“Being spiritual but not religious avoids having to think too hard about having to decide.” So begins a recent article on the CNN religious blog. It is an article that I might have agreed with save that at the same time I read a blog post on Internetmonk.com (a blog by Evangelicals about the “post-Evangelical wilderness”) called, “Once upon a Christian Nation.” The person reflects upon his evangelical involvement in the culture wars and reflects, “But after decades of moral certitude and reasonably tempered moral indignation on any number of political fronts, I find myself peeking my head above the political fray of late and being joyously surprised by . . . ambivalence. Understand, this is not apathy that has lured me to even flirt with the enemy. If anything, it is ironically a kind of repentance.”
You see, the CNN blog writer is upset that clear decisions are not being made. At the end, he speaks in frustration, saying, “Take a stand, I say. Which one is it? A belief in God and Scripture or a commitment to the Enlightenment ideal of human-based knowledge, reason and action? Being spiritual but not religious avoids having to think too hard about having to decide.”
But it is precisely the requirement that such decision must be made which has led the author on Internetmonk to “ambivalence” and “repentance.” You see, the way the choice is worded seems simple enough. But, in modern America we have Orthodox students in the areas of biology, medicine, chemistry, physics, etc., who are confused by the choice. And that is because the choice that is being presented by the CNN blog author is not between “Scripture … or … human-based knowledge, reasons and action.” The choice is between a particular view of Scripture, a view which is NOT shared by the Orthodox, or a supposedly anti-Christian endorsement of the sciences and the liberal arts.
And this is the problem for us Orthodox. In this culture, at this time, we are being pressed to make choices between pairs of options. But, often, neither option is a fully Orthodox option. We do believe in God and Scripture, BUT as we have received them from the Fathers, as they are interpreted by the Creeds, by the Councils, by Holy Tradition. And, we do believe in the use of reason, in the gathering of knowledge, in learning to interpret the ways and processes of the world which the Holy Trinity has created, but with the knowledge that God is the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
The danger for us Orthodox is that we can get caught up in the questions and forget that they are not our questions. Our children can buy into the idea that the divisions are the only way in which we can think. If that happens, we will be in danger of ending up either with a generation of children who will demand false choices be made or a generation who will become so tired of the choices that they will decide to become “spiritual not religious.” Then they will leave the Church.
We must avoid that danger. And, at times we must speak up and say that both options are wrong. But, more often than that, we must show by our love and our example that there are ways to be faithful to Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition that do not fit the choices that this culture is trying to demand. And we must show by our learning that all truth is God’s Truth.