The Orthodox Christian in the Information Age
by Priest Gregory Naumenko
INFORMATIONAL SENSORY OVERLOAD
True religion and true science, marking the limits of the sphere of their competence, can never have contradictions between them. If such contradiction occurs, it means that either religion or science has betrayed its principles and become pseudo-religion or a pseudo-science.Faith and knowledge in their very essence are inseparable. It is impossible to surmise that a believing person does not think about the object of his faith and does not know what he believes in. It is likewise impossible that a philosopher or scholar, while investigating, does not believe, at least in his own intellect.Knowledge is as necessary and lawful for religion as faith is for scholarship. Faith can be indispensable where knowledge is inadequate and helpless. Anything learned through faith should not enter into contradiction with genuine knowledge…The more deeply and thoroughly man studies the sciences and knows the limits of their competence, the more philosophical and theological culture man possesses. Likewise, the more deeply his religious faith is developed, the fewer become the imaginary contradictions between faith and knowledge and between religion and science…Religion answers the highest and most intricate inquiries of man's spirit, which science is absolutely helpless in answering. The more highly developed religion is, the more it nurtures a love for knowledge; not of course, vain knowledge, but true knowledge, which is called spiritual wisdom…St. Basil the Great, who was a scholar, a philosopher and a theologian, said: "In pre-Christian philosophical teaching there was only a shadow of revealed truths, a pre-portrayal of Truth shown in Holy Scripture, a reflection of the light of Christ's truth, similar to the reflection of the sun in water." Of the relationship between faith and knowledge, St. Basil the Great also asserted: "In science faith precedes knowledge. This is profoundly true, since everything most fundamental and initial in scientific knowledge is impossible to prove and is accepted as a basic principle by an act of faith."If the great Fathers of the Church regarded honest scientific and philosophic knowledge with such deep respect, then in their turn, the greatest genuine scientific scholars of the past regarded religious faith with deep esteem and reverence. They realized that True knowledge is incompatible with pride. Humility is an indispensable condition to the possibility of perceiving Truth. Only a humble scholar, like a humble religious thinker, always remembering the words of the Saviour: Without Me you can do nothing, and I am the way and the truth and the life, is capable of going in the correct way toward perceiving Truth. For God resisteth the proud, but giveth Grace unto the humble.
HOW TO REMEMBER GOD IN THE INFORMATION AGE
It is hardly novel to comment on the personal scattering so readily induced by modern culture. Daily newspapers present my sweeping glance with a collage of the most dissonant images and stories imaginable, each allocated a few inches of space, a few moments of my time. The suffering in some African war immediately yields to an overjoyed lottery winner, who in turn gives way to a dispute in the city council, followed by survey results on American [physical] habits. The weather, comics, sports, book reviews scanning—all this is how I prepare to meet the day ahead. My attention, rather than engaging problems at hand in a deepening meditation, is casually, almost unnoticeably dispersed.In a similar way, the television sound bite has become notorious; so, too, the dizzying succession of images in movie and music video. Magazines and billboards, the chatter of boom-boxes and the endless miles of retail aisle-ways heaped with a fiendishly beguiling array of merchandise all compete for a moment's subliminal notice from an otherwise absent subject, so that someone else's intentions can have their way with me. Everything is calculated to prevent my standing firmly within myself, choosing my own way in conscious self-possession. Left helpless to digest much of anything in particular, I have no choice but to go and move with the flow, allowing it to carry me wherever it will.The critical law at work here is that whatever I take in without having fully digested it, whatever I receive in less than full consciousness does not therefore lose its ability to act upon me. It simply acts from beyond the margins of my awareness. Nothing is forgotten; it is only neglected. This is as true of Muzak as of the film image, as true of sound bites as of retail advertisements. To open myself inattentively to a chaotic world, superficially taking in "one thing after another," is to guarantee a haphazard behavior controlled by that world rather than by my own wide-awake choices.The correlate of scattered (mental) "input," then is scattered "output." Car, telephone, computer, fax, television, VCR collaborate in this scattering by affording "freedom" of action that tends to enslave me. It becomes so easy to go somewhere else, whether via screen, phone lines, or gasoline-powered engine that the whirl of ceaseless goings substitutes for the hard work of inner attention to the fully dimensioned present. Encouraged to veer off wherever I wish with scarcely so much as a moment's forethought, I am never fully here or there, or anywhere.
LET US LISTEN TO THE HOLY FATHERS
Check-list of Spiritually Necessary Activities for the Last Twelve Days of the Nativity* Fast Which Lead up to the Great Feast of the Nativity of our Lord:
- On all days abstain from all non-fasting foods (all meat, egg and milk products).
- At least on Wednesdays and Fridays, abstain from fish products as well.
- No parties (including secular New Year), no nights on the town, no concerts or the like.
- The only music to be listened to is appropriate recorded Church singing. No other music until Nativity, not even "classical." (The only exception to this might be if practicing a musical instrument or vocals are part of your studies.)
- Absolutely no television, radio, movies, video/computer games for these twelve days. For weather information use the free telephone weather-info-line listed in your directory under "weather."
- The computer is to be used only if it is part of your job, your studies, or necessary for personal correspondence. No frivolous uses.
- Attend all the services that you possibly can that are available at your parish church during this time period. Even if it entails asking for time off from work or from school, try to make it to all the services. Arrive before the beginning of the services, and stay until the very end. Make an attempt to understand and participate in the services.
- With the blessing of your spiritual father (usually your parish priest), prepare properly and partake of Holy Confession and Communion at every Divine Liturgy at your parish church leading up to and including Nativity.
- Every day: get up early enough to meaningfully say all of the morning prayers printed in the prayer book. Say the Jesus prayer repetitively at every opportunity during the day: O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner. Be certain to say prayers before and after meals. Say your evening prayers immediately after the evening meal. Do not wait to say your evening prayers until you are so tired that you cannot even think.
- Each day, following your morning prayers, read at least a little bit (5-10 minutes' worth) of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament (a little of the Gospel and a little of the Epistles of the Apostles).
- Each day, find a regular time to read a measured amount (10-15 minutes' worth) of the writings of the holy Fathers (My Life in Christ by St. John of Kronstadt is a good place to start).
- Be extra loving to other people around you, treating them kindly, as you would like them to treat you. If anyone wrongs you in any way, be quick to forgive and forget completely and forever.
- If at all possible, be extra charitable to the needy and worthy causes, giving not of your surplus but of your substance.