— Archbishop Job of Telmessos
The pandemic we are going through is an opportunity for us to become aware of the various crises that affect us and to think deeply about their causes. If we reflect carefully and take a critical look at the speeches we hear and the writings we read, we will be able to observe the changes, or even the drifts, of certain theological statements, of which we must be critical and into which we must not sink.
A first observable change, for at least a century, results from the confrontation of two different visions of the world. A first one is to consider the spiritual reality as first and, in a way, more real than anything else. This spiritual worldview has always been the common understanding of religions and people of faith. A second opinion is to believe that matter arose first and then, to consider that which is spiritual is the product of some brain metabolisms. It is the materialist and rationalist vision, often atheist, which dominates nowadays, at least since the scientific revolution. This second vision of things is not without affecting the first one which, unfortunately, often undergoes a mutation to the point of coming to relativize the spiritual and mystical experiences as being purely psychic phenomena, or even to make fun of them. But would we, for example, go so far as to reduce the fact of falling in love to a simple chemical reaction of the brain’s metabolism? In that case, those suffering from heartbreak would only have to go to the pharmacy to buy the appropriate medicine... However, as Carl Gustav Jung rightly notes, “no matter what the world thinks of religious experience, the one who made it possesses the immense treasure of something which has become for him a source of life, meaning and beauty and which has given new splendor to the world and to humanity”.
Another drift that can be observed in today’s theological discourse is its mutation, or even its replacement, by a purely sociological discourse. Religions are increasingly studied from the point of view of sociology, or even geopolitics, leading to the proliferation of what no one calls “sociology of religions” and “political theology”. Of course, we do not disdain the importance or interest that sociology or geopolitics may have as a science, but wanting to reduce or replace the theological discourse to sociological or geopolitical phenomena would be inappropriate. Of course, politics and culture have always played an important role in the history of religions, and in particular, in the history of the Church, but they were not, however, the determining subject of their raison d’être. Faith and religious experience are undoubtedly superior and much more determining than political events or cultural aspects.
The transformation of a spiritual discourse into a materialist discourse, or the reduction of a theological discourse to geopolitical or sociological considerations are often perceived as a threat on the part of certain believers who then take refuge in fundamentalism or traditionalism. But “fanaticism is the ever-present brother of doubt”, as C. G. Jung rightly said. And the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church stated that “fundamentalism, as ‘zeal not based on knowledge’ (Rom 10.2), constitutes an expression of morbid religiosity”. Such an epidermal reaction is in itself a failure for theological and religious discourse which must not flee the material reality, that of the world and of society, but on the contrary, be the leaven of the dough and the salt of the earth.
Finally, today’s theological or religious discourse is not always free from manipulations, propaganda, brainwashing or fake news. On the contrary, these evils which contaminate the world of contemporary communication are unfortunately sometimes far too present in our communities of faith. The great dangers of communication in the digital age are the false realities often created from scratch by “influencers” or relayed by social networks. Too often nowadays, unfortunately, information is based on unfounded or unverified statements or comments posted on these networks, which often generates fake news and helps to create a false reality. However, theological discourse can in no way accept a false discourse, which must be a discourse on the truth. And for us, Christians, the question is not to know what is the truth, but to know Who is the Truth (cf. Jn 18:38). Between truth and lie there is an unfathomable abyss as between God and the Evil. Therefore, theological or religious discourse should always be founded on Truth, since we “know the truth and no lie is of the truth” (1 Jn 2:21).