Tuesday 13 December 2022

The Romantic epiphany in Christianity

It is a striking insight when one reflects upon how Christianity (those who followed Jesus Christ) so rapidly and completely evolved from what we know of the teachings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel...

...To a situation in which "the church" (an always-contested definition) successfully claimed the authority to define Christianity, and to control each Man's access to salvation. 

The Romantic epiphany is that this claim of primary authority by "the church" - however that is defined; and all other such claims that transfer primary Christian authority to any external objective locus: such as scripture, or tradition - Must Be Wrong

Must Be - because God the creator, and our loving Father, would obviously not have made the world thus; but would certainly have made a world compatible with the Fourth Gospel vision of individual Men choosing or rejecting each his own salvation - sufficiently guided and consoled by the divine within each Man and by the Holy Ghost. 

Must Be - because God regards each of us as a beloved and unique child, and has made the world such that each child has ultimate control of his own salvation - regardless of circumstances. 

Such is (more or less) the Romantic epiphany.   

Yet - although commonplace now - this Romantic epiphany was not possible until relatively recently - apparently not until the late 1700s, and then only in a few Men in a few places (in Germany, Britain, then France).

It was not possible for ancient Men to have the Romantic epiphany, because their consciousness was different from ours. 

They did not experience themselves - as we do - as essentially cut off from the world and other Men. Instead, they were - to a significant, but varied, extent, naturally, spontaneously, unconsciously immersed-in the world: part of the world. 

Therefore, ancient men could not envisage, could not experience, a religious life that was detached from the human community of "the church". Neither could they envisage life itself outwith the patronage of a leige Lord to whom was owed loyalty - exile from one's community was no better than a living death. 

Ancient Man was substantially and inescapably communal in his consciousness. 

Even, more than a millennium later, by the time of the Reformation - Men's minds had only somewhat detached from the group: Men were 'semi-detached'. Authority was still experienced as ultimately external.

Instead of locating external primary authority in "the church" the Reformers maintained the primacy of external authority and 'merely' transferred it to a book: while maintaining strict control over the interpretation of that book. 

But the condition of modern Man - not chosen, but fated - is one of alienation, of detachment. The Church/ The Bible or any other possible external location is experienced as Other - we are not organically and spontaneously "members" of any human social grouping, nor do we experience any book or scripture as innately authoritative in an objective - group-shared - fashion. 

We each confront the world as an isolated consciousness; whether we like it or not - and for a Christian, therefore, the claims of any external entity to stand between us and God, strikes us as simply, obviously, untrue. 

This is the Romantic epiphany; and once experienced it can never wholly be forgotten or suppressed. The Romantic Christian knows he has direct and personal task in this world, and that responsibility for his salvation lies, inescapably, on his own shoulders.

(Our individuality is, for us, as inescapable as was the communal consciousness of the ancients.) 

The Romantic Christian knows, too, and therefore; that a claim otherwise - a claim that an external is the necessary condition for our personal salvation, regulates our 'access' to resurrected life eternal - a claim that salvation is ultimately described-by or controlled-by any external authority -- is a false claim.

The Romantic epiphany is that nothing - nothing external, not an institution, not a book, not a set of 'authorities', not a practice... ultimately nothing stands between a Man and his choice of whether or not to follow Jesus Christ to Heaven. 

Nobody can give us salvation - except our-selves. Nobody can take away salvation - except our-selves. 

Salvation is as easy as you, me, or any person, saying and meaning Yes to Jesus Christ... And Damnation as easy as saying Yes to Satan. 


Francis Berger said...

Nobody can take away our salvation but ourselves? That can't be right! It's way too free, way too personal, way too spiritual pride-ish, way too personal responsibility-ishness, way too subjective, way too my will-not Thy will, way too arrogant, way too disobedient, way to hubristic, way too go-it-alone, way too personal agency-ish, way too unconventional, way too easy, way too mystical, way to antisocial, way too rebellious, way too anti-tradition, way too Gnostic, way too not-Christian, way too heretic, way too not in the Bible (not enough, anyway), way too Age of Aquarius, way too New Agey, way too not acknowledging your fallible and fallen and unnecessary existence, way too comprehensible . . . aw you get what I mean.

You go your way; I'll humbly and obediently stick with my nice, safe, system-converged church over which the gates of hell can never prevail, thank you very much!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank. Indeed...

You'll agree that is interesting that the development of human conscious is absolutely necessary to make proper sense of this. If we don't acknowledge that, then we get something like your parody of 'I'm right now, and everybody in history was always mistaken'.

Whereas what is actually being argued here is that they *were* right, and I *am* right!

Also, as you also realize, this development of consciousness is towards individuality and spiritual maturity - and that point s towards a higher (more God-like) potential spiritual state. But does not at all guarantee it - indeed - so far - the development of consciousness, with the greater individual agency - usually leads to a worse spiritual outcome; because people have mostly made the wrong choices.

This shouldn't be hard to understand; after all, an adolescent is a more developed human being than a young child, but usually (nowadays) a morally worse person than a young child. The detachment from parental influence is hazardous, just as is detachment from immersion in the divine will.

Just as is the detachment from immersion in 'the church' - BUT, the church itself (whichever one) is also detached from immersion in God's will.

The analogy would be that children will be worse than adolescents when they are under immersive influence from evil parents - and then the self-conscious adolescent has at least a chance of escaping that influence, and discovering God for himself.

TradCath said...

This is wrong. Either accept the pope or go to hell for schism. Of course I'm exempt from this rule because I technically accept the pope that doesn't exist and hasn't since 1958 while rejecting the pope that does exist. But since you don't accept the hypothetical pope that could be, to hell with ye.

Francis Berger said...

@ Bruce - All kidding aside on my part, this post is spot on, and the points you raise in your comment are also important. Perhaps they merit a post of their own?

Yes, the biggest resistance to the evolution of consciousness is the belief that it entails that men are smarter, wiser, more virtuous, etc., than men of the past, but as you point out, e.o.c is primarily about increased agency (freedom) stemming from maturity. I think that maturity has arrived, albeit in the worst possible ways -- mature vices and sins, for lack of a better expression -- but these do not negate the potential for mature virtues.

The second biggest resistance is the idea that e.o.c somehow denigrates the past and tradition; that the past and tradition are the end sum of God's divine plan -- to expect anything more is erroneous (and heretical).

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - The earliest Christians up to the Middle Ages has the attitude that here was a decline from the time of Jesus Christ onwards and until the Second Coming. Hence the greater authority of the ancients.

With modernity, from the 1800s; the idea of 'Whiggish' history developed - which is that there has been moral progress from the olden days when everybody was evil, until the youngest generation now who are the best people ever. Hence the contemporary authority of 'youth' and the need to keep banning old books and destroying old statues.

But what we mean by the development (or 'evolution' in the original meaning) of consciousness is neither of these. As I said, it is more akin to biological maturation - except that full maturity can only be attained by choice.

cae said...

I agree with so much of what you write Bruce, but I do feel that "Salvation" may not be so "easy" for every person in this day and age..

If you've never had a prolonged 'Dark Night of the Soul' type faith crisis (mine due to "Treatment Resistant Clinical Depression" & I can list pages of treatments my 'case' has been resistant to), then you can't imagine what it's like to have to fight for your salvation.

Then to, we live in an age of unprecedented degrees of propaganda brain washing, and do you really believe that a child who endured torturous abuse reaches adulthood with their sanity intact? Do the insane even have free will?

To me, these are all reasons to pray that God have mercy on most of the world's population - because the demonic forces at work here really have reached such heights of power that...
...well, suffice to say that I would literally stand before any 'court' in Heaven and argue that the majority of this world's people have been 'tricked' out of their free will (in one way or another) and deserve at least a second chance on a version of Earth where 'evil' is merely a free will choice as opposed to actual demonic powers who are capable of utterly obstructing a person's ability to even feel the Holy Spirit within -
- and I speak from personal experience (not of demons but regarding inability to 'feel Holy Spirit'), every single day I have to 'choose' Faith against the lack of 'feeling' of Faith, and it is not "easy".

The value of the pain I have lived with for over 45 years now (since age 13 or 14) is that first it served as "God's megaphone" (to quote C.S. Lewis), and then even as I turned to Faith and the pain increased, it has brought me to a whole new level of understanding of the 'Grace of God'...and the reason that Christ urged us to pray for our enemies (not for their wellbeing but for their deliverance from evil)...

The majority of those who cannot pass the "litmus tests" are far more in need of God's mercy than of our censure, and I think The Lord Jesus would agree.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Carol - I think you don't really disagree.

Salvation is as easy as wanting it; but so is damnation - the difficulty is in wanting salvation, not damnation, in the world as it is now. When value inversions are official - people prefer evil, and believe that evil is the only good.

It is the wanting to follow Jesus that is so 'difficult', because it seems not many people do want it.

I know this from he inside; because I did not want to follow Jesus (I did not want what he offers) until I was nearly fifty.

On the other hand, there are a lot of distorted ideas about what salvation entails, what Heaven is like. But no matter what the lies and confusions of mortal life; I assume that when we are each given the actual choice, we will then know for sure what is really on offer, and what we need to do to accept it.