Many scholars refer to this as the “Post-Christian age”. Judging from surveys of our young people, clearly religion, any sort of religiosity one-could-say, is seriously on the wane. We see some minor aberrations as in the case of Muslims and some other religious groups, but by-and-large, belief or adherence to any organized religion is diminishing.
Recently I happened upon one of George Carlin’s monologues that discussed religion. I have always enjoyed his intelligent and biting wit and found this piece to be quite thought provoking. In the interest of full disclosure, the monologue is replete with expletives and one can actually find this under the post of “Religion is bullsh!t”. Once one moves beyond the initial shock of the stand-up comedy routine, there are some very deliberate and worthy jabs at what we can call “Western Religious thought”.
There is a particular quote worth sharing here to help to illustrate this:
When it comes to bullsh!t…you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion…Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man, living in the sky, who watches everyting you do every minute of every day of your life. And he has a list of then things he does not want you to do. And if you do any, any, of these ten things, he has a special place full of fire and smoke and ash and torture where he will send you to suffer and burn and scream and cry forever and ever until the end of time!
…But he loves you.
He loves you and he needs money.
Though there is some hyperbole in this statement, to a degree this is a fair critique of what many today view of monotheistic religion, western-style, that is. Western Christendom has come to adopt the existence of an angry god. Guilt is as the center of religious thought and theology. This has become so wide-spread that it has even found its way into Orthodoxy. This idea was likely born of the humanistic and scholastic tendencies of western theologians and was unknown in the East until the last two centuries.
In the Orthodox Church, the view of God and man’s relationship to Him bears little resemblance to these western beliefs. In his classic work titled, PATRISTIC THEOLOGY, Fr. John Romanides shows us the patristic thought of the Orthodox Church and explains man’s relationship with God. We see no sign of an angry God. Briefly, Fr. John explains the Church as THE place of healing for damaged man.
The healing of man’s soul is the Orthodox Church’s main provision. The Church has always focused on healing the realm of the heart.
Fr. John invites us to dive deeper into this message of healing:
…Orthodoxy as a therapeutic regimen, even though all of the prayers of the Church are quite clear on this point; because, who, after all, is Christ for the Orthodox Christian? Isn’t He constantly addressed in the benedictions and the ‘troparia’ hymns of the Church as “the physician of our souls and our bodies”?
Christ is the Physician of our souls – He fixes our physis, i.e. our nature but this is not relegated only to the spiritual realm but to our bodies as well. This point is validated again and again by the many miraculous healings that have taken place through the prayers of the Church, the relics of the Saints, and so on. These are not tokens of the “angry, western god”! This deity is unknown in Patristic Orthodox Theology. Though this has recently crept into the Church, it is not born of the Church. What we know about God, we know through divine revelation. Western Christendom has concocted many ideas through reasoning.
Fr. John goes on further to address the difference in understanding between Western Christendom and Eastern Christendom:
If you were to examine Papist or Protestant tradition, this form of address for Christ (as a physician) is nowhere to be found! Christ is called a “physician”, only in the Orthodox Tradition. So, why was this tradition erased from the Papists and the Protestants, and why is it, when we Orthodox speak of a therapeutic regimen, they are surprised? The reason is that the need for catharsis and enlightenment and the need for inner change have left these people, in their Theology. According to them, it is not the person who changes; it is God! According to them, man does not change. The only thing that man has to do – according to them – is to become a “good guy”. And when a former “bad guy” becomes a “good guy”, that is when God will love him. Otherwise, God will abhor him! If that person remains or becomes a “bad guy”, then God will simply not love him! In other words, if a person becomes a “good guy”, then God will change and be good to him; and now, instead of not loving that person, God will now love him! When a person becomes a “bad guy”, God becomes angry, and, when a person becomes a “good guy”, God becomes happy! Unfortunately, this is what is happening in Europe.
The Orthodox Church presents a novel idea – the immutability of God. This teaches that God is unchanging, the source of all good, all love. God does not move away from us, it is we who move away from Him. The following analogy is helpful to advance this understanding. When we move out of the sun, the light and warmth are diminished. When we sin and fill our mind with thoughts that distract us, we move away from God, moving away from the light. We make a choice by our thoughts, our deeds, our intent to distance ourselves.
If we take George Carlin’s philosophy one step further, the natural tendency is to state that religion is exclusive, leading to the “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument. This again fits into the western definition and identity of the angry, vengeful god and that only this sect or that sect will be saved. Man attempts to control God and take His place on the judgement seat. The Orthodox Church is the Church of the New Testament and does not recognize any other. What is the Orthodox view on the salvation of man? Again we look to Fr. John for clarification:
God loves not only the saints but all people, without exception; all the sinners, all the damned, and even the devil himself. And He also desires to save everyone, to heal everyone. He desires this, but He cannot heal everyone, because not everyone wants to be healed. This fact – that God is Love, that He wants to heal everyone and that He loves everyone equally – was discerned and continues to be discerned during the experiences of ‘theumens’; in other words, of those who have reached the state of theosis (deification), or ‘theopty’, which means they have ‘seen’ God.
God cannot heal everyone, because He never violates the free will of man. God respects man and loves him; but He cannot heal someone forcefully. He only heals those who desire to be healed and who ask Him to heal them. Normally, when someone has a physical or spiritual ailment, he goes to the doctor of his own free will to get well and is not forced to do it (provided that person still has his senses). The same applies with the Orthodox therapeutic regimen. One has to go on his own to the Church; without any coercion, without any oppression and of his own free will, to seek out the most suitable persons therein (who must have the necessary enlightenment and experience and who must also be familiarized with the therapeutic method of the Orthodox tradition) and show obedience to them, in order to find therapy.
We are not automatons, operating at the hand of another being., nor are we puppets, as one infers from George Carlin’s rant. If our Lord wanted to fashion creatures that would be blindly obedient, it is in His power to do so. Our Lord made man into a special creation, differing from all other forms of life with reason and free will. We are made in the image and likeness of God.
Free will is the greatest gift for mankind. In His great mercy and love, God does not interfere. Yes, parameters and boundaries are set to guide us, to guide our behaviors. But there is also repentance! We will err, we will stumble, we will break our Lord’s commandments and ordinances. We are broken and our Lord is the One to heal us. We hear in scripture that “many are called, but few are chosen (cf. Matthew 22:14). Everyone is presented the path to follow Christ. Our Lord calls us to follow after Him. Not everyone heeds the Lord’s call. They exercise their free will to reject the calling of the Lord, just like many do not heed the Lord’s voice, calling them for healing. This does not sound like an angry God to me!
Great and many are the examples of our Lord’s love for us. The Orthodox Church has gathered many examples, many hymns for us, gathered in the spiritual treasury called the Triodion. We are the Prodigal Son and our Lord is the Father, who kept vigil and awaited the day that His son would “return to his senses” and come back home. The light is on, the candle is in the window. Our Lord has left the door unlocked. God loves us. He is ready and waiting to heal us, we just need to return to our senses.
We are not victims of an angry god, only of angry scholastic theologians and that religion my friends is bullsh!t.