I have been studying Judaism in my History of World Religions class as of late. During my studies I have had some certain things strike me as odd.
The first of these is that classical Judaism does not stress the afterlife hardly at all (and in some sects, none). I was perplexed at first and began to think to myself “why?”
Is it perhaps because they didn’t believe in it? That can’t be the case. One only has to go to a Jewish funeral to witness the knowledge of an afterlife, or witness one of the prayers in the Merits of the Fathers to see that Jews (well of the orthodox variety at least) tend to still see that there is a life after this one.
Perhaps it is because they have no Messiah. In reality, most Jews (again with the exception of orthodox jews) don’t even believe in a literal Messiah. Many Jews today, in fact, believe that the foundation of the Modern Israeli state, with all its downfalls, constitutes the promise of the messiah.
So why is it that Christianity is so “other world” obsessed and Judaism simply is not. Perhaps it has to do with the body.
Judaism has EVERYTHING to do with the body and what is done in it. As Christians we believe it is heresy to separate the body from the soul, this is Gnosticism. So, too, with Judaism, the soul and body are thought of as inseparable. If ever there is a separation at death, that is up to G_d, but otherwise, we cannot seperate the two in our understanding of the human person.
We find this because when God gave his chosen people their law, he largely gave them a way to rule their bodies. When God created man, in bodily form, he said that it was very good. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” God, in this passage, unites inseparably the human body with the human soul. He creates the whole of the human person in His image, or eikon. Thus, when he gives them the law, he gives them ways to conform theirselves, largely through the body, to the way of life.
In Leviticus there are laws on what to eat, what to drink (the law of kash rus, or kosher). There are laws about human interaction. Laws about how to treat animals. How to sacrifice. How to bathe. . . and the list goes on and on. All together there are over 600 laws in the OT directed towards the body. Heck, there are even laws about women’s interaction with others during their menstrual periods. Why is God so obsessed with the Body?! Because we are made in his image and likeness.
I believe that the degredation of the Church’s witness in the world as we see it today, whether it be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestants, doesn’t have much to do with modernism, post-modernism, or any other ism. It has to do specifically with how man and woman have chosen to use their bodies. In short, it can be traced back to the sexual “revolution”.
The failure of the church to stand up to the world on the issues of the human body is the problem, not its ascent to modern philosophy. As Nietzsche envisioned “When the Church loses the ability to say ‘Thou shalt not’ it will lose all authority.” When the Church gives into contraception (as the protestant churches have in full, and the orthodox seem to be moving towards, though not as fast and with limits) it loses ground in its moral authority in the world, for she is to be the physician of the human person.
This is the same problem with Homosexuality. I love homosexuals. They are beautiful creations of God. Some of my . friends are homosexuals. But, this does not mean that the Church ought to sanction their lifestyle, because she knows that the active homosexual lifestyle is not GOOD for the human person! Instead, she ought to be teaching and correcting, comforting and counseling that person to wipe off the soil that has encrusted over the image of God in them, just as all of us must work out our salvation (in the Church) with fear and trembling.
The Church is the body of Christ in the world. She is the salt, the bitter preservative which saves the world. When it attempts to become an attractive and tasty item like sugar and ceases to become salty, it looses its ability to preserve and correct.
I believe, very firmly, that the reason that there are so many divorces in the church today also has to do with this lack of preserving in the church. For instance, and getting back to the area of contraception, I see a problem with oekonomia being practiced to allow contraception to the extent which it is allowed in the American Orthodox Church. Oekonomia is applied to something that is sin, but is not easily given up. It is concession to sin, often involving a lessening of penance, in order for the weak human person to be weaned off of sin. Its purpose is primarily for addictions and a concession for human weakness. If a person can, AT ALL, resist the sin of contraception, he or she should not be sanctioned to use it, because it is not good for fostering the practice of chastity within the marital bounds. (Of course this is ultimately up to the Bishop through the Priest, but I would argue that it ought to be used much more sparingly than in current practice).
Contraception sets forth an unnatural dichotomy and usage of sex within the human marriage bonds. It allows the couple to engage in sexual activity much more than envisioned by God. This brings about an unhealthy balance within the marriage that equates the quality of the marriage with the quality of sex. The further degredation of this, which I am seeing in my own generation is the bypassing of marriage alltogether, in an effort not to get sucked into a “loveless” marriage somewhere down the road (because our understandings of that marriage have become inordinate, equating sex with relationship).
It also brings about a problem with the very nature of the conjugal act itself, in essence re-defining it. God created the female body to work in a particular way in cycles of fertility. When a couple usurps those boundaries by using contraception, which have their aim at disrupting those cycles, it allows them to act in a way unestablished by God. The Human Marriage, which God established even before the fall of man into sin as very good, ceases to be a salvific sacrament of grace to save the human person, and becomes instead an instrument of death. It becomes an institution of the hedonism of our day.
We are not called to pleasure, though God allows it for the enjoyment and fullness of the human person. The primary purpose of marriage is not pleasure, but the union of man and woman with the ultimate outcome being the procreation of the human race. Those who cannot conceive for whatever reason are not in sin, because they are fulfilling the commandment of God to “be one as I and the Father are one.” This is no fault of their own. But those who choose to contracept, in an effort to usurp the boundaries the sovereign God has placed on our personal lives (and yes, this includes financial aspects as well. See Matthew 10:29-32) are willfully choosing to disobey the Church’s teaching on that subject, choosing their own pleasure over the good order of things as established by God (not to mention that this practice will inevitably lead to the extinguishing of not only the Christian people, but the Human race if taken to its natural end, but this is another discussion in itself). We are called to repent, and believe, and be baptized. In the sacraments of the Church there is salvation, outside there is death.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son; so that whosoever believes in Him shall enherit eternal life. […] For Christ did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it and unite it unto himself.” The restrictions of the Church on the body are not meant as empty law imposed on its members, but as the bringing about of the koinonia which exists in the body of Christ. It is for the salvation of the human person.
Think upon these things. As always I welcome your thoughts and reflections