Sunday 23 June 2013

How to choose a denomination?


"OK" - somebody might say - "I am now a (Mere, non-denominational) Christian. What next? How to choose a denomination?"

If there is one you find wholly true and wholly trust, then there is no problem.

But what when you find the modern landscape of Christian churches to contain none to which you can whole-heartedly commit yourself?

You might find a specific church, a specific congregation or group, but almost certainly there will still be a requirement to commit to a denomination and that denomination may well have elements you honestly regard as false, overemphasized, gaps, or corruption.

Yet, if at all possible, you need to join and attend a church - at some level of frequency and activity.

Suggestion: Treat a denomination like a political party or a scientific theory or a friend or any worldly entity - don't expect perfection in all things (and don't behave as if such an entity exists).

But ask yourself, what is non-negotiable, and work from that.

Then consider your own motivation, what brought you to Christianity - the problem, the obsession, the need to escape some thing, or the yearning for some state...

That may be a clue as to which of the real denominations might provide the best focus and emphasis.

Then see what is available, what is accessible with what frequency - and develop your personal devotional life.


Note: These are intended as suggestions to move forwards a step or two, aimed at those feeling stuck in a position of being theoretically Christian - what then? This is not any kind of blueprint, recipe or formula.



MC said...

Based on your general appreciation of Mormons, can I assume that your hklaxness email address has something to do with the book "Paradise Reclaimed"?

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - No - but it is an interesting guess. I read Halldor K Laxness in 1999 in relation to visiting Iceland, starting with Atom Station, Independent People, Under the Glacier and The Fish Can Sing (my favourite).

Paradise Reclaimed was only read in 2002 - but didn't think much of it, nor of its portrayal of Mormons which seems now (knowing more about it) to be wildly wrong-headed/ distorted (Laxness was a Catholic convert, lapsed seminarian, then aggressive Communist atheist who gradually mellowed into a kind of Taoism).

I didn't start reading much about Mormonism until 2007 into 2008 - and came to it via investigating fertility in modern populations, then reading Rodney Stark's sociology and becoming interested-by, then aesthetically delighted-by, finally (much more recently) convinced-by the theology.

MC said...

Paradise Reclaimed definitely comes off as a portrayal of Mormons by someone whose research was confined to perhaps an outdated encyclopedia article and little more.

That being said, Laxness unquestionably betrays some admiration for them, which is why I thought you were referring to it. The missionary in Reykjavik who answers the polygamy jeers by pointing out the shabby treatment of women in Icelandic society ends up as a sort of prophet by the end of the book.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - Laxness actually visited Salt Lake City - so there was potential for a deep understanding.

It is not that the treatment of Mormons is unsympathetic in this novel - as you say it is generally positive - rather that he seems to miss everything important and focus on incidental or trivial aspects.

The key passage in which he totally misses the point is the key passage, perhaps, in the whole book:

“Only the man who sacrifices everything can be a Mormon. . . . No one will bring the Promised Land to you. You must trek across the wilderness yourself. You must renounce homeland, family, and possessions. That is how to be a Mormon. And if you have nothing but the flowers that people in Iceland call weeds, you must take your leave of them. You lead your young and rose-cheeked sweetheart out into the wilderness. That is how to be a Mormon. She carries your baby in her arms and hugs it close. You walk and walk, day after day, night after night, for weeks and for months, with your belongings on a handcart. Do you want to be a Mormon? One day she sinks to the ground from hunger and thirst, and dies. You take from her arms your baby daughter who has never learned to smile; and she looks at you with questioning eyes in the middle of this wilderness. A Mormon. But a child cannot get warm against a man's ribs. Few can replace a father, none a mother, my friend. Now you trudge alone across the wilderness for miles and miles with your daughter in your arms; until one night you realise that the biting frost has nipped the life from these tiny limbs. That is how to be a Mormon. You dig a grave with your hands and bury her in the sand, and put up a cross of two straws that blow away at once. That is how to be a Mormon.”

What is being depicted here is a pagan stoicism about as far away from the pioneer Mormon spirit as may be - at least in my knowledge and judgment.

dearieme said...

When we first went to live in Australia I was struck that there was an outfit called the Uniting Church, a synthesis of three churches you might have thought incompatible. First the Presbyterians, doubtless originally a church for Scots and (I imagine) true to the Kirk's belief that a wee dram is a gift from God. Then the Methodists, notorious advocates of Adam's Ale. Thirdly the Congregationalists, the descendants of those puritans Independents of Cromwell's time who notoriously broke agreements with the Kirk such that killing eventually ensued.

You might wonder whether "it takes all sorts ... " was being taken rather too literally there.

Professor Batty said...

Re: Paradise Reclaimed

Actually, Laxness based the book on the life of Eiríkur Ólafsson á Brúnum, an Icelandic farmer who did join the Mormons and went to Utah for eight years and returned to Iceland after he left the church. Laxness did thorough research on the topic, starting as early as 1927.

He was never a Communist (he was an outspoken Socialist) nor was he an atheist.

Laxness never renounced his Catholicism.

An excellent resource on HKL is The Islander by Halldór Guðmunndsson.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Prof Batty - I don't really understand why you are trying to say that Laxness was not a communist - of course he was!

And of course he stopped being a Roman Catholic before becoming Communist - and his later novels have not a trace of Christianity about them but a lot subversive of it!

This is the blurb of the Islander biography, which mentions the communism.

The Islander:
A Biography of Halldór Laxness
Halldór Guðmundsson
Maclehose Press, Quercus, 2008 - Biography & Autobiography - 486 pages
Halldór Laxness won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. During his life, which spanned nearly the entire century, he not only wrote 60 books, but also became an active participant in Europe’s idealistic debates and struggles. In the 1930s, Laxness became attracted to Soviet communism. He traveled widely in the Soviet Bloc and, despite witnessing some atrocities, remained a defender of communism until the 1960s. But his political leanings never dominated his work. His travels also included time in the movie business in Hollywood. Laxness continually sought to divulge the world of beauty that lurks beneath the everyday, ensuring his artistry remained a sanctuary of humanism and reflection. In this biography, Guðmundsson has been granted access to unique material by Laxness’ family. As a result, the interrelationships between Laxness’ personal life, his politics, and his career are meticulously examined. What emerges is a grand description of a fascinating personality in which the manifold conflicts of the 20th century are mirrored.

Adam G. said...

The difficulty, as with marriage, is that real commitment is a good. Joining a church, warts and all, later hesitations and second thoughs and misgivings or no, is spiritually necessary to the Christian life. But especially in modern times, many denominations are corrupt and antithetical to the Christian life, or will become so.

How to square this cirle I do not know.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AF - My simplistic take is that salvation is straightforward and may be a private/ personal act of faith - but attempting theosis outwith the church is highly liable to backfire.

Professor Batty said...

One last go at Laxness.

He never joined the Communist party, you could look it up.

His funeral mass was Catholic, you could look it up.

Most of his novels dealt with Christianity at times but not in a rigid denominational way, you might want to read chapter 33 of Under the Glacier.

Very strange that you would use his name for your email, you seem to be contrary to what Laxness expressed in his writing.

Bruce Charlton said...

@PB - But surely there is no contradiction between what you say and what I said? Most communists were not party members; many lifelong none Christians have a Christian funeral, and some become Christian near the end.

I read Under the Glacier before and after I was a Christian. When I was a not a Christian I thought Laxness perhaps was one; but when I was a Christian I realized that he was not - but had an Eastern, mystical, Perennial Philosophy, syncretist approach to Christianity.

You are correct - I would not choose laxness for my e-mail address nowadays. Although he certainly was a great writer, he argued on the wrong side and probably did considerable harm.