Congratulations on your unique and insightful August environment issue. My only concern is with the article by Frederick Turner. I found his “God is a fetus” natural techno-theology every bit as disturbing as some of your writers have found George Gilder’s microchip messianism. I was warned by a good friend once that if intellectual conservatism were to survive into the next century it would have to cross the line from philosophy into theology. He was not optimistic that it would bear much healthy resemblance to Judeo-Christianity. I fear that Mr. Turner is attempting to blaze the treacherous trail.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian I can agree with some of his criticisms of the Western Christian world view. The Orthodox are much more pre-modern in their perceptions. They have not tended to dig as wide a gulf between themselves and God, and between themselves and nature, as has the West since the Scholastic period. They also have not succumbed to the temptation to scrap the whole Christian world view altogether and attempt to replace it with an axiomatic neo-pagan alternative.

I allow that Mr. Turner is a much more careful thinker than the crystal carriers and channelers infesting our West Coast. But his views do not sound any less Utopian. I prefer my theology based on revelation and prayer: on a living God who has made Himself known, rather than on a philosophically malleable concept, regardless of the conservative, liberal, or environmentalist views of those shaping it.

        —Stephen T. Early
Bronx, NY

Mr. Turner Replies:

Though it may sound odd to say so, I feel a good deal of sympathy with Stephen Early’s objections. My own religious view inclines toward conservatism in the ritual, moral teaching, mystical meditative techniques, and fundamental storytelling that constitute the core of a religion. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a glorious example of the continued vitality of religious practice and experience.

However, religion can also have an element of intellectual play, which, like bold and shocking religious art, is often found when religion is expressed within the context of a high civilization. Consider Augustine, Abelard, Luther, Blake. Paul himself was a theological revolutionary, as was John the Evangelist, synthesizing Greek philosophy with Judeo-Christian religious experience. Western Renaissance Christianity, as we see it in Raphael and Milton for instance, richly combines pagan and Christian elements in its Christian humanism. Theology is one of the noblest theaters of the human imagination, and the attempts by church bureaucracies to assert authority over theological speculation only attest to the irrepressibility of this expression of the holy spirit.

Until the suppression of its intellectual institutions by the Turkish Empire, Eastern Christianity rejoiced in a remarkable tradition of philosophical speculation upon the nature of the divine; one of the hidden losses to the world was the failure of Russia to create a great Orthodox university. Perhaps one day there will be an Orthodox Aquinas who will synthesize the best of the current intellectual and scientific learning, as the Western Thomas did, with the religious tradition. We see in such writers as Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Pasternak, and, in Greece, Kazantzakis (all of whom were quite capable of saying theologically shocking things), a foretaste of such a synthesis.

Theological speculation is indeed no substitute for the personal experience of the divine. But it need not stand in the way of revelation and prayer either, any more than a lively speculative knowledge of human psychology, evolution, and neurophysiology need stand in the way of one’s personal loves, friendships, and commitments with human beings.