Modern Man and Coldness of Heart

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I have been listening to a tape of the talk, “The River of Fire,” given by Dr. Alexander Kalomiros in 1980. By now it has become a very frequently cited and discussed document within the modern Orthodox world. Despite the occasional stridency of its tone, I cannot mkae myself disagree with its conclusions. The following is from the opening remarks of the talk – and speak eloquently of the “Christian Atheism” I have written about elsewhere. The greatest enemy of the Christian faith is the distortion of the Christian faith. Orthodox Christians can have no greater task than to live and teach in accordance with the truth – without this the human heart will continue to grow cold – as it turns away from the caricatures of God so often portrayed in our modern world. May God give us grace. The full text of the talk may be found here.

There is no doubt that we are living in the age of apostasy predicted for the last days. In practice, most people are atheists, although many of them theoretically still believe. Indifference and the spirit of this world prevail everywhere.

What is the reason for this state?

The reason is the cooling of love. Love for God no more burns in human hearts, and in consequence, love between us is dead, too.

What is the cause of this waning of men’s love for God? The answer, certainly, is sin. Sin is the dark cloud which does not permit God’s light to reach our eyes.

But sin always did exist. So how did we arrive at the point of not simply ignoring God, but of actually hating Him? Man’s attitude toward God today is not really ignorance, or really indifference. If you examine men carefully you will notice that their ignorance or indifference is tainted by a deep hate. But nobody hates anything that does not exist.

I have the suspicion that men today believe in God more than at any other time in human history. Men know the gospel, the teaching of the Church, and God’s creation better than at any other time. They have a profound consciousness of His existence. Their atheism is not a real disbelief. It is rather an aversion toward somebody we know very well but whom we hate with all our heart, exactly as the demons do.

We hate God, that is why we ignore Him, overlooking Him as if we did not see Him, and pretending to be atheists. In reality we consider Him our enemy par excellence. Our negation is our vengeance, our atheism is our revenge.

But why do men hate God? They hate Him not only because their deeds are dark while God is light, but also because they consider Him as a menace, as an imminent and eternal danger, as an adversary in court, as an opponent at law, as a public prosecutor and an eternal persecutor. To them, God is no more the almighty physician who came to save them from illness and death, but rather a cruel judge and a vengeful inquisitor.

You see, the devil managed to make men believe that God does not really love us, that He really only loves Himself, and that He accepts us only if we behave as He wants us to behave; that He hates us if we do not behave as He ordered us to behave, and is offended by our insubordination to such a degree that we must pay for it by eternal tortures, created by Him for that purpose. Who can love a torturer? Even those who try hard to save themselves from the wrath of God cannot really love Him. They love only themselves, trying to escape God’s vengeance and to achieve eternal bliss by managing to please this fearsome and extremely dangerous Creator. Do you perceive the devil’s slander of our all-loving, all-kind, and absolutely good God? That is why in Greek the devil was given the name of diabolos, “the slanderer.”

9 Responses to “Modern Man and Coldness of Heart”

  1. epiphanist Says:

    The Baptist confronted the pharisees with the arrogance of their position, that they were justified as children of Abraham. A friend of mine, in good conscience, asserts that man is above creation because of being created in God’s image. As the western population ages, the humility which is often enforced by advanced age and sickness has become feared and despised. Technology has provided hope for a restored body in our own lifetime and the possibility of dispersal of our physical remains into the heavens. These are hard times for the humble faithful.

  2. David Says:

    I have a former friend who’s a professed atheist. But when pressed admits that the reason he doesn’t “believe” in God is that his father (who was the one sane and loving person in his family and also a devout Orthodox) died suddenly and painfully when he was only 12.

    It devastated him and his family.

    Truthfully he’s angry at God. He very much believes in God and blames God for his father’s death. But he choses to call label himself as an atheist, precisely as an act of vengeance.

  3. Margaret Says:

    Very interesting post to consider going into the New Year. I will read the complete article as upon very brief examination it promises to delve into the topic in greater detail. I found this fragment a little “off putting” but that probably means I will just have to use my mind a little more than I am comfortable with at times!

    And use my heart and really listen to those around me in this hurting world. The devil is no “winner take all”. So we know Who has the victory. In the meantime I am honestly puzzled by the fact that hurting humanity desperately needs this loving God and all the while pushes Him away.

    David, I will pray for your friend. He is not alone in what he has gone through and I believe that God knows where your friend is “at” in his pilgrim’s journey.

  4. david puline Says:

    Amen to the article. I had a sermon last month where I indict how much the image of our earthly father distorts what our Heavenly Father image is. This was one of the main reasons why christians have a very difficult time in knowing God as their Heavenly Father. Many came up after saying how true this was for them. I am a Luth christian who is studying Orthodoxy. In Him, david p.

  5. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » (late) Tuesday Highlights Says:

    […] On being cold of hearted. […]

  6. tilts_at_windmills Says:

    I’m an atheist who was never part of an organized religion, who has a lovely relationship with both my parents, who has been generally lucky in life, and who is no colder of heart, I expect, than any of you.

    There certainly are atheists who were at some point in their lives Christian, Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, etc, and who left their church out of anger with its teaching. Some of those people genuinely stopped believing, forgave and forgot, and were happier for it. Some of them genuinely stopped believing, but remained bitterly (and often justifiably) angry about what was done to them, and have set out to prevent it being done to others. I think this is the largest group among the ex-devout who are now vocal atheists. Finally, there are some who really are angry at God, and I think I speak for most atheists when I say I wish those people wouldn’t call themselves atheists, because they are not. They’re maltheists, if I had to put a philosophical name to it, but mostly they’re just miserable and confused.

    There are people who become atheists because of some personal misfortune, but I think that number is quite small. It’s more of a fictional trope than a real world phenomenon. If there’s an atheist on television, it’s guaranteed to be because his wife got cancer, or a drunk driver ran over his kid, or some such nonsense. In real life, not so much.

    I think most instances where a believer concludes that an atheist secretly believes in God, however, result from a rather willful misunderstanding on the part of the believer. I can say that Iago is wicked without anyone assuming I believe he is real. Yet when I say the Biblical God is morally questionable, I often get people saying, aha! so you believe in him! I don’t get it.

  7. fatherstephen Says:

    Tilts at windmills,

    I think your account of modern atheism is generally correct – it is a very diverse category as you point out. Kalomiros is describing an historical phenomenon that can be fairly easily traced out. Post-Christian society at some point moved from one of general belief to a rejection of that belief. It is certain an important point of conversation for Christians to examine what exactly the nature of that phenomenon was and in some cases still is.

    In the complete essay, Kalomiris will point out that distortions within the world of Christian teaching (particularly in the West) yielded a concept of God that was not worthy of worship and produced reactions in many quarters.

    It is a way of looking at distinctions between Eastern and Western Christianity which had (have) very differing histories and teachings.

    I have gained a lot of understanding of modern atheism in the past year and do not assume that all atheists are simply post-Christian, nor that they are cold-hearted, etc. Many of them put many Christians to shame in their kindness and generosity.

    Orthodox Christianity makes particular claims about the revelation of God to man – for others to take it seriously – we’ll have to live the life that it teaches. I think the jury is still out on modern atheism. Several regimes who have espoused atheism have been among the most bloody and repressive regimes in history. I know that Christians do not have clean hands either. But I do have concerns about the future even of a positive humanism that has no theological rooting. Ethics without theological guidance tend to find very convenient arguments to support anything that makes money and relieves somebody’s suffering. But there are schools of ethics within liberal Christian teaching in the West that I could not distinguish from an atheist moral teaching. There is a place for dialog and sharing, and always kindness.

  8. Reader John Says:

    My experince is that most atheists are latent believers who have still yet to hear a profound and/or numinous enough definition of God that will truly move them. Many Christians share a watered down God of “cheap grace” that is too accessible, comprehensible, and compartmentalized. The God people offer through pathetic “definitions” is no God worthy of belief or worship. The atheist is more often, in my experience, reached by the shimmering beauty of Orthodox worship or in the wonder evoked by a spiritual experince during, say, a walk on the beach at night. or the painful loss of a loved one that makes the idea of a “crucified God” more resonant to him.
    Still, there are atheists who are driven by a pride that simply states, “Non servium.” Others are trapped in a defiant state of arrested adolescence and God is merely the object of displaced anger towards their parents.

    Ultimately God is found in his saints,i.e. the community that is the Church/hsopital of sick souls. If He is love (agape) He must by definition be relational (Trinity) and thus, we encoutner him in the unconditional love that is shown us by Him in His saints (“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” St. Paul’s definition of a saint, wherein we encounter such radical Love/amazing grace.).

    I feel that the article by Kalomiros is one of the best that I have read in years.

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    Reader John,

    I appreciate your thoughts. I do believe that I have met a number (or corresponded with) of modern atheists who are not stuck in adolescence or mad at anyone but simply do not believe or have reason to believe (as yet). Some hardly give religion any thought at all. We’re not relevant to their lives (as they perceive them).

    Some of this, I believe from a Christian perspective, is that the imagery and language of the two-storey universe (see the articles I’ve done on the topic) created an account of God that is just not very believable. It created both the secularized modern world (yes, Christians created secularism) and made atheism a common phenomenon (what would be more at home if the world is just secular?).

    I feel that an important part of the proclamation of the Orthodox faith is to be sure that we proclaim the whole gospel – particularly not relegating God to a distant heaven, etc. – but proclaiming that God is with us! We should proclaim that He is everywhere present and filling all things, and more than that, we should actually live like it.

    Secular Orthodoxy, which I think is a modern phenomenon, is an oxymoron, a phenomenon of which we should repent. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.

    I cannot and do not blame or judge the many atheists I see or correspond with. Most of them were either created by Christians, or by a world-view that Christianity itself created. And most mean no harm – which is not true of all Christians.

    I once knew an atheist, a friend, who was a former Catholic, and probably became an atheist as he rejected the false teachings of his childhood in Catholic schools. But he was also one of the most compassionate and generous persons I’ve ever known and more than willing to engage in friendly, serious discussion of beliefs. I still admire him. He was probably more “Christian” than many Christians I’ve known.

    I think of Christ’s conversation with the Centurion (which I read again yesterday during a Molieben). He upbraids Israel with the faith of the Centurion and reminds us that many will come from East and West and sit at His Father’s table in the Kingdom while the Sons of the Kingdom will be cast out.

    The River of Fire (which I agree with you about) could give a very cogent account of that phenomenon.

    I really think that the great mission field of the present is Western Europe and America – but I’ve said too much already. With the feast!

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