Sunday 25 November 2012

The over-promoted society: Bishops and other religious leaders


In an over-promoted society, where the majority of people can do their jobs but do not understand them

problems become obvious when there is change or crisis.


I shall use the Church of England as an example. There has been a substantial decline in the intelligence of people in Britain: what has been the effect on the church?

Well, the people running the church, the Bishops etc, used to be among the most intelligent members of society; and they were cognitively capable of understanding it, and of repairing it.

As intelligence declined (and as the church declined too, and became less able to attract the most intelligent) the people running the church could no longer repair it - but they could maintain it.

So long as nothing went wrong, so long as they didn't try to modify the church - things were fine.

So long as the leaders were humble enough to recognize that they their predecessors were superior in understanding, then matters went on without much of a problem. 


But the trouble with the over-promoted society is that it has a world view of progress, that things are getting better, and that therefore that frequent and radical change is necessary.

So, the leaders are incapable of positive change - because they don't know how to repair their institution, and are cognitively incapable of learning - are no longer humble, but consumed by their vision of progress.

They change things, and things very obviously begin to fall apart. They modify, they modernize the church...


If the modernized church was an aeroplane we could observe that it is grounded, unable to fly - yet, because it is a church not a piece of technology, the people who have wrecked are able to claim they have improved it.

The aeroplane may not be able to fly - but look! It can be used as a cafe and clubhouse!

And yet, claim the leaders, although it no longer flies it is still an aeroplane!


Intellectual decline continues, and the next generation of Bishops and church leaders comes along, and they are people who can neither repair nor even do routine maintenance...

So we get Bishops who are like untrained mechanics armed with monkey wrenches and let loose on some piece of intricate high-tech machinery.

The results are predictable - wreckage.


But in the over-promoted society with the religion of progress, the cause of the wreckage, the reason for the wreckage, is concealed from the wreckers.

The monkey wrench wielding incompetents blame the wreckage of the church either on the people who wanted to leave it as it was, on the basis that we moderns who cannot even repair it, very obviously lack the competence to rebuild it - these are the Prayer Book conservative and Anglo-Catholics; and/ or they blame the wreckage on those who want to simplify the church (leaving the core) to the point that we can understand, repair and maintain it (roughly-speaking, the conservative evangelicals).


But the wreckers are shielded by their incompetence: and this incompetence is due to inability.

The sexual liberation issues that have first divided then corrupted the CoE are really, really simple compared with the theological disputes of the past. They are no-brainers.

Using the standard evaluative methods of the church; the answers are very clear, very easy, unambiguous.

And yet the current Bishops cannot see this; cannot follow simple reasoning based on tradition and scripture (and the traditional interpretation of scripture).

The will not acknowledge their own intellectual incapacity, and - even worse - their own worldly corruption compared with the great Christians of the past whose work they are overthrowing, wrecking.


Incompetence is itself not an evil, and is anyway unavoidable in a declining society.

But when incompetence is denied it leads to pride which is the worst evil: that is the current situation.


The level of cognitive incompetence among church leaders is now so extreme as scarcely to be exaggerated.

This elite are able not to understand matters which used to be within the grasp of most of the population.


The Church of England leadership look at the doctrines of 2000 years of Christianity and they regard them with utter incomprehension.

They cannot imagine how any good and reasonable person could hold such ideas - they regard these ideas as monstrous.

They regard any modern person who holds these traditional Christian ideas as vile.


Since their own competence is, for the Bishops and other leaders, beyond question; the problem is those who challenge the results of their incompetence: those who point out that a church which used to fly is now merely a cafe and club; and even worse, a cafe and club with rapidly declining attendance.


But a church is about flying, not catering.

A church that can fly even two feet above the ground is still a church - but a church which is grounded and functions as something else is not a church: not at all, not even a little bit.


The vast majority of the Bishops and Christians leaders are not just mediocre Christians (we are all that) but not Christians at all, since they have redefined Christianity on non-Christian grounds; and their church organization is not a church at all, since it has discarded religious criteria.

At root this is a matter of sin, of apostasy; but the ground for this, and its swift and nearly-complete corruption, is a matter of over-promotion, of intellectual decline; as is the crisis of leadership in all domains throughout the West.

Once we recognize the fact of substantial intellectual decline, decline in general intelligence, then much becomes clear.


Bishops - it is apparent - do not understand the church, they do not understand the millennial sweep of Christianity - hence they cannot help but wreck it whenever they try to make any change and whatever their motivations might be.

As always, repentance must come first; they must repent their actions (and words, and thoughts) in recognition of their own reckless incompetence; and must pray for guidance.


The Christian Church in general does not depend on cognitive ability - but the Church of England, specifically, has done.

We must lean to do without it; and all the tools are there to enable this - we have scripture and we have tradition, thus we have the traditional understanding of scripture.

If only we are humble enough to be guided by it.  




Bruce Charlton said...

To put things the other way around - what should a modern Bishop (or other Christian leader) do, finding himself over-promoted and in a situation he does not understand?

(Mutatis mutandis this applies to all modern leaders.)

Essentially, there are two possible legitimate approaches: humble deference to the authority and wisdom of the past (the tradition-based Catholic, especially Eastern Orthodox approach - who are reluctant to change anything for fear they have misunderstood its necessity); and humble but tight grasping onto the essentials (the scripturally-based Protestant approach, where there is acknowledgment, even assertion, of the inability of fragile humans to avoid the multiple potential corruptions of a Christianity which has too many valuable but inessential aspects).

Thus the approach should be to retain complexity but leave well alone if possible; and/ or focus on the core essentials of Christianity as elucidated by the great Reformation theologians.

What is very obviously impossible (because extremely destructive, indeed fatal) is to simplify Christianity according to *new* criteria that are being devised, on-the-hoof, by those intellectual (and Holiness) pygmies (compared with the Christian past) that constitute the modern church leadership.

JP said...

To me the problem seems primarily ideological rather than cognitive. The incompetence and failure is not due so much to inability as to their being captives of political correctness. They cannot follow simple reasoning based on tradition and scripture not because they are inherently stupid, but because such simple reasoning conflicts with PC ideological dogma.

"They cannot imagine how any good and reasonable person could hold such ideas - they regard these ideas as monstrous." -- again this is not stupidity so much as ideology.

Like humanities professors, C of E leaders are "not just silly about ‘everything else’, but also silly in their professional work."

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - We must resist the temptation to put everything down to one cause - the rapidity of decline in the past half century argues that something exponential is going on, which suggests mutually-reinforcing causes.

The primary cause is the accumulation of sin in the world; but this is made much worse by the general belief that the opposite is occurring - that there is a rising tide; or an escalator of progress which is sweeping us upward (and will continue to do so, however much we mess with its workings).

In the case of the CoE (but this applies to other complex institutions such as Medicine, Universities, Law) - the central mainstream of Anglicanism was very cognitively complex - it really was.

FD Maurice was the leading Anglican theologian of the mid-19th century, and I have been trying to understand him: it is very difficult stuff. He was correct, I am sure, but my grasp of what he was saying is very imperfect.

I had to approach him indirectly via HH Kelly who regarded himself as no more than a simple minded follower, disciple of Maurice.

Now, of course, Kelly seems stratospherically complex!

And I don't know that anybody alive really can understand Maurice anymore - certainly they cannot use these principles to reform and repair the CoE.

In the long run, institutions cannot be more complex than the understanding of their leaders; so over the medium-long term institutional complexity MUST reduce; but the complexity must be reduced (as in the Reformation) by great individual (specific human) reformers *building-up* from core principles - and NOT by summary or condensation of the complexity into general schemata (not, therefore, by statistical procedures such as voting).

Boethius said...

off-topic,but when was the last time average intelligence was so low in Britain?Roman Britain?Heptarchy?

dearieme said...

"we have scripture and we have tradition": wrong. Surely you have scriptures and traditions, amongst which there are various inconsistencies?

What happens, for instance, when research reveals that the traditions of the Catholic church of late antiquity were incompatible with the practices of the earliest Christians, who themselves adopted various different habits in their different congregations?

What happens when you find that many traditions are as bogus as the Donation of Constantine - that is to say, were not introduced by mere error but were (probably) conscious frauds?

Bruce Charlton said...

@dearieme - There are disagreements. But modern change in the CoE is concerned with aspects about which there has been centuries of consensus.

@B - It's a good question, and I don't know the answer except that a significant rise in intelligence occurred during the medieval period (cf the work of Gregory Clark from UC Davis) - but how far back this began I don't know.

One plausible answer might be Saxon Times, another pre-Roman times - but these are not precise answers in any way.

AlexT said...

Don't overestimate the Eastern Orthodox approach. It is being abandoned too in the name of 'Christian unity'. Modernisation and political correctness are not huge problems in the east, but ecumenism is. The results are similar, deep divisions, alot of confusion, and obvious heresies slowly creep into the everyday life of the Church. The remnant is getting smaller by the year.

Cantillonblog said...

bgc - some recommendations for books by HH Kelly?

dearieme said...

"aspects about which there has been centuries of consensus": umm, but what, as I asked, if the centuries of consensus were demonstrably wrong?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Cantill - if you word search Kelly on this blog you will find some.

@d - according to Wiki the Constantine letter was always disputed. But I know nothing about it.

Two points:

About some matters there has been consensus among devout Christians until the past few decades.

If we overthrow the authority of traditional interpretations of scripture, then what is being put in its place? - and is there any grounds to suppose this replacement would be superior (superior from a Christian perspective)?

Timothy Axleberry said...

Prof. Charlton, what if the IQ decline in Britain could be explained simply by the two world wars, which had killed all our good young men?

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

With the Holy Spirit's help, churches can survive to a large degree of apostasy. They will die only when there is no more validly ordained clergy left, in the case of sacramental churches, and no more believers faithful to the beliefs of their founders, for all types of churches.

What apostasy does immediately is impairing the fruitfulness of traditional and holy practices. For example, the Eucharist is valid and efficient as long as it is consecrated by a validly ordained priest, but a bad priest will not help his flock grow in sanctity by his words and example, including his manner of celebrating the religious services. It will be up to the believers to do this by themselves, and it means a slow spiritual starvation.

Very complex and difficult to understand theological writings are not maybe the best. In any case, if there are errors they would be more difficult to discern. In my experience, the greatest and more saintly theologians are generally clear and not so difficult to understand, whereas I often found modernist or bad theologians awfully technical and cryptic.

Bruce Charlton said...

@TA - I think that contributed to the decline - but it started 100 years before.

@SDR - Yes. Perhaps the sacramental denominations have a special vulnerability vulnerable, since access to the sacraments may (in conditions of corruption) be conditional upon being subjected to anti-Christian propaganda from priests.

wrt Theology - theology that is too complex for us is not good for us (of course, all theology requires effort, compared with entertainment from the mass media).

But more complex theology may be useful/ necessary for religious leaders to remain in the right track - in order to plan, and make the right kind of adjustments and changes.

For example, an ideal priest or pastor would understand theology at a more complex level than (most of) his flock; and a Bishop more than that.

That is 'all else being equal' but holiness is far more important. And if the theologian is not a real Christian, then their theology is likely to be actively harmful to Christians (or to have considerable potential for/ likelihood to do - harm).

JP said...

@Timothy Axleberry,

That explanation for the decline in Britain is unsatisfying, because the Germans and the Japanese lost EVEN MORE high quality young men in WW2 and yet achieved much greater success than Britain after the war.

Also, I think BGC considers that the IQ decline includes the United States, which did not suffer many casualties in the world wars.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JP - the point I would note is that (perhaps for more than one reason) German creative genius - which was very strong, indeed they pretty much invented the concept - was lost by the end of WWII, if not before. And the Japanese never had it.