Against Religion

Feast of St Irene the Great Martyr
Against Religion: The Alienation of the Ecclesial Event by Christos Yannaras; trans. Norman Russell

Yannaras_Square.jpgWHEN THIS ORTHODOX theologian tackles the greatest force undermining Christianity today, the usual suspects (materialism, secularism, etc.) don’t even make the list. The real tension, he contends, lies between Church—defined as the ecclesial “event” of participation in the Eucharistic body—and religion per se. Yannaras doesn’t stop, however, with a comfortable critique of “organized religion,” although he offers us a scathing analysis of how “institutionalized religionization” evolved in the West. Nor does he let the East off the hook, despite its more ecclesiocentric focus. The real target of Yannaras’ dissecting knife is religiosity—“a natural, instinctive urge in human nature,” ultimately driven by self-interest and the need for survival—and he finds its destructive traces everywhere, even in the ascetical texts of the Philokalia. The dangers of religiosity include not only the surrender of human freedom to authority and reified “rules,” but also a perilous individualism that withdraws the person from the possibility of true communion—the “Triadic mode of existence.”  Yannaras’ propositions are blunt—“Church and religion are two realities that are incompatible and irreconcilable, like life and death, freedom and necessity, love and self-interest”—and deeply disquieting: “Heresy is objectifying love, for example, in good works that nourish your narcissism while at the center of your life, like an idol, is only your ego, your authority, your reputation.” Yet at the same time there is deep hope here, a glorious reminder that the Church’s never-ending struggle “to attain freedom from self-interest” still bears fruit.

217 pp. paper $24.95

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