Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Fr. Johannes L. Jacobse

10/4/2010 (3 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 (3 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 September 2014
Mentally disabled:
That the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.
Service to the poor: That Christians, inspired by the Word of God, may serve the poor and suffering.



Comments


More Living Faith

Tough Lessons for Real Life from the Book of Job Watch

Image of Job was right. He was living in the heart of God's will. When Job was stripped of what his fair-weather friends believed were the -proofs- of Gods favor, he found the greatest treasure of all, the beautiful poverty of purified Love. He found the richness reserved for those who love God for God's sake. Jobs fair-weather friends told him that his loss and difficulties were his fault, but Job knew better. In his unwavering hope in God's love and mercy we find the example of purified, living faith.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

When Job was stripped of what his fair-weather friends believed were the -proofs- of Gods favor, he found the greatest treasure of all, the beautiful poverty of purified Love. He found the richness reserved for those who love God for God's sake, for Love's ... continue reading


Interesting facts about the 400 years old Bom Jesus Church in India, the final resting place of St. Francis Xavier Watch

Image of The Basilica of Bom Jesus Church is more than 400 years old.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Located in Old Goa, India, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The foundation stone was laid on 24th November 1594, and completed on 15th May 1605. It was raised to the status of a minor Basilica in 1946 and is considered to be one of the ... continue reading


Bombing Islamic State is fueling the violence

Image of Civilians inspect the rubble of a building destroyed by Allied airstrikes in Syria. We cannot bomb our way into the hearts of people.

By Tony Magliano

We need to do something! With the barbaric Islamic State now controlling large portions of Iraq and Syria, and inflicting rape, torture and even beheading on those who do not conform to their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, it is imperative that they must be ... continue reading


Pope Francis to try case of pedophile archbishop in Vatican court Watch

Image of Former archbishop and ambassador Josef Wesolowski is under  arrest at the Vatican.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Vatican will try one of its own for child abuse. After decades, possibly centuries of abuse and cover up, the use of the Church has a cover for pedophiles has finally ended. Former ambassador, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski will now face trial for abusing boys he met ... continue reading


Pope Francis says to listen to God's word and put it into practice Watch

Image of During his homily at daily, the Pope urged Christians to read God's word faithfully and to truly listen with our hearts to what He has to say.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

According to Pope Francis, living the Christian life is simple: listen to God's word and put it into practice. "These are the two conditions in order to follow Jesus, hear the word of God and put it into practice. This is the Christian life, nothing more," the ... continue reading


Pope Francis appoints five women to major theological council Watch

Image of Pope Francis, who has been critical on the Catholic Church's failures to adequately include women in theological discourse, has appointed five to a major theological council that is charged with aiding the pope and others with theological policy.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The International Theological Commission, established in 1969 to study doctrinal issues faced by the Catholic Church and to help the pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has just received five new female members, raising the number of female ... continue reading


Pope Francis asks new bishops to avoid self-promotion, to love their congregations instead Watch

Image of Pope Francis meets with bishops for an audience. The Holy Father had important advice for a group of new bishops yesterday.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has admonished a new generation of bishops against seeking promotion and instead asked them to look after and love their congregations. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - During an address at the Vatican yesterday, Pope Francis spoke to 138 ... continue reading


POPE IN ALBANIA: Pope Francis denounces religious militants during one-day trip Watch

Image of On his first trip as pope to a European country outside of Italy, Pope Francis made no direct reference to Islamic State militants who have seized territory in Syria and Iraq.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In his one-day trip to the chiefly Muslim nation of Albania, Pope Francis soundly denounced religious militants, declaring that no one act as the "armor of God." LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - "Let no one consider themselves the 'armor' of God while planning ... continue reading


If Christ Has Not Been Raised Our Preaching and Our Faith is Empty Watch

Image of We too,you and me, will be raised from the dead. Only then will our redemption be complete. We are works in progress. However, that new life can begin even now for those with eyes of living faith, hearts filled with His presence, and minds renewed by the Light of the Truth which Jesus has fully revealed and imparts to those who love and follow Him.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

When we learn to embrace the implications of that empty tomb, and allow grace to work within us, we are made ready for eternity - by living differently every day. The Resurrection provides a framework, a hermeneutic, a lens of meaning, for everything that happens ... continue reading


You Go Into the Vineyard Too! Every Christian Has a Vocation Watch

Image of Priesthood, Diaconate in Christ,consecrated or religious life,lay ecclesial movements, consecrated Christian marriage - every Baptized Christian has a vocation. We just have to learn to live it!

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The Church is a seed, sign and beginning of the kingdom, making the kingdom present in a world which is wounded by the effects of sin but waiting to be born anew. The Lord continues His work through us. We are the workers in His vineyard. It matters little what ... 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, Job 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23
1 In the end it was Job who broke the silence and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:2-3, 4-5, 6, 7-8
2 may my prayer reach your presence, hear my cry for ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:51-56
51 Now it happened that as the time drew near for him ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for September 30th, 2014 Image

St. Jerome
September 30: St. Jerome, who was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius, 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