Sunday 9 December 2012

What is the point of creeds, dogmas, articles of faith etc?


I can remember - as an intellectual atheist - regarding creeds, dogmas, articles of faith and the like, as encapsulating exactly the kind of absurdity which demonstrated the wrong emphasis and irrelevance of Christianity.

This is, indeed, almost a cliche among those who are 'spiritual but not religious'.

Such people are not against Christianity; but only want from it the aesthetic side - the divine intoxication of music, robes, rituals - perhaps monasticism conceptualized in a guru-like way.


So why are creeds and the like - formal, explicit statements - things which Christians 'must believe'.

Why must Christians believe these things?


One answer is that:

The creeds describe the structure of reality 


Christians must acknowledge reality - because reality is truth.



Christians must not only acknowledge reality, but live by reality.

Knowing reality is one thing; but Christianity is the understanding that reality is about us specifically, as individuals - so the creeds give us the reality of the whole of creation, and our own place in it.

This is why the creeds (etc) have moral implications: morality is living in accordance with the nature of reality.


So it is the creeds which describe truth, and relate truth to virtue; subtract the credal elements from  Christianity and you are left with an almost wholly aesthetic religion - which is the 'Christianity' of many modern spiritual intellectuals (such as I used to be).

Aesthetic, non-credal 'Christianity' has one 'pleasant', or self-gratifying, attribute - which is that it makes no demands on the adherent. It is simply a resource for living - like the arts, therapies, entertainments. 

But - on the other hand - non-credal/ aesthetic 'Christianity' leaves the adherent isolated in his subjectivity; solipsistic; without conception of the structure of reality and without any relationship between his living experience and the objective universe.

Thus non-credal 'Christianity' leaves the fundamental problem of modernity untouched - I mean alienation; detached, lonely subjectivity without external meaning or purpose - all being arbitrary, labile. Nihilism.


So, intellectuals need utterly to reinterpret the meaning and function of explicit creeds, dogmas and other statements.

They are revelations of reality; not laws-which-we must-obey-or-else.

Of course creeds are also laws-which-we must-obey-or-else - but only because they describe the structure of reality and our place in it.

And if we do not understand or reject reality and our place in it; this will naturally have bad consequences - how could it be otherwise?

Hence the 'or else'. 



George Goerlich said...

I suppose being a modern who lives in a relativist selfish universe, the "or else" will always imply an authoritarian threat. Only if one gives up the modern worldview first can the reality-perspective be honestly considered.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Very well said.

Credere ut intelligere

Dave said...

Professor Charlton,

What do you think of the classical Christian education movement?

They seem to be commited to teaching Virtue. Will this be one strand of the remanant of Christianity?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dave - I think it would be an improvement; but it seems impossibly ambitious from where I am sitting.