Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

10/4/2010 (4 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Christian moral vocabulary properly belongs to Christians, and we should not cede the vocabulary to the thieves.


What happens then when people leave Christianity and want to promote ideas about morality that violate the moral tradition? They have only one option: Hijack the language. They use the terms of traditional Christianity but mean very different things by them. Words don't mean what they used to mean. Language gets inverted, turned upside down. Do this long and loud enough, and in less than a generation the new meanings take hold. When hijackers use the language of the moral tradition, they implicitly claim to stand inside that tradition. It's only a pose of course, but their pose fools many people.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, Florida. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and edits the website Orthodoxy Today.

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, Florida. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and edits the website Orthodoxy Today.

Highlights

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

10/4/2010 (4 years ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: orthodox, priest, moral tradition, morality, liberals, heresy, abortion, catholic


NAPLES, FL (Catholic Online) - In a recent Catholic Online article (Social Justice: Take Back the Term from the Thieves and Build a New Catholic Action) Deacon Keith Fournier writes about a question he was asked at a recent conference:

"(T)he host of the conference made a suggestion that we get rid of the term "Social Justice" because it is now used by 'the left". He asked for my thoughts. I strongly disagreed. I insisted that we take back the phrase from those who have stolen it, either on the "the right" or "the left". He then suggested the Church does not use the phrase "Social Justice". An attendee did a "google" search of the Vatican documents on his handheld device and reported it was used thousands of times in the magisterial teaching of the Church."

Fournier is right on two counts: The Christian moral vocabulary properly belongs to Christians, and we should not cede the vocabulary to the thieves.

The problem is not limited to the term "Social Justice" alone. Many of the familiar terms drawn from the moral tradition are used in ways that are different today than in generations past. Nothing is sacrosanct. For example, as recently as a decade ago the idea that same-sex partners who "loved" each other had a "right" to "marriage" was inconceivable.  Today many people shrug it off.  To many, the "redefinition" of marriage seems self-evidently true and morally proper.

But how did it get this way? Why is it that these terms, which have been part of the moral tradition for centuries, no longer mean what they used to mean? What can Christians do about it?

The answer lies in the slow drift of Western culture away from God. It used to be that when people spoke about morality, God was automatically part of the mix. When we had to decide what was wrong and what was right, we appealed to higher laws - laws that almost everyone understood came from God - in our sacred texts, teachings, and tradition. When we had to decide the proper way to treat our neighbor, we looked into what those texts, teachings, and tradition said. We don't do that anymore.

But the drift comes with a cost. "When men quit believing in God," the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, "they believe in anything." No man can live without God. If he tries to live without God, then he will end up making himself a god. This is as true as the sky is blue. It will never change.

This is true because man was created to live with and in God. Man cannot live without God just as a child cannot be born without a parent. Out of all the religious texts in the world, only the Christian Scriptures defines this coherently: Man is created out of the dust of the ground (man comes from created matter), but unlike the rest of creation he also has the capacity to partake of God Himself ("And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.").

God is the proper object of the deep longing in the soul of man for communion and connection to something higher, to a wellspring that gives life. The longing is a thirst that man himself cannot slake.

When God is forgotten however, that object becomes whatever man fancies it to be. It can be something debilitating like an addiction, or grand in design and promise like a political ideology. Nevertheless, whatever a person chooses, all are substitutes impregnated with false promises and lies that can only lead ultimately to collapse.

When we look back at the last century and see the rank foolishness of belief in political ideologies like Marxism or Facism and their brutal and murderous legacies for example, we see how powerful Dostoevsky's prophesy was. When we look around today at the epidemic of teenage STDs, or the poverty of single mothers, or the unbridled greed of some on Wall Street, we see that the prophecy applies to all walks of life. Forgetting God leads to the catastrophic breakdown of both society and individual people.

When man unties his morality from God - his sense about who God created him to be starts to dim. How he understands his purpose in life, what gives life its enduring meaning, how he should treat the neighbor, how his community should organize and govern itself - all the constituents that give human life its purpose, meaning, and order get confused. That's why, for example, Marxists and Nazis believed they were serving a greater good, why pro-abortion activists think abortion is social progress, or why people believe same-sex "marriage" doesn't really differ from heterosexual monogamy.

Yet, we still live in a civilization that was nurtured and shaped by Christianity. The moral language of Western civilization is uniquely Christian, not Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, pagan, or any other religion that exists on the earth. The moral vocabulary and concepts of the Christian West come directly from God through the writings of the prophets, the apostles, the Fathers, the Saints - men and women who heard the Gospel and lived in Christ and thereby imparted wisdom to us about who we were created to be and how we should live. We call this the moral tradition.

And here's the rub. We live in a civilization that uses the vocabulary of the moral tradition on the one hand, but forgets who gave it to us on the other hand.

What happens then when people leave Christianity and want to promote ideas about morality that violate the moral tradition? They have only one option: Hijack the language. They use the terms of traditional Christianity but mean very different things by them. Words don't mean what they used to mean. Language gets inverted, turned upside down. Do this long and loud enough, and in less than a generation the new meanings take hold.

For example, take the word "love." In our day any definition of the word never moves beyond the sense that love is a subjective feeling. This way of thinking about love has concrete ramifications. How one feels about the neighbor is more important than what one does for him. In fact, if the good feeling is not there, more often than not the responsibility we have for that person loses its moral force. We walk away from commitments thinking that if we don't feel committed, it is not important to fulfill them.

Of course love never meant that, at least in the generations leading up to ours. But if this adulteration of meaning is allowed to stand, the next generation will believe that today's understanding is the one that stood for all time. They won't know that the past can show them a way out of their confusion because they will read the past in the darkness of the present. When this happens, the moral tradition becomes a prisoner of the present, rather than its enlightener.

This point is not lost on the hijackers. One reason that ideological thieves hijack the moral vocabulary instead of developing one of their own is that it lends an air of authority to their ideas. When hijackers use the language of the moral tradition, they implicitly claim to stand inside that tradition. It's only a pose of course, but their pose fools many people.

This is what religious liberals like Jim Wallis or leaders of the National Council of Churches do. They are not really interested in traditional understandings of social justice or the common good. Instead, they have taken the secular reductions of those terms but present their ideas as no different from what Christian have always believed. People who don't know the moral tradition join with those who don't really understand the politics behind the hijacker's positions (and many people don't know either), and are led into deep moral confusion.

We have to fight back. We should not, like Dn. Fournier's questioner, cede the battle as lost. Christians can't sit idle and allow the secular or religious left to hijack this language. It is not theirs. And no, it is not tolerant, compassionate, or open-minded to let them think that they have a right to it.

-----

Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse is an Orthodox priest serving in Naples, Florida. He is President of the American Orthodox Institute and edits the website Orthodoxy Today 

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2014
Christmas, hope for humanity:
That the birth of the Redeemer may bring peace and hope to all people of good will.
Parents: That parents may be true evangelizers, passing on to their children the precious gift of faith.



Comments


More Living Faith

No one should be hungry during the Christmas season

Image of

By Tony Magliano

In early December, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) stopped feeding 1.7 million Syrian refugees. For two weeks these poor, battered fellow human beings who had fled the misery of civil war, and the barbarism of the "Islamic State," were told there is no ... continue reading


HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPE FRANCIS! Beloved Pontiff turns 78 today Watch

Image of Happy Birthday, Pope Francis!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY POPE FRANCIS! Today is Pope Francis' 78th birthday and well-wishers celebrated the day singing and dancing for the Holy Father in St. Peter's Square. VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - Born on December 17, 1936, the man who would become Pope Francis has ... continue reading


Turned into the wild, Pope Francis offers hope to displaced faithful in Middle East Watch

Image of Patriarch Younan said a major focus of their synod was on priestly formation since their communities have faced so much upheaval.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Times are hard and arduous for those who practice their Catholic faith in the Middle East. In a special audience with Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem Joseph III Younan, along with about 350 of his faithful from the Syriac Catholic Church, Pope Francis offered words ... continue reading


Mary hailed as 'great missionary' who brought Gospel to Americas by Pope Francis Watch

Image of Pope Francis and the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis along with thousands of Catholics from across the Atlantic celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Vatican. The Pope celebrated Mass to the sounds and rhythms of many of South America's indigenous peoples. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - ... continue reading


Your Friday Feel Good Story: Watch what happens when the mic goes out during the American National Anthem at a hockey game in Canada! Watch

Image of Ina  heartwarming gesture of respect, Canadians sing the Star Spangled Banner when the microphone game out before a game featuring a team from the USA.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Here's your Friday Feel Good story! Enjoy your Friday and don't forget to share! During a hockey game in Canada between American and Canadian players, the microphone failed, silencing the singer. Without audio, the Americans would be without their national anthem, but ... continue reading


Irenaeus of Lyon on Eve and Mary

Image of An Icon of Ireneaus of Lyon

By Ireneaus of Lyon

The Lord, coming into his own creation in visible form, was sustained by his own creation which he himself sustains in being. His obedience on the tree of the cross reversed the disobedience at the tree in Eden; the good news of the truth announced by an angel to ... continue reading


Taking the Kingdom by Force: Learning from John the Baptizer Watch

Image of The choice is ours. Just as it was with John the Baptizer. He shows us the way to give away our freedom in love - and then find it anew in the One who truly sets us free. (John 8:36). The kingdom of heaven is still being taken by force. The force of love. The Lord is seeking men and women in this hour who will take the kingdom by force like John the Baptizer.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

John the Baptizer was a man of Joy because he was a man of true humility! Humility is a powerful weapon when wielded by a soldier of love like John. He was a man who understood that life wasn't all about him. He emptied himself willingly and was thus able to ... continue reading


Faith restored in humanity! A random act of kindness changes a woman's life forever during the Christmas season Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While protests are wreaking havoc all around the world, wars are being fought, and people are being brutally killed, the warm sensation and fuzzy feeling of Christmas gets overshadowed. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Although good deeds and random acts of kindness ... continue reading


Do We Really Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come? Watch

Image of Seated at the right hand of the Father, he works unceasingly in the world, to draw men into the Church and through it to join them more closely to himself.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. His salvation is offered extended to all men and women. That salvation is not only about our souls, but about the whole human person. It will only be complete when we are raised from the dead and dwell in the kingdom to come. He ... continue reading


A Christmas gift for suffering South Sudan

Image of The people of South Sudan have the same feeling and love for one another we do. Now is the time for us to extend our arms in compassion.

By Tony Magliano

The world's newest nation is in big trouble. After more than 20 years of civil war between the southern and northern areas of Sudan, the southern part of that country on July 9, 2011, became the independent nation of the Republic of South Sudan.But the situation on the ... continue reading


All Living Faith News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Second Samuel 7:1-5, 8-11, 16
1 Once the king had settled into his palace and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
2 for you have said: love is built to last for ever, ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by ... Read More

Reading 2, Romans 16:25-27
25 And now to him who can make you strong in ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 21st, 2014 Image

St. Peter Canisius
December 21: In 1565, the Vatican was looking for a secret agent. It was ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter