Sunday 22 June 2014

Problems with the devout and active Christian life


As somebody who has been, I think, until now fated (unhappily fated) to pursue a largely individual and mystical form of Christian life - I am aware of many asymmetries between this path and the one of communal church practice.

For a start, there are all kinds of very obvious problems about being unaffiliated - perhaps the three most obvious being pride, craziness and despair. Pride, because of the habit of judging everything by one's own standards; craziness as a consequence of following a path without supervision of constraint, despair because so much depends on mood.

Furthermore there is the legitimate and necessary fact that individuals are judged by the church, not the other way about; and the institutional judgement across the churches is that an individual, unaffiliated Christian is necessarily in a bad way - either damned or consigned to a low level of salvation; and the individual Christian must reach an honest judgement about this without special pleading or rationalization.

The individual depends on the church - but the church does not depend on the individual - although individuals may influence it for better or worse; and of course the individual is often correct when the institution is wrong (although not about the most fundamental and vital things - however, what actually is fundamental and vital is often the question at issue).


Thus the dangers of the individual, mystically-based approach to Christianity are obvious to the point of being platitudinous - or even regarded not so much as a dnager as an impossibility.

But on the other hand, the individual can perceive, with a yearning and homesick eye, dangers of the devout and active life.

Looking at human history, looking around at the world today, it is clear that in terms of human psychology, there is no safe way, no foolproof way of being a Christian. The fear of pride, craziness and despair which an honest individual must acknowledge have their reciprocal threats from within a devout and active life.

In sum, a Christian life, doing Christian things - can become so busy that Christianity is hollowed-out from it. 'Christianity' becomes habit bolstered by obedience - and faith is like a complexly and intricately coloured shell covering little more than routine social compliance.


This is how I account for the astonishing capitulation of so many devout and active Christians to secularism - the abject ideological surrender to Liberal/ Leftist ideas of so many good people whose lives put me to genuine shame.

To take an example which has been much on my mind, Leftist Mormon intellectuals with links to the Mass Media have been engaged in an onslaught on the CJCLDS in relation to the wedge-issue of ordaining both sexes to the priesthood, this issue ramifying into a comprehensive rejection of the basic doctrines of the church concerning the nature and destiny of men and women.

As an individual I stand aghast that devout and active Mormons who are Liberals or Leftists and advocate reconstructing the CJCLDS on the basis of principles of gender 'equality'/ sameness. 

I am truly astonished that devout and active Mormons cannot perceive what seems so obvious - that the movement to ordain women is a secular aggression which, if successful would either destroy the LDS church, or reduce it to impotent insignificance (of which there are many examples - the closest being the Reorganized LDS).


But the fact is that so many people whose lives are so very much better than my own, active church members, who have done and do all the right things and are inside the church and exposed to wise and benign authority and teachings, and who have all sorts of good habits and practices - apparently lack the most basic discernment, apparently lack the ability to perceive what ought to be blindingly obvious; that the doctrine of sex equality is lethal to Mormonism - that it attacks the very root and basis of the faith.


My understanding of this is that when somebody leads a life devoted to observance - observances become just following practices based on doctrines; and doctrines are seen as... whatever doctrine is.

Active Mormons - whose every waking moment is taken-up with good works (and these really are good works, I am not being sarcastic) must tend to develop the idea that this comprehensive life is the real thing, the essence of what it is to be Mormon: sufficient to being a Mormon.

As if the active life was a factory for making good souls - and because it is a factory, all the aspects are a means to the end, and all the parts are essentially functional, and the parts can be - should be - replaced and improved when needed to enhance the function...

I am trying to visualize how someone who lives an active religious life inside the church could see things in such a way that they regard sex differences as something which could be obliterated, and yet imagine that the active religious life would continue - and indeed be improved by this change.

I think this can only happen when the 'life' has been severed from that which gives rise to the life: metaphysics, theology, doctrine.


My inference is that many active Mormons regard metaphysics and theology as if they were doctrines.

Doctrines can be changed, and are changed, and when done properly the change in doctrine will enhance the church.

But metaphysics is the understanding of how reality is set-up, and theology is the fundamental understanding of the meaning, purpose and nature of human life. These are not things that can be changed; they are things which are real - and the only thing that can change about them is understanding of that reality.


Since Mormonism is based on a metaphysical reality in which Men and Women are distinct and complementary, such that the highest goal in life is available only to the dyad of a husband and wife - this view of eternal reality absolutely and permanently rules-out any and all arguments based on the equality or sameness of the sexes.

The conclusion can only be that the active and devout life can be, and is, often detached from a fundamental understanding of the nature of reality - and becomes an arbitrary collection of interlinked social practices which can be, and should be, changed according to criteria that are perceived to be more urgently compelling.

So, on the one hand, a person lives wholly by the practices of an active and devout life - yet this life is horizontally justified. The active life is not seen as a thing rooted, but as a thing built or assembled like a mosaic - in which any specific tile can be change in colour and groups of tiles with an overall shape can be replaced by other groups that fill the gap reasonably accurately.


When active life, of any kind - whether it be mainstream secular life or religious life - is un-rooted, then it will drift.

Life will drift by random entropy and also in response to purposive evil. Parts are replaced, the replacement leads to new pressures (one change leads to another, creates demand for another) - change of parts is accepted as the norm, and never reversed, and bad changes therefore lead to greater consequences than good changes.

Life becomes the business of this replacement and responding and more replacement; life is active and busy - plenty to keep people occupied, far too much to do - no time and even less interest in fundamentals or ultimate objectives; all issues are reduced to the level of 'Why not replace this old chipped (imperfect) mosaic tile with a new one? (Fresh, fashionable, acceptable.)

Why not?" - and in a world based on continual replacement, there never is a good enough reason why not to replace this tile (among so many tiles) with a new one - maybe it will be nicer? Give it a try at least? At any rate it will make life interesting in novel ways...


An individual Christian lives very much in the realm of contemplation, mysticism, metaphysics and theology - it is his life which is deficient - and this is bad. However it is also bad when the life is active and devout but lacks any real contemplation, so becomes detached from metaphysics and theology and is reduced to a set of arbitrary practices.

And we can see that this is the reality for significant numbers of religious people whose lives are exemplary - their inner perceived reality is that they have developed a habit of busily ticking-off their duties and practices and that is it!

When somebody comes along with a proposal to change those duties and practices in a way which destroys the whole set-up, they cannot see what is actually happening, or else don't really care about the consequences - for them, one type of busy and full life of works is as good as any other - and if a church keeps the same name, then it remains the same thing.



Hermit said...

As a former atheist and now a devout traditional catholic following an individual mystical path I think I can understand what you are saying based on my personal experience.

My old atheism was directly related to my previous leftism and my christian modernism: liberal christianity makes no sense and I abandoned it after trying to bash the church from the inside.
Many liberal christians are christian only in their name and I fear their children will reject religion very easily.

But what about devout christians who just wants to change the "rules" of all time to get with the times?
They are doing the job for the enemy and thinks they are saving christianity by following the way of the world, how is that even possible? How can they not see?

My theory is that is very difficult for normal people to see the true meaning of liberal christianity (aka no christianity) because the entire popular culture brainwash us every day with political correctness and distorted values they call tolerance, equality and liberty.
For converts like me it's different: we know the error, we supported the error and then rejected it, we know very well why those fake values are wrong and how detrimental they are to christianity.

For this reason many times converts become tough apologets and are very harsh against modernists: they know the error and they fight like hounds of the faith.
No one attacks an idea more harshly than a person who rejected it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Hermit - thanks for that.

Another aspect is that mainstream secular culture has adopted a few Christian concepts but changed the meaning - so Christians are very confused by things such as the instruction not to 'judge' others (it merely means not to be sure whether another person is damned or saved - but moderns think it means that individuals should not evaluate moral behaviour); or the Christian injunction to forgive, which moderns seem to suppose means wiping the slate clean and not punishing wrongdoing and pretending that a person's past actions are irrelevant to the probabilities of future behaviour - whereas it really means (more like) we should not surrender to resentment and hatred.

Adam G. said...


In fact, liberal Mormons often insist that Mormonism is purely "orthopraxic" (concerned with right behavior), not orthodoxic (concerned with right belief), contrary to all the evidence. They then say say that they are justified in attacking the Mormon faith because they go to church every Sunday (although even on their own terms, they lie; they want masturbation and fornication and childlessness and any number of other behavioral evils to be condoned).

Lee Ann Setzer said...

A useful effect of the whole priesthood controversy, for me as a Mormon woman who is annoyed and offended by a vocal minority's assumption that I'm a downtrodden cog in a male-dominated machine, has been the need to step back and take a look at doctrine, and metaphysics as I've personally experienced it. What IS the doctrine, first of all? How does it relate to the Plan of Salvation, as Mormons understand it? Am I following it for the right reasons? I hope we're off the front page soon, and that there are no lasting wounds, but it's been a good exercise in self-examination.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - I saw this view most sharply when I read a book of biographical interviews with Sterling McMurrin. He was a strong Democrat who ended up a strange combination of someone who lived the Mormon life (as he had been brought up to) while disbelieving in pretty much all the underlying basis of that life. (Although he was maybe the first person who was able to explain Mormonism to itself in terms of theology and metaphysics).

McMurrin argued that this was a viable combination - and for him it was - but it was not sustainable across the generations, and in face of the escalating role of the Mass media.

@Lee Ann - Thanks for your first comment here! Hope all is well with you and Steve.

MC said...

The leaders of this movement are not deluded. They are at best indifferent to any negative consequences of conforming Mormonism to their desires. Unlike the countless people who leave Mormonism because it doesn't suit them, they have counted the cost of leaving as too high. Loss of friends, the rhythm of life, certain aspects that they actually like. They don't care what happens to the church so long as they can be wholly secular in outlook without actually leaving the church.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Imnobody -

Imnobody said...



Meg Stout said...

I figure God will do whatever He needs to do to save his children. So I look to the parable of the olive grove (Jacob 5).

I will try to produce good fruit and nourish good roots, since I don't want me and mine on the rubbish heap.

Hi Lee Ann!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Meg Stout

Welcome! I often read your work at M* with appreciation.

If you are new here, I have collected some of my Mormon posts at: