Monday, 28 May 2012

Put not thy faith in institutions


I grew up in a world which put faith in institutions.

Leaving aside the church for a moment (since I was an atheist) I was among people who had faith in the United Nations, and the European Economic Community (now European Union), the United Kingdom, England, the Labour Party, the National Health Service, Universities and more abstract institutions such as Science and Education.

Such things were regarded as net good, that is good in essence and on average, good on the whole, tending towards good...

I now perceive that none of these are worthy of faith - indeed all modern institutions are net bad, bad in essence and on average, bad on the whole, tending towards evil...

Yet I have not found any worthy substitutes. 


This world is one in which people seek institutions in which to put their faith - I do it myself, somehow I can't help myself - yet for honest people this has become harder and harder.

We seek some grouping or activity in which to place our hopes and to which we wish to dedicate our best efforts.

Yet we are thwarted in a search for worthy institutions with which to ally ourselves.

Indeed, it is probable that there are none - indeed why should we expect there to be any?


The hardest thing for Christians to accept is that this applies also to the official mainstream churches and denominations. If we consider any large, powerful Christian church, we will find that its leadership is driving it away from the Good and into closer alliance with secular hedonistic modernity.

At an institutional level, large and powerful Christian churches are net bad and to support them as a whole is, I am very sorry to say, to support the forces of evil.

(Of course, this has been the usual situation in evil societies - the churches become corrupted - sometimes heretical elements in the churches have led corruption. )

And, conversely, any net Good church - worthy of overall support - will be small and weak.


Since most of us work (and worship) in large and powerful institutions, we need to get used to the fact that the good elements which we admire and would wish to support are minority, local and dissenting - usually beleaguered, declining or on the verge of extinction.

Our choice is to be one of these dwindling islands within the large and net-evil institutions en route to being swamped; or to work in a weak and tiny institution that is good-on-the-whole.


This applies to churches and denominations.

Real Christians have a choice: to be a persecuted minority within an overall (on average) wicked and corrupt large and powerful church, or whole-hearted members of a church that is overall good but small and weak (or something quantitatively in between).

If a Christian is a member of one of the larger and more powerful churches, he will either be in an embattled minority or essentially corrupt.

(And, of course, most of the embattled minorities are themselves essentially corrupt! - embattled minority status is of itself no indicator of goodness.)


We are not on the winning side, and the desire to be on the winning side - and part of something large and powerful - is a force tending towards our own corruption.

What we need to remember, what ought to give us hope, is that everything good we do has an effect.

Not that it might have an effect, but that it does have an effect: not a contingent effect somewhere down the line, but an instant, universal and eternal effect the consequences of which may be obscure and take time to unfold.


Not that we necessarily know how or where it has an effect - probably we never will know anything of this (at least not while we are in this world) - but that every single personal, obscure and apparently-'insignificant' act of good is in reality of vast import.

The more difficult our own situation, and the more overwhelming the might of evil institutions brought to bear on Christians, the more Christians are made to feel futile: the more clear should be the universal (albeit mysterious) power of individual acts or tiny and temporary alliances.




The Crow said...

Christians are futile.
Sad but true.
The only 'institution' worthy of wholehearted support is God. The creation. The whole.
Add to it, become it, give to it and take of it.
Leave Jesus alone: it was not his doing, that mortal men took his message and politicized it.
If he were around today, he would storm into the temple, all over again, and tear it apart in fury.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - If Christianity is not true, then it is indeed futile. If Jesus was not who he claimed to be, then we should indeed leave him alone. The first and greatest commandment is to love God above all else - certainly above the creatino (which he made). Why then should we want to become part of creation (give to it, take of it), which we already are and do? But to be absorbed into creation is simply to cease to be human, or to die - that's what some religions aim for, an end to consciousness and suffering: death. But Christians have been promised everlasting life - resurrection, not immortality; to be Sons of God and still ourselves but perfected. If this is true, then it is a far far greater promise than any other religion or ideology; but of course if you think it is not true, then naturally it seems futile. At bottom, the only reason to believe in Christianity is if it is true.

The Crow said...

And does wishing make it so?
We can not know exactly what Jesus claimed to be, only what others claimed him to be.
I am as certain as any man can be that Jesus was a mortal man who achieved enlightenment.
This would cause him to say that he was God, and God was he. While mortal men, being mortal men, would interpret this in the exact same way they do today.
Entirely misinterpreting it!
Words can make no distinction between the truth and the appearance of truth. The truth one knows, and the truth one has yet to know.

I hold that Christianity is, indeed, fatally flawed, and was from its inception. That it worked, with obvious benefits, for as long as it did, is testament to its power. But is it complete truth? I am convinced it is not.
Yet its parts are of lasting value, and should in no way be summarily discarded.
The Bible is a source of ancient knowledge that, like any source of knowledge, has value.
But certainly it is not, as many Christians claim, the literal word of God.

Christianity induces fear. Fear of God.
Fear ensures the journey is never made, towards that which one fears.
It ensures, also, a compulsion to hedge one's bets, and always maintain a way back. Thus the journey to enlightenment is never undertaken, and thus: no more Jesus's.

The eye of the needle does not just refer to material goods. It refers, too, to burning bridges and sinking ships. One may take nothing with one. Not even a means of retracing one's steps.

Jesus took a one-way journey, and realized he was God. Not God-himself, but indistinguishable from God. The truth may not be found in words, only in the journey itself.

Thanks for your reply, Bruce.
It's the best exchange we've ever had :)

dearieme said...


Brett Stevens said...

It seems to me that institutions go bad because the society around them goes bad, mainly because the individuals in that society get selfish and reject the idea that they must at some point share a values system or goal.

The fault isn't with the institutions. Those are external things to both the individual, and that shared sense of values and goals that we often call culture. It's encoded in heritage, too; you can't separate it from race, but it's not solely race, either, which is where the modern far-right goes off the cuff.

I recently wrote an essay in which I claimed that modern society has been in decline for 2,000 years. People assumed I was talking about Christianity, but that was not the intent. It would be emotionally convenient to have something to blame like Christianity, capitalism, monarchy, etc. but decline is simply a matter of us losing those shared values and goals. Usually this occurs because the laborer caste, given greater longevity and survivability by the innovations of higher castes, overpopulate and seize power, drowning out more sensible voices.

When this happens, all institutions get infected because the way to succeed is to repeat the popular dogma of the laborer castes. As The Crowd points out, Christianity is a way of describing the divinity of the universe. If those words get corrupted, the truth of them does not change, but it is disconnected from them. The instance of the religion gets corrupted, perhaps, but the truth of it lives on in those who can uphold it.

My suggestion to all moderns is to never retreat. Join mainstream organizations, figure out the vocabulary and rituals, and then begin injecting your traditionalist perspective. You don't need to totally change them. All you need to do is provide the glimmer of an alternative, and it will seduce away others who are tired of the dysfunctional but cannot yet articulate why it is dysfunctional or what they'd like instead.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme -- but the RNLI is small and weak - QED.

@Brett - I can't make sense of any model for decline that begins in the early Roman Empire and comes to now - I can't think of anything which has consistently declined over that period: there have been big ups and downs in all the variables I can think of...

James James said...

The solution is to build up a network of honest institutions. Keep your dealings with dishonest institutions to a minimum: only deal with them insofar as they force you to. Don't seek power through the dishonest institutions: this imbues them with the authority to bestow status and power. That way, you will not care that your organisation or network is small and weak.

For an organisation to be admitted to the network, it must be vetted and approved to make sure it is honest. The organisation that controls the network, that does the vetting and approving, will be called "the Church".

Of course, Churches which maintain approved lists of people and organisations for you to associate with, and prevent you from associating with people and organisations not on the list, are popularly known as cults. But as a member of such a Church, you will ignore popular opinion.

As people join the network, they stop dealing with institutions outside the network. Dishonest institutions lose their ability to bestow status, and eventually lose their power.

This requires people to actually convert to your network/Church.

Bruce Charlton said...

@James - Fair enough - but where would you start? Maybe it would have to be a network of individuals, rather than institutions... This is pretty much how I envisage real science being regenerated.

Lordy! said...

Is Monarchism an institution, Bruce? You've supported it elsewhere and I agree. It seems to me Monarchism is potentially an excellent nexus of being both institutional and not, and also bridges spiritual realms and real world organizations. You sometimes appear to be solving the problem with one post and dissolving with the next.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lordy - Monarchy is an institution, so is the Church. Monarchy is desirable, the Church is necessary; yet, we cannot have faith in them as they exist. Both probably do net harm at present. That does not, of course, mean that either should be abolished - but it merely recognises the existing state of affairs.