Those of us plugged into social media over the last several years have witnessed (and likely participated in) heated exchanges on polarizing issues. We all know how it goes. No one is actually listening to anything you have to say, but then again, neither are you. Our minds are made up. If we pause at all, it is only waiting for our turn to speak. Or shout. Adrenalin takes over, and even those who are able to keep the appearance of cool heads are dominated by pride. Our opponents are reducible to one-word labels.
It is particularly heart warming when we get to pronouncing final judgment on our opponents.
“You are what’s wrong with this country!”
“People like you ought to be taken out and shot!”
And so on and so forth. We and our opponents are judge, jury, and executioner, and we don’t even get paid to do it. A smug sense of satisfaction warms us to our fingertips as we bask in our own glory. Those of us who are Orthodox Christians delight in this experience no less than our non-Orthodox counterparts, lamentably. We imagine that we are the defenders of Righteousness (with a capital R). Because we have the “correct faith,” we consider our perspective more “balanced.” But is our faith correct, and are we balanced? The question may seem strange. Of course we have the correct faith! We know Orthodoxy to be true! I am not questioning your Orthodox Christianity. I am questioning your other religion—the one that bids you to vote a certain way on Election Day.
All people in America are quite religious. You don’t believe that, but please bear with me. I mention this in the first episode of my Brief Catechism of the Orthodox Church series. The two most popular religions in this country are progressive politics and conservative politics. Some may object that these are political affiliations and not religions, but what is religion exactly? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it, among other ways, as “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.” There is no mention of deities or spirits—what most Westerners call the “supernatural.” Understood accordingly, religion is nothing more than a proposed solution to what is perceived as the greatest problem in human existence. For some, the greatest problem is the lack of equality between races, sexes, and classes. The solution to this problem is political action and legislation. This is the religion of progressive politics. For others, the greatest problem is the erosion of liberties by governments. The solution to this problem is also political action and legislation. This is the religion of conservative politics.
With this understanding of religion, some may wonder if it is possible to have more than one religion. Not only is it possible, but it is quite common. However, holding fast to two or more religious systems invariably causes cognitive dissonance when certain tenets of one religion come into conflict with those of another. What do people do in such instances? Some will consider which religion they hold dearest and completely dispense with the other systems. Most people, however, consider which religion is most precious to them and proceed to cram their other religions through that primary framework. This happens with Christians of every variety, including Orthodox Christians. When inner conflict arises on account of opposing religious tenets, such people cling to the teaching of their primary religion and either claim that the Christian perspective on this matter is widely misunderstood, subject to revision, or simply unimportant. The current issue of the murder of George Floyd by police officers demonstrates this point. It is for this reason that many Orthodox Christians whose primary religion is progressive politics are advocating the dismantling of police forces. Some condone the rioting and other violent means, while others merely say they are open to the possibility of revolutionary violence. For the same reason, Orthodox Christians whose primary religion is conservative politics are quizzically scratching their heads, forwarding videos by Candace Owens, and cluelessly chanting “All Lives Matter.” “Where is the racism in this country?” ask this overwhelmingly white crowd. Some of them point to the criminal backgrounds of certain black victims of police violence as if their pasts made their untimely deaths “understandable.” How does either position reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
The unfortunate phenomenon of Orthodox Christians having two or more religions is nothing new. God’s warnings to his people against worshipping the gods of other nations are enshrined in the first two of the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:3-6) and run through the whole of Scripture. Likewise, his people’s failure to heed his command make for Scripture’s grisliest stories. While some like to imagine that the strictures of the Old Testament have passed away with the coming of Christ, St. Paul reminds us that this is not the case:
“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’”(2 Cor 6:14-16)
The cults of the various gods had moral codes by which their faithful were called to live. Certain points of the codes of the gods invariably overlapped with some of Yahweh’s commands. This should not be surprising. Conservative and progressive politics also have points of agreement with God’s commands. However, the fatal error of worshiping both Yahweh and other gods was in following the other gods when their codes departed from Yahweh. For this reason, idolatry was equated with adultery. God considers his people his bride (e.g. Jer 2:2). The word “whoring” occurs thirty-two times in the Old Testament, overwhelmingly in the context of idolatry. Turning away from the Most High God for other gods is an act of faithlessness. Doubtlessly, the people of God had their reasons for embracing the other gods.
“I appreciate that Yahweh brought our fathers out of slavery, but Baal promises a plentiful harvest.”
“I love the worship in the Tabernacle, but Molech promises great personal success.
Conservative and progressive Orthodox Christians living in America offer similar sentiments, believing that the grace of the cross extends only so far. The Orthodox Churches in America are rife with idolatry, with the faithful worshiping at the altars of political conservatism and progressivism. It is no small wonder that we remain hidden to the nation. Our faithful are indistinguishable from our non-Orthodox neighbors. The adverse circumstances through which the people of our nation have suffered have been an opportunity for Orthodox people to repent of their sins and to return to the way of Jesus Christ. It does not appear to have made so much as a dent. The Lord Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Unjust Judge gives an ominous warning to the people of God in this troubled period in history. To those who doubt that God will ever give them justice, the Lord asks,
“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”(Lk 18:7-8)
Not only does the Lord assure his people that God will give them justice if they turn to him, calling upon him persistently, but he guarantees that it will come quickly. The question at the end of the parable should give us all pause. How much prayer and fasting have those engaging in or endorsing violence actually done? How much prayer and fasting have those eager to dismiss the reality of racism actually done? No one but Jesus Christ can heal our darkened, cold hearts. But he will not do it if we do not first drop the idols in our hands and reach out to him as our only Savior.