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    July 26th, 2012 @ 6:30 am by Kevin

    This is a comment that came in last night on my Huffington Post piece. If you’re a Christian, how would you respond to this?

    Nice article however it is starting from a premise that has not one tiny bit of demonstrable evidence to prove its validity. Namely that there is a god and that anyone has any idea what this god wants. I am always amazed by the fact that if I ask a dozen different Christians what Christianity is I will get a dozen different opinions. And opinion is all they have. And herein lays the problem. Reality is not only demonstrable; the demonstrations of it are repeatable. There are no differences of opinion on what Ohms Law is and how it describes electrical phenomena. No one argues about the validity of the theory of gravity and how it applies to our daily lives. Calculus has no “reformed movement.” The religious however are constantly arguing, dividing, and killing each other over non demonstrable ideas. Perhaps we should be looking for moral guidance some place other than the writings of Bronze Age goat herders whose interpretations are subject to the prejudices of the reader.



leave a comment on this post (15 Comments)

  1. Kevin, at this point, I don’t believe it’s my job to convince this person. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to break down their apathy, cynicism, or skepticism. The most important element of knowing Christ is the faith HE gives us, not the knowledge we gain, or the reason by which we arrive at conclusions. Once you get past the faith issue, then yes, there are other conversations to be had, the Hell issue being one. But this person can’t even enter into the conversation until they see the Word of God as being more than “writings of Bronze Age goat herders”.

    That being said, he falls into the same old trap as many atheists and scientists in the belief that science is completely understood, concrete, and repeatable. It is not, and there are a plethora of examples, chaos theories, big bangs, and uncertainty principles, to name a few. And yes, there are indeed many schools of thought in different areas of science, all trying to explain the same thing.

  2. Where would one look for morals if they do not use religion? Science cannot create, prove, or state morals. It can only give us cause and effect. It can tell us if global warming is happening and how to stop it. It is up to the other disciplines (humanities) to state if we are morally responsible to stop it. It can tell us what Hitler did and how he did it, but it cannot tell us if it is moral. Based on pure materialism, getting our morals from “the writings of Bronze Age goat herders” is no better than making our own. Moral are subjective and evolved for us to preserve our species. We can’t use the word should we can only use the word want. At that point social Darwinism proceeds. Also, morality is a dividing line between good and evil. If there is a universal law then there has to be a universal law giver. The question posed by Bertran Russle, Hitchens, and Dawkins, “if there is a god then why is there so much evil?”, presupposes that universal law. Science has had its reforming eras. Enlightenment and Renascence are examples. Einstein is a reformed idea above newton. Newton, who gave us our gravitational laws for so long and the reformation of calculus, was wrong. But, Einstein’s theory has not been proven; just “more proven”. Experiments have been done in the idea that his theories are correct and work out. That does not prove the theory itself. It just strengthens it. This applies to global warming and evolution as well. Those theories are strengthened by research and phrases like, “most scientists agree”. most scientists agree? Consensus? Demonstrable evidence for many theories does not exist; quantum physics and string theory. “The religious however are constantly arguing, dividing, and killing each other over non demonstrable ideas.” Sadly this is true. But, as far as Christianity is concerned, if this is the result of their belief they are not following the one they claim to follow. Jesus and Paul said the exact opposite of that statement. It is very easy to point at the church. But, christian organizations give more to humanitarian aid then the entire UN combined. Nursing and welfare were headlined by Christians. The civil rights and freedom of the slaves in America were causes led by real Christians. If we look at truly atheistic regimes we have few examples. Mao, Stalin, Lenin, and so on. Millions died at the hands of these men. Hitler himself handed a list of writings from Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche to Mussolini at there first meeting. This mans writings are the epitome of an end result of true materialism. Russel himself said that any morals take by the true materialist is based on pure choice. The results, as Nietzsche said, was the most violent and deadly century known to man. Those regimes killed more people then all of the religions combined in all of recorded history. The crusades, inquisitions, conquering have nothing on these men. The sad part is that Christians have a reason to not do this. Christ said so. Christ is a humanist…to a point. Turn the other cheek and so on. Materialism has no reason not to. I know that many, who are not religious, believe in the intrinsic value of human life (and that is good), but the world view itself holds no real humanism. As far as hell is concerned, whether it is true or not it should not be our focus. Are Christians “going to heaven” because of an unbridled love for the beautiful Jesus or just a fear of hell. I as kids, who i teach, why do you love Jesus, and you can’t use the word hell. They typically cannot answer the question. Sad.

  3. I would argue it’s never our job to convince someone. That doesn’t mean we should refrain from presenting valid reasons to believe what we do.

    I would remind him that no one is a perfect embodiment of the thing to which they devote their lives, least of all any practitioner of any faith.

    I would remind him that in spite of that, to use an old C.S. Lewis argument, every single human being, group, and culture has been found to have spirituality; we would not thirst if there was no water; we would not seek for God if He were not there.

    I would remind him that while reality is indeed demonstrable, our perception of reality is highly limited and illusory, a fact only enhanced by science which consistently reminds us that we see and experience so little of what’s going on in the universe, much less can even grasp it.

    But I have more to say to fellow Christians than I have to say to this man in regards to his statement. Because his sentiment about this is not his fault. He is speaking merely from his observation of a divided, antagonistic, ineffective church, that won’t unify even to carry out its basic duties of feeding the poor, speaking truth to power, and taking care of the earth.

    These opinions do not grow up because people are naturally hateful towards the Gospel. These opinions are formed because the bearers of the Gospel are not actually bearing it in deed, but merely in word.

  4. I hesitate to respond, as those who appear to support so-called “organized religion,” especially of the Christian variety, are not particularly popular or fashionable these days and tend to get crucified—hell, I would have crucified someone like myself a few years ago. That said, despite all its failings (most, if not all, of which are also present, though overlooked, in Christian denominationalism, despite a failure or refusal to recognize them), unity is a strength of “organization” that “disorganized” religion cannot claim for itself.

    So, from an Orthodox Christian perspective, the author of the comment is correct. The religious reformation of the 16th century with respect to the diversity of opinions and Christianities we see today was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Apart from those forms of Christianity that respect and honour the painstaking process by the fathers of the Church who deemed it absolutely vital to preserve a pre-existing ontological and existential Truth (the personification of which is itself salvation) hypostatized by Christ’s divinity and commensurate human behaviour (i.e., way, truth, and life) and galvanized in the language of the historic Creeds that safeguards this “onto-existential Truth” through (as Gregory of Nyssa says) comprehensible “social analogy,” Christians are libertarians par excellence due to their historic lineage that began with the liberal / individualistic conquest by the religious reformation that refused to continue preserving or “conserving” the religious status quo in 16th-century Europe (à la Erasmus, despite his severe reservations and prophetic challenges against the papacy and scholastic “adventures in missing the point”)—i.e., even though the average (esp. North American) Christian born of the Reformation has a leave-me-and-my-opinions,-wealth,-property,-and-moral decisions-the-hell-alone attitude and ideological basis in the typical de-regulated liberal / libertarian fashion, (s)he will not allow this same freedom for others whose freedom looks different than theirs. This religion-based attitude has, of course, also been translated into the political sphere in the form of the Religious Right (eg., Don’t let the government infringe on my financial freedom by taxing my hard-earned income even though this helps poor people—‘cause Christianity teaches accumulation of wealth rather than the sacrificial co-suffering love of neighbor / enemy).

    Bottom line: children of the Reformation have made their 30,000+ denominations bed and now they have to lie in it (including criticisms that exploit this phenomenon), which stems, in my view, from an ideology that prizes individual freedom over responsibility to the entire human, religious, and Christian community, a freedom that has produced as many churches—population one—as there are Christians, most of whom do not accept the value of becoming a “mere” contributing member (i.e., part) of the cosmic and sacred body of Christ supported by the communion of the saints on whose shoulders we stand, i.e., “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).

    Although this was stated in the context of interreligious conflict, I think Marvin Sweeney of Claremont Lincoln University captures this libertarian individualism well, and offers a suitable pride-dampening solution when he advises religious individuals to acknowledge that “we are not the centre of the world,” which is at the root of our willingness to listen to ourselves, but not listen to others (unless they agree with us), even though (by that logic) no one else should then listen to us (even though we should still listen to ourselves).

    Trust me, as someone who has authored a chapter on Orthodox Christian eschatology in a recent volume, seeing the diversity of opinions on the afterlife among Christians who lack the historical reference points and parameters wrought from 2,000 years of wisdom to consult and provide guidance is frustrating to me. All this is the result, of course, of the unilateral interpretation of the Holy Scriptures multiplied millions of times over, which might be mitigated if we realized that the Church existed before the NT was even written, that it indeed wrote the books and epistles that comprise the NT, and that the Church was responsible for canonizing it—even deeming it necessary to change some passages so that it conformed to what the Church already was (knowing, of course, that Truth is neither epistemic in nature nor trivial enough to be encapsulated by language, concepts, and doctrines—even in the NT—but is instead onto-existential—lived as a [super]natural outworking of one’s incremental transfiguration or progressive participation in and union with the divine: 2 Pt. 1:4).

    I expect a lot of flack for these statements, though my seemingly exclusive ecclesiology is undercut by the different questions that we Orthodox ask compared to those in Western Christian history up to today and the way these different questions allow me to be even more generous in my “orthodoxy”—as not only accepting of the diverse denominational expressions that free will affords us, but the multi-religious expressions as well—than many of my detractors. Orthodox do not, for instance, ask, Do you believe the correct doctrines (i.e., truth as epistemic in nature)? Instead, we ask, Is what you believe transfigurative and therefore salvific (i.e., truth as onto-existential in nature)? This is to say, the Church is a hospital for all humanity and the entire cosmos (upon which potentially-transfigured humans act), and the external contrivances—beliefs, practices, rituals, myths, etc.—are medicine to the infirmed; sick people don’t aspire to receive medicine, however, they aspire to be healthy. There may be differences in what one believes and practices—within Christianity and among all religions—but is God’s goal for humanity to all agree on a set of beliefs (which are still important, but not in any ultimate sense), or should these beliefs serve a higher purpose, viz., providing the tools and setting the parameters for one’s transfiguration so that compatibility with the divine is possible enough to unite with Christ? The author of the comment on the Huff Post fails to grasp this only because most Christians also fail to grasp this.

  5. In brief, I’d agree that this person is correct.

  6. Andrew. This is getting a bit off topic and I mean no offense (although it’s possible that you might take it this way). But in these types of conversations Eastern Orthodox Christians often convey something along the lines that the Protestants are the individualistic ones that keep changing Christianity, whilst the Eastern Orthodox have gone for 2,000 years without changing from the faith of the fathers.

    No – offense, because I have a lot of faith for many aspects of the Orthodox branch of Christianity….. but this simply isn’t true. Eastern Orthodoxy HAS changed the faith from the founding fathers. The Eastern church just hasn’t really changed it in the last 1200 years or so. The changes to the faith really start around the time that Constantine came on the scene. Some examples.

    The changing of the Sabath from Saturday to Sunday…. The early church celebrated Sabbath on Saturday and then had Eucharist together on Sunday (the Lords day).

    The paying of clergy really took hold when Constantine started paying them out of the royal coffers.

    The primitive church didn’t use Icons (not that I have a huge problem with Icons…. but it was a change)

    The primitive church didn’t believe in relics, and the Orthodox understanding of the communion of saints ect. It didn’t pray to or venerate mother Mary.

    Constantine moved the church into buildings, and after this the parish system started.

    And of course the Paganish punitive God started to take more and more ahold after Constantine opened up the doors for pagans to flood into the church without truly converting in their thinking. Thus they influenced the church doctrines and thought.

    Suddenly the paganish though led the church to start thinking along the lines of demons trying to deceive people into hell. The early Christians didn’t undertand the faith in this way.

    Thus in around 600 A.D. the idea of the “scouring of hell” started to come about. To my knowledge there is no evidence of this in the primitive church.

    Quite simply, I believe that the understanding of “hell” that we have today would have been foreign to them. There were Bishops like Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind,…. ect. ect. Who believed in ultimate reconciliation, and used terms like “sacrament” and “medicine” to describe any afterlife punishments.

    Then there were Christians like Justin Martyr, and Ireneaus who seemed to have an anniliation view (I say seemed because there are some hints in Ireneaus’ writings of an ultimate reconciliation view…. his understanding of recapitulation certainly fits with a UR understanding). It also worth noting that the Bishops who seemed more inclined towards anniliation didn’t have Greek as their mother language, while the Bishops who seemed more inclined towards Ultimate Reconciliation were Greek speaking Christians.

    Again I don’t mean to be rude…… but I’m troubled when Eastern Orthodox folks say that their faith is unchanged….. and imply that Protestants and Catholics are the only “bad guy” in this. When it comes to the understanding of Ultimate Reconciliation it is in fact the Protestants who are the main branch of Christianity that are currently bringing the ancient Christian understanding of Ultimate Reconciliation back into Christian conversation. At least from what I can see.

    For what it’s worth…. i’m saying this as someone who doesn’t consider myself as a Protestant and would probably align myself closer to Eastern Orthodoxy than protestantism in some respects.

  7. The last sentence pretty much says it all. This is a typical parroted atheist response — bronze age goat herders. Think for yourselves, people! Anyone who has read the bible knows that, whatever he may (or may not) make of it, it wasn’t written exclusively by bronze age goat herders. A couple of the writers did have experience herding goats, but that is a stereotypical and inaccurate “insult,” not to mention an assumption of one’s superiority to people who have the opportunity to spend time (a lot of time) under the open sky in deep contemplation. Do we really believe we’re that much smarter than the people of thousands of years ago? On what should we base this assumption? But never mind — it’s a flat and false statement in any case.

    The only difference between what this person has said and statements I’ve read over and over by youthful atheists on lesser forums is that his spelling and grammar is better. I usually don’t answer this sort of thing because there’s nothing real here — nothing personal, no pain, no genuine searching, nothing thought-through. It’s a parrot statement. It means nothing.

    However, since it’s YOU who’ve asked . . . 😉

    I haven’t read the others yet (tho I will shortly), but the first statement of Dan Vincent, which I can see on my screen, strikes me as good. It isn’t our job to convince such a person. It is the task of the Holy Spirit, to which He is MORE than equal. And when the Father has drawn a person, then perhaps he’s ready to hear from some of the Father’s other children.

    For now, the response to this person and every other person in our circles of influence is to shine. Be the light on the lampstand, the city set on a hill. Be the salt that preserves and sometimes even stings just by its nature and presence.

    And if he was genuinely invested in the question (some may be), then I would say that God is not a part of His creation that He can be studied. An animal in a zoo kept in an enclosure with one-way glass for viewing can’t make much of a conjecture as to the world outside. It can perhaps, if it has the mental capacity, study its little home and learn something about it. The whole big outside, however, is not accessible to it for study.

    Likewise, we can only study those things accessible to us. We can study our physical world with physical instruments, but the spiritual world can only be understood by spiritual means. To categorically insist that there is nothing beyond our capacity to perceive it is full-on foolish.

    Now this person may reasonably say, “Then it is subjective. You can know it, but I cannot. And what I perceive spiritually you may disagree with and never be able to see.” and that’s a logical statement. It leaves out a world of circumstantial evidence, but never mind . . . To that I can only say that we primarily believe and know as the Father gives us faith to believe and know. And one day He will give the faith to believe and know to all, at the right time for each of them.

    He is a father raising up a multitude of children to know and love and be loved by. He knows when a given child is ready to know more of Him. He has raised some of His children up to be older brothers and sisters and to help the younger. But babies need food and holding and bathing — not tutoring. When the time is right, then the teacher will have a reason to speak. Until then, there’s absolutely no point in attempting to teach a child as yet unborn.

  8. Cindy, well said. I would add however that saying it’s not our job to convince people simply seems like a way of saying we don’t have tangible evidence. Aren’t our words inspired ( or even directly) from the Holy Spirit. Isn’t it our goal, given to us by the love of God, to convince others of the love of God? I think it is our calling to convince the world through different means. But perhaps we’re more arrogant than we think….perhaps we’re doubters and that is why we so easily ditch the responsibility of convincing people of such a love. I tend to think that’s the case – we doubt. We are left scratching our heads at times wondering if we’re right. Heak if John the Baptists had to send his disciples to ask Jesus if he’s the one, AFTER HE BAPTIZED HIM, how much more shall we struggle.

    Now logically I think this cat makes 0 sense. What has calculus done to bring peace to war? Does gravity help make judgments regarding criminal trials? Are laws dictated by atoms? Apples and oranges and if he can’t see that then I agree with you Cindy, he’s really being more of an antagonist than a fair atheist.

  9. Thanks for your comments, Christopher. I’ll begin by giving a bit of background; none of this is to boast or stave off challenges, but to give you some context so you can understand what I know, what I’ve studied, what I’ve experienced, etc. First, I’ve taught the History of Christianity at Simon Fraser University and currently teach at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, I have a PhD in Ecclesiastical History from the University of Glasgow, received my MA from McMaster University where I wrote my thesis on Gregory of Nyssa, and have published widely in GN, Irenaeus, et al. (Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Conrad Grebel Review, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, and the book “Stricken by God?”). I’ve also written a chapter on Orthodox eschatology that appeared in the book “Compassionate Eschatology,” accessed here: http://www.amazon.com/Compassionate-Eschatology-The-Future-Friend/dp/1608994880. Again, this is only meant to give you some background to help you tailor your comments and references to Christian history and the fathers, and by no means is meant to discourage you from challenging me — please do!

    As for your comment about individualism being exclusive to Protestantism, it is important to know also that I had a Protestant upbringing before “becoming” Orthodox, though I do not reject my Protestant past, but understand instead how where I am today is entirely in continuity with anything I have been before. I did not, for instance, relinquish my Mennonite baptism, but was instead only chrismated when I was received into the Orthodox Church (which is rare). As my PhD focused on Anabaptist-Mennonite history, I still teach Mennonite Studies and have an enormous respect for this community, much of it influencing me in some ways more that Orthodox Christians have (though I believe what is good in the Mennonite heritage is present also in Orthodoxy in different ways, the not always recognized by the Orthodox faithful).

    So, enough of my background — Even though much could be said, I can address your claim that the Orthodox Church has changed in two ways: first, yes, of course the Orthodox Church has changed, and I would be even less generous than you and say that it has changed in different geographical locations, at different times (depending on local circumstances, etc.) even after 1,200 years ago up until today. I don’t think I said anywhere in my spiel that the Orthodox Church hadn’t changed, though I can see why you might think I insinuated that. I was specifically addressing the comment in the Huff Post, who has experienced, in my view, the results of unchecked libertarianism and a hyper-individualistic approach to Christianity. That the Orthodox Church has changed is besides the point, as the source of my observation was my own contemporary experience, one shared by essentially anyone who enters to Orthodox Church—i.e., that despite my credentials, qualifications, etc., I am nevertheless not in any position to tell the Church what it should be; instead, the Church must tell me what it already is and, far from merely conforming to it in every minute aspect, I have to merely allow it and its 2,000 year old wisdom guide me in my transfiguration (theosis, theopoiesis, and theoria) and union with Christ. This is to say, the Church did not begin when I was born, when I obtained my degrees, and decided that it was a good idea to tell everyone that the Church, God, Jesus, etc. is that which I have created in my own image after deliberating on these matters over a few years. This is the type of individualism that, in my view, exists without any checks and balances in the Evangelical world, and the results have been nothing short of chaotic and destructive. I, nor anyone else, can enter the Orthodox Church without leaving unilateral decision-making at the door (at least on issues related to the Liturgy, ascetic disciplines, monastic/noetic spirituality, and theology). The Church, as a historical and cosmic entity, cannot be ignored so easily.

    My second point would ideally take much more space to unpack, but as the Church is a historical entity that also points to an eschatological ideal (liturgically, ontologically, etc.), we have to understand its establishment within time and space as nevertheless pointing to an ideal (as a “Christianized” Judaism on earth that expresses eschatological realities). So, if we approach it this way, we have to understand that as a small, persecuted sect, that was driven underground in various key locations for specific chunks of time—although it had an ideal that reflected its understanding of heavenly worship from the tabernacle, to the temples, to the synagogue, as patterned on worship in heaven (Ex. 25:40; Isaiah 6:1-8; Heb. 8:5; and all of Revelation [cf. 1:10])—its hands were tied in many respects. So, the question is not, What did the first Christians do? Instead, the historical question is, What did the first Christians want to do (esp. as first-century Jews)? Persecution impedes travel and communication, restricts the finances needed to fund what they actually wanted to do, and prevents any amount of organization, coordination, and public visibility as an illegal sect. Besides this, to assume that we know everything that early Christians did based on a sliver of a collection of gospels and epistles is a historically specious approach. There is much, much more to unpack here, including the numerous studies on early liturgy, iconography, hymnody, etc., all of which I’ve read and taught on numerous times and could elaborate on more at another time.

    As for your attraction to the “theologoumena” of the restoration of all things (i.e., apokatastasis), I have very strong sympathies with this view, believe that it is the predominant view in the NT and the fathers, and have written on it quite extensively (incl. in my chapter on Orthodox eschatology and other writings on GN and Irenaeus). I entered Orthodoxy through Gregory of Nyssa’s lens, so no need to convince me of this; it is a view, if not the most popular, that is at least widely accepted as supremely plausible and, in the very least, eternally hoped for. Met. Kallistos Ware’s sentiments are perhaps most axiomatic among Orthodox: “It is heretical to say that all must be saved,” and, I would submit, that some must be tormented without end, “for this is to deny free will; but,” Ware continues, “it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved” (Ware, ‘The Orthodox Church,’ 262).

    As for your specific objections with reference to how the Orthodox Church has changed, aside from shifting emphases, etc. that are natural in time and space for anything, people, institutions, and the Church included (you wouldn’t expect a baby to know how to drive a car, would you?), I think you simply haven’t investigated the specific issues you raise enough. I sympathize, however, with your objections to Constantine and personally don’t consider him a Saint (along with countless other Orthodox, an eremitic monk I know near here included); the characterization of Constantine’s influence on Christianity in the fourth century, however, is hugely simplistic in many quarters of so-called “scholarship”—usually by those whose primary expertise is not in fact fourth-century Christianity. Again—time, space, circumstances, human instincts are what we need to keep in mind: how would we react if we faced persecution for centuries, family members and friends were imprisoned, tortured, slaughtered, and the emperor all of sudden welcomes bishops from all corners of the known world, many who kiss the wounds of each other when they finally meet up, to deliberate openly on ideas for the first time in Christianity’s history (going back to the reasons for flux in early Christian belief / practice) that were banned immediately previous to this turn-of-events all on the emperor’s tab?

    Quickly, now, a few of your objections one-by-one, all of which I could elaborate on much, much more if given the time and space (I teach on this stuff specifically); bear in mind also that we only have a tiny, tiny fraction of the writings that once existed, and even if we had all those writings, we couldn’t put an accurate picture of the Church together (which is why it’s best to live in continuity with the Church, rather than “look back”—my children don’t have to “look back” and investigate whether or not they used to celebrated Christmas every Dec. 25th when they become adults, nor should someone try to re-construct my life and judge every aspect of it based on an analysis of my tax receipts and grocery lists alone—i.e., we don’t have much to go on, only pointers that express probability, and historical methods that consider expectations, desires, etc. of early Christians based on their background, cultural and religious context, etc.). I should also say that the so-called infiltration of paganism (and Greek philosophy, for that matter) has been addressed ad nauseam that I don’t feel the need to rebut that accusation.

    Worship on Sunday: we know that worship had switched to Sunday to commemorate the resurrection very early, as exhibited in John’s vision of heavenly worship on “the Lord’s day,” which is described similarly in the very important late first-century ‘Didache’ (14.1) and Justin Martyr also (‘First Apology’ 67). What you describe in fact correlates to the Jewish understanding of a day, as beginning at sunset. Orthodox still do this for Pascha (Easter), when we begin after sunset on Saturday and end early Sunday “morning.” This is why the Jewish Sabbath begins Friday after sunset.

    Apart from whether they even could, based on the unattainable financial obligations, skill, organization, restrictions of persecution (which meant that they didn’t want to broadcast their faith), we nevertheless have many indications that early Christians used icons extensively. We can look at the iconography of Dura Europos, a mid-200s church from Syria, which also shows that Constantine wasn’t responsible for moving churches into buildings, though the many historical factors I’ve already given question whether many early Christians could have had church buildings if they wanted to (which their clear connection to temple and synagogue worship suggests they did — Acts 22:19; 2:46; 3:1). We have much from the 2nd century in the catacombs around Rome, and new discoveries occur all the time: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/investigators-may-discovered-earliest-evidence-christian-iconography-jerusalem-231736336.html. There are several volumes out there on this issue that trace iconography from the earliest years, which, again, must be understood in light of centuries of deterioration and persecution, etc. that has destroyed centuries of art and literature, prevented widespread visual broadcasting of this illegal sect, etc. (which is why the catacombs, as a hidden enclave, are so elaborate by comparison).

    Mary was also venerated from the beginning, as attested by the NT itself (Lk. 1:48) – that Christians cannot acknowledge the significance of a women chosen out of all humanity by God himself as the pinnacle of purity after centuries of apostasy by his chosen people, who then bored God himself in her womb without being consumed—much like the burning bush—shows, to me, their low Christology. If this happened today, those who claim they’d treat her like anyone else (even when God didn’t) are either lying or haven’t thought it through. ‘Mary in the Fathers of the Church’ by Gambero is a good place to begin, which shows her veneration by Christians from the beginning, exhibited in the very early ‘Protovangelion of James,’ as well as in writings by Ignatius of Antioch (the apostle John’s disciple), Justin, Melito of Sardis, Irenaeus, et al. We also have an icon of the Theotokos from the 2nd century, which again also shows early icons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Madonna_catacomb.jpg. Her veneration by Christians from the beginning is indisputable.

    As for relics, I’ll only point you to the early second-century writers of Polycarp’s (another disciple of the apostle John) martyrdom, who, after he was burned at the stake, “afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.” To fail to understand the significance of relics is to succumb to dualism, which doesn’t acknowledge the goodness of corporeal creation, which was equally created by God himself, and is, in a sacramental sense, a touch-point between humans and God himself. If we value that spirit, why do we value the body less, which is no less created by God? Many other examples of relic-veneration abound in early Christianity (not least of which is the early Christians’ veneration for Christ’s body leading up to and after his entombment). This might shed more light on this issue: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/relics.aspx.

    Anyway, all of this is besides the point; as I wrote originally, “Orthodox do not, for instance, ask, Do you believe the correct doctrines (i.e., truth as epistemic in nature)? Instead, we ask, Is what you believe transfigurative and therefore salvific (i.e., truth as onto-existential in nature)? This is to say, the Church is a hospital for all humanity and the entire cosmos (upon which potentially-transfigured humans act), and the external contrivances—beliefs, practices, rituals, myths, etc.—are medicine to the infirmed; sick people don’t aspire to receive medicine, however, they aspire to be healthy.” All of the above, as legitimate, historical expressions, reflect with this statement.

    Apologies for the length of this post 😉

    • Andrew. No apologies needed for the length of the post. I actually quite enjoyed it.

      Some thoughts in reply. I realize that there were some churches before Constantine. What I was expressing was that at his time the faith was moved into the churches in a huge way…… and at that very expensive and elaborate churches. I’m not convinced that this is how God would want us to spend our money. That being said I do love the beauty of the Eastern churches and understand that this beauty can be conductive towards worship. I just believe that God wanted the Christian faith to be simple… feed the hungry, help the sick ect. ect….. not to put our resources into some of these other things.

      I am aware of the Jewish day ending on sundown as I have celebrated the Shabbat meal on Friday nights…. the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath. Even if the early Christians had their eucharistic worship on the Lords day, that doesn’t take away from the Sabbath. I don’t think that Christians should have changed this. The Old Testament clearly says to keep God’s Sabbath Holy, and the Sabbath is mentioned in the Gospels. It interesting that many Protestant sects have, over the years, become very legalistic about their Sunday Sabbaths, when the Sabbath to my mind is still on Saturday. I believe its a sacred day that fits in with the order of the creation. The church might change it’s day of the Sabbath but that doesn’t mean that the actual Sabbath has changed…. it just simply is what it is.

      As to relics. I’m far from dualistic and not allowing the goodness of corpreal creation in my Christian thinking, trust me. My nondualism, is one of the reasons I don’t think that the Sabbath should have been changed. To try and find words to express this…. I would say that I view time and the days as manifestations of God’s good created order. If that makes sense.

      I hadn’t realized that Christians used relics that early on. Thanks for the knowledge.

      As to Mary. I’m completely alright with Christians paying respects to her, and acknowledging the mystery and beauty of her being Christ’s mother, and I understand what you’ve said. I’m very uncomfortable with Christians praying to the mother Mary…. especially when it is instead of Christ or God. That is what I was trying to get at. It is very likely that Eastern understanding of this practice is different from the Roman one though.

      As i had mentioned earlier I really have no problems with Icons, and being an artist myself I can certainly appreciate them for their spiritual value. I understand that there were “Frescos” and paintings early on in the church. I’m not convinced as to how central they were to early Christian practice and worship though.

      I’ve heard of Kalistos Ware and knew of his views on the hope for the eventual salvation of all. To my understanding the Eastern view is that “the wicked” will bask in God’s love, and while there is still wickedness in them they will hate God’s love and this love will be painful and hellish to them. Right?

      But then I’d ask…. what of Acts:3….. where Peter says that God has covenanted with Abraham to bring ALL of Abraham’s seed and ALL of the families of the Earth away from their wickedness. Is that not everybody? And this is a solemn covenant that happened…. which will not be broken. So then how is it possible for people to be in a hellish state eternally under the Eastern understanding?

  10. First I would say Christianity is a life style not a religion, and Kevin what God really wants is for us to know Him, not as the God who is ready to punish you when you do something bad (many think of him this way). Instead as the loving Father who gave his son to save this world, but he didn’t obligate those who persecuted and crucified him to believe in him, he showed the way it is up to them or anyone to believe in him.
    Second you talk about the laws of gravity, we can all understand, now let me give you a good one “how about dreams?” can you explained them? I been more than happy to hear your opinion as well. Why people try to find an explanation to everything? God can’t be explained, why? Because He’s Sovereign that’s why. I had some many questions at the beginning as many others probably, but I learned there are some things are better hidden, even though He explains to us everything detail like how He created the world how would you understand is powers. We can’t not even understand how much He loves the world, instead of building great things we destroy, instead of united each other despite the differences we put our differences first like you mentioned.
    Like the scriptures say, “this perverse generation demands a sign” my people why question God? Why try to find answers in science when He’s the creator of everything, even created the laws of physics all the suns, planets, galaxies we might or not know.
    It is easy for a person to question or to look for an answer, even to judge when you don’t know a person that well. The same applies to God, He’s everywhere even though you can’t see him, my people I highly recommend to seek Him first and one day He might reveals all secrets of the world.
    I apologized if I offended someone with my opinion, but just want to let you know for fact my life was changed when I gave my life to Christ and became a new person who got to know the truly Amazing God that was watching over me all the time, if He did it with people he can do it with any skeptic. One more thought if He gave His son for us to be saved and forgive everything we do why shouldn’t I forgive, I know it is hard but look all the things He has done, also if He wouldn’t love us you think He would wait more than 2000 years to give extra time for us to come to Him. Just think about it we are dust, we all go to the same place but who created life in the first place, well the same person is the one who will keep those who believed in Him because the flesh has its end but not the soul, we have “free will ” so you have a choice.
    I just know that’s true, like when He told Abraham He would destroy Sodom, so isn’t the gift of eternal life important? Why rejected and choose perdition and live with satan for eternity, because evil exist.

  11. It’s interesting reading some of the different comments about the comment. Christianity is both a religion and a lifestyle. I’m not real sure why people are so hesitant these days to call Christianity a religion. Scripture differentiates between good religion and bad religion.

    The guy wants demonstrable evidence, so that’s what I would give him. I think I would say something like this:

    The founder of Christianity is Jesus and his 12 disciples. Jesus was and is God made man. It’s easy to demonstrate from history that Jesus existed, that his 12 disciples existed. For evidence one could explore the gospels as historical documents, or the writing Josephus and Tacitus. Those are great starting points. If he were to tell me I couldn’t use the New Testament as evidence then I would ask him to show me why they are not historically reliable. The burden of proof is on him at that point. Through those and other writings we are able to demonstrate what people thought about Jesus, and how his followers died. Jesus claimed to be God, and his followers believed he was God.

    This is the cool part. Three days after Jesus was crucified he rose from the dead. His disciples were witnesses to his death by crucifixion and they were also witnesses to his resurrection. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians actually said that if the resurrection didn’t happen then Christianity is a farce and faith in Christ is futile. When Paul wrote that there were still eyewitnesses alive. The resurrection can be demonstrated historically. There is proof. If one takes the time to do the investigating they will be hard pressed to deny it.

    Arguments about religion do not negate the validity of religion. Are there no arguments of theories in science? : )

    Furthermore, this guy is making, in a round about way, epistemological statements about religion and science. He obviously believes that knowing comes from science, not religion. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy not of science. The claim, science is the only way to know can’t be proven scientifically. So the one who says science is the only way to know invalidates the claim by appealing to philosophy.

    There’s a lot more, but I’m rambling now and have spent more time than I intended.

  12. Bundesbedenkenträger July 29, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Mixing up religion and science, are we? Science brings repeatable results, religion brings no results at all. It rbings orientation. Which won’t be brought by science, because science can only tell you what is (under given circumstances), at a certain state of development (today we can say more about what is than 100 years back then).
    Science answers the how question, religion answers the why. And of course you have opinions for the why. If you compare apples to pears, don’t be surprised if all you get is nonsense…

  13. Comparing calculus to ethics? Really?

    You want to find moral guidance from the repeatable? How exactly does this work? Where exactly in the crime statistics does one find the secret of their moral nature?

    The questioner needs to expand his understanding of “demonstrable” beyond materialism if he’s going to get anywhere ethically.

  14. I used to have faith in Jesus because of evidence. Now I have faith in spite of evidence after 40 years of experiencing Evangelical hypocrisy. Blessed is he who has not seen and believes. I wonder if we should want someone to believe being “forced” by the facts. That would lead to belief based on intellectual assent. What one can be argued into by one person can be argued away by another. Following Jesus does not make you at odds with scientific evidence. Following traditions blindly can.

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