Today at Ethika Politika, I review Fr. Philip LeMasters’ recent book The Forgotten Faith: Ancient Insights from Contemporary Believers from Eastern Christianity.
With regards to the book’s last chapter, “Constantine and the Culture Wars,” I write,
… LeMasters does a good job in acknowledging the line between principles of faith and morality on the one hand, and prudential judgments that may not be as clear-cut on the other. He does not give the impression of advocating any specific political program; indeed, he explicitly disavows such a project:
Religious groups that are strongly identified with politics risk becoming so entangled in debates shaped by interest groups that their distinctive witness is obscured. To give the impression of being merely a political party at prayer is a good way to make people think that the church has little to say to the world that the world does not already know on its own terms.
He does not use this as an excuse, however, to disengage from political life. He only highlights that in applying the teachings of the Church to our present, political context, we ought not to expect any concrete embodiment of our ideals, and we should be wary of any person or group that makes such a claim.
This is a point, I believe, worth dwelling on. It is one reason that the subtitle of Fr. Michael Butler and Prof. Andrew Morris’s recent monograph Creation and the Heart of Man is “An Orthodox Perspective on Environmentalism” not “The Orthodox Perspective on Environmentalism.”
Political problems require strong principles to guide policy recommendations, to be sure, but the reality we live in falls far short of the New Jerusalem. There needs to be space for critically discussing the best prudential means for living out our shared principles in any given context of our fallen world without charging one side or the other with heresy for not living up to one’s own political views.
And the danger is no small one. As Fr. Philip writes,
[T]o align the faith closely with particular political parties or partisan movements is to risk substituting the calling to theosis with that of being a certain kind of citizen, voter, or activist. In the current cultural climate of the US, there are potential dangers to a close affiliation of Eastern Christianity with the stereotypically liberal, moderate, conservative, or libertarian movements of American politics. The faith does not fit perfectly with any such orientation; likewise, the Church is not a political party. The Body of Christ ultimately pursues the Kingdom of God, not merely a different arrangement of the kingdoms of this world. Its social vision is not the product of twenty-first-century America or the collection of interest groups that comprise our political movements, but grows from ancient and diverse sources that do not line up squarely with any worldly ideology. Orthodoxy’s social and moral concerns are in tension with much popular political opinion of whatever stripe.
Read my full review at Ethika Politika here.