Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Works Without Faith

Was reading Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope a while back. Quigley is a bête noire of US conspiracy theorists, who use a single sentence from this massive (over 1300 pages!) to build an edifice of exposing a supposed massive conspiracy of British and American bankers (or whoever) who control every event of the last century. Anyway, I found myself particularly interested in his exposition of events up to the modern area, especially his description of the role of the Christian church in the West versus that of Russia.

According to Quigley, the Western Church focused on the importance of "good works" -- which led to the efflorescence of science and progress seen in Europe in the second half of the past millenium. The Orthodox Church, on the other hand, depended upon the grace bestowed from God on high as its method of salvation. This stems, Quigley argues, from a deep-seated Manichean outlook on the universe, the heritage of Saint Augustine, that portrays the world as Good vs. Evil, with the material world being irremediably Evil. Now, this is part of a larger argument by Quigley demonstrating the paucity of Russian ideals with that of the West: Russia has always been dominated by outside nobility, the Russian people have always been taught just to accept their fate, and they are focused on the world to come -- as they should be, having been given so little hope for this one.

I don't want to get too heavily into Quigley's explanation of Russian character; after all, he was writing at the height of the Cold War, and not only did the East-West demarcation seem more distinct at that time but also the best minds of the time saw the entire world in Us vs. Them, Russia versus the West dimensions. The axis of Judeo-Christian vs. Muslim was not seen as significant -- though that has changed. (And no doubt will change again)

What interests me more is his own Manichean perspective on the religious paths chosen by East and West (though "choice" implies perhaps too much). Coming down so hard against the Orthodox Church for its dependence on grace, and asserting that the Western Church promulgated "good works" at its fundament -- well, this seems rather simplistic. This simplifying dualism is also characteristic of the conspiracy theorists that Quigley unintentionally nurtures, but here it seems even more egregious. The debate about faith vs. good works is part and parcel of the Christian ethos, and is a classic dialectic which is perhaps insoluble in logical terms.

Perhaps "good works" will only get you into heaven if you have faith that they will do so. This is similar to a question that troubles me to this day: How can God be both transcendent and immanent? It's a poser, all right

No comments: