Orthodox Eschatology and the Problem of Putin

In a fascinating article by Vladimir Moss, we have a capable discussion of the Orthodox political theorist Alexander Dugin, particularly his relation to Vladimir Putin. Moss’s article is important because it is written by a conservative Orthodox scholar who hates globalism, modernist Orthodoxy, yet has suspicions about Putin’s conservative Christianity. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his twice-humiliating Obama (e.g., Syria and Ukraine) have forced conservatives to reevaluate their Russophobia and the future of international conservative thought.

I want to build upon Moss’s analysis, with which I mostly agree. My goal is to show tensions in Russian history that Moss doesn’t note and ponder the implications for Orthodox engagement today.

Who is Dugin?

Back in my Russophilic days I was watching Dugin’s career really take off.  Dugin had abandoned the National Bolshevism Party (!!) and started his own Party.  Eventually, he saw that Russia’s future was with Putin and cast his lot there.  My Orthodox friends were emailing me pdfs of Dugin’s books long before they were in print.  I was leaving any form of Orthodoxy at that point so I really wasn’t interested.

Leaving aside Dugin’s own political views, Moss highlights his “eschatological ecclesiology.”  Moss rightly notes that Dugin’s views cannot be understood apart from his Old Ritualist beliefs.  The Old Ritualists separated from the Moscow Patriarch NIKON in the 1660s because they saw Nikon modifying the liturgy (and they were correct–this has huge and embarrassing implications for semper ubique and an always united church).

Old Ritualists see the world as corrupt and expect a future, purifying catastrophe (a common theme among many Christian sects), even sacrificing themselves in the fire.  I hope you make the connection between their own suicidal deaths by fire and Dugin’s call for nuclear war.  It is not accidental.

Dugin’s own analysis of Revelation is bizarre (yet no more arbitrary and subjective than Reformed amillennialism) and while entertaining, largely beyond the scope of this essay. However, it does break down Christian history into three phases: Pre-Constantinian, Constantinian (and later Muscovite) and post-1660 Muscovite.  The middle period is the Millennial Reign and the Third Period is the Age of Antichrist.  This means, as Moss notes, that little good can be seen in the post-1660 Orthodox Church (which argument by the Old Ritualists is one reason I never joined).

Dugin’s analysis is strained when he comes to the Soviet era.  He can’t simply defend it because of its atheism, but he does give it moderate praise.  He sees God’s exercising a strange power through the Soviet world, but that doesn’t bother Dugin since he’s already identified America as the Antichrist (which is odd, given his dating of 1666 as the beginning of Antichrist).

Contra Moss, Dugin is correct to note that the “spiritual conformism” of the Nikonite patriarchs is no less revolutionary than the Sovietism of the Church. With exception of Fr. Raphael Johnson, very few American Orthodox have owned up to this problem.  Dugin sees the future Philadelphian Church as a combination of the Old Ritualists, the Moscow Patriarchate, and the ROCA church.  This is problematic, to say the least, since all of these churches have condemned each other for “schisming from the true faith” (this is a huge psychological problem for convertskii).

Dugin’s eschatology allows him to see Putin in a new, monarchical role, especially in opposing America.  There are many aspects of American liberalism that should be rightly opposed, but one gets nervous in reading the nuclear overtones of Dugin’s proposal! The rest of the article is an analysis of Orthodox and Dispensationalist eschatologies, which do not concern us here.

Orthodoxy Today

So what do converts to Orthodoxy say about Dugin’s analysis?  Few likely have heard of them and that’s expected.  However, everyone in America has to face up to Putin’s Russia, whether good or bad.  Some convertskii have pointed out many goods of Putin’s Russia: it refuses to tolerate sodomy and speaks out for oppressed Christians in the Middle East, much to the anger of the Beltway Alliance.

I suspect American Orthodox will break down in several lines on this question. The hard-core convertskii will understandably praise Putin(and by extension Dugin).  They will see Russia as the last bulwark against the New World Order.  The more moderate convertskii, those perhaps enamored with Schmemann, Thomas Nelson Publishing, and Ancient Faith Radio, might find Dugin’s analysis embarrassing.  Yet he can’t simply be dismissed:  if you accept Putin as a normative figure you have to account for Dugin’s influence on him.

Is Putin King Arthur Redivivus?

I used to think he was.  I like him better than Obama, to be sure, but I do not think the future belongs to Russia, no matter if it is secular, Orthodox, or Communist.  Putin divorced his wife and has taken up with a young and attractive gymnast.  Hardly the actions of the leader of conservative Christendom. While Russia’s own situation has improved since the 1990s, it’s future is far from certain.  The abortion, suicide, divorce, and prostitution rates in Russia are abysmal.  Civilizations have been destroyed for far less (Boer Afrika had its problems, but they didn’t have the decadence of today’s Russia, either, yet they were destroyed by the Marxist torturer Nelson Mandela.  Maybe South Africa did sin.  She was formally covenanted to God).

I thought about doing a sociological analysis on Russia’s birth-rate and related variables. I used to have the info for that, but those days are long gone.  I will give a snapshot analysis:

  • While Russia’s energy reserves are formidable, she needs markets. While she has Western Europe by the balls, energetically speaking, her economy is fragile and severe enough sanctions could tip the scale.
  • Even though her birth rate has improved, much of it is from Central Asian Muslims, not white Orthodox Christians.
  • Most importantly–religiously–she does not appear to have the “want-to” to survive.  Though Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could speak in eschatological veins, Orthodox theology is more inward, mystical, and onto-focused; overcoming estrangement. I realize I am speaking in generalities, but history’s bears it out.  Where is the “Protestant” work-ethic–so famous and so maligned–among the Slavic lands?  It was the Protestant understanding of the Covenant and the law of God that allowed them dominion in Europe and the New World.
  • Finally,and I realize few will share my analysis, God doesn’t reward the worship of images.  Civilizations that are built on language and communications are healthier than those built on fetishism.

A Contrast

Even the best of civilizations fall.  If the criteria of success is longetivity, then few will last.  However, we can analyze the nature of their lasting and the religious impulses within it.

Covenanteroes

While I reject as naive those narratives that say the Covenanters produced modern republicanism, the impulses which drove the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians did create a New World.  Jock Purves writes,

The United States of America, too, is a great result of the further development of the Reformation in the orderings of the most High.  It might have been settled by the Spanish or Portugese, and therefore, now been as South America, Romish, backward and dark. But in genius and constitution, in its strong depths and grand heights, it is a Protestant land.  This is because of a people, such a people, in moral and spiritual stature incomparable, the finest expositors of Scripture ever known, the English Puritans (42).

Whatever else you say about Protestantism, ask why all of the economic and political developments for the common good in the modern world happened in historically Protestant lands? Whenever there is a crop shortage in Russia, why does it always turn into a catastrophe?  Even under the decimating reigns of the Clintons and Obamas, America hasn’t had that.

I can only wonder what would have happened if King James I hadn’t murdered Sir Walter Raleigh at the behest of the Spanish Ambassador. Raleigh was talking of settling Latin America.

Only religion can bring life to a land.  I hope and pray that Orthodoxy in Russia stops women becoming Prostitutes and aborting their babies.  But it will take more than 10% of the population.

 

Reviewing a Manichean Dialogue

One of my favorite pieces on Manicheanism is written by Vladimir Moss.  Moss re-enacts a discussion between an Orthodox Christian and his Manichean priest.   The discussion is mostly brilliant, but there are a few parts where the “good guy” effectively surrendered the debate.

Orthodox. You do surprise me, Father! Tell me: do you believe that the Apostle Peter was a Christian?

Manichaean. I know what you’re going to say: that he was married. But after becoming an apostle he lived with his wife as brother and sister.

Orthodox. Yes, but he did not have to.

The “Orthodox” initially moves in for a “kill shot.”  This would have effectively ended the debate.  The Manichean responds with some (convenient!) “oral tradition.”    Instead of calling shenanigans on it, the Orthodox agrees and in effect loses the entire thrust of the argument.

Further, and while I have taken a lot of flak from the Humeans at Puritanboard for believing in miracle stories, it should be noted that not every miracle story is to be taken at face-value.   Miracle stories from 1200 years ago in a mostly illiterate culture should be taken with a grain of salt.  There is simply no way of empirical verification.  This is quite different from the well-documented prophecies of Richard Cameron (finally, the Humeans on Puritanboard essentially conceded that Maurice Grant was making this up; that is a polite way of calling him either stupid or a liar).  In any case, the “Orthodox” tries to clinch his argument by these hagiographical stories.   In his context, that will work, I suppose.  The Manichean would also hold to them.

Here is another area where the “orthodox,” for all of his good points, implicitly agrees with the Manichean.

Manichaean. Are you saying that it is possible for there to be no lust in the sexual act?

Orthodox. In practice, because of our fallen state, it is almost impossible to clearly separate the elements of love and lust in the sexual act, just as it is almost impossible to separate greed from restoration of the organism in the act of eating, or sinful anger from righteous anger in the disciplining of children and subordinates

The Reformed Protestant has a healthy response:  why call it lust?  The problem is that the ancient tradition, whether Eastern or Latin, simply could not affirm the…(lack of a better phrase)…loss of momentary control that happens in the act.  One should remember the origins of the word “Ecstatic” to fully appreciate what the Orthodox are saying (I think they are wrong, but this is worth explaining.   The climax of the act is ecstasy, ek-static, which in Greek is a “standing outside of oneself.”)   So they called it lust.   Augustine was fully in line with the Greek fathers on this point. There was no way the Tradition could get around calling the ek-stasis “lust,” and lust is sin.  So if you define the ek-stasis in sexual intercourse, even married intercourse, as lust, then you can’t avoid the charge that it is tainted with sin.

The Reformed simply denied the premise and didn’t have the problem.

Further, the Manichean scores huge points when he brings Maximus the Confessor into the discussion.

Manichaean. Well, you must remember that, according to St. Maximus the Confessor, pleasure and pain were introduced into the world as a result of the fall.

For all of the Orthodox’s good intents, to the degree that Maximus is representative of the tradition, to that degree the Manichean is right.  At this point the Orthodox is simply left in the untenable position of lobbing counter-quotations.  So much for Patrum Consensus.  Further, the Manichean is right in that the fathers seem to view Adam and Eve’s relationship before the Fall as sex-less (Maximus is mostly clear on this point.  Cooper labors very hard to exonerate him on this.   I don’t think he is successful).

At the end of the discussion the Manichean, given the shared anchoretic presuppositions, completely clinches the debate:

If virginity is higher than marriage, the transition from virginity to marriage must be a transition from the higher to the lower, which is sad.

Please consider the logic:  if virginity is higher than marriage, and then you marry, you have definitionally fallen.

Essence/Energy distinction rebutted

An alternative reading of the so-called Western doctrine of God is the essence/energies distinction made famous by Gregory Palamas.  It posits that we cannot know God in his simple essence, but we can know him by his energies (or operations).  Hints of this doctrine are found in the Cappadocians and Maximos (though I deny they are saying exactly the same thing as Gregory).  The doctrine has an initial appeal.   Admittedly in our prayer lives, we do not pray to “essence itself,” but to the persons of the Trinity.   It also appears that we do know God by his actions towards us, and not by transcending to the essence.  So this means the distinction is correct, right?  If this is the only alternative to the Thomistic doctrine of absolute divine simplicity (e.g., person = relation =essence; person = essence!), then how can we avoid not assenting to it?

Some form of the doctrine might in fact be correct, but even when I was gung-ho for anchoretism, a number of questions kept coming up.

  1. Is it true that the Thomistic model of divine simplicity is the only choice for Western doctrines of God?  I simply deny this to be the case.  I think it is disputed that even Augustine held to a form of this.
  2. While it’s true that we know God by his actions toward us, can the “energies” model really account for all biblical data?   Even Orthodox theologians note this difficulty.   Vladimir Moss, in rebuttal to Fr John Romanides writes, “Do the Scriptures speak of our having an energetic relationship with God or a personal relationship with God?”
  3. It is true that God relates to us by our actions, but as Gunton notes (Act & Being), when Scripture uses these concepts it does so around terms like providence, Incarnation, and covenant.  When the fathers use these terms they usually mean the peri ton theon (things around the godhead) or the divine logoi (think eternal forms).

Technical critiques of the doctrine:

Orthodox philosopher David Bradshaw writes, ““Somehow by energeia Gregory and Basil would appear to understand both that which God is, and that which God performs. … Basil and Gregory in their turn revise Plotinus by rejecting the distinction of hypostasis between Intellect and the One.  For them the relevant distinction is rather that between God as he exists within himself and is known only to himself, and God as he manifests himself to others.  The former is the divine ousia, the latter the divine energies.  It is important to note that both are God, but differently conceived:  God as unknowable and as knowable, as wholly beyond us and as within our reach.”

In other words, God’s energies are ad extra, outside the Godhead.  They relate to creation.   This raises a troubling point, as Olivianus has noted, “if there were no creation would God’s nature be the same? On the Eastern view, no. On said view, in order for God to have the nature he does he must create. Thus creation is a necessity of nature.”  Remember, in some sense the “energies” are part of who God is.  All Christian traditions believe that God’s essence is stable and unchanging.  God would be God regardless of creation.  However, God’s energies only relate to creation (God’s manifesting himself to others).  So here we have a disjunction between God ad intra and God ad extra.  The only way out of his is to posit a necessary creation, which few traditional theologians are willing to do.

Addendum: Vladimir Moss’s extended critique:

Moss is one of the outlaw theologians of the Orthodox Church.  He is a Western convert to a catacomb branch of the Russian Orthodox Church.  (When the Moscow Patriarchate surrendered to the Bolsheviks, a number of Orthodox believers rightly resisted and went underground, forming denominations–I know they hate that word–like ROCOR and ROCA.  Most of these denominations have since rejoined the MP.  Moss’s has not).   Moss’s theological project is odd, but in many ways it is quite helpful.   He does not have rose-colored Tsarist-Holy Serbia glasses.  He honestly points out problems in current Orthodox theology, historiography, and practice.  His comments on topics like substitutionary atonement, theosis, and original sin are very helpful, surprisingly.

Fr John Romanides in some ways resurrected the theological project of Gregory Palamas. In his works one will note a strong antipathy towards anything Western:  substitution, original sin, AUGUSTINE, etc.  While Romanides has a clear manner of writing, it appears that he often overshoots his target.  While he makes many good points, his method precludes a number of valuable insights in Christian theology.  Moss realizes this and responds accordingly.  In its starkest form, the essence-energies distinction, most starkly represented by Romanides, adopts the Dionysian hyper-ousia (God is beyond being) of which we cannot know, but he reveals himself in his energies, which we can know.  The following are Moss’s glosses:

Romanides:  “ The relationship between God and man is not a personal relationship and it is also not a subject-object relationship. So when we speak about a personal relationship between God and man, we are making a mistake. That kind of relationship between God and human beings does not exist…The relations between God and man are not like the relations between fellow human beings. Why? Because we are not on the same level or in the same business with God.”

Moss: But God came down to our level in the Incarnation (this is precisely the same point Gunton makes against Dionysius).  What reason could Romanides have for denying that God is a Person(s) and that our relationship with Him is personal? The present writer can only speculate here, but the answer may lie in Romanides’ obsession with the distinction between the Essence and the Energies of God, according to which God is unknowable in His Essence, but knowable in His Essence. Now this is a valid and very important distinction, but Romanides abuses it as often as he uses it correctly. It would be an abuse, for example, to say that since God can only be known through His Energies, our relationship with Him can only be “energetic”, not personal. For Who is known through His Energies? Is it not the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – that is, the Persons of the Holy Trinity? So our relationship with God is both “energetic” and personal: we know the Persons of God through His Energies. For, as St. Paul says, God has “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [His Energies] in the face of Jesus Christ [His Person]” (II Corinthians 4.6).

Romanides:  “No similarity whatsoever exists between the uncreated and the created, or between God and creation. This also means that no analogy, correlation, or comparison can be made between them. This implies that we cannot use created things as a means for knowing the uncreated God or His energy.”

Moss: But this immediately raises the objection: if there is no similarity whatsoever between God and His creation, why, when He created man, did He create Him in His “image and likeness”? And again: is not this likeness between God and man precisely the basis which makes possible the union between God and man, and man’s deification?

Bayou Huguenot:  This touches on the analogia entis, which most Protestants reject in its Romanist form.  I had never realized Moss’s point before. I offer a hearty amen.