Thursday 15 June 2017

Why do so few Outsiders end-up as Christians?

I was an Outsider more than thirty years before I became a Christian - having read Colin Wilson's book in 1978. Wilson himself never became a Christian, despite getting very close to it in his first two books (The Outsider of 1956 and Religion and the Rebel the year after).

Why should this be? - why should the inner-motivated Man, who regards himself as set-apart (for good, or more often for ill), perhaps having an unusual destiny, the 'existentialist'... why should such a person fail to recognise that his only satisfactory terminus lies in the truth of Christianity?

I think the reason is partly to do with the Outsider wishing to hold-onto his favourite vices (drink, drugs, promiscuous extra-marital sex and the like) but it is also the fault of Christianity - which has become identified exclusively with specific churches (with, quite often, each one stating that it uniquely holds the keys of salvation).

The Outsider sees Christianity as a choice of churches only. Now some Outsiders - such as GK Chesterton or TS Eliot - do find a home inside one of the established Christian churches (the Roman Catholic church being a favourite in the early 20th century). But they are clearly a minority.

There is insufficient awareness of the possibility of being Christian outside of any specific church. And/ or of becoming a Christian before, or without ever, joining a church.

For instance William Blake is an Outsider hero, and Blake was an absolutely devout and explicit and focused Christian in his Life and all-through his work. And (not 'but') Blake was a non-church Christian who was extremely unconventional/ heterodox/ heretical. Since Blake regarded himself as a solid and inspired and proselytising Christian outwith any church and with an unique set of convictions and practices; so too can any Outsider.

Furthermore, many churches conflate (link-inextricably-together) the possibility of believing in God, Christ and the immanence of God-in-all-things including ourselves (such as The Holy Ghost).

As that great non-church and heterodox Christian Rudolf Steiner said: to disbelieve in God is to be, in a real sense, insane; in other words, it is to disbelieve any possibility of coherence, meaning and purpose - which is to regard all of life as a delusion.

The reality and significance Christ is the only source of hope and ultimate happiness - all other religions are - if true, at their best and by their own account - miserable by comparison with Christianity.

And to deny God within us and the world is to live earthly life in a state of detachment - since we can only observe and never actually participate in reality: we can never know.

For an Outsider everything must, sooner or later, be tested by intuition in its widest and deepest sense; there must be a solid sense of personal conviction and relevance. With a church orientated Christianity, this is applied only to the question of whether a particular church is the one path to truth, reality and salvation.

Clearly, most Outsiders have the intuition that such claims are untrue, and therefore cannot and do not even wish to join a church for which they do not feel any such conviction.

But if existential conviction is the truest test, then it ought to be applied to sub-parts, and not merely to 'the whole package' as put forward by a specific church. Thus, an Outsider may be intuitively sure that there is a God who is creator.

He may additionally be sure that (in some vital sense) Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our saviour and central to our ultimate happiness (even though the exact meaning of the key terms is something he will need to strive to elucidate).

And the Outsider may also realise that his knowledge depends on there being something like the Holy Ghost - a divine spirit inside himself, and everybody else, and every-thing else - which makes possible true understanding and knowledge; and works over time to guide us to a more divine salvation.

Any Outsider who becomes a Christian is highly-likely to be heterodox, or regarded as heretical by many or most church members - but he ought not to be put-off by this: he should still become a Christian, simply because it is true (true in a real sense, albeit a sense that needs working-on).

Without Christianity, the Outsider is doomed to be merely a psychologist - since the most he can say in favour of anything is that it tends to make people happier... or at least to suffer less.

If the Outsider is to be able to use the concept of 'ought' then he needs to be a theist; and if he is to be someone who regards mortal life as important he needs to be Christian; and if he is to regard his own freedom and creativity as important, he needs to believe in the possibility of direct, unmediated contact with the divine.

What the Outsider gets from this kind of direct apprehension of the truth of Christianity; is great assistance in finding, sustaining and growing his true self - and then in discovering and pursuing his destiny.

He may well also become happier, more motivated and more confident in Life - but these are side-effects and never the primary aim.

In sum - the core reason for becoming a Christian is to convert an Outsider from being merely a Psychologist to becoming a real Prophet.


Michael Dyer said...

My first thought on seeing the title is "Because no one asks them."

The church has grown terrible at evangelization, I think perhaps we've gotten "too clever".

You present the gospel, the Holy Spirit then points to Christ. It doesn't have to be more complicated than that, although there are many things that help. Instead we treat a\it as though we're trying to convince someone of a proposition, disregarding the highly convincing nature of the Call.

I don't mean a feeling, I mean the direct experience of the Holy Spirit working on the human soul. It's more like sight than just an emotional storm, although emotions may run high at the time.

We could also stand to make a few arguments about the importance of truth proper. The thing about truth is that it is the only thing that actually works long term. Lies can hang together for a minute but they all end in tears.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - Well, evangelisation works for some people; not least because life is usually enhanced by membership of a vigourous and growing, family orientated church.

But what is an enhancement for most people is not for the Outsider, since he nearly-always, sooner rather than later, ends up at odds with all institutions.

It may be that a church is exempted from this - when regarded as the one true path - so an Outsider can remain observant and orthodox; on the other hand the very extreme importance of religion for such a person, may amplify the awareness of what ought to be trivial religious disagreements; so they end by causing as much trouble as much larger differences in other areas of life.

Michael Dyer said...

I don't think I'm really viewing it that way. I don't mean that they see advantages to joining a church, I mean they encounter Christ. I mean regular full blooded believe in Christ or perish presentation of the gospel.

To take your point though I do like the very old school, like medieval Catholic view that there are many ways to be a saint, and personallly, I'm more than a little outsider myself. I don't really like the trend of just trying to get the parishioners as involved as possible and busy. I think it can be good for some, even invaluable for some, but when it feels forced it becomes a substitute for real practice.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - Whenever I have considered converting to another church than the one I was baptised into I am faced by the fact that new converts are required to swear to many things which cradle church members are not held-to.

The existing denominations that are really Christian all share this characteristic - which suggests that it is necessary for church order - perhaps excepting evangelical Protestants, who allow a low (but not core nor responsible) level of church attendance and participation without much in the way of intellectual assent to multiple complex propositions.

Non-coincidentally my main, albeit semi-detached, association is with a conservative evangelical (Anglican - my birth denomination) church.

As an Outsider I cannot make the comprehensive promise to live by the rules of any other church, because I now I will break some of these promises.

Michael Dyer said...

Ah, I think I understand you.

Chent said...

"As an Outsider I cannot make the comprehensive promise to live by the rules of any other church, because I now I will break some of these promises."

We all do... this is what repentance is for.

Whether we are Outsiders or not (I don't know what this means). I am in a denomination and I have real doubts about complex propositions of Christianity and complex propositions of my denomination.

So what are I going to do? Try to accept and pray for understanding, knowing that my intellect is too small (compared to God) to understand these things.

I have problems with the Church, too. The complete laziness about fighting political correctness is like a treason to me. I have tried to present projects to improve that and I have been rejected in a smug manner, from ministers that didn't want to do anything.

So what are I going to do? Try to accept the will of God and try do my best.

I am a Circle and Christianity is a Rectangle and my denomination is a Very Straight Square.

What am I going to do? This is called "the original sin". Try to do as best as I can. Suppress my ego. Suppress my intellectual pride. Submit. Change myself. It is hurtful. It is difficult. Oh, my God, it is so difficult. Why didn't you do the path a bit wider?

But this is the path of the Christian. Bruce, God has given you a mighty intellect and I have learned a lot from you. But Christianity is not meant to be lived in isolation. Read the Gospels: Jesus and the disciples were a group. When Jesus sends the disciples, He sends them in group. Paul speak about communities.

Nobody is so holy to live Christianity in isolation, Bruce. We are all sinners. We all need help... from other sinners. It's better a bad Church than a good individuality.

I have been following you for years and I guess that you are going to disagree about that. I win nothing telling you what I said and I know that you can outsmart me with clever arguments and with undeniable facts.

But, if I was you, I would reconsider my decision of being semi-attached to a Church and being and independent Christian. For your soul.

This comment is only for you so if you don't want to publish it, it's OK.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chent. I spent several years trying to clarify intuitively whether church (any particular church, or some church) was necessary to salvation and theosis *for me* here and now; and I concluded it was not.

Others would reach a different answer, a different conviction - but some, especially among Outsider types, would probably reach the answer I did.

I believe that it has been the forcing of choice between two options of Either Christianity-Church, Or Not-Christianity which has forced so many Outsiders to reject Christianity.

My conviction is that Outsiders need to know there is a third alternative to be Christian outwith any church - for them, for those like us, as things are here and now it is right.

CW Anderson said...

This post spoke to my soul. You eloquently elucidated the very Outsider path I've been on for over ten years, just recently coming to Christianity. Thank you for this. And I feel as you do about church organization. I think the preeminent concern should be not violating your inmost spirit (that still small voice, only felt in utter ego surrender which leaves you totally neutral as to whatever path presents itself) and if that calling is to remain apart then that is what you need to do. It would be artificial and therefore Spirit-less do to anything else. Perhaps the Outsider contributes only by virtue of the very aloneness which gives him his insights. It would be a waste not to share these, but then you are not as is evidenced by this very blog. We all have our role.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CWA - Excellent! - Your response is exactly the kind of reason I continue to blog.

Theramster said...

I truly enjoy your blog posts @brucecharlton

Wonderful @cwanderson

I see the same Spirit in this blog post as well