Beware Scandalizing Unbelievers
by Patrick Henry Reardon
Real pagans, if they are also good and sane pagans, are obliged to agree on certain rules among themselves, an established set of common expectations, in order to make social life possible. They must set up minimum social standards of behavior, with a view to discouraging murder, adultery, fraud, and other conduct harmful to one another or the common good. In pursuit of this purpose, such pagans promulgate laws, establish forums of adjudication, and provide for sanctions against offenders. They exert this effort simply in order to survive. This cooperative effort is what philosophers call the Social Contract, which strives to preserve at least a manageable level of public decency and order, sufficient to make civic life possible, perhaps even enjoyable.
The goals of a decent, stable society are modest. Its standards are not necessarily demanding. It has in mind to form citizens, not saints. It does not command holiness. It does not require fast days and the maintenance of vigils. It imposes on no one the obligation to strive for sanctity, and, except during wartime and national disasters, it does not normally exact strenuous asceticism or heroic virtue from its citizens.
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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