Monday 2 September 2013

Deep apologetics: What blocks repentance? Need for a prior description of the basic story of human life


Modern people feel guilty, but they do not repent - and if they do not repent, they cannot be Christian.

So, what blocks repentance?


People cannot repent until they know what they should do, and that they are not doing it; and they cannot know what they should do, until they know the structure of reality: the human condition.

If so, it is futile trying to get people to repent when they do not know the structure of reality, and if they deny even that reality even has a structure.


Most modern adults are alienated - cut off from reality - and this is experienced as negative emotions: misery, boredom, anger, anxiety, demotivation...

But they do not know what they are alienated from. Therefore nothing can be done about alienation - except distraction and intoxication to stop the feeling (but not the cause).


Modern people are stuck. They feel bad and they not only do not know why they feel bad, but they also deny that there is any objective reason for feeling bad except for illness and a repressive 'society' - therefore a religion which tells modern people to repent is interpreted as deliberately making people who already feel bad, feel even worse. Which seems like a very nasty thing to do.


So, what should be the first step in modern deep apologetics?

Whatever the first step in apologetics it will be incomplete, because it is the first step. Its main role is to provide what is necessary to back-reference when the further steps are added (IF things get even that far).

My present notion is that the first step should be to describe the basic set-up, the human condition and relation to God the Father and Jesus Christ - the story of the history of Man: where we came from and where we are going.


This story must be truthful, of course! - and must also be inspiring - if it is to be useful.

But the truthfulness of the very first brief outline must be carefully considered, in the sense that any brief outline must omit mention of difficulties that cannot be dealt with without interrupting the story: this is just common sense about how to teach.

In teaching something difficult, you first of all give the whole thing, stated clearly and didactically in plain language (minimal jargon) without qualifications or quibbles  -  and only then, once people have 'got' that simple version, you go back over the story adding nuances, discussing difficulties or ambiguities, teasing out implications etc.


The is what Christians need to do for the modern audience - each Christian denomination needs to reflect on this matter, and work on telling the story of Man and God for the first time: what to include as necessary for further building, what to leave-out as misleading, what to emphasize as interesting and inspiring.

If people understand the basic story of human life, they can then understand the nature of sin and why sin is (objectively) sin; because then they understand what they are sinning-against: only then can modern people repent.


Note: I recognized the need for this after reflecting on the content of the published manuals for Mormon missionaries - and the prominence given to The Plan of Salvation.

Here the LDS church sets out from its own perspective 'the basic story' of the human condition, God's relations with Man; describes it very clearly and in a way which is potentially both interesting and exciting/ inspiring. Once this basic story is understood, then more detailed discussions can be related back to it, and questions can be answered by reference to the overall Plan. 

I think other Christian denominations ought to be able to generate a comparably brief, simple, clear, and inspiring account of the basic story of Man and God, from their own perspective.


Further note: I am not interested in publishing comments critical of the Mormon Missionary Manual, nor of Mormonism -  I am referencing this manual as a good example of the kind of thing which is needed, and to make clear that most Christian denominations do not provide anything half so useful for apologetics.


Anonymous said...

Maybe the first step in relating to God is humility. The modern world teaches that humans are at the pinnacle of existence, know or almost know everything and can achieve complete happiness through their own abilities. Appreciating that humans are limited and need outside guidance and instruction is difficult for people to accept but also frees people from this unrealistic expectation.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - Of course humility is necessary - but without God to be humble-before, what seems to eventuate is submissiveness, instead of humility: and this powerfully feeds Leftism, because guilty and unworthy-feeling moderns believe they should submit to 'the other'. Hence the thread of sterile, self-hating suicidality (combined with rhetorical and practical support for those who most hate you and are vowed to destroy you) which runs through the most idealistic Leftism.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

There are two exemplar historic characters who did expose very clearly the fundamental truth about the human condition to their contemporaries. It resulted in their martyrdom.

Socrates told the Greeks, among other things, that happiness was to be found in personal goodness, that is, doing good in order to be good. It means we must have the humility (the first virtue, indispensable to all others) to acknowledge that, though we certainly have an appetite for good by nature, we are unable to do good consistently without a great deal of direction and help.

The other one, of course, is Jesus Christ who said “No one is good but God.” All the saints and martyrs of the Church acted in their heroic deeds as part of Christ’s Body and, as such, they were treated like their master. Still are.

So, happiness is not to be found in an external comfortable state of affairs, though it certainly does not exclude it. Indeed, absolute happiness is beatitude, and part of it is to be found through sanctification in this life (theosis): even as they experience the hardest trials and martyrdom, the saints are at the bottom of their heart already happy and at peace, in a way infinitely more profound than in any lucky and harmonious circumstances.

It certainly constitutes the main appeal of the Mormons that they educate their people to be good. So is the appeal of the One True Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, who has the advantage over others that she admits readily to be composed of sinners and affirms that, as badly as they act, sinners can always regain the state of grace if they repent from their sins, confess and do penance. The gift of charity is the only thing that really enables us to become good.

Modern nihilism tries to alleviate the normal sense of guilt and alienation in a culture cut off from Christ. Leftists-nihilists do so with systematic and pervasive lies pretending “We are the good, nice, righteous guys and all our problems are brought about by the not nice, evil ‘other’ guys.” This is no coincidence that the bogeymen are invariably conservatives and Christians, most of all the Roman Catholic Church. But humans cannot be happy if they are lied to and reduced themselves to lying in order to pretend they are good and do good while they do evil: they know it in their conscience, even if quite unconsciously, hence the guilt and alienation.

Whether they obscurely know they are wrong or they are absolutely clueless, the first thing the poor souls must learn is that they are being lied to: No one of us is god, no one of us is good without grace. Shed pride, learn humility, let yourself be taught by reality that the world makes sense as it is, not as utopias would have it.

Nicholas Fulford said...

As the token a-theist here, I will throw my hat in the ring.

Past the point of the basic needs, (food, shelter, security, etc.), people look for meaning, and will do a lot both to create meaning and to sustain it. (A suggested book which I heartily recommend is "Man's search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.)

A religion can provide that meaning, but it is not the only source, and it can be a difficult one if any of the teachings buck up against things such as evolution. Why? Because it requires that the religious narratives be treated as metaphorical, and many people have issues with examining and practicing their faith where the narrative is not historical. (Don't ask me why, as the metaphorical approach isolates and retains the value of the narrative without making it vulnerable to the discoveries of science.)

I agree with many points being made about the need for humility. That state of mind alone enables a great deal to be learned, and it is an inoculation against fundamentalist extremism, (of any variety.) Humility enables growth, whereas hubris brings blindness.

One other thing which I just have to raise is the straw man of "leftism". It seems like a convenient catch-all bucket to throw in anything with which the reader has an issue, and it becomes a scapegoat, (and scapegoats are a great way to avoid looking at things critically.) Many of the things I see thrown into that bucket have nothing to do with political and economic communism/socialism/marxism, but instead relate to another interchangeable label, (PC). As an example of the problem, post-modernism has a very specific meaning and does not fit, (or fit exclusively), into the traditional capitalist-communist political/economic view. And if push comes to shove, many of the New Testament teaching are decidedly communal. Let's leave it here for now, but I did feel it was worth raising, since the term leftism appears to have become a catch-all bucket and a straw man.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - If you look to the left you will see a link to a book I wrote called Thought Prison - the fundamental nature of political correctness. That is where I discuss the nature of Leftism. The key point to realize is that Leftism now includes almost every social institution and almost everybody - we are a Leftist society.

Vascularity777 said...

Excellent blog. Very well written and thought provoking. I book marked Thought Prison.