The Mystery of Lawlessness
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed…
II Thessalonians 2:7-8
I wrote that this site is intended, in the words of Fr. Seraphim (Rose), “to give one a perspective on those things which are happening in the world today which we come across in our daily experience, every one of which has a philosophical undercurrent… even in turning away from them and not exposing ourselves to temptation as much as possible, we have to understand why they are that way, why, what is happening.”
It has been my contention that what is fundamentally happening in the world today is modernity’s apostasy from Christianity and the gradual adoption of a new religion: the religion of Antichristianity.
The New Religion
Though many Christians are at least passingly familiar with the idea of a coming Antichrist, it is likely that very few have considered the necessary corollary: if there is an Antichrist, then there must also be an Antichristianity. The Scriptures are quite clear that the Antichrist will demand to be worshipped as God, and that already the devil is working to prepare the world to be willing to offer Antichrist this worship. St. Paul described this religious process as “the mystery of lawlessness [which] is already at work,” and the Antichrist himself as “that lawless one.”
This is precisely the defining characteristic of Antichristianity: lawlessness. And once this definitive feature is identified, it immediately becomes clear that this same feature is indeed also definitive of our entire modern age. Consider once again the opening paragraph of Sir James Stephen’s book Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, which I quoted several weeks ago:
The object of this work is to examine the doctrines which are rather hinted at than expressed by the phrase ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.’ This phrase has been the motto of more than one Republic. It is indeed something more than a motto. It is the creed of a religion, less definite than any one of the forms of Christianity, which are in part its rivals, in part its antagonists, and in part its associates, but not on that account the less powerful. It is, on the contrary, one of the most penetrating influences of the day. It shows itself now and then in definite forms, of which Positivism is the one best known to our generation, but its special manifestations give no adequate measure of its depth or width. It penetrates other creeds. It has often transformed Christianity into a system of optimism, which has in some cases retained and in others rejected Christian phraseology. It deeply influences politics and legislation. It has its solemn festivals, its sober adherents, its enthusiasts, its Anabaptists and Antinomians. The Religion of Humanity is perhaps as good a name as could be found for it, if the expression is used in a wider sense than the narrow and technical one associated with it by Comte. It is one of the commonest beliefs of the day that the human race collectively has before it splendid destinies of various kinds, and that the road to them is to be found in the removal of all restraints on human conduct, in the recognition of a substantial equality between all human creatures, and in fraternity or general love. These doctrines are in very many cases held as a religious faith. They are regarded not merely as truths, but as truths for which those who believe in them are ready to do battle, and for the establishment of which they are prepared to sacrifice all merely personal ends.
We see all around us the “removal of all restraints on human conduct,” which we are promised will shortly bring about “splendid destinies of various kinds.” Meanwhile, the suicide rate keeps going up, and drug overdose is now the leading cause of death in Americans under 50. The “splendid destinies” appear to be yet just around the corner. But apparently that only means that we should keep removing more restraints.
The Enemies of Liberty
How did this spirit of lawlessness enter into us? Quite simply, by calling itself “freedom.” James Wilson, one of America’s Founding Fathers, warned us of this over two centuries ago:
The enemies of liberty are artful and insidious. A counterfeit steals her dress, imitates her manner, forges her signature, assumes her name. But the real name of the deceiver is Licentiousness. Such is her effrontery, that she will charge liberty to her face with imposture; and she will, with shameless front, insist that herself alone is the genuine character, and that herself alone is entitled to the respect, which the genuine character deserves. With the giddy and undiscerning, on whom a deeper impression is made by dauntless impudence than by modest merit, her pretensions are often successful. She receives the honors of liberty, and liberty herself is treated as a traitor and an usurper.
And we, the “giddy and undiscerning,” have fallen headlong into the devil’s trap. True freedom, the freedom from the passions, is now indeed “treated as a traitor and an usurper.” Anyone who so much as mentions the existence of such freedom is now immediately branded a bigot. They have sometimes lost their jobs, and could soon face the penalty of law for such “crimes.”
As Fr. Seraphim (Rose) often said, “it is later than you think.” Already “he who restrains” has been taken out of the way. The Holy Fathers understood this verse to refer to the Roman empire, and with the murder of Tsar-martyr Nicholas of Russia, the last Christian emperor of the Third Rome, the prophecy has been fulfilled. And indeed, since 1917-18 the world has been inundated by an absolutely unprecedented wave of lawlessness and apostasy, which has been universally hailed as the triumph of progress and the victory of love. Every passing day brings us closer to the time when “that lawless one will be revealed.”
We need to understand Antichristianity for two reasons. The first reason is so that we can understand why so many are abandoning Christianity, and what it is that they are abandoning it for: not for mere unbelief, but rather for a new and more attractive religion. And we absolutely have to understand what it is that draws people to this new religion: what in it is authentically true and good and beautiful — marred and distorted by the lies of the devil though it us. Only then will we be able to speak to them in a way that they will be able to hear and understand. Only then will we be able to offer them authentic spiritual vision, rather than a mere lifeless collection of “thou shalt nots.” Only then will we be able to reveal to them the true object of the deepest desire of their hearts: theosis, deification, mystical union with the true Christ of Orthodox Christianity and with all the saints who have overcome this vain and transitory world.
But the second reason we must understand Antichristianity is so that we can understand ourselves. Because all of us who have grown up in the modern world, whether we realize it or not, have been deeply influenced by the doctrines and precepts of this new religion. The Antichrist seeks to deceive, if possible, even the very elect. And we have already been far more deceived than we know. Already there are many good and well-intentioned people who honestly believe that this new religion is itself the “real” Christianity. And even though we may fight politically to defend the Christian faith, all too often we allow our own faith to wither away unnoticed in our hearts. We must take heed to the words of the great St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov):
Apostasy is permitted by God; do not be tempted to stop it with your feeble hand… Distance yourself, and preserve yourself from it; and that will be sufficient for you. Know the spirit of the times; study it, so that you may avoid its influence as much as possible.
It is for this purpose that this site exists. Because even though Antichristianity is a sophisticated and seductive imitation of Christianity, even though it appeals to the highest instincts of the human heart, it is nevertheless only a hollow imitation. It is cheap, and it is ugly. The only reason why so many have accepted such a feeble imitation is because they have never seen for themselves the incomparable beauty of the real thing. And for that, we are all very much to blame.
We need to remember Sion. We need to constantly remember the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem, which can only be discerned by a heart that has been made obedient to the Gospel commandments. We need to remind ourselves, over and over again, of the divine and utterly transcendent beauty – the beauty of a love which sacrifices everything – which can only be found in the Cross of Christ. It is only such beauty that — in the words of Dostoevsky — will truly be able to save the world.