Christendom’s Anthropological Baseline

The claim that a human being is nothing more than a highly evolved animal, known collectively by the genus-species designation Homo sapiens, represented a turning point in the history of the West. Man, once dignified by the image and likeness of his Creator, became one with a spiritually untransformed world.

The claim did not come suddenly, of course. It was the outcome of centuries of reflections and assertions about the nature of man. It was a consequence of what in The Age of Utopia I call the “desecration of the world,” the progressive de-sanctification of a cosmos once filled with heavenly immanence. Beginning with the Renaissance, intellectuals proclaimed man’s autonomy in relationship to heaven. Instead of being the the image of a transcendent God, man was reconceived as Prometheus, after the mythical pagan figure symbolizing liberation from divinity. To this end, eighteenth-century secularists like Rousseau came to celebrate freedom from a distant “watchmaker god,” just as Voltaire envisioned, in his novel Candide, a humanity that could “cultivate the garden” of the earth without divine interference.

Man as Homo sapiens seemed to secure for the nineteenth century a hard-won autonomy. Yet in the end, the new anthropology not only subverted man’s dignity but the very autonomy it sought to secure. To understand this, it is necessary to consider what might be called Christendom’s anthropological baseline, the conviction that man is imago Dei and not Homo sapiens–nor even Prometheus.

Continue reading

The Old Christendom Enters a New Millennium

In two weeks, Orthodox Christians throughout what was once the Soviet Union will be celebrating the memory of the New Martyrs and Confessors of that land (those following the Western calendar in America and elsewhere celebrated the event yesterday). These people were killed for their faith between the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the collapse of Communism in 1991. Recognized as saints since 1982 by the Russian Orthodox Church outside of Russia, they were eventually canonized in Russia by the Patriarchate of Moscow in 2000. That event itself was a symbolical milestone in the history of Christendom, for it represented the restoration of traditional Christianity to a place of vitality within our culture. Continue reading

The Fool Says . . .

One of the really remarkable things about the Soviet cult of Vladimir Lenin was its religious character. It is a reminder that strict atheism is rare, even in the modern world.

There is a Psalm verse that speaks of how unusual and even ridiculous atheism is: “The fool says in his heart, there is no god” (Psalm 14:1). The Communists were adherents to the philosophy of Karl Marx and therefore strict atheists. They were convinced religion is an “opiate of the masses”¬†imposed by class oppressors upon the workers and that there is in reality no god whatsoever. The Soviet Union was the first government in world history that committed itself to atheism. And yet, it was also the first government in history to invent a new culture, or system of beliefs and values, that was pseudo-religious.¬†This can be seen in several features of the Lenin cult. Continue reading