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Fr. Alexis Trader: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World

June 11, 2012

The following is the second in a series of four guest posts from Fr. Alexis Trader, a priestmonk and spiritual father of Karakallou Monastery on the Holy Mountain, and author of In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit.

Fr. Alexis has recently released a new book and it is about his new book that he now writes. (The first, third, and fourth posts have been/will be posted elsewhere, please see the posting schedule at the end of this post.)

Questions Beneath the Question: Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds

When I am asked the simplest of questions, “What is your book about?” trying to supply a simple answer that does justice to the material is a rather difficult task. Before I answer the question directly, which I will do in a later post, I think it would be more helpful to answer it somewhat indirectly by describing some of my concerns while writing it, which will in turn reveal some of the issues the work intends to address.

At its core, the book is really about being a Christian in this post-Christian world and the choices that this reality presents. In some ways, our situation is similar to that of believers during the first centuries of the Church. The two easiest options are to reject the culture entirely and try to survive in a self-enclosed cultural ghetto or to embrace the culture and merge with it. Both of those choices, however, have severe problems in terms of Christian outreach on the one hand and apostasy on the other. These are subjects I discuss at length in Chapter One, entitled “Egyptian Gold in a Christian Hand: Models for Relating Cognitive Therapy and Orthodox Pastoral Theology.” Looking at important figures in Church history, I note that there is yet another option, which I refer to as discerning openness. It can be seen in the works of Clement of Alexandria, Saint Basil the Great, and Saint Maximus the Confessor, as well as in other Fathers of the Church. So, Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy is about applying an approach of discerning openness to what may be the most important form of treatment for various psychological problems of our day.

Of course, I anticipate objections from audiences who feel very strongly about what inspires them in their lives. For example, some Orthodox Christians might point out that Orthodox Tradition in all its many manifestations often seems to be (and as a point of fact is) at odds with modern secularism as an ideology that leaves little room for the sacred in human life. They might have some very reasonable questions such as “Wouldn’t a therapy that grows out of such an ideology be dangerous for the believer? When dealing with the human soul is it theologically acceptable to apply the findings from a very different source, anthropologically speaking, to how a Christian can better think, feel, and live? Mightn’t the use of such a source have a harmful effect on the faith of the believer?” These questions are foremost in my mind and in each chapter I try to answer them on the basis of the Fathers’ teachings.

Therapists and counselors in the secular world will also come to this work with their own questions and reservations. Starting with Freud, psychotherapy has been very suspicious of religion and, at the very least, influenced by the Freudian understanding of religion as a misguided projection of the primitive subconscious. Psychologists rightly decry the fact that many who appeared to be mentally ill were stigmatized as witches, tortured, and burned at the stake in the West during the Dark Ages and even during the more broad-minded Renaissance. Thus, the non-religious psychologist reading this work might have questions such as “What insight could possibly be derived from figures who take demon possession seriously? Wouldn’t mixing pre-Enlightenment thought with results derived from the rigorous application of the scientific method be one step backwards if not two?” I have also tried to be mindful of these questions out of respect for the time, the work, and the genuine human compassion that are also at the foundation of the development of the cognitive therapeutic attempt to relieve human suffering.

And so, the work begins and continues as a kind of balancing act. Yet, the aim is not to avoid offending certain people, but to be fair to all parties in the hope of recognizing the unified wisdom of God both through revelation and the use of the God-given reason of the human mind. Of course, it’s a tall order to respond to the best of our culture even in its secularity in a way that is somewhat analogous to how the great Cappadocians responded to the best of ancient “secularism,” Plato and Aristotle. But I believe that it is an attempt that needs to be made and a conversation that should be had. Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds seeks to begin that conversation, which is really important for so many people who suffer from psychological and spiritual problems.

The book is available at Amazon. .

(For those unfamiliar with academic presses that produce a limited number of monographs for university libraries, the book will unfortunately seem rather expensive. I would encourage those who wish to read the book, but find it outside their budget, to approach their local college or public library about the possibility of purchasing it. Perhaps, groups of five could purchase it as a donation for their parish library or the pastor’s library. If the hard copies sell well, a less expensive paperback may be on the way).

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One Comment
  1. Might you have more content on how the fathers of the Church filtered through philosophical works to integrate what was good and throw out what was bad?

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