The Orthodox Church is one of the largest religious groups in the world. Yet, it remains an enigma in the West, especially among those who mistake it either for a Greek version of Roman Catholicism or for an exotic mixture of Christianity and eastern religion. Many, however, are coming to recognize the Orthodox Church for what it is: a worldwide community of Christian disciples that has been faithful to the apostolic command, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or by our epistle (2 Thess 2.15). Consequently, growing numbers of people are finding their true home in the Church that has continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2.42).
Among these converts are dozens of contemporary philosophers. Some are accomplished, world-renowned, senior scholars. Others are junior scholars in the earliest stages of their careers. As a group, they belong neither to any particular philosophical school nor to any particular Orthodox jurisdiction. What they have in common is a desire to enter deeply into an authentic and loving communion with the Living God, with God s people, and ultimately with all of God s creation.
Turning East is a collection of autobiographical essays in which sixteen of these philosophers describe their personal journeys to the Orthodox Church, explain their reasons for becoming Orthodox Christians, and offer a sense of how their conversions have changed their lives.
A nice collection of essays and reflections. Wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but I got something out of most of them. Many of these authors operate in a continental style that I don’t really know how to approach. Words like “Reason” and “Truth” get capitalized in ways I don’t understand. I think I agree that there is a big gap between most of these authors and me, but I’m not sure I appreciate their complaints about “Western Rationality” and whatnot.
Turning East is a collection of "conversion stories" by 16 philosophers who entered the Orthodox Church. With the exception of three (one of whom teaches at an American university), all are from the United States. One notices that to some degree they come from a shared community, as not only does the bioethicist H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. contribute his conversion story here, but several other contributors mention coming to Orthodoxy after meeting Engelhardt.
These stories are fairly varied. With a few converts, it feels like they just happen to be philosophers as a day job, but they don't refer much to philosophy in their conversion stories. Some chapters here seem indistinguishable from earlier conversion story collections like Coming Home, instead of a specifically philosophical enterprise. Conversely, other contributors assume the reader has a firm grounding in the field and cite the literature heavily in making their case.
Strikingly, some contributors hold views that are the very opposite of others’. Richard Swinburne, for example, believes that natural theology is a productive enterprise and a way for Christians to hold their ground in secular academia. Other contributors, however, claim that reason alone cannot guide one to the truth, and any attempt at arguing for ethical principles that is not grounded in an experience of Christ means compromising one's faith and taking on the values of the secular world.
That said, the book does feel very shackled in its choice of mainly Americans who refer to no philosophers later than Heidegger. There is absolutely no attempt here to grapple with e.g. the French structuralists or post-structuralists, except for the final contribution by Jeffrey Bishop that cites Foucault. The inclusion of, say, a few European converts in lieu of the most lightweight chapters here would have brought a fuller picture of the confrontation between Orthodoxy and philosophical schools today.
While the Orthodox Church is a single church, the history of Eastern European and Levantine immigration to the United States and Western Europe has led to a large amount of overlapping jurisdictions. Convert stories often refer to entering one jurisdiction rather than another, and the non-Orthodox reader unfamiliar with church administration may be confused. I was pleasantly surprised by how the converts here do not mention their jurisdictions at all, presenting Orthodoxy as the united body it ultimately is.
This is a fascinating book. Each of the philosophers provides some rationale for being Orthodox, finding in Orthodoxy a way to resolve --- or at least come to grips with --- the antimonies that are all around us. While this is no formal apologetic for Orthodoxy, yet it is interesting to find Western intellectuals coming to terms with the limitations of materialism, rationalism, and the academic method. One common theme is that the Western model of philosophy is purely intellectual, whereas for the ancient philosophers it was about discovering the right way to live, and therefore a way of life. Another theme is that the western method of doing theology is really philosophizing about theology, as opposed to theology as a lived out faith.