Thursday 17 May 2018

The brittle, hardness of traditional forms of Christianity

The traditional forms of Christianity - the main denominations or churches, are - it seems to me - extremely brittle. They are all or nothing, unreformable without starting a collapse leading-to destruction - they lead to, and seem to require, hardness among those who administer them.

Unfortunately, this characteristic brittle-hardness and imposition upon the individual is, I firmly believe, intrinsically and irreducibly anti-Christian.

So that, while we might say that overall and on average, many or most traditionalist churches have been - for significant periods, net-Christian (overall Christian, more than 50% Christian...); they have also had times, places and persons when they were certainly net-anti-Christian; because, whatever their practices, however 'correct' their behaviours; their motivations have been sinful.

This applies in different ways to Calvinist protestantism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism... but the clearest example is the Roman Catholic Church.

Old style Roman Catholicism - as seen in Ireland or Spain up to the 1970s; or in parts of Britain with Irish communities such as Glasgow and Liverpool - was a sustainable religion; but it had plenty of oppressive and dead-ly aspects. Very 'school dinners'. It had strong elements of arbitrary authoritarianism, oppression, harshness...

The hope among some sincere and real Christians seems to have been that Roman Catholicism could be sweetened, warmed, made more fluid and organic... but the attempt to do this was instantly subverted into dilution, apostasy, and assimilation to secular leftist politics. So, in the late-1960s there was Vatican II implemented, the replacement of beautiful Latin with bureaucratic vernacular, an explosion of Marxism among religious orders, a release and facilitation of sexual abuse from among the radical priests; and overall less practice, less belief, less Christianity.

I feel that with the RCC it is all or nothing - to be viable it needs to be authoritarian, heavy-handed, and anti-individual; and any attempt to reform the undesirable aspects will just smash it.

This has also been the case for the other big Christian churches; although the decline has tended to be less immediately obvious than with Roman Catholics. The Church of England and international Anglican communion seems to have been unaware that it was held together mainly by the Book of Common Prayer and Authorised Version of the Bible. This was highly prescriptive, and the language was becoming less comprehensible... so from the 1920s it began incrementally destroying these unifying texts until nothing now holds the church together but its secular bureaucratic structure.

The big Nonconformist churches - such as Presbytarians, Methodists and Baptists - were known for their strict ethics, plain living, detachment from hazardous activities such as gambling, drinking, and mass media. The life was narrow and rather colourless and lacking in culture... but when the restrictions were eased, the nonconformist churches crumbled to dust; either disappearing or becoming de facto social clubs.

If this argument is true, which I believe it is (and Christian traditionalists agree that there is no such thing as reform, and that all pretended reforms are actually destruction); then it is a real problem if there is going to be no going back to the old practices. If, that is, there cannot be a return to any form of traditional religion of any kind; then Christianity is doomed...

This cannot might mean three things. 1. It might mean that, for various socio-political reasons, it is extremely improbable that the mainstream churches can, in practice, recover from their current shrunken and corrupted states... that there is just not enough to build-on; the baddies out-number and out-rank the goodies several-fold.

2. It might mean that we are now so deeply sinful that we have ceased even to want salvation, that we have come (en masse) actively to desire our own damnation and those of others; and we have entered the end times; and the world will move-into the state of general depravity that precedes the end of the earth and the second coming of Jesus.

Or, 3. which is my understanding, that 'cannot be a return' may be because God's destiny for mankind is linear and sequential, and the traditional era of a hard-brittle Christian religion is now left-behind us; and our only options are either to stay in the current phase of progressive collapse and corruption or else to move forward to some unprecedented form of Christianity - something real, devout, primary, central to life and living; and something that has never previously been seen on this earth.

To traditionalists, who identify Christianity with one or another Church, and for whom Christianity outwith that Church (or some Church) is an oxymoron (self-refuting nonsense) this is just a version of 2. - that we moderns are too sinful to want what we need.

My conviction is that - for many modern people in many modern situations - the Christian possibilities within a Church is worse than the possibilities outside. But more accurate is to say that churches are, or ought to be, secondary; most people cannot and should not depend on them primarily. When a Christianly-helpful church is available and possible, then support it; when not, get on with being a Christian on your own.

I think the best possibilities of a Christian future will depend on those who take responsibility for their own Christian faith. But the 'mechanism' by which this will take effect (if it does) will not be socio-political; but will instead be spiritual-mystical - and observable in terms of remarkable 'coincidences' and unforeseen 'luck' - due to God arranging things invisibly, in the background.

If we, each as an individual, really are pushing in the direction that divine destiny wishes us to proceed; then this is exactly what will happen. We can be sure of it.


August said...

I see it as the difference between bureaucracy versus nobility. That is, it worked when the noble class was involved, but no matter how 'good' a bureaucrat is, his incentives are misaligned. Must keep the non-profit status, mustn't do anything that threatens retirement. I have to guess, since I grew up under the bureaucratic system, but I suspect this would be most obvious in confession. Priests tend to play amateur psychotherapist and also seem to follow the progressive times.

So it has become brittle and hard, because it doesn't work with the bureaucratic mindset. It was easily infiltrated because much of church life is akin to a performance, and as long as they can learn their lines, the bureaucrat can pick it up where the noble left off. But then there is drift through the ages due to lack of understanding. The R.C. has it the worst, because it has probably been the most bureaucratic the longest.

I agree with you that we can't 'just go back.' But the noble class must be grown again- this is not just genetic, but epigenetic in nature- there are a lot of noble families still around, but they have been trained to be bureaucrats. So, attempting to hand any authority back to existing families leads to bad outcomes.

Chiu ChunLing said...

That is to say, what is needed is not reformation but revival.

Reformation is implicitly and often explicitly appealing to the idea that if the bureaucracy of the organization can be strengthened (never weakened), then the spiritual life can be renewed. But this is always and evidently futile.

The order and unity that testifies to true faith in Christ arises spontaneously from the genuine discipleship of those who accept Christ alone as their shepherd and guide, rather than trusting in the arm of flesh. To dream of imposing order and unity as a means to produce true faith is like trying to control the position of the sun in the sky by using wires to control the facing of sunflowers.

Chent said...

Old style Roman Catholicism - as seen in Ireland or Spain up to the 1970s; was a sustainable religion; but it had plenty of oppressive and dead-ly aspects. Very 'school dinners'. It had strong elements of arbitrary authoritarianism, oppression, harshness..."

Well, I lived it and it was not like that. It was not perfect but much better than the religion we have know, not to say the world we have now. In Spain, people were much happier than now (you only have to see the suicide rate). With much more human warmth than today. To put an example, the door of my parents' house was open all day long so people could get in and get out to see the family, now they have a reinforced door with alarm connected to an alarm company. In little towns, neighbors were friends (not anymore) and the priest was another person, who was treated with respect but familiarity. It was common to see him in the local bar drinking a bit of wine and playing cards with the neighbours.

By the way, I don't know why do you speak about "school dinners". That time in Spain, they were practically unknown. People dinnered at home with the family. Are you sure you don't remember about your "school dinners"? Are you not sure you are projecting the harshness of the English "stiff upper lip" tradition onto the warm Spaniards (and Irish) of yesteryear.

The hope among some sincere and real Christians seems to have been that Roman Catholicism could be sweetened, warmed, made more fluid and organic... but the attempt to do this was instantly subverted into dilution, apostasy, and assimilation to secular leftist politics.

It was not subverted (read Sire's "Phoenix from the Ashes" and Ferrara's "The Great Fa├žade"). From the beginning, a minority of radicals wanted to replace Christianity with liberalism disguised with Christian language. If you do that in the Church and the world is getting more and more radically liberal, it is no mistery that you end up with a liberal Church and people quitting the Church. As studies show, the USA churches that are declining more rapidly are the most liberal. The same happened when RC went from Christian to liberal.

I remember priests telling us that sin was not such a big deal, that Christ also sinned, preaching all kinds of heresies or doing liberal (or "feel good") sermons while the TV sold sexual promiscuity and materialism, night and day (thank God, we were spared of the most radical aspects like feminist nuns).

The liturgy transformed in a bureaucratic service that does not keep you closer to God but that glorifies the ego of the priest. Most people are sheep and only do what their shepherds do. This is the importance of having good shepherds who follow the Good Shepherd.

Chent said...

"I think the best possibilities of a Christian future will depend on those who take responsibility for their own Christian faith."

That would be wonderful, if it was feasible. Bruce, for the last years, I have been thinking that you think that things that work for you can be generalized to everybody. Most people are not brainy enough, independent enough, conscious enough, individualistic enough to follow the path you follow. All the readers of your blog are like you (otherwise, we wouldn't read your blog but watch soccer or soap operas). I can imagine your ways working in me (in fact, I practice some of them including taking responsibility for my faith), but 90% of the people are not like you and me and your methods won't work for them.

Your last post about keeping a journal was more realistic, saying "well, this works for me, , won't work for everybody, why don't you try it?". This was a wise approach. But now you imagine a Christian revival of people taking individual responsibility for his faith. This won't work because most people are only followers and are not strong enough to sustain a faith without the help of others.

In the history of the Christian faith, 90% of people have been people who go to Church and do as it is said to them. With no mystical experience and very small knowledge of the Bible but with good intentions. With a limited prayer life. The same way, most communists never read Marx or could tell you the details of historic materialism. You can say that this is awful and everybody should be nerd. I won't argue with you about this being good or evil, but I will about this being feasibe. It's impossible to imagine a Christian revival with methods that only 5% of the population can follow.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chent - Agreed that the old days were better than the new; but they were also decisively rejected and are still decisively rejected (including by most of those who were there).

As soon as coercion was removed in Spain, the RCC collapsed (as did the birth rate) and it was incredibly rapid - literally 'incredibly', in that I would not have believed it possible, if it had not happened.

But my main point is not to argue this, but to state it - I think it is just a fact: albeit a spiritual fact, not a material fact. I'm pretty sure of this. If you disagree, then you already know what to do, and presumably do it.

I *can't* imagine a Christian revival - I can only see vaguely of what nature it would *have to be*; and 'have to' doesn't make it probable. Certainly it could not and would not be 'for' people like myself who are extremely unusual - but it is only very unusual people (but Not me) who might create and catalyse.

I am very pessimistic about what is likely to happen. But my main concern, in this tiny space of public discourse, is that people who might read this blog should Not continue to be decisively repelled from Christianity by the insistence that to be a Christian entails choosing a denomination, joining it at whatever compromise, and then 'doing what it says'. Some can do this - but plenty will not, because they perceive that actually existing churches are net-harmful organisations, net anti-Christian organisations, lacking in the Holy Ghost - and to place oneself in obedience to them would therefore be a Bad Thing.

(Those serious Christians already in a church by birth are differently placed; yet are often very disobedient, and selective about what they do; but the situation of an honest convert requires them to swear on sacred oath, all sorts of things above and beyond the person who grew up in the church and - as a born-again Christian - finds themselves situated inside a particular church.)

I have no mass scheme, and regard evangelism as one soul at a time. And I try to remember that a single eternal soul is 'worth more' than an entire 'civilisation' which has (relatively) come and gone in the blink of an eye... Of course civilisations Are important, very; but they are a contingent means to an end.

As I keep saying, from a socio-political viewpoint, the situation is hope-less; our hope comes from divine assistance, God working-with-us when/ if we are aiming in the correct direction (and bearing in mind that the aimed-at results are spiritual, not material).

The Social Pathologist said...

This is a very good post Bruce.

I just want to make a few comments which are meant to be respectful.

The hope among some sincere and real Christians seems to have been that Roman Catholicism could be sweetened, warmed, made more fluid and organic... but the attempt to do this was instantly subverted into dilution, apostasy, and assimilation to secular leftist politics.

My reading of events prior to V2 was that the smart guys knew that there was something seriously wrong with the Church, especially with regard to its response to modernity. V2 was an attempt to tackle this but where it all went wrong is in trying to get the old bishops to be "cool". I don't think that they fully understood what was trying to be achieved. Henri de Lubac, in influence at V2, certainly deplored many of the new changes. And also, might I add, Leftism was far less influential than pop psychology.

I think one of the really big problems affecting Catholicism was the triumph of the U.S. in the 20th C, with it's democratic ideals. This, and the inherent anthropology in Catholicism which posits that the average person is rational--in the widest and broadest sense of the term--justified a populist approach to Church reform rather than one based a deeper understanding of the will of God in the context of the Modernist Crisis.

I feel that with the RCC it is all or nothing - to be viable it needs to be authoritarian, heavy-handed, and anti-individual; and any attempt to reform the undesirable aspects will just smash it.

I certainly feel that's how the Trads see it. I think it appeals to a certain personality type.

Personally, the way I see this playing out is that the Catholic Church will remain but it will change into a more doctrinal orthodox religion which will be more tolerant in its pastoral approach. I think that we might even see remanent orthodox Protestant orders worshiping within it with the Church tolerating the difference of belief. I'm not sure on this but it's a hunch.

There's a bit in Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" where he mentions that the Catholic Church will probably end up keeping the best bits of Protestantism.

As for Protestantism, I think it is effectively dead. I don't say this with a sense of relish or triumph, rather an acknowledgement that it has passed as a social force.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SP - Thanks.

Some Conservative Evangelical Protestant groups are thriving where I live, and Protestants are probably the only churches to be thriving among native Brits (I understand some Pentecostal churches are quite successful), although they are substantially fortified by Chinese and Africans. The church I support and am most associated with is of this type -

I went to an SSPX service a few years ago, which meets only once a month; there were about 100 people but none were young and most were women. My feeling is that the British Catholics were so schooled in obedience that the laity have been easily corrupted by their priests, without protest.

Anyway... my overall opinion is that I see no hope for any substantial revival, and awakening, or anything else - led by any or all of these groups; although I wish them well, and I know some people find some of them very valuable.I'm happy to see any serious Christians getting in with things in their own way.

But... It's just when I see the huge scale of corruption, sin, moral inversion - and the complacency and self-blindness; the media addiction, shallowness and fashion-slavery... the despair and self-hatred... the incoherent materialist metaphysics and refusal to admit the existence of metaphysical assumptions... Well.

Michael Dyer said...

I think there's some definite parallels in the Old Testament, continuous undulation between sincerity to God and varying degrees of apostasy, compromise, culminating in theologically orthodox (Jesus Himself told His disciples to obey the Pharisees, and told the woman at the well that she was worshiping at the wrong mount) rejection of the Messiah.

I wish there was a term for it but the problem is the domination of men who for whom the "system" is the most important thing. Like SocialPathologist, I am more keen on what is known as doctrinal orthodoxy than I think you are, no offense, but I am keen on it because I believe it to be true. There are too many men in leadership who are interested in "what works" (the system) and have lost love of the truth. The irony is that once you focus on results, the side effects of faith and wisdom, you lose the faith and wisdom itself.

For centuries it has been believed that sincere heretics will often find their way to Heaven. It is also a common theme among Muslims who convert to Christianity that they met Jesus in their dreams; not every time of course, but often enough. I suspect it is because men who strive toward who God is, not merely to the concept of Him, with their heart, God will reveal Himself.