. . . of the members of the Church of America the Messiah Nation, who push the anti-culture of pluralistic (which quickly becomes secular) democracy and consumerism on every people of the world, whether they want it or not, in the name of Progress:
. . .
What does it mean to “make a difference?”
Generally, the idea is linked with the myth of progress. With concerted effort and sufficient resources, we are making a better world, etc. Some undefined future awaits us, if only we care enough to make it happen.
But this is a myth. We can make changes, but change is not at all the same thing as progress. The leaders of the Western world in 1914 started a “war to end all wars.” It was one of the greatest projects of the modern era – the first “modern” war. At its end, there were 38 million casualties. The “winners” of the war sat down in 1919 and redrew the map of the world in the Treaty of Versailles. Every conflict that has occurred since that time has pretty much been driven by the arrogance and mistakes of the maps they drew. The world has been stuck repeating the same war all over the globe as we suffer the consequences of the “better world” we created.
They redrew the map of Europe, laying the foundation for years of turmoil in the Balkans. They redrew the Middle East, inventing new countries with little regard to the history and composition of the new nations. The war they started gave birth to the Communist revolutions that enslaved Russia and elsewhere for the better part of a century. The treaty gave rise to Hitler. On and on the consequences go, as the world constantly struggles to cope with one new eruption after another. The United States, considered the most successful of all modern projects, has been at war 222 out of its 239 years: that’s 93 percent of its history.
Most of the people who have lived and died over these modern centuries, only wanted to live and love and die a decent death. Farmers wanted to farm; mechanics wanted to fix their machines; parents wanted to raise their children in peace and safety; teachers wanted to share what they knew with another generation; and so on. But all of these things have largely been disrupted by the drive for a better world. Farmers are disappearing; the machines have taken over many lives; families are in almost total disarray; teachers long to quit a profession that has become one long series of frustrations. The better world is always in the future.
The better world has no place within the Christian life.
We have no commandment from God to make the world a better place. We have no commandment from God to “make a difference.” Only God makes a difference, and only God knows what “better” would actually mean. As Christians, the proper life is one lived in accordance with the commandments. We should love. We should forgive. We should be generous and kind. We should give thanks to God always and for everything.
We should understand that this is a description of the “better world.” We are not making a better world, we’re waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. With every act of love, there is the Kingdom. With every act of forgiveness, there is the Kingdom. Every act of generosity and kindness sees its inauguration. As Christ told us, “The Kingdom of God is among you.”
Modernity is the practice and faith of gross idolatry. We worship technology, money, politics, science, everything that we believe is a human tool capable of building a better world. No tool is any better or different than the people who use them. A bad man cannot use a good tool to make a good world. A bad man makes a bad world and nothing more.
When we were baptized, we were asked to renounce the devil. More than that, we were asked to spit on him. That same devil suggested to Christ that he could make the world a better place if only He would bow down and worship the devil. Christ rebuked him. The same offer has been made to us. It is called “modernity,” and it is a devil’s bargain.
It is for us to renounce him, and spit on him along with his bargain. Christ will give us back our souls.
There are right and wrong questions. When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will not be asked whether we made a difference or whether we left the world a better place. The questions will be about the commandments. Feeding, clothing, visiting, etc., are very homely practices (Matt. 25). It doesn’t take all of the resources of the modern world to do them. They are all immediately at hand.
The better world and making a difference is a conversation we should refuse to engage: it does not belong to us. Speak the truth. Keep the commandments. Let God make all the difference in the world.
Source: Fr Stephen Freeman, ‘You Barely Make a Difference and It’s a Good Thing’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/88354.htm, posted 3 Dec 2015, accessed 15 Dec. 2015
. . .
We are, in fact, all headed in the same direction human life has always gone: death. No technology can change this fact. At most, it can create new scenery as a diversion along the way. In general, the term “better” refers to “less suffering.” By a “better world” we simply mean a world with less suffering. But, like death itself, suffering is a fact of life. We suffer in different ways, some of them begotten by technology itself, but no amount of technology will ever change the landscape of human existence into a journey devoid of suffering. In the modern narrative, what is abolished is a reason to suffer. Suffering is understood as evil. But if it is unavoidable, then the modern project will always fail, and by refusing to rightly understand suffering, it renders suffering itself to be unbearable.
What We Can Do
Only an understanding of the Good can provide a proper measure for “better.” But the various philosophies that undergird modernity reject the notion of the Good. Christians in the modern world have all too readily translated the Christian gospel into the terms of the modern narrative. The Kingdom of God cannot (and must not) be equated with an improved world. Though the relief of suffering is often a very good thing, it is not necessarily an inherently good thing. Christ did not die in order to make a better world – He died in order to raise us from the dead.
That Paschal reality unites us to Christ’s death and resurrection and this becomes the measure and true vehicle of our existence. An alternate way to think about suffering is to ask, “How can I help you bear legitimate suffering?” There is no such thing as a non-suffering human existence. In the end, those who imagine the relief of suffering to be the overriding goal of life, will also accept death as a means to achieve it. Abortion and euthanasia are modern efforts whose use is defended as a relief of suffering. Putting someone to death certainly relieves suffering, after a fashion. A massive nuclear strike could end all suffering – for ever. It is, strangely, a logical conclusion that has so far been overlooked.
Overlooked by those who choose to use the language of modernity to describe the Christian life (“better world”) is the fact that such a description or self-understanding makes the Church just one more partner in the common secular effort to make the world marginally better. Christ founded the Church as His body, not as the Rotary Club. The fact that many members of the Church cannot give a description of a substantial difference between the purpose of Rotary and the Church is a testament to the power of the modern narrative. (Incidentally, Rotary has much more stringent attendance rules).
There is a “spirituality” that naturally flows from the modern drive for improvement and progress. Spiritual growth is cast in terms of improvement, getting better. And though Protestant and Evangelical theology classically champion the work of grace, modernity has high-jacked their movements and replaced them with self-improvement. Grace has been reduced to God agreeing to grade us on a curve.
The Classical Christian life, as described in the New Testament, is grounded in weakness and true grace (the Divine Energies). Our modern instincts urge us to try harder and get better. The New Testament tells us that we are saved in our weakness: the way down is the way up. Modernity has turned Christianity on its head and converted us into a society of the above average.
And this is very much my point. The critique of modernity is not the complaint of a curmudgeonly priest. It is a cry for us to return to the faith as it was once and for all delivered to the saints. The modern mind instinctively rejects the Cross as a way of life while the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11) instinctively rejects modernity.
For while we are commanded to do good, to share, to serve, to love, to forgive, we do these things knowing that all of our efforts do not change the world. The slogans of “making a difference” and “making the world a better place” are illusions, figments of our imagination. They entice us to plot and plan, argue and harangue. They do not nurture the spirit nor point us towards the way of Christ.
Source: Fr Stephen Freeman, ‘Modern Illusions’, http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/88829.htm, posted 16 Dec. 2015, accessed 15 Dec. 2015