If the overabundance of information is a cause of distraction and separation from God, a question arises: to what extent must we cut ourselves off from this sensory overload? Below is a continuation of an Orthodox Life staff article that first appeared in the print edition of Orthodox Life, Vol. 67.1. The beginning of this article was republished here as “The Orthodox Christian in the Information Age”.
A question may arise, especially among students: does all this mean that secular, worldly knowledge is at best vain and useless, and at worst harmful and in conflict with Divine knowledge? Ivan Mikhailovich Andreyev of blessed memory, the professor of Orthodox Apologetic Theology at our Holy Trinity Seminary, gave a good answer to this quandary in his lecture on the relationship between religion and science. Professor Andreyev states:
True religion and true science, marking the limits of the sphere of their competence, can never have contradictions between them. If such contradiction occurs, it means that either religion or science has betrayed its principles and become pseudo-religion or a pseudo-science.
Faith and knowledge in their very essence are inseparable. It is impossible to surmise that a believing person did not think about the object of his faith and did not know what he believed in; it is impossible that a philosopher or a scholar, while investigating, did not believe, at least, in his own intellect.
Knowledge is as necessary and lawful for religion as faith is for science. Faith can be indispensable where knowledge is inadequate and helpless. Anything learned through faith should not enter into contradiction with knowledge…
The more deeply and thoroughly man studies the sciences and knows the limits of their competence, the more philosophical and theological culture man possesses. Likewise, the more deeply his religious faith is developed, the fewer become the imaginary contradictions between faith and knowledge and between religion and science…
Religion answers the highest and most intricate inquiries of man’s spirit, which science is absolutely helpless in answering. The more highly developed religion is, the more it nurtures a love for knowledge; not, of course, vain knowledge, but true knowledge, which is called spiritual wisdom…
St Basil the Great, who was a scholar, a philosopher and a theologian, said: “In philosophical teaching there was only a shadow of revealed truths, a pre-portrayal of Truth shown in the Holy Scripture, a reflection of the light of Christ’s truth, similar to the reflection of the sun in water.” Of the relationship between faith and knowledge, St Basil the Great also asserted: “In science, faith precedes knowledge.” This is profoundly true, since everything most fundamental and initial in scientific knowledge is impossible to prove and is accepted as a basic principle by an act of faith…
If the great Fathers of the Church regarded honest scientific and philosophic knowledge with such deep respect, then, in their turn, the greatest scientific scholars regarded religious faith with deep esteem and reverence. True knowledge is incompatible with pride. Humility is an indispensable condition in the possibility of perceiving Truth. Only a humble scholar, like a humble religious thinker, always remembering the words of the Saviour: Without Me you can do nothing (John 15:5), and I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), is capable of going in the correct way (method) toward perceiving Truth. For God resisteth the proud, but giveth Grace unto the humble (James 4:6).1Andreyev, I.M., Orthodox Apologetic Theology. St Herman Press (Platina, CA), 1995. pp. 72–74
The thoughts of Professor Andreyev give us hope that there is still knowledge worth pursuing out there in the world of scholarship. Yet with what caution must one proceed in a world where words such as Faith in God, humility, reverence, and even Truth have been banished from the lexicon of academe. Like a mushroom picker one must be extremely careful in choosing what to consume, lest one be poisoned and risk spiritual death.
This brings us to the next term which we must investigate in our examination of our Age of Information: Truth.
The simple dictionary definition of “Truth” is: “The substance of reality; actuality.”
In one of his lectures Professor Andreyev noted that every sensible, normal and critically thinking person, developing spiritually, sooner or later sets before himself a whole line of questions concerning what Truth is: What is the nature, meaning and aim of life, personally for each individual and for the universe as a whole? What is life? What is the origin of all existing things? Is there a God, Creator of all things, or does the world exist without a Creator? If there is a God, can we possibly have communion with Him? Does another world exist besides the visible one? What is matter? What is conscience? What is the Spirit? What is death? Does the soul exist, and does it possess immortality? What is good and evil? Can the absolute Truth be known? How must one live and what must one aspire to?
These are questions which, in one form or another, every normal, thinking human being must ask himself. For if there is no absolute Truth, then life has no meaning and no goal. Yet, these questions take time to form. They do not arise all at once. Time is needed for the process of their formation, contemplation, and resolution. Each individual needs to go through this process, otherwise he does not develop as a human being and is spiritually and psychologically stunted.
The question can validly be asked in our age of hyper-information, where from the youngest age individuals are perpetually subjected to Informational Sensory Overload: is there enough time, is there enough attention capacity left for these all important questions even to arise in a young person’s heart, let alone for them to be resolved? Perhaps this is why we have become a society of spiritual misfits and that one out of every five Americans are known to have mental problems of one degree or another.
Of course, before the Fall, when man lived in full communion with God his Creator, the question of God’s existence did not arise. It is only after the Fall, when sin began to geometrically multiply and the majority of the human race started to lose the concept of the One True God that man begin to ask himself: Is there a God, is there an absolute Truth, and can it be comprehended? Throughout the ages fallen man has dealt with the question of the existence of God and absolute Truth in a variety of flawed ways. Our century, which has been marked with the re-invention of all the heresies of old, has not shied away from embracing the flawed philosophical systems of the past as well.