Monday 27 November 2023

In case it isn't clear - I became a Christian for the wrong reasons... mostly

I've said this several times in several places over the past 10-plus years on this blog; but maybe it deserves stating on it own... When I converted to Christianity, when I became a Christian, it was for the wrong reasons... mostly. 

My reasons for believing in first God, and then Jesus Christ, were - mostly, but not entirely- social and civilizational. This was because I had been brought to the point of conversion by the societal decline of England and The West generally. 

I realized that my civilization had become at first weak, then self-loathing; because we had deleted God personally and from public discourse; and in doing so deleted all possibility of purpose and meaning in life. 

Having believed in God (i.e. becoming a theist) I then became a Christian; believing that Christianity was the true-est of all the religions I knew. But I was unsure of the right denomination to join. 

What I was looking for, then, was 'civilizational-level' changes such as purpose, meaning and the basis for social cohesion in support of the transcendental values: truth, beauty and virtue. 

I then embarked on exploring, trying, a variety of denominations; even while I could see them collapsing in real time, almost in front of my eyes... Or more likely I gradually saw that the Western churches shared the weakness and indeed self-hatred of the civilization in general. 

I sought holiness; but found only legalism and a hard kind of strictness. 

From here-and-now, looking back on my recent life; it seems obvious that I was - substantially, albeit not fully - regarding Christianity and its churches as a means to a materialistic end: the awakening and regeneration of The West in general, England in particular. 

I never regarded this as an optimistic desire, indeed it never seemed probable that it would actually happen; but I saw a Christian revival as the only legitimate hope. 

But then I began to realize that my hope for a revival of traditional, old-time religion and strong churches was not just futile (in the sense that the opposite was happening), but that it would not be the answer even if it did happen. 

In other words that my hope - even if fulfilled - was not legitimate. 

I began to realize that Christianity had departed the churches - and they had become mere shells of institutions; in the same way as schools, hospitals, the police, law courts and military were just shells - which is that they retained forms and rules but without the motivating spirit. 

Insofar as there was still a motivating Christian spirit in the churches, it came from low down the hierarchy, it was dwindling; and it was ignored or persecuted (i.e. a situation exactly analogous to what I had observed in science and medicine a decade earlier).  

That is where I currently am. I now believe that I became a Christian for many wrong reasons to do with what I hoped that - in principle - Christianity, or else one or more of the Christian churches, could do for Western Civilization. 

I first realized that this could not happen, because the churches had institutionally lost their core spiritual motivations; and then I realized that even if the churches had remained uncorrupt, none of the earlier institutional forms of Christianity were capable (even theoretically) of addressing the major spiritual necessities of the West here-and-now. 

Liberalism had failed, but traditionalism could not work - even if it appeared to revive (which it didn't).


Another way of describing the trajectory, it that it took me quite a while to get clear about what Christianity really is (and always was). After all, across the centuries, Christianity has been and has included many, many things - even if we confine attention to a single denomination. 

At the most basic level, there has been (and is) tremendous ambiguity, unclarity, confusion and contradiction about what Jesus actually did. What, in other words, salvation actually means. 

This, of itself, was something that took a great deal of sorting out; and indeed it could not be sorted-out until I had re-examined several assumptions that I had absorbed without sufficient clarity or evaluation.

I do not think I really understood this - at least not enough to be clear enough to be able to defend it and advocate it as an individual - until my long and focused reading of the Fourth Gospel

This eventually (a decade after I became a Christian) made me see that the simple and true essence of Christianity had been obscured by the High Volume of secondary, and erroneous, doctrine and theology that (apparently) began accumulating from very soon after Jesus's resurrection. 

 It now seems to me that the reason why the Christian churches are-not, cannot, and should-not be the basis for a Christian revival; is that none of them have a clear and simple grasp of the core and essence of Christianity. 

This did not much matter in the past, in that the whole package did contain the truth (along with a lot of other stuff) - and because people accepted the whole package, and because society as a whole was not actively evil.  

Now we have a world in which everybody picks and chooses in their religions (even/ especially when they deny this!); when the world as a whole is actively evil; and therefore where Christians absolutely need to be clear about what it is that we believe and why.  

Nobody is going to tell us what we need to know; so we must each work it out for himself, and take responsibility for what he concludes. 

We each need to discover for ourselves what it really is to be a Christian, and to choose that Christianity: choose for the right reason/s. 

Anything else is not going to last, as the world darkens. 

But the right choice will last, and will strengthen - whatever happens to the world. 


No Longer Reading said...

When you mention motivation for religion in terms of its effect on civilization, I almost wonder if that is a consequence of modern people's spiritual insensitivity.

Far less of us now can see the spiritual need for religion in the way that people of the past could just perceive it. But what we can see is the civilizational effects.

That's why things in the past never got to this point. A stitch in time saves nine and they knew to stitch when things were fraying and before they ripped.

Francis Berger said...

Great post!

Well, if it's any consolation, I have been a Christian, of the cultural variety, since I was infant, but that did not (thankfully) spare me from a process similar to the one you have experienced.

Though I have been a Christian my whole life, I did not really "become" a Christian until I was in my late-thirties/early forties. That was when discovered -- for myself -- what being a Christian meant. And that was when I made that active choice.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

When I was 6 years old my parents showed my sister and I a tract in comic form explaining the Christian plan of salvation and led us in a prayer at the end. We had been baptized Episcopalian but my parents then became full-blown protestants, chasing idiosyncratic doctrine. I persisted in this state until college, becoming an atheistic contrarian, then got engaged and my spouse and I determined (correctly I believe) that we and any future children needed a religious praxis and chose the Episcopal sect for any future children (one).

Then got divorced and thought OK this is really it: Orthodoxy! That didn't pan out for numerous reasons I won't go into, some personal, some institutional and theological.

My motivation all along was questing for universal Truth, which I do not think is fully discernable by mortal humans. I believe in the Divine but after that I really do not know and would no longer presume to say. I can discern what enables human and individual thriving and have strong opinions on that! I appreciate Bruce's and Francis's explorations in this strange world we now find ourselves in after the full and final death (there really is no other term) of Christendom by 1945 A.D. (And note that we are no longer supposed to say, "A.D." This is a tidal shift.)

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - re spiritual insensitivity. This is certainly a factor, at least when compared the kind of spiritual sensitivity of the past with how people are now. But I wonder if we are not looking in the wrong place - and that modern people may be spiritually sensitive in different ways; but fail to recognize it, and deny it when it happens.