Sunday, 9 December 2012

What is the point of creeds, dogmas, articles of faith etc?


I can remember - as an intellectual atheist - regarding creeds, dogmas, articles of faith and the like, as encapsulating exactly the kind of absurdity which demonstrated the wrong emphasis and irrelevance of Christianity.

This is, indeed, almost a cliche among those who are 'spiritual but not religious'.

Such people are not against Christianity; but only want from it the aesthetic side - the divine intoxication of music, robes, rituals - perhaps monasticism conceptualized in a guru-like way.


So why are creeds and the like - formal, explicit statements - things which Christians 'must believe'.

Why must Christians believe these things?


One answer is that:

The creeds describe the structure of reality 


Christians must acknowledge reality - because reality is truth.



Christians must not only acknowledge reality, but live by reality.

Knowing reality is one thing; but Christianity is the understanding that reality is about us specifically, as individuals - so the creeds give us the reality of the whole of creation, and our own place in it.

This is why the creeds (etc) have moral implications: morality is living in accordance with the nature of reality.


So it is the creeds which describe truth, and relate truth to virtue; subtract the credal elements from  Christianity and you are left with an almost wholly aesthetic religion - which is the 'Christianity' of many modern spiritual intellectuals (such as I used to be).

Aesthetic, non-credal 'Christianity' has one 'pleasant', or self-gratifying, attribute - which is that it makes no demands on the adherent. It is simply a resource for living - like the arts, therapies, entertainments. 

But - on the other hand - non-credal/ aesthetic 'Christianity' leaves the adherent isolated in his subjectivity; solipsistic; without conception of the structure of reality and without any relationship between his living experience and the objective universe.

Thus non-credal 'Christianity' leaves the fundamental problem of modernity untouched - I mean alienation; detached, lonely subjectivity without external meaning or purpose - all being arbitrary, labile. Nihilism.


So, intellectuals need utterly to reinterpret the meaning and function of explicit creeds, dogmas and other statements.

They are revelations of reality; not laws-which-we must-obey-or-else.

Of course creeds are also laws-which-we must-obey-or-else - but only because they describe the structure of reality and our place in it.

And if we do not understand or reject reality and our place in it; this will naturally have bad consequences - how could it be otherwise?

Hence the 'or else'.