Σάββατο, 19 Ιανουαρίου 2019

Orthodox Spirituality and The Technological Revolution



From “The Authentic Seal: Spiritual Instruction and Discourses,” by Archimandrite Aimilianos, Former Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, Mount Athos.
Death to the world

Introduction

A great deal is made nowadays of “the technological revolution,” as seen from both sides, those in favour and those who are very much against. In the realm of Orthodox theology, however, is there really any essential difference between the age-old problem of technology and today’s reality? We could, of course, talk about the last century with the industrial revolution and all its consequences: social, political, moral, religious and so on. When people speak of a new era in the history of mankind, of the third, technological revolution, are they not perhaps exaggerating the extent of the undoubted change in the conditions under which we live? Would it not be more realistic, instead of talking about a revolution, to recognize a process which began long before the industrial revolution and reached its culmination in the developments and consequences there of?
The basic feature which is new, however, in modern technology, is that it has turned everything on its head. While in former times people attempted to use science to improve their dominion over nature, it has now infiltrated into the very innermost laws of nature, with results likely to prove positive but also with terrible and limitless opportunities for intervention in these laws themselves. And where might this inversion bring us? To the further extension of these opportunities or to voluntary restrictions to ensure the sovereignty, dignity and survival of nature?
For this reason, the problem is not, in essence, that of the relationship between Man and Nature, but rather that of our felicity in choosing among what might be infinite possibilities, so that we do not fall victim to the works of our hands. Why mention this? Because with justification we recall the words of Job: “She has hardened herself against her young, as though not bereaving herself, she has laboured in vain without fear” (Job 39:16). In other words, our era acts with harshness and indifference towards its children, as if they were not its own. And its indiscriminate and foolhardy attitude reduces every attempt and effort to naught, and, in the end, misfires.
Finally, it is not our function to note the revolutionary changes, but rather to point out to our contemporaries the true purpose of technology and to propose Orthodox theological and moral criteria.
Let us now see when technology begins.

A. Anthropology and Technology

Adam in Paradise was “naked in simplicity and artless in life” (Gregory the Theologian, PG 36, 632C), unclad and without “art”. His call, his essential occupation was contemplation, gazing upon God, sought and found in supervision of the tree of knowledge. Which is why He made Man “a farmer of immortal plants” (ibid.), so that through agriculture in Eden, he would be constantly occupied with God.
Technology, therefore, makes its appearance after the Fall.
Adam’s first-born son (Gen. 4:1-26), Cain, was a farmer; Abel was a shepherd; both of them, therefore, bound up with nature.
The third son, Enoch, became a mason and a builder of cities. Of the other descendants, Jobel founded the nomadic way of life. His brother, Jubal was the inventor of stringed instruments with the psaltery and harp. Thobel was a smith, forging iron and copper.
Finally, the son of God-fearing Seth, Enos, loyal to the name of God, set up the first public congregation, thus instituting the worship of God, so that all these technologist descendants of Adam could find both a place and means of gazing upon God and could work wherever they went, until they achieved dominion over the earth.
Through the blessings of God and wearisome toil, the gradual appearance of technology from agriculture through to industrialization thus provides Man with the opportunity to retain his position as lord over nature, despite the ancestral Fall. Technology is occasioned by Man’s powers of reason and is a way of compensating for his weakness, as against animals, which have sufficient strength to survive, as against the forces of nature, the necessities of life (Gregory of Nyssa, PG 44, 140D-144AB) and so on.
We might mention here that for the ancients and for Scripture, no distinction was made between art and artifacts (technology), which, if they corresponded to the needs of our nature, could hardly be foreign or hostile to “beauty”. Art precedes mechanics, being of greater necessity, while technology developed, not to serve the highest concerns of Man, but with the aim of greater production and profit.
In the course of its development, then, if Man is to live as overlord, technology in general must remain discreetly within a certain logical framework. It should not be an end in itself, but rather a disposition, a means to an end, and a conduit into the innermost laws and elements, not only of the earth, but of that which is above the earth. Because, according to Gregory of Nyssa, people have “an upright bearing, stretch up towards heaven and look upwards. In the beginning, these things and their regal worth are noted” (op. Cit.. PG 44, 140D-144AB).

B. Control Over Technology

The automation of the industrial age and, particularly, the information technology of the post-industrial age, together with the ecological crisis, pose a single question: Why should we be served by modern technology, which is a gluttonous idol of worship, a machine beyond our control? Why should the whole of our society be organized technologically, simply to feed the machine? A distinguished Russian hierarch (Filaret, Metropolitan of Minsk), for example, has revealed that the entire production of the enormous iron mines was put to no other purpose than to make new mining equipment for the same mines!
It is natural that the rapid progress in nuclear physics and in genetics should open up new scientific horizons, but also create problems and dangers for the human race, so it is obvious that there is an imperative need for moral intervention in the field of technology. What is worrying is the absurd and “carefree” optimism of many scientists and political agencies. According to them, technological development contains within itself the solution to the problems which it causes, and hence it ought not to be trammelled, so that “technical solutions” to the various problems can arise. For example, who can exercise control in an ideological regime, when they are deliberately seeking to create a type of technological man? The saying of Saint Paul applies here: “Let do us do evil, that good may come” (Rom. 3:8).
There are also those, on the other hand, who, using historical arguments and invoking our inability to predict the way in which inventions will evolve in future, reject all moral intervention.
Technology per se is not, of course, harmful, being the fruit of the reasoning and intellect of Man, who was formed in the image of God. But when, unrestrained and unbridled, it rushes headlong towards its destination, then it becomes Luciferous, though not bearing light but rather pitch darkness. The danger for us is the absence of accountability in the way in which technology is administered and exploited, a way which has as its aim the stifling domination of human life and the solution of problems by technical means, regardless of moral and metaphysical principles.
Finally, however, let us hear the voice of our Orthodox Tradition.

C. The Position of the Church Regarding This Particular Problem

The Church of Christ retains in unadulterated form the Orthodox Tradition, a real, unique force, on which it draws from its life and experience, as well as from a never-failing spring of asceticism and the voice of its treasury of monastic tradition, which is always profound and vital.
Monastic tradition can give applicable criteria of behaviour to the members of the Church as regards technology. The Church and monasticism are not hostilely disposed towards technological progress. On the contrary, monks over the centuries have proved to be powerful agents of scientific and technical invention.
In the Medieval West, the monks restored civilization, which had been destroyed in the barbarian invasions. The monasteries became focal points for the natural sciences, where mathematics, zoology, chemistry, medicine, and so on developed. The most important inventions of the monasteries formed the basis of industry. Likewise, through their reclamation of large tracts of land, the monks created the opportunity for agricultural development.
So that there would be no need for monks to miss services, our own saint Athanasios the Athonite built — on the Holy Mountain — a mechanical kneading device, which was driven by bullocks. This instrument, says the Life of the saint, “was the best, both in terms of attractiveness and art of manufacture” (Life of Blessed Athanasios on Athos, I, 179, Noret, p. 86, 1, 46). The same was true throughout the lands where Orthodox monasteries were established.
The Orthodox monastery always lived as an eschatological reality and a fore-taste of the Kingdom of Heaven, and was therefore also a model for an organized society with a way of life faithful to the Gospel, embracing human dignity, freedom and service to one’s fellows.
Given this, the holy Fathers subjected technology in the monastery to two criteria, as Basil the Great characteristically remarks concerning work and the choice of technical applications.

a) Restraint

With this criterion in mind, those technical applications are chosen which preserve “the peace and tranquility” of monastery life, so that both undue care and torturing effort are avoided. Let us have as our aim “moderation and simplicity”. For Basil the Great, technology is “necessary in itself to life and provides many facilities” (PG 31, 1017B), provided the unity of the life of the brotherhood is preserved, undistracted and devoted to the Lord.
In general terms, our watchword should be: “Let the common aim be the meeting of a need” (PG 31, 968B). And Saint Peter the Damascan adds: “For everything which does not serve a pressing need, becomes an obstacle to those who would be saved; everything, that is. which does not contribute to the salvation of the soul or to the life of the body” (Philokalia, vol. III, p. 69, 11. 32-34).
These principles are certainly not for monasteries alone. They could be guidelines for control over technology, unless we want to be exterminated.

b) Spiritual Vigilance

The most dreadful enemy created by post-industrial culture, the culture of information technology and the image, is cunning distraction. Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and turn outwards, becoming strangers to themselves, in a word mindless, impervious to the dictates of their intelligence. If people, especially children, watch television for 35 hours a week, as they do according to statistics, then are not their minds and hearts threatened by Scylla and Charabdis, are they not between the devil and the deep blue sea? (Homer, Odyssey, XII, 85)
The majority of the faithful of the Church confess that they do not manage to pray, to concentrate and cast off the cares of the world and the storms of spirit and soul which are to the detriment of sobriety, inner balance, enjoyable work, family tranquility and a constructive social life. The world of the industrial image degenerates into real idolatry.
The teachings of the Fathers concerning spiritual vigilance arms people so that they can stave off the disastrous effects of the technological society. “For the weapons of our warfare… have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4), according to the Apostle Paul. Spiritual vigilance is a protection for everyone “containing everything good in this age and the next” (cf. Hesychius the Elder, PG 93, 1481A) and “the road leading to the kingdom, that us and that of the future” (Philotheos the Sinaite, Philokalia, vol. II, p. 275). Spiritual vigilance is not the prerogative only of those engaged actively in contemplation. It is for all those who are conscientiously “dealing with this world as though they had no dealings with it” (1 Cor. 7:31).
In the industrial era, people became consumers and slaves to things produced. In post-industrial society, they are also becoming consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.
Restraint and spiritual vigilance are, for all those who come into the world, a weapon made ready from the experience of the monastic life and Orthodox Tradition in general, one which abolishes the servitude of humanity and preserves our health and sovereignty as children of God.

Παρασκευή, 18 Ιανουαρίου 2019

A Greek saint, who went from village to village, compared the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Christians with the culture of the West († 1861, January 18)...



Chief Seattle’s response to President Franklin Pierce in 1854, that he could not sell his people’s land because it does not belong to them but rather the people belong to it, has become a memorable piece of American history. In exactly the same time period, a Greek saint went from village to village saying exactly the same things to my people, the Greeks, who had just acquired their “own” state, but were being ruled by the powerful countries of Western Europe, who had dazzled them with their wealth and culture. This saint was called Christoforos Papoulakos (which means “dear old man”). The people in power captured him and he died in prison, but his words influenced our future. 

Icon: Elder Christoforos Papoulakos (here)

In 1977 the “Message of the Iroquois Confederation of the Six Nations to the Western World” was presented at the International Conference of Indian Nations in Geneva, under the auspices of the Non Governmental Organizations of the UN. In this message, the ancient wisdom of the Native Americans was compared against the utilitarian and invasive culture of the white men, the culture that now essentially rules the whole world and which in reality is only the culture of the Western white men, not ours. Similarly, the reproaches against Christianity included in this message, that “Rome is the real place that it is modeled after”; that it “de-spiritualized the world”, and that it “came to prominence with weapons”, refer to the false versions of Christianity that were created in the West, not to ancient Christianity or to Orthodoxy. A few years earlier, during the second world war, an Orthodox saint, imprisoned at the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, the bishop Nikolaos Velimirovich, sent a moving message to all the people of Europe, wherein he too compared the ancient wisdom of the Orthodox Christians with the culture of the West, the same culture critiqued by our Iroquois brothers as well as every wise and thinking Native American. 

Click

Life of Saint Christoforos Papoulakos (site about him)

Τετάρτη, 16 Ιανουαρίου 2019

Σάββατο, 5 Ιανουαρίου 2019

Fixing Jesus

Ancient faith / Glory to God for all Things



In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, a ghostly theologian has found himself at the very edge of heaven, having taken a bus from hell. He is invited to remain, though doing so will require that he leave behind the imaginary world of the unreal (hell), and take on the difficult task of being truly what he was created to be. The conversation has an interesting moment when he describes his latest project: thinking about what Jesus might have accomplished had he not died so tragically young. The proposition is comic, on its surface, a misunderstanding of Christ’s work so profound as to be silly – except that it’s not. “Fixing Jesus” is a very apt metaphor for the task that secularized Christianity has set for itself. And, that I might be clear, every Christian in the modern world is tempted, at some level, to secularize his faith. We all want to fix Jesus.
As much as Jesus is admired in our culture, even quoted on occasion, He remains a bothersome and uncooperative figure. He healed the sick, but seems to have left no lasting plan or program for their long-term care. I’ve even heard the question, “Why didn’t He heal everyone?” Indeed, there is a puzzlement that He still allows us to suffer disease, and is given credit for the deep injustice of sickness itself. Why do children get cancer and Nazis live to old age in the backwoods of Brazil?
Jesus clearly spoke of justice and care for the poor. But He established no guidelines for a just economy, nor did He challenge the economic systems of His time. Sometimes He seems to have avoided the topic on purpose.
Among the most useless pronouncements in our modern culture are the statements, “Jesus never said anything about…[fill in the blank].” This is always said by people for whom what Jesus actually said already carries no weight. “Jesus never said…” means that you may not say it either, except as an example of bigoted traditionalism.

The deep drive of modern secularism has been to tame Jesus, to make Him serve the purpose of the modern project in the construction of liberal democracy. That project requires that all creeds be held in private for the greater public good. Indeed, the modern project would suggest that all religions essentially say the same thing – that liberal democracy and its prosperous peace is the goal of human progress. Inasmuch as Jesus might have done something to contribute to that project, He is useful and good.
This is much more than a culture critique, for that which we can see in the culture has also been written deep within our hearts. It is a worldview we imbibe simply by being born in this time and in this place. That worldview generally sees the world as existing for its own sake (and our lives as existing for their own sake as well). Even when those things are married to some notion of a “greater good,” that good is generally about the world for its own sake. Those things that disrupt the public good are seen as troublesome (at the very least) and needing modification.
Of course, the public good is measured only by this world for its own sake, for its wealth and our general health. Happiness (that fleeting and ever-changing thing) is the common goal of us all.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Jesus is focused on some world beyond this one. He is decidedly here-and-now (Matt. 6:34). Indeed, secularism would not exist without Christianity having preceded it. For it is in the teaching of Christ that attention is drawn directly to that which is at hand rather than to life elsewhere. In Christ’s teaching, “The Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). What we see today as secularism is a heresy, a false reading and distortion of the Christian tradition. It is the world, in and of itself, as a substitute for the Kingdom of God. A world without depth or meaning apart from its own self.

 
Icon from here

Christ does not abolish the world (the one that we call “secular”). Instead, He reveals it to be what it is. This material world in which we dwell, to which we are inseparably united, is shown to be the gate of heaven, the bread of life, the medicine of immortality, and so on. For all of these things are not made known to us apart from, nor in spite of their material aspects. Fr. Alexander Schmemann said quite rightly that the sacraments do not seek to replace the material: it shows material to be what it is. In St. Basil’s epiclesis we pray, “And show this bread to be the precious Body of our Lord, and God, and Savior, Jesus Christ…” In the hands of Christ, all bread becomes what it is meant to be, that which alone can truly feed us.
The world does not exist in and of itself, nor is its value and meaning in and of itself. But neither does its true existence, value, and meaning exist somewhere else of which it is a non-participant or an empty shadow. The material world is the locus of the marriage of heaven and earth. In that sense, Christ draws attention to the created order in a manner without precedent. It is the de-coupling of that attention from Christ Himself and the deeper reality that underlies the created order that has given us our present delusion. It is as though all our attention were on human bodies – without souls. As such, we are the dead among the dead.
The world’s efforts to “fix” Jesus are invariably directed towards either removing Him from this world, or placing Him in the world as a manageable object. Just as the world turned St. Nicholas into Santa Claus (he’s so cuddly!), so Christ becomes a religious mascot of whatever worldly value we want to promote. Solzhenitsyn, in his famous Templeton Lecture, described this process of secularization in profound terms:
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty-million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
Secularism is the forgetting of God, or remembering Him in a manner that is truly less than God. This is the cause of all injustice. Indeed, it is the great injustice: that human beings forget their Creator and the purpose of their existence. When we forget God, everything is madness.
Jesus, have mercy on us and fix us.