Saturday 21 November 2020

How might Romantic Christians 'go it alone' - without spirituality degenerating into mere self-therapy

With the Christian churches having 'converged' actively to embrace one or all of the priorities of secular leftism (in 2020 these are the birdemic, antiracism and climate change - long-term it also includes the developing subversions/ inversions of the sexual revolution); and now that these Christian churches have de facto closed and/or all-but ceased their core activities --- we are in a situation where serious Christians Must go-it-alone... that, or else give-up being Christian. 

But as a Romantic Christian, I would assert that this is what Christians ought to be doing anyway, as their primary mode of faith. I mean that we ought to be taking primary responsibility for our religion by personal revelation and discernment - by intuition of our real and divine Selves.

This, rather than - as in earlier eras - accepting our Christianity from external sources such as institution, tradition, scripture or theology. 

Now, obedience will not suffice as the first duty of a Christian; because that which was obeyed is corrupt and/or absent. 


In sum - we are compelled to do what we ought to choose to do

But conscious personal choice to take responsibility is essential; or else it will certainly not be done properly. 

As always, motivation is of most importance. 

Nowever, to go-it-alone as a Christian is A Big Ask

Our spiritual practice needs to do many things; things which at one time were assisted by all kinds of institutional, ritual, symbolic and communal factors. 

The biggest danger is that 'spirituality' degenerates to being merely 'therapeutic'. In other words, spirituality becomes reduced to the psychological, and the psychological becomes hedonic - becomes a self-therapy matter of trying to 'engineer one's own feelings' to be as happy as possible, and to diminish any suffering, miserly or negative emotions. 

This degeneration to therapy, by my understanding, is exactly what happened to New Age spirituality. It became almost purely a matter of self-help, directed towards feeling good - and thereby (sooner-or-later) becoming assimilated to mainstream society - and thus onto the side of evil (Team Satan). 

So, we need to consider the primary things of life. And (at a proximate level) that means a spiritual life of self-monitoring for aspects other-than (or, as-well-as) pleasure-pain, gratification-suffering...


My understanding of the basic 'function' of this mortal life is that (for Christians) it is mostly about learning. We have experiences, and are intended to learn from them - that learning being directed-towards resurrected life in Heaven.  

But how do we know we are learning, have learned?

I think that we know (or sense) we have-learned something (probably) when we feel a sense of increased meaning and purpose in life; leading to a higher level of motivation. 


Because of the nature of mortal life, which is intrinsically evanescent, these feelings are themselves temporary. Mortal life is not cumulative (all its worldly manifestations, including brain-memories, are wiped-out by death. All detectable and measurable personal experience is vulnerable to loss by forgetting, disease, degeneration etc. - so we should not expect that our feelings be cumulative 

Meaning, purpose and motivation are of course, also positive emotions - like increased pleasure or reduced pain; but they are not reducible to the hedonic axis. They are not just types of gratification. 

And we need to be conscious of meaning/ purpose/ motivation. It is not enough that these happen unconsciously. They need, therefore, to be feelings - which are conscious-emotions. If they just stay as un-conscious emotions, as body-state manifestations, then we are at the level of automatic and instinctive behaviours. With un-conscious emotions we have abandoned the distinctively-human and reduced life to the animal level.


Whereas The Task of this era is precisely to become conscious of that which - in earlier phases of human life - were un-conscious not just emotions

We need to become conscious in order to choose; we need to choose in order to become free agents, to take responsibility. 

Therefore, it seems that an important task of Romantic Christians will be to become more acutely aware of our feelings of increased meaning, purpose and motivation; with the aim of learning from experiences; and directing our lives in accordance with this learning.


William Wildblood said...

I couldn't agree more with all this, especially about the need to go it alone and how easily 'spirituality' can become merely therapeutic and reduced to what makes me feel good. Then you are on, to use your excellent phrase, 'Team Satan. But I would just add that I think the traditional 3 spiritual requirements of poverty, chastity and obedience are still necessary and, actually, they are what stops that descent to therapy. It's just that they are now necessary in a different way, an inner way. Poverty means letting go of the desire for worldly reward and recognition, chastity means a pure heart orientated towards love, especially love of God. And then obedience which, as you point out, cannot now be directed to any external authority is still important but should be directed towards the voice of the soul, to intuition, to conscience and, ultimately, to God. Paradoxically, to obey God is to be free and there is no other freedom.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Yes, that's an important addition.

This 'positive' side is, however, a neglected aspect. I have been re-reading Arkle recently, and he is very helpful in inspiring me with a positive sense of how the spiritual Christian life *can* be joyous and exhilirating.

cae said...

Yes, that all makes sense to me, and having practiced 'Romantic Christianity' for about the past 10 years (of course, I didn't have a name for it until I found your blogs) -
- I can attest that going "it alone" can indeed degenerate "into mere self-therapy"...

...However, I would like to add that along with "learning from experiences", a big part of my spiritual 'practice' involves learning from reading - of all types of materials -
- as I've found that pondering over information about 'the world' (philosophy, history, science, religion, etc.) in relation to God provides fodder for nourishing my relationship with Him/Her.

And certainly reading works from spiritual authors is really helpful to giving one contemplative 'material' for getting the mind into a sort of 'church' feeling (sacred mind space, I suppose you might say).
Even fictional works can be useful in regard to this - I highly recommend "The Robe" by Lloyd C. Douglas (can be found free online)

Because, I do believe that we are 'meant' to be developing/growing in our relationship with God, in the present, as opposed to only preparing for the afterlife.

Yet, although we absolutely don't want "spirituality degenerating into mere self-therapy" - there is something to be said for the idea that coming to 'know' our 'selves' more thoroughly can be helpful to improving our relationship with God, just as it is helpful in improving our relationships with family and friends.

Thank you for this post, Bruce!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carol - Yes, I suppose the Romantic Christian life is just like a loving human relationship. It gives the deepest possible life satisfaction, but is not pursued just to get pleasure; and when love is real a relationship is not abandoned when pleasure diminishes. It isn't really complicated, its the nature of love.

MagnusStout said...

Excellent post and comment by Mr. Wildblood.

What has been helpful for me in this journey is to love Truth and hate Lies (which I guess is an assumed part of Romantic Christianity). You have an excellent series of posts on the Cult of Lying Evil. Such focus seems appropriate given the testimony from others who have suffered under totalitarianism (ex: Solzhenitsyn, "Live Not By Lies").

Choosing evil is not freedom (as media shows), but bondage. The Good, Beautiful and True will remain so--regardless of the propaganda. These pervasive lies must be rejected because they will fracture the mind and corrupt the soul.

Ron Tomlinson said...

I'd always thought that monks had it bad. To have to get out of bed at 5a.m. Novices having to make vows: the vows that William W. mentions above.

But, as he intimates, modern versions could be:

(1) Don't seek for societal reward or recognition,
(2) Don't engage in addictive behaviours (because they create mixed motives),
(3) Obey your conscience (for it is the only real freedom).

These, plus free meals and access to books, make monkhood seem more attractive!