Unitarian Morality With a Little “Theosis” Sprinkled on Top

Back in the 70’s,  there was a song that expressed the ethic of the sexual revolution: “Love the one you’re with,” by Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills, & Nash), which was based on a saying coined by Billy Preston: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” The logic being that you can’t expect a man to remain faithful to his wife (or “main squeeze,” as the case may be), if she isn’t around. It’s “unrealistic” to expect such a man to be celibate, when circumstances separate him from her. Take this logic into the contemporary period of homosexual advocacy, and you also have to conclude that if someone wants to have homosexual sex, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from it, simply because the Scriptures and 2000 years of Christian Tradition say that they should. But who would expect that similar logic might be advanced by an “Orthodox Theologian”? Well if you can’t imagine that being possible, you probably are not familiar with the folks at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University.

In his essay, “Sex, Marriage, & Theosis,” which is part of the latest issue of The Wheel (which deals with issues related to homosexuality in several of its articles), Aristotle Papanikolaoumakes various observations regarding the Church’s understanding of marriage and sex, and uses lots of contemporary buzzwords before he gets to his real point in his last two paragraphs:

“Forced celibacy can actually unleash the potentially objectifying force of sexual desire, albeit in a repressed form. In other words, forced celibacy is a recipe for an anti-theotic state of being, especially since it may incite fear, anger, and hatred. If that is the case, then long-term committed relationships, or marriages, are also spaces for working through the objectifying potential of sexual desire ascetically, such that it contributes toward and does not mitigate against sacramentality. A Christian tradition with theosis at its core, and, as a result, with attention to the dynamics of the various constitutive aspects of the human condition, recognizes that when it comes to sexual desire, simply to say “struggle” can be spiritually harmful and, thus, not ascetically discerning. Sexual desire just does not stop when we struggle; in fact, the struggle may even incite it more intensely.

It is unrealistic, as Saint Paul I think insightfully recognized, to expect someone simply to deny or turn off such desire; it is spiritually discerning to allow such a desire to be expressed rather than “to be aflame with passion” (1 Cor. 7:9), in long-term committed relationships or marriages, whose aim is presencing God through the virtues, which, in the end, are manifest when the various constitutive parts of the human condition are configured so that one can be agapeic toward the other, and one can increase in eros for the divine” (The Wheel 13/14, Spring/Summer 2018, p. 97)

Note the use of the phrase “long-term committed relationships, or marriages…” The Fordham folks are not yet ready to argue that the Church should give a sacramental blessing to gay marriages, but they are arguing that we should accept “long term committed relationships” that are homosexual as being compatible with the Christian life.

And if we accept that “forced celibacy” is “unrealistic” and “unhealthy,” what should the Church say to a husband who is separated from his wife for years at a time, by circumstances beyond his control? This is not some unusual circumstance in the history of the world. In World War II, for example, many husbands did not see their wives for years at a time. Many a married couple in the Soviet Union were separated by the war, and in some cases never knew the fate of their spouse. Even in our current circumstances, military deployments still separate spouses for very long periods of time. Even non-military employment can require lengthy separations. Should the Church tell the husband and wife in such cases, “If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with”? If not, we are telling them that they should be celibate, which Aristotle Papanikolaou takes to be “forced celibacy.”

And if we can’t expect celibacy from adults, when they are either not married, or separated from their spouses, on what basis would we expect it from 15 year olds? It’s not even legal in most states for 15 year olds to get married, even with their parents’ permission, and so either we are asking them to remain celibate — which is “unrealistic,” and “unhealthy,” (we have been told), or we are left to let them have sex outside of marriage in some form or another.

Aristotle Papanikolaou is espousing a position on sex and celibacy that you will find expressed in precisely 0% of the Fathers and Saints of the Church, and nowhere in all of Scripture. Nowhere in the Christian Tradition do you find the idea that sex of any kind outside of marriage (between a man and a woman) is acceptable. The only remotely historical connection such views would have in Church history would be found among certain gnostic groups in the early Church period, which were absolutely condemned by the Church. And yet this is apparently where these folks want to take the Church. How is it possible that the bishops of the Greek Archdiocese tolerate this nonsense?

You can use Trinitarian language, and you can talk about theosis all you want, but when you end up with a morality that is identical to that of the Unitarian Universalist Church, you are not Orthodox, no matter what you might call yourself. And from a purely practical standpoint the Greek Archdiocese might want to study up on the rapid decline the Unitarian Universalists have experienced since they threw out any semblance of adherence to Christian morality. In fact, the same pattern has been repeated in most of the mainline Protestant denominations, and there is no reason to think the pattern won’t be repeated in the Greek Archdiocese as well.

Now some will probably suggest that I am reading too much into this essay, but I don’t think so, for three reasons: 1) I asked the author directly to explain his use of “long-term committed relationships, or marriages…”, and he declined; 2) this is the same person who stated that while dogma was not up for debate, morality was ( see The Living Church 2.0); and 3) I was told by a former student of his that the promotion of gay marriage was a frequent topic pushed by both Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos at Fordham. If they want to deny that I am reading their intentions accurately, they should say what they really do mean, and say so clearly.

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