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 January 2015
General Intention:
That those from diverse religious traditions and all people of good will may work together for peace.
Missionary Intention: That in this year dedicated to consecrated life, religious men and women may rediscover the joy of following Christ and strive to serve the poor with zeal.



Comments


More Living Faith

Play with your children, Pope Francis commands fathers Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

While some of his comments have provoked controversy, Pope Francis in a private audience this week said something that very few people would argue with. The Pope commanded that all fathers take time to play with their children - and not be so absorbed with work ... continue reading


Archbishop reprimands Catholic lawmaker, says no true Catholic can dissent from church teaching on abortion Watch

Image of Archbishop Cordileone said in a written statement, that

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a press conference on January 22 at the Capitol, was asked twice whether an unborn child 20 weeks into pregnancy is a human being. Pelosi finally replied that a woman has "the right" to abort her child. Archbishop ... continue reading


Religious persecution uniting Christians worldwide in 'Ecumenism of blood,' Pope Francis says Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

"In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today," Pope Francis said as he was speaking to members of a number of Christian Churches. Gathered in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls this past weekend, ... continue reading


Andrew M. Greenwell: Jesus is the Heart and the Marvel of the Gospel Watch

Image of Since the incarnation of the Word, the

By Andrew M. Greenwell

If pursued, and pursued rightly (that is, without moral or intellectual prejudice), metaphysics leads us to a threshold, a threshold we might call the limina fidei, the threshold of faith.  Reason takes us to a place where we know God--that He is.  But ... continue reading


Who Are My Mother and Brothers? We are the Family of Jesus Watch

Image of

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Through our Baptism, we are invited into the very family of God. When we choose to respond to grace and live in obedience to the will and the Word of God; we enter into an eternal relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We actually become a part of ... continue reading


St Francis DeSales Challenges Us to Live a Life of True Devotion Watch

Image of Today in our Liturgical calendar in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we remember St Francis DeSales (1567-1610). The Saints are all given as examples to emulate. They are our companions on the journey, men and women like us who responded to God's invitation to become like Jesus. They pray for us because we are joined with them in the eternal communion of love. They also put legs on the Gospel, showing us what holiness looks like.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

I say that devotion must be practiced in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of ... continue reading


Hey Main Stream Media - Do Your Job! Media Bias on March for Life Watch

Image of The hundreds of thousands who gatherred in Washington, DC were virtually ignored by the mainstream media because they gave a voice to children in the womb intentionally killed by procured abortion

By Catherine Contreras

What do you get when over 500,000 people attend the March for Life in Washington DC? Yup. A biased main stream media barely covering it, again. OAKLAND, CA (Catholic Online) - On the 42nd Anniversary of Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in ... continue reading


Arlington Diocesan teachers provide English Language Learners with special support Watch

Image of Fourth-grade students work on personalized language arts activities at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington. (Christine Stoddard, The Arlington Catholic Herald)

By Christine Stoddard, The Arlington Catholic Herald

Step into Sarah Conrad's pre-kindergarten classroom at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington and you'll see the usual suspects: tiny furniture, storybooks, brightly colored posters and educational toys. But you'll also notice that laminated labels abound. ... continue reading


'Self righteousness is not going to change peoples' attitudes and save babies,' Cardinal says Watch

Image of Cardinal Sean O'Malley says that the abortion issue in the United States is a call for those of all faiths to action.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In delivering his homily at the March for Life vigil in Washington D.C., Cardinal Sean O'Malley said that indifference is the "greatest enemy" of the pro-life movement, adding that "to change people's hearts we must love them." Speaking at the Basilica of the ... continue reading


Eighth Annual Stand Up 4 Life Rally|Walk in Oakland, California! Watch

Image of Walk for Life in California

By Catherine Contreras

"If Black lives matter, they have to matter in the womb first. Because if Black lives don't matter in the womb, they don't matter anywhere else. So join us and help us speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves." - Walter B. Hoye II, Founder and President of ... 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, Hebrews 10:11-18
11 Every priest stands at his duties every day, ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 110:1, 2, 3, 4
1 [Of David Psalm] Yahweh declared to my Lord, 'Take ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 4:1-20
1 Again he began to teach them by the lakeside, but ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for January 28th, 2015 Image

St. Thomas Aquinas
January 28: St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church, patron of ... 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