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Compatibilism and Orthodoxy


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#1 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 07:49 AM

Dear all,

I was reading the following account of a possible solution to the question of predestination on wikipedia: compatibilism. It sounds like a good enough explanation to me, but I'm wondering if it's, erm, compatible with Orthodox teaching on human free will. What do you think?

In Christ
Byron

#2 Jeremy Troy

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 03:08 AM

I doubt very much that Orthodoxy can accept Schopenhauer's view on free will. That being said, I also doubt that Orthodoxy sees a conflict between our having free will and God's knowing how we will act in the future.

#3 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 07:01 AM

Dear Jeremy,

Thanks for your response. What struck me as interesting, is the part where it is stated that

The all-knowing God (who sees past, present, and future simultaneously from the perspective of eternity) created human beings (who have the subjective perception of making choices in the present that have consequences for themselves and others in the future) in such a way that both are true: God is ultimately sovereign and therefore must have at least permitted any choice that a human could make, but at the same time God is right to hold humans accountable because from their perspective within the confines of serial time, humans make moral choices between good and evil.

This appears to make it clear that, our moral responsibility is based on our ignorance of the future, which obliges us to make good moral choices in the present. If we knew - as God does - how things will turn out anyway, we might be tempted to try to make things happen differently; alternatively, we might just give up trying altogether, and let God carry out His 'plan'.

But perhaps the part which makes me question whether compatibilism is an appropriate way of understanding the paradox of free will and predestination (or perhaps a more Orthodox word: destiny) in Orthodoxy, is where it is stated that

This route to reconciliation may not be entirely successful, however. Examples of criticism include the Argument from free will, and perhaps the Problem of Hell.

If I understand it correctly, the argument from free will suggests that God cannot be omniscient and free at the same time (!), and the problem of hell, which strikes me as a 'stronger' issue, is why would God create someone, a person say, who He knows to be destined to perdition?

In Christ
Byron

#4 Jeremy Troy

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 04:07 PM

I think the problem here is in the assertion that we, because of our first-person perspective within time, have only an illusion of free will, and that our decisions now only seem to have a real causal impact on the future. God looks in on time from eternity, but that does not mean that we are not really free within time, or that our actions do not really cause to future to take a certain shape. Similarly, the fact that God sees all time as His 'now' does not imply that our choices now do not effect our salvation.

#5 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 06:07 AM

Dear Jeremy,

Those are very good points you raise. Indeed there is something un-Orthodox about the implication that our free will is merely subjective. But how then shall we understand the following?

A person may plan his own journey, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9


It has certainly seemed to me that so much of what we desire or choose for ourselves is not only not granted, but indeed often entirely reversed; at least this has been my personal experience. While I can readily accept my part in these eventualities, it does seem to me that some sort of fate or destiny is also at play.

In Christ
Byron

#6 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 29 March 2011 - 05:45 AM

To lift a quote from St. John of Damascus in another thread: "Now, what is done by necessity is neither virtue nor vice, and, if we have neither virtue nor vice, we deserve neither reward nor punishment. Hence, God will prove to be unjust when He gives good things to some and tribulations to others. What is more, if all things are driven and moved by necessity, then God will not be exercising either control over His creatures or providence for them. Reason also will be useless to us, for, if we have no control over any of our actions, then it is useless for us to make our own resolves. But reason has been given to us so that we may deliberate, which is why every being that is rational is also free."

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 03 April 2011 - 03:43 PM

Some excellent and helpful quotes on this thread; thanks. The word paradox was used and I also think this is very helpful. I think all too often we consider human freedom and Divine necessity as opposites, whereas in fact they must work in concert. Human freedom is not an absolute. Our will is constantly being influenced by unseen forces for both good and evil. Subtle events over time can cause a person to lose virtually all of his free will and fall into a state of demonic possession or insanity or both. this is why Orthodoxy teaches us to constantly be guarding our thoughts. Also, surely God uses coercion when He deems necessary. But this does not make Him a tyrant. Yes he created man knowing that we would disobey, fall into sin, and have to be saved. A person like Sartre would see this as a condemnation; a curse. We look at the exact same reality and see it as a blessing. See how our Orthodox faith works! Fantastic!

#8 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 06:17 AM

Dear Owen and Bryan,

Thanks for both insights. The quote from St John Damascene seems characteristically - if such may meaningfully be said of a saint by someone who is not one - balanced.

Owen, it's good to hear from you again. Our will is surely under constant influence from various forces, as you suggest. It seems eminently plausible that destiny is the result of a harmonious (or dissonant) synergy with God, not the passively experienced operation of the ancient Ananke. What do you mean where you write:

surely God uses coercion when He deems necessary. But this does not make Him a tyrant

Can you give an example?

In Christ
Byron

#9 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 02:10 PM

Every time I get to this thread my eyes see: Cannibalism and Orthodoxy.

No- not during Great Lent!

#10 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 07:30 AM

Dear Fr Raphael,

I know you're jesting - but alas, an association between Orthodoxy and cannibalism, is as I'm sure you're well aware, nothing new...take the following quote from a Buddhist website:

It must be appreciated that in the West certain aspects of the dogma of transformation or transubstantiation (the Greek word is metousiosis, 'change of essence') now held by Christian theologians is at variance with ancient Buddhist orthodoxy. According to the present day Christian Rite the central action is sacrificial; indeed, what is called "the Mass" is apparently a simulated human sacrifice. This view is supported by the belief that the crucifixion itself was a sacrifice. For example, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology teaches that, "The sacrifice on Golgotha and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are inseparable, comprising a single sacrifice." And according to Bishop Kallistos Ware, "the Eucharist is a propitiatory sacrifice (in Greek, thusia hilastirios), offered on behalf of both the living and the dead." The sacrifice which is offered, says the good bishop, is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself.

For the Buddhist the entire concept of sacrifice is abhorrent. Sacrifice belongs to a certain stage in man's primitive past. Sjoo and Mor, in The Great Cosmic Mother (NY 1987), point out that, "Ritual cannibalism doubtless began with shared eating of the totem animal—a taking of the animal's life force by the group; to participate in its death, in its lifeblood, is to partake of its eternal rebirth in the Mother. Where it occurred in the world, ritual cannibalism—like hunting—was predominantly or exclusively a male activity... This sacred cannibalism is still practiced, symbolically, in the Christian communion." Any idea of animal sacrifice, let alone human cannibalism, is shocking to the Buddhist.

I found this by searching around for a quotation from Jung, who in his essay on "Transformation Symbolism in the Mass" also referred to the cannibalistic interpretation of the Eucharist...some people will say anything to disparage their enemies, but of course it's all done in the name of 'science' or 'scholarship'.

In Christ
Byron

#11 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 01:07 PM

The quote reminds me of ancient Hellenic & Roman tales of bloody Christian sacrifice. But on the other hand I think the quote also does indicate a profound point to Christianity, that it fulfills a very deep aspiration within man towards self sacrifice. In the Winter 2010 edition of Road to Emmaus there is a fascinating interview with Alice C Linsley, a convert to Orthodoxy, on how Christianity fulfills through Christ this most ancient and deep of human aspirations, which goes beyond even the OT sense of sacrifice. In this sense what the Buddhist quote presents almost comes across as, is a 'purified', gnostic version of human spirituality.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#12 Paul Nurmi

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 03:53 PM

The word pro orizo is used in the New Testament in an active sense, 'to determine beforehand; set apart for oneself; predestine." So in places like Romans 8:29-30 and those verses in Ephesians 1 it is not talking about a passive God who simply knew who would believe in His Son. Yet Genesis 6 gives the impression of God trying really hard to win everyone's heart-not just the predestined, so to speak. So obviously the term for predestine did not mean some sort of fatalism, like Calvinism seems to believe. "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred twenty years." (Genesis 6:3, NKJV) Likewise, when St. Paul said no one could say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4), it seems what we have in scripture is, God tries to save everyone, makes it possible through the inner working of His Spirit, but does not force this. So the terms for predestine are neither a passive knowing what would happen nor a fatalism. Everyone is free to either indulge sinful passion or do what we know is right. And in the ultimate sense, in our relationship with God, God makes it possible for people to know Him and embrace Him, yet as Genesis 6 suggests, it is not that He forces anyone to receive Him. The very fact God could give humanity 120 years before the flood to repent shows He tried really hard and was neither a fatalist nor a passive spectator.

In the risen Lord, Paul Nurmi

#13 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 08:36 AM

Dear all,

Paul, being a Greek speaker, I realize that proorizo means to actively predetermine (although it must be said that I'm cautious in presenting myself as an authority on Greek, because sometimes words which are still in use in modern Greek - such as proorizo - had quite different meanings in Koine and in ancient Greek). Anyway, in this case, I can identify with the definition and further interpretation of predestination, or predetermination, which you offer. I've just come across the following saying of St Theophan the Recluse:

Divine determination depends on the life of a man, and not his life upon the determination.

It seems to me St Theophan is saying that our lives are an ongoing dialogue with God, in which we propose and God disposes. Can we say that God can foresee, and has even in some greater overall sense foreordained, the choices we make - yet He can in no sense be held accountable for them? St Nicodemus the Hagiorite says:

Although we cannot suppose that some things, such as our sins and those of other people, are the direct result of a willed action of God's, yet even they do not happen without God's leave, as a means of admonishing and humbling us.

This seems to suggest that God is active wrt predetermining (proorizo) our lives, but He is at the same time in some sense passive, or at least permissive of, our choices.

Fr Raphael, unfortunately the Road to Emmaus interview you mention is not yet available on the journal's website. Would it be possible for you to explain to us what Alice C Linsley is saying about our human aspiration towards self-sacrifice? Also, what do you mean when you say that

In this sense what the Buddhist quote presents almost comes across as, is a 'purified', gnostic version of human spirituality?

I'm sorry if these questions are burdensome during Lent, especially for a hardworking priest!

In Christ
Byron

#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 01:15 PM

Regarding Byron's request: Go out unto the highways and byways and COMPEL them to come in.

Regarding Buddhism, it confirms what I have always thought, that Buddhism is a very individualistic and self-centered religious philosophy. It also, to the best of my understanding, resolves the question of suffering by saying that it is an illusion.

#15 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 01:32 PM

Fr Raphael, unfortunately the Road to Emmaus interview you mention is not yet available on the journal's website. Would it be possible for you to explain to us what Alice C Linsley is saying about our human aspiration towards self-sacrifice? Also, what do you mean when you say that
In this sense what the Buddhist quote presents almost comes across as, is a 'purified', gnostic version of human spirituality?


I'll only give the brief version for now. Basically Alice Linsley is saying that the Church fulfills not only the OT aspiration towards sacrifice (and sacrifice always represents the aspiration towards the sacrifice of ourselves) but the deeper aspiration which we see/saw in many ancient societies towards sacrifice. From what I recall she also connects this sacrifice with the offering of blood which is why in ancient societies and the OT, animal sacrifice was offered and stood in for the human.

As for the gnostic remark and Buddhism. I mean that the quote seems to be a 'cleaned up' and rational effort at spirituality without sacrifice.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 02:50 PM

The Catholic convert Rene Gerard has a lot of very powerful stuff to say about sacrifice and sacrificial atonement, etc. He says it ends with Christ because it is sufficient for all. We say, of course, that the Eucharist is a "rational sacrifice" not a blood sacrifice. Or one might say it is a noetic sacrifice. We are not sacrificing Christ again on the altar but repeating and renewing its salvific power.

#17 Darlene Griffith

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 04:11 PM

Compatibilism is a dirty work in Calvinist circles. But I understand why from their perspective. The foundation of Calvinism begins with the teaching on the sovereignty of God = His absolute right to do all things according to His own good pleasure. Therefore, in Calvinist thinking God holds all the cards, He is in control of the whole game, or in this instance, in control of all life, all that He has created, both humans, animals, and the entire creation. Now, to progress from this viewpoint, we, as mere humans, can do nothing to influence or change this fact that God is sovereign. Therefore, we must submit to His sovereignty and trust that He acts in all things, that is, in the life of each human being as well as the fates of nations, to glorify Himself. Whatever free will we have in the final analysis is irrelevent because even our wills are overrruled/superseded by God's will. Thus, the 'P' in the TULIP, Perseverance of the Saints. It is with this view in mind that Calvinists can say that God glorifies Himself even in the damning of His own creatures. Therefore, the Calvinist in keeping himself alligned with this same view must also "glory" in the damning of some of God's creatures in adhering to the doctrine of Reprobation (some are predestined to be damned for all eternity). To suggest that man's free will can alter what God has predestined is considered as arrogance according to Calvinists.

Now it seems to me that I am more familiar with what Calvinists teach on the subject of free will and predestination that I am on what the Orthodox teaching is. Still, I could not abide the Calvinists teaching. After attending a TULIP believing church for nearly a decade I came to realize that I would never be a Calvinist. It was ever so disturbing to the depths of my soul. But then Calvinists will admit that the teaching on the sovereignty of God and predestination is disturbing - yet however disturbing, who are we, mere clay in the hands of the potter, to answer back to God?

Our son has left the Christian faith altogether and has become, as he would say, an agnostic atheist. He said he could never worship a God like that ever again.

#18 Jan Sunqvist

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 12:35 AM

As for the gnostic remark and Buddhism. I mean that the quote seems to be a 'cleaned up' and rational effort at spirituality without sacrifice.



Were gnostics ever persecuted like Orthodox Christians? Is there anywhere records of Gnostics being martyred for their beliefs, or is this by default seen as impossible because they would have seen self-sacrifice as senseless? Could this be a defining point of gnosticism?

As I read this I thought of the 'signs of the times' thread where 'mark of the beast', χξς’, was interpreted as 'Without the Cross of Christ'

Are there any gnostic gospels that affirm that Christ died on the Cross for our sins?

#19 Scott F

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 01:14 AM

Regarding Buddhism, it confirms what I have always thought, that Buddhism is a very individualistic and self-centered religious philosophy. It also, to the best of my understanding, resolves the question of suffering by saying that it is an illusion.[/QUOTE]

The Buddhist take on suffering, might be better thought of as that it is transitory.

#20 Byron Jack Gaist

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 07:11 AM

Dear all,

Darlene's account of the Calvinist doctrine, as well as her personal experience, has moved me. I cannot understand why people who believe in predestination in such an absolute manner, God's sovereignty overriding human freedom, would do anything for their salvation - if it's all fixed beforehand, why even try? I'm sure Calvinists have their own response to this obvious question, but accounts like Darlene's suggest to me that it won't very easily be argued away.

Indeed, it has seemed to me generally odd, that the Protestant affirmation of 'sola fide', together with the Calvinist teaching on predestination, should historically have led to some of the world's busiest cultures and largest empires! I teach sociology part-time, and one of the main sociological thinkers, who wrote about 'the Protestant work ethic', was Max Weber. It seems Calvinists feel compelled to industrious ways, if only to prove to themselves and others that they are among the saved. I quote from the wikipedia article:

Weber traced the origins of the Protestant ethic to the Reformation, though he acknowledged some respect for secular everyday labor as early as the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church assured salvation to individuals who accepted the church's sacraments and submitted to the clerical authority. However, the Reformation had effectively removed such assurances. From a psychological viewpoint, the average person had difficulty adjusting to this new worldview, and only the most devout believers or "religious geniuses" within Protestantism, such as Martin Luther, were able to make this adjustment, according to Weber.

In the absence of such assurances from religious authority, Weber argued that Protestants began to look for other "signs" that they were saved. Calvin and his followers taught a doctrine of double predestination, in which from the beginning God chose some people for salvation and others for damnation. The inability to influence one's own salvation presented a very difficult problem for Calvin's followers. It became an absolute duty to believe that one was chosen for salvation, and to dispel any doubt about that: lack of self-confidence was evidence of insufficient faith and a sign of damnation. So, self-confidence took the place of priestly assurance of God's grace.

Worldly success became one measure of that self-confidence. Luther made an early endorsement of Europe's emerging labor divisions. Weber identifies the applicability of Luther's conclusions, noting that a "vocation" from God was no longer limited to the clergy or church, but applied to any occupation or trade.

However, Weber saw the fulfillment of the Protestant ethic not in Lutheranism, which was too concerned with the reception of divine spirit in the soul, but in Calvinistic forms of Christianity. The trend was carried further still in Pietism. The Baptists diluted the concept of the calling relative to Calvinists, but other aspects made its congregants fertile soil for the development of capitalism—namely, a lack of paralyzing ascetism, the refusal to accept state office and thereby develop unpolitically, and the doctrine of control by conscience which caused rigorous honesty.

What Weber found, in simple terms:

According to the new Protestant religions, an individual was religiously compelled to follow a secular vocation with as much zeal as possible. A person living according to this world view was more likely to accumulate money.

The new religions (in particular, Calvinism and other more austere Protestant sects) effectively forbade wastefully using hard-earned money and identified the purchase of luxuries as a sin. Donations to an individual's church or congregation was limited due to the rejection by certain Protestant sects of icons. Finally, donation of money to the poor or to charity was generally frowned on as it was seen as furthering beggary. This social condition was perceived as laziness, burdening their fellow man, and an affront to God; by not working, one failed to glorify God.
The manner in which this paradox was resolved, Weber argued, was the investment of this money, which gave an extreme boost to nascent capitalism.

While Weber did not consider his account of capitalism a single-explanation hypothesis, it's an interesting factor to consider.

On a more personal level, I'm sorry to hear about your son, Darlene. Perhaps his reaction is understandable. If Weber's account is to be taken seriously, an emphasis (in your own life, not your son's that is) on all the things considered 'catholic' might be a good idea: asceticism, sacraments, clergy. Not for their own sake, of course, but for the very good reasons the Church put these things there in the first place. No religion, gnostic or otherwise, has the Eucharist, the flesh and blood of Divine sacrifice, as we do in Orthodox Christianity, though I write as someone entirely unworthy of it, who simply had the good fortune to be born into it. I've enough scepticism in me to know what agnostic atheism feels like, and it's not a nice place to be. I expect your son is of an age old enough to make up his own mind, and I'm reminded of what an elder has said about talking to one's children concerning God: when they are young, we talk to them about God, and when they are older we talk to God about them.

In Christ
Byron




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