Sober reflections on Orthodox Christian thought, culture, and spirituality
- The Myth of Monolithicism
In his Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle lists thirteen logical fallacies often made when using deductive reasoning. Syllogisms are a necessary part of logical analysis, but a faulty argument is neither honest nor helpful. And when used to criticize individual human persons, it may even be uncharitable or downright criminal (as in the case of slander or libel). Yet how ubiquitous are such examples in modern media! For instance, Aristotle refers to the “fallacy of composition,” in which something applicable to a part is automatically applied to the whole: a police officer violently attacks a man, hence all officers are violent. Or take the opposite “fallacy of division,” when the general idea is automatically applied to the part: most Russians support the invasion of Ukraine; Olga is Russian; so Olga must support the war. Or the more complex “fallacy of accident” which fails to allow for exceptions to general principles: the Democratic Party supports abortion, so-and-so voted for a Democrat, therefore he must also be pro-abortion.
Stereotypes and hasty generalizations are the bread and butter of political pundits and journalists who profit off polarization, who see themselves as heroes and their opponents as subhuman villains (at least when they are on-air or in-print). They are also the cash cow of conspiracy theorists who eschew nuance and complexity in favor of simplistic narratives that envisage themselves a righteous remnant standing firm against a many-tentacled monster. To see the world in this way is at best cynical, at worst diabolical. It is certainly not Christian.
No people group is monolithic—whether we speak of ethnicities, localities, or ideologies. A careful observer may detect general similarities, but any application to the whole would be a logical fallacy. Perhaps the most important development of the Enlightenment was the concept that we are individuals, standing alone before God and culpable for our own choices, not those of our peers. For an Orthodox Christian, this does not negate the fact that we are members of a community, saved together with “all Israel” (Rom 11:26). It simply means that my sins are not the fault of my brother, even if his are mine. It is the paradox of ecclesial relationship: those comprising the Body of Christ may be corrupted members, even infecting those in contact with them (though the greater sin lies with he who causes his brother to stumble); yet the Bride remains “holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). Even when it seems that corruption abounds, whether pertaining to dogma or ethics, concerning public teaching or personal practice, the Holy Spirit maintains the oneness of the Orthodox Church and sanctifies all those who pick up their cross daily and follow Christ.
It is important to remember these things as we consider our current climate. There are many who see corruption in certain precincts of the Church, whether it be caused by malevolent individuals or immoral cabals, and assume the entire tree is rotten, root and stalk. However, what applies to a single person, or even a group of persons, does not apply to the whole. There may be those who advance an agenda aligned with progressive politics—who support the affirmation of alternative lifestyles or the murder of the unborn—yet do not represent the Orthodox jurisdiction or patriarchate they are affiliated with. There are those who serve under corrupt clergy or synods yet do not imbibe the brokenness of their leadership. There are also those who become the victims of trumped-up allegations when offenses are exaggerated or invented; or the innocent who are condemned simply for having contact with the guilty. We cannot hold responsible the many for the mistakes of the few.
What, then, can Orthodox Christians do when they see corruption? The question is better put: what should we do? The answer is not difficult. First and foremost, each of us is called to pursue holiness, which is only accomplished through self-denial, asceticism, generosity, repentance, following the commandments of Christ, and surrendering ourselves to him in faith. This work is supplemented by regular study of the Scriptures and lives of the saints.
It is only after we’ve become vessels of grace that we may consider something more, and the “more” depends on where God has placed us. Are you a student? Imbibe true wisdom and strive towards piety and discernment. Are you an appointed teacher? Guide those entrusted to you onto the path of salvation. Are you a parent? Raise your children in faith, and protect them from the temptations of the world. Do you have a platform? Use it to edify the Church and not yourself. Are you a presbyter? Be an example to your flock. Are you a bishop? Rule humbly with love and judge righteously. As St Paul writes, not all are called to be the hand or foot. Though it seems of late that everyone wants to teach, to lead, to pontificate, they usually lack the prerequisite training and experience, as well as the God-given charism and appointment. It is a dangerous thing to declare oneself a despot.
The Church is not monolithic, it is diversity in unity (as St Maximus explained). Even so, there is good and bad diversity. While there have always been differences of opinion among men of goodwill, this is not the same thing as doctrinal or ethical divergence. The pale of Orthodoxy is not broad enough to encompass sin and call it a mercy. Sometimes it is necessary to indict the party responsible for challenging or undermining Holy Tradition. Yet there are ways to do this. Strong evidence is needed, and the accused should have the opportunity to defend himself and repent if found to be in error (even Arius was given this chance to change on numerous occasions). Ultimately, canon law places this process within the authority of the hierarchy in order to prevent a mercurial and capricious public from igniting bonfires and burning witches. The recent practice of adopting the secular (leftist) tactic of canceling or doxing those we oppose is neither Christian nor traditional. And more importantly, conflating the deviance of one with the Church as a whole is neither logical nor just.
That being said, there will be always be those ready to bolster their fame and fortune by destroying the lives of others. Trolls live under bridges not because they’ve been shunned by society, but because they like living under bridges. Beware their wiles. As for those of us who wish to be conformed to Christ, let us walk the narrow path, looking neither to the left nor the right. And if we get bored we can attend to the log in our eye which eventually needs to be extracted. Lest we forget, the Church exists to save us, not we the Church.