Friday, April 4, 2008

The Orthodox Study Bible's Audio Equivalent

First read the Ochlophobist's post about Ancient Faith Radio, then read Gabriel Sanchez's (of Going Along fame) first comment, which I take the liberty of reproducing here:
There’s a great failure at the center of Orthodox “outreach ministry” and AFR is but one example. Yet, in saying this, I confess to listening to AFR from time to time and I certainly find some of their podcasts to be very worthwhile. Between the emotive reading of basic prayers or Scripture, various series dedicated to pop theology, and the aesthetic tone deafness of the music selection, there’s a great deal to be desired. That is primarily operated by an individual who worked for Moody Radio is telling. The aesthetic is, by and large, the same and while I will be the first to prefer substance over form, I will also be the first to point out that form oftentimes dictates just how much substance will be delivered. If Evangelical Protestant radio is the model, i.e., if it supplies the form, then what is the likelihood that the substance of Orthodoxy will come through clearly, coherently, or, for that matter, fully? This is no less true of other “outreach” efforts, whether it be certain tracts published by Conciliar Press, Fr. Peter Gilquist’s various writings and sermons, or even individual Orthodox parishes which take American Protestantism as its primary point of departure for presenting a so-called “American” or “Western” Orthodoxy. Perhaps the intention is quite noble, but the final result can be quite vexing.

With that said, I will also admit that I have held back much public comment on ventures like AFR or the so-called Orthodox Study Bible for two distinct reasons. First, I know a number of the actors involved and, beyond that, a number of people who adhere strongly to both. Second—and maybe more importantly—I am tired of the false dichotomy between individuals who embrace an “American Orthodoxy” cut from Protestant cloth and those who adhere to an “ethnicized Orthodoxy” which retains as much “old world” feel as practicable. Both trends have serious flaws, but there is a false either/or which runs through the minds of many. I have seen people make meaningful critiques of the OSB or even some of the pop theology that comes from “outreach ministries” be castigated as “fringe,” or “insular,” or too bound up with the “trappings” of Orthodoxy rather than embracing its “true spirit.” Those are convenient dismissals, especially given the increased prejudice of converts within a certain jurisdiction that “ethnic” means “bad” and that if one’s Orthodoxy isn’t wholly “Americanized,” then it is nothing but the mere remnant of a dying ghetto. All of that makes for fine conversation fodder during coffee hour, but its distance from the far more complicated (and, oftentimes, depressing) truth of what pathological thinking has done to the Orthodox Church since it was established in the United States.

As a final comment, let me also say that the backdoor (or, nowadays, frontdoor) importation of Protestant models, trends, aesthetics, apologetics, etc. into American Orthodoxy will have long-term, detrimental, consequences for the Church. There seems to be a lack of awareness that importing “Americanism” (in its religious sense) is little distinct from importing “Protestantism” (in its Evangelical sense) and, from there, little distinct from embracing secularism (in its totalizing sense). Exacerbating this problem is the fact that many of its “movers and shakers” also appear to be clouded by no small amount of jingoism and that their socio-politico Weltanschauung is only a generation removed from the John Birch Society.
Huzzah! Now if someone could just find a way of doing Orthodox podcasting right.

UPDATE: The Orthodox Study Bible's YouTube Equivalent:
Behold and Tremble.
(Yes, I admit this is ever so slightly facetious, but I really couldn't help myself.)


Anonymous said...

Your negativity is just too rampant. There have been many excellent programs that I have downloaded from AFR. You can't expect programs that only appeal to the Orthodox with advanced degrees in Divinity. With regards to the OSB, most Orthodox have never even read the Bible. From this perspective, the OSB is CERTAINLY 50 times better than a protestant bible with no notes at all!!!!

There is too much intellectual posturing that passes for Orthodoxy, and this turns off many lay people that have to lead normal lives.

John Martin said...

I'm not sure what is meant by "intellectual posturing", but if this is what your "intellectual posturing" is, Father, I can't wait to read some of your substantive remarks!

As for Ancient Faith Radio, some of the music on it is very good, but the style of the spoken-word stuff is just too Orthodox-lite for me. One does not need a Graduate degree in Divinity to understand this. True, if it weren't for AFR I might not have become Orthodox, but my liking for AFR certainly does not make me hyper-sensitive to intelligent criticism of it.

Simka said...

I think that most American Orthodox - both cradle and convert - suffer from the delusion that Orthodoxy, in this historically unprecedented, totally new 21st century American circumstance, must somehow resemble preformulated ideas about what each member believes the Church should look like. Since there is no all-powerful Tsar, or Ethnarch, or Emperor, to whom we must defer when our conflicting images of what the Church should be reaches a feverish pitch, we experience that awkward sensation that all human beings suffer when we are forced to come to terms with the totally unexpected. Our experience of Ancient Faith Radio is a case in point. The form and format of ARF obviously exhibits little awareness of the perennial aesthetic of transcendent beauty that has characterized the Orthodox Churh in all of Her cultural manifestations up Her sojourn in 20th century America. Yet, the content of ARF proves that there is something happening in American Orthodoxy today which is surprising, beautiful, and even beatific. Sure, there are choirs and choral groups out there that seem to idolize slick, pop vocals more than the weighty, ancient strains which we know to be the best transducers of heavenly grace. But, on the other hand, I often feel blessed when I really attend to the musical content of ARF and realize how many choirs and vocal groups out there doing tremendous musical work in all styles, and in all traditions (Arabic, Greek, Russian, Serbian - you name it). Only 20th America, through a high-tech venue like AFR could have possibly made this blessing available twenty four hours a day to anyone with high speed internet. So, I suppose it's mixed blessing. On the one hand, most of us can sense that there is something plastic, inauthentic, and shallow in the way that our ancient Orhtodox faith is often reconfigured for the (post-)modern world. And yet, since our wealthy, pluralistic society makes so much (if not all) of the features of past cultures immediately available to those with the patience and perpicacity to perceive them, I gratefully say (with the help of T.S.Eliot): "These fragments I have shored against my ruin."

Iyov said...

One day: "podcasts . . . very much worth the listen."

Another day: "just find a way of doing Orthodox podcasting right."

The hobgoblin of little minds?

Felix Culpa said...


A guide for the perplexed: the first comment was made regarding a podcast I'd never heard (and still haven't heard), but had been recommended by people in the know. The second comment was meant as encouragement for a certain someone with the means to set up decent podcasting. I myself don't listen to podcasts: reading people's ideas is taxing enough to my charity; listening to them express those ideas exceeds it.