Is it possible to be an agrarian and Orthodox? Is it possible not to be?
The slogan topping off one of my favorite sites, the Front Porch Republic, baldly proclaims "Place, Limits, Liberty."
"Limits" is not a hard word for Orthodoxy to commend. The liberal political idea is based upon the unfounded certainty that commercial and industrial expansion is limitless. There is a mystical, eschatological belief that human nature has evolved, is evolving, and will continue to evolve into more complex form (and thus of a higher order). The expansion of civilization is a program that becomes the standard upon which all other values are based: local traditions, customs, folkways, family ties, dialects, mom and pop shops, little farms should all be bulldozed by the eminent domain of "progress."
(For progress is what a liberal believes in, not taking care of the poor: don't get excited, neocons and Obama-bashers – you don't believe in conservatism either. You, oddly, are just as progressive. It is not at all conservative to believe in the gospel of democracy, nor in its rather marshal evangelistic methods. It is not even conservative to be capitalistic: once upon a time, long ago and far away, people were rich and were thankful to God and to the poor, and did not presume that their riches were deserved and sacramental, and meant for the secular sanctification of the Western world.)
There is no way that Orthodoxy can believe in progress. The Nicene dogma is stern on this point. The Father is the Maker of all words. Human nature does not evolve: it is polluted by sin and death: it is regenerated by Christ: it is up to you and me whether we want to be human and become like Christ. We should feed the poor because we are Christian, not to make them Christian without knowing it.
Society does not evolve, either. The only reason why civilization is at all more humane than earlier brutal ages is solely because of the presence of the sacramental Church. Liberals consistently take too much credit for the humanitarian ethic, when caring for the poor and the sick is strictly a Christian legacy. So-called conservatives who attempt to base their values on classical virtues are embarrassed to discover how like Nietzsche they turned out to be, and how likely they could not survive such a society were they to time travel there.
There is no social evolution that is commensurate with the mentally disabled commercial cult of progress. Everyone in the industrial revolution was taught to buy and consume and distribute wealth through commerce. Virtue was replaced by value. Tools and things were evaluated purely on marketplace auctions, rising and falling according to supply and demand. Memory was given over to nostalgia. Belief was exchanged for opinion and preference. Needs were replaced by wants.
The end result of that cult has been a degradation of human nature to near total depravity: acquisition and consumption have descended to the basement of the human psyche, to the point where the passions have become so prevalent that they are invisible to objective view, and are redefined now – in this "therapeutic" Oprah/realityTV culture – as "natural" and (God help us) "normal."
It is a sad thing that the bitch goddess of limitless progress has produced a depravity that the Reformed heterodoxy could not.
The limitless groupthink of the marketplace is predicated upon an escape from history. Nations have risen and have fallen, and everyone used to know this bitter truth – and the very bitterness of that limitation used to function as a crucial restraint. People used to know that one can't do anything he wants, or (worse) become anything he wants, that it is pretty stupid to "believe in yourself." They used to know that their ancestors were smarter people, and that success was something predicated on Providence and inherited from the good will of many people.
They used to know that human nature required nurture, that the human psyche extended infinitely beyond the wretched, ignominious containment matrices of assessment inventories – but it needed a set of certain conditions that included law and memory, mutual submission, divinely-bestowed peace and a doctrine that could not be reduced to fruitcake soundbites.
But they don't, not now. We believe only in a vague "better future." We are so inane that we say, out loud and to our shame, insane things like "Change is good" (no, it isn't, if unaccompanied by repentance). We even have modern 2.0 releases of "churches" that buy into the limitless cult of progress: that, by the way, is the only way to understand chimera like the "church growth movement" and reprehensations like the "megachurch."
So, "limits" is a good, easy word. An Orthodox Christian, used to ascesis and submission to dogma, can really sink his teeth in that one. But "Liberty" and "Place"?
To be continued …