Archive for the ‘atheism’ Category

Unbelief and the Two-Storey Universe

April 29, 2009

vm14451I have written extensively about what I have described as a “two-storey universe.” In short, this is a description of how many modern Christians see the world. There is the first floor – the natural world which operates according to naturalist, “secular” rules, and the second floor – the world of God, heaven, hell, angels, etc. The spiritual crisis of much of modern man is the inherent disconnect in these two worlds. It is a belief construct whose history goes back some centuries but whose fruit has been a very different form of Christianity and a growing tide of unbelief. As I have written elsewhere, many Christians have serious doubts about whether anybody actually lives on the second floor.

One interesting component of this world-view is unbelief. When a Christian whose world-view is dominated by the two-storey universe ceases to believe – what he ceases to believe in is the second storey. There need be little change, if any, to the first-floor on which he perceives himself to live. He does not cease to believe in the God who is here, but in a God who is “out there.”

Of course, what remains in such a situation of unbelief, is an acceptance of a universe that is less than a full account of how things truly are.  The first floor of a two-storey universe is not the same thing as the “one-storey universe” I have described: it is simply a house with the second floor blown off. It is in this sense that I have commented on Christian fundamentalism (one of the primarily proponents of the two-storey universe) and contemporary atheism being two-sides of the same coin. Their interminable arguments are a conversation that takes place in half a universe. One argues that there is a second floor while the other argues that the truncated, detached debacle of a first floor is all there is. However, they do not disagree about the fundamentals of the first floor. The daily world (and often the daily life) of a two-storey Christian is often as empty and secular as his atheist counterpart. He differs only in his anxiety to prove the existence of a second floor.

I believe it is important to go to the heart of these matters – to realize that when arguments take place between such inhabitants of the two-storey world – nothing authentic is taking place. Both positions are inheritors of a broken view of the world and neither will ever state the truth in a satisfactory manner.

It is interesting to me that there are atheists who do not belong to this category of “two-storey unbelievers.” Their lack of belief in God includes deep questions about the very character of the universe and the nature of human existence. As such, they share much in common with the Tradition of the Orthodox faith. Many converts to Orthodoxy must undergo something of an “atheist” stage in order to leave the mythology of the two-storey world and enter into the revelation of God as Christ has given to the Church. It is for this reason that in the services for the reception of converts there is included a formal renunciation of various errors. You cannot follow the “only truly existing God” while at the same time believing in a God who does not exist. We are to believe in but one God.

I recall the first year of my life as an Orthodox Christian. Having been an ordained clergyman for 18 years prior to that, it startled people when I said that the primary question for me in my first year of Orthodox life was the existence of God. People asked, “Did you not  believe in God before?” The answer had to be “yes and no.” To embrace God as He is revealed to us in the Orthodox faith requires, as well, not believing a number of other things. That first year was a struggle.

On the other hand, the same year forced me to a far more existential level – even to the place of crisis. How to believe in a God who is “everywhere present and filling all things” is a very different way of life than to believe in a God who is “out there.” In an Orthodox life our faith in God also changes how we see everything else (or it should). Nothing remains the same. The creation is not “self-existent” (a hallmark of two-storey thought) but utterly dependent and contingent moment by moment on the good will and providence of God. “Heaven and earth are full of His glory.”

I have found it interesting in my ministry as an Orthodox priest and missionary to meet people who, upon learning of the Orthodox faith, have replied with joy, “I always thought something like that must be true.” There are many people, who though never having heard the Gospel presented in its proper fullness, have nevertheless refused to be content with something less. They are, for me, miracles of grace.

It is a commonplace to say that Orthodoxy is full of paradoxes. One of those is the paradox that many non-Orthodox Christians may have to leave their God in order to become Orthodox and that many atheists will have to learn not to believe in a different God before they can come to the Truth.

It is simply the case that in order to find our life we have to lose it.

A Faith That Cannot Be Defended

April 23, 2009

picture-019There is such a thing as a Christian faith worth defending (in some sense). However, it seems like those who enjoy attacking the Christian faith find its least worthy representatives for the marshalling of their meager intellectual forces. This often means that atheists attack a faith nobody (virtually) believes, and that defenders sometimes defend something less than Christianity.

 I have seen several recent articles (most notably in the New Statesman) that have offered characterizations of Christianity that even the 9th grade education of my first Baptist pastor could have refuted. The caricature of Christianity, some of which has been made possible by Christian fundamentalism (itself a caricature of Christianity), is generally too incorrect to be addressed by a serious Christian. If people think that Christianity is the amalgam of ancient peasant superstitions – how can you answer them? Such ignorance of history is itself a modernist peasant superstition.

 Recently a parishioner sent me a small critique from a web-site that considered itself wise for having used weak philosophical reasoning to undermine Christianity by proving that God’s omnipresence proved that “God is in hell.” Of course, Orthodox Christianity, believing the Scripture and theological testimony would immediately agree: “God is in hell.” Why do they think we get so excited at Pascha? The God-Who-Is loves us so much that He entered Hell to redeem us. It is a doctrine taught in Scripture, upheld in Tradition and celebrated in the feasts of the Church.

 The great tragedy, of course, is that contemporary Christianity has been so “gutted” by those who claim to be its reformers, that a central doctrine of the faith can now be used by non-believers in an effort to undermine a modernized Christianity that was only invented a few years ago.

 There are many reasons to be an Orthodox Christian: the greatest of which I have any knowledge, is the simple fact that Orthodox Christianity alone is true, and the fullness of the Christian faith. Defending anything else is not only a waste of time but beside the point.

The tragedy is that much time and energy will be wasted attacking something that is not the Christian faith, while what is the Christian faith remains unknown. But perhaps in God’s good pleasure this is how things should be.

 To readers who entertain criticisms of the Christian faith: be sure to attack the real Christian faith and not recent inventions that have no right to the name.

 To readers who seek to defend the faith: don’t waste your time defending something less than the complete faith. Nothing else deserves the time or trouble.

Christianity and the One-Storey Universe – Where Do We Begin?

January 11, 2008


I read an interesting article today on a blog for those who are “de-converting” or in some sense trying to get over their religious past. For some of my readers it may come as a surprise that I find this interesting – but I find it deeply fascinating. I do not think that those who find themselves in that position are terribly different than myself or many others that I know. I do not think that they are misfits who have fallen off the wagon of faith. In many cases I find that they have asked questions similar to my own (over the years). They have come, generally, to different conclusions, but I think some of this is on account of the experiences and opportunities that have separated us rather than radically different hearts.

This particular article shared the insight that a particular post-believer shared in a group discussion that gave some account of how he made sense of the world without belief in God:

A couple of years ago, as I was shaving one morning before going to work, I was thinking about a book I’d been reading on evolution. I have some educational background in biology, and I started thinking about some of what I remembered about the molecular basis for life — the fact that we (and the living things all around us) are mind-bogglingly elaborate constructions, assembled from raw materials drawn from the environment by the cells that comprise us. Beyond this, we each begin life in the form of a single cell that contains all the information needed to drive a developmental process over many years that eventually leads to conscious beings capable of experiencing love, and beauty, and wonder. In one revelatory instant I realized ! — whether or not God exists, our existence is a wonder. As I thought about this, it became clear to me that although many of us spend much of our lives in “the fog of the ordinary,” feeling that each day is pretty much like the last and wishing for something more, we are in fact swimming in, and even composed of, a sea of wonder. I developed a strong conviction that this is actually the more accurate way of viewing our circumstances.

There is much that separates my own faith from this particular statement – except there are significant things that we share in common. To say that “our existence is a wonder,” is a far more significant statement to me than many religious formulae espoused by many. It comes, first of all, closer to the place where we live and, indeed, where we truly encounter God, than most abstracted statements of doctrine. It is as St. Gregory of Nyssa said:

Ideas create idols; only wonder leads to knowing.

For someone, whether they believe in God or not, to look at the world and realize that they are “swimming in, and even composed of, a sea of wonder,” is far closer to the revelation of God in Christ than a book full of religious syllogisms. And it is much the place we have to begin if we are to live Christian lives in a One-Storey Universe.

The phrase in the Psalms, sung at every Vespers, “O Lord, how manifold are Thy works, in wisdom hast Thou made them all,” is a statement of pure wonder and, when properly voiced, not a description of a two-storey universe. There is nothing secular in such a statement.

The wonder of a Christian is that the “wonder” of this world is, in fact, the act of a good God who has made everything in wisdom. It is the place where the good God became incarnate and rescued this wonder from the darkness of non-being and has made possible a wonder that is itself a transfiguration of the wonder of this world.

My journey in Christ has revealed to me the wonder of this world day by day and the beauty of this wonder has sustained me through difficult days. I accept the promise that the end of all things will be more wonderful than I can imagine, but it is the daily wonder that I find all about me that sustains me through the day.

When I read a well-stated description of the inner life of one who now considers themselves to be a non-believer I do not despair at their lack of faith, but rejoice that here someone has still seen the wonder of the world and believe that this is truly an act of grace, a gift of God, whether acknowledged or not. And I know that without that same wonder the life of a believer can become a cold set of lifeless doctrinal formulae that cannot do more than dazzle our reasoning. We cannot live our life in our heads, whatever name we call it. We must live our lives in the fullness of our being, which requires that we live it in the place of wonder.

It is in this place that the life of a Christian must begin – if ever he is to live where he is and not in a fantasy.

Modern Man and Coldness of Heart

December 31, 2007


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

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

What is the reason for this state?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fullness of Being

December 7, 2007


God is not only unity – He is also the fullness of being. When man seeks life’s riches he instinctively seeks for God. Even material riches involuntarily summon forth in the soul of a religious person the idea of Providence. The infinte diversity of being in the universe likewise turns us toward God. In religious life we seek the spiritual strength that will sanctify the whole of our existence and make it productive. Upon everything that is not evil lies the stamp of the divine image, yet God cannot be equated with the universe in its unity, as the pantheists think: He is the fullness of all goodness, of all the positive properties and modes of being in existence, yet as the Creator He eternally embraces all of creation in His love and in His thoughts. Having created the world, He fills it with His own presence.

If God is the fullness of all goodness, then it is clear that only in God can all of man’s aspirations find fulfilment, and man becomes willing to give up his life in order to some day be in God. When man rejects or forgets God he immediately makes himself, or the world, or animals, or society, science, or art, into a god. We must understand that this is the greatest, most destructive self-deception. We can be gods in union with God, but when separated from God we are insignificant, powerless and evil. All the grandeur and magnificence of the world is but a senseless mass of matter if there is no God. Animal life by itself can never satisfy man; once we have taken our fill of delight in it we turn upon it with our spirit’s full, passionate force: we violate it and destroy it. Animals are beautiful, but the man-animal is an abomination. Society, when idolized, is a horrible monster which devours people – it devastates and torments man. Science, when it is idolized, is a false idol, for it has never and will never possess either omniscience or infallibility. On the contrary, nothing is easier than to exploit science for the sake of falsehood and the destruction of the world. Art, when it has become an idol, degenerates into ambiguous fantasy or the pursuit of original, striking forms.

Society cannot exist without God, for it must be rooted in goodness, and goodness is God. Science and art are nourished by truth and beauty, but absolute truth and beauty are God. An alternative path is, of course, skepticism – the denial of all that is absolute and perfect. But then man takes arms against his own spirit and brings it to extinction, for in his desires, his knowledge, his feelings, in goodness, in truth and in beauty man always seeks for fullness. In God we lose nothing – not even the most minute value of the created world – but rather we gain in addition that which cannot be found anywhere in the universe.

Serge Verhovskoy in The Light of the World

Who Am I?

December 4, 2007


I ask a sensual man, “Who are you?” and he replies, “I am I,” and he thinks of his body.

I ask a thinking man, “Who are you?” and he replies, “I see two sides in myself and I make my way between them, associating first with one and then the other,” and he is thinking of his instinctive and conscious soul.

I ask a spiritual man, “Who are you?” and he replies, “There is someone in the depths of my soul. I stretch out my hand to grasp him but see that to do that I would need arms longer than the universe. Ask him who I am.”

St. Nicholai of Zicha (Velimirovich)

One of the great tragedies of the modern world is that, as it seeks to define itself apart from God, it is defined as so much less than God would have it be. It is at this point that atheism or secularism are the least humanistic of philosophies. The gross inequalities that follow us all from birth – despite every government proclamation to the contrary – cannot erase the fact that some are born wealthy, some smart, some beautiful (all by the standards of the world) and that every survey conducted has to honestly admit that those people who may be so described get better jobs, are elected easier and are simply liked more than others. For the vast majority of people, life will not reward them with more than an opportunity to watch “the lives of the rich and famous.”

Only in the proclamation that God has become man is the value of being a man underwritten – indeed the value of being any human being. The God Who made us all has become one of us and in such a union has also united us to Himself in His exaltation. Compared to that exaltation, every human excellence is as dung. Whether beauty, intelligence or wealth – all will perish in the grave and become nothing more than the bread of worms. This is the gift of a world without God – worms.

But to the very least of my brethren, I can say, “God has not only created you in His image, but has predestined you to be conformed to that image.” Your destiny in Christ is to become as He is. I can say this to the ugly, the poor, the disenfranchised, the foolish, the stupidest sinner (people like me). For all are welcome.

What attraction, other than the weakness of a mere decades’ latest bout of “rationality,” could a philosophy of worms hold? For time has already proven that the “supermen” who seek to reign as gods (believing there is no true God) will treat the rest of us as worms – mere farms for the harvesting of our stem-cells – or whatever their godless schemes may next desire.

Better to see a child – the poorest of the poor – and say, “It would take arms longer than the universe to reach the depths of who this child is.”

What Faith Shall I Defend?

November 19, 2007


Contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, whether from children’s writers such as Pullman or various scientific voices in the world of mass media, are frequently not challenges to the Christian faith but attacks on the misperceptions of the Christian faith. By the same token, many professions of the Christian faith are not professions of the faith, but professions of misperceptions of the Christian faith. To some degree, one can beget the other.

I occasionally find myself in social situations in which a conversation partner has left the Christian faith for one reason or another – or becomes curious about why I am an Orthodox Christian rather than the Anglican I once was. The conversation frequently reveals the fact that short of a full-blown catechism, including a removal of masses of misinformation, no real progress can be made in communication. What many people understand of Christianity and what I believe the faith to be are simply worlds apart.

It is for such reasons that I struggle to find language to help people re-understand the faith. The language that I have been writing about in recent months – that of a One-Storey Universe versus a Two-Storey Universe – is simply one of those efforts. God is not as many people imagine Him to be and has not revealed Himself to be as His detractors frequently claim. Indeed, God cannot be the subject of discussion in a manner similar to the discussion of some object we may have before us. God is never an object before us.

Indeed the knowledge of God is not analogous to the knowledge of anything else, for God has no true analogy. Thus conversations that are productive of an encounter with God tend to be idiosyncratic. In sharing a story, or explaining an idea, in singing a song, or sitting in silence, God is encountered. The same story, idea, song, or silence will not necessarily yield the same result (indeed it would be rare) with another human being. For God has revealed Himself to us as Person and is thus always Free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” St. Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:17). He will not be at our beck and command or standby as our object. If we know Him, we will know Him in His freedom, just as we must approach Him in our own freedom.

There is a living witness among us that this God who revealed Himself to us in Christ is indeed the True and Living God. That living witness is His Church – itself maligned and misunderstood. To see the Church as merely a human organization or as an association of like-minded individuals is not to see the Church at all. When the Church is described in Scripture as the “Pillar and Ground of Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) or the “Fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23) it should give us pause. If the Church is such as St. Paul described it – what does he mean? How is it that the Church can be this?

Answering such questions is an inherent part of the search for God and I have no other purpose in writing than to share and encourage that search. The knowledge of the true and living God is the only faith that I care to defend. I have no interest in defending someone’s misperceptions of the faith.

My own experience is that those who want to know the truth eventually find their way – sometimes despite overwhelming odds. Even a man bent on murdering Christians can become Christianity’s greatest apostle. The wonderful truth behind all of this is that God is searching for us and always has been and will go to the depths of hell to find us. If I have not found Him, then what have I done so that I missed Him?

Where Do the Children Play?

November 18, 2007


I recall an old Cat Stevens song from the early 70’s, Where Do the Children Play? It runs through my head from time to time when I think about the adult world interacting with children. I had the phrase somewhat in mind when I reacted to the recent invasion of Harry Potter’s world by JK Rowling’s world. I stated then that I was sad that children can’t be left out of some things. But this is the modern world, and apparently we are at war (forgive me for saying it). Terry Mattingly, who is Orthodox and a columnist for Scripps Howard, and one of the most astute observers of the media and religion, wrote one of the most alarming columns this weekend I have seen in years.

His column deals with the up-coming movie based on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (children’s books). The movie is a production of his first book: The Golden Compass. Quoting Pullman from an Australian interview:

I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry [Potter] has said. My books are about killing God.

And, there’s more. Mattingly notes in his column that evil incarnate has a name in Pullman’s books: the “Church.” Apparently Hollywood is too shy to be so up front and chooses in the movie to substitute the word: “Magisterium.” I’m sure that Catholics will find that comforting.

I tend not to be alarmist in culture matters. I know that in the end God wins (not in Pullman’s books but in the real world). But I continue thinking, “Where do the children play?”

Then I have to remember that we Christians have been writing children’s books for years with the understanding that introducing children to God and His Kingdom at an early age is laudatory. We even go so far as to Baptize them. But apparently an atheist writer considers it equally laudatory to educate children in killing God. This indeed is a culture war – with its merchants – Hollywood and the publishing world sitting back and making money off both sides (now I think of a song by Dylan).

Where do the children play? In the same minefield that we adults play – and the merchants are playing for keeps. It’s a topic of discussion in my house. I don’t plan to fill the coffers of those who would kill God. But the ironic thing is that this God already died for them. I recommend Terry Mattingly’s Column and all of his writings at

Christian Atheism

August 20, 2007


The title for this post sounds like an oxymoron, and, of course, it is. How can one be both an atheist and a Christian? Again, I am wanting to push the understanding of the one-versus-two-storey universe. In the history of religious thought, one of the closest versions to what I am describing as a “two-storey” world-view, is that espoused by classical Deism (the philosophy espoused by a number of the American founding fathers).

They had an almost pure, two-storey worldview. God, “the Deity,” had created the universe in the beginning, setting it in motion. He had done so in such a way that the world could be described as directed by His Providence, but not in any sense interfered with after its creation. Thomas Jefferson produced a New Testament, wholly in tune with this philosophy. He expunged all reference to miracle and kept only those things he considered to have a purpose in “moral teaching.” The creator had accomplished His work: it was up to us to conform ourselves to His purposes and morality – which were pretty indistinguishable from natural law. If you read the writings of the period it’s much more common to read Providence where a Christian might put God. Many modern evangelicals mistakenly read such statements as Christian.

Functionally, other than having some notion of an original Creator, Deists were practical atheists. The God Who created had completed His work. Ethics were as much a matter of scientific discovery as any other principle of physics. They believed in something they called “God” or “Providence” but only in a very divorced sense. It would be hard to distinguish their thought from that of an atheist except that they clung to an idea of God at least as the initiator of all things.

I have here introduced the notion of “practical atheism,” meaning by it, that although a person may espouse a belief in God, it is quite possible for that belief to be so removed from everyday life, that God’s non-existence would make little difference.

Surprisingly, I would place some forms of Christian fundamentalism within this category (as I have defined it). I recall a group affiliated with some particular Church of Christ, who regularly evangelized our apartment complex when I lived in Columbia, S.C. They were also a constant presence on the campus of the local university. They were absolute inerrantists on the subject of the Holy Scriptures. They were equally adamant that all miracles had ceased with the completion of the canon of the New Testament. Christians today only relate to God through the Bible.

Such a group can be called “Biblicists,” or something, but, in the terminology I am using here, I would describe them as “practical atheists.” Though they had great, even absolutist, faith in the Holy Scriptures, they had no relationship with a God who is living and active and directly involved in their world. Had their notion of a God died, and left somebody else in charge of His heaven, it would not have made much difference so long as the rules did not change.

I realize that this is strong criticism, but it is important for us to understand what is at stake. The more the secular world is exalted as secular, that is, having an existence somehow independent of God, the more we will live as practical atheists – perhaps practical atheists who pray (but for what do we pray?). I would also suggest that the more secular the world becomes for Christians, the more political Christians will become. We will necessarily resort to the same tools and weapons as those who do not believe.

Christianity that has purged the Church of the sacraments, and of the sacramental, have only ideas which can be substituted – the result being the eradication of God from the world in all ways other than theoretical. Of course, since much of modern Christianity functions on this ideological level rather than the level of the God-Who-is among-us, much of Christianity functions in a mode of practical atheism. The more ideological the faith, the more likely its proponents are to expouse what amounts to a practical atheism.

Orthodox Christianity, with its wealth of dogma and Tradition, could easily be translated into this model – and I have encountered it in such a form. But it is a falsification of Orthodoxy. Sacraments must not be quasi-magical moments in which a carefully defined grace is transmitted to us – they must, instead, threaten to swallow up the whole world. The medieval limitation of sacraments to the number 7 comes far too close to removing sacraments from the world itself. Orthodoxy seems to have declared that there are 7 sacraments solely as a response to Western Reform and Catholic arguments. In some sense, everything is a sacrament – the whole world is a sacrament.

However, if we only say that the whole world is a sacrament, soon nothing will be a sacrament. Thus the sacraments recognized as such by the Church, should serve not just for pointing to themselves, but also pointing to God and to everything around us. Holy Baptism should change all water. The Cross should change all trees, etc. But Baptism gives the definition: water does not define Baptism. Neither do trees define the Cross. Nor does man define Christ. Christ defines what it is to be human, etc.

The more truly sacramental becomes the Christian life, the more thoroughly grounded it is in the God-Who-is-among-us. Such a God is indeed, “everywhere present and filling all things.” Our options are between such a God – as proclaimed in the New Testament – or a God who need be no God at all for He is removed from us anyway.

At the Divine Liturgy, before approaching the Communion Cup, Orthodox Christians pray together:

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ the Son of the living God who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.

There is not a single hint of a distance between us and God. At this point, having prepared for communion, having confessed our sins, we stand at the very center of the universe, before the God Who Is, before the God with Whom Moses conversed on Mt. Sinai, and we receive His true Body and Blood.

Such realism of a first-storey character makes bold claims about the nature of the God whom we worship and how it is that we relate to Him. It’s removal from the “end of miracles” deism of some Biblicists could not be more complete.

There is a dialog that may take place between Christians and atheists. But there is, prior to that, an even more important dialog to be had, and that is with the practical atheism of Christians who have exiled God from the world around us. Such practical atheism is a severe distortion of the Christian faith and an extremely poor substitute for the real thing.

Richard John Neuhaus has written frequently of returning the Church to the public square. I think the problem is far deeper. In many cases we have to speak about returning God to the Church. In cases where practical atheism is the faith of a goup of “believers,” their presence in the public square makes no difference. Who cares?

But within the Orthodox faith, God cannot be exiled from our world no matter how men try. He has come among us, and not at our invitation. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He is already in the Public Square as the Crucified God who is reconciling the world to Himself, whether we like it or not. The opposite of practical atheism is to do the only thing the Christianity of the first-storey can do: keep His commandments and fall down and worship – for God is with us.

Living a One Storey Life

August 18, 2007


I have chosen to use language of the “first and second storey” to describe the kind of bifurcation that the modern world has experienced over the past several centuries. Its results have been to smash the religious world into “sacred” and “secular” and to make believing both harder and disbelief more natural. Thus, to many atheists their world view seems obvious, while believers try to make leaps of logic and argument that render their own thought more schizophrenic.

There is obviously a problem. I have tried to describe the problems and to suggests why such language is either to be treated as metaphor, at best, or avoided when possible. The Christian faith is that God is with us. The Christian life is lived moment by moment in union with God and in harmony with nature which God has rendered the bearer of the holy and the place of communion.

Living a one storey life can be described as simply living here and now. It is being present to God Who is present to us. It is recognizing the true nature of the created world as the arena of both our struggle and our serenity. Our argument with those who do not believe should not be about whether or not their is a second storey to our universe, but about the true nature of the universe in which we live. Whenever Christians allow the gospel to be shoved upstairs, we have allowed ourselves to be disregarded and the gospel to be marginalized. God did not become flesh and dwell among us in order to establish the truth of a second storey universe: he came to redeem the one we live in. Those who cannot recognize hell among us will also be blind to paradise as well. Christ reveals both. Our daily struggle is to live in the latter and to proclaim the gospel to those who live in the former, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.