A few years ago I wrote an article entitled “Russia and Islam, part eight: working together, a basic “how-to”” in which I wrote the following about how (some) Christians and (some) Muslims could/should try to work together:
The fundamentally misguided yet typical approach:
Having had many opportunities to exchange views with Muslim from different countries and having also heard Christian and Muslim religious figures engaged in various debates, dialogs and discussions, I can describe the typical scenario by which such dialogs are conducted.
Typically, both sides try to establish a list of all the issues Islam and Christianity agree upon. These include that God is love, that the Mother of Jesus was a virgin, that the anti-Christ will come before the end of time, that Moses was a great prophet, that angels are the messengers of God any many other things. Added to this list of topics of agreement are usually statements about how Christians and Muslims have lived in peace side by side and how this should continue today. This is a well meaning and polite way to engage in a dialog, but this is also a fundamentally misguided one for the simple reason that it overlooks absolutely fundamental theological and historical problems. Let’s take these one by one.
Irreconcilable theological differences between Christianity and Islam
The highest most sacred dogmatic formulation of Christianity is the so-called “Credo” or “Symbol of Faith” (full text here; more info here). Literally every letter down to the smallest ‘i‘ of this text is, from the Christian point of view, the most sacred and perfect dogmatic formulation, backed by the full authority of the two Ecumenical Councils which proclaimed it and all the subsequent Councils which upheld it. In simple terms – the Symbol of Faith is absolutely non-negotiable, non-re-definable, non-re-interpretable, you cannot take anything away from it, and you cannot add anything to it. You can either accept it as is, in toto, or reject it.
The fact is that Muslim would have many problems with this text, but one part in particular is absolutely unacceptable to any Muslim:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made
This part clearly and unambiguously affirms that Jesus-Christ was not only the Son of God but actually God Himself. This is expressed by the English formulation “of one essence with the Father” (ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί in Greek with the key term homousios meaning “consubstantial”). This is *THE* core belief of Christianity: that Jesus was the theanthropos, the God-Man or God incarnate. This belief is categorically unacceptable to Islam which says that Christ was a prophet and by essence a ‘normal’ human being.
For Islam, the very definition of what it is to be a Muslim is found in the so-called “Shahada” or testimony/witness. This is the famous statement by which a Muslim attests and proclaims that “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God”. One can often also hear this phrased as “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is His prophet”.
Now without even going into the issue of whether Christians can agree or not that “Allah” is the appropriate name for God (some do, some don’t – this is really irrelevant here), it’s the second part which is crucial here: Christianity does not recognize Muhammad as a prophet at all. In fact, technically speaking, Christianity would most likely classify Muhammad as a heretic (if only because of his rejection of the “Symbol of Faith”). Saint John of Damascus even called him a ‘false prophet’. Simply put: there is no way a Christian can accept the “Shahada” without giving up his Christianity just as there is no way for a Muslim to accept the “Symbol of Faith” without giving up his Islam.
So why bother?
Would it not make much more sense to accept that there are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between Christianity and Islam and simply give up all that useless quest for points of theological agreement? Who cares if we agree on the secondary if we categorically disagree on the primary? I am all in favor of Christians studying Islam and for Muslims studying Christianity (in fact, I urge them both to do so!), and I think that it is important that the faithful of these religions talk to each other and explain their points of view as long as this is not presented as some kind of quest for a common theological stance. Differences should be studying and explained, not obfuscated, minimized or overlooked.
Sorry for the long quote, but this will save us all a lot of time. What I want to discuss today, is how the early Christians dealt with this issue and what general lessons we can draw from their example.
First, I think that we should not have the tree hide a forest: what I am writing today is NOT about Christian-Muslim dialog, but goes much further, it also applies to, say, any dialogs between the Latins and the Christians, and even INSIDE Orthodox jurisdictions (say, “World Orthodoxy” as oppose to traditionalist Orthodox jurisdictions). So this is first and foremost about a mindset.
- Mindest one: seek out and list all the things two religions/denominations/jurisdictions/etc have in common and proclaim as a basis for unity (of what kind will be discussed below); this mindset also tries to ignore/obfuscate the “small and obscure theological points” which really “don’t matter too much”.
- Mindset two: seek out and place a powerful “flashlight” on all and ever “minor theological point” and openly discuss them not only internally, but also with the other side.
One example: the Latins. Here is what I have heard innumerable times from them: “while we have different rites and traditions, we have the same faith, and we even have inter-communion!”. Here is what is overlooked:
- The issue is not “ritual”, the Latins are, and always have, been liars about that, especially when they created the “Eastern Rite” to try to mislead the naive. The issue is the differences in doxa, in the faith.
- While it is true that the Latin allows the Orthodox Christians, and pretty much anybody else who happens to walk in, to receive their sacraments, the reverse is not true. The Latins never mention that.
- The true is that the Latins see the Orthodox as schismatics, folks who did not change/pervert the faith, but who did not submit to the Pope.
- The Orthodox see the Latins has heretics, people who have changed/perverted the original Christian faith.
- Orthodox Patriarchs, especially the “World Orthodoxy” types, can hug and even pray with Popes, but they have no authority whatsoever to lift the anathemas (see explanation below) imposed by Church councils.
Note, since the three words above are totally misunderstood in the West, here a few very simplified (please remember this) definition:
Schismatic refers to a person/group who creates or incites the organization of, or who is a member of, a splinter group, somebody who breaks the proper order of the Church, usurps the proper hierarchy. Strictly speaking, the schismatics do not differ in faith, in doxa (unless they built a theological justification for their schism which, by definition, is an ecclesiological heresy, but we can ignore this for the time being).
Heretic: person, or teaching, which differ on issues of faith, of doxa, and who then proclaim this “false knowledge”.
Anathema: this is an official denunciation by the Church of a person and/or teaching which set himself/itself aside from the Church and which represents a danger for the faithful of that Church. Note that the purpose of public anathema is twofold: to warn the one condemned and bring about his repentance, and to warn others away from his error. It is thus a profoundly pastoral act where a person is separated, cut off, the Church, not “cursed”, but handed over to the judgement of God.
So these are not insults or curses, but “theological categories” which have been used since the Apostolic times to define who/what the Church was dealing with. These are necessary theological categories without which Christianity cannot exist, nor can anybody understand what the Apostles and Fathers wrote without understanding the true meaning of these categories.
In our times, many will wonder if the various religions/denominations/jurisdictions should not unite with each other on the basis of what they have in common and then stand together against their common enemies.
Of course, some of those unity-seekers are simply liars (the Latins, specifically, their own doctrine contradicts their actions and syrupy words), but many others are sincere. Here is what Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote in a latter to a priest in the 4th century about such liars and deceivers: (emphasis added)
I desire to learn what is this fashion of innovation in things Concerning the Church, which allows anyone who likes, or the passerby, as the Bible says, to tear asunder the flock that has been well led, and to plunder it by larcenous attacks, or rather by piratical and fallacious teachings. For if our present assailants had any ground for condemning us in regard of the faith, it would not have been right for them, even in that case, to have ventured on such a course without giving us notice. They ought rather to have first persuaded us, or to have been willing to be persuaded by us (if at least any account is to be taken of us as fearing God, labouring for the faith, and helping the Church), and then, if at all, to innovate; but then perhaps there would be an excuse for their outrageous conduct. But since our faith has been proclaimed, both in writing and without writing, here and in distant parts, in times of danger and of safety, how comes it that some make such attempts, and that others keep silence? The most grievous part of it is not (though this too is shocking) that the men instil their own heresy into simpler souls by means of those who are worse; but that they also tell lies about us and say that we share their opinions and sentiments; thus baiting their hooks, and by this cloak villainously fulfilling their will, and making our simplicity, which looked upon them as brothers and not as foes, into a support of their wickedness.
The context of this letter was a denunciation of various heresies of the time (see full letter here), but the mindset and deceptive tactic Saint Gregory describes have become extremely common in our modern times. This letter is so fundamental to Christianity, that it was the basis for future Church Council decision and a text which each Orthodox Christian ought to read at least once in his life.
Okay, fair enough, but an honest reader might still wonder whether such “fine and obscure theological points” should not be overlooked, or at least set aside for a while, for the sake of a putatively much more important unity.
This is a fair and valid question, and I will address it next.
First, let’s ask “unity of what, by whom and for what”? Russian Orthodox Christians and agnostics fought very successfully alongside Chechen, Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese (Hezbollah) Muslims. Yet no “inter-faith dialog” was needed for that purpose at all. So unity against a common political or military enemy does not require any theological discussions AT ALL.
Next, some religions are diametrically and irreconcilable at their core, in their essence, because they compete for the same “title” shall we say. As I have said many times, Latin “Christianity” is nothing more than an “anti-Orthodoxy” and rabbinical “Judaism” is nothing more than an “anti-Christianity”. In other words, Latins and Christians fight for the same “title” as do Judaics and Christians. Now compare that with Islam: have any Muslims ever declared themselves “true Christians” or have any Judaics declared themselves “true Christians”? What about the opposite? Have any Christians declared themselves “true Muslims” or have any Christians declared themselves to be “true Jews”. Not the former, for sure, but the latter, yes, very much so in fact. So the most futile and impossible religious dialog would be one between Judaics and Christians, but the one between Christians and Latins is not much behind, especially since the Latins have now officially declared that Judaics are their “older brother in faith” and that they together expect the coming of the same Messiah, except that for the Latins it would be His second coming, but for the Judaics it would be His first. In sharp contrast, Christians have always know what comes next: the anti-Christ.
The truth is that the entire “ecumenical dialog” is, at best, a colossal waste of time and, at worst, a “pan-heresy”, that is the sum total of all heresies, a super heresy if you want. The only “unity” which it shows is a unity unbelief, indifference and hypocrisy. By all the involved participants.
[Sidebar, can anybody imagine any of the Church Fathers sitting down with an entire panopticum of heretics to discuss with them what the Church might have in common with them? In fact, look at all the major Christian heresies, say Nestorianim or Arianism, they did not reject Christianity as a whole, only some specific teachings, yet the Fathers denounced them as anathemized heretics, not “brothers in a common quest for unity”!]
Coming back to Russians and Muslims, I the article I mention in the opening, I said that Muslims and Christians ALREADY have a lot in common, specifically ethics:
Any religion has two primarily components: what it believes in, what it proclaims, and then the rules of life, the “how to” of daily existence which it mandates. In Christian terms there is the doxa (what you proclaim or glorify) and the praxis (how you live your spiritual life on a daily basis). These are the basic rules common to most religions: not to kill, not to steal, to live a life of modesty, to protect the weak, etc. When comparing Islam and Christianity one can find both differences and similarities between their praxis and ethics. The differences in praxis are not that important because they mostly affect the private lives of the faithful: Muslims will fast during the month of Ramadan, Christians during the four major fasts of the year and on Wednesdays and Fridays. So let them, who cares? They really do not bother each other and, in fact, they are typically respectful of each other’s traditions. On ethics, however, the two religions mostly agree both on a social/corporate and individual level and, with one notable exception which I will discuss below, Christianity and Islam have very similar ideas of what is right and wrong and what society should stand for or pro-actively reject.
But I also mentioned a fundamental ethical difference: capital punishment, the death penalty.
But how big a deal is that? While Christians are by and large opposed to the death penalty, most Russians today are not, quite the opposite. Not only that, but this issue is a social and political one, yes, influenced by religious values, but this is not a dogmatic, crucial issue of faith. The millions of Muslims in Russia do not protest for the restoration of the death penalty, and if they did they would be joined by a lot of non-Muslims, including plenty of Orthodox Christians.
Again, our issue today is not Islam in/and Russia or, even less so, Islam vs Christianity.
[Sidebar: I have covered that at length in the following series:
I also discussed it further here: http://thesaker.is/russias-civilizational-choice/
So let’s not discuss this here, please]
Our main topic today is differing approaches to “fine and obscure theological points“.
Today we live in a post-modern, post-Christian, society which has even totally lost interest for the very notions of true/false, right/wrong, healthy/pathological, etc. Our so-called “pragmatism” is nothing but a complete denial of such categories (other than maybe for propaganda purposes). And, of course, as Jerry Mander and Chris Hedges pointed out in their books (see here and here – I HIGHLY recommend them both), we now live in an empire of illusions and in a total absence of the sacred. This is what 1000 years of lies and deceptions by the Papacy has resulted in: a post-Christian world with no concept of truth, not moral, not factual, not even logical. And everybody is lying practically on auto-pilot, mostly by obfuscating the differences between true/false, right/wrong, healthy/pathological of course, but also between even “simpler” categories, such as beautiful/ugly, make/female, adult/child, etc. Instead we are fed a diet of “acceptance” or “positivity” which is nothing more than a form of brainwashing on a societal scale.
No wonder the proponents of such deceptions have no use for “fine and obscure theological points” and, crucially, no wonder they misrepresent whatever truth they pretend to stand up for! Most grievously, they are ALL doing what Saint Gregory described in his letter: they also tell lies about us and say that we share their opinions and sentiments this applies especially to the following three categories:
- Latins (the Papacy) and its “offsprings”
- World Orthodoxy (official, government supported, Orthodox denominations)
- Judaics (especially the Haredi types, the modern version of the sect of the Pharisees)
From these three “source liars” then come even more offsprings, even rebellious offsprings (say the Reformed denominations) which might not even realize that they are repeating the lies, mindset, assumptions, those whom they rebelled against.
One of the key purposes of these vignettes is to first, bring your attention to this reality and, two, to show you what/how the original, early Christians did and wrote and how they dealt with so-called “minor and obscure theological points”.
By the way, my purpose is not to “gun for” the three groups I mentioned above (let God be their judge), only to give you some instruments as to how to detect them and to offer you at least one alternative to their current monopoly on the mind and souls of millions of sincere, well intentioned, people who are simply not equipped with the tools to discriminate between the fake lie and the real thing.
Allow me a metaphor: you can make fish soup out of an aquarium, but you cannot make an aquarium from a fish soup. The modern deceivers have turned a very diverse and well lit aquarium into a tasteless and dark fish soup, “spiced up” with lie after lie after lie. Some have been at it for 2000 years, others for “only” 1000. Eventually they all joined forces: that is the world we live in today.
I don’t want to let them get away with this, hence these Vignettes, which are really only an attempt to pass on that which was handed down to me. Nothing more.
In conclusion, to those who have no time, interest in putative “minor and obscure theological point”, I will simply repeat the words of Christ Himself: Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it (John 8:44). As for those who truly seek the truth, I will repeat the words of Saint John the Theologian who warned us all about the deceivers: Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:18-19).
PS: we now have 98 registered members, and you still can sign up (here) if you want!
I, Andrei Raevsky, aka The Saker, have absolutely no authority whatsoever to teach anything to anyone. None. Zero. Ziltch. Nada! The “Christian Vignettes” are NOT a catechism, or a course in dogmatics or anything else formal. These vignettes are only one guy’s strictly personal musings on various topics. Nothing more.
Dears, I have been very busy and I missed the 2nd,3rd, 4th and 5th Vignette. How can I locate these missed articles?
Just look at the bottom of the homepage, they are all there.
saker with Postmodern and Post Christian Society do you mean only the West which is now and in the future or do you also mean Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe? this definition of yours confuses me but I think it also concerns russia.
Good question, with a painful answer: the postmodern postchristian society is primarily the West, of course, but Russia, while doing COMPARATIVELY better, is poisoned by the poison of lies which the Soviet regime has injected into the Russian society and which is still the core ethos of the official “Moscow Patriatchate”.
Is Russia also post-Christian? Only time will tell, it could go either way.
But yes, this problem also exists in Russia, there is no point in denying that.
I also had this problem, and solved it by searching for Christian vignettes in the search bar on The Vineyard of the Saker’s main page. This is found just under the donation options. Then this page appeared, and I bookmarked it.
Next, I am so glad this current vignette has appeared. I will have to leave both the finer points and the larger points of Christian and Islamic theology to others, and look forward to reading whatever is said here about them.
But, I would like to state that having been lucky enough to travel in many parts of our world, I have always been drawn to the Islamic mosque because of its open and uncluttered design, and at the same time drawn to the Orthodox church because of its hint of mysteries.
Does this make me superficial? Perhaps. But in both cultures grandparents can be seen delighting in their grandchildren, and I think we are all more similar than some would have it.
Does this make me superficial?
Not at all, both buildings are designed to elicit specific feelings, emotions, ideas and even to influence, gently, how one thinks.
The fact that you perceive these things is a very valuable quality!
Side comment: have you noted how ugly are the new churches in Western countries with this supposed modern style; the exterior cannot be distinguished from a gym, the interior is cold, aseptic, anonymous. I understand this as a sign of spiritual decline of the society.
It’s more than just church buildings.
Looks at what the western standard is for female beauty: dressed like a hooker, with tattoos, short hair, trying hard to speak with a low voice (that is a US specialty, apparently), unsmiling and generally looking angry and nasty. Even being fat is now considered something which needs to be proudly displayed.
Remember Audrey Hepburn or Ava Gardner?
I miss them, especially when I look at the talentless freaks on Netfilx or Amazon…
Ugnliness is triumphant everywhere in the West.
Now we see what Dostoevsky meant when he said “beauty will save the world”.
He meant real, beauty of course, not a vulgar cheap display of as much skin as possible…
Yes i have, here is one of the ugliest church in Norway.
A very important read for this Sunday. Thank you Andrei!
In Europe we received a lot of deception about this topic, especially during the terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, London etc.. Our politicians were embracing so-called moderated imams, saying we are all brothers, there are so many things in common, takfiris are lone wolves and so on. I also had the luck (or unluck?) to hear an imam invited from Saudi Arabia (so, probably, a Wahabi priest?) to speak INSIDE the church, by the way, saying that Christ is cited by name in the Quran more than Muhammad, and that is a well-estimated prophet etc.. and everyone was nodding as to say, look, we have so much in common. Not a word about the fundamental truth, let me allow to quote directly Andrei: “This (the Credo) is *THE* core belief of Christianity: that Jesus was the theanthropos, the God-Man or God incarnate. This belief is categorically unacceptable to Islam which says that Christ was a prophet and by essence a ‘normal’ human being.”
So what was really doing the Saudi imam inside our church, avoiding to mention this “small obscure point”? Imo, a political mission to hide the truth about what was going on with the ISIS at that time, like the politicians by embracing the imams in front of the TV while paying and training the takfiris in Syria. I understood after that episode that seeking common points and neglecting our irreconcilable differences is a mistake, because it can be used to hide more evil purposes; an example? To implement the “boiled frog” strategy to make people accept views what they would not accept abruptly like the current liberal dogmas.
So, I come to the conclusion that the “mindset 2” is fundamental in the long term to built stable relations between different views, whereas the mindset 1 should be used only in the short term on limited practical issues.
So what was really doing the Saudi imam inside our church, avoiding to mention this “small obscure point”?
A couple of points here:
1) Takfiri/exterme Wahabi literature is often found on the bookshelves in mosques, from Ibn Taymiyyah to Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab to modern Takfiris. The KSA is financing it all, and that is a MAJOR problem for traditional Islam
2) Of course he would not mention small obscure points, the entire “ecumenical dialog of love” is based on such lies.
3) the best weapon against Takfirism is to protect traditional Islam and not let the former infect and then absorb the latter.
I am going to venture a buy in here, and I hope someone will either take it further, or take it apart.
As I see it Islam and Christianity share a belief in One God, a life hereafter and the possibility of redemption. So the possibility of respectful co-existence is broad.
But, with one saying that he believes “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God”, and the other saying that he believes “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made” how can anyone think the two can be merged into one?
So, again as I see it, we can live together, but we cannot pray together. Ok. I can live with that, and I hope others can too. It’s a fragile world out there, and without profound mutual respect it could just shatter.
We are all seekers here.
we can live together, but we cannot pray together
And we can even join forces, collaborate, study each other’s believes (including “small obscure fine points of theology”). Here is what one very smart Muslim told me one day:
You and I are both waiting for the 2nd coming of Christ, right? So how about this: when that happens, we ask Him to judge and show us who was right and who was mistaken. And whatever His judgement, we both pledge to accept it! And, until that day, we follow our consciousnesses and serve God as best we know and can. Is that acceptable to you?
I said that it was :-)
Most people are going to follow the religion of their parents and and the communities that they grew up in. Hopefully God will take this into account for those who mistakenly followed the wrong path.
This is a finer point of theology;)
Finnish Orthodox appeal to Constantinople to allow gluten-free communion:
What is interesting to me is the response that Pravoslavie posted above from a Greek Bishop circa 2018:
´´ If there are Orthodox Christians in our parishes who believe that, after the Holy Spirit consecrates the Bread and the Wine during the Divine Liturgy, the gifts are still bread and wine, they should never again receive the divine Body and Blood again, until they believe that the holy sacrament of our Lord Himself is His spiritual presence, that is, both His Body and His Blood.
… And, if the doctor’s instructions to them about not eating the Body (bread) because of the doctor’s medical knowledge are considered more important than the Holy Eucharist, then they should not receive the Holy Eucharist of the Lord, unless or until they believe that the Creator of all has more knowledge regarding eternal life than all the medical science of this fallen world.´
I understand that bread and wine are ancient offerings, and the priest of the Most High, Melchizedek, brought them out to the valley of the kings to meet Abraham, and that this bread is wheat. Wheat is the grain of choice for various reasons, but in fairness to the modernist’s arguments wheat berries have been de-evolved/hybridized into mega cash crops. This results according to celiacs, in a change of the food from a natural to an unnatural state. I have heard celiacs say they can eat the 2000 year-old wheat from the tombs of the pharaohs (labeled as kamut) but not the industrial wheat products in supermarket baked goods.
I expect that the philosophy of inclusiveness and ecumenism makes this another touchy point for, until today I had never considered it.
This is interesting stuff and i agree with you about “highlighting” our differences instead of how we all worship the same God.
We do not have to agree and hold the same faith to live in peace with eachother.