Thursday, 2 October 2014

What is the problem to which Christianity is the answer? The example of Wittgenstein

I was reading the posthumous collection of Wittgenstein's aphorisms called Culture and Value yesterday - focusing on the references to Christianity across his whole adult life, in the midst of an exceptionally prolonged and severe migraine and its treatment - so I was in a particularly intense and peculiar frame of mind.

For the first time, it struck me as obvious that Wittgenstein was a serious and sincere 'seeker' by Pascal's definition, hence Wittgenstein certainly was (in an ultimate sense) A Christian - despite that there was probably no time in his life when he could or would have stated : I Am A Christian.

This is a new understanding for me because I was introduced to Wittgenstein by the the ultra-liberal Christian-apostate Don Cuppitt - who, I now perceive, was selectively misrepresenting W to be arguing for a non-realistic, 'as if', culturally-embedded, way-of-living such as Cuppitt believed-in (before he abandoned even this vestige). I also encountered Wittgenstein via Richard Rorty, who was the epitome of urbane, bland, self-contradictory Leftist postmodernity. Indeed, all the books I read about W were from this subjectivist, relativist, politically-correct perspective - even one by a Dominican Friar (this will surprise nobody who knows what they are like).

But looking across the sweep of C and V, it is crystal clear that W was thinking and writing about real Christianity, and not the Leftism-in-disguise fake of the modern mainstream churches. Indeed, it is striking how very 'reactionary' Wittgenstein was - given that he became the darling of progressive academics and radical artists (or, at least, they took what they wanted from W and left-behind what W regarded as most important).

I found many passages were striking, in my peculiar state of mind - some seemed to be misunderstandings, for example in relation to miracles, others seemed to get at the root of things.

Page 49e Para 3 from 1946:

In former times people went into monasteries. Were they stupid or insensitive people? - Well, if people like that found they needed to take such measures in order to be able to go on living, the problem cannot be an easy one!

For W the problem was not an easy one, it was indeed the need for an ultimate underpinning. He recognized that this was not a matter of logic. He also - in practice, for constitutional reasons which he could not overcome - could not join any human association - hence could not be a member of a church. All this made it difficult for W to know what he was, or what to do about it.

I think what was probably needed for him was to understand that faith of the kind he wanted and needed is based in a personal 'testimony', on experience - which can come from miracles, revelations or in prayer - and this really is the bottom line. To look to validate the testimony by other means, is to destroy the testimony.

Wittgenstein knew what faith was not based-on, but I think he never knew what it was based-on. Probably because none of the churches he encountered put this up-front, all had very different emphases.  

In the end this will not have affected Wittgenstein's salvation - that was assured by his sincere and prolonged seeking for God - but it did mean that W never got beyond the threshold of Christianity, never progressed far on the path of theosis.