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Orthodoxy — a way of life?

29 July 2008

I joined an Orthodox discussion forum recently, and got involved in a bizarre discussion full of strange non-sequiturs.

Someone posted an article (written by someone else) about Islam, which began by saying, “Islam is not a religion, nor is it a cult. In it’s fullest form, it is a complete, total, 100% system of life.”.

I pointed out that the same could be said of Orthodox Christianity, and possibly other forms of Christianity as well.

I’ve heard it said many times, by many different people, that Orthodoxy is not a religion, it’s a way of life.

I’ve also heard it said that tithing is often misunderstood. We are not to be 10$ Christians, tipping God was we tip a waiter (or “waitron”, as they are called in South African restaurants). We should aim to be 100% Christians. It’s all or nothing.

But in that forum about four or five people responded by referring to the First Amendment to the US Constitution, about separation of church and state.

It seemed (to me at any rate) a strange repsonse. At first sight it was a complete non-sequitur. Why should anyone take the US constitution as an authoritative statement of the Christian faith?

It implied (to me) that, in the USA at any rate, it was unconstitutional for anyone to aim to be 100% Christian. At least 50% should belong to the state.

Of course this is in line with the modern world view, that “religion” should be confined to a part of one’s life labelled “private”. It may be permissible for consenting adults to engage in religious activities in private, but outside the private sphere, it should be kept out of sight. Modernity, and the modern worldview generally, tends to analyse things and separate them. Life is to be compartmentalised. Work, home, family, leisure, religion etc should be kept separate, and not influence each other.

Of course in practice it doesn’t always work like that. There are some commercial enterprises that believe they own their employees, body and soul, and work must take priority over everything else. Some of them literally work their employees to death, destroying their health and their family life. Such companies also fit the description of Islam in the opening statement. They demand 100%. They are not a religion or a cult, but a complete system of life.

And so I find it odd that people in an Orthodox Christian discussion forum should apparently think that while Islam demands that Muslims should be whole-hearted Muslims, it is somehow against the American Constitution for Christians to be whole-hearted Christians. The American Constitution, they seem to believe, demands that Christians must be half-hearted at most.

So why do so many people in America apparently believe that the US Constitution demands that Christians must be healf-hearted at best, and that this is what is meant by separation of Church and State, and that it is a Good Thing — in fact one said that it was America’s gift to the world.

If one person said this, one could write it off as a personal idiosyncrasy, or a simple misunderstanding. But it was repeated by several people.

And if Muslims believe that Islam demands 100% commitment, and Christians continue to believe that a half-hearted 50% max commitment is demanded by the US constitution, then the future of Christianity looks pretty dim, at least in the USA. Perhaps it’s time to re-read the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 29 July 2008 8:35 am

    Hi, Steve

    Good post. I kind of think, though, that quite a few US Christians are offering God more like a “tithe” of their devotion. Maybe 10%, and that’s only as long as nothing more exciting comes along. He might have to “make do” with nothing for a couple of months until hockey season is over. Fifty percent would be a real improvement.

    Sometimes (not always, but sometimes), maybe God lets unpleasant things happen to us because it’s the only way He can get us to remember He’s there.

    God bless,


  2. 29 July 2008 2:51 pm

    I can’t imagine Christianity without it being a 100% way of life.

    It just doesn’t make sense any other way, your whole mind is renewed when you walk with God and everything you do becomes part of a journey.

    And it is just so much better than life without Him. 🙂

  3. Damian permalink
    30 July 2008 12:07 am

    Great post. Christianity – of any denomination – should be a way of life, as you say. It’s sad to think that such huge numbers of Christians don’t look at Christianity that way, and do compartmentalise.

  4. 30 July 2008 1:41 am

    Caesar wants all of us – at least all of us that counts (from his perspective). He can tolerate our purely internal thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes as long as they have no impact on the way we act.

    While some might read the US Constitution as Caesar-centric, I don’t think there are any compelling reasons to do so (other than Caesar wanting more than his due).

  5. 30 July 2008 3:34 pm

    While I think you’re right, I think the reason you got such a large volume of American Orthodox saying what they were saying is because of a recent podcast distributed by Ancient Faith Radio by Frederic Matthewes-Green, a prominent Orthodox writer in the U.S. The podcast is available here:
    [audio src="" /]

    She wrote the podcast on the great experiment of American democracy, and how it requires us to put our religious beliefs on the back burner, for good or ill, when we are in the public square. Also, she discusses why our kind of democracy may not be exportable.

  6. 30 July 2008 3:54 pm

    It’s not that Americans need to put their religious beliefs on the back burner; it’s that our religious beliefs cannot be enforced on others through the power of the state. That is, we are all free to practice our religion 100%. We are not permitted to force other citizens to observe the tenets of our religion.

    The reason Islam is called a “way of life” is that it specifically requires a government mandated religion. Islam controls how the government functions, and it requires that all citizens observe its rules. People who follow other faiths are “permitted” to observe them, if their actions are not counter to an Islamic law. Also non-believers are required to follow all Islamic laws and pay a tax to the state for the privilege of believing in another faith.

    A good example of how this works in practice is the difference between Vatican City and Mecca. Both are centers of a major religion. Anyone can visit the Vatican. Only Muslims can visit Mecca; there are huge signs on all the roads leading there warning of dire penalties for any non-Muslim who tries to enter the city.

  7. 30 July 2008 6:00 pm

    Woo! I got wordy with my reply, so I stuck it on my blog. To summarize: They are misreading the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, which is partially an artefact of the last 75 years of power grabbing utilizing distorted Christian imagery.

    Full story at my place.


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