Saturday, September 25, 2004

If Angels Could Vote?

A very interesting thread is going on on the Touchstone blog-site concerning this article from and now on the OCA Web-site, entitled "How Should Orthodox Christians Vote?" Since the author, Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff, teaches dogmatic theology at St. Vladmir's Seminary, I have no doubt of his level of erudition, but like James from Touchstone, I find myself frustrated with the article. Dr. Bouteneff gives no definitive answer to his own question, and seems to want to conclude at the end that a good Orthodox Christian really can't answer it either (at the same time saying that Orthodox should vote). Worse, one gets the idea that the inability to choose stems not so much from their differences as from an idea that being detached from the world prohibits us from getting too involved.

With (I hope) the requisite amount of respect due for Dr. Bouteneff, I think that this tendency amongst us doesn't serve us well. If we have concluded, as he has, that we should vote, it seems ludicrous to ignore generations of liberal heterodoxy in order to appear pious and non-judgmental.

Here is a response from Dr. Jonathon Chaves of The George Washington University:

My take would be this: This essay is yet another example of the false "angelism" that afflicts so many of our contemporary intellectuals: "you can't pin me down, I'm above the polarities of the moment." But there is no "above;" at this point in history, the ideas that activate conservatives, certainly the traditionalist conservatives, are grounded ultimately in the great Christian heritage; contemporary liberalism is equally grounded in the Enlightenment and its essentially anti-Christian conception of human nature. A believing Christian today will have a very tough time accommodating to the current liberal doctrines, and will find that to do so will eventually necessitate relinquishing one Christian teaching after another.

And all I can say is that I wish I'd said that.

In the next four years, we will try to establish a democracy in Iraq, and we may have to face down Muslim terrorism once and for all or fail once and for all. We will probably see replacements in our Supreme Court, and we will undoubtedly have to face a flurry of attacks to our Christian beliefs in courts, schools and government. Can we really afford to strike a pose of vacillating sanctimony by refusing to vote? Or choose a party of abortion, moral relativism and socialism because they're "not so different" from the other?


Blogger Matt said...

Well, all I can say about Dr. Peter C. Bouteneff is "Thank God he isn't a bishop or I might have to pay attention to him."

September 26, 2004 at 2:11 AM  
Blogger Grace said...

LOL. Yep, that's my thought too. I was really bummed out to see that his article made it onto a prominent position on the homepage without any possiblity of posting comments. Not to say that the blogosphere rules have to be in place *everywhere*, but to have that article on the page without any dissenting opinion makes it look like it is coming directly from the OCA.

September 26, 2004 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Ann said...

I realize I've commented on this on other blogs, and seem often to be in the minority, but I like Dr. Bouteneff's article. What he expresses is how I feel. And I don't just say this because I'm one of his students. However, as one of his students I can tell you that Dr. Bouteneff is a very thoughtful and humble man. His teaching style is often to lay the issues out and allow us to come to our own conclusions. He is very clear about not allowing us to drift into heresy however. There are certain things our faith requires us to believe - God exists in Trinity, Christ exists in 2 natures, etc. And Dr. Bouteneff is very clear and emphatic on these things (including abortion and other issues.) I am not sure how it is that so many people are upset by this article - and on both sides. "Liberals" don't like that he failed to condemn Bush's economic policies that make the rich richer. "Conservatives" don't like that he fails to condemn Kerry's pro-choice policies. It seems to me that there is alot of furor resulting from a fairly moderate piece.

September 27, 2004 at 6:57 AM  
Blogger Grace said...

Forgive me if I offended you by sounding as if I was maligning someone who you know to be upstanding -- that wasn't my intent. You'll have to just trust me that Dr. Boutenoff is in no need of a character reference. If it were possible to separate the opinions in the article that I'm at variance with and the person, whom I don't know, I would do it, if only to remove the appearance of disfavor. As I said in the post, the fact that he teaches at St. Vlad's is all I need to know about his level of education and experience in matters Orthodox.

If it sounded like I was picking on him at all, it was just because I see a similar tendency among other Orthodox to be hazy on the differences between one party and another, and I think that there is a need for clarity here. And lest I sound like too much of an upstart for differing with your professor, I'll only say that this seems to me to fall into the realm of things that each one must answer according to his or her own conscience.

I'll go into it in another post -- too long for a comment -- but my last paragraph of the post probably contains the nut of it.

September 27, 2004 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

I wrote (and wrote and wrote and wrote all night long)to the Dr. in response to his essay. You can read my response to his essay at my blog. I will also post his reponse to me if he sends one one.

September 27, 2004 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

I wrote (and wrote and wrote and wrote all night long)to the Dr. in response to his essay. You can read my response to his essay at my blog. I will also post his reponse to me if he sends one one.

September 27, 2004 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Grace said...

This is an absolutely fabulous response! I hope I have your permission to quote you on a future post about ths?

BTW, there was also a debate on the Orthodoxy Today blog-site. You can find that discussion at

I am really glad that this subject came up so that this debate can occur. I think there are people in different camps not talking to each other (which is understandable perhaps) and not knowing the other exists (which isn't).

September 27, 2004 at 12:35 PM  

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