An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
Lent is the Red Pill, the escape from the "Matrix of Self"
For Orthodox Christians, Lent isn't a buffet line of choices where we get to decide what "thing" we will give up. Rather the Lenten Fast is prescribed, and while most modern expressions of Christianity have abandoned or profoundly modified the Fast, in the Orthodox custom it remains in keeping with the oldest traditions. It involves abstaining generally from all meat, dairy products, olive oil, and wine. However the time of Lent isn't JUST about food, it is also focused very intensely on Prayer and Almsgiving. All of which is ultimately intended to get our minds off of ourselves - that may seem simple, but it isn't.
Of course, it is no grand revelation or profound insight to claim that we spend most of our lives wholly focused on ourselves. Most of us all know that we do, but the problem here isn't as straightforward as it may seem. Here is the deeper issue (at least as I see it in my life): we are also wholly blind to ourselves. What we perceive isn't necessarily real at all, instead we have invented a sort of false reality like the Matrix in which we operate and if that weren't bad enough, our culture and society is totally in on the deception. I think we tend to look at the world around us, necessarily (or so it seems) assume that our senses are perceiving what is real, but only after we've run it through the interpretive center of our noggin which is, in my case at least, an untrustworthy and profoundly biased source. So in other words, we as individuals are the sole reference for what is real - is it any wonder we have developed beliefs in such things which are "true for you" and not so for me, along with other relativistic nonsense. But before we absolutists became too cocky, the fact (I think) remains that most of our construed absolutes are equally a part of the Matrix or our collective self-deception and in that context, the relativists are often more right than absolutists would like to admit. Now I say all this as a scientist who by the very nature of my job must believe in absolute truth and our ability to discern it to some degree, and so I should note that the analogy of the Matrix does break down at some point. Clearly everything around us (such as these computers we are using) is real, as is the rest of the world presently surrounding us. However, HOW we perceive and interact with that world is where the "Matrix of Self" obscures things for us. We are in a constant state of collecting data and interpreting it and then deciding how to process and respond to it. That entire mechanism is flawed and for the most part we do not care. On the contrary we reinforce, often quite unintentionally, the many flaws that uphold the Matrix.
A simple illustration of the role that the "Matrix of Self" plays in our lives is to consider death. Consider how we fail to consider it! We avoid it, we shun it, we hide it and we don't like to talk about it. Indeed we often live our lives as if it in fact doesn't even exist! And we in the modern world, even when faced with it, sanitize it, sterilize it and keep it at a distance....desperate to avoid this invasion of reality and return to the great deception of the "Matrix of Self."
Have you ever felt this strange sensation that reality is escaping you - I like to take a cue from the movie and call it a glitch in the Matrix, whereas more likely it is God's Grace peaking in on my little facade. Let me try and explain: For brief moments I think or feel that I can see past myself and can even see myself as I OUGHT to be, but am not. It sometimes feels like those frustrating dreams in which you keep trying to accomplish some task and yet no matter how much progress you think you are making, you suddenly realize that you are making none whatsoever! Or another way I envision it: reality becomes present just to the extent that I can perceive its existence from time to time, but its only for a fleeting second or two before I am yanked back away from it - or more to the point I yank myself away from it. Well then, what do I mean by reality? I guess the best way I might describe it is to suggest that reality is a state of being which exists beyond myself. It transcends me and allows me to see with a degree of what could be called pure objectivity....well...not quite....more specifically and simply: purity, no longer being obscured by the "Matrix of Self." Don't kid yourselves, this is no easy task. One will often hear talk in Orthodox circles (and for certain amongst the writings of the Fathers) about the nous - sometimes described as that part of us which is able to relate to or connect with God. It is a Greek word which is often translated as "mind" or "heart" but not without debate. While I will avoid trying to define it precisely, I will say that I do believe the Beatitude which states "the pure in heart...shall see God." (St. Matthew 5:8) is related to it. And so in that context, one might refer to the nous as being equivalent to a purified heart and the means by which we can find reality. Now, the surest way to send these fleeting moments of reality into oblivion, is to turn on the TV, radio, or internet and simply float away amidst the shallow muck of our collective deception. For it is here where we are most easily able to avoid the most important issue of our lives (the purity of our hearts) and focus on innumerable issues that will not shake us free from the "Matrix of Self". Sadly some of these things might be very good, important, and praiseworthy: maybe it's Facebook posts on some atrocity in the world or some political issue you feel strongly about. In this context, from the comfort of our lounge chairs we can "like" such posts, engage in heated debate about them, and walk away having gained NO greater sense of reality and usually quite the opposite: only the upholding of the facade. The more mundane things are obvious: who won the best actor Oscar and how upset are we that so and so didn't? What did Ellen DeGeneres wear when she opened the ceremony? On and on it goes...step back and read your Facebook feed, or look at the news streams, or consider what you watch on TV: what is the real value of any of this to your REAL life, to the purity of your heart? It seems colossally important to our lives in the "Matrix of Self", but none of it will get us any closer to reality. 99% of what we listen to, read, watch, or do is probably ultimately just distracting us and making us feel comfortable, content, and happy, which ironically might very likely be the key to our ultimate destruction. For some of us, pop culture and those things that are "trending" online (maybe a funny cat video, or "fail" videos, or the latest nearly pornographic music video) are sufficient to keep us trapped in the deception. Consider even further: maybe food is enough to keep us comfortable and this is not just a quantity issue (remember the gentlemen in the movie who longed to go back into the Matrix to escape the pain of reality and as he spoke about why he dreamed outloud of eating a delicious simulated steak), or maybe our hobbies keep us entertained and comfortably numb. Maybe it's video games or movies or _______. What thing in YOUR life do you go to, like a drug, in order to remain comfortable and to avoid confronting the reality of self? What keeps you trapped in the "Matrix of Self?" I have heard that the surest way to see a person grow irritable is to remove from them all electronics and place them in a room utterly free of distractions and simply ask them to sit in silence for 10 minutes. Arguably it would be the longest 10 minutes of most people's lives because the fact is that we YEARN for distraction so as to avoid the reality of self. We are inclined to want to stay in the Matrix of self-deception. And who can argue with the fact that we live in an age that is overflowing with distractions. Every time we see people's faces glued to their phones, do we not consider that they are being distracted from reality? Not just the reality of a spouse or child trying to gain their attention (no less problematic and a serious warning to us), but that deeper reality that we are talking about here!
Now, please, don't think I'm suggesting any of these things that can distract us are inherently bad. Rather I'm suggesting there is a massive influx of things hitting our senses, all of which have the potential to reinforce the "Matrix of Self" - and render us profoundly comfortable...stagnant. As I stop and look at my life, sometimes I feel a profound yearning to break away from all the nonsense that is keeping me imprisoned in my Matrix and I can see all these things keeping me there...conveniently distracted and appealing to all my various passions. I sense for brief moments some invisible barrier that is paper thin and yet no less keeping me imprisoned in the Matrix of Self...I want to take the red pill and break through to other side. Unfortunately, as with much in life, there is no simple pill to take to solve all of our problems.
The process by which we "take the red pill" is three fold in the Orthodox Tradition: purification, illumination, and theosis. This is nothing less than salvation. It is a pathway available to us which would not otherwise be so were it not for the saving work of Christ...but it is just that: a pathway and not a judicial proclamation of innocence despite guilt. It is instead a real and ontological change that must occur. Lent is, in this way, the red pill. A prescription offered to us by over 2000 years of collective holy wisdom as a tried and true means to help us escape the "Matrix of Self". Alas, it is not as simple as taking a pill and going back to YouTube to watch videos expecting you'll magically be purified and enlightened. No, the Lenten prescription is: fasting (the belly and tongue's yearning for it is the very foundation of our passions), prayer (accomplishes quite the opposite of those things which make us comfortable in the Matrix...and the odds are our local Orthodox Churches provide seemingly unlimited opportunities), and Almsigiving (takes from ourselves and recognizes the other...it tears down the very fabirc of the "Matrix of Self"). The Canon of St. Andrew is typically served during the first week of Lent, and it was the Kontakion in this service which got me thinking about this idea.
My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing
near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then, and be watchful, that
Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all
One of the most overt effects of the "Matrix of Self" is that we completely lose the ability to discern the reality that He is in fact "everywhere present and fills all things." Knowing this and sensing this reality is a sure sign that we are tearing through the veil that hinders us.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 8:44 AM [+] +++
Saturday, February 15, 2014
The Liturgy in Africa
Last Sunday, I was honored and blessed to serve for the Divine Liturgy with Fr. Stephen at St. George Orthodox Church in Bbira district, Kampala. I had little idea of what to expect in terms of what a Deacon would do because of obvious reasons: the Ugandan expression of the Liturgy as well as the fact that the Ugandan Church derives most of its traditions from Greek practice. The Georges' were kind enough to give me some specific clues as to what to expect, but the little details could not all be communicated. Plus Fr. Stephen does not typically serve with a Deacon.
Trying to figure out what I was going to do
But I found that it flowed quite naturally for the most part. There certainly were differences, for instance they completely skipped the Litany of Fervent Supplication which I had gone out to do, but Fr. Stephen very kindly called me back in to the Sanctuary without much disruption. I suppose that might have confused the choir, but luckily it was being led by Photios who has had extensive theological and muscial training both in America and Greece and therefore likely knew this portion would confuse me.
"Commemorating our All Holy Immaculate..."
I found that I was easily able to blend with the choir to the point that I thought it sounded quite nice, and as I really began to "get into" the service, I began to feel comfortable and being able to relax, became aware of God's presence there with us. And as I did, the possibility of making mistakes became less and less important. The thought that I was in Uganda Africa became less of a primary thought, and instead was becoming more aware of the reality that we were participating in the Kingdom. This was indeed the Liturgy I knew and loved, despite all the differences. And the fact that I would offer the litanies in English and some of the responses were in Lugandan made little difference, we were united in our worship.
The Gospel reading, I did the English and Fr. Stephen did the Lugandan. I forgot to ask why he wore blue...given the minimal salary he earns, I am sure he is unable to own anything but what is gifted to him.
The reading of the Holy Gospel was much different than I was used to doing, but I simply followed Fr. Stephen's lead. I was handed a copy of the very familiar Orthodox Study Bible from which I read. There is no fancy gold cover for the Altar version Fr. Stephen used - it was clearly a very well used and old book which was completely in Lugandan. It was the Sunday and Publican and the Pharisee. When the time came for the Great Entrance, I was a little worried because I had no remembrance from previous attendances of where we were going, let alone what a deacon's role was in their custom. I was fairly sure I was to offer the commemoration of their hierarch, but beyond that very little else (e.g. when to begin the proclamation, whether to stop and face the people while saying it etc.). I did go into "auto-pilot" and nearly moved their Metropolitan Jonah to America, but caught myself and corrected: "of all Amer....of all Uganda." I later learned from Peter that he is commemorated as "Archbishop of Kampala, Metropolitan of all Uganda." But, otherwise it all went fairly smoothly none-the-less as we brought our offerings to the Lord's Table.
Note the simple candle our very capable young altar server was using
Towards the end, Fr. Stephen leaned over to me and asked if I would deliver the homily. I told him I was not prepared to do so, and he then said: "Next week, then?" and I agreed. The homily is offered just after the clergy commune and before the people are offered the Gifts. And while Fr. Stephen was kind enough to give it in English, I had to confess that I struggled to understand all that he said mostly because, as I've often found with Ugandans, he was so soft-spoken and quick that I could not hear him very well. But he did speak very kindly of me, welcoming me to their Parish and committing me to speaking next Sunday by announcing that I would. Hmmm... :)
I have no idea if it is common practice for Deacons to commune the faithful, but once he again he asked me to do so.
St. George Parish is a very small community. I would guess we only had perhaps 15-20 people present. I'm told many of the young people who'd normally be there were now at boarding school (a relatively common practice in Uganda). I really do enjoy the music they sing, which as I've described before maintains a distinctly African feel to it, despite being commonly known Greek tones. There was a particularly beautiful song they sang as I was finishing the Gifts and cleaning the Chalice which Photios told me was a psalm and was a piece they had gotten from their cathedral in Namungoona: St. Nicholas. It was lovely and I suspect it was a local original work - though I cannot be sure. Some of the tones are only reminiscent of how I recall them, because of the uniqueness they add to them. I have not the musical skills to discern the exact difference and can only describe it as African harmonies as I only hear that lovely sound in that context. It was a rich blessing to be there and I look forward to serving again tomorrow and in the future. Perhaps in time I will be able to memorize the Little Litany in Lugandan, but we shall see. In the end, I was reminded that despite our vast differences in so many ways, we are united via the Divine Liturgy in Christ and in His Kingdom: We have seen the True Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit! We
have found the True Faith! Worshiping the Undivided Trinity, Who has
saved us. Amen.
After Litrugy speaking (or at least trying to - I don't think she speaks much English) to the Priest's mother who is the matriarch of the Parish.
Many thanks to Peter and Sharon Georges for the pictures of my first time serving the Divine Liturgy in Uganda.
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 6:42 AM [+] +++
Sunday, February 09, 2014
"Am I my brother's keeper?"
This is, of course, the answer Cain offers to God when he is asked: "Where is your brother Abel?" It came to mind after I was blessed to be able to spend some time on Saturday at the offices of St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund in Kampala Uganda. Cain's answering in the form of a rhetorical question which we can assume he thought should be answered with an obvious "No" is ominous because not only had he just killed his brother, but the REAL answer to the question is of course a resounding: "YES!" I only spent a few hours with Peter and Sharon Georges at their offices, but in that time I saw a constant flow of people coming into and out of their facility with a variety of issues, problems, or concerns. It very quickly became apparent to me that their ministry is FAR more than simply handing over cash in order to pay for the education of children. No, Peter and Sharon are mentoring, challenging, encouraging, and advocating for these kids, providing food and services of all kinds to their families, and also holding them accountable. At least two conversations I over-heard involved talking to parents or guardians of kids (of some kind) who had truancy issues from school, others involved medical needs for a young girl who was running into road blocks from the convoluted system in Uganda. I can only imagine the long, long list of needs Peter and Sharon address over the course of any given year. Put quite simply, they are being their brothers' and sisters' keepers. I did not realize how much of themselves they pour into this work and I could not be more honored to be playing a very small part in supporting their efforts. They have somewhere between 260-280 children in their program (I can't recall the exact number) and this coming week they will be hiring buses to take 82 of them up to the Orthodox Boarding School in Monde. It must be a monumental effort, which they undertake with joy. If you spend some time on their website and follow the links, particularly in the "What we do" section, you will see some of the evidence of the work they undertake, but I'm quite certain it cannot fully bring across to readers in the States the full scope of the GOOD they are doing here. I was somewhat sad to learn that only a small proportion of their kids are sponsored, luckily they have generous donors who give significantly without connecting through their sponsorship program and this combined with some grants from some charitable foundations allows them to care for so many. But it gave me pause to think of how many people there are out there who cannot offer large lumps of cash but could perhaps commit to $20 or $50 (or more) a month - it would make a tremendous people difference. I really encourage anyone who has a desire to see their money used in an incredibly responsible and profitable way for the helping of the desperately poor: seriously consider them. In addition to getting to witness first hand the work they do, they had arranged for me to be able to meet the young man that we sponsor and to share some gifts of clothing we brought for his family.
Henry, his sister Sharon, and I chatting
Henry's got a couple of inches on me. He's 18, but missed several years of school and is now one of the highest achieving students in the program.
And then, I was able to meet a couple of gentlemen from the program who had just begun studying at Makerere University and are study Biomedical Laboratory Technology. They were clearly eager to talk and I invited them to come to our facilities to see the work that we do at the Hutchinson Centre Research Institute - Uganda. We also agreed to stay and touch and I offered to help them and offer advice anytime they might need it. These young men are living lives they could not hope to have imagined until the St. Nicholas Uganda Children's Fund stepped into their lives.
I guess I get somewhat animated and excited talking about Real-Time Quantitative PCR.
Finally, seeing all these people coming in and out of the offices there also made me think of something that I know will embarrass the Georges, but I'm going to say it anyway: I have no doubt that when the end of the ages comes, they will be standing on the right and will hear our Lord say: "Come you, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you visited Me."
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:50 AM [+] +++
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Theology - the inner, silent faith of the Church
"The Gospel is not about Mary. But, Mary is definitely about the Gospel." - Fr. Thomas Hopko
Today is the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. But really, it isn't something the Church would have normally made any sort of big public deal about - particularly in the age when or place where Christianity was decidedly a minority faith. And the reason being is that Mary (and indeed the rest of the Saints) really are not part of the public message of the Gospel. I was reminded of this as I listened to Fr. Thomas Hopko's podcast about this feast. Instead, the Theotokos is part of the inner Tradition of the Church.
Fr. Thomas notes that Vladimir Lossky, following St. Basil the Great and St. Ignatios of Antioch wrote that the Theotokos is not part of the Kerygma (public preaching) of the Church; she is not part of the Public Preaching of the Gospel which is Christ, Him crucified, and Risen. The Theotokos, among other teachings and traditions, belong to the inner mystery - the "silence of faith" and it is here where our understanding of the Theotokos is to be nurtured and properly understod. Only those who are part of the inner life of the Church can really understand her role and importance.
Now, if you are like me, your mind will wander immediately to gnosticism and the secret wisdom which they deemed necessary for salvation. And therein lies the difference. Understanding of these inner mysteries of the Church is not necessary for salvation, they are not in and of themselves the Truth. Truth is a person, and that is Christ - you must know Him. Far more than an intellectual asset, knowing Him and living the inner life of the Church becomes the foundation upon which the inner mysteries can be built. St. Paul hints to this idea when writing to the Church in Corinth noting the difference between milk and meat (1 Cor. 3:2)
None of this should surprise anyone. Consider that Catechumens were not allowed to be present for the latter half of the Divine Liturgy and were dismissed - and as many of you know this remnant of the service remains, though we do not shuffle anyone out anymore. Additionally Catechumen's would only hear the Gospel of John for the first time at the Paschal Liturgy as it was deemed to not be the Kerygma, but the Theology of the Church. One could say: it is meat.
It's not about keeping secrets like the Mason's (God forbid), it's really about common sense. You don't take Caluculus until you have taken Pre-Algebra, otherwise you'd think Calculus to be the work of a mad man. (maybe it is!) Last night at Great Vespers we read three Old Testament Readings which spoke of The Tabernacle, the Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Closed Gate of the Sanctuary. All of them prophesying and referring to Mary who in turn, as ever, points to Christ. But comprehending that and not seeing it as absurdity cannot come easily without some grounding in Truth first.
Listen to Fr. Thomas' podcast - it is worth your time. A blessed feast everyone!
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:16 AM [+] +++
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
I recently saw a CS Lewis quote with regard to human sexuality that had me digging out his book "Mere Christianity" to try and find the exact passage. While doing so, I fell upon reading it from the beginning which I've not done in probably over a decade or more. Lewis divides his relatively small work into "books" and the first one shares the title I've given to this post. I've made it no secret that a huge portion of my conversion to Theism arose from an internal conflict with the issue of "right and wrong" and this entire section in the book demonstrates that Lewis clearly sees the issue as paramount as well. I'd like to elaborate later (perhaps in a different post) the details of this "internal conflict", for while it certainly was in part a conflict of logic and reason, it was far more a conflict involving something deeper that is not easily explained in such terms. But, first, back to Lewis.
He begins by referring to an imaginary argument between two people in which they both clearly agree upon and accept a certain set of external premises about right and wrong and it is really only this mutual assent to some "standard of behavior" that allows them to argue (intellectually) at all. That failing, or one party rejecting the "standard of behavior" (usually rarely done - depending on the issue), then the argument becomes either an exercise in absurdity or an issue of physical domination. In Lewis' example two men are arguing over a seat and who gets to sit in it, which every child knows mysteriously hinges on the notion of whip was sitting there first, but if the intellect fails to resolve the issue then brute force will decide who gets the chair...or the food...or the sex - a highly Darwinian solution that certainly does happen, though we like it little.
But the main issue is with regards to the "standards of behavior" and where it originates. No one can possibly deny that morals, values, and ethics exist, but what is less considered by most people is whether these "standards of behavior" have a subjective or objective reality. We live our lives with a sort of default belief that they are in fact objective: e.g. killing someone is wrong PERIOD...no need to explain why...and any person or society that says otherwise is WRONG. And though we largely live this way (it's what allows us to feel good about ideas of justice or more importantly argue on the internet), we rarely stop to think about the reality of these values. Do they have an ontological existence in and of themselves or are they solely a social or personal construct? There are huge implications to our answer here.
Most secularists would argue for a subjective origin of morality and that it is actually a sort of
genetic deception played upon us, that allows us to debate moral issues as if they actually had an objective existence in and of themselves. In fact, they would say, by way of a million years or more of natural selection people who shared certain moral inclinations were favored such that
in some way it allowed for their genes to be propagated at the expense of others. In other
words, we the inheritors of this evolutionarily successful genetic line are molecularly programmed to "feel" that murder is wrong -
at least most of us. Let me offer a few thoughts (and Lewis' as well) to this idea.
First, the belief that this "scientifically" explains the origin of morality is simply wrong. I do not mean to imply that it is necessarily untrue, however. What I am suggesting here is that there is hardly a shred of hard data to suggest we know that morality is genetically hard-wired in us. Rather we assume it because we have no other means of understanding it as secularists. We cannot begin to offer up a molecular level theory to explain why we largely tend to think - on a very deep level - murder is wrong. No gene to point to, no protein to act on our neurological cell receptors. This explanation is really only an idea solely based on two massive assumptions about the universe: 1) That it is wholly material and thus only material explanations as discerned by human senses can account for everything that exists and 2) Evolution and genetics can explain every aspect of our being. These two assumptions made (quite incorrectly by the way), then one MUST find a rational argument to explain why we feel the way we do about morality. And they have done so - in both a logical and reasonable way. However, there is no hard science to be found in this argument (by which I mean that no means of properly executing the scientific method to verify a hypothesis can be conducted here). I think that point is critical because too often this particular explanation for the origin of morality is billed as being the rational and intelligent man's explanation as opposed to the superstitious nonsense of the religious man. So, my point is simply that one must exercise no small degree of FAITH to affirm this explanation, and like my own faith, it is not made blindly.
A second point with regards to this explanation for the origin of morality: it opens up some very uncomfortable cans of worms. Lewis explains when referring to the world's recent (to him at the time of writing) experience with World War II:
What was the sense in saying the enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at the bottom knew as well as we did and ought to have practiced? If they had no notion of what we mean by right, then, though we might still have had to fight them, we could no more have blamed for that then for the colour of their hair.
I think it very interesting that Lewis references hair color, because in this time we really had no notion at all that a theory espousing a genetic origin for morality would come into being - at least not to the extent that it has today, and yet he rather addresses it here, albeit somewhat accidentally. What could we say were we to find a racial group who have a less well developed or perhaps even have lost the "thou shall not murder" genetic inclination? As a side, no such race has been found that I know of and to suggest any racial group which might have a slightly different genetic lineage might be more violent than others because of their genetics could get one charged with hate speech crimes! And yet, does not a genetic understanding for the origin of morality lead us precisely to this point of...well...I would say intellectual/moral distress for most of us who are horrified by ideas of eugenics or genetic superiority?
But for the sake of argument, lets us assume that the "thou shall not murder" genetic inclination is universal, but that it perhaps ebbs and flows based upon many complex factors we find in our biological makeup. I think this is an exceptionally reasonable explanation and is certainly utilized by proponents of the theory. Thus, these other factors (none of which - even though unnamed - are any less "scientific"...or so we are told) would allow a person to temporarily ignore the moral genetic inclinations in order to commit atrocities. And yet, Lewis' point stands: how can we call the act of Nazis murdering Jews wrong, if their genetic ebb and flow simply allowed them to do it...surely we cannot say they acted against their own genetic moral code and therefore are WRONG, can we? Indeed not reasonably, for how could one act against their own biological determinism? Where on earth could such a thing originate? It almost sounds like one may next appeal to a "soul", this is of course nonsense, but to call the Nazis "wrong" we must show that somehow they have acted out of alignment with humanity's genetic moral code - an impossibility for the materialist to do. We are forced to limit our argument to: "You did what your genetic make up allowed you to do and I just don't like what you did because mine forbids it." There is no weight to be wielded to notions of right and wrong when we are all biological machines.
But hair color still is not the closest that Lewis gets to addressing a genetic notion, for further on he comments at length in regards to what a questioner asks of him about "herd instinct" (which we would of course now understand 60 years later as an evolutionary genetic development). And so Lewis goes in depth to show the difference between herd instinct and what he calls "Moral Law" and he principally does so by examining our own curious internal debate over strangely contradictory instincts:
If two instincts are in conflict, and there is nothing in a creature's mind except those two instincts, obviously the stronger of the two must win. But at those moments when we are most conscious of the Moral Law, it usually seems to be telling us to side with the weaker of the two impulses. You probably WANT to be safe much more than you want to help the man who is drowning: but the Moral Law tells you to help him all the same. And surely it often tells us to try to make the right impulse stronger than it naturally is? I mean, we often feel it our duty to stimulate the herd instinct, by waking up our imaginations and arousing our pity and so on, so as if to get up enough steam for doing the right thing. But clearly we are not acting from instinct when we set about making an instinct stronger than it is. The thing that says to you "your herd instinct is asleep. Wake it up," cannot itself BE the herd instinct. The thing which tells you which note on the piano needs playing louder cannot itself be that note.
In a sense, he is effectively arguing against what I have termed biological determinism. He is suggesting that we, as humans - perhaps unique in a universe of matter that has very VERY strangely becoming self-aware (please consider this for some length of time) - are not slaves to our instincts (or at least we'd like to think we are not) and then questions how this could be possible (if it is possible). One could argue that the immense complexity of the human genome might possibly have evolved to the point of giving us a wide range of moral choices, but it still leaves the question unanswered as to how exactly a DECISION is ultimately arrived at. If we have some number of moral freedom genes and additionally something or some process that chooses between which genetic inclination, then we must also assume that that "choosing mechanism" has a genetic origin. And then we are back to biological determinism and left reeling because of our desire to blame and hold accountable as IF people have a real choice as opposed to simply following genetic "herd instinct."
The very essence of the idea of morality hinges upon an absolute affirmation of human freedom. Biological determinism demolishes this notion and changes what is right and what is wrong into the moral void of simply what is and what isn't. Biological morality or Darwinistic Evolutionary morality really can only say this: the strong survive and thrive; the weak either die or serve the former. THIS is the process by which a herd is strengthened, survives, and evolves to loftier manifestations. If evolution were to select for a gene that somehow convinces the strong to serve the weak, then the whole system is ruined and the evolutionary viability of the heard is undone and thus it cannot be so that such a gene would ever be "selected." And yet, I know of no human who fails to see beauty in the idea of the strong protecting the weak, though it makes no evolutionary sense, if the secularist is right we should see it as nothing less than evolutionary stupidity.
Lewis points to ideas of right and wrong as signposts within us that direct us to a deeper meaning for which science can offer no justification and no reasoning - not at least any that will not themselves render what we FEEL as being ultimately illusion because what we feel, what we believe, how we behave and how we expect others to behave assumes we are freely acting agents and NOT biological agents acting upon genetic programming.Our understanding of right and wrong is dependent on some degree of belief in our autonomy. However, the idea of morality existing as a set of external rules that through our autonomy we need to chose to follow is something not largely affirmed in the Eastern Christian tradition. In Eastern Christian thought, morality (like salvation itself) is hinged ontologically to personhood and the fact that we do not simply struggle to eventually have the ability to follow rules, but rather we are transformed in our personhood into a state of being that is united with Christ. We become who and what we are supposed to be. It's not about the law, it's about ACTUAL change and transformation of our personhood. It's about personhood fulfilled. This begs more explanation later, but draws a critical difference between eastern and western understanding of sin and soteriology. But, whether one adheres to an Eastern or Western Christian understanding of morality, they both stand in stark contrast to what the secularist understanding of reality offers in terms of rationalizing why we tend to think there is a right and a wrong and I would suggest our affinity...or our yearning for morality's absolute existence is a sign that Carl Sagan was wrong: we are made up of FAR more than "star-stuff."
...offered by Dn. James Ferrenberg, a sinner at 10:29 AM [+] +++