What Father Seraphim Rose’s “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” tells us about the Modern World
Have you noticed that religion is practically absent from science fiction? Father Seraphim Rose sure has. In his book Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, a collection of essays from three different authors, this hieromonk of the Russian Orthodox church takes a stab at the rising heresies of the mid-20th century — heresies that have since become so integral to our society that many of us are living under their spell without even knowing. In fact, the spiritual landscape of late modernity reminds one of another defender of Christianity: G. K. Chesterton, who famously said that, “when a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” Because from Tarot readings to Zodiac signs, and from neo-Shamanism and the so-called ‘Psychedelics Renaissance’, it seems that, as of late, witchcraft has once again become a respectable profession.
Seen from an Orthodox perspective, Seraphim Rose’s book sets some much-needed limits to the ‘everything goes’ spiritual culture of the modern West. Because if God is to be understood as the Trinity of ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost’ — then, any religion, and from Islam to Zen, that doesn’t accept the coming of Christ as the True Incarnation is simply not worshiping the same God. But even for the non-believers, the book is refreshing in its directness and honesty. Because at no point do the authors behind these collected essays deny the effectiveness of the occult. In one of these episodes, the narrator, then a captain of a ship sailing to Ceylon — modern-day Sri Lanka — relates an adventure where he and his crew were introduced, with much enthusiasm, to a ‘fakir’ living in a small wooden hut at the edge of the lush jungle that enveiled the island. To his amazement, the fakir affected the entire group with a transformation of consciousness akin to a psychedelic trip, only to be interrupted when the captain — who would later become a Christian monk — began to pray to God for salvation. The story ends with the narrator walking away from the hut together with his group, turning at the last moment to look at the old man whose magic was interrupted by his prayer, only to see the venomous hate in the fakir’s wild pagan gaze.
But perhaps the most interesting chapter of the book, authored by Seraphim Rose himself, relates not to ancient, but modern witchcraft, and to the rising phenomenon of UFO encounters, followed by a growing body of science fiction novels that expand on them in the realm of literature. What is surprising, however, is that contrary to the myriad of fans, Seraphim Rose finds in this new genre—nothing really new, and with a clear eye, he uncovers its one great theme: the future evolution of Mankind into a higher form of existence through the use of advanced technology. But for all their futurism, the powers that are bestowed upon Man in these novels through science “correspond quite remarkably to the everyday reality of occult and overtly demonic experience throughout the ages”; the illusions of virtual reality, the power of flight, telepathy. In certain of these stories, a superior race of aliens visits the earth to help its residents transition to a New Age of Enlightenment, as in a dark echo of what in the Christian Church has been prophesied for millennia. And while God is never mentioned by name, the fantastic promises of science and technology as portrayed in these stories are nothing if not a reference to His absence. In short, “men have abandoned Christianity and look for ‘saviors’ from outer space.”
Just like in the story of the fakir, the UFO phenomena are not rejected as fantasy but given their merit as legitimate experiences of the individuals reporting them. If anything, this chapter provides a comprehensive list of historical sightings along with the semi-scientific literature that catalogs them in six different groups, ranging from ‘lights in the sky’ to ‘close encounters’ of the 1rst, 2nd, and 3rd. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a component of ‘altered states of consciousness’ was later added to these encounters, narrowing the gap between ‘sightings’ and the occult even further. And so it seems to the author that from the ‘flying saucers’ of the 1950s through to the more ‘psychedelic’ variety of later decades, the experiences that are reported match suspiciously with the ‘spirit of their times’. Taking these considerations seriously — the author concludes — encounters of ‘the third type’ are nothing-if-not encounters with demonic beings, while the reason they appear in spacecrafts instead of horseback is precisely because they fit so well with the narrative of modernity: the narrative of salvation through technological progress. The reason why science-fiction authors place no God in their universe is because there is already one there, implicitly: the god of modernity, of Progress, and through material rather than spiritual means.
It has been prophesied that during the end of days there shall be many prophets of the Lord God as also those who serve Satan. And that during the last of these days those who serve God will recede in hiding and perform no miracles. Hence it’s been interpreted by way of this book that all those new ‘miracles’, from spontaneous visions to UFO landings are nothing but signs of those last days. Whether one takes these signs for what the author suggests, is a deeply personal matter. But it’s worth noting that if one truly believes in the objective reality of the experiences mentioned above, one cannot naïvly assume they come from forces that are always benevolent. Ironically, in the midst of the COVID crisis — a crisis of misinformation at least as much as one of medical emergency — many are those who believe in a ‘global awakening’, expedited, so they claim, by exactly the type of experiences that Seraphim Rose considered demonic in his writings. It’s also ironic how it’s exactly those who claim to have surpassed their ‘ego-consciousness’ who also feel they can dismiss two thousand years of Christian teachings in the name of knowledge received through a single acid trip. In a world that is thirsting for ‘signs’, we who consider ourselves to be spiritual, must become more vigilant to the fact that — having mostly dismissed Christianity — we may have lost the ability to discern the forces that lie behind them.