Saturday 25 November 2023

The spiritual problem of traditional "high volume" (H-V) religion - and what should replace it

Almost all traditional religion was extremely "high-volume". By this I mean that there was an enormous amount of stuff that the 'faithful' adherent was supposed to know and do...

Rituals to memorize; books to read, learn, and be able to expound; a yearly round of festivals; parable, stories, proverbs; songs; codes of dress and wearing of symbols; multiple social obligations and privileges... 

The list is literally endless, because no matter how much you have done, there is always more that you could - and probably should - be doing.  

High-volume ("H-V") religion was therefore the norm. It is what traditional religions wanted from their adherents, it is what their adherents wanted from their religions... 

Traditionally, adherents wanted a whole world of religion, as and when they ask for it. They wanted a Big religion that always has something to say, and never runs out of things to do. 

And the religious institutions and authorities want the same - and this synergy led to the power of longevity of Great Religions of the past. 

However; the problem with high-volume religion is that it is inevitably passive - passive overall and on average. 

HV- R is inevitably orientated (ultimately) towards obedience - and that obedience must necessarily mostly be uncomprehending

The adherent, even the priest; is required to believe everything, do everything including the mass-majority of what he does not understand - and nobody understands everything. 

This uncomprehending passivity is inevitable with H-V religion and therefore obedience is the most highly valued among all attributes; insisted upon by the religious regulatory practices.

Because in practice human ability and motivation cannot absorb masses of stuff, and learn elaborate practices - while also evaluating that stuff and discerning which is valid and necessary, and determining what is core and what peripheral. 

When a religion has become really high-volume (and when that volume is continually increasing) there is never sufficient time for checking whether we have actually understood what we have absorbed. 

Never enough time to cross check the consistency of all the many things we have been told. Inadequate time to follow-through to the implications and outcomes of what we have been told. 

So, in practice, H-V religion is always - and remains - for each and every adherent, a largely undigested mass

An undigested mass that must be obeyed. 

High-volume religion is intrinsically a case of all... or-nothing. 

Embrace and live-by the whole lot, or else you are not "one of us". 

Passive uncomprehending obedience - or heresy. 

The problem with this kind of high-volume/ passive religion is twofold: 

1. H-V R no longer works

2. H-V R is no longer what is needed. 

1. H-V Religion does not work, especially in The Modern West, because it is not wanted anymore - it has been rejected en masse and increasingly over several generations... 

Droves have left the churches; and of those who have not (yet) left, most implicitly reject whatever of their religion that conflicts with mainstream, materialistic secular-left totalitarian ideology. 

Religion has become a lifestyle choice, a social convenience or obligation.  

2. High-volume religion is no longer what is needed (and this is the deep reason why it does not work) because at this point in our spiritual developmental history it is (I believe) God's desire that Man's religion becomes something that he comprehends, chooses, and inwardly endorses.

By my understanding; in a totalitarian world of universal institution (including church) corruption; Men are now called-upon to be less passively obedient to institutions, including church institutions (which are, anyway, all net-corrupted); and instead required to take individual responsibility for their religion. 

If it is to be truly, spiritually, distinct from the mainstream materialism; Religion must become personal, inwardly-motivated, and active. 

This means that a Man's religion Must Be understood

In conclusion; H-V religion is inappropriate and ineffective and obsolete. 

What replaces it needs to be a low-volume (L-V) religion; in which all aspects have been individually reflected-upon with discernment directed towards understanding their validity, coherence, importance. 

All aspects of L-V religion can be, and need to be, recognized as a personal choice; and then those personal choices can be known as such. 

Only when we have a depth of comprehension of our religion, and have actively endorsed them; we can resist the relentless attacks on our assumptions for the mainstream of our society (including the attacks from the institutional churches). 

Only a low-volume religion has the possibility of functioning strongly and effectively on a personal basis.

H-V religion is the past; L-V religion, a potentially valid future



Stephen alexander said...

I am an orthodox Christian in the USA who attends churches in several different jurisdictions (Antiochian, OCA, Greek, Carpatho Rusyn) and I can tell you are wrong. none of these churches are declining and several are blossoming. In my home church we just welcomed a family of six. as for myself I have attended hundreds of orthodox services in the past few years, and I made no effort to memorize the services- they organically became PART OF MY BEING.
the rituals, the liturgy and the sacraments are the strength of the church- tradition is so important. the sacramental traditional churches (and in the larger world- traditional ritual religion of any kind) are growing as an antidote to modernity- the bastard child of the enlightenment and the reformation that is destroying the world.
i have read your blog for years and find much to agree with- but sometimes your "all churches have compromised" line of thought to be wearisome - my church is socially conservative and mystically inclined - we worship in words and practice that predate the existence of the nations that you and I reside in. one Christian is no Christian, and you need a church to actually practice Christianity. the church I worship in is the true body of Christ in the 21st century.
I am following and ancient living faith in the belly of an evil dying empire- I welcome you and your readers to join me.

Chris M said...

I suppose a low volume religion must also be a high density religion if it is to yield the same good fruits which high volume religions once did. This of course seems to be entailed in what I see as the general line of your arguments, that we are under less compulsion but God is demanding more effort from us in the present age.

My concern is that religion is not necessarily conserved and some people are falling into a low volume, low density form of religion (which I hazard would basically be superstition and witchcraft) and will cause a lot of trouble being rescued from their predicament.

Perhaps a new HV religion will appear from the various strategies which emerge to help solve this problem?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ChrisM - No past or possible religion is evil-motivation proof.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Stephen a - I am aware of present exceptions of individual churches that remain faithful within denominations - but despite what you say Eastern Orthodoxy (in the west) is net-corrupt, and totalitarian Establishment-affiliated, as was obvious in 2020.

What I doubt is the supposed robustness of such individual churches in face of unremitting pressure to assimilate or die. After all, a church would need to be detached from the economic system, and many aspects of law (e.g. employment law, law relating to usage of buildings),, from the financial system (because anti-Establishment dissent is punished by appropriation of funds and removal of banking etc).

All that needs to happen is that a faithful Christian church be pointed-out to The System, by almost anyone, for a wide range of reasons; and there are innumerable ways in which it can rapidly be made inoperative.

But beyond that - my main point stands that High Volume churches have the intrinsic weakness of being based on uncomprehending obedience.

At root, it is a question of what one believes that God most wants for us, and from us. We need to ask ourselves whether it could possibly be true that God the Creator, and our loving Father, really could have set-up the world such that, as you suggest, "One Christian is no Christian, and you need a church to actually practice Christianity"?

For me, to ask this question and comprehend its implications, is to know that it cannot be so. In the contrary, every single one of God's children *must* be able to attain salvation, whether or not any church (or any specific church) happens to be operating in his vicinity.

This seems so intuitively obvious as to be beyond debate.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Stephen a - I should add that it is great that you have found a good church! I wish you well.

To clarify: My attitude is that we should avail ourselves of church to the highest degree, whenever that church is helpful to our spiritual state and development.

But this should be done with an awareness of our our ultimate personal responsibility. If (or when) that church becomes corrupted or net evil, then we should be ready to leave and either seek another, or made do in whatever small group is possible, or alone.

The important point is not pro or anti church or any particular church; but this matter of responsibility. It was very different in the past; but now a real Christian ought not to be *primarily* obedient - that's what I am trying to get across.

And this implies a low-volume Christianity at the heart and core of ultimate conviction.

David Earle said...

> This seems so intuitively obvious as to be beyond debate.

I agree. Salvation occurs in the heart. By Stephen's logic couldn't somebody physically restrain another from being saved?

Bruce Charlton said...

@c1 - Sorry, I don't have any opinion on that.

Bruce Charlton said...

From a Stephen alexander comment:

"we are often forced to eat meat sacrificed to idols- in fact nearly every day lest we starve to death. sone truly evil corporation is behind nearly everything we consume...

"in considering the Orthodox church- this is a church that has survived Islam, it had survived soviet communism, and I feel that it has the best chance of surviving the persecutions to come because of its fundamental reliance on rock solid liturgy- in spite of whatever evil the world can throw at it, it has a basic and (relatively) unchanging series of powerful rituals- which can survive under much pressure, and unlike Catholicism it is not dependent on a titular head (the bishop of Rome) to survive.

"I am ready to abandon the church should it apostatize- but I feel that my church no matter how far it had bended has not broken- and as I has stated even the most purist of bodies has compromised. I compromised the moment I woke up- in the food I ate, in the clothing I put on and certainly the moment I logged on to the internet to post these comments.

"...I urge you and your readers to not give up on traditional sacramental Christianity and come to church to eat the body and drink the blood of God- despite whatever compromises they have made."

The Anti-Gnostic said...

I am deeply sympathetic to the Orthodox adherents--I was one--but their ecclesiology is completely wrecked, and this leaves them with insoluble theological problems. Two examples: 1. There can be only one bishop consecrating a Host (through his deputy priests) in a diocese, which means the numerous overlapping dioceses in the Americas and Europe are blaspheming every Sunday, since nobody knows who the real bishop is. There is no provision for parallel bishops because otherwise you would be unable to police rogue bishops. 2. Patriarchs and other bishops are chosen by the Holy Spirit acting through the Apostolic Succession, but in the Ecumenical Patriarchate the Muslim Turkish state gets an absolute veto: the nominee must be ethnically Greek. Theologically, the Holy Spirit can no longer choose the Ecumenical Patriarch.

Then there's the birdemic Litmus Test: the secular authorities commandeered the practice of what we were told was the sacrosanct Divine Liturgy, and the bishops let them. Hence theologically, the State, not Christ, is now head of the Church and dictates the Liturgy.

The sheer volume of praxis is really problematic. In good conscience, there's no way to receive communion.

Like Bruce, I believe that if you feel you are getting spiritually fed at a parish then by all means attend and support it. We are in undiscovered country at this point. I have some thoughts (and that's all they are!) on where a revived Christianity might lead in terms of organization and praxis but that's for another comment.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - I think when Eastern Orthodoxy was really working at its best, then it did not allow itself to get hung-up on questions such as those you describe. The priests etc agreed Not to focus on the kinds of Aristotelian scholastic issues that took over in the West from around 1000AD

When all of life took place in an Orthodox society, then specifics can be let slide, without this leading to apostasy. But as long as there are rules, then they will not be repudiated - so you get a mismatch between rhetoric and practice.

And as human consciousness becomes more intrusive, then people notice inconsistencies and ask questions which are felt to require answers - so that the deliberately imprecise Platonism is no longer allowed to fuzz-over the theological and logical cruxes that so much feature in Western Catholicism.

Seraphim Rose wrote against the ultra-correctness and legalism of some conservative Orthodox - and spiritually he was surely right; yet it simply doesn't work in the modern era to tell people "not to worry" about something, once they have started (or been induced) to begin worrying about it.

The business of the Old Believers in Russia was a terrible story. I can see that both sides had some of the right; yet the best 'solution' would have been not to get fixated on these issues in the first place - the matters just were not important enough! To my mind, this was an early manifestation of the modern condition.

In the course of the dispute, the warm heart of Christianity was altogether lost on both sides. There have been many similar disputes; and they usually get settled by force rather than right.