“The wise conceal knowledge, but the mouth of the fool is close to confusion.” – Proverbs 10:14
I have a confession. I despise with an unbridled passion online Christian apologetics. It is a paradoxical sentiment given that so much of what I have written here qualifies as apologetics, at least in some sense. When I first started this blog, I did so in reaction to some Catholic pop-apologetics. At the time, I not only wanted to argue about my faith, I also wanted to lead people to what I thought was right. I had scarcely been Orthodox for two years. In a sense, my approach was all wrong and the results demonstrated it too. I very likely pushed a friend away from Orthodoxy because of my argumentative nature. Furthermore, I said many unchristian things in forums, such as accusing people of heresy or claiming myself to be better than others, because of that “need” to be right in an argument. In many ways, the words of Fr. Stephen Freeman describe me during those times and in a similar fashion so too the words of Frederica Mathewes-Green, detailing the fetishes that new converts often embrace. What motivated me was often pride, not love. And those, who do not know love, cannot know God (1 John 4:8). What I thought was reasonable was indeed false reason, nothing more than a series of verisimilitudes. Mature Orthodox don’t feel the need to argue their faith or at the very least don’t seek out argument.
As the years have passed, I’ve increasingly shied away from apologetics. My last clearly apologetic post dates from nearly three years ago, my sequel to my first post on divorce and remarriage. That post and its predecessor remain my most regularly read items today. Lots of good work and research went into those posts, but my motivations were frivolous and pathetic – always to aggrandize my own intellect, always seeking a victory in argument. Since then, most of my posts have pertained to my floating interests – philosophy, video games, and some tidbits of theology like free will and more ecumenical matters. On occasion, I’ve made a return to apologetics, against a Catholic and against a fellow Orthodox. I cannot say that I regret writing these, as flawed as they may or may not be, because I did not write them in the spirit of “showing that son of a bitch who’s right.” I only wrote them because I had my own thoughts and desired to just serve as a starting point for others to look into things themselves, to be a rough index or annotated bibliography one might say. My tone in them is acrid for sure, but if they don’t work, they don’t work. Big deal. Tertullian was skeptical of the results of these types of engagements, writing that they are often inconclusive, especially in the eyes of third-party observers (De praescriptione haereticorum 18-19).
All of these thoughts bring me to the subject at hand – Orthodox, inquirers, or whoever should never substitute apologetic blogs for real discussion, real learning, real living. We, by which I mean apologists including myself, are far too often a prideful and rent-seeking species. Ask yourself, what benefit is there to argument about the faith? Perhaps there is some clarity, but otherwise the benefits are quite small at best. As St. Augustine of Hippo once wrote, “The [holy] way is what will lead to God if we hold fast to it in life; and if we do not hold fast to it in life, we will not come to God” (De ordine PL 32:0990). In brief, holy living will reveal the truth. Intellectualizing the faith, reading the faith, and so forth cannot replace consultation with one’s priest, it cannot replace regular worship or the divine liturgy, it cannot replace prayer, and it certainly cannot replace treating your neighbor according to the image of God found within them – all forms of real discussion, real learning, real living. Throughout my years in Orthodox apologetics, not only have I fallen into this error numerous times, but I’ve seen my fellow apologists fall into it as well. It is to them I will now name, because I want people to listen to us less, to stop cheering us on in live streams, to stop treating us as rock stars in vapid Discord servers, to stop taking sides like fan girls in petty internet fights. We deserve none of that, because we are the worst.
Avoid Jay Dyer. Let me repeat that, have nothing to do with Jay Dyer. For all his reading and his supposed learning, Dyer is nothing more than a conspiracy theorist and huckster, dabbling in a wide net of subjects so as to gain access to as many honeypots as possible. He, along with other despicable types like Alex Jones, spins conspiracy theories about a globalist elite, conniving to ruin your life. He sows discord among people, encouraging them to distrust and disobey proper authorities, even in the midst of trying and desperate times. Does not the Apostle Peter warn against this behavior? He says:
The Lord knows how to deliver the godly from temptation, but on the day of judgement the unjust shall be tormented. And especially them who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government: audacious, self willed, they fear not to bring in sects, blaspheming.
So too does the Apostle Paul say the same:
Let every soul be subject to higher powers. For there is no power but from God and those that are ordained of God. Therefore, he that resists the magistrate resists the ordinance of God. And they that resist purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good and you shall have praise from the same.
Even our Lord says, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).
Audacity, self will – these are the symptoms of pride. St. Ambrose of Milan warns us against this sin saying, “The greatest sin in man is pride. Indeed thence flows the origin of our sin” (Expositio in Psalmum PL 15:1283A). God has not placed Dyer in governance, yet he seeks to emulate governance in the name of freedom, influencing others to think and behave like himself. There is no freedom in flaunting what God has established. True freedom is freedom from sin (Romans 6:22).
Next, avoid the Orthodox Apologetics War Room Facebook page. It is private, but from experience there is nothing there that resembles charity or love. People are regularly spurned, slandered, and banned without provocation – although the latter probably spares you trouble. It contains nothing but argument and the most vapid, masturbatory spirituality. It is not surprising that it is run by so-called “True Orthodox” whose entire existence is centered around their schism and neurotic obsession of being “more Orthodox than thou.”
And lastly, avoid Craig Truglia. Indeed, he was the catalyst more or less for this very post. Setting aside his personal squabbles with me (here and here), Truglia has over the past many months increasingly engaged in unchristian behaviors towards others. These behaviors include things such as accusing a priest of lying and heresy, addressing a priest in a haughty and sarcastic manner, slandering and undermining bishops of the Orthodox Church in both Russia and the United States, declaring the holy synods of the Orthodox Church to be corrupted by modernism and a series of other ills thereby blaspheming them, and so forth and so forth. While I have in the past publicly criticized church hierarchs, it is something I regret. It was not wise nor just. In any case, these deeds must be documented to drive home the fact that you should listen to us apologists less! I will try to be brief.
Here one can witness Truglia publicly accusing a priest of lying, when in fact the shoe is on the other foot. Furthermore, he addresses the father in the most irreverent of fashion, mocking him with links to Bon Jovi songs. How is any such behavior reasonable, let alone done out of charity? The answer is that it isn’t.
Next, Truglia has publicly criticized Bishop Pitirim of Zvenigorod of the Russian Orthodox Church for claiming that Covid-19 made him sick within the walls of his church. In his letter, Bishop Pitirim details the unspeakable tragedy that this plague has visited upon the Russian Orthodox Church, killing many clergy. Truglia criticizes the bishop because it substantiates a narrative that he dislikes (see image below) – that there are rational and pious reasons for limiting or closing churches in the midst of a global pandemic. He endorses skepticism of the bishop’s claims, asking how precisely does he know that it was within the walls of the church that Bishop Pitirim contracted the disease. With that level of skepticism, one could just as easily ask how Truglia knows that he isn’t living in the Matrix. Truglia doesn’t ask himself the latter question, because the precise reason for asking the former question is to puff up his sense of pride and entitlement, not a commitment to skepticism. The bishop wisely came out with his letter because he wanted to advise his flock to be more cautious and not to listen to wolves in sheep’s wandering the internet. As the prophet Solomon says, “Among the proud there are always contentions: but they that do all things with counsel, are ruled by wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).
Meanwhile, on his YouTube channel, Truglia has publicly criticized Archbishop Alexander of Dallas of the Orthodox Church in America for so-called childish behavior. In his letter, Archbishop Alexander warns his flock, in both his own words and that of one of his priests, against those who have criticized the episcopal and synodal decisions regarding Covid-19. For Truglia, the archbishop’s tone is all wrong, too mean, too childish. If Truglia had ever read an episcopal letter beforehand, he would know that the archbishop’s tone is in exact keeping with how bishops have talked for thousands of years. Look no further than the opening words of St. Leo of Rome in his famous tome! By comparison, the archbishop is far more tame.
Elsewhere, Truglia actively encourages Orthodox Christians to kiss the icons during this global pandemic, despite the fact that the holy synod of the OCA has explicitly forbidden this act. He even goes as far as to say that if death results, it could be a blessing in disguise. How convenient for him, to cloak his pride and arrogance in the garb of God’s will! Truglia risks blood on his own hands! Now Truglia himself is not a member of the OCA, but one must inquire, who is he to functionally preach to others on such matters without regard to jurisdiction? From whom does he gain this authorization? Nowhere. Even if his own bishop granted him authority (which I doubt), it does not give him the right to actively encourage Orthodox, especially outside his jurisdiction, to risk spiritual and physical death, thus tempting the Lord thy God (Matthew 4:7).
Finally, Truglia blasphemes against the Orthodox Church and its holy synods, stating that the reason that the hierarchs have not obliged to condemn those whom Truglia deems as heretics in the present-day is because there is a vast corruption and conspiracy of modernists within the church (here and here). He never substantiates such claims. Instead, he is content to condemn the church hierarchy and academic scholars as corrupt, despite the fact that he depends on their translations and their expertise to even read the sources that he uses as a basis of disagreement. This is a case of not only prideful anti-intellectualism, but of hypocrisy. In his quest to be right, Truglia has blasphemed.
To conclude – and there is more I could say, but this post is already long enough – stop reading us apologists so much! Listen to us less! Do not treat us as idols! We cannot lead you to a deeper spirituality! Listen to your priest and superiors, pray, fast, attend divine liturgy when you can, and treat your neighbor in accordance with the image of God within them. If you must read, then read books written by Orthodox clergy and theologians. If you must read us, treat us as no more than a casual curiosity or simple index – for we are laymen and the worst sort at that. For far too often, apologists are the great deceivers, of whom St. Gregory of Tours details in his own time (Libri decem historiarum Book 9, Chapter 6). When it comes to apologists, caveat fidelis – let the faithful one beware! And if you fear losing an argument about the faith on the internet or in person, don’t worry. For a few losses God’s love will compensate.