The Mire of “East” and “West”

I have suggested that we refrain from using the term “Eastern” and “Western” in Christianity whenever possible. I offer this suggestion for two two main reasons: 1) “East” and “West” enable a cultural or traditional triumphalism, and 2) as terms they are crass and misleading. While the threat of triumphalism is the most dangerous to our souls and relationships, the misappropriation of the terms is important intellectually.

The only compelling reason to move from one (little t) tradition to another, is because it is necessary for one as they strive to be Christian. Triumphalism reduces Tradition to traditions, coerces us to make affiliations, and act within our group as if it were a political party or favorite sports team. Giuseppe Alberigo, a Roman Catholic, described triumphalism as an attitude “which wavers between steps so little [as] to resemble immobility and such great and definite targets [as] to change themselves into a utopia.” This description sadly describes the history of Orthodoxy in North America: remaining in its flawed traditionalistic ghetto while claiming that the world would be saved if only it would enter into their world.

The fact is that it is harder and more discomforting to love God and His Church, than to love tradition.

Yet my suggestion offers no real help unless it has the intellectual substance to replace “East” and “West” with more accurate distinctions. Despite the distinctions misuse, it is a distinction that is often necessary, especially when comparing the claims, beliefs, and actions of the Orthodox Church to the other ecumenical options.

I have started making a running of list of what people mean when they say “East” and “West” in an effort to navigate this terminological mire. Give me some feedback, what do you think people mean? How should we describe our differences?


One thought on “The Mire of “East” and “West”

  1. What people I have met have sometimes meant:

    East: mystical, Greek, nondogmatic, at home with images, ascetic, exotic, esoteric, eclectic (i.e., nonsystematic)
    West: dogmatic, scholastic, quasi-iconoclastic, intellectual, Latin, scientific, systematic

    Of course, many people I meet do not share these associations.

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