“Now, what do we mean by nominalism, and why is it important? There are many aspects of the nominalist position, but the main one is just the denial that this created world is an icon of a heavenly reality. Instead, nominalists hold this world’s form to be arbitrary, a product of sheer divine will.
“As Orthodox, we still comfortably assert that the world is an icon of heaven, or is meant to be. But in the West this union of the symbolic and the real became rather vexed. Now, we have even developed this destructive iconoclasm around gender, the human body, human sexuality, and so forth. Outside the Church, we have come to think that we can simply posit whatever reality we wish about these things.
“The nominalist and the realist positions must be reconciled. We must see that the reality of the world depends upon its being a symbol of heavenly realities. If creation is not a symbol of heaven, then its essence, its substance, would be of little importance. For example, if the world is just the arbitrary product of God’s will, then God could have made some other world, or not have given us gender, and so forth. And if the world’s form is arbitrary, then it is no longer ‘good,’ no longer beautiful and holy.”
…only a rich relational life – not an obsessively self-analytical one – will make us fully human. Furthermore, self-sacrifice is so important for our soul’s well-being that we can even say that we are meant to be priests, nothing more and nothing less. And finally, as persons and as a society we are meant to glorify God and to become beautiful.
Today in the Orthodox Church we remember The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.
“The knowledge of Good and Evil, no matter how systematically or thoroughly consumed, will by no means make us gods. Rather, modern ethics, modern psychotherapy, and modern political ideologies all tend to produce not superhumans but pitiable slaves to the rationalizations generated by our distorted human desires. In order to gain control over the world, we have been too willing to renounce essential aspects of our own freedom.”
― Timothy G. Patitsas, The Ethics of Beauty
Will I finish reading The Ethics of Beauty during Lent? Maybe not, but I will at least keep plugging away at it. It’s full of insights about the order of Creation, including the humans, of course — and is infused with much wisdom and hope.
More than two years ago I began to engage with Timothy Patitsas’s bookThe Ethics of Beauty. It’s an inconvenient book because of its unwieldiness, and I didn’t get very far into it until this summer, when I determined to read it on a regular basis, with its weight resting on my kitchen table and I hefting only a cup of tea.
Just in time for my trip earlier this month and the necessary sitting on airplanes, I discovered that the book is now on Kindle, Hallelujah! By the time I returned home I had made my way through 31% of its 729 pages, to page 224, in the middle of the chapter titled “Shame and Sacrifice.” I will start sharing my gleanings on that theme.
Father Stephen Freeman has written many times on his blog about shame, and until now I hadn’t read about it elsewhere. I particularly appreciated his explaining the toxic shame that cripples so many people in the modern world. In the last couple of years he’s written about healthy shame, too, as in the article “Can Shame Ever Be Healthy?” He credits the author John Bradshaw and his book Healing the Shame That Binds Us for clarifying the difference between the two, in an era when many people don’t want to acknowledge such a thing as the healthy version. But they are ignoring the science, according to Fr. Stephen:
“We are hard-wired for a response (one of the nine identified neuro-biological affects) that is accurately described as ‘shame.’ It is not a product of culture. It is universal, timeless, and biological. It can be compared to other effects such as the ‘surprise-startle’ effect, or the ‘distress-anguish’ effect, or the ‘interest-excitement’ effect. The ‘mechanism’ of the shame experience, whether toxic or healthy, is the same, differing only in its intensity and the issues that surround and embed themselves as complex, emotional triggers.”
Patitsas likewise sees the tendency of modern therapy to disbelieve in healthy shame, because:
“…it is so busy promoting self-regard and, ultimately, self-love, that it can’t possibly also teach us to look to the source of healthy shame outside ourselves. To replace the wrong kind of shame in us with the pure quality of shame, soul therapy must bring us face to face both with God and with other human beings who’ve seen what we’ve seen and yet have done better than us – that would be, in one person, Jesus Christ. Or, if you like, God and the saints…. Healthy shame is a fruit of deep organic processes; it is the glory upon the face of Moses when he descends from Mt. Sinai.”
It is interesting to put the insights of these two paragraphs together and begin to understand that to deal with our neurobiology and psyche, trying to create self-esteem without any reference to our Creator and Savior is a dead end, an unworthy goal. Yes, the inner man is essential, but the true self is only revealed by the Kingdom of God within, after “deep organic processes.”
To replace toxic or unhealthy shame with healthy shame, Patitsas continues,
“…we must also see Christ crucified, or else we will never overcome our false ideas about what is and isn’t shameful. Without seeing ‘the King of Glory’ hanging from the cross, a person will never be able to understand those times when accepting to be shamed by others is a necessary part of receiving God’s glory.”
Fr. Stephen points out a scriptural reference to shame that lines up with this, from Sirach 4:21:
“For there is a shame that leads to sin, and there is a shame that is glory and grace.”
May the Lord strengthen us in the latter direction!