“Logic and law are the weapons of religion, the weapons that protect the ego”

Love has no logic—with what logic does a saint pray for reptiles and demons? It is religion that has logic, armored with the panoply of the law. Logic and law are the weapons of religion, the weapons that protect the ego.

Religion: Individualistic metaphysical convictions. Individualistic morality. Individualistic efforts to propitiate the Divine. The logically correct convictions that foster certainty. Moral behavior, fortified by law to ensure esteem and power. Worship, overloaded with sentimentality, a trampoline of psychological comfort.

Love begins where such armorings of the ego end. When the Other is more important than our own survival. More important even than any justification, any transient or eternal reassurance. A readiness to accept even eternal damnation for the sake of the one you love, or those you love: It is the distinguishing mark of love, that is, of the Church. “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ, for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race” (Rom. 9:3).

In the Church’s gospel the loving person embodies the mode of life, and the religious person the mode of death. A revealing image of the difference: the contrast between the prostitute who anoints Christ’s feet with myrrh, and the religious bystander who complains at the waste of the myrrh (Matt. 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50). Love and death in a revealing contest.

The prostitute’s repentance—and undisguised act of love: She buys the precious myrrh without calculating the cost. She pours the myrrh lavishly, and sheds copious tears to wash Christ’s feet. She unties her hair, and lets it fall in cascades to dry them. Such intensity of love, and the religious bystander blind and uncomprehending: He measures the deed by the moral standard of usefulness. “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor” (Matt. 26:8-9). The prostitute loves lavishly and without calculation, without law or logic. The religious bystander weighs the logical intentionality of the deed and the degree of moral benefit.

The religious bystander—the person of the law—is not interested in the poor. What interests him is the practice of almsgiving. Accountable in terms of individual merit. The drawing down of profit from the Divine Remunerator. Perhaps he needs God only as a remunerator, only for his own individual righteousness. That is why the intensity of the prostitute’s love is incomprehensible to him, because it lies outside the logic of exchange.

The prostitute seeks nothing. She does not offer repentance in order to draw down righteousness. She does not expect anything in return. Nor does she hasten to make promises of conformity to the law. She only offers. That which she has, and that which she is. “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). Boldly, without fear of exposure or rejection. With the intensity of wholehearted self-denial. “For she loved much” (Luke 7:47).

The silence of the prostitute in the Gospel is the dissolution of law, the rubbishing of logic. It is love’s silence that speaks only with what it gives; without any concern for a responsive echo. Our soul, like any prostitute, cannot be in love so long as it is caught in the net of transitory, distracting satisfactions, the chatter of logic, the guarantee of remuneration provided by the law. Love is born when “suddenly” the futility of meretricious exchange becomes evident. The futility of merits, of our virtues, our good name, treasures laid up which prove incapable of destroying death. Love is born when “suddenly” the unique hope of life shines forth: “he who raises the dead.” You must pass through death to arrive at love.

Christos Yannaras

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25 Responses to “Logic and law are the weapons of religion, the weapons that protect the ego”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Does anyone, besides myself, hear the voice of Martin Luther in this passage. Yet as far as I know, Yannaras has not read Luther, and he certainly does not have kind words for any form of Protestantism.

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  2. Fariba says:

    I agree Father. It does remind me of Luther’s thesis in Freedom of a Christian. The Christian is a free person and subject to no one. The Christian is a servant, full of obedience, subject to all (I’m paraphrasing). When people are freed from thinking in terms of meritoriousness they are free to be disciples (to be servants without counting the cost).

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  3. 407kwac says:

    I’m not sure I’ve met any serious believer within any Christian tradition who has been the recipient at some point of God’s grace, who cannot recognize and love mercy when he sees it, and who does not also abhor the religion of the Pharisee when he sees it. I’ve never been able to see the love of God more clearly than in the Orthodox Liturgy, but I know it is not a forgone conclusion that all see this so clearly. One need only read Mother Maria (Skoptsova)’s critique of the five “types of religious lives” of the Orthodox she observed in her day to realize this.

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  4. Dallas Wolf says:

    Why try to find a religious box to put this in? Just enjoy kalia.

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  5. Tom says:

    “Love has no logic—with what logic does a saint pray for reptiles and demons?”

    First of all, I hope you’re enjoying your snowfall of the century Fr Aidan! Post a picture!

    Secondly, ouch (to Y about his statement there)! I guess there’s a conception of ‘logic’ that Y is working with which I don’t share. Not that his isn’t legit in certain contexts. But it was a certain “logic” (of love) that sent me in the direction of univ. reconciliation to begin with. I mean, there’s a rational way to ‘say’ and ‘describe’ what it is and why it is that love would pray for a reptile or demon. You see the logic in Maximus’s cosmology, i.e., the logic that prayers for all things is the logoi of all things. How’s Y defining “logic”?

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    • Jonathan says:

      I think the gist here is that love doesn’t “have” logic in the sense that it doesn’t care about logic. There are many possible construals of the term logic, in English or Greek. But I think the basic idea of logic is having ‘valid’ reasons for doing or stating something. But love. . . love doesn’t care. It just loves. Reasons are for them that think they need them. Or as Pascal said, Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. Yannaras isn’t arguing against argumentation. On the contrary, he’s making a certain kind of argument. And his argument is not that he, the writer, doesn’t give two figs about logic of any kind: it’s that love doesn’t care about it.

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  6. Tom says:

    “the logic that *prays* for all things.” 😀

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    • AR says:

      I’m with you, Tom. Logic is built into the very language Yannaris uses to castigate logic.

      Is this some kind of mystical puritanism? Or is it perhaps heavily veiled politics?

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  7. Mark Armitage says:

    “Does anyone, besides myself, hear the voice of Martin Luther in this passage?”

    I didn’t hear the voice of Luther, I did hear the voice of Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book on Therese of Lisieux.

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  8. brian says:

    More acquaintance with Yannaras’ ouevre would help navigate the sometimes idiosyncratic use of language. His argument is that Christianity is first and foremost an ontological change of being which he thinks needs to be embodied in a particular stance towards the other: ecclesial life should be a mode of relation, a loving “being with” that transcends the limitations and defense mechanisms of the rational ego. He states all of this explicitly in his work, Against Religion.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Brian, would you say there is room in Yannaras’ thought for what we might call intuition? My sense is that he very much depends on intuition, and that consequently he is not primarily an arguer in the usual sense. It’s kind of tricky what I mean. Above, Tom objected to the complaint against “logic.” I don’t think the problem here is figuring out what Y. means by logic. I think the problem is in understanding the kind of argument Yannaras is making. There is a great danger in confusing the thing we are talking about with the kinds of statement we can produce about that thing. Especially when that thing is love. When he says that love has nothing to do with logic, he’s not saying it’s not possible to say anything rational about love. He’s saying that love itself doesn’t operate in these terms. So when we operate in the mode of love, we too should not be worried about statement, but about being. He is trying to speak for love, rather than about it.

      I think we’ve lived for so long in such a contentious and pluralistic society that we can’t easily wrap our minds around Y’s “ecclesial mode of being.” We are so used to having to argue with each other, our entire educational structure is in fact built on the assumption that the main thing the intellect does is argue and that this is good for us, so we easily confuse description for what is described. We live, or at least think, in our arguments more than in what our arguments are supposed to be about. Another way of putting it might be to say that for Yannaras, reflection’s proper place is secondary, whereas for the typical modern, reflection (self-consciousness, mental representation, etc) is the base on which everything else is founded. For the modern, epistemology precedes ontology. Yannaras would have it the other way round.

      This is all probably boloney. I’m working on very little sleep here and am otherwise overwhelmed. But the basic point is that Yannaras is a sort of intuitional Romantic, and that his objection to certain kinds of argument or discourse is not that these are necessarily false, but that they obscure or displace what should be the primary reality or experience. I am, as usual, fascinated by implicit philosophy of language. That is where I think Yannaras can trip up a bit, because he can sometimes seem to think language can only be descriptive — which, if the case, is ironic considering what I think he’s actually trying to do with language here. I almost think he’s closer to being a poet than an academic philosopher.

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  9. brian says:

    Jonathan, really very astute and I think you are spot on in your assessment of Yannaras’ project, it’s intentions, strengths, and possible limitations. I am ambivalent about our typical mode of argument. Aquinas’ Summa may point to a dialogic engagement with reality, but in the modern era, the common sense for existence has been reduced to a neutral objectivity that awaits the projections of human will-to-power to achieve any sort of qualitative meaning. Of course, the inherent nihilism in such a conception is sensed even by those who ostensibly find it liberating. Plato’s sophists understand argument as basically the imposition of will and conversion as getting the other fella to agree with you; in the face of this, Socrates, the true philosopher, is always defenseless and vulnerable, for to accept those terms is tantamount to metaphysical despair. I think Yannaras works out of this elemental Greek repudiation of the sophist — conversion is first ontological!

    Btw, Yannaras’ Person and Eros is over four hundred pages of reasoned argument, but in the end I would agree with your sense that he is something of a Romantic intuitionist. Whatever his mode, I personally find it congenial.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Well, it’s a relief to hear I made some sense. Interesting that you use the phrase “dialogic engagement with reality.” This immediately brings to mind the work of Mikhail Bakhtin. Do you know his work by any chance?

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  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I asked earlier if anyone heard, with me, the voice of Luther hiding somewhere in Yannaras’s writings. Perhaps I was grasping, but it does seem to me that his nature/person polarity functions for Yannaras similarly to the law/gospel polarity for Luther. Both seek to free their hearers from the prison of religiosity. Both also are vigorous critics of scholasticism. But I’ve been away from Luther’s writings for two decades, so I offer it only as a suggestive possibility.

    Here’s perhaps a more likely possibility. Does anyone hear in his writings the voice of Kierkegaard. I thought of him today when I was typing up “The Privation of Love posting. But I have read very little Kierkegaard, and that was way back in seminary.

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    • Jonathan says:

      I constantly hear SK in Yannaras. But refracted through a completely different attitude to writing. The Dane was a dialogical writer, Yannaras is not.

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    • brian says:

      Father,

      Insofar as Protestant modes of thought often converge with modern individualism, Yannaras would strongly dissent. Yannaras’ polemical tone may seem to echo Luther, but his aims are very different despite some superficial similarities of rhetoric. He is not in any way anti-ecclesial, btw. True ecclesia is inseparable from community. I do sense some affinities with Kierkegaard’s existentialism, but Yannaras is too mediterranean, too Greek, too attached to civilized living to embrace the Dane’s solitary Northern Protestant ethos.

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      • Jonathan says:

        It’s true that SK complained that he was so misunderstood that people did not understand him even when he told them he was misunderstood. He led a lonely existence, from what we know, and toward the end a bitter one.

        But his infamous biography has too much colored the reception of his thought. At least in my reading — and I have wrestled for years with both the pseudonymous and autograph works — the northerner’s vision of life is not individualistic at all. This is part of what I mean when I say SK was among the most consummate of dialogic writers. I realize this is an immense topic. Suffice it to say for now that if you look at the kind of books he wrote, and not only the content of those books, you realize how relational a view of life SK had. He talked of his “lone reader,” but what an idea of the relationship to that reader he had! And Kierkegaard was not anti-ecclesial in a general way. He was only opposed to the ossified establishment churches of the Protestant countries of his day. I believe he had a strong, if somewhat sui generis, sense of community; and an even stronger sense for how the Gospel ought to overthrow the bourgeois notions of community that prevailed in his time and place.

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        • brian says:

          Jonathan,

          You might enjoy Christopher Ben Simpson’s The Truth is the Way. I am very fond of Kierkegaard, btw. The protagonist in the novel I shall probably never write is named Soren because of him.

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          • Jonathan says:

            The Simpson looks great. I’ll have to check it out.

            That’s an amazing coincidence about your protagonist’s name: I once sketched out an idea for a novel (that I know I will never write) with a female protagonist named Severine, the feminine of Soren (i.e. Severus).

            Been an interesting day around here. I now have swirling inchoate in my brain some weird conflux of Kierkegaard, Bakhtin and Yannaras. I’m convinced the Russian is a bridge between the Dane and the Greek… which sounds like I’m telling nationalistic Tarot. Zero chance this will cohere in the immediate future into something usable, but it sure is stimulating.

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