Tuesday 17 December 2013

What if the sensible, balanced middle ground is impossible (as it seems to be)


Sophisticated modern thinkers like to come up with a balanced, sensible, middle ground between two problematic extremes - but what if there is no stable middle ground?

What if the middle ground is merely a temporary transitional state between the extremes? What if the real choice is between those extremes - warts and all?

Since humans are (in part) animals, hence biological beings; our natures are (partly) biological - which means we have an inbuilt tendency to reproduce, to expand, to fill-up niches, to explore, to colonize, and to dominate.

This is not the whole story - but it is part of it.


So - when we turn away from all of this - for bad reasons but also for good reasons - when humans suppress their own reproduction, when they do not expand, nor explore, nor colonize, not to dominate - but to tread lightly on the planet... well, what actually happens can be seen all around us in the disappearance of Christendom and the West.


In striving to avoid the horrors unleashed by our biological nature we have instead created the culture that embraces death: delayed reproduction, voluntary sterility, falling and ageing populations, mass immigration and population replacement, euthanasia and mercy killing - and we have given-up on exploring and settling the Arctic, the Antarctic, the oceans and their depths; and of course outer space.


Yes, yes - I know all about environmental damage, exploitation and slavery, genocide, extinctions, the spread of deadly disease, minority authoritarian rule... and all the rest of it.  

But so far there is zero evidence of a viable alternative.

It seems that it is either expansion or contraction - in biology there is no other alternative to one-of-the-above - and what superficially looks like stability is actually an unstable dynamic equilibrium.


So, what is the Christian answer to all this?

Somehow Christianity must sanctify biology with love, as best as maybe.

Because anti-biology is not an answer; anti-biology is actually worse then domination and expansion; since a life and culture of despair, contraction, submission and self-willed suicide are demonic, not Christian.


Indeed, far from Christianity being intrinsically about anti-biological contraction and death; as we have seen, Christianity has been one of the earliest casualties of anti-biology.

So, if anti-biology is of Satan, not of God; we must embrace positive (not negative) theology, the way of affirmation (not negation), the path of the patriarch (not the celibate); Christians must (on the whole, on average) reproduce, explore, colonize and (yes) dominate - or... we will first despair, and then die without fruit.  


H/T to an exchange with Adam Greenwood from http://www.jrganymede.com


AlexT said...

Celibacy is meant for the few, not the many. It has virtually no effect on birth rates. Holy Russia had hundreds of large monasteries and an explosive birth rate all at the same time. When most of the monasteries where shut down, the birth rate plummeted. I'm not saying there is a direct correlation, but you can have both at the same time. I get the point of your post as 'grow or die' is something i firmly believe myself, but don't blame Christian celibacy for the satanic negative biology. Monks and Nuns are NOT the problem. They are a part of the solution.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alex T - I certainly used to believe that - influenced by the Roam Catholic John Senior, and by Fr Seraphim Rose's example. And maybe it will in Russia. But monasticism is barely a factor in the UK, and in general terribly disappointing when I have investigated.

The Anglican monks are very few - mostly socialists; RC religious orders are hotbeds of Liberalism/ Marxism - of course there are only a handful of Orthodox of whom I have heard this remnant ROCOR group is good - http://www.saintedwardbrotherhood.org/).

There seems not the smallest glimmer of hope from any of the Catholic churches here - not least because the RC and CoE leadership is corrupt and un-Christian in emphasis. Hence my summary.

AlexT said...

Full disclosure: I am Orthodox, and lean strongly towards the Old Calendarist (anti ecumenical) faction. Bearing that in mind, the following advice may be seen as self serving. I have heard of the brotherhood you mention and read some of their materials. Visit them, talk to them, ask them for advice. Please stop basing your views of monasticism on the modernist joke that is the CofE and the vatican. Go directly to the source. Ask the true followers of Christ what their lives are about. The answers may or may not satisfy you, but they will be honest answers by honest Christians, not lies told by undercover marxists.
Also, the Lesna monastery in Normandy may be worth a visit. Russian, female, VERY traditional, also close to the UK. All i'm asking is you talk to someone knowledgeable before making up your mind. The stakes are too high(your immortal soul) for guesswork.

George said...

Mormons appear to be the largest, relatively coherent, and healthy religious group at present. I hate that I would have to lie to join - I can't believe the historical story even if it is true in some sense.

Simon said...


The Mormons recommend you read the Book of Mormon and then pray to know whether it is true.

The Crow said...

Stability is the aim. Balance. A state that can be depended upon.

Barbarism and domination can bring people to a position from which that becomes possible. At which point the brakes can be gently applied, and the resulting damage lessened to the point of neutrality.

Go forth and multiply, to the point where enough is enough. Dominion over the animals, to the point where that becomes no longer necessary.
Take the train to your destination, but remember to get off.

Adam G. said...

Bruce C.,
Very interesting. One of the keys is the development of customary limits on biology, because ideological limits have no stopping point. There is no good way, given human psychology, for them not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So to the extent Christianity can develop an answer, its answer in part is probably going to have to be oblique.

Bookslinger said...

@George, participation by non-members is encouraged. Just show up for the block of meetings on Sundays. There are also weekly activities for teens. And usually monthly activities for whole families, for children,for men, and for women. An occasional pot-luck dinner or picnic. A Christmas dinner/party. Helping people move (loading or unloading their truck for do-it-yourself movers, is sort of the modern replacement for the community barn-raising.

While the weekly Sunday services are open to all, temple worship is restricted to members in good standing. However, the 2 to 4 weeks prior to a temple dedication are set aside for public tours.

NP Par said...

It could be that Christians turning away from the inward path of monasticism has made the faith weaker. First explore inner space, including the voyage to God, and the faith will be stronger.

On the subject of monastics, my experience is not that they are gone, rather that they no longer exist in formally sanctioned modes. In some local churches you can find otherwise homeless people camped. While it verges on media cliché to say there are the saints -- there are the saints.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - Yes. But perhaps stability and balance are hoped for at the individual level - here and now - but society will always be either growing, or dying?

@Adam "One of the keys is the development of customary limits on biology, because ideological limits have no stopping point. There is no good way, given human psychology, for them not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. So to the extent Christianity can develop an answer, its answer in part is probably going to have to be oblique."

Wise words! And it is by now clear - from rampant politically correct Leftism - that modern societies cannot have 'customary limits on biology' without these customary limits being embedded in religion; which is, as you suggest, an oblique matter.

@NP Par - I certainly agree that proper Christianity must be about such mystical aspects. And I think it was a *terrible* and evil thing that monasticism was completely destroyed and suppressed by Henry VIII in England (rather than reformed).

However, the (partial) Reformation in England seems to have led - for a while - to a stronger and more widespread and mystical Christian faith - as evidenced by our greatest Christian mystic writer Thomas Traherne, and by the work of the 16th-17th century Bible Translators notably the supreme genius Tyndale.

And Mormons are often, or potentially, extremely mystical and spiritual people - very much inner guided by personal revelations - although this is obscured for most observers by the clean living and good works aspects.

For example, it is normal and wholly acceptable for the Mormon leaders and authorities to 'tear-up' when making making international speeches, when overwhelmed by an up-welling of inner and mystical feeling. This certainly seems genuine and sincere to me - and is a phenomenon also reported of mystical monastics, especially in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. If you look at many of the General Conference videos on the lds.org website you can see for yourself.

jgress said...

I think focusing on living according to the Christian tradition now is (of course!) the best option. In the past I've wondered, for example, what the results of everyone raising large traditional families would be, given what we see happening in countries with high fertility today. As you've pointed out, in the past nature provided a cruel solution: you could afford to birth many children because most of them would die before reproducing. Now that we've conquered that aspect of nature, living by the same values results in overpopulation.

But most people don't hold to traditional values anymore. Moreover, we just don't know what would happen if everyone today adopted these traditional values, alongside modern medical science. Perhaps God would miraculously provide a way for everyone to live; perhaps our own ingenuity would uncover a solution (space-travel?); perhaps enough would become monastics; or perhaps the result would be mass starvation, as Malthus would predict. In any case, our fears for the future are no excuse for not doing what's right now.