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The West, Globalization, Extremism and Orthodox Christianity

There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them...
For a botched civilization...

Ezra Pound, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920)

Foreword: Globalization

Nowadays it is common to speak of ‘globalization’, the phenomenon of internationalization, condemned by some as evil, greeted by others as a panacea to all the world’s problems. Only a few years ago the same phenomenon was called ‘Americanization’, before that ‘Westernization’ and before that ‘Europeanization’.

Today, this phenomenon is given the name of ‘globalization’, because it is now reciprocal. Whereas once Western technology, products and ideas went outside the West, today Western-type technology, products and ideas are received back into ‘Western’ countries from the original recipient countries. For example, over the last twenty years China has ‘westernized’ itself and a huge proportion of Western consumer goods is now manufactured in China. But when did this process of a one-world civilization begin? When did ‘the West’ assume dominance over the rest of the world? When did the world start to be ‘westernized’?

The Roots of Globalization: ‘The Europeanization of Europe’ (1)

The peculiar fact that it was in Europe that the ‘breakthrough’ to the industrial economy took place, that it was Europe and the ‘neo-Europes’ which it strewed around the world that upset the equilibrium between the traditional civilizations and set about reducing the world to a single social and economic regime, has often been attributed to the ‘origins’ of European civilization both in classical antiquity and in the Christian religion. The beginning of ‘European supremacy’...begins here in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, with the birth of Europe itself...’

R.I. Moore, The First European Revolution, c. 970-1215, p.197-8

Although in the Middle Ages Western European technologies were often inferior to those of other civilizations, by the time of the Protestant Reformation in the early sixteenth century, Western Europe had become the dominant world civilization.

Thus, Western Europe speaks ethnocentrically of the ‘discovery’ in the fifteenth and later centuries of the ‘New World’, civilizations where other human beings had lived for thousands of years. People from them did not sail on voyages of exploration to ‘discover’ Western Europe, but Western Europeans went and discovered those civilizations for themselves. Moreover, ‘Westerners’ immediately set about enslaving, colonizing and ‘westernizing’ them, re-creating them in their own image. The development of this cultural arrogance began long before the Protestant Reformation and before Columbus sailed to the ‘West Indies’, in fact it dates back to the eleventh century.

Although the word ‘European’ first appeared in its Latin form in the eighth century, after the victory of Charles Martel over Muslim invaders at Tours (2), it was only in the eleventh century that Western Europe began to imagine itself to be an exclusive ‘Christendom’. As the secular historian R.I Moore has written: ‘Europe was born in the second millennium of the Common Era (sic), not the first’ (3). In fact, this ‘Christendom’ was not ‘Christendom’, but only ‘Westerndom’, or ‘Western Europeandom’. Until that time Western Europe had merely been part of a far greater Christianity, with its centre in Jerusalem. Even the Carolingian Empire of the early ninth century had only been a failed successor state to the Western Roman Empire. Until the eleventh century all were Christians everywhere, not only those in the West. What then happened in this revolution of the eleventh century, which was the real ‘Birth of the West?’ How did Europe itself become ‘Europeanized’?

As numerous secular and Church historians have pointed out, ‘Europeanization’, the revolution which created the new ‘Westerndom’, was based on uniformity and conformity, the old Orthodox practices of the West disappearing beneath the weight of revolutionary novelties, conformity. This conformity emanated from the new German popes in Rome after the middle of the eleventh century. For instance, contrasting the first millennium with the revolution of the eleventh century, the historian Robert Bartlett has written: ‘The world of the early Middle Ages was one of a diversity of rich local cultures and societies. The story of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries is of how that diversity was, in many ways, superseded by a uniformity’ (4). He summarized this revolution as follows: ‘From around 1050 Rome thus created a new institutional and cultural uniformity in the western Church’ (5)

The identity of this Westerndom was confirmed in 1054 when the ideological center of Western Europe in Rome, cut itself off from the roots of Christianity and the majority of Christians, in the Middle East, the Balkans and Eastern Europe. As the historian J. M. Roberts in his triumphalist ‘The Triumph of the West’ put it: ‘Until the eleventh century, this allowed much practical and local variety in western European religious practice...All this changed, though, with arise in the pretensions of the medieval papacy which gave a quite new intransigence to western Christianity and gave it a new uniformity and power’ (6). R.I Moore, the European expert on the development of persecution and intolerance in the West from the eleventh century on has written: ‘The papal reform of the eleventh century was precisely, in one of its most central aspects, a struggle to impose Roman authority over local tradition’ (7).

Western ideologues thus began the merger between Jerusalem, the source of the Faith and seat of the Resurrection, and the rationalizing philosophy of pagan Athens, especially that of Aristotle. This movement flowered in Western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Taking Muslim and Jewish masters in Spain and Catalonia as their sources for the transfer of pagan philosophy, the schoolmen replaced Christ the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, with Jesus, a mere Jewish teacher. The influence of Aristotle was fatal. As the historian Josep Fontana remarks: Aristotle advised Alexander (the Great) to treat the Greeks as friends and the barbarians ‘as if they were plants and animals’. Aristotle assigned women ‘a purely passive role in conception as incubators for the reproductive power of men (8). Thus, the moral superiority of Christianity was submerged beneath the old and cruel paganism of the past.

The essential nature of this new ‘rational’ West was in the struggle for outward change, for technical and material progress. This Western idea was contrasted to the Christian idea (and reality) of struggle for inward change, improvement, spiritual progress. Thus, the inward was turned outward. For example, in the eleventh century, the West had yet to discover the art of building large ships, the science of metallurgy, the discoveries of paper and gunpowder. The Chinese, on the other hand, had discovered all these devices up to a thousand years before. However, when the West did discover them, it did not make the same use of them as the Chinese; it used them for outward change, technical and material change, not for the development of the soul.

Thus, the West used such discoveries and inventions to develop a new sort of society, based on the desire to transform the world, in the image of Western man and his rationalistic philosophy. This was followed by the Western desire to impose these technologies on others; in other words, westernization began. In the same way, the Arabs, helped by the Jews, brought Indian numerals, pagan Greek philosophy, chemistry and algebra to the West. However, in each case, the West made a new use of these techniques, different to those who had first invented or discovered them.

A Critique of the West

When asked by a journalist in London what he thought of ‘Western civilization’, Mahatma Gandhi replied: ‘I think it a very good idea’.

The westernization of the Non-West began even before all of Western Europe had been ‘westernized’. As soon as the south of Italy and England had been claimed, but before conquering Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Scandinavia Eastern Europe and most of the Iberian Peninsula, as early as the end of the eleventh century, the new West launched the colonialist ‘Crusades’, its first (and failed) territorial conquests. Later, it would continue with the more ‘successful’ (successful only from a European viewpoint) discoveries of the ‘New Worlds’, the Americas, and later Australasia.

Once the West had made these discoveries, it began turning its attention to westernizing other civilizations. The first was Russia, with the appearance of the Western humanist ‘Judaizers’ of Novgorod in the fifteenth century, the Western entourage of Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century and finally the policies of Peter I in the late eighteenth century. Then there was the civilization of India, westernized from the late eighteenth century, Japan and China from the second half of the nineteenth century, then Turkey, Iraq and Iran, all from the first half of the twentieth century.

Each of these civilizations reacted in two different ways to Western influence. On the one hand, there were those who welcomed westernization, on the other hand, there were those who rejected it. Thus, in nineteenth century Russia, the educated classes divided into Westernizers and Slavophiles. Later, in Japan, they spoke of ‘taking Western science, but keeping Eastern morality’. At the turn of the twentieth century the Chinese produced the anti-Western Boxer revolt, followed by the anti-Western Communist Revolution, followed by the wholesale adoption of Western capitalism in the last two decades, which has now produced the Chinese commercial conquest of the West. The Ottoman Turks opposed the West until 1922, when under their westernizing leader, Ataturk, they accepted a secular (= Western) State. As for the Iranians, they westernized prodigiously until 1979, when an anti-Western reaction ensued. At the present time it is these extremist Muslim reactions which continue to make the headlines, from Baghdad to New York, Washington to Teheran, Gaza to London, Istanbul to East Africa, Nigeria to Indonesia, Afghanistan to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia to the Sudan.

True, there is much to admire in the technological civilization of the West. Nevertheless, we are obliged to have profound reservations about it. No civilization, which in the early twentieth century put forward as its models two Jewish heretics, Marx and Freud, can be a model for Christians. No civilization which turned two European civil wars into two World Wars can be a model for Christians. No civilization which in the mid-twentieth century led the world to the culture of the extermination camp and the Atomic Bomb can be a model for Christians. Speaking of 6 August 1945, the French naturalist and pacifist Theodore Monod (1902-2000), concluded thus: ‘The Christian era ended with Hiroshima’.

All ‘justification’ for Western cultural arrogance towards others ended, when it finally revealed that its Christianity was only a pretence, a sham. Thus, the Nazis adopted the symbols of a pre-Christian, ‘pre-Western’ nationalist pagan past. As for the Communists, they adopted the symbols of a post-Christian, ‘post-Western’ internationalist pagan future: Moscow the Third Rome became the Third International. The results of both Nazi Fascism and Soviet Communism were the same: pagan.

And the Western myth that it can control its own destiny ends with natural disasters, such as the tsunami of 2004 in Asia, the hurricane of 2005 in North America, and looming ecological catastrophe and global warming. Western civilization is clearly deeply flawed. Moreover, as we have shown above, its flaws do not date back just a few decades or generations or even centuries: they date back nigh on a thousand years, to its beginnings in the eleventh century, when it abandoned the Son of God, making Him into a mere Jewish teacher of Aristotle.

Extremist Views Of Westernization

When a Latin spokesman (at the Council of Florence) had invoked Aristotle, one of the Georgian envoys exclaimed in exasperation: ‘What about Aristotle, Aristotle? A fig for your fine Aristotle’.

J. Gill, The Council of Florence, Cambridge 1959, p.227

What then is the Orthodox attitude to the ‘West’? Among Orthodox people themselves, there can be found small groups with extremist, indeed sectarian, views on this question. These small groups can be defined as rejectionist and modernist.

a) The Rejectionists

Firstly, there are those who reject everything Western and maintain a sort of ghetto, which rejects all the modern world. Such groups are usually on the fringes of the Orthodox Churches and even outside them, for example, among Russian Old Believers in Alaska and Australia, or Greek Old Calendarists in Greece. They prefer to condemn censoriously everything ‘Western’, and yet, ironically, they use Western technology (print media, radio, websites) in order to communicate their ideologies. Their views are permeated by a censorious and ritualistic phariseeism and nationalism, a negative, sectarian and Donatist condemnation of the whole world, or else the spiritual insecurity and aggressive weakness of the neophyte ‘convert’ mentality.

b) The Modernists

At the other extreme, there are the far more vociferous modernists, who wish to reconcile Orthodoxy with Western humanism. Such intellectuals, with almost total control of the Orthodox media in the West, have been particularly prominent in the Russian Church. From exactly one hundred years ago, from 1905 on, various individuals of a Protestant, reformist, gnostic and even occultist and masonic type, have come to the fore. The first among them was the defrocked priest, George Gapon, who led revolutionary demonstrations in 1905. After 1917, a whole group of them fused together and became known as Renovationists. Their most prominent leader was Alexander Vvedensky, whose ideology was in part supported by the philosopher Fr Paul Florensky.

However, in the 1920s most such activists were exiled by the Soviet government, especially to Paris. They included intellectuals like Fr Sergius Bulgakov, George Fedotov, Nicholas Berdiaiev, Paul Evdokimov and various other philosophers. After the Second World War, other intellectuals, both in Paris and in New York, fell even more deeply into anti-Orthodox ecumenism, Uniatism and a now very old-fashioned ‘modernism’. These included the late Metropolitan Antony Bloom, Frs Alexander Schmemann, John Meyendorff, the Jesuit-educated filioquist Fr Boris Bobrinskoy, and laypeople, such as the modernists Dmitri Pospelovsky, John Chekan, Nikita Struve, Olivier Clement (beloved of Roman Catholics; ignored by Orthodox), Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (beloved by Protestants; ignored by Orthodox) and several other minor followers. Though now very elderly, some of them are still alive.

In recent years, this type of westernized Orthodoxy has resurfaced inside Russia. We think in particular of the tragic Fr Alexander Men. His syncretistic and gnostic works, published (and read almost only) by Roman Catholics, verge on the heretical, especially in their breathtakingly atheistic interpretations of the Holy Scriptures. Then there is the semi-Baptist, Fr George Kochetkov, with his extraordinary ‘Neo-Renovationist’ ‘pride’ (the words of Patriarch Alexis of Moscow, who at one point in the 1990s was obliged to suspend him). This little sect includes several clergyman, for instance Frs Vitaly Borovoi, Alexander Borisov and George Chistiakov, as well as laymen, such as S.S. Averintsev and Y. Krotov (9).

The main characteristics of this movement are the feeble and blind copying of Western humanism. This includes the liberal (left-wing) promoting of outdated ‘ecumenism’ (either deeply Protestant or else deeply Roman Catholic), intercommunion (practised by many of them), using the Roman Catholic (so-called ‘new’) calendar and Paschalia, ‘reforming’ (i.e. abbreviating and disfiguring) the Orthodox liturgy (just as the Roman Catholics and Anglicans disfigured theirs in the 1960s), moving to everyday Russian in liturgical usage, removing iconostases (this movement is in fact mere Church archaeology), celebrating the Proskomidia in the middle of the church, venerating Origen and other gnostic heretics, denying the existence of hell and the devil, eliminating the sacrament of confession, playing down the existence of sin, and promoting ‘deaconesses’ (another Protestant move).

Their rationalistic and intellectual movement is pro-‘Western’, pro-masonic, pro-Jewish, and therefore, anti-mystical, anti-monastic and anti-Patristic (except in the abstract, intellectual sense of Roman Catholic scholars). To genuine Orthodox in the West, their actions are quite extraordinarily old-fashioned. The Orthodox West long ago rejected such incredibly old-fashioned ‘modernism’.

Afterword: The Royal Way of Orthodox Christianity

The Church of God lives not on opinion, but on the experience of the saints, as in the beginning so in our days. The opinions of intellectual persons may be wonderfully clever and yet be false, whereas the experience of the saints is always true’.

St Nicholas of Ochrid at the First Lausanne Conference in 1927

Fortunately, these little groups of extremists, whether in Alaska, Australia, Greece and Siberia, or else in Paris, New York, Helsinki, Moscow and St Petersburg, are tiny. Most Orthodox take a balanced view.

This view affirms that Orthodox can use Western technology, as long as it does not compromise the integrity of our Faith. For example, as long ago as the seventeenth century, the great Russian Patriarch Nikon used glasses, the fruit of Western technology, but he never compromised the Orthodox Faith. Thus we keep the Tradition, but are able to use outward technology. We accept for practical, purposes outside Church, the division of the Holy Scriptures into chapters by Cardinal Hugo in the thirteenth century and the divisions into verses by the Paris typesetter, Robert Stephane, in the sixteenth century. These are purely Western, but very practical, divisions; they do not in any way alter our Orthodox understanding of the Scriptures. The conclusion is that we adopt what is practical in Western technology, rejecting Western materialism, immorality and irreligion.

As regards the Orthodox view of Western history and its tragedies (10), whether by Orthodox in Eastern Europe, Western Europe or anywhere in the world, this has been expressed most eloquently by a contemporary historian, Josep Fontana. In his view: the most important aim of the Eurocentic view of history ‘is surely to snatch their history away from great parts of European peoples themselves, concealing from them the fact that there are parts, other than those which have been canonized as official history. It hides from them also the fact that they can find a wealth of hopes and unrealized possibilities in those pasts, and that much of what has been presented to them as progress is only a mask to cover various forms of economic appropriation and social control’ (10).

In other words, it is also our Orthodox task to rescue and reclaim Western Orthodox history from the secular Western mythology of the second millennium, so restoring its Orthodox Christian meaning of the first millennium. This has been our continuing purpose over the last thirty years, for which, naturally, we have known only slander and persecution from the extremists. But such is the way of the world. ‘If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you’ (John 15,18).

Fr Andrew


1) See Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350, Robert Bartlett, Penguin 1993/4, Chapter 11, pp.269-291

2) The Triumph of the West, J.M. Roberts, Guild Publishing by arrangement with the BBC, 1985, p. 121

3) The First European Revolution c.970-1215, R.I. Moore, Blackwell, Oxford 2000, p. 1.

4) Bartlett, p. 311

5) Bartlett, p.250

6) Roberts, p.98

7) The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe 950-1250, R.I. Moore, Blackwell, Oxford, 1987 on (14 editions in all), p. 69.

8) The Distorted Past: A Reinterpretation of Europe, Josep Fontana, Blackwell, London 1995, pp. 5 and 11

9) For a full review of the situation in Russia, see Seti “Obnovlennogo Pravoslavia” (Networks of “Renovated Orthodoxy”), in Russian, Russkiy Vestnik, Moscow 1995

10) How much more appropriate to speak of the ‘Tragedy’ of the West than its Triumph’ (See Roberts’ title in Note 2 above)

11) Fontana, p. 159

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