Jatras: Redefining Orthodoxy? Poor counsel to heed

A rejoinder to Wood's piece on Orthodoxy and Capitalism

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The following is a brief rejoinder by James Jatras to the piece penned by Nathaniel Wood, which FRN ran yesterday, titled appropriately “Orthodoxy, Capitalism, and the ‘West’“. Wood’s piece is suggested reading, also brief, in order to appreciate Mr. Jatras’ response. We have published both pieces as a contribution to this part of the great debate happening in the context of global desecularization. The Center for Syncretic Studies has among its goals to promote an understanding of the ramifications and causes of this process. The ‘in-fights’ within the Orthodox church take on both religious and geopolitical dimensions, and the separation between those dimensions may or may not be possible. – Ed


It’s one thing to question whether Orthodox Christians should uncritically accept the neoliberal global order and its corporatist economic and financial system (“capitalism”). Neither Scripture, nor the Canons of the Ecumenical and Regional Synods, nor the Church Fathers had much specific to say about this system simply because it didn’t exist in their day. Neither did socialism, for that matter.

But it’s quite another thing to redefine, under the guise of scholarship, moral principles that far precede the modern era and are central to Christian anthropology. Today those principles are under threat in increasingly godless Western Europe and North America. Moreover, in a manner reminiscent of the 20th century Bolshevik assault on Christianity, the West has made moral aggression against the socially conservative countries of formerly communist Europe a key element of its foreign policy. (See my “The West’s Quest to ‘Save the World Through Degeneracy’” https://www.strategic-cultu… 15 Sept 2017)

It is worth noting the following, from the link posted above by Mr. Wood to the program at Fordham University https://news.fordham.edu/fa… :

‘Fellow co-director Aristotle Papanikolaou, Ph.D., professor of theology and the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture, said the Russian Orthodox Church has been trying to redefine human rights language in such a way that allows them to uphold “traditional values” for the last decade. This understanding of human rights doesn’t protect a band like Pussy Riot from protesting in a Church, or art that’s deemed blasphemous, and it’s consistent with laws that ban gay marriage and homosexual “propaganda.”

‘“Normally people would say, that’s a violation of human rights, and some Orthodox Christians want to say ‘No it’s not. We have our own particular interpretation of human rights, and we are justified in doing that because the West’s concept of human rights is biased and anti-Christian,” he said. “Our project hopes to offer a more nuanced understanding of Orthodox Christianity’s relation to human rights language than the diametrical opposition proposed by certain Orthodox Christians, especially in the post-communist context.”

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‘Papanikolaou further noted that the Russian government also uses the language of human rights and the defense of religious freedom to justify its ongoing military intervention in Syria.’

So, “a more nuanced understanding of Orthodox Christianity’s relation to human rights language” doesn’t have a problem with blasphemous antics in Christ the Savior Cathedral? With sacrilegious “art” (which in the west is often subsidized with believers’ tax money)? With indoctrinating innocent young children in alternative sexual morality (for example, in several US cities “Drag Queen Story Hour” https://www.dragqueenstoryh… )? With marriage not restricted to one man and one woman? With western-supported head-choppers seeking to kill, enslave, or uproot the Christians of Syria, and have been prevented from doing so mainly through Russia’s heroic intervention in that country?

Also, as an Orthodox Christian of Greek origin myself, I can’t help but notice more than a whiff of Hellenic intellectual and academic arrogance in the way mainly Greek principals of the Fordham project formulate their criticisms of the Russian Church’s positions. Rather than a case of the Russian Church’s seeking to ‘redefine human rights language in such a way that allows them to uphold “traditional values”’ it is quite clear that it is the Fordham academics who are themselves seeking to redefine authentic Orthodox Christian traditional values (without the quotation marks) as stated forthrightly, clearly, and faithfully in the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church http://orthodoxeurope.org/p….

What is particularly tragic is that while ever-growing numbers of western Christians, lapsed Christians, and non-Christians are attracted to the Holy Orthodox Church precisely because they perceive Her, correctly, to be the Ark of Salvation that does not change course with the gales and storms of a tempestuous and darkening world, the Fordham scholars would have us trim our sails to match the course of some western confessions that are increasingly rendered Christian in name only – if that. It is counsel we dare not heed.


James George Jatras is a specialist in international relations, government affairs, and legislative politics. Jatras is a frequent speaker, panelist and seminar participant on numerous topics. He has made numerous media appearances on behalf of his clients and is a frequent contributor to print and online publications, both in the United States and abroad. He holds a J.D. from Georgetown (1978) and a BA from Penn State (1974). He is a member of
the U.S. Supreme Court Bar and the Pennsylvania and District of Columbia bars.

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