authority on anything.  There are people with years of training and experience on matters of addiction and theology.  When I encounter them, I usually defer.

But, I will not defer when I see someone else being judged or insulted.  Part of why I write here is because there are lots of people who need the healing of the Church, but feel, for whatever reason, like they are looked down upon of shunned because of their problems or temptations.  It is here that I stand on my little soapbox and, perhaps, humiliate myself for speaking 'out of turn.'

When elitism drives people away from the Church, it is demonic.  When we insist that only people of a certain kind of ethnicity or politics or background or appearance are welcome in the sanctuary, then we are elitists and thus enemies of God Himself.  When we mock or insult others, calling them names for no other reason than to exult ourselves like the Pharisee, then we are truly 'heterodox' or even heretics.

God calls all of us sinners for good reason.  Even the purest of saints saw himself as one fallen and befouled.  If we really saw our own filth, and experienced the love of God, then we would not write other people off and mock their misery.

Elitism and compassion do not go together.  An elitist can pity someone else, but pity is for those who do not know what it is to be abased.  Only God can really pity man.  The only genuine experience a man can have of someone else's suffering is compassion, knowing his own experience of pain and being able to relate to others through it.

An elitist, then, is not honest about who he is, or who God is.

Be careful when an elitist tries to speak for the Church.  He may mouth some words of truth, but often they are twisted in meaning.  The elitist will say, "I stand for the Tradition of the Church!"  But, upon closer examination, he has an altered view of the real Tradition.  How can you tell?  Because he will quickly condemn all those in the Church around him who are not 'doing it right.'

The Tradition is something we all share.  It is what we have all received, and do are best to carry out and hand down.  The elitist says only a few have it.

Watch out.

2 comments:

  1. I think there's this tough balancing act between, on the one hand, accepting the sinner without losing sight of the fact that he is, indeed, sinning, and on the other hand, defending what is true and good without cryogenically freezing it so that it winds up "preserved" but of limited use to a limited population.

    One crude way of looking at it is that we're at war with sin. In the early days of this war, we might fight it with sticks and stones. So we can develop all kinds of strategies and tactics for waging war with knives so that we can beat the armies of the evil one. Now, let's say guns arrive on the scene. Our objective is still the same -- conquer the enemy -- but we'd be foolish to stick with our old strategies and tactics. Those were for knives, and as everybody knows, you don't bring a knife to a gun fight! We should learn to fight with guns so we can win. Now, what if we then add performance enhancing drugs to the mix? Maybe they give us a short term boost, but if they cause our troops to randomly drop dead of massive heart attacks, it might not be worth it.

    The separation between objective and method is clear in the above crude example, but in real life that clarity can be hard to come by. That's a hard problem.

    The thing is that, so far as I can see, it's not a question of "what's the right mix" or "where do we turn the knob." It's not about being the right blend of exclusive and inclusive. It's about discernment: some things need to be preserved, and some things need to change; some people need to be included, others excluded; and some times its more obvious what the right choice is than others. I don't know that discernment is ever easy -- probably it's not truly possible without the Holy Spirit, of which my sinful self has very little -- and modern moral tumult isn't making it any easier.

    There are obvious issues like homosexuality. Orthodoxy is pretty clear on homosexual behavior being a sin (which I agree with), although even here there are some dissenters. And then there are questions which are less clear. If someone is a practicing homosexual, should they be denied communion? If so, is that elitist? Or is that preserving truth and goodness? I don't know. My own instincts are quite paranoid and exclusive, so I'd say "no communion for practicing homosexuals" but what kind of justification is that really? Still, this is largely how sinful human minds work. We feel an impulse one way or another, and then we use our prodigious brains to invent rationalizations that justify our feelings. Maybe one way of defining a Saint is someone who is such a vessel of the Holy Spirit that they transcend this problematic way of thinking. I don't know. I have zero answers here.

    I pick homosexuality not to be incendiary, btw, but to be exemplary. Pretty much anything will do, from head coverings to beer on no-"wine" days, ordination of women, the correctness of prayer as illustrated in The Way of a Pilgrim, and on and on.

    The best answer I can come up with is that what is tried and true should get the benefit of the doubt, and what is new and innovative should get the burden of proof. This is only a heuristic, but that's all I've got (I will never be a Saint).

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  2. Because our own Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was "judgey" places us in the realm of these difficult choices at times. Jesus had very severe things to say to those who held to rules orientation. If these things had come from any one of us we might very well call it sin. Yet it isn't the act of saying these things. Not only were these "judgments" of Jesus true they were backed up by an attitude and act of kenosis which is the critical issue here. Love is the issue not rules righteousness. By the way, Thomas, if you are correct in your self assessment of "paranoia and exclusivity", your admission would be a very good sign. It is the fear based personality structure that most often not only is present in alcohol/drug abuse but also "Phariseeism" which Fr. George calls "elitism." The blessing of addiction for these individuals is to break down their own Pharisaical attitudes by throwing their own falleness in their faces repeatedly. I'm hesitant to use the word "paranoia" because it is only that variety that is on the more extreme end of the spectrum that tends to be harmful. Fear incites the imagination to make impulsive judgments to serve the false, and often self-righteous, purpose of protection. The Pharisees in their "paranoid" accusations truly believed they were defending God and what was required of them. Our "elitists" today, whether Orthodox or not, are the same way. By the way, Fr. George, there is a connection with the word "heretic" you use and the current topic. Most frequently it is the "elitist" who is not only throwing this word around but directing it to others. As an aside, I love what Fr. Thomas Hopko says of this whole current phenomenon. He says the word "heretic" or "heretical" is used way, way too often. The heretic is someone, generally of higher Orthodox ecclesiastical authority who doesn't just hold to a fundamentally incorrect doctrine but actually leads a formidable breakaway group out of traditional Orthodoxy. This definition would exclude any lay person and anyone outside of Orthodoxy.

    While we are to develop the discernment qualities of Jesus from an attitude and act of kenosis, yet often in these occasions of facing Phariseeism we are called to silence much in the same way at the trial of Jesus. This would be, in part, our act of loving our enemies instead of trying to set them straight. The entrenched "Pharisee" ("elitist") is "blind" (to use our Savior's word) and psychologically is unable to see the truth of themselves (Fr. George says this beautifully above) let alone be able to admit it without intense Divine intervention. The person whose "nous" is clear, clearly discerns love from rules righteousness.

    Again and again, my favorite (especially) desert Fathers repeatedly state that the spiritual sins ("elitism") are far worse than sexual sins. Wouldn't it be something when a local church "elitist" would be denied communion following this example as opposed to the homosexual.

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