Sunday 4 February 2018

"What can I, personally, do to help?"

I think that the above question (or some variant) is a common cause of corruption in people, including people who understand something of the problems of mainstream modernity - because of the assumptions which people bring to trying to answer it.

The most lethal assumption is that humans interact only and mainly by communications - which are intrinsically indirect, uncertain, relativistic.

By indirect communications I mean the usual understanding of communications - that which we see, hear, touch, taste and smell - whether in 'real life' or at work or in the mass media / advertising/ propaganda; whether in unstructured observation and interaction or in formal discourse such as science, technology and the linked-bureaucracy.

IF a person is assuming that the way 'I, personally, an help' only by such indirect means - then they can only go down one of two paths: 1. that of engaging in a communication war of one against multi- millions - inevitably failing and becoming absorbed into the very system that they hope to change and improve; or 2. the path of despair, induced by the utter hopelessness of what they aspire to do and needs to be done. 

Deeper reflection adds the difficulty that communications can be/ will be misunderstood. I can write something, but what I write will (almost certainly) be misunderstood, one way or another.

And, more deeply, I could never know whether or not my communications to another person had been understood - because the only information I have about another person's understanding also comes via communications, which I myself might be misinterpreting.

All I have said about communications also includes actions; because actions are communications - any action we personally take is swamped by the multi-millions of actions of others. The consequences of the actions are impossible to know in advance; and even worse we cannot know (except by communications) what the results of an action actually have been.

In a nutshell, communications are intrinsically relativistic - so to believe that I could only help by my communications is a doctrine of despair.

This is why I have been focusing on the nature and possibilities alternative ways of framing reality like Primary Thinking and Direct Christianity. It is formally necessary - from many viewpoints and arguments, of which the above is only one - that we each as individuals are assumed to have the possibility of direct knowledge and direct participation-in reality - a primacy and directness that has nothing to do with the world of communications.

(...Nor with our own access-to nor influence-in such a world, nor with our skills at communicating, nor with our productivity.)

Only such a metaphysical revision - revision of our basic assumptions about reality; can save us from complicity in the world's evil on the one hand, or the alternative sin of despair on the other.

Having made that revision, and in light of knowing that this world was made by God who is good and we God's children, can we have the hope necessary to work to help things, in absolute confidence that our work will be effective - regardless of what appears-to-be happening in the world-of-communications.


David Smith said...

I was recently reminded of Bonhoeffer's "Cost of Discipleship" while working on "what was it that Christ actually said we should do" and decided to re-read it. It's been republished as a Kindle book by the folks managing the "Collected Works" project with lots of interesting notes. For this old man there's an awful lot of (it seems to me) his trying to tap-dance around remaining a Good Lutheran as well as wading through Academic-German-translated-to-English, but the basic idea that shakes out suggests that Direct Christianity may have been rare, but might not have been impossible in the first century A.D.

In a nutshell, IMHO, Bonhoeffer's point is that "real Christianity" is the Discipleship that he is describing, and that it only begins with a personal call from Christ. To me that sounds like something more than being baptized as an infant, attending Church and being a good person. In Bonhoeffer's model that is "Cheap Salvation" which is actually no salvation. "Costly Salvation" consists of responding to the call by being so connected to Christ that one is to a very large degree alienated from the world. "Many are called, but few..." not "are chosen" by Christ but by their own choice or ability to turn their back on the world. The Rich Young Man or The Wedding Feast in Matthew 22 are the prototypes.

Just a thought.

Bruce Charlton said...

@DS - Thank you for a thoughtful comment.

My theology is that of the CJCLDS/ Mormons (However I am not a Mormon - not a church member or attender and I do not follow the practices) - and a vital part of this is that I regard salvation as such as 'easy', although it can be (and is) refused.

I regard salvation as the gift of Christ's work - and all we must do (but we must do this) is voluntarily and freely accept it; this acceptance may be (perhaps usually has been, due to the limited reach of Christianity thoughout AD world history) after the death of our mortal bodies.

What is difficult (and presumably rare) is the highest level of theosis/ sanctification/ divinisation. in other words, I would interpret that many called/ few chosen as referring not to being few being 'saved' from Hell - but to few achieving the highest forms of post-mortal Heaven.

I say this as a brief and simplified statement of my convictions - not to try and persuade you of my rightness, in the space of a blog comment!