Monday 2 December 2013

Is it possible to convert people*directly*, without intermediate steps, from secular Leftist modernity to belief in a personal God?


My own conversion to Christianity resembled that of CS Lewis (and was indeed much influenced by his writing) - in that it was gradual and multi-step, and highly intellectual and abstract.

First there was an increase in interest in 'sprituality' of a New Agey type, and also a recognition that human motivation seemed to require transcendental truth (as well as virtue and beauty); and a line of research about fertility which pointed to the traditionally-religious as the only group who resisted sub-fertility under modern conditions.

Then a conversion to an abstract and philosophical theism, focusing onto monotheism, and then the necessity that God be personal - and then Christianity - but initially a Christianity-by-elimination which could not really acknowledge the specific necessity of Jesus.


But this is so peculiar a path, and contains so many pitfalls, that I wonder whether it would be possible to convert somebody like myself direct to belief in a personal God without going via the philosophical steps; because if it were possible, if it did happen, it would be stronger and more secure.


The key recognition related to a personal God is that only a personal God enables life to be truly meaningful.

People may suppose that an abstract and philosophical understanding of the universe - with a God defined in terms of functions - will suffice, but actually it does not. For life to have meaning with such deistic beliefs, a person is relying upon a whole lot of unstated and unsupported assumptions.


THE PROBLEM which requires solution is about my place in the scheme of things - the meaning and purpose of life - and meaning and purpose can only be understood in a relational sense. 

It is not merely a matter of understanding the 'set-up' of reality; but a matter of understanding what binds-me to reality - what binds, and what binds me specifically.

This means that reality must be concerned with me specifically, and I specifically must be concerned by reality.

This concern has to be personal, personalized, a matter of relationship.

There is no other possibility.


So, in principle, it may be possible to induce a religious seeker to recognize that the only coherent and potentially-satisfying answer to their search - the only kind of answer which answers the questions - is that of a God who is Himself a personage and has a personal relationship with me specifically and I with Him specifically.

Such a line of reasoning would therefore need to paint a picture of God as a person with plans for each of us individually, as well as for 'humankind' in general.

Such a picture would surely need to deploy the family as its primary descriptive metaphor - thus, the depiction of ultimate reality would not be cosmological, nor philosophical, nor ethical and not abstract - but instead familial and concrete.  


This line of argument does not take the seeker all the way to Christianity, but to a wider range of options - however it does go a lot further and faster than the line I took and CS Lewis took - and which so often peters-out without arriving anywhere viable.

And, indeed, if the description of reality in terms of a family is also a depiction of a loving family, a family for whom love is the primary and highest motivation - then this probably takes you as far as Judaism and Christianity specifically - in one great leap - and all that remains is the choice between them.



Anonymous said...

In my case, it happened in one step lasting about 3 months, and the initial push came almost entirely from disgust and the love of art.

I was a bog-standard leftist in most respects except that I was really interested in art. I had read my early modernists carefully, particularly Schoenberg, Apollinaire (e.g. "Les Peintres cubistes"), T.S. Eliot -- and I had absorbed their respect for the past and their ambition to produce new monuments of culture: new pieces that would take their places next the Old Masters, Beethoven and Bach, Spenser and Shakespeare as radically new but masterly and compelling artworks.

The problem came when I moved from a provincial center to a top school. I immediately realized that, far from the heady atmosphere I'd imagined, I was in a miasma of philistinism and a sort of incompetent careerism. No one really cared about studying the great works of the past or even the great works of the modernists. It wasn't like "The Glass Bead Game" or the ending of "Steppenwolf" -- more like a cross between "The Man Without Qualities" and "The Good Soldier Svejk".

Moreover, all of these urban, artistic elites and tastemakers, whom I came to think of as modernism's unintended but inevitable consequences -- its children, as it were, born on the wrong side of the blanket -- were utterly miserable and directionless. Even their perverted sex was joyless and boring. They didn't even have the consolation of having sold out successfully; most were only marginally solvent.

As part of my good modernist boy upbringing, I'd read Kierkegaard, and once confronted with modernism's bastards it couldn't have been more clear that they were living dehumanized, ignoble lives, and that many "boring, everyday" people were not merely happier but also much more interesting and alive. The Knight of Faith was real.

From there, it was a hop, skip and a jump to Christianity. I'm a very sinful person, but I'm happy to say that I have been protected from losing my faith, and that's made it possible to confront sins on one front without facing a crisis of belief of another.


Bruce Charlton said...

@bbtp - Thanks.

I took a longer to get disillusioned because I was in a basically honest world (medical school - of that era) and then a scientist at a time when it was mostly honest.

Nicholas Fulford said...

Each comes to where they are by different paths. We really only get to look through the rear view mirror to see how we came to who we are today. Who we will become tomorrow is a wide open question.

I was a Christian who has become an atheist, though I still have a tremendous fascination with religious narratives of many traditions. I am currently in the middle of reading Dostoyevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov", and am loving it. Dostoyevsky puts his faith and theology under the microscope, and his brilliant mind dissects things down to the essentials. It is a book that will give the thoughtful reader a lot to think about. (I know this is a digression, but I cannot recommend this book enough.)

And so, to answer Bruce's question, you cannot with certainty put forward a philosophical or religious position and expect a particular outcome. On the other hand, the smallest event at the right time can have a Butterfly Effect. You just don't know.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NF - That's true in an absolute sense - but of course we can only proceed on the basis that there are reasonably understandble and predictable causal links.

For example, an alcoholic or drug addict might be brought so low by his degrading enslavement to drink or drugs that he quite suddenly comes to see God and is born again - it has happened; but that does NOT mean that missionaries should therefore become drug pushers and booze sellers as a conversion strategy!