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Sunday, January 25, 2009

ORTHODOX CHRISTIANITY AND AMERICAN CULTURE

CONFLICT OR TRANSFORMATION?


This was taken from the St.Vladimir’s Seminary website. The article is by Prof. Albert J. Raboteau


"Thank you Dean Erickson and faculty of St.Vladimir’s Seminary for inviting me to give this twentieth annual Fr. Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. Before I begin, I must make a brief confession. Back, many years ago when I was a young graduate student in Theology at Marquette University in Milwaukee, I and two of my fellow students, Jack and Marty, used to add some humor to solemn occasions by pretending to be eminent theologians and to comment irreverently upon the situation at hand – in the voices of those theologians. Once a very abstruse lecture by the Jesuit theologian and philosopher, Bernard Lonergan, prompted our routine. Jack became Karl Rahner, Marty Edward Schillebeecx, and I, I decided to become Alexander Schmemann! We had read one of Fr. Schmemann’s books, Introduction to Liturgical Theology I believe it was, for a course on Sacraments, so I tried as best I could to comment on the Lonergan lecture from what I thought would have been his perspective. Now after all these years, I finally have the chance to make amends to Fr. Schmemann, by addressing a topic with which he was deeply concerned -- the relationship of the Church to Culture.

“In the World, but not of the world.” These words capture the antinomical relationship of the Church to human society and culture. On the one hand, the incarnational character of the Church establishes her in history, in this particular time and place and culture. On the other, the sacramental character of the Church transcends time and space making present another world, the Kingdom of God, which is both here and now and yet still to come. Throughout the history of Christianity, the temptation to relax this antinomy has led Christians to represent the Church as an ethereal transcendent mystery unrelated and antithetical to human society and culture. Or, on the other hand, it has prompted Christians to so identify the Church with a particular society, culture, or ethnicity as to turn Christianity into a religious ideology. Because we are “not of the world” Christians stand over against culture when its values and behaviors contradict the living tradition of the Church. Take one early and famous example: the refusal of early Christians to honor the emperor by offering a pinch of incense before his image. “Being in the world,” the Christian acts as a leaven within culture, trying to transform it by communicating to others the redemption brought by Christ. The early Christian apologists stood within culture as they attempted to explain the faith in the philosophical and cultural terms of their times and recognized, within the culture, foreshadowings or adumbrations of Christian truth waiting to be fulfilled. Notice the reciprocal tension between Christianity and culture, as eloquently stated in a second century document, the “Letter to Diognetus”:

...Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike...and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land...They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven.

It is this perennial tension of being in the world, but not of the world, with which Christians, including we Orthodox, continue to wrestle in 21st century America.

What is American culture? So pervasive and amorphous a reality is hard to describe or pin down – the sum total of assumptions, values, ideals, world views, expressed in economic, legal, educational, civic and religious institutions and articulated aesthetically in literature, art, and music. Often the first images that come to mind when we think of American culture represent popular culture, such as the global spread of McDonald’s golden arches, or the exportation of our media driven consumerism through movies, television shows, and pop music. Beneath this shallow but seductive façade lies a deeper and more profound dimension of American culture, a set of values that constitute the “American experiment.” I want to identify three overarching themes that express basic aspects of American culture on this deeper level: Encounter, Freedom, and Community. These three, while not exhaustive, have preoccupied the imagination of Americans of diverse origins as they sought to give meaning to their experiences of becoming and being American. Within these themes let us see if we may find points of congruence as well as conflict with Orthodox Christianity.



To read the rest, please visit the website.









JNORM888

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I seem to be having trouble locating the link on SVS's site. Under what category is it? Thanks!

Jnorm said...

I can't find it either. They must of taken it down or something. I'm sorry about that.

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