The Good Confession

I often think that the confession of the goodness of God is the bold confession of a martyr. We can all understand the stories of great martyrs, who, in the face of terrible torments, refuse to renounce Christ and are faithful to Him. Of course, sometimes their sufferings are short while there are others who suffer for a lifetime. But I believe the confession that “God is good,” to be the essential confession of every martyr and the most essential confession of our struggle as Christians on any given day and throughout the course of life.

To say, “God is good,” is to confess an inherent part of the content of the statement, “Jesus is Lord.” For if Jesus is Lord, then God is good. And come what may – the natural disasters of the course of this life – the prosperity of the wicked – the torments of circumstance and our fallen bodies – the taunts of the wicked-one and those who ally themselves to his cause – come all this – the Christian response through the ages is, “Jesus is Lord!” “God is good.” It is to unite ourselves with the good confession of the three young men in the fiery furnace. And together with them our good confession will echo through eternity and we will not be ashamed.

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108 Responses to “The Good Confession”

  1. Mary Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    On this eve of Thanksgiving, I want to thank you for this blog. I read it every day, and very often I pass on your posts to my non-Orthodox, but Christian, family members, and they too are edified by your words. You remind me to be always thankful to God, to see His goodness in all things. Your words are a great blessing to me. Thank you.

  2. Bruce Says:

    Father bless!!

    Very helpful and consistent with what I’m working on. I see this so closely aligned with the ‘sacrifice of praise’ which is described in many Psalms (at least Septuagint version) and Hebrews 13. The question for me, moment by moment, “Am I willing to give up whatever stands in the way of praising God?”. Why is it so important to hold onto something which prevents me from praising God (and is likely to thus seperate me from Life in Him). When I take problems which typically prevent me from praising God and throw them on the altar of His Throne, I experience God in new places and He can reveal Himself more fully to me.

    But first, I have to let go of this belief that I’m supposed to know what is good. I’ve spent so much of my life seeking to understand and thus have a God like concept of what is good, that I’ve forgotten that’s not my job, it’s His. His simple statement in Proverbs: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” including the understanding of what is Good.

  3. Ben Says:

    Thanks be to God!

  4. easton Says:

    father, i would also like to thank you for this blog. it always touches my heart and i take copies to my 82 year old mother, a methodist, who loves it and keeps it by her favorite chair to read daily! happy thanksgiving!

  5. Michelle Says:

    Amen!

  6. Karin Says:

    Father,
    I too would like to thank you for this blog. I don’t always comment, but read it regularly. Your posts have such richness and depth. I especially enjoyed this one. Indeed- God is good!
    God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

  7. Darlene Says:

    I concur, God is good! His steadfast love endures forever, great is His faithfulness to all generations. He is good when we are not. He is good when finances are thin. He is good when our children rebel. He is good when our family and friends are taken in death. He is good through all kinds of weather. He is good when our politicians lie, cheat, and steal. He is good when public policies fail. He is good when those close to us are disloyal. He is good when others mistreat us. He is good when we mistreat others. He is good in all times and all places.

    As the psalmist says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” and “I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

    When I (we) recognize and accept that all eventualities fulfill His holy will, then we can confidently say “God is good.”

  8. Damaris Says:

    Thank you, Darlene. Your post was almost a hymn. God is indeed good.

  9. Anna Says:

    Our priest is leading a study on Hebrews and was saying that the word martyr actually refers to one who gives a testimony, although it can also refer to one who dies because of their testimony of faith. He was saying that each testimony is a martyrdom…

  10. David Ellis Says:

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, that a deity of some sort exists, what reason is there to conclude that he is “good”?

    If a doctor had a medicine that would cure a horrible disease that caused slow agonizing death to thousands every year and yet, without deigning to explain why, refuses to give it to anyone, we would rightly conclude he is almost certainly a monster.

    A god, if he exists, has, in his omnipotence, just such a “medicine”. Why should we we then judge him good?

    Not the first time you’ve heard the problem of unnecessary suffering presented, I’m sure. But I’ve still yet to hear a plausible response to it—other than the one that accounts for it quite simply and completely:

    God is fictional.

  11. Anna Says:

    What if the medicine is offered to all, but only a very small few elect to take the medicine? What if the illness was so pervasive to all that no one acknowledged they were ill to begin with?

  12. David Ellis Says:

    Such facile attempts at theodicy only serve to highlight the seriousness of the problem this issue presents for theism.

    I don’t know about you but I’ve yet to see anyone suffering the extremes of agony from cancer who’s sitting in their beds shoving away angels trying to administer divine healing.

    Nor, for that matter, are infants, young children, animals or the mentally incompetent even capable of rejecting healing.

  13. John Says:

    While we do not suffer the guilt of Adam’s sin, we do suffer the physical consequences thereof: physical suffering and death.

    If there were no physical trials here, we would likely turn away from God, accepting this world as our heaven. Trials will turn those with a pure heart toward God, recognizing that He has provided that perfect place for us (heaven) if we freely choose to serve Him.

    If God were selfish and uncaring, why did He (Jesus) die for our sins?

  14. David Ellis Says:


    While we do not suffer the guilt of Adam’s sin, we do suffer the physical consequences thereof: physical suffering and death.

    If God created the universe and is omnipotent then the “physical consequences” of Adam’s sin are whatever God chooses for them to be. Including whether there are any physical consequences to the rest of the world at all. Apologists frequently make comments like yours that treat this as if it were some natural system God is subject to rather than entirely his choice (as it must inevitably be if he is, in fact, omnipotent).

    Why should a deer have to be burned to death in a forest fire because some human ate a piece of fruit?


    If there were no physical trials here, we would likely turn away from God, accepting this world as our heaven.

    A bizarre idea. Why would we turn away from a God who we know to have given us an environment equivalent to heaven? Having clear and abundant evidence of God’s benevolence is hardly a reason to turn away from him.


    If God were selfish and uncaring, why did He (Jesus) die for our sins?

    Lets go back to my analogy of the doctor. Suppose he refrains from giving any of the sufferers the medicine and then flagellates himself as a demonstration of his willingness to participate in the victims suffering.

    No reasonable person who find him, therefore, benevolent. We’d simply think him crazy. And I’m sure “God is insane” is not a theodicy you’re wanting to embrace.


    Trials will turn those with a pure heart toward God, recognizing that He has provided that perfect place for us (heaven) if we freely choose to serve Him.

    A rational person is not inspired to love another because that other inflicts grave suffering on them. Again, these facile attempts at theodicy only serve to show the magnitude of the problem.

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    I appreciate your point. Theodicy – the question of the goodness of God requires greater comment than I can give at the moment. However, your summary of the situation, though common, does not understand the mystery of suffering and the relationship of God to our suffering. It is easily missed. And is worth some comment on my part (though i beg for a few days to do so – schedule demands).

    I will say of my father-in-law, whom I cite in the previous article, that he died a slow death of cancer over a three year period, and never failed to give thanks to a God whom He believed to be utterly good. He did so, not out of theory, but because He knew Him and understood the mystery at a deep level (perhaps deeper than he could have articulated).

    I have myself been present at over 300-400 deaths over the years, and am no stranger to the question in its most concrete forms. It is not an abstraction for me. And I do not hesitate to confess the goodness of God – not out of philosophy – but because I know Him and have a very modest perception of this mystery.

    I’ll write more. It is a very significant question.

  16. David Ellis Says:

    “While we do not suffer the guilt of Adam’s sin, we do suffer the physical consequences thereof: physical suffering and death.”

    If God created the universe and is omnipotent then the “physical consequences” of Adam’s sin are whatever God chooses for them to be. Including whether there are any physical consequences to the rest of the world at all. Apologists frequently make comments like yours that treat this as if it were some natural system God is subject to rather than entirely his choice (as it must inevitably be if he is, in fact, omnipotent).

    Why should a deer have to be burned to death in a forest fire because some human ate a piece of fruit?

    “If there were no physical trials here, we would likely turn away from God, accepting this world as our heaven. ”

    A bizarre idea. Why would we turn away from a God who we know to have given us an environment equivalent to heaven? Having clear and abundant evidence of God’s benevolence is hardly a reason to turn away from him.

    “If God were selfish and uncaring, why did He (Jesus) die for our sins?”

    Lets go back to my analogy of the doctor. Suppose he refrains from giving any of the sufferers the medicine and then flagellates himself as a demonstration of his willingness to participate in the victims suffering.

    No reasonable person who find him, therefore, benevolent. We’d simply think him crazy. And I’m sure “God is insane” is not a theodicy you’re wanting to embrace.

    “Trials will turn those with a pure heart toward God, recognizing that He has provided that perfect place for us (heaven) if we freely choose to serve Him.”

    A rational person is not inspired to love another because that other inflicts grave suffering on them. Again, these facile attempts at theodicy only serve to show the magnitude of the problem.

    “Father Stephen: However, your summary of the situation, though common, does not understand the mystery of suffering and the relationship of God to our suffering.”

    Its either a mystery with no known solution or someone’s devised a sound theodicy. I’d be interested in hearing which one you think succeeds.

    “And is worth some comment on my part (though i beg for a few days to do so – schedule demands).”

    No hurry. I was directed here by a commenter in a discussion on this subject at another blog who thought you have an interesting take on the subject.

    “I will say of my father-in-law, whom I cite in the previous article, that he died a slow death of cancer over a three year period, and never failed to give thanks to a God whom He believed to be utterly good.”

    It is not unusual for theists to believe God has some morally sufficient reason for his actions that is simply unknown to them. Whether this conviction is well-founded is another question.

    And my comment is not intended to make light of your father-in-law’s suffering. My mother, also a Christian, died of cancer as well.

    “And I do not hesitate to confess the goodness of God – not out of philosophy – but because I know Him and have a very modest perception of this mystery.”

    It seems to come down to whether you actually have good reason to think you “know him” and, at least in some measure, his character. I’ll be interested in hearing you articulate your reasons for thinking so.

  17. TheraP Says:

    Theodicy. It’s a fancy word for a painful topic.

    I think I know something of this. I am a therapist. I have worked with some victims of childhood trauma – the kind where children get abused, tortured, photographed, even prostituted. There is almost nothing worse than doing these things to an innocent child.

    And it drove me to prayer. It drove me deeper and deeper – to God’s love.

    That may sound paradoxical. But here’s what I think I ultimately learned. From the depth of my love, care, compassion, and utter helplessness in the face of this kind of suffering. A suffering which had long ago happened. From which the person survived – but carrying the weight of all that suffering, day and night. At the same time, my own care and concern for this person (each of them) led me to an understanding of the love of God. For I knew – without any doubt – that God loved them too. Hugely more than I could ever imagine. That indeed God had sent them to me. That perhaps long, long ago God had arranged that I would end up in the Midwest – exactly at the time when these people needed someone. That God had long ago equipped me with spiritual resources (people, books, prayer – yes, even the Jesus Prayer) in addition to my training as a therapist – which I could rely on through what became an intense spiritual/psychological struggle. And from my own suffering as I tried to reach these people, who often would rebuff my efforts out of their pain and anger at someone from long ago, from my need to set aside anger and allow that to be transformed into love and compassion, I too was transformed. It became for me a source of great spiritual growth. The intentional willingness to “be” with a suffering person, to make a long term commitment and find the endurance to persevere. In the process I felt I had come to understand God’s Love – through my own experience. To know that however much patience and love and anguish for the suffering this person had gone through – God was ever so much more patient, loving, and full of an “identified/vicarious suffering” – right along with the suffering person. I never doubted that. As I never doubted my own compassion and willingness to suffer because of it.

    Now, I’m sure that someone who does not “know” God will think I’m nuts! But I’m not writing this because I think it will convince anyone. I’m just sharing what God has taught me. What God “gave” me.

    So I understand now, so much better than I ever could have, the willingness of God to suffer – right along with us – in the Person of Christ.

    It may be that I cannot explain all this in the proper theological language. And I welcome any corrections or explanations or theological insights into what I have presented. But I stand on this ground without any shadow of a doubt!

    For one tiny example of how much I’ve struggled with this, I offer one blog on “The Mystery of Suffering”:

    http://wisdom4nothing.blogspot.com/2009/07/mystery-of-suffering.html

    And perhaps it may be helpful – as it helped me.

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    Thanks for your patience. It will be a little time before I can give this proper attention. I travel to Dallas after liturgy in the morning and return on Tuesday. I may have some time while in Dallas. We’ll see.

    But a short thought – my take will not be that I think of God as having a “morally sufficient” reason for suffering. In the scale or balance of things, there is no balance of things. But there is an approach or understanding which is satisfactory for me. Because it will take me a day or so to sit down with this – there will be a bit of a gap – and many of my readers will want to offer answers.

    John, for instance, is a Church of Christ pastor, and his response represents his understanding, but not Orthodoxy. Thus, I would ask patience until I offer something myself.

    Classically, no one stated the question more fully than did Dostoevsky in his chapter, Rebellion, in the novel, the Brothers Karamazov. And the answer proffered in that novel is quite different than the question (and not a question understood or recognized by most readers). But it is a very Orthodox answer to the question.

    The “knowledge” of God of which I speak is, indeed, crucial. Thanks again for your patience. And thanks for the questions.

  19. David Ellis Says:

    TheraP, as much as you may be satisfied that God is loving I don’t see that anything in what you said actually addresses the problem of unnecessary suffering. You seem to be saying, if I don’t misapprehend you, that:

    A. You believe, based on religious experiences, that God exists and is loving. And B. You believe that there is a good reason for God’s allowing suffering even if you don’t know what it is.

    But is there sound basis for believing A? If so, what is it? I’ve heard many variations of the argument from religious experience and they succeed no better than the many attempts at theodicy do.

    Of course, one is free to claim that one has a direct knowledge of a variety that is sound but incommunicable. But then again, such can be said about pretty much any claim that one can’t back up with sound arguments and evidence. One may “feel in one’s heart” that something is true but, in those rare cases where religions and believers have made testable claims, the heart’s abilities as a truth-barometer have proven woefully inadequate. I see no reason to suspect it’s doing better on claims that are conveniently unfalsifiable.

  20. John Says:

    Hi David, I don’t know your background. Perhaps you have studied some science. I did a little years ago in college, including organic chemistry. All of this detail working together the way it does couldn’t have just happened by chance. The fact that the laws are predictable shows, to me, the love of God. One who believes in a universe without God, has more faith than I do. Evidence of God is everywhere.

  21. Tria Reatch Says:

    Dear David,

    If sound arguments and evidence are the only proofs of existence, our scope of understanding life would be extremely narrow and limited to our own personal experiences. The fact is everyone, Christian or non-Christian, is a believer. We believe everyday in things we cannot prove with sound arguments or evidence. We believe in the Grand Canyon whether we have been there or not. We believe we have high cholesterol because our doctor tells us so. We believe that electricity will illumine the room when we flip the light switch. We believe it will take 20 minutes to cook the macaroni because the box says so. We believe that there are planets revolving around our sun. We believe our brain will tell our fingers to tie our shoe laces. We believe that what we feel is love.

    So let’s say I cannot travel to the Grand Canyon to prove to myself that it does not exist and I must take someone’s word for it….does that mean it is not there? Having a testable claim does not equate reality. Who comes up with the testable claim? If I develop a testable claim for anything from the cholesterol numbers to the existence of the planet Neptune it is a belief system. How do you prove that what you see out the window is real? How do you prove love? To say that we can exist or even begin to understand the world without a belief system is fiction.

    No one can prove or ever will prove with a testable claim that God does not exist, that He does not love, that suffering cannot be salvific. We can only believe.

  22. David Ellis Says:


    Perhaps you have studied some science. I did a little years ago in college, including organic chemistry. All of this detail working together the way it does couldn’t have just happened by chance. The fact that the laws are predictable shows, to me, the love of God. One who believes in a universe without God, has more faith than I do. Evidence of God is everywhere.

    Given hundreds of billions of galaxies and a timeframe of billions of years how many chemical interactions would you guess have occurred in our universe? The number would be mind-bogglingly huge.

    So why is it that you have difficulty imagining that a self-replicating molecule could manage to occur by natural processes? I see no basis whatsoever for your incredulity on the subject.

  23. David Ellis Says:


    If sound arguments and evidence are the only proofs of existence, our scope of understanding life would be extremely narrow and limited to our own personal experiences.

    I don’t have to have been to France to have a rational belief in the existence of France. Sound arguments and evidence don’t just mean things you’ve personally witnessed. That would be an absurdly narrow view of what constitutes rational thinking.

    You have, in your comment, attempted to refute a straw man that bears no resemblance to my actual views.

  24. katia Says:

    David,

    “If God created the universe and is omnipotent then the “physical consequences” of Adam’s sin are whatever God chooses for them to be. Including whether there are any physical consequences to the rest of the world at all. Apologists frequently make comments like yours that treat this as if it were some natural system God is subject to rather than entirely his choice (as it must inevitably be if he is, in fact, omnipotent).”

    God placed Adam in Paradise. In that wonderful place of joy the first man was unspeakably happy because he was close to God. Happiness is being with God, and away from Him there is no true or lasting joy. In the Kingdom of God where God Himself will rule, there will be no sorrow. God will wipe away every tear from the eye(cf. Rev. 7;17). Adam was happy in Paradise as long as he had an inner connection with God through grace. But where did sorrows come from? – from sin. As soon as Adam sinned he began to suffer, even though he was still in Paradise. Sin carries its own punishment in itself. The devil destroys his friends: those who obey his will. Conscience reproaches the one who goes against the divine principles and transgresses God’s commandments. Even before God drove Adam out of Paradise, Adam HIMSELF HAD ALREADY LEFT IT INWARDLY BY VIOLATING GOD’S LAW AND BY LOOSING THE GRACE. He began to suffer from the moment he fell. IT IS NOT GOD,then, Who is to blame for Adam’s sufferings, but it is Adam himself. God had created him for joy, but he(WE) chose sorrow for himself.

    Some will say:” If Adam has sinned,why do we have to suffer because of him today?” We are his children and as such we must share the fate of our ancestor, but this answer treats only the objective side of the question. There is another side as well, which is subjective and explains the strength and consolation contained in our faith. We do not suffer only because of some necessity to pay for our ancestor’s sin. Everyone forges his own fate, and under this circumstance we do not have to partake of all the disasters and sufferings of which Adam became a victim. If we want to, we can choose another way of life, not the way of disobedience and pride which ruined Adam, but the way of obedience and humility; and thus we can become happy even here on earth……

    excerpt from the book The meaning of suffering by Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev

  25. David Ellis Says:

    To summarize:

    Adam sinned.

    God then altered the rules by which our environment works such that disease, natural disasters and other sources of great suffering afflict not only all of humanity but all of the (wholly innocent) animal world as well.

    But! He’s willing to save us. From the suffering he himself chose to inflict on every living being….even those incapable of sin….all because….one guy ate a piece of fruit?

  26. katia Says:

    Freedom in God, as enjoyed by Adam, implied the possibility of falling away from God. This is the unfortunate choice made by man, which led Adam to a subhuman and unnatural existence. The most unnatural aspect of his new state was death. In this perspective, “original sin” is understood not so much as a state of guilt inherited from Adam but as an unnatural condition of human life that ends in death. Mortality is what each man now inherits at his birth and this is what leads him to struggle for existence, to self-affirmation at the expense of others, and ultimately to subjection to the laws of animal life. The “prince of this world” (i.e., Satan), who is also the “murderer from the beginning,” has dominion over man. From this vicious circle of death and sin, man is understood to be liberated by the death and Resurrection of Christ, which is actualized in Baptism and the sacramental life in the church.

  27. katia Says:

    “…St. Paul strongly affirms the belief that all things created by God are good.[3] Yet, at the same time, he insists on the fact that not only man,[4] but also all of creation has fallen.[5] Both man and creation are awaiting the final redemption. [6] Thus, in spite of the fact that all things created by God are good, the devil has temporarily [7] become the “god of this age.”[8] A basic presupposition of St. Paul’s thought is that although the world was created by God and as such is good, yet now there rules in it the power of Satan. The devil, however, is by no means absolute, since God has never abandoned His creation.[9]

    Thus, according to St. Paul, creation as it is is not what God intended it to be—”For the creature was made subject to vanity…by reason of him who hath subjected the same.”[10] Therefore, evil can exist, at least temporarily, as a parasitic element alongside and inside of that which God created originally good. A good example of this is one who would do the Good according to the “inner man,” but finds it impossible because of the indwelling power of sin in the flesh.[11] Although created good and still maintained and governed by God, creation as it is is still far from being normal or natural, if by “normal” we understand nature according to the original and final destiny of creation. governing this age, in spite of the fact that God Himself is still sustaining creation and creating for Himself a remnant,[12] is the devil himself.[13]…”

    Original sin according to St Paul
    fr.John S Romanides

  28. David Ellis Says:

    Adam disobeyed God’s order not to eat the fruit from a particular tree, therefore God is morally justified in allowing a fawn to be badly burned in a forest fire and die, over the course of several days, in slow agony?

    Clearly there are some gaps in the chain of logic. But there’s also nothing in your comments that would serve to bridge that gap.

  29. katia Says:

    ” Jesus Christ says: I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he pruneth it, that it may bring forth more fruit (John 15:1-2)
    He prunes it. What does this mean? How is the vine pruned? It is pruned by being clipped and cut. It is known that when the vine is cut, tears appear at the cuts: its branches begin to cry because they are suffering. Yet, if this vine knew that the gardener was pruning it for its own good, to protect it from barrenness,so that it would not be cut down altogether and thrown into the fire; if it could see itself in the autumn, covered with heavy, sweet grapes, it would cry out: ” Blessed be the tears, blessed be the sufferings which made me so fruitful!”
    The question of suffering is one of the most sensitive questions and i am not qualified to continue this debate. And hope that God will help you to find the answer.
    Glory to God for everything!

  30. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    With apologies to other readers (particularly the Orthodox) – there are ways in which we speak of these matters among ourselves (Adam, etc.) that are not always useful in offering an understanding to others. I will offer something that I hope will be helpful.

    First. There is no satisfactory rational account for the reconciliation of God and the tragedy of evil that befalls us in our lives. The death of a child, the untold suffering of so many and even all, is not assuaged by being told that it’s for our good, or even “it’s our fault,” etc. It’s miserable. And I suspect you and I would find complete agreement in that.

    Classically, Orthodox Christianity does not begin to understand these things by figuring out how they happened and came about (though there are ways we speak about such things).

    The Orthodox understanding of God begins with Christ Himself. And it does not begin even with a purely historical account of Christ (as in a linear account), but begins with the event of Christ’s resurrection. For it is there that the Church’s faith begins and it is there that everything we know of God and understand of the world begins. We work outwards (in every direction) from that event in our understanding.

    The faith of the Church (and of her members) is that Christ was crucified, dead, buried, descended into Hades (the place of the departed), and rose again from the dead in a transformed manner. This is not arrived at by a set of reasonable arguments, though we do not find them contrary to reason. Nor do we seek to prove it by independent historical means, though it occurred in history.

    He was seen by eye-witnesses at that time, in resurrected form. But, more than that, He has been known by countless faithful as the resurrected Lord, in a manner that we describe as “knowledge” but in a knowledge that is not the same as so-called “objective” knowledge. Indeed, I find it far more secure. But I’ll leave all that for another time.

    I will return to the resurrection in a moment.

    My experience of evil and of catastrophe, of human and animal suffering, is that no theory satisfies our understanding. A family who has lost a child doesn’t want a theory – they want their child back – and they want the suffering not to have happened.

    The resurrection of Christ is indeed the “recreation” of the world. It is the destruction of death. It is the healing and abolition of suffering. It is the undoing of evil.

    How things got this way (suffering, etc.) is described in various ways within Christian tradition. It is not something to which a satisfactory historical account can be given. Viewed scientifically, the universe seems to have always operated as it operates now. The laws of thermodynamics, which would always entail a certain experience of suffering, etc., seem to have always been in place.

    Christians cannot look to some time prior to the universe and say that things started one way, only now they are another because of something we did. It is possible to read the Genesis story in such a manner, but it is probably a misreading or a misuse of the story (to some degree). It has a much deeper meaning.

    Instead, we look to Christ (to what would seem the “middle” of the story). But the Christian faith refers to Him as the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega.

    The world is being remade, renewed, recreated, forgiven, etc., all from the point of Pascha (Christ death and resurrection). We believe that when everything that exists will ultimately find its place within His Pascha.

    I have seen this work of Pascha in my own life and in the lives of others around me (and in many lives through the centuries) and I believe that the goodness of God is revealed in that eternal moment and will be revealed in its fullness.

    But I cannot suggest to someone that there is a reasoning that can be used to arrive at this. And Christians, I think, should be careful not to take false refuge in lightly ‘Christianized’ reasonable accounts. They too easily find their comfort in their own head instead of in the risen Lord.

    There is much to say in this vein. But I’ll stop here, having said this much. It is a basis for a conversation – rather than an argument or even an answer.

    Thank you for your patience. I hope this comment is helpful – or at least worth a conversation.

    Fr. Stephen

  31. TheraP Says:

    David, to answer you, I think what God allows is “free will” – and if suffering is inflicted on one person by another, that is a consequence of someone freely willing to do evil upon another. Someone, in effect, choosing to “play God” – to judge and to inflict harm.

    I hope that in saying this I have not transgressed anything that Fr. Stephen has already said. All of which makes wonderful sense to me.

    We are humans. We cannot presume to know the mind of God. Except to the degree God has revealed himself. And even then our minds have to stretch toward that revelation, which is so much greater than we can completely comprehend – no matter how long or hard we try. At a certain point we bow to the Mystery.

    Please direct any further questions to Fr. Stephen. I am not here to engage in conflict. Peace be with you.

  32. David Ellis Says:

    Essentially, if I do not misapprehend your position, you fall into the camp of those who say “I know not his reasons but I trust in God and Christ”.

    The question then comes down to whether this trust that Jesus is Christ, that Christianities teachings are true and that God cares about us and has our best interests at heart is justified.

    You seem to largely dismiss reason and argument as a path to truth in matters relating to religion in favor of direct mystical apprehension of divine truths.

    But, again the quite question arises of whether one actually has such a mystical perception or just imagined it.

    Its easy to believe one has such direct apprehension of divine truth. People of every religion seem to think they experience direct supernatural knowledge of truths concerning matters that are, all too conveniently, neither verifiable nor falsifiable—and they come to widely divergent opinions.

    Which would tend to indicate that humans in general aren’t very good at telling mystical insight from mere imagination.

    The question is: even assuming the former exists, how is it to be distinguished from the latter.

  33. David Ellis Says:


    David, to answer you, I think what God allows is “free will” – and if suffering is inflicted on one person by another, that is a consequence of someone freely willing to do evil upon another. Someone, in effect, choosing to “play God” – to judge and to inflict harm.

    As you know, a great deal of the suffering in this world is not the result of one human being deliberately harming another.

    But less us assume, for the moment, that it were. The free will defense would still be inadequate. For even if God values the freedom of people to choose to sin it does not entail that they must be free to inflict suffering on others. There is, after all, a difference between free will and freedom of action.

    When a police officers apprehends a criminal in the act of attempting to abduct a child he has in no way violated this man’s free will. Only his freedom of action.

    And let us imagine a world in which God refused to allow any human being to do unnecessary harm to another. Suppose, for example, that he caused pedophiles to be struck immobile every time they decided to attempt to molest a child.

    Would this eliminate their free will? Not a jot. Would their ability to commit sexual sins involving the lust for children be removed? No. They would still be free to indulge, in their imaginations, their horrible fantasies. They would be free to watch (and/or create) animated movies about the molestation of children. They would be free to go on the internet and talk to other pedophiles about all the things they’d like to do. They could read and write works of fiction about molesting children.

    And NOT A SINGLE CHILD would have to be harmed.

    Can any reasonable, caring person say this would not be an infinitely better alternative?

    And that’s leaving aside, for now, the question of why a loving God would saddle some members of the human species with such a vile impulse in the first place.

  34. David Ellis Says:

    Its probably clear from the context but the first of the above comments was in response to Father Stephen’s comment. Thera’s comment was made before I’d seen it or I’d have made that more clear.

  35. fatherstephen Says:

    David (I’m sitting in an airport waiting for a plane),

    I would not use quite the same language as you do for “direct perception” but I understand the point. Indeed, delusion is always an issue.

    But delusion is also an issue for every other form of knowledge. Reason, even science, is a very “social” phenomenon, and by no means something by which people actually reach agreement.

    I could say much more about what I perceive or understand in regards to Christ – but I’ve probably said enough.

    There’s not really a common ground for a lot of conversation between belief and unbelief – or between faith in God and various forms of atheism/agnosticism. Even between Christians, there is not always sufficient ground for much conversation.

    It depends on the state of the heart. Reason depends on the state of the heart as does everything else. Every human interaction depends on that inner disposition.

    But you will not find a convincing argument here. I have none. I have a witness to what I know and understand – but nothing more.

  36. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    “Christians cannot look to some time prior to the universe and say that things started one way, only now they are another because of something we did. It is possible to read the Genesis story in such a manner, but it is probably a misreading or a misuse of the story (to some degree). It has a much deeper meaning.”

    Dear Fr. Stephen, I wonder about this issue a lot. Can you say some more about this? I thought the whole point was that sin and death came into the world through some initial act of transgression (this makes little sense to me) and then Christ redeemed it all (in other words, that things were one way and are now another way because of something we did). That’s what I see in Scripture and in the Liturgy.

    This story strikes me (as it seems to strike David) as being kind of bizarre–I would never have become a Christian via listening to this story. The reason I do believe is the fact of the resurrection of Christ, as you so clearly and beautifully presented it in the comment above. (A terrific book is DID THE RESURRECTION HAPPEN? by Habermas–it’s in debate format, with former atheist, now kind of generic theist, Anthony Flew). But I would still really like to understand the whole sin and how-we-got-this-way thing a little more.

    Thank you!

  37. David Ellis Says:

    Then I will simply thank you for your time and wish you well.

  38. Karen Says:

    David, I concur with Fr. Stephen that there can be no satisfying reasonable explanation of evil and suffering as it manifests itself in this world. I find theodicies, Christian and otherwise, repugnant. (On this subject, I commend to you the short book “The Doors of the Sea” by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart.) Indeed, I find that evil is in itself, by definition, a form of nonsense. To attempt to make sense of it is to inflict on oneself a form of intellectual and spiritual suffering. As an Orthodox, I believe in the Resurrection of Christ in the manner Fr. Stephen describes. Based on the testimony of eye-witnesses at the time of the historical events recorded in the NT Gospels, I think it is reasonable to believe that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred. Whether Christian or not, we all cannot escape suffering in this life. As a Christian, I find that faith in the Resurrection gives me the strength and hope I need to endure suffering without giving in to despair and a destructive cynicism. Christ’s teaching and example also encourages me that to compassionately seek to alleviate the suffering of others is to participate in His very Being and Life, which I find is the only thing deep and real enough to give meaning and joy to life. It also teaches me that what we experience this side of the grave is only one very small and temporary part of a larger Reality.

  39. fatherstephen Says:

    Karen, well said.

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  40. David Ellis Says:


    Based on the testimony of eye-witnesses at the time of the historical events recorded in the NT Gospels, I think it is reasonable to believe that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred.

    Then I would suggest that you are holding the claims of the Gospels to a standard of evidence so low that you would be unable to consistently apply it—doing so would inevitably lead to you holding a wide variety of mutually inconsistent claims.

    That being the case I’m inclined to suspect the actual basis of your beliefs has little or nothing to do with historical evidence. Not knowing you or your personal history I will not speculate on the actual basis of your beliefs.


    As a Christian, I find that faith in the Resurrection gives me the strength and hope I need to endure suffering without giving in to despair and a destructive cynicism.

    As a nonbeliever in the supernatural, I find that I need no such unwarranted beliefs to endure suffering and to avoid giving in to despair or destructive cynicism. I have confidence, as well, because I’m by no means an unusually strong person, that you would probably do just as well as I without your religious beliefs.

  41. David Ellis Says:

    I do think, though, that you and Father Stephen are taking the best approach available to a Christian regarding the problem of unnecessary suffering.

    Better to say “I don’t know but I trust” than to embrace theodicies that so clearly make God out to be morally repellent monster.

  42. asinusspinasmasticans Says:

    Just curious, David.

    What standard are you using to judge moral acceptability or repellence?

  43. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    David Ellis,

    I hope you won’t take this amiss, but why not stick around, either here or elsewhere with Christians, continue to listen, etc.?

    The reason I’m suggesting this is this: you are already engaged with these issues. You have thought about them deeply. They won’t let you alone, in fact.

    I don’t presume to know your motivation for posting, but my hunch is that it’s not the shallowest reason of all–just to mess w/ Christians’ heads in a contentious, trying-to-derail-us kind of way.

    Maybe I’m projecting here, and forgive me if I am, but at times in my life when I’ve been as clear, specific, and relentless (I mean this in a positive way!) in debate with Christians as you are being, it is because I wanted to see whether, if I hit as hard as I could, there would be anything that would stand up to my opposition, so that I could give my heart to it.

    If this is in any sense the case for you, I just want to mention that over the decades I have found it helpful, while not letting up on my questions, etc., to allow myself to remain aware of what’s going on in my peripheral vision, so to speak–or, to use a metaphor, in the margins outside of my primary text of “This has to make sense to me”–ion the off-chance that while I’m inquiring into and debating issues A, B, and C, God might be surprising me by addressing other things entirely–coming at me from unanticipated directions.

    All best to you.

  44. Anna Says:

    In a culture of skepticism, we very easily pull out the lifelines in the interests of preserving our dignity. My mother is a long-standing health-professional and has seen patients time and time again refuse life-giving treatment. Invariably the choice to forgo life-giving treatments comes down to one concept “side effects.” We do not have a choice presented before us that will not in some way, shape, or form affect our lives. Generally we do not fault people for turning down treatment if they (rationally) deem the consequences too great for them. As far as treatments go, living life through the lens of the Resurrection, knowing that to find that ultimate life means submitting myself to someone other than myself, carries with it some of the most intense side effects ever. The grace, peace, hope, love, joy, patience, and forbearance present withing and among those who have given themselves fully to this task offer incredible witness to what true life might look like; but most of us are far from this complete surrender, smudging our ability to perceive what healing of mind, body, and soul actually might look like. I know, at least from my perspective, I can be a most unwilling patient under any circumstance (I don’t like even so much as taking a couple of Tylenol for a headache), so for me, the first thing that must change is my own willingness to go to the doctor.

  45. Ryan Says:

    “Better to say “I don’t know but I trust” than to embrace theodicies that so clearly make God out to be morally repellent monster.”

    An interesting quote, since without God, there’s really no morality at all. Right and wrong becomes best defined by what you acn agree with. David seems to have a sense of a standard of right and wrong, but whither that standard? Do unto others? Just askin’.

    As for God being morally repellent to David: His theodicy is easy to describe as being “beyond our understanding”. That seems to be the Islamic view, and the view of many who call themselves Christians. As someone though who has asked himself the same questions, this viewpoint was unsatisfactory to me. As you might expect, I had to prove God’s existence 1st before trying to understand Him. I was stumped by trying to find an alternative explanation for the Beginning, the 1st mover, the causeless causer. (Yes, I’ve read Hawking. His theories fail to explain Creation on a subatomic level, much less the Big Bang) Establishing His existence, I was left with: Why? And specifically, why us? The Orthodox understanding that God ultimately created all things once so that all things could be ultimately be one in Him was the most satisfactory answer. And if all (people) should ultimately be one in Him, what does that mean? In a manner of speaking, we have to experience our humanity as God experienced humanity, because we cannot as humans experience being God. (His becoming one of us frankly gives us our reason to exist. If He did not, there could be no Higher Purpose) God/Jesus experienced pain suffering, humiliation, and death. So must we. It’s for our salvation. Salvation not being a house on a cloud with a harp, but Oneness with God Himself.

    Forgive me Father Stephen if I have misstated the Church’s position.

    God blesses you, David, whether you want His blessings or not.

  46. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    An observation. Your choices seem fairly narrow to me – more narrow than they need to be. Supernatural or no supernatural, for example. I probably don’t believe in what you would understand as the supernatural. I would find the typical account of the supernatural almost too flat-footed and granting a privilege to what is called the “natural” than I would.

    There is much put forth in the name of Christianity that simply doesn’t rise above the level of a poorly-taught Sunday School class. But that is no reason to confuse such simplicity with the reality of the Christian faith. The faith is not complex – but it is in no way shallow – and is very far removed from the caricatures offered by its “cultured despisers” (to use Schleiermacher’s phrase).

    For instance, you too readily assume that Karen’s “faith in the Resurrection” which gives her strength, etc., is a belief in what you would consider the supernatural. While I suspect that Karen is talking about something so profoundly beyond “natural and supernatural” that all created things simply pale in comparison. The Resurrection does not belong to a class of supernatural events. It is sui generis.

    Were there no Resurrection of Christ – no amount of supernatural anything would matter at all to me (nor to Karen, I would think).

  47. Ruth Says:

    This article by David Bentley Hart may be interesting if one doesn’t have time or funds to order the book Karen mentioned.

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/05/tsunami-and-theodicy

  48. fatherstephen Says:

    Anonymougodblogger,
    You quoted,”Christians cannot look to some time prior to the universe and say that things started one way, only now they are another because of something we did. It is possible to read the Genesis story in such a manner, but it is probably a misreading or a misuse of the story (to some degree). It has a much deeper meaning.”

    I think it is normal that we place things in a narrative context – it’s how we think. In addition, we are dominated in our culture by a very “historical” world-view, such that we not only set things in a narrative, but want to put things in a historical narrative. It’s generally not a problem but becomes a problem when we start noticing problems with the pieces or the narrative starts distorting the few things that we know.

    Christ’s Pascha has a cosmic character to it – despite its occurrence within human history. I have stood in Christ’s empty tomb. The historical character is essential to our faith. But when I look at the icon of Christ in Hades (the resurrection icon), I note that Christ stands in what iconographers call a “Mandorla” which is a way of representing something that transcends all representation. To behold that icon is to see something that has an out-of-time character. Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that the “Lamb was slain before the foundation of the earth.”

    I find the Genesis narrative useful for understanding certain aspects of the fallen world (mostly its relational aspects) but it becomes problematic when I try to turn that narrative into part of a purely historical account of our world and of the fall.

    The fact is, I cannot give a purely historical account of the fall. It’s something that falls out of view to a certain extent. Genesis is simply much larger than history and its pure relationship to history is a mystery for me.

    Modern man, and many Christians for that matter who have become too dominated by the modern world-view, have a deep historical anxiety. Historical equals “real” and “true” in their mind and any agnosticism with regard to history is taken as a lapse in faith. Thus, such questioning is attacked as though it were heresy (and it is not) and we step onto the ground of modern fundamentalism (which is one of the chief forms of Christian anxiety).

    I start with the resurrection of Christ. It is both cosmic in character and yet intersects and even “explodes” our world. It is properly where the Christian faith begins. The disciples do not understand anything until after the resurrection of Christ. And neither to we. To many Christians start out with a narrative and try to place the resurrection within that narrative as a mere event. It is truly an event, but it is even greater than that.

    I find that I must stand within the resurrection of Christ and speak the narrative from that point. Pascha is my reference point for all things. Pascha is the defining moment of creation (and its recreation).

    I hope these thoughts are of help. I’d be glad to write more (particularly to points that you would find helpful). I’ve got an article or two that touch on this as well that I could find (within the blog).

  49. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you. This is really important. Let me think about it and get back to you after I more clearly identify what I don’t understand. In the meantime, if you have have time to dig for them (or maybe you’re more organized than I am and thus know exactly where they are!), could you post the links to your other blog articles on this?

    With thanks,
    Anonymousgodblogger

  50. David Ellis Says:


    Just curious, David.

    What standard are you using to judge moral acceptability or repellence?

    My views on meta-ethics and moral epistemology are tied up primarily in the concepts of intrinsic goods for the former and ideal observer theory for the latter. For anyone not familiar with them wikipedia has a good basic introduction to both:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideal_observer_theory

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intrinsic_good

  51. David Ellis Says:


    Your choices seem fairly narrow to me – more narrow than they need to be. Supernatural or no supernatural, for example. I probably don’t believe in what you would understand as the supernatural.

    I’m quite aware of the wide variety of differing metaphysical systems to be found in religion so I only use the term “supernatural” as a general label for claims involving religion, magic or the paranormal (basically things that, if real, would require me to alter my current model of the way the world works). It’s actually a term I rather dislike since its so often defined and understood in VERY different ways by different people—I’ve seen many a discussion about religion derailed by long digressions into the differing usages of that word.


    For instance, you too readily assume that Karen’s “faith in the Resurrection” which gives her strength, etc., is a belief in what you would consider the supernatural.

    Actually, my position would be better stated as being that I think her belief in the resurrection is unwarranted. The definition of the word “supernatural” is rather fuzzy. I usually try to avoid it. My having used it at all was mostly just careless wording on my part.


    While I suspect that Karen is talking about something so profoundly beyond “natural and supernatural” that all created things simply pale in comparison. The Resurrection does not belong to a class of supernatural events. It is sui generis.

    I’m really not much interested in whether the Resurrection is labeled supernatural or not.

    I’m just interested in whether the belief that it actually occurred is warranted. My opinion, obviously, is that it isn’t. If you or she wishes to go into the issue of whether its a warranted belief or not and why, we can.

  52. David Ellis Says:


    An interesting quote, since without God, there’s really no morality at all.

    This is often claimed by theists—and almost alway, like in this case, without a modicum of argument in support of the claim. I think the discussion about the problem of unnecessary suffering has largely come to a standstill so I suppose there’s no reason not to going into the subject of meta-ethics.

    I previously stated the basic concepts central to my views on this subject (intrinsic goods and ideal observer theory). If you have any questions about it feel free to ask.

    As to the statement quoted above I will simply ask by what argument you would conclude that

    A. God exists.

    (and only A) necessarily entails

    B. There are true moral propositions

    Also, what meta-ethical theory do you subscribe to (I’m assuming its either divine command theory or the variant that, while I’ve not heard it named, I usually call divine character theory because it puts the basis of morality in God’s character rather than his commands).

    And, finally, what solution do you propose to the Euthyphro dilemma (keeping in mind that there’s a version of the dilemma applicable to divine character theory as much as there’s one that applies to divine command theory)?

  53. Damaris Says:

    There is an arrogance in asking that anything prove itself to us in a way we can understand. Such arrogance seems to imply that our minds are the ultimate reality and the touchstone by which everything is judged. What reason do we humans have to trust in our own understanding? I do not mean to espouse deconstructionism or any other philosophy that claims that things cannot be known or communicated. I believe they can. I only mean that humility is the beginning of wisdom — for me, for David Ellis, and for all of us. Only from the starting point of humility can we hope to have insight into things that are larger than we are. The world that I can understand and prove to myself without faith is a very small and lonely one.

    David, forgive me fif I sound critical. I don’t know you and can’t be sure that I’ve understood you correctly.

  54. Ryan Says:

    Not being a philosopher, I have no ability to answer any questions involving “meta-ethics” or “Euthyphro theory”, because I don’t know what they are. I will likewise hold my tongue (“I don’t know about that”🙂 about divine character and divine command theory, intrinsic goods and ideal observers.

    A) I believe (know) that a “higher power” (God) exists because the universe exists, because life exists, and because sentient (souled) beings exist. I know these to be impossibilities without a designer.
    I also know that God exists because I have in my own rudimentary way experienced Him. Now you can describe the latter as my imagination, my superstition, or whatever. I cannot prove to you that God really wrote “YOU CAN” in rainwater at 1am on the side of a building at a moment of despair . Nor can I prove any other transcendental experience. I feel for you that you ahve either not been blessed with such experience, or (more likely) have chosen to ignore such transcendental experiences.

    B) I believe that morality requires a God, because if there is no God, then we have no souls. We are soulless animals all scraping by a meaningless existence. If we hurt another soulless animal in the search for our own food/pleasure/whatever, it is no different if the victim be human or chicken. Your hypothesis basically requires that verbalization of pain be the definition of right and wrong. Peter Singer’s hypotheses probably hold more ethical weight in a Godless system than what I understand yours to be (though his pro-infanticide stance is utterly contradictory).

    Belief is sometimes difficult in this “Enlightened Age”. We are taught by our media, or schools, and our government that all of our problems can be solved and all of our questions can be answered by science, and that belief in God is unnecessary. Heaven help us. In academic centers, it has long been recognized that science faculty are far more likely to believe in God than humanities faculty. This is no accident. The more we learn about science, the more we realize His necessity in creation, and the more awesome we recognize His creation to be.

    God bless you.

  55. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    “In academic centers, it has long been recognized that science faculty are far more likely to believe in God than humanities faculty.”

    Ryan, thank you for writing that–it’s really significant.

  56. David Ellis Says:


    There is an arrogance in asking that anything prove itself to us in a way we can understand. Such arrogance seems to imply that our minds are the ultimate reality and the touchstone by which everything is judged.

    In what way is it arrogance to require a reasonable basis for thinking a proposition true before assenting to it?

  57. Damaris Says:

    By what standard do you measure truth?

  58. David Ellis Says:


    I believe (know) that a “higher power” (God) exists because the universe exists, because life exists, and because sentient (souled) beings exist. I know these to be impossibilities without a designer.

    This is mere assertion. If you decide to present an actual argument for your position I’ll be happy to discuss the merits of that argument.


    I also know that God exists because I have in my own rudimentary way experienced Him.

    And have dismissed, without giving the slightest argument as to why, the possibility that you simply imagined that you “experienced” God.


    I feel for you that you ahve either not been blessed with such experience, or (more likely) have chosen to ignore such transcendental experiences.

    What I’ve done is recognize that I, though having the religious experiences normal to my religious background, understood, upon considering the matter, that I had not the slightest basis for thinking imagination not at least as good an explanation for those experiences.

    After all, why should I consider my religious experiences when I was a Christian (and later when I was a nonspecific mystical pantheist) any more likely to be true than those of someone who recalls past lives in a mystical vision or someone who believes he can commune with spirits of the forest?


    I believe that morality requires a God, because if there is no God, then we have no souls.

    You’re again substituting assertions for arguments.


    We are taught by our media, or schools, and our government that all of our problems can be solved and all of our questions can be answered by science…

    Are we? I’ve yet to hear this from any atheist or agnostic.


    In academic centers, it has long been recognized that science faculty are far more likely to believe in God than humanities faculty. This is no accident. The more we learn about science, the more we realize His necessity in creation, and the more awesome we recognize His creation to be.

    Really? I notice you give no references. I don’t know anything about the statistics in the humanities but in the sciences nonbelief in God is far higher than in the general population. In the general population, here in the US nonbelievers make up somewhere between 3% and 15% of the population depending on what poll you trust. In the sciences, though, nonbelievers outnumber believers. And, among the most accomplished scientists, the numbers are ever even less favorable for theism. A 1998 poll of members of the National Academy of Science found only 7% professing a belief in a personal God.

    This based only on a quick google search. Examples:

    http://secularright.org/wordpress/?p=604

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/news/file002.html

    If you can point us to other data I’d be glad to see it.

  59. David Ellis Says:


    By what standard do you measure truth?

    A very broad question. Are you expecting me to expound a complete epistemological theory? I’d have to write a book, not a blog comment, to do that. Could you be more specific about what you’d like to know?

  60. Karen Says:

    David, I’m a simple person–not a philosopher. The kind of arguments in works like that of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” make a great deal of sense to me. I’m pretty much of a “big picture” thinker (that is I’m taking into account a great deal of what I have learned intuitively about human nature and the character of the world in which we live into account in how I reason about things). I can find no satisfying explanation for the wisdom and teaching of Jesus and the events of His life recorded in the Gospels (and for the continued existence of the Church) that believably surpasses the traditional one (though, as Fr. Stephen has also pointed out the “traditional” explanation is often oversimplified and distorted even among Christians). If you can, fine. I’m not out to persuade you to my position–only to let you know that I share your dissatisfaction with “Christian” theodicies. What this suggests to me is only that our understanding of what Christian faith is, our backgrounds and experiences, and likely many of our motivations are different. It says little, in my opinion, about what is ultimately true.

    Undoubtedly, there is more than reason persuading me to be a Christian. As Fr. Stephen has pointed out, the nature of our faith is a matter of the heart which directs and influences our reasoning brain. I don’t find Christian faith is necessarily contrary to reason (unless one adopts a priori certain materialist and rationalist assumptions, which are also a matter of faith). What experiences apart from reason have led to my beliefs may be interesting to consider, but I think one could equally look at your background and experiences and come up with reasons why you believe what you do that also have nothing to do with any rigid requirement of reason and logic.

    It would be interesting to me to know how you cope with suffering–your own and that of others–given your own beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality (if you’d care to elaborate).

    Thanks for the opportunity for this conversation.

  61. Дејан Says:

    What is the rational way to explain to a person who is blind from his birth the exact difference between red and green colour, for example?

    If perhaps there is no way to do it, then is there any epistemological value in the fact that people with eyesight can see the difference?

    Regards,

    Dejan

  62. Sean Says:

    Coming from the field of Applied Sciences, particularly from electromagnetism and computer programming/simulation I have struggled too much with my faith. Anyone who knows a bit about programming or physics will know that the mind who works on that kind of stuff has a highly structured functionality, of the type: “If I do A, B will happen. If I do C, D will happen” and that’s not a prediction, it’s a certain prognosis of a fact that is going to happen logically. That’s not the way faith works, and I have had to learn that in a bitter way all too well.
    The thing is, at some point I realized that try as I might, I would never be able to cut my religious beliefs into convenient pieces and fit them in my concept of how this world works: That’s not to say the spiritual world is something different from the physical world but that you cannot treat and measure spiritual matters in the same way you treat physics, per se (even different sciences cannot be treated the same way). And that is so because faith is a type of “knowledge” different than science. And using tools that apply to science (like rationalism, philosophy, experimentation etc) can get you only so far.
    There is a constant battle within myself because in my heart I feel I know there is a God, a good God, but my head roars “BUT HOW CAN IT BE?” … Well, the honest answer is , I don’t know. One might argue that it’s just the way people react to the idea of finality and death: believing in a deity gives them hope of a continuation of life after death. But I don’t think so. What we are afraid of in death is not death itself, it is the unknown that lies awaiting beyond. Knowing there is no god, no afterlife, would not only make me feel I have noone to answer to (lift of responsibility), it would also make me far less anxious about ending up in hell (which is where I am surely headed to right now, you can trust me on that one). Not a bad bargain at all. However, the very fact that we are afraid of death, that we are anxious to continue living on (despite the fact many live lives of misery, pain and sometimes torture) tells me that death is, indeed, unnatural. Something else is at work here.
    Now, arguing about why we feel like that and whether God exists or not does not prove anything. His existence (or not, according to one’s viewpoint) does not depend on us saying one way or the other. Trying to logically prove that God exists or does not exist sounds as weird to me as two computers having an argument between themselves about the nature or the pattern of decisions and actions of man (their creator). If we are so far superior to our own creations (computers) then how far superior is our Creator to us? Come to that, we cannot yet understand our own nature, I think we’d be hard put to even begin grasping even the way God acts.

    There is some kind of living organism on his planet (a kind of amoeba) that has been proved to be only capable of perceiving two dimensions in space, in contrast to three like -presumably- the rest of the living creatures. The experiences of such an organism, however limited, can only tell it about what it is capable of physically perceiving. Humans can physically perceive three dimensions in space plus time, but that does not mean that’s all there is. Limiting our beliefs and our knowledge only to the sphere of what we are capable of perceiving physically puts us technically in the same level as amoebas. And the very fact that we are here, reading, arguing and having conscience of abstract subjects that supersede our strict physical boundaries, suggests otherwise.

    My two cents (although it seems more like two grand, but, oh well, there you are.)

  63. David Ellis Says:


    The kind of arguments in works like that of Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” make a great deal of sense to me.

    I suggest you read some of the reviews and analyses of that that book that can be found on the internet. There’s a good one by Jeffrey Jay Lowder, for example.


    I don’t find Christian faith is necessarily contrary to reason (unless one adopts a priori certain materialist and rationalist assumptions, which are also a matter of faith).

    Personally, the assumptions I started my investigation of theological and religious questions were Christian ones.

    The problem is there just isn’t much evidence that the claims of the Christian religion are true. In this Christianity is in the same boat as every other religion on the planet.

    I’m not a materialist, by the way (on metaphysical questions of that sort, regarding the basic “stuff” of reality, I’m entirely agnostic).

    As to “rationalist” assumptions, I’m curious as to what assumptions you have in mind.


    What experiences apart from reason have led to my beliefs may be interesting to consider, but I think one could equally look at your background and experiences and come up with reasons why you believe what you do that also have nothing to do with any rigid requirement of reason and logic.

    My reason for not believing in Christianity, and all other religions for that matter, are that I don’t find anything remotely approaching a good basis for thinking it likely to be true.

    You may assume otherwise as you wish. Am I an emotionless, purely logical Vulcan? Of course not. Like all human beings my judgment is imperfect and subject to being swayed by irrational factors.

    All I can say is that I value reason, critical thinking, and evidence because, when it comes to separating truth from falsehood, they work. The heart, on the other hand, has a less than stellar track record for separating the true claims from false ones.


    It would be interesting to me to know how you cope with suffering–your own and that of others–given your own beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality (if you’d care to elaborate).

    I have nothing to say about the “ultimate nature of reality”. I simply try to refrain from including things in my view of how the world works unless I have credible basis for thinking them real.

    As to how I cope with suffering I have no system or secret. Nor do I feel any particular need for one. At times I suffer. At times people I care about suffer. I give and take comfort where and when I can.

  64. David Ellis Says:


    What is the rational way to explain to a person who is blind from his birth the exact difference between red and green colour, for example?

    You must have the experience of seeing the color green to know what its like to have the experience of seeing the color green.

    Or so I strongly suspect. I’m certainly aware of no other way to know what its like.


    If perhaps there is no way to do it, then is there any epistemological value in the fact that people with eyesight can see the difference?

    One of my grade school teachers once told a story about a man with total red-green color blindness. He distinguished red and green traffic lights by their position (top or bottom) rather than their color.

    One day he was travelling cross country and, unknowingly, came across a town where the lights had been installed upside down. Naturally, he had an accident.

    I suspect he would recognize a certain value in being able to distinguish red from green.

    Seriously, though, I can make little coherent sense of your question. What do you mean by “epistemological value” in being able to distinguish red from green? Obviously, and quite sensibly, people value it. I’m not sure for what reason you’re adding the word “epistemological” to value in your question. The intent or point of the question is far from clear.

  65. David Ellis Says:


    But I don’t think so. What we are afraid of in death is not death itself, it is the unknown that lies awaiting beyond. Knowing there is no god, no afterlife, would not only make me feel I have no one to answer to (lift of responsibility)…

    Its not uncommon for theists to claim general atheism would have negative moral consequences. Strangely enough, though, the nations with the highest percentage of atheists in the population consistently have among the lowest crime, teen pregnancy, infant mortality, etc. They score among the very best in almost every measure of social well-being. I can cite sources if you like or you can just google it yourself—the information is readily available.


    However, the very fact that we are afraid of death, that we are anxious to continue living on (despite the fact many live lives of misery, pain and sometimes torture) tells me that death is, indeed, unnatural. Something else is at work here.

    The argument from desire. Have you been reading CS Lewis?

    Most of us rather like being alive. Therefore we don’t want to die.

    Not terribly mysterious. And a very poor argument for an afterlife.

  66. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Well, here’s one scientist that does believe:
    ***
    By Dr. Francis Collins
    Special to CNN

    Editor’s note: Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the Human Genome Project. His most recent book is “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.”

    ROCKVILLE, Maryland (CNN) — I am a scientist and a believer, and I find no conflict between those world views.

    As the director of the Human Genome Project, I have led a consortium of scientists to read out the 3.1 billion letters of the human genome, our own DNA instruction book. As a believer, I see DNA, the information molecule of all living things, as God’s language, and the elegance and complexity of our own bodies and the rest of nature as a reflection of God’s plan.

    I did not always embrace these perspectives. As a graduate student in physical chemistry in the 1970s, I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked “What do you believe, doctor?”, I began searching for answers.

    I had to admit that the science I loved so much was powerless to answer questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” “Why am I here?” “Why does mathematics work, anyway?” “If the universe had a beginning, who created it?” “Why are the physical constants in the universe so finely tuned to allow the possibility of complex life forms?” “Why do humans have a moral sense?” “What happens after we die?” (Watch Francis Collins discuss how he came to believe in God )

    I had always assumed that faith was based on purely emotional and irrational arguments, and was astounded to discover, initially in the writings of the Oxford scholar C.S. Lewis and subsequently from many other sources, that one could build a very strong case for the plausibility of the existence of God on purely rational grounds. My earlier atheist’s assertion that “I know there is no God” emerged as the least defensible. As the British writer G.K. Chesterton famously remarked, “Atheism is the most daring of all dogmas, for it is the assertion of a universal negative.”

    But reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. Faith is reason plus revelation, and the revelation part requires one to think with the spirit as well as with the mind. You have to hear the music, not just read the notes on the page. Ultimately, a leap of faith is required.

    For me, that leap came in my 27th year, after a search to learn more about God’s character led me to the person of Jesus Christ. Here was a person with remarkably strong historical evidence of his life, who made astounding statements about loving your neighbor, and whose claims about being God’s son seemed to demand a decision about whether he was deluded or the real thing. After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus.

    So, some have asked, doesn’t your brain explode? Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren’t evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection?

    Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things.

    But why couldn’t this be God’s plan for creation? True, this is incompatible with an ultra-literal interpretation of Genesis, but long before Darwin, there were many thoughtful interpreters like St. Augustine, who found it impossible to be exactly sure what the meaning of that amazing creation story was supposed to be. So attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer.

    I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God’s majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.

  67. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    http://www.citycampusministry.com/posts/3654

    What percentage of scientists believe in God?
    Michael Keller on November 15, 2009

    This week a statistically significant major Pew Study revealed that most American scientists (51%) believe in some form of higher power deity. While this percentage is far lower than most average Americans, the study does note some very interesting data points.

    The same questions that were asked in a 1914 survey to American scientists were asked in 1996. While American culture has become less influenced by Judeo-Christian values, surprisingly American scientists answered almost the same way as their 1914 counterparts.

    The Pew Research Poll shows a trend that younger scientists are more likely to believe in God than their older brethren. This shows that increasingly the younger generation is able to fuse a belief in the scientific physical world with a transcendent metaphysical worldview.

  68. handmaid leah Says:

    “or you can just google it yourself—the information is readily available.

    “Oh yes, cause everything on the internets is true😉

  69. fatherstephen Says:

    As a conversational note… there is no “rational” form of conversation between believer and non-believer (or for that matter between believer and believer) that the word “rational” would sufficiently describe and for which it would set proper parameters. “Rational” is a very broad term. I would recommend the American philosopher, Alastair MacIntyre (Whose Justice, Which Rationality?) for those who still hold the mistaken opinion that rationality has any universality in its meaning.

    The arguments are interminable and without resolution – for all of the assumptions flow from different places.

    As an Orthodox Christian, I would say (in Orthodox terms), that the heart is everything (“heart” as understood in traditional Orthodox manner). For “out of the abundance of the heart does a man speak.” Thus, what someone offers in their arguments (regardless of rationality), is evidence of the state of their heart and nothing more. And the state of the heart is everything.

    Thus the Elder Paisios can say, that even the “sight of a fox” can be an occasion for conversion. Thus with patience we speak to a non-believer, to the heterodox believer, and even to other Orthodox believers, knowing that the heart is the object of our conversation and not the red herrings presented by various so-called rationalities, be they unbelieving, heterodox, or Orthodox. The heart is everything.

  70. Ryan Says:

    Here’s another peer reviewed scientific survey:
    http://www.rice.edu/sallyport/2006/winter/sallyport/scientists.html

    I don’t know anything about the Academy of Sciences, but that lowball number you threw out compared to the other research says to me that religiosity is not welcomed in the Academy, and that atheism might help members professionally. The specific “personal God” question may have also skewed the data, since I am sure that many scientists are deists.

    And in your “purely scientific view”, how is it that you can assert that we have souls?

  71. David Ellis Says:


    Ryan: And in your “purely scientific view”, how is it that you can assert that we have souls?

    I never asserted that we have souls. Where did you get that idea?


    Father Stephen: As an Orthodox Christian, I would say (in Orthodox terms), that the heart is everything (“heart” as understood in traditional Orthodox manner). or “out of the abundance of the heart does a man speak.” Thus, what someone offers in their arguments (regardless of rationality), is evidence of the state of their heart and nothing more. And the state of the heart is everything.

    Not a surprising position to take when one has so little evidence in support of one’s beliefs. It’s exactly the same tack taken by “psychic” scam artists.

    Not that I’m implying your beliefs are insincere—I’ve no reason whatsoever to think that. Only that the exaltation of the “heart” over evidence and reason is natural when one is promoting an irrational stance—whether that be out of sincere but unfounded belief or simply to separate gullible people from their cash.

    And I’m as wary of one as of the other.

  72. Дејан Says:

    [b]You must have the experience of seeing the color green to know what its like to have the experience of seeing the color green.

    Or so I strongly suspect. I’m certainly aware of no other way to know what its like.[/b]

    …in one previous comment you also said…

    [b]But, again the quite question arises of whether one actually has such a mystical perception or just imagined it.[/b]

    Now, can the question be asked: “But, again the question arises of whether one actually has such a visual perception of color green or just imagined it?”

    Or can it be said: “You must have the experience of mystical perception to know what its like to have experience of mystical perception. Or so strongly I suspect. I’m certainly aware of no other way to know what its like.”

    When I said “epistemological value” I meant that seeing the difference between green and red colour is not in rational domain, but it enriches our lives in a way as an experience. I wondered if things that are not rational, but are product of direct perception have certain value. And I like your answer – one needs to experience it to really understand and to value it. Of course, blind man could suspect that there are such things as colours at all, and rightly so, because he has no rational evidence for their existence. But that does not mean they do not exist, and even more important that they do not have value in their domain, for example in arts.

    I am trying to explore the limits of different types of knowledge. I do not want in advance to discard the existence of mystical knowledge if it does not apply to positivistic notions of falsifiability. But what if it is verifiable under certain conditions?

    Needless to say, I don’t want to be caught in any delusion either.

    Remember the Shawshank Redemption movie? That scene when Andy escapes from prison, and stands in the rain breathing in freedom. If there is such thing as authentic mystical experience I strongly suspect it must be something like that. Breathing in freedom.

    That I am now living in a prison of my own ignorance and limitations, it is very clear and obvious to me. Andy needed 20 years of patience and faith without proof to get out of his outer prison.

    Thank you for honestly responding to my questions. I hope that I made my position more clear. Thanks for your patience too.

  73. Damaris Says:

    Damaris: By what standard do you measure truth?

    David Ellis: A very broad question. Are you expecting me to expound a complete epistemological theory? I’d have to write a book, not a blog comment, to do that. Could you be more specific about what you’d like to know?

    What I meant was this. We would need an outside standard to determine which of us — if either did — saw truth. You believe that your reasonable opinion on God is true; I believe that mine, the opposite, is true. If we charitably assume we are both reasonable people, then we would need something beyond our own sense of what was reasonable to reach the truth.

    I’m presuming we both accept that there is truth beyond a comfortable conviction that something is true because we agree with it.

    However, I submit to Father Stephen’s poiint that belief is a result of mystery and grace, not something we are argued into or out of. Forgive me if I have been argumentative. I wish you the best, David.

  74. David Ellis Says:


    Now, can the question be asked: “But, again the question arises of whether one actually has such a visual perception of color green or just imagined it?”

    Or can it be said: “You must have the experience of mystical perception to know what its like to have experience of mystical perception. Or so strongly I suspect. I’m certainly aware of no other way to know what its like.”

    I thought that was where you were going with that question.

    Yes, you must have a mystical experience to know what the experience is like (and I have, by the way).

    But the question at hand is not what the subjective experience of a mystical state is like. Rather it is whether the cause of a mystical experience is divine or merely psychological (or something else, those two do not exhaust all the logically possible explanations for mystical experiences).

    When I said “epistemological value” I meant that seeing the difference between green and red colour is not in rational domain, but it enriches our lives in a way as an experience.

    The problem with the analogy you’re making is that God is not like “green” or “red”. The latter are simply experiences, subjective mental states. But you are not arguing that God is just a mental state like seeing greenness or feeling pain. You believe in an independently existent entity who created the universe and has certain characteristics (generally omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, etc).

    Using the analogy you have skirts dangerously close to implying that God is “all in our heads”. And you’re welcome to do so. Just realize that doing so is an embrace of atheism, not a refutation of it.


    And I like your answer – one needs to experience it to really understand and to value it. Of course, blind man could suspect that there are such things as colours at all, and rightly so, because he has no rational evidence for their existence.

    You’re very mistaken. A blind man is quite capable of having strong evidence of the existence of colors. Think it through. Blind people have abundant experience of how the sighted can do things they are incapable of. The blind have senses other than sight and realize (even if they’re not philosophically inclined enough to have though it out explicitly) that sensory experiences always involve some subjective mental impression (like the feeling of coldness, hotness, etc from the sense of touch or the subjective impressions involved in hearing sounds). Even if they’ve never personally experienced a color they can infer quite sensibly that the sighted are experiencing a sort of subjective mental impression of a variety they don’t have access to—that, in that respect, they stand in relation to the sighted as the deaf do to them. And that “color” is the word that refers to the subjective impression involved in experiences involving the sense of sight.

  75. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    I understand your scepticism. However, I live as an Orthodox priest (which in America carries its own level of poverty). I am not an American TV evangelist. Rationalism has its own level of scam artists. Again, the heart is everything. It’s not a matter of avoiding rationalism because I can’t cut the mustard. It’s because the mustard of rationalism is a meal I’d prefer not to eat. The track record of rationalism is rather lame, forgive me. A rationalist with good heart can be a life-saving scientist – or he can be as evil as a Nazi-scientist. Both cite reason – but the heart rings true every time.

    I’m as wary of one as the other. I suppose we all do well to be wary.

    On the other hand – rationalism never produced a Mother Theresa. It has produced Stalin and Hitler. Of course, religion has produced plenty of hucksters and provided cover for plenty of false prophets. No argument from me. But rationalism is not the salvation or necessarily the improvement of the world. Every tool (whether rationalism or something else) is dependent on the goodness of heart of the one who wields the tool. God save us from evil tool-masters.

  76. David Ellis Says:


    We would need an outside standard to determine which of us — if either did — saw truth.

    We are quite capable, if we are willing and have the patience, to examine together the ways people employ of becoming convinced of the truth or falsehood of propositions and working out, fairly well even if imperfectly, whether they have a good chance of separating truth from falsehood.

    We aren’t condemned to simply throwing up our hands and saying “Oh, well. You have your beliefs and I have mine and that’s that”. We can examine both of our approaches, as well other other possible options, and think through how they will work. We can perform “thought experiments” and test out hypothetical scenarios and say to ourselves “suppose I use this method for forming an opinion on the proposition and the proposition is true: will the method usually lead to me accepting the proposition….and suppose the proposition is false: will the method also tend to lead to me rejecting or, at least, not adopting it.”

    If so we may well have a sound approach to deciding whether something is true or not.

    We can also employ them, where possible, in actual practice. Unfortunately, that’s rather difficult in regard to religion since most religions have the sense to restrict themselves to unfalsifiable claims (though in those cases where the claims have been falsifiable, religion has not fared well).


    If we charitably assume we are both reasonable people, then we would need something beyond our own sense of what was reasonable to reach the truth.

    I propose that we not assume, for the sake of charity or anything else, that either of us is reasonable but instead, examine together our approaches and mercilessly probe and test them.

  77. David Ellis Says:


    The track record of rationalism is rather lame, forgive me. A rationalist with good heart can be a life-saving scientist – or he can be as evil as a Nazi-scientist. Both cite reason – but the heart rings true every time.

    I do not recall many torture chambers being set aside for people who denied the validity of rationalism. Quite a few torture devices have been applied to people for denying the tenets of religions though.


    On the other hand – rationalism never produced a Mother Theresa.

    Thankfully no. Instead it produced vaccines that saved millions of lives. It all but eliminated polio. It has cured the blind and reattached severed limbs. Things religion has only been seen to do in story.


    It (rationalism) has produced Stalin and Hitler.

    Stalin was not religious…but he was also not the least bit a rationalist. Communism’s silly economic theories didn’t have an ounce of evidence in their favor—and its results were predictably disastrous. Religion is not the only form of irrationality. Just because a person was anti-religious doesn’t mean they were rational. I certainly don’t think that and surely you don’t either.

    As to Hitler, he not only wasn’t a rationalist, he wasn’t a nontheist either. He made it illegal for the freethinker societies to meet soon after taking office. He was a member of the Catholic Church. He was obsessed, as well, with the occult.

    Hardly an example of the fruits of rationalism. He was about as far from being a rationalist as its possible to get.


    But rationalism is not the salvation or necessarily the improvement of the world.

    I haven’t claimed it’s the salvation of the world. All I’ve said is that I value truth and I want methods of forming beliefs that are likely to separate the true from the false. To that end I question rigorously whatever methods are suggested on which to base belief.

    The ones you dub rationalism are the ones that, in my admittedly imperfect judgment, work the best.

    And I welcome you to question and probe my methods for flaws as I’ve been doing yours. That’s how we go about the wonderful task of uncovering our own errors.

  78. fatherstephen Says:

    Actually, I know the man (a former Vice President of Rotary International) who has, more than any other, been responsible for the eradication of polio in the world. He’s a Christian, not a non-theist rationalist – as are many scientists and others who have done good. I’m not anti-science or anti-reason. You cannot counter Mother Teresa with just any achievement of science. Science was not developed by atheists, but largely by believing men and women.

    I am also acquainted with Charles Townsend, inventor of the laser beam and Nobel Prize winner in physics, an alum of my alma mater, who was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa (alumnus induction) the year I was inducted as a college junior. He is a believer (a Baptist) and an enthusiastic apologist for the Christian faith. One could go on and on. Fr. Pavel Florensky, a winner of the Lenin Prize, was an Orthodox priest and a mathematical genius who lived and taught in Lenin’s Russia, dying in Stalin’s camp in the 1930’s.

    You can’t exempt rationalism from all the bad rationalists (like Stalin). His (and the communist) economic theories were lousy, but they were not based in religious theory. And they had plenty of rooms for torture for religious believers.

    Reason is quite useful. I believe it to be a gift from God and in no way oppose it. But I do not think it universally applicable and useful. I use other things besides reason in my life and any sane and healthy human being does the same. I would hope that few of us are caricature’s of reason such as Mr. Spock on television’s Star Trek. We reason, we feel (which Orthodoxy would consider part of the reasoning mind), we intuit. We also have the capacity which the Fathers of the Church described as “the heart” (or the nous in Greek). This is a faculty of knowledge, but of a deeper sort – somewhat akin to intuition but not the same. It also is a word used to describe a deep sense of the inner character and disposition of the self – such that a good disposition (for lack of a better word in English) would be a source for good in other faculties and a bad disposition the source of evil in other faculties. So that I say, “the heart is everything.”

    Not only does this deeper disposition of the self condition what comes out of us, it also conditions what we perceive. None of us can be so “objective” as to see, act, will, think, feel, etc., in a manner that is utterly free of such a disposition. We never “reason” (or anything else) on a basis that is not somehow influenced in such a manner. We are not machines. We are humans. I would not expect nor want someone to act in such a “dispassionate” manner. It would not be fully human (and here I do not mean “passionate” in the classical sense of the passions as used by the fathers).

    The image I hear conveyed in your description of reason lacks depth and humanity – and thus lacks authenticity. Regardless of how “ruthless” we are in our self-examination, we cannot be rid of this deeper disposition. Rather, we can struggle (and I would say by God’s grace) for this disposition to be increasingly purified and united to God, such that it becomes increasingly a disposition of love.

    Christians who do not do this can wind up putting people in torture chambers, etc. Orthodoxy, by the way, is not Roman Catholicism. It did not have an Inquisition.

    Many people do not find their

  79. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    Even if they’ve never personally experienced a color they can infer quite sensibly that the sighted are experiencing a sort of subjective mental impression of a variety they don’t have access to—that, in that respect, they stand in relation to the sighted as the deaf do to them. And that “color” is the word that refers to the subjective impression involved in experiences involving the sense of sight.

    This would seem a “reasonable” argument for the verification of “mystical” experience by observing the writings and experiences of the saints (of whom we have many recent and even present living examples in Orthodoxy). Evidence that there is an “organ” of sight or experience more than the sensual ones and that it is possible to perceive and reliably believe in this manner.

    Of course, most people in the world are not aware of the lives of saints (much less of the saints who currently dwell in our midst) because much of Christianity is a very modernized diminishment and even caricature of the classical faith. They are among the experiences which an Orthodox believer takes into account in weighing his/her own belief in God. I do not set my reason aside in my life as a believer, though I seek to live a life that is more full than reason alone could give. But as I have been at this believing life for a matter of some decades now, the experience on which I base my belief has grown considerably. Nothing in my life has caused me not to believe – though much of my experience demonstrates to me that I am far from a saint. The “data” of the rationalist is, in my experience, woefully lacking in the area of religious experience. The evidence is not the “average believer” (for a single case of “religious reality” is a refutation of a non-theist position). Thus the cases of the saints are a more appropriate evidentiary consideration.

    You spoke of the superiority of reason’s scientific efforts (as though believers aren’t also scientists) as compared to Mother Teresa. It only tells me that you’ve never met such a person. I would suspect that those who lay dying on the streets of Calcutta (not to mention the 40,000 orphans she personally gathered up) would not be so sanguine in their view of the superiority of reason over sanctity. Reason and sanctity are not opposed (unless you’re describing some fictional Spock-like reason). But I know some who did indeed know Mother Teresa (as I know many who have had encounters with living Orthodox saints). Their existence, and their presence, are arguments for categories that do not normally exist in the world as defined by rationalism.

  80. Дејан Says:

    “Nothing of all that is created can see or hear Him but only what is His. What is created sees and hears what is created. Only what is begotten of Him can see Him. And only what is begotten of Him can hear Him. A painting cannot see the painter, but the son of a painter can see the painter. A bell cannot hear a bell-caster, but the daughter of a bell-caster can hear her father.

    The eye cannot see Him because it was not created for the purpose of seeing Him. The ear cannot hear Him, because it was not created for the purpose of hearing Him. But vision can see Him, and hearing can hear Him.

    My faith sees You, Lord, just as what is begotten sees its begetter. My faith hears You, Lord, just as what is begotten hears its begetter.

    The God within me sees and hears the God in You. And God is not created but begotten.”

    St. Nikolai of Zhicha, Prayers by the Lake, XXXII

    You believe in an independently existent entity who created the universe and has certain characteristics (generally omnipotence, omniscience, moral perfection, etc).

    Independetly existing from whom? I am not trying to objectify God. Where would that lead? He is eternal Beloved, not merely an entity that can be objectified.

    “While appreciating the inadequacy of neat classifications, we may say that Spirit is God within us, the Son is God with us, and the Father, God above or beyond us. Just as the Son shows us the Father, so it is the Spirit who shows us the Son, making him present to us.”

    Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, “The Orthodox Way”

  81. David Ellis Says:


    You can’t exempt rationalism from all the bad rationalists (like Stalin). His (and the communist) economic theories were lousy, but they were not based in religious theory. And they had plenty of rooms for torture for religious believers.

    The fact that something isn’t based on religious theory doesn’t make it rationalistic. As I said before, religion is not the only form of irrationalism.

    I don’t have time to comment further right now and probably won’t have the chance to respond to the rest of your comment until late tonight.

  82. David Ellis Says:


    This would seem a “reasonable” argument for the verification of “mystical” experience by observing the writings and experiences of the saints (of whom we have many recent and even present living examples in Orthodoxy). Evidence that there is an “organ” of sight or experience more than the sensual ones and that it is possible to perceive and reliably believe in this manner.

    There’s a huge difference. The ability of the sighted to gain knowledge about objects they aren’t close enough to touch is verifiable by the blind (we could easily imagine an experiment that would demonstrate this).

    But mystics can pass no such test. For all their claims of mystical contact with God no information is communicated that can be similarly verified and which they wouldn’t otherwise possess. There’s absolutely nothing to indicate its not entirely in the imagination. More on this later, I’m going to be late if I don’t get moving.

  83. Дејан Says:

    There’s a huge difference. The ability of the sighted to gain knowledge about objects they aren’t close enough to touch is verifiable by the blind (we could easily imagine an experiment that would demonstrate this).

    It is not verifiable unless the blind develops the proper sense organ to see the colours. Perhaps medical science of the future will be able to cure blindness, until then at least I cannot easily imagine an experiment that would demonstrate your claim.

    Be sure that the knowledge we are speaking about is the difference between seeing for example violet and blue colour. What kind of answer will be able to satisfy the genuine thirst for knowledge of blind man. Unless he sees what the sighted can see, what kind of explanation will be satisfactory for him?

    Take all time you need to answer. But try to find answer which will satisfy the blind man. Otherwise we are in danger to use word “verifiability” too lightly.

  84. Дејан Says:

    Father, my previous answer to David is not showing up in comments – so perhaps it is caught by spam filter, could you check it out please. I cannot repost it because WordPress is forbidding the duplication of comments.

  85. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    I hope it’s o.k. to continue a parallel conversation here(along with David’s conversation with us)–I’m still thinking about what you wrote:

    “I find the Genesis narrative useful for understanding certain aspects of the fallen world (mostly its relational aspects) but it becomes problematic when I try to turn that narrative into part of a purely historical account of our world and of the fall.

    The fact is, I cannot give a purely historical account of the fall. It’s
    something that falls out of view to a certain extent. Genesis is simply much larger than history and its pure relationship to history is a mystery for me.”

    and

    “How things got this way (suffering, etc.) is described in various ways within Christian tradition. It is not something to which a satisfactory historical account can be given. Viewed scientifically, the universe seems to have always operated as it operates now. The laws of thermodynamics, which would always entail a certain experience of suffering, etc., seem to have always been in place.”

    In the light of what you wrote, I’m not sure now how to think about Romans 5:12 and similar passages that make such a clear cause/effect statement about sin having entered the world through “one man” (as though there was SOME kind of choice that brought all this suffering/fragmentation upon us all). Also, we sing about it all the time in church. I’m not saying that that I’ve assumed there were necessarily two literal figures, Adam and Eve, but everything we read and everything we sing makes it sound as though there was indeed some cause/effect situation.

    But you’re right, entropy was always present.

    So I don’t know how to take all this anymore, or what to do in my head with it when we sing/say those things in church.

    I think I know what you mean about seeing everything in light of the Resurrection, but I am stuck in a kind of cognitive dissonance about “the fall” because it is SUCH a part of the tapestry of our faith–the fact that we live in a “fallen” world–but now you’re saying that the fall isn’t historically verifiable or locatable?–or am I misunderstanding you?

    I feel that to have integrity in my participation in the faith, I need more understanding on this.

    Thank you!

    Anonymousgodblogger

  86. Nancy Says:

    I cannot say Rationalism is “wrong”. It is simply incomplete.

    Rationalism, and its cousin, Humanism, are attractive philosophies that continue to catch my glance now and then. The very basic premise of rationalism is that “reason” and “evidence” prevail over fanciful thought (for lack of a better catch-all phrase). This supposes there is one unified piece of “evidence” and a single collective manner of “reason” within which all things reside.

    In my day job (as an American lawyer), “evidence” and “reason” swirl around me like pollen in the spring time. They fill arguments and pleadings, and justify strategies and methodologies, as if there were one single, unified, secular Truth – and as if it were that particular lawyers job to scratch at it until it was exposed. Such is the challenge of the Rationalist.

    Problem is, when law is practiced only through “reason” and “evidence”, it flat-lines the lives of those affected by the particular dispute or legal issue. It fails to recognize the Heart of the matter, and in so doing, fails in all regards to create lasting peace or unification with the true nature of a given dispute. The same is true for Rationalism – in failing to give credence to what cannot be “objectively known”, Rationalism flat-lines our existence and fails in all regards to comprehend the true nature of Reality.

    Even the law, clumsy as it can be, recognizes that often what can be “objectively known” of a given situation is a shallow substitute for the Truth of that situation, and the law incorporates myriad opportunities for a tribunal to impose its discretion and wisdom in an attempt to “fix” that dilemma. As it is with our faith, we can certainly “objectively know” certain aspects – through study and thought – but to comprehend the True nature of things, the mind alone will not suffice. We need the Heart of which Fr. Stephen speaks.

    This simplistic post is not offered to argue the American justice systems merits, or demerits, nor is it offered to compare on par Orthodoxy with the American justice system. I hope future posts don’t descend into such discussions. It is offered merely to present an analogy from my personal observation to the juxtaposition of Orthodoxy and Rationalism pervading these posts.

    May the Lord have mercy.

  87. dale Says:

    I should likely hold my tongue but this is a topic dear to my heart due to my own journey. This discussion has struck me as the scenario in the last Narnia when the dwarves I believe it was are sitting in the “stable” complaining of their situation when in reality they are in heaven. If someone refuses to attempt to open there eyes they will never see the truth in front of them. I believe this to be true of religious and non religious people alike. God gave us eyes to see. Let’s use them. Reason/logic/rationality as described by David is not reasonable/logical/or rational. I do not mean to offend you David but it is true or at least is more evidence based than your stance. Your ultra fundamentalist stance is only accepted by those who “religiously” exclude all countersupportive evidence which usually means they are angry with something or someone who has hurt them at least theoretically. “God cannot be good because such and such occurred” A truly rational person recognizes the major deficiencies with reason/logic as soon as you look beyond the most simple of examples. Even rational atheists scientists quickly reject ultra rationalism. Spend some time with chaos theory, probability theory and complex systems theory. It will help move you further towards truth/ away from simple delusion. Or depending on your willingness to move away from pure theory (which is the only way to hold to your ultra rationalism) try to apply it in the real world. In reality a+b=c only when assumptions d through z are met. If you start meddling with assumptions then you change the results. Now that leaves you with having to decide which assumptions are valid (or rational) and don’t jump to quickly to the circular argument of d through z are correct because a+b=c. that is what people usually do and conclude they were right all along. At the end of the day you are left with what you will believe not because of 100% proof but because of faith and the evidence put forth in front of you. It has been a long journey and at times painful to the mind but enlightening and humbling. At the end of the day there was no where for me but to come home to Orthodoxy although I never intended to come here. There is no “reason” to find science and orthodox faith incompatible. In fact they go together to help explain real truth to my simple mind.

    People spend a lot of time arguing about poor science, poor philosophy, and poor theology. If you approach any with humility they will help you understand the other two because there is only one Truth.

  88. dale Says:

    I was likely unneccesarily harsh with you David, Forgive me for that but it just sounds like you are right were I have been and I just wasted so much time and effort aruging my stance even after I realized the thin ice I was on. You are searching for Truth and that should be commended. keep searching but keep you heart open to the potential that you may not be able to find all the answers yourself. millions of people “believe they have evidence of a “personal” deity. Many of them very intelligent educated people in all aspects of life and studies. Is it reasonable to assume they are all delusional? May God bless your path and protect you through the struggles. You have my prayers.

  89. Theodotus Says:

    It is hard to convince someone who is unwilling to consider the existence of God and is convinced that they are right. Scripture says: Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    I was that fool for a number of years. My background is in Science in Semiconductor Physics. Yes, we as humans with rational thought can do much! We can manipulate materials, create derivatives of those materials and use them to great effect (look at all the complex electronics, and science). But, we cannot describe the fundamental “why” of things..
    Rational thought cannot explain God and for the most part cannot explain much of the physical Universe. They can only describe physical responses, be it mathematically or by detailed experiment. Fundamentally, they only describe what they can see, feel, touch or smell, or describe mathematically.

    I am Orthodox, I cannot comprehend nor describe God, but my “heart” or “nous” tells me that God exists and loves mankind. I believe in a God who created this Universe, which we have trouble to comprehend. All ex nihilo.
    (from nothing). This original post by Fr. Stephen was on the goodness of God. This we should confess.

    This discussion reminds me of this video (Falsely attributed to Einstein) but the questions and responses are valid. See: “Does God Exist?”
    here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldHF6PFUukw

    -forgive me if I have offended anyone
    -a sinner
    Theodotus

  90. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you for taking up on my comment about the heart. Yes, it is everything.

    David, as I have thought about your questions and read the other comments there is not much I can add. I was going very much in my thoughts where Fr. Stephen has following your last comments to me. If I search my heart, I can only say that I believe because I fell in love with the Jesus of the NT Gospels as a child and to this day I find no beauty that surpasses that revealed in Jesus Christ as the Church (the Orthodox Church) has preclaimed Him in the written witness of the Scriptures, in her Liturgy, Prayers, Icons, and perhaps especially in her Saints down through the ages to the present day. I can tell from what you have written here that this is a whole world of which you have virtually no experience. There is no condemnation in that–it is merely an observation based on my own experience. I also ultimately continue to believe because of the Saints.

  91. fatherstephen Says:

    Anonymous,
    I understand your point and don’t mean to create confusion. Obviously the world is fallen – it is not what it is created to be – and we participate in that fall. Interestingly, Genesis sort of starts in the middle. There is Adam and Eve in the garden, and then there is the serpent. We understand from later tradition and commentary, that the serpent is satan – but Genesis does not say that nor go into it – nor seek to explain how satan fell, etc. It simply introduces the serpent into the narrative without a particular narrative to explain him.

    To a degree, I am doing something similar. The Genesis account, particularly as taken up by St. Paul, starts in the middle as well. But the understanding he offers of the “first Adam,” presupposes what he now knows about the “Second Adam.” When you read the OT, you’ll note that Adam is not raised at all outside of Genesis. He is not treated as particularly important (apparently).

    He becomes important in the light of Christ (the Second Adam, the New Man).

    The first man (however we are to understand that historically) ruptures relationship with God, the Lord and Giver of Life, and death enters into the world. We can take the Genesis narrative in a literal form (some find that extremely important) or we can understand it as revealing the nature of our relationship with God, its rupture, and its healing in Christ.

    I know Christians who believe in a “young creation” and place the opening chapters of Genesis at around 7000 years ago. I find that both unnecessary and contrary to everything I know and see around me. I understand the Genesis account to be theologically true and revelatory – but I do not know precisely how that connects with history. That is to say that I do not think that Genesis is entirely a straightforward historical narrative. It runs deeper than that.

    By the same token, I do not think God became “tired” after six days of creation and then “rested” in a manner analogous to anything I think of as work or rest. Indeed, the Fathers take that passage to refer to Christ, who “sleeps” on the Seventh Day (Saturday) in the sleep of death in the tomb, but in which He completed the work of creation by destroying death by death and despoiling Hades.

    If Genesis’ opening chapter can make such a statement about God’s rest, and mean something that is obviously not literal on its surface, why should we suppose that the narrative suddenly switches to another use of language?

    Genesis gives us the truth of our relationship with God and gives it to us in a manner that we can understand and use to understand the work of Christ. But a purely historical narrative almost never reveals the truth to us.

    For instance – if you or I were standing outside the tomb of Christ. We would see the purely historical deposition of His dead body in the tomb. We might even see the historical event of the stone being rolled away. What else would we see? Some of the witnesses saw an angel. There is no description of someone watching Christ walk out of the tomb (though I would think that we might have done so had we been standing there at the right moment). But when the disciples encountered the risen Lord, they did not suddenly understand everything. They, in fact, seemed to have understood almost nothing. Christ had to take them and walk them through the Scriptures (starting with Moses and the Prophets) and explain the things pertaining to Himself. The risen Christ interprets Scripture (and every evidence we have of how the NT uses the OT would seem to indicate that Christ’s interpretation of the OT for the disciples was not a straightforward explanation of the historical narrative). The NT, particularly the gospels, have a penchant for taking verses of the OT out of their historical, narrative context. Thus, the only way to understand Scripture in Christian manner, is to be taught by the Risen Lord, which is one of the functions of Holy Tradition. Holy Tradition teaches us as Christ Himself taught the disciples.

    But if you start with the Risen Lord, then you begin at the true bedrock of faith. Adam then has meaning in relation to the Risen Lord, and not in relation to an independent historical narrative.

    I don’t mean to remove history from Scripture, God forbid. A few of my friends tell me that I push this point to the extreme, and that may be so. But my point is to quit “privileging history,” as though it were history that is the content of revelation. And much that has happened, indeed that which is of most significance, happens outside the view of history.

    If we return to the tomb of Christ. Standing outside and seeing what we have seen, we still have seen nothing of His descent into Hades and His trampling down death by death, and yet that is what is most significant in His death and resurrection. We see before, we see after, but the most significant thing we must be taught by Him, for He is its witness (as is all the subsequent life of the Church).

    Instead, we should stand in the resurrection of Christ and understand things from there. We may understand some things and speak of them and even use them as the foundation for theological understanding, but not be certain of how to relate them completely to history.

    How do we relate the Holy Eucharist to history? We timelessly eat the Body and Blood of Christ in an eternal mystery. You and I are even now being redeemed in the midst of history – being redeemed from the tyranny of history.

    Nothing is more tyrannical in history than death. Death is history’s claim to have “turned us into history.” But the resurrection of Christ undoes, in a unique way, the history of Christ’s crucifixion. At least the action of His murder on the cross does not result in His lasting death. Christ does not become just one more statistic of Roman cruelty.

    Even so, as I live by the resurrection, and “forgive others by the resurrection,” their history and mine are no longer masters of everything. The love of God conquers and redeems. The evil man meant to do to me is forgiven and undone. The “fire becomes like dew.”

    There are other such examples.

    We start with Christ and relate all things to Him. The habit of our modern thought (and of much thought before) tends towards this tyranny of history. We have in the West, two opposite theological reactions to history’s tyranny, both of which are wrong. There is Protestant fundamentalism which so exalts and privileges history that it literalizes things to an absurd point. There is now a museum which has prehistoric man and dinosaurs inhabiting the earth at the same time. I know why people think such things but I think it is because of an absurd attitude towards history and the utter historicization of Scripture. The opposite is the position taken by Western liberalism, which also absolutizes history. But instead of twisting facts and forcing them to fit a supposed infallible narrative, the liberals dismiss anything that they cannot prove to be historical fact and therefore dismiss and ignore the true meaning of Scripture made known to us in the Risen Christ.

    I believe that Orthodoxy does not have to choose sides in this Western debate. I think we can and should say, “You’re both wrong,” because these treatments of Scripture do not agree with the work of the fathers or even the treatment of Scripture by the NT itself.

    What do I think St. Paul means when he says, “Death entered the world by one man.” I think he means Adam. But I think St. Paul is quite capable of reading a text and commenting on it as Holy Text without at the same time bringing the entire modern historical hermeneutic into the equation. St. Paul has an amazing ability to use OT texts in a variety of ways, very few of which are of the historico-literal treatment.

    The entire body of typological interpretation is an example of non historico-literal Biblical interpretation – and there is far more typological use of the OT in the liturgical life of the Church than almost any other use. But we should see in typology not a “merely symbolic” reading of Scripture. It’s far deeper.

    I meditate on these things a lot, and have for a long time. For years, before becoming Orthodox, I lived in a world in which the only options ever presented were fundamentalism and liberalism. I found both to be bankrupt. When I first encountered the typological use of Scripture, when I was in college (nearly 40 years ago), my heart leaped. I have continued over the years to read and pray and let these things grow in my heart (dare I say I “pondered them in my heart?”).

    The approach I take is something I find in the fathers, and very loudly and commonly in the liturgical life of the Church. Fr. John Behr does some similar things (and with far more profound and greater learning).

    There are some (even among the Orthodox) who would read some of the things I have said here and react negatively, assuming too quickly that any deviation from a literal-historical account of everything is simply incipient liberalism. But, I think, that is simply evidence that Western approaches have made too much inroad into some Orthodox thought. I am not a fundamentalist, nor am I a liberal. I’m Orthodox. I attempt to read Scripture as the New Testament reads Scripture, and as the liturgical life of the Church read Scripture.

    Most of the time, living within the textual life of the Church, we use texts in normal language (which normally has a historical-narrative flow). But we should not assume that just because we sometimes speak that way that we have suddenly endorsed a modern fundamentalist approach to these matters. Thus proof-texting from the fathers on this (or even St. Paul) will easily lead us to wrong conclusions.

    I hope I’ve said enough. For some I’ve probably said too much.

    In a nutshell. Start with the resurrection of Christ and stand firmly there. Fr. John Behr’s the Mystery of Christ is a good read that touches on much of this subject.

    If I cause consternation for any readers in this comment, please forgive me. I do not mean to.

  92. anonymousgodblogger Says:

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you very much for your thoughts. I will continue to ponder them!

    Hmmm….maybe “the fall” is simultaneously both more and less literal than the way we generally use the term “literal.” I’m not saying that right…but I’m not sure how else to say it.

    When Jesus asked the Father to glorify His name, and the Father replied, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again,” some people heard only thunder. It probably was thunder, but more than that as well, and then, ultimately, not thunder at all. Maybe Reality is both thicker and more spacious than we can register.

    I am thankful for your blog and the invisible spiritual labor over the years from which the blog arises.

    Anonymousgodblogger

  93. Sean Says:

    Father Stephen,

    in my humble opinion you are very correct about the importance of history within Scripture. It is not mere coincidence that Christ is called “Lord of Ages” nor that we bless Him and praise Him “now and ever and unto the ages of ages”. History is the way we perceive the flow of physical and mental facts as human beings. Thus, to be able to discern a historical path within the Scripture is crucial in our own understanding of Christianity and it’s one of the tools the Church has in its disposal in revealing and teaching the truth. However, the Lord has no beginning nor end. The prophecies of the Old Testament spoke not of someone who would be, but of someone who had already been and was and would be, the Word (Logos) of God. In the same sense, each Divine Liturgy is considered to be taking place on earth and in heaven and to surpass temporal notions: it is not the mere reenactment of historical facts or symbolic process of depicting a spiritual truth but the very participation to the Mystical Supper, here and now. It is in that sense that Scripture is to be comprehended: both in historical terms but also in the terms of Him “who was and is and shall be for ever and ever without limit or end”. That is, for me, a key-phrase.

  94. David Ellis Says:


    Me: There’s a huge difference. The ability of the sighted to gain knowledge about objects they aren’t close enough to touch is verifiable by the blind (we could easily imagine an experiment that would demonstrate this).

    Дејан: It is not verifiable unless the blind develops the proper sense organ to see the colours. Perhaps medical science of the future will be able to cure blindness, until then at least I cannot easily imagine an experiment that would demonstrate your claim.

    You can’t. You don’t think the blind have sufficient evidence that others have the sense of sight in, say, the fact that those others are able to drive the blind around in cars?

  95. David Ellis Says:


    Independetly existing from whom? I am not trying to objectify God. Where would that lead? He is eternal Beloved, not merely an entity that can be objectified.

    Independently existing in the sense that he doesn’t just exist in your mind. Independently existing in the sense that even if you ceased to exist (or had never come into existence in the first place), he wouldn’t.

  96. David Ellis Says:


    I cannot say Rationalism is “wrong”. It is simply incomplete.

    Indeed. Rationality is simply one of the things I hold as a central value—one among many.

  97. David Ellis Says:


    The very basic premise of rationalism is that “reason” and “evidence” prevail over fanciful thought (for lack of a better catch-all phrase). This supposes there is one unified piece of “evidence” and a single collective manner of “reason” within which all things reside.

    You started off so well.

    “One unified piece of evidence”?

    I’m not sure where you get such an idea.

  98. David Ellis Says:


    Your ultra fundamentalist stance is only accepted by those who “religiously” exclude all countersupportive evidence which usually means they are angry with something or someone who has hurt them at least theoretically.

    Requiring good evidence in support of a claim that X exists is fundamentalism?

    Do you think I’m being “fundamentalist” for requiring good evidence before being convinced that reincarnation is real? Or that John Edward can contact my dead grandmother?


    Even rational atheists scientists quickly reject ultra rationalism. Spend some time with chaos theory, probability theory and complex systems theory. It will help move you further towards truth/ away from simple delusion.

    You seem to have a very distorted and simplistic idea of my views on what constitutes rationality if you think any of those things are contrary to it.


    I was likely unneccesarily harsh with you David….

    Debating matters close to people’s hearts is a rough and tumble business. I wouldn’t do it if I had a thin skin.


    keep searching but keep you heart open to the potential that you may not be able to find all the answers yourself. millions of people “believe they have evidence of a “personal” deity. Many of them very intelligent educated people in all aspects of life and studies. Is it reasonable to assume they are all delusional?

    I cannot pretend I don’t find the arguments they put forward, however great their numbers, woefully inadequate.

  99. David Ellis Says:


    I was going very much in my thoughts where Fr. Stephen has following your last comments to me. If I search my heart, I can only say that I believe because I fell in love with the Jesus of the NT Gospels as a child and to this day I find no beauty that surpasses that revealed in Jesus Christ as the Church (the Orthodox Church) has preclaimed Him in the written witness of the Scriptures, in her Liturgy, Prayers, Icons, and perhaps especially in her Saints down through the ages to the present day.

    An honest answer. More so, I think, than those of people who present feeble arguments for their beliefs when, in fact, the basis for their beliefs have much more to do with finding religion profoundly moving and almost nothing to do with reason.


    I can tell from what you have written here that this is a whole world of which you have virtually no experience. There is no condemnation in that–it is merely an observation based on my own experience.

    Actually, I probably know the Christian experience from the inside far more than you think. I didn’t abandon belief in Christianity (or theism or religion in general) because I lacked the sort of religious experiences you and others have. I abandoned belief because I found those experiences, as moving as they were, no evidence at all of the truth of my beliefs.

    Hindus find their beliefs, sacraments, scriptures, rituals, and religious experiences just as powerfully moving and convincing as you and I did within our Christian heritage.

    Its human nature to have such profoundly moving experiences. They are found within all religions and also among us who have no religion whatsoever– we just don’t interpret them in the way the followers of religions do.

  100. handmaid leah Says:

    Ya know, when I first converted I was obnoxious – oh wait I still am, but I am working on it! I keep praying for patience and the ability to be silent- Father Stephen isn’t it time to let this one rest awhile?
    forgive me my brothers & sisters, every time I read a p.o.v & the refutation that is coming from brother D.E. I just keep thinking yada {scroll} yada {scroll some more} yada, yada yada…

  101. Karen Says:

    David, I don’t doubt that you have some sort of Christian experience. I was talking about the Orthodox experience in particular, and more particularly personal contact with her Saints. On the other hand, there were those who encountered Jesus of Nazareth and perceived nothing more than a carpenter’s son. Even His disciples were very slow to comprehend despite all the miracles–all the more remarkable that they ended up martyrs proclaiming something as improbable as His Resurrection. Similarly, I’m not ignorant of the spiritual experiences of people outside Christian faith and also even of those of no particular faith. I don’t judge those–some of them seem to me to be in their own way limited experiences of God. Others may be pure delusion or some other common manifestation of human need or expression (or even sometimes evil forces beyond our understanding). None of them have the same fullness of meaning for me as those that take place in the context of the gospel. It is ultimately meaning, not experiences in and of themselves, that compels faith for me. It is more about being able to put my experiences in the context of a meaningful story–a story that must account for the fully personal nature of human existence. Reason alone and “evidence” (which is always colored by the filter through which one views the world) are not enough for me. The ethical theory which you named as your guiding ethical principle seems very inadequate to me. I don’t really see how a theory (where one admits that no one can really rise to the perspective of the theorized “ideal observer,” anyway), can take the place of personal example and personal guidance when it comes to learning to discern the Good in a given context. It certainly doesn’t for me–I’m a very concrete thinker. Either I am much more needy than you, or I’m more aware of my needs, but I couldn’t function from the framework you are working with.

  102. yannis Says:

    “yada” is actually funny as used in English, in Japanese it translates as “no”/”no way”.

  103. James the Brother Says:

    Handmaiden; yes it’s time to call in Susan Powter on this one.

  104. fatherstephen Says:

    David,
    I do think it’s time to give this conversation a rest. The points concerning reason, etc. are understood, and an Orthodox response that reason is insufficient for human knowing has been stated. I don’t want the blog to become dominated by a conversation that says the same things repeatedly. It’s where a blog differs from a forum.

    A last suggestion, for what it’s worth. I was wondering this evening whether you (or other readers) were familiar with the work of Richard Rorty (the anti-foundationalist), or other philosophical critics of reason (I would add to his name: David Hume, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Michel Foucault and others). Serious philosophers raise questions about reason as a means for determining truth or determining many things. It appears that reason’s children (or greatgrandchildren) eventually begin to ask questions of reason and despair of its philosophical sufficiency.

    I would suggest that the discussion of reason’s sufficiency needs to be settled with other non-believing philosophers before coming to religious believers with the silver bullet of reason’s superiority. You’re nearly three hundred years late in the conversation.

  105. fatherstephen Says:

    leah,
    It is indeed time. I’m just so patient🙂

  106. James the Brother Says:

    Bless you father for your merciful kindness.

  107. David Ellis Says:


    I do think it’s time to give this conversation a rest.

    Its your blog. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to discuss your beliefs and why you hold them.


    I would suggest that the discussion of reason’s sufficiency needs to be settled with other non-believing philosophers before coming to religious believers with the silver bullet of reason’s superiority. You’re nearly three hundred years late in the conversation.

    And I would suggest that dialogue and examination of our own and each other’s beliefs is something all of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, can benefit from—now and always. Whether matters are “settled” or not.

  108. dale Says:

    You are presently being driven through the streets of truth but continue to disbelieve their words and deny a world exists outside of the car. I guess colour must not exist afterall. I jest but you must see the inconsistency. I have been there though and I empathize. You will find your reality getting very small indeed on this path. You do have my prayers. Humility is the path to true understanding.

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