Wednesday 9 September 2020

Must Christianity be a revealed religion?

When I became a Christian, I accepted that there were natural and revealed religions: and Christianity was a revealed religion. It was an 'historical' religion; which made claims about human history and 'therefore' (it was said) some history must be taught, learned and accepted.

A natural religion like the animism of hunter gatherers was the natural and spontaneous spirituality, and paganism was an elaboration and formalisation of this spontaneous animism (totemic religions being a half-way house). Hinduism was perhaps the highest development of this spontaneous paganism - yes, it is full of culturally specific detail, but something like the polytheism of Hinduism would form in all civilizations (eg Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome), by culturally inflected spontaneous developments...

But, supposedly, Christianity was not like this; it was (like Judaism, like Islam) one of the revealed religions.

In other words, the idea was that we could Not work-out Christianity for ourselves, from our spontaneous inner feelings and reactions, and natural ways of thinking about the human condition and the world in general. We needed to be told about Christianity; or brought-up in it.

The idea was that - if a bunch of young children were raised from infancy to adulthood, on an island, cut off from the world, they would Not become Christians. This was the rational basis for Christian missionary work.

To become Christians people would need to be told, or to read, about Jesus, his life and teaching - what it meant, what to do... People needed (one or more of) pastors, priests, a church organisation, access to scripture (aurally or by reading), some knowledge of the history of the church, knowledge of doctrine or theology... They may well require participation in specific (recorded, taught) rituals. That Kind Of Stuff...

But there is another way of regarding Christianity as a natural religion. I sometimes think of this as a 'cosmic' view of the work of Christ: that what Jesus did was to change the cosmos.

Jesus changed the nature of reality. He altered the structure of things - such that there were new possibilities; such that after Jesus people could be Christians - that is could follow Jesus to everlasting life in Heaven, and could become Sons and Daughters of God - entirely from their own natural, spontaneous, inner dispositions and knowledge...

Because of the cosmic changes made by Jesus; it became possible for someone to be a follower of Christ without any specific knowledge of Christ.

Is this true? I believe it is true; and I hope it is true!

Because if it is Not true, then Christianity is on its way-out; because the records and teaching of revelation, and the ways that people are interpreting it, are by now deeply tainted and corrupted.

Revealed Christianity nowadays points away-from Christ and towards the totalitarian System of this world. Revealed Christianity has it that Christianity must be changed and fitted into the mainstream, dominant, global ideology.


The question to ask is whether a loving God (our Father, the creator) would allow a situation to exist. Would such a God allow a situation in which his children - who wished to find it - were unable to discover and discern the truth; because the history was lies, the priests and pastors were political ideologues, the rituals were degraded, and everybody was trained to interpret the world through the lens of politics?

I do not accept such an understanding. On the contrary, I believe that God has made it so that whatever is required for Men to attain salvation and theosis is possible for any individual person, anywhere, unaided - and despite any amount of falsehood and distortion.

So, I now regard Christianity as one of the natural religions.

Note added: If you ask how? Consider that there need not be a single route to natural Christianity; indeed there very probably isn't. There may be as many routes to becoming a Christian (without 'external' revelation) as there are individuals; depending on their disposition and situation. There are innumerable possible ways that a particular person may come to know the truth - involving both innate qualities, and potential divine interventions.


ToTheRightRon said...

God reveals himself as creator through the natural world.

God reveals himself as Holy and the Truth in our human hearts and consciences.

The word of God resonates when we hear it because it agrees with the above witnesses.

We will all be judged by God through His Son Jesus.

I trust the judgement of God to judge those who have never heard the word, or who have been deceived and led astray, that He will judge them according to his righteousness.

Gods judgments are true, God is love and His mercy endureth forever.

This is my hope.

I'm not a universalist, I believe there is evil and that it chooses to reject God. I do believe God is longsuffering and has made every allowance for repentance to happen. Some, unfortunately, will never turn to God.

Anonymous said...

"...possible for someone to be a follower of Christ without any specific knowledge of Christ".

That sounds wonderful. But, how would the acceptance of the Christ principle manifest in the thoughts and also the behaviours of natural Christians? And, how does that square with the 'faith alone' of Protestants? Is it possible that the ultimate 'faith alone' is an understanding of the Christ principle that comes from inside, from your primary thinking?

Grateful if you could flesh it out a bit more.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

In Canto XX of the Paradiso, Ripheus -- a Trojan warrior noted for his righteousness, an extremely minor character in the Aeneid -- appears in heaven. Dante is amazed to see a pre-Christian pagan there but is told

[Ripheus], through the grace that surges from
a well so deep that no created one
has ever thrust his eye to its first source
below, set all his love on righteousness,
so that, through grace on grace, God granted him
the sight of our redemption in the future;
[. . .]
More than a thousand years before baptizing,
to baptize him there were the same three women
you saw along the chariot's right-hand side.

(The three women referred to are symbolic representations of faith, hope, and love.)

This is not quite a case of Christianity arising as a "natural religion" -- still a revelation, but a private one -- and in any case the Comedy is a work of fiction.

Do you know of any real-world cases of anyone arriving at a recognizably Christian worldview without knowledge of the historical Jesus or Christian teachings? But before that question can have any meaning, let alone be answered, we first need to answer a deeper question: What, aside from belief in the historical Jesus, is the essence of Christianity?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - Well you already know what I believe to be the essence of Christianity - for those who don't it is in my Lazarus Speaks mini-book on the Fourth Gospel (in the sidebar).

But the most obvious answer to this business is to assume (as I do) that in the first place we have already known Jesus and what we would do, from our pre-mortal spiritual life; and that aftyer biological death we will meet and recognise him - and the possibilities will become explicit to all those with love in their hearts.

Our final choice is made *after* biological death - but we take to that choce many things from this mortal life, the consequences of choices made and things done and not repnted etc.

(And we will become aware of those who love us and have gone before to Heaven.)

Nobody capable of love will choose damnation from plain ignorance of salvation -- nonetheless, there are presumably those who will want damnation, will not want salvation, who cannot let themselves know, or will want something else more etc.

edwin faust said...

If you are right, this would also solve the problem of the criterion. It has always seemed to me that we would only be able to recognize something as true if we already knew it to be true: all metaphysical knowledge would then be a priori. This would also explain Augustine's saying that Christianity had always existed and only became known by that name after the advent of Christ on Earth. Another advantage to its being true is that it would remove the terrible angst some people now experience because of the challenges to the authenticity and historicity of the Gospels, in part or in their entirety. Steiner asserted that Christianity could be arrived at without Scripture. I feel hopeful that he, and you, may be right.