Fordham University’s George E. Demacopoulos reflected recently on the nature of fundamentalism in the Orthodox tradition, calling to mind the realization that the “alarming” trends of fundamentalism, and associated movements, are not confined to one Christian denomination or religion.
Like other fundamentalist movements, Orthodox fundamentalism reduces all theological teaching to a subset of theological axioms and then measures the worthiness of others according to them. Typically, this manifests itself in accusations that individuals, institutions, or entire branches of the Orthodox Church fail to meet the self-prescribed standard for Orthodox teaching. For example, when the Theological Academy of Volos recently convened an international conference to examine the role of the Fathers in the modern Church, radical opportunists in the Church of Greece accused it and its bishop of heresy.
The insidious danger of Orthodox fundamentalists is that they obfuscate the difference between tradition and fundamentalism. By repurposing the tradition as a political weapon, the ideologue deceives those who are not inclined to question the credibility of their religious leaders.
In an age when so many young people are opting out of religious affiliation altogether, the expansion of fundamentalist ideology into ordinary parishes is leading to a situation where our children are choosing between religious extremism or no religion at all.
Demacopoulos’ full commentary on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s blog is available here.
I do like the Orthodox, and though it’s not so easy here in the UK, I like frequenting their churches. Nothing like a Russian All Night Vigil. But I do get the feeling that some of them don’t like us.
We’ll probably never be good enough for the folks that George Dema calls the ‘fundamentalists’. If we as Catholics are serious about re-union with the rest of the Orthodox, and with the other ancient churches of the east, we are going to have to admit that we got things wrong over the last century or two. That Vatican I was at best inopportune, that the Marian dogmas defined subsequently, charming as they are, don’t really rank all that high in the hierarchy of truths, and that the notion that the pope can do anything he wants, even mandate wholesale changes to the liturgy, is simply erroneous. We can learn a lot from the Orthodox. We should listen to them.
For a moment I thought I was reading today’s earlier post about banning girls from serving at the altar. I’m glad we don’t have fundamentalists in the Roman church.
Professor Demacopoulos’s post went viral on social media and he took a lot of heat from Orthodox conservatives for his assertions. Mr. Phillips, on behalf of the Orthodox, you do indeed have much to learn from us. I would just add that we have a lot to learn from you, too. I just finished writing a book on liturgical reform in Orthodoxy and Vatican II. What we have in common is a theological foundation: our mechanisms and idioms differ, but there is no doubt that Vatican II provided an unprecedented platform that permitted the Orthodox to think things through in a new and very healthy way.