I had been thinking about a post describing the difference between Eastern and Western thinking. So far, I’ve only managed to touch on it in earlier posts. Today, after arriving back home I discovered the following post by Fr. Ernesto. It covers just about everything I thought necessary on the subject. This is a most helpful explanation, and I recommend you share it with others. Orthocuban is his site and found on my blogroll.
Yesterday I received a note from someone thinking about Orthodoxy. In the note he asked about what it means when so many of us say that in order to become Orthodox you have to be willing to “shift gears” or to “change the way you think” in order to become Orthodox. I must admit that we are often unclear when we speak that way. But, in part, that is because most of us cannot put into words what we mean. No, it is not a mystical concept, but rather that it has to do with the fact that the explanation can get a little technical.
It has to do with an old concept called “worldview.” I suspect that by now many of you are saying, “Oh, no, not another person talking about worldview.” But, this is one of the few times in which it is totally legitimate to invoke “worldview.” What do I mean by that? Frankly, both the terms “worldview” and “paradigm shift” became the catch phrases to explain anything and everything. So, every time someone had a difference with someone else, they simply invoked “worldview” rather than simply trying to logically resolve their differences. Throw in a little post-modernist patter, and one could simply ignore any dissonance from the other person.
But, in the case of conversion to Orthodoxy, there really is a difference. Look at your European/Middle East/Russian history. The East and the West sides of Christianity separated over a thousand years ago. The West had begun to change 600 years before the formal split. Rome fell in the 400’s. The Roman Empire was but old history in the West by the late 700’s. History was oriented towards Peppin, Charlemagne, and the beginning of nation states. In the East, nation states never developed until rather late. Meanwhile, in the East, the 700’s saw the Muslim advance that took over all of North Africa, the Middle East, heading out towards India, and up towards Europe in a horned advance, both through Spain and up through Constantinople. Spain fell (except the northwest corner) and the Muslims were turned back in France, beginning 700 years of war to drive them out of Spain. In the East, the Empire was under attack until it finally fell in the 1400’s, but it actually continued to exist until the 1400’s. That is 1800 years of Imperial history in the East by the 1400’s.
Even more important, philosophically there is also a difference in the way the East and the West think. The West, descendants of the Roman Empire, is oriented towards the law. One catches that all the time in the arguments over the atonement. With the law orientation of the West, the whole point is about doing what is legal. For the West, the canons are the law of the Church. But, in the East, canon is one of two words, and it is closer to “principles” than it is to “law.” The East is oriented much less towards the law and much more towards principles of life. Again, one catches this in many of the current political arguments over the “rule of law.” That is a concept that is more Western than Eastern. The East talks about “economia,” the concept that people’s needs need to be considered in apposition to the law.
But, more than that, there is a reason why it is called the Middle East and the “East.” The Eastern part of the empire was always more mystical. The places you catch that in the West are in Spain, which was under Muslim rule for several hundred years, and in Celtic areas. Though many of the Early Church Fathers in the East can write in very detailed philosophical and logical fashion, they do not dwell in logic but their “life” is found in mysticism. It is mysticism that fuel the East. Logical and philosophical argumentation simply helps them to set boundaries against heresy.
Finally, one cannot change worldviews simply by intellectual study. Intellectual study is the solution of the Enlightenment. But, talk to any anthropologist or any missiologist. It takes years to begin to be able to fully understand a different worldview than the one in which you were raised. For some people, it is fully impossible. And, one has to live in the culture in order to change one’s worldview.
So, here is the odd part. One can only become Orthodox by way of an initial decision reached by Western means of analysis. But, to fully become Orthodox, one must learn how to synthesize one’s background with the Eastern worldview found in Orthodoxy. Anything short of that will lead to a truncated Orthodoxy.