The following material was prepared by Foma.
I am an interpreter, and I work for a men’s magazine (with all the consequences).
I have to translate articles on a variety of topics: travelling, movies, cars, sport, politics, and more, but a great deal of attention is paid to the relationship between a man and a woman, to the problem of sexual minorities, to the woman’s beauty (in the sense of the magazine). In short, the magazine pays attention to what is considered to be sinful, obscene, and yet has become an integral part of life in the 21st century (I have to face such articles/images on every step be it in a movie, in books, or in a museum of modern art).
The question is whether it is sinful to translate this? On the one hand, if one regards this situation from the Orthodox point of view, I am tempting myself in such a way (maybe, I am even falling into sin?). On the other hand, the thoughts that are expressed in the magazine are absolutely foreign to me, I hold opposite opinions on a majority of issues. Translating such articles is just a job for me.
Here is what happens: for example, if I was translating articles about paganism or serial killers, I could hardly be considered a pagan or a criminal myself as I am only a tool for interpreting other people’s thoughts… In other words, I do not feel involvement in the articles’ content.
What should I do about it then? Should I confess my sin, which I am unaware of, or should I quit this job or work quietly knowing that I try to act in life as God would want me to, i.e. right?
Please, consider this problem and help me resolve my internal conflict.
The First Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Foma Magazine, Vladimir Gurbolikov, answered:
Since we are colleagues, I decided to answer your letter personally. Your issue concerns the problem of our professional choice and field, the problem that is very clear to me, that is why I believe I could be of use to you in that regard. I am not a priest, but like many other priests who answer questions on our website, first and foremost I would advise you on asking a spiritual father or a priest who you trust and who knows you personally for a more specific reply.
It is clear from the context of the letter that you are an Orthodox Christian. For an Orthodox Christian the Gospel must be the compass for making life choices. But it is not always like that. Sadly, oftentimes we forget to take this very compass in hands. Nevertheless, the Gospel has very important words: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
I am sorry that the quote is so extensive, but it is essential for understanding. The very logic in which Christ speaks is not that if you work for a men’s magazine, then you are a wretched sinner, whereas if you work for the Foma Orthodox magazine, then you are saved. What does God call us to do? To see a vector, to follow it, and to peer into your life more closely at every stage. To remember that the path of perfection is long and complex. In this sense as an editor of an Orthodox magazine I can say in complete seriousness that I am a sinful and unworthy man. I am aware of that and I try to confess my sins and fight them. I think that every believer should be aware of that rereading the words of Christ.
With this mindset, we should understand the following (Foma repeatedly wrote about it). The concept of “sin” is multidimensional. In the Greek language it has numerous meanings at once. For example, among other things sin is called a mistake. That is, an action when a person feels that they are doing the right thing, but in fact they are not.
It is obvious from your letter that some kind of great mistake occurs whether you feel it or not. You say that you understand the contradiction, but you do not feel the sin. Perhaps it is a reason for further moral work, self-assessment, or internal dialogue. Or for a dialogue with an experienced spiritual father who you trust.
The heart does not always tell us the correct answer, but you have a mind, and your letter is largely your internal dialogue as it seems to me. In my opinion, that is what a work of conscience is. If you really did not feel anything, this letter would simply not exist.
All the tips that you need to solve this problem are in front of you. They are in the Gospel lines, they are in the Church’s understanding of a sin. Finally, they are in the prayer book: note that in the prayers for absolution there is a constant talk of voluntary and involuntary sins, that is of that we cannot feel and be aware of all sins that we commit.
It is clear from the letter that you are a very intelligent person and that you have already analyzed the whole situation on your own. You wrote that the thoughts expressed in the magazine are foreign to you, that you hold opposite opinions on a majority of issues. You stress it a number of times. Furthermore, you wrote that this is an internal conflict for you. What do I believe this to be and how can it be resolved? You should extract the words that “it is just a job” from the text. That you are “only a tool”. The thing is that a journalist does not exist without the media. Journalism implies teamwork, and you are not a computer that is really just a tool. You have a soul, you have a heart, you understand an objective of that magazine that you decided to work for. If a magazine was established to educate, then it is joyful to work for it. But if it was established to corrupt by entertaining… then there should be awareness that you are part of this system.
As for your arguments on the articles about paganism or serial killers I want to draw your attention to the fact that it is one thing if you are translating an academic paper, a serious research on paganism. It is a completely different matter if you being an Orthodox Christian are translating articles for some sort of the “Modern Pagan” magazine. Can you see the difference?
You fully realize what your publication was established for, what its primary goal is. You have defined it very simply: you work for a men’s magazine “with all the consequences”. Period. This is what it is all about. You have already asked yourself whether you agree with the message and the objective carried by the magazine. You have answered yourself: absolutely “not”. So, what is the problem then?
It seems that you only need to find another working team, to find yourself a different use in journalism or in the translation industry that would resolve your internal conflict. But perhaps your real problem lies either in the lack of determination or in such life circumstances that make you continue working there where you work now. Then it would be more appropriate to simply figure out how these circumstances can be changed.
There are situations when it seems that there is no way out. For example, when one desperately needs means for living. In such cases they often say: “Praying is the only thing that we have left”. However, it is actually not some kind of a “leftover”. This is the first thing that really helps. It is highly likely that in your prayers above all you should ask God to show possible solutions if you are not strong enough or a situation is such that you have nowhere to run.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. If you need any support from people of faith, from those colleagues who consider themselves to be Orthodox Christians like you also do, feel free to ask them for it. Feel free to write us. Feel free to go with this to a spiritual father.
However, I guess that you have seen the major problem and therefore there is great hope that you will be able to solve it. The main thing is not to be afraid.
Translated by Julia Frolova