Friday 3 November 2023

Physical self-sufficiency and spiritual dependence... An impossible anti-Left fantasy

I seem to discern a pattern of belief or motivation among some of those who oppose the mainstream totalitarian Establishment; which is that they desire to combining maximum physical self-sufficiency with maximum spiritual dependency on their chosen church. 

Unfortunately, both physical self-sufficiency and spiritual dependence are so categorically impossible in the modern West that they cannot even be approximated; therefore this fantasy is delusional. 

The world is the most inter-dependent it has ever been, there is unprecedented surveillance, and attempted physical detachment from The System is treated as criminal. Physical self-sufficiency cannot even be approximated. 

But spiritual dependence on external church authority is likewise impossible. All the churches are so deeply corrupted that they are incoherent, their authority is internally fractured, their instructions are labile: fluctuating, contradicting, self-undermining. 

This means that anyone who desires to obey his church, must in fact continually be discerning which aspect of his church he ought to obey, and which disregard or oppose. 

The ideal of physical self-sufficiency and spiritual dependence is an inversion of what is unavoidable - and indeed Christianly-desirable. Physical self-sufficiency is not just impossible, but irrelevant. Spiritual dependence on the authority of a church is not just impossible, but the opposite of what Christians ought to be doing. 

Christians cannot - no matter how much they may wish it - avoid discernment and live-by obedience. Since Christians do discern and choose; this ought explicitly to be directed at God and Jesus Christ - and not at any (inevitably compromised) human institution.  

And, since we are - by any realistic calculation, all-but powerless in socio-political terms; we ought not to be focusing our attention on 'changing the world': nor on positively transforming and protecting one little corner of the world (as with the idea of self-sufficiency).  

We are responsible only for that over which we have genuine choice and control - our inner discernments, commitments, aspirations... 

In this actual world we inhabit; necessity combines with desirability to enforce a focus upon individual spiritual activity in a direct relationship with the divine. 

Ultimately; the physical (including socio-political) world is something with which we must cope - and not a valid object for our life's creative work. 



Francis Berger said...

Hits the mark and needed saying, in exactly the way have outlined it.

I have nursed physical self-sufficiency daydreams since I was a boy; however, I have always sensed that physical self-sufficiency is not an ultimate solution but an escape fantasy akin to the "I wish I were stranded on a tropical island alone . . . or on second thought, with an attractive young woman" reverie.

It seems that the desire for physical self-sufficiency is a "freedom from" yearning -- the desire to distance oneself from socio-political evil. As a yearning, I suppose it's not necessarily bad, but as you note, it is misguided (to say nothing of impossible).

That one can do it in today's world and then form self-sufficient communities that will rise and challenge the System or replace it when/if everything collapses is beyond delusional. I mean, that is "little boy fantasy" material there. Even more delusional is the idea of physical self-sufficiency while remaining spiritually dependent upon the authority of some church or church community.

And even if that all somehow succeeded-- what then? I ask because there are some blogs and groups out there devoted to this physical self-sufficiency/spiritually dependent fantasy.

Your analysis nails it. We should accept that we are all physically dependent on society/the System -- yes, even the most off-the-grid doomsday prepper -- cope and focus on pursuing spiritual self-sufficiency instead -- inspired by the idea that Christianity ought to be going in this direction!

Crosbie said...

Are these two facts related? As a first cut at answering my own question, it seems to me the church was *always* a worldly institution (or if not always, for the last fifteen centuries or so). The church performed the worldly roles of moral guardian, educator, and administrator. These roles have been taken over by 'the system' (as you call it), leaving the church with ever less to do (in conventional terms). The desire for 'spiritual obedience' is therefore just a desire for a worldly obedience in spiritual garb.

Mia said...

Parenting is my focus and recently I've pondered how to develop character in Current Year. So many traditional ways are now impossible or inadvisable. And I've noticed the older generations raised according to those ways, specifically the Boy Scout types who can live in the woods and who regularly kill lions and paid their own way through college, they are some of the *weakest* people I know when it comes to The System. Another way is needed.

Bruce Charlton said...

From Stephen Macdonald:

"I certainly agree with Dr. Charlton's overall points with respect to physical self-sufficiency. In a total collapse scenario (all out nuclear war, for example) there would be no chance of survival in most places. Where I am in Canada there are some people who are already actually self-sufficient to some degree. They live in extremely sparsely populated areas rich in timber, fish, game, etc. They are an extremely tiny minority.

"That said, in my case I have made certain preparations in case we have more events like 2020 that are worse, but fall short of complete collapse. (...)"Prepping" to some degree in this environment is no less prudent than insuring your home against fire, or your car against collisions."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie "Are these two facts related? "

Yes. Things were qualitatively different in the past; because The World was different and Men were different.

The World was not always and everywhere net evil as it is now - the value-inversion of the ruling class, and (increasingly) of laws and rules by which people live (and which they at least tacitly endorse), is something new.

The System was not universal to all institutions as it is now; and The System did not in all times and places actively seek out to destroy ideological dissent as now.

And Men were much more communal minded as an innate matter of consciousness; and mostly could not even conceptualized the kind of individualism that we now take for granted. Men of the past were therefore not individually responsible in the way that we, now, cannot avoid.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - You are right, although I hadn't quite got this explicitly formulated; that this is something absurd about the ideal of an encapsulated and detached physical existence, yet somehow subordinated to the spiritual authority of a (maybe global) church that somehow retains its basic goodness despite everything.

I suppose part of it is related to my understanding the depth and severity of the current situation. My estimate is that the situation - materially and spiritually - is irrevocably terrible.

So I suppose it really does seem absurd (a "little boy fantasy" - exactly!) to me that people talk and behave as if the problems of totalitarianism, and the corruption of Christian churches, and the dire consciousness of the masses -- are all ultimately just a pendulum swing, that "basically" most people are decent, and therefore things will be okay in the end.

I don't think so; and I regard it as just a question of time before that becomes obvious and a catastrophe far beyond anything ever in history is manifest.

... Have a nice day!

Michael Dyer said...

Right there in Acts, the apostles saying they ought to obey God rather than men. That’s why I’ve more or less always been suspicious of anything that smacks of inserting additional merely human layers, whether it’s some Catholics or EO who in practice have fallible scripture and infallible tradition (“of course scripture is infallible, it’s just you can’t understand it, tradition on the other hand you can understand perfectly as long as you listen to us”), or some Protestants I”well translations are all well and good of course, but in the original Greek…[listen to me jnstead]”).

This is on topic in my head, I only hope others see the connection; the only Bibke verse most Christians know about the heart is that it’s deceitful above all things. The cure for this deceitful ness however never seems to be trusting in God or Solomons’ many words about getting knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (all through trusting God). It’s just don’t trust yourself, trust me, like their heart isn’t also deceitful.

Ironically I don’t think a lot of this is bad intentioned. Some of it is extremely good intentioned. But again we ought to obey God rather than men and God has provided means for us to more or less discern His will. The objection then becomes that it’s chaos and people get it wrong, and people have done wickedness claiming it was God’s will. Yes, to all of that. But there’s really no outsourcing free will or judgement. I’m not saying you shouldn’t outsource those things, I’m saying you can’t.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael D - Yes.

And this is not a problem at the individual level.

I think the problem now is that so many people are hoping that one or other (or maybe all) Christian church will sort out the value-inversion, self-hatred and suicide of The West (or the world) - by providing a true and objective religious basis for a revived Christian state.

(This *may* be possible (more-or-less) for the Fire Nation, but not for anywhere else.)

I interpret the situation as compelling Western Christians to go back to the Fourth Gospel where is is make very clear (over and again) that Christ's kingdom is Not of this world.

I take this to include that we ought, each of us - as individuals - to seek and adhere to the truth as we discern it; even when "the whole world" disagrees and is against us.

william arthurs said...

Dr Charlton, I often meet or hear from folks who are disillusioned Anglicans or Roman Catholics, who have received a revelation that the Orthodox church(es) are the way forward and have safeguarded the true tradition of Christianity, citing various reasons why this is so. I would greatly value your comments on this!

Bruce Charlton said...

@WA - I was myself (rather briefly) a "catechumen" in the ROCOR. I feel the appeal, but the fact is that - since 1917 - there is nowhere in the world where the Orthodox church function as as it is supposed to function; which is with an Orthodox monarch and a Patriarch running the nation, and the whole nation organized around the church, and the church permeating all of life.

What exists now (especially in the West) is essentially the same kind of 'once a week (if that)' church as any other - which is very far from what I would need from a church. There was also, for me, the problem of the church's foreign-ness, and its multi-national congregation - this was exotic, but I found it constantly distracting and alien.

So, I have warm feelings to the EO church, in *some* ways more than any other; but that is mainly a sort of day-dreaming nostalgia for another time and place.

And the criticisms which apply to all major churches per se (including the way they behaved in early 2020 and did not repent) apply to the Eastern Orthodox. In a 20th century totalitarian society, such churches will (overall, and in trends) be on the wrong side in the spiritual war.

We should not get too concerned about denominations - either pro or contra. Any denomination can be fine for a particular individual in specific circumstances; so long as he explicitly retains discernment of values, and takes personal responsibility.

Michael Dyer said...

@Bruce thank you. While I don’t think I agree with you on all things regarding the Gospel of John, I believe it is very important because it’s the one for the Gentiles and I’m a Gentile, born and raised by other Gentiles among Gentiles. It’s the one for me specifically. Hence I believe it will perhaps always be more intuitively clear to Gentiles.

You also touched on something else and that’s the desire to go outside in when we should be going inside out. That’s what Jesus I believe explicitly has a problem with with the Pharisees, and we have our own variation, at least the tendency, that if we follow the right external plan we can obviate the internal.

A said...

My understanding as a traditional Roman Catholic is that we would have lived historically within a Christian society and within that guideline or boundary have followed our personal discernment and faith. Included in this quite strongly would have been the oral tradition of the Saints in which so many stories expound on the corruption of the Church hierarchy and doing what-is-right despite that through a personal relationship with Christ in prayer, Eucharist, etc.

This is somewhat a reply to Mr. Dyer's point.

As a modern traditional Roman Catholic this is difficult because you are no longer within an explicitly Christian society but primarily orienting it towards a common definition of truth, but rather doubly and outsider in which you not-only are supposed to evangelize the world, but recognize the Church itself is extremely corrupted and has to a large extent radically transformed thousands-year-old practice and definitions to better accommodate itself to the world. You almost inevitably fall into a doubly inward looking box.

I largely understand Dr. Charlton's critique and can not find fault, but also think it *is* possible with a better historical understanding to live as a Roman Catholic in a very corrupt Church and society, and as it is on the individual, family, and small community basis. The historical guideposts for holy days, seasons, and times, stories and tradition are wonderful to have access to and chose as one is attracted.