Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Orthodoxy, Materialism, and Anthropology in the New Millenium

Orthodox Leadership in a Brave New World

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

This article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 29 No. 3, Fall 2007.

Almost thirty years ago Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered an address at Harvard University that still ranks as one of the most trenchant and inspired critiques of Western culture ever given. Although some of the political references are dated, two observations remain as true today as when they were first spoken. The first is that the philosophical materialism that shaped communism and led to the Gulags now operates in the Western world. The second is that mankind stands at an anthropological threshold.

What is philosophical materialism? To use Solzhenitsyn's definition, it is the belief that man has no touchstone other than himself:

To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth . . . we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.

Philosophical materialism has concrete cultural ramifications. To social utopians, it means that persons have no enduring value -- so society can be forcibly arranged around notions of the common good. To hedonists, it means that the body is primarily a pleasure machine. To nihilists, it means that because the death of the body is also the end of existence, we should exalt death and violence.

These themes shaped much of the course of the last century. Solzhenitsyn had firsthand experience of Marxist social utopianism, but he was not the first to sound the alarm. Almost a century earlier, Dostoevsky heard the rumblings that would make Russia susceptible to communist tyranny and warned, "Without God, everything is permitted."

Read it all at OrthodoxyToday.org