Monday 10 April 2023

Christianity as a 'natural religion'?

Christianity is nearly-always described as a religion of revelation - in other words it needs to be 'revealed' to us, we need to be told about it; told by - for example - written scripture, handing on by tradition, teachings of church authorities etc. 

The contrast is a natural religion that could be reached by each person for himself, by intuition, reasoning, observation etc. based on suggestions from the material that can be found in pretty-much any human culture. 

(The paganism of animistic hunter-gatherers is regarded as an example of natural religion; since it seems to have arisen spontaneously - albeit with local variations - all over the world.) 

When I became a Christian, it was partly by accepting the need for revelation (and by evaluating the strength of validity in various contending revelations) that I got-out from trying to reach Christianity by my own unaided efforts. 

The is no real doubt that mainstream Christianity, in whatever of its denominations or churches, is way too complex to be arrived at except by revelation; but the big question is whether the necessary and sufficient essence is, in principle, attainable without external help... 

And, if not accessible during this mortal life, then potentially core Christianity might be accessible after this mortal life (i.e. after death) but before making the choice to accept or reject resurrection. 

Over the years I have come around to the idea that Christianity is, or can be, a natural religion; and does not require revelation - indeed, what has traditionally been regarded as revelation may more often be an obstacle than assistance nowadays -- especially since the churches are so corrupted by worldliness (corrupted to the point of value-inversion), and their teachings so vast and (to common sense) incoherent or contradictory. 

I think it is largely uncontroversial that theism - specifically the belief in a personal creator God - can be a natural belief. The this world was made, and with some design and purpose, and by a being who is like a person - is a plausible line of reasoning, that often occurs to children. 

And the further idea that this God is relates to each of us like a loving parent, is also one that can occur to anyone who thinks about the subject - by analogy with the human family. 

In short, all the necessary background to Christianity can be arrived-at without being taught - and (because it is true) potentially confirmed by intuitive conviction. 

As for Christianity; I think the core idea is also simple enough, and close enough to the desires of the human heart, that it could be arrived at by almost anyone. 

The fear of death and desire for everlasting life is spontaneous; and that this continued life would be embodied is also natural; and that this life-after-life would be in a better world without death or decay are all plausible day dreams - even for a child. 

So the necessary materials for a Christian yearning are there. As for the mechanism by which this might be achieved - which is by following Jesus Christ, as a sheep follows the Good Shepherd - this is not something that is likely to be a natural or spontaneous conclusion. 

Therefore, natural religion breaks-down at the point where we need to know how to attain resurrected life eternal. 

But, since this following of Jesus through-death to life-everlasting happens after our death, it seems reasonable to assume that it is something made clear to us after death. 

No matter what a person's experience during mortal life, he could be shown the possibility of resurrection after his death and how to attain it. 

Therefore; whether he was born before Jesus's time or lived in a part of the world where Christianity was unknown, or had been taught or reasoned-out some false idea of Christianity - every soul could be given the knowledge of what he need to do to follow Jesus.

Thus, Christianity can be a natural religion. And this fact may turn out to be vital to salvation, as the corruption of the churches continues to spread and advance.  


george said...

"Christianity as Old as the Creation
Or, the Gospel, a Republication of the Religion of Nature. Volume 1,
By Matthew Tindal - 1730" available on google books near you.

Matthew, 31, Belfast said...

Hello Bruce, I have just finished reading two of your books, most recently your book entitled "Addicted to Distraction." I very rarely find a book so short yet so stimulating and this seemed to be one of your main arguments that private contemplation yields more complex thoughts, a valuable lesson I have already began to put into practice.

This all being said, despite all the other treasure troves of wisdom in your work, something in particular stood out in reference to this blogpost. As a preface, I have been struggling with my spirituality for over a year now, personally accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour just last year. Despite my faith, it has wavered under such a colossal tidal wave of doubts, undoubtedly due to my lifelong exposure to our secularised, hedonistic, God-less world, dominated by the Mass Media. I have also struggled with prolonged periods of quite severe anxiety and depression, no doubt influenced from the same source and personal irresponsibility. However, recently I have been praying to God for a sign (and praying is a godly skill that I undoubtedly need practice with) but here I was one night praying desperately for a sign from God to help relieve me from my psychological pain so I can serve him and play my role in his Divine Plan.

I don't normally come across signs or at least I maybe choose no to recognise them as such but I believe my sign came in something you had written in your book and subsequently affirming that belief was what I read in this blog. It was the last paragraph in your chapter entitled "The Need For Eternal Vigilance" which, I cannot lie here, brought me to tears. Happy tears of course! The idea that we ACKNOWELDGE our sin and REPENT for it, not to DEFEND, JUSTIFY, or RATIONALISE it to ourselves or anyone else for it is ultimately God who we need to seek forgiveness from and why He died on the Cross to atone them; this idea just moved so much. It was like I had heard the story a million times but you spoke it to my heart and soul. I have a horrible habit of over-thinking everything, from nonsense thoughts to pain I have caused others and to myself and I have quite literally built my own compulsive thought prison. Yet these words helped me to step outside and understand that no matter how much I punish myself to find relief I am not acknowledging the sin and not repenting for it. When I began to do that, when I actually ACCEPTED I was a sinner and asked God for forgiveness, to live my life as best as possible in obedience to his Word, I found so much peace. So, I want to thank you first and foremost for that.

With regard to this particular blog, it caught my eye because while I was skimming through your website this article caught my eye. I am already aware of your succinct way of articulating complex ideas and to explain one such as this in the same manner is precisely what I have needed in beginning to understand my Faith. (Your are standing by your dictum that "more is less" when it comes to having an understanding). Once more, you made crystal clear to me ideas I was consistently seeing through muddy, theological waters for the past year and failing to understand them through my desire to have all complex questions satisfactorily answered.

Matthew, 31, Belfast said...

(Part 2)

You have dispelled those last lingering doubts by explaining things simply and directly; for instance, that we have an "intuitive conviction" of all the answers Christianity gives and that it is "close enough to the desires of the human heart." That as a natural religion, God has given every soul the "knowledge of what we need to know to follow Jesus." It never bothered me so much that, when I wasn't a Christian (or when I was first entertaining the theological speculations) that as a self-contained narrative it all made sense, however what did bother me was squaring this narrative with revelation - why did God choose THIS time, THIS place, THIS complex way of working out his Plan. How this is all intellectualised in theological discourse felt like a reverse-engineered explanation to justify the contingencies of human history However, I am beginning to see that no matter what we believe of God's methods, his revelations, his actions, his timing, we cannot ever hope to judge them in ANY manner from the perspective of finite beings with limited reasoning. Only He acts according to his own perfect nature. This discrepancy between Christianity as a "natural religion" (that "gut feeling" that it is the True Faith) and a "revelatory religion (the seemingly peculiar oddities in Bible revelation to our modern sensibilities) has become, from my perspective, fully compatible, satisfying my intellect and more importantly my soul. All of this insight has been largely indebted to you and for that I thank God for directing me to your works.

P.S. I actually had your books on my Kindle for years, with all the intent of reading them someday but I sadly I never got round to do that, but now I am over-joyed that I have found them, it was the right place and time in my life. I am may not have fully understood the gravity of your message otherwise (I was quite a hardened agnostic for a good part of my young life!)

P.P.S. Apologies for the extremely long comment. I felt I needed to give some back story before I could give my feedback.

Matthew Mercer, 31, Belfast (I can forward my e-mail if you wish to correspond further)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Matthew M - Thanks very much!

I think the memories of my decades of being a thoughtful atheist before becoming Christian, was probably what provided the perspective that you found useful.

Plus an innate compulsion to seek a clear and simple understanding of things - which I had throughout education and my professional work in medicine and science.

Traditional Culture Preservation Society said...

it should be noted that most hunter-gatherer tribes believe in a Supreme Being, often with many parallels to the Christian conception of God