A few days ago, I read that Hank Hanegraaff, apparently better known as the “Bible Answer Man”, had converted to Orthodoxy. Admittedly, I have no idea who Hank Hanegraaff is, but to me, coming out of a Slavic immigrant family of (nominal) Orthodox Christians and having spend much time in alt-right-ish circles, he doesn’t seem to be very representative for Western converts, to begin with. In my experience, it is insofar futile to talk theology with people contemplating conversion to Orthodox, because most people contemplating conversion to Orthodoxy don’t do so for theological reasons to begin with, but for sociocultural reasons. Sure, every cult and every false religion has a website with an untidy mountain of colored Bible verses, but meditating on these always seems to come after the conversion.
It’s like with “neoreactionary” Catholics who don’t defend Catholicism based on theological grounds, on what is true (these days, even the “reactionaries” are relativist modernists who don’t care about The Truth anymore…), but based on what they think is politically useful; they don’t try to convince you that Protestantism is wrong, they try to convince you, that the political implications of Catholicism are less “liberal” than the political implications of Protestantism, or that man needs the smells and bells of Catholicism. And if man needs something, we should throw away the Bible and just give it to him, right?
Christians however are called to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. French Catholic Charles Péguy once defined a “modernist” as someone who doesn’t believe what he believes. And the kind of people who LARP as Roman gladiators contemplating conversion to Orthodoxy fit that definition pretty well. They don’t have faith in God, they have faith in faith; they don’t believe in God, they believe in religion and its effects on a people’s birth rate. Ironically, that makes them exactly like the “modernists” they otherwise despise so much. The only difference is that some modernist who don’t care about God and the Bible use religion for a “liberal”, while other modernists who don’t care about God and the Bible use religion for a “reactionary” agenda. (Joseph Ratzinger, after having preached so much about truth and relativism, was once asked about what he makes of the fact that many studies come to the conclusion that people who pray regularly have less problems with high blood pressure and mental health issues. He replied that this might well be the case but that if you use prayer only as a kind of psychological trick or as a medical trick to deal with your blood pressure, it won’t work anymore. The same is true in regards to politics because having faith in religion is not the same as having faith in Christ.)
I like James White and I generally like to listen to his podcast, but I’m sceptical about the way he described Orthodoxy when he talked about Hank Hanegraaff’s conversion. Namely the way that “Eastern thinking” is allegedly so very different from “Western thinking” and so hard to pin down. In my experience, it is first of all a red flag when Western people use the term “Eastern thinking”, no matter if it’s Yoga pants females talking about Buddhism and the idea of objective truth as an intolerant and bigoted invention of white men, or if it’s Western men talking about “Eastern thinking” in Orthodoxy. (Hanegraaff actually converted in a Greek Orthodox church, by the way; and if having black hair and debt means that you stop being part of the Western world, Rome would be “Eastern” as well…)
“Mysticism” in “Eastern thinking” essentially boils down to the unwillingness and the inability to answer concrete questions with yes, yes and no, no. Furthermore the fact that, for political reasons, it is unnecessary to do so because the state keeps away people who ask uncomfortable questions, and you spend more time answering the questions from representatives of the state than questions from believers. Of course there are certain things we cannot know and comprehend, and things God hasn’t revealed to us. But this is neither an invitation to use esotericism to gain a kind of knowledge God doesn’t want us to have, nor an excuse to hide in the rhetorical fog of “Eastern” mysticism. Not contemplating on, say, the Trinity and what the Bible clearly teaches about the trinity, is not a sign of humble devotion but a sign of intellectual laziness and the unwillingness to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Concrete Orthodoxy is a political shell without a (Holy) ghost, and idealizing Eastern Europe and this “Slavic tradwife” nonsense is pretty much like idealizing the lives of Texan truckers and of biker gangs, like romanticizing poverty. (All the poorer immigrants who helped us with our house when I was a kid weren’t more traditional than my parents, they were simply more drunk.)
The real problem is that “conservative” Protestantism has become a synonym for American neoconservatism, and that Evangelical Protestants have thrown out the fathers and replaced Augustine with Benjamin Franklin, the Heidelberg Catechism with the US Constitution, male headship with “gender equality”, caring for Christ’s Church with caring for the nation-state of Israel and to our Lord saying that no one can come to the Father except through Him, they have added, “except if you have Jewish genes.” Since more and more young people now come to realize that the hopes they have placed in “Americanism” was misplaced, they feel like leaving Americanism behind must go hand in hand with leaving Protestantism and the Bible behind (Thomas Nelson has even published an “American Patriot’s Bible”, White Hall Press a “Patriot’s Edition” of the Geneva Bible, all putting the US Constitution and the like between the Law and the Prophets).
So, to sum up the whole matter, what I believe we can simply observe here is that one kind of unbiblical idolatry (worshipping Israel, Jews, feminism, the US constitution, capitalism) brings forth other kinds of unbiblical idolatry (worshipping Orthodox idols err “venerating” Orthodox “icons”). The tree of unbiblical idolatry always brings forth other kinds of unbiblical idolatry.