Secular Morality versus Orthodox Morality: Part 2

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Secular Morality versus Orthodox Morality: Part 2

Homophobia

What is this phenomenon? Secularists use it again to mean two things: discrimination against those of homosexual orientation, but also the very notion that homosexuals are different from heterosexuals in any respect other than sexual orientation. An important assumption behind the latter is that sexual orientation is fixed from birth, and since it is as much an intrinsic feature of the individual as sex or race, it is no more reasonable to condemn homosexuality than to condemn blacks or women.

What can we say about this as Orthodox Christians? We can start by agreeing with our secular friends that homophobia, if understood as fear and hatred of fellow human beings because of their sexual behavior is quite incompatible with Christian love. Since we are all sinners, we are forbidden to fear or hate anyone, whatever they may have done. But the obligation to love the sinner stops short of loving the sin, and this is where the Church’s teaching diverges from that of the world today.

The Church and all the Fathers consider sexuality to have deep mystical significance, and therefore any corruption or perversion of sexuality to be a very grievous sin against the natural order. Sexual acts between members of the same sex of necessity involve such corruption and perversion and earn unequivocal opprobrium from the Fathers. However, it is worth noting that the opprobrium is always leveled against perverse sexual acts, whether committed between members of the same sex or of opposite sex. In other words, the Church does not pick on homosexuals alone, but calls on everyone to practice sexual purity. So in at least one respect the Church can be cleared of the charge of homophobia.

Furthermore, scientific research also supports traditional teaching in other respects. For example, studies have shown that homosexual proclivities do indeed correlate with other qualities that the Church condemns: male homosexuals are typically pleasure-seeking and effeminate, while female homosexuals are typically proud and aggressive. If every man (and woman) is obliged to practice asceticism and courage, as well as meekness and humility, why should homosexuals be excused from this? The argument that homosexual orientation cannot be condemned because it is an intrinsic part of one’s nature also fails to stand up to scrutiny. The Church teaches that everyone’s nature is corrupt from the moment of conception. Since every one of us has inclinations to sin from birth, and since we plainly see that every individual differs in strength and weakness, it is not surprising that some individuals, but not others, are burdened with homosexual tendencies (whether through genetics or childhood environment is not important). As we are all prone to sin, none of us has the right to judge another for having different kinds of sinful tendencies, but nevertheless, having more of a particular sinful tendency than normally found does not render the tendency pure. It is known that sociopaths who think nothing of stealing and murder often exhibit such tendencies from a young age, and may likely have inherited those tendencies, but we do not conclude from this that sociopaths cannot know right from wrong or be held accountable for their actions. Just as they have their particular struggle, so do homosexuals, and so do all of us.

 

Elitism

Elitism is the belief that some classes of people are better than others and that such people alone are called to lead and govern society. Secularists oppose this on the grounds that all men and women are considered to be equals of each other in mental ability, and that therefore everyone (or at least, every adult) has the right to decide on who will govern them. As with the previous “deadly sins”, this “sin” has a twofold aspect. There is the belief that being born into a certain class, or being educated at a certain institution, automatically qualified you for leadership; there is also a related, but distinct, belief that some classes of people are naturally (through genes or environment) better equipped for the demands of government. Secular moralists assume both to be false, and this forms the foundation of contemporary democratic ideology.

What is the truth of the matter, as the Church sees it? In Heaven, everyone will be ranked according to virtue, and virtue is available to every human being, regardless of race, sex, class or any other quality that has no intrinsic moral consequence. Even differences in intellectual ability mean nothing in the moral sphere. So the Church certainly agrees with secular moralists that there is no elite group of humans who will be treated more highly by God simply because of how they were born or where they were educated.

Yet the Church does not argue from this that there can be no hierarchy or fixed order in society. Christian political theology has traditionally venerated hierarchical systems of government, in particular autocratic monarchy. The organization of the Church itself is based on a hierarchical system. The lower classes of people, in secular or ecclesiastical terms, have an obligation to obey those in authority in all things but sin; they do not have the right to change their leaders whenever it suits them. Not only that, but the Church also conceives of Herself as the New Israel, a Chosen People. Only those who hold the True Faith are called to salvation; those outside are condemned to darkness (again, excepting where they are involuntarily ignorant of the Truth). All of this smacks of elitism to the average secularist.

But how fair is this charge of elitism? Let’s start with the hierarchical organization of the Church. No one can inherit the episcopacy; rather, bishops are chosen from the most pious and virtuous monks, according to a meritocratic system based on virtue (of course, bad bishops can be chosen, but who can claim that the people always choose good leaders in a democracy?). Furthermore, no bishop can take office without all the people, lay and clergy, agreeing to it by shouting “Axios!”. This is not democracy as moderns understand it, but this is fully in accord with the Church’s teaching of the priesthood of all believers, i.e. every member of the Church is called to uphold the faith, regardless of status. As the Patriarchs in their 1848 encyclical affirmed, the Deposit of Faith is not the property of one man, as the Papists believe, but of all members of the Church. Indeed, there is no Pope in Orthodoxy, because all the bishops must govern the Church in council, through unanimous agreement.

And as regards politics, no Emperor or Tsar had unlimited authority; they were obliged to uphold the laws of God. If an Emperor erred in doctrine, the people had the obligation to resist and disobey him, as they did when their rulers fell into the various heresies of Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Iconoclasm, and so forth. Earthly kingship was only honored as an image of Christ’s Kingship, not in its own right. And as for democracy, there is plenty of evidence that even in supposedly free societies, those at the top are generally gifted in some way, whether in wealth or ability. The very notion of meritocracy in fact predicts that some people will rule, and others will be ruled. “Pure” democracy, in which every citizen has the right to decide on every bit of legislation, is recognized to be an impossible and impractical dream by all but the most fanatical anarchists. What differs between this kind of elitism and that which the Church upholds is that, in a Christian society, no elite is exempt from God’s law, whereas in a secular society the legislators can impose any law they like, regardless of morals. Even constitutional safeguards are not safe from revision and, especially, reinterpretation by judges (who themselves constitute an elite).