Thursday 9 August 2018

The need to be twice-born - or, that modern Christian faith must become active and conscious

THE challenge of this time, in this place (the modern West) is that unless our Christian faith is conscious and active; it will not survive.

In the past and in other places, a socially-inculcated, immersive Christianity - just accepted and rejoiced in - was sufficient. Here and now it isn't. Other times and places the Christian could be 'once born' - now he must be twice-born*.

When I became a Christian, declared myself a Christian - I was at first once-born. My Christian faith was a gradual, seamless transition from prior atheism and materialism. It was only after a few months, in response to the challenge of first finding myself in a 'liberal' (ie fake) church and then in a real (in this instance evangelical) church that I was 'born again' and recognised the qualitative break in my perspective on everything that Christianity meant.

(Much credit for this must go to the way that the best protestants emphasise the theme of 'salvation by faith' - it was exactly what I needed at that point.)

It is my belief that our society, England, Albion - The West - was divinely intended to transition between a once-born Christianity (socially implemented and inculcated, passive, unconscious, taking it for granted) to the twice born state. However, the only path from once to twice is via the recognition and inner experience of atheism, doubt, nihilism - and despair.

Ideally, the phase of atheism is a brief transition. But The West, by failing to resist demonic temptation - especially in relation to sex (the second-most powerful human instinct, after religion), but also from pride-resentment and more general this-wordly hedonism, backed by pervasive dishonesty - got stuck in the atheist, materialist, sceptical phase. the phase became 'permanent' - having lasted and increased and accelerated over about nine generations so far - except that it is self-destroying. 

So, our starting point is atheism, materialism, nihilism - fuelled by hedonism and reinforced by dishonesty. That is where we are. That is where we start from - and things are still getting worse.

The fact that many individuals are Not in this state (are once-born Christians) - is fortunate for them (until they get corrupted) but we should not be distracted from the essence of our predicament. We cannot return to the once-born situation, because that depends-upon society being organised such that Christianity is natural, spontaneous, instinctive and pretty much just-happens. Insofar as our Christianity relies upon a Christian milieu, upon passive absorption, it will be corrupted, sooner or later.

From where we are, we can only move forward to a deliberate, conscious, chosen Christianity - such as has never existed in the past except among a few individuals.

That is the special challenge of these times - for individual, not for 'society' because society is lost, gone, destroyed. So, we must rely upon individuals, one at a time, finding their own path. Which includes finding for themselves - with invisible divine help, no doubt, once intent is established - but not being fed, the help they need. 

The key word is agency. It is not about 'individualism' but about agency - which is 'free will', but free will of the real (and divine) self. It is getting our-selves to the situation of recognising the deepest and most important issues and assumptions, and taking personal responsibility for our choices, our faith, our beliefs, our motivations.

We must first become agents (which is not a spontaneous thing - but an achievement) and then exercise our agency. Of course, people may choose wrongly, but where we are now is that people are not even choosing. They are once-born evil! We need to be twice-born - even if we are already once-born Christians.

It is a huge risk; but that risk is unavoidable in going from once- to twice-born; and that is The risk which is characteristic, definitive, of this time and place.

*The distinction of once- versus twice-born comes from William James's book The Varieties of Religious Experience


William Wildblood said...

I've not come across this distinction between once-born and twice-born before but it's quite true (though I might prefer to think of it as conceived and then being properly born!). It's the difference between believing something from the outside and making that thing part of yourself, becoming it. This, as you say, was what was supposed to happen with a transitory phase of seeking to know through understanding instead of simple faith. But we have succumbed to various sins which include mental pride and spiritual laziness with a simple lack of imagination being a factor too.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - The once twice distinction seemed to work for me. Initially I certainly regarded myself as once born, but then went through 'second conversion' - which was actually, properly speaking, the real one. It was also describable - like CS Lewis - as atheism, theism, Christianity - with my first phase of self-identified Christianity being really more like a flavour of theism than genuinely Christian.

William Wildblood said...

Just different ways of describing the same thing. I do think though that if the idea is to become like Christ then initial conversion still leaves you on the outside in the great majority of cases. It's the difference between believing in Christ as saviour and Christ actually being born in you and (eventually) literally converting you into a higher type of being. This is conversion as in a kind of metamorphosis. But it's the same idea.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It is not that we must become agents. We are already agents, effective causes of our own future. What is necessary is to recognize and accept the profound and disturbing implications of the existing fact of our agency.

Christ parsed being 'born again' as a second birth precisely because our first birth into society was insufficient. But I will add nothing more to being born of water and of the Spirit.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - There are long stretches of life when our real self is buried beneath superficial, inculcated and false selves; and agency is a potential only. Some people seem unaware of this real self, or just regard it as on a level (or worse than) the other selves.

Chiu ChunLing said...

I think that it is important to distinguish between free agency and agency simple.

Free agency requires that we be aware of the truth that we are the major effective cause of our own destiny. We cannot be free agents until we know that we are agents.

But simple agency does not require that the agent be free, it can be entirely enslaved but still be the effective cause of its own destiny. The links in a chain are all links in the chain, each one of them exerts the full force of the whole chain, any of them breaking would break the entire chain. It is not just the first link, or the last, but every link that is the effective cause of the chain as a whole exerting force.

Bruce Charlton said...

My point is that, here and now, the conscious, explicit, deliberately chosen has become necessary. The fullest agency.

Chiu ChunLing said...

It is of course a necessity to salvation.

The point I'm making is that there is no reason to allow people to think that, by choosing not to be free, they can avoid responsibility. One of the great lies of our time is that, because God is merciful to those who couldn't help themselves, such mercy will be extended to those who refused to help themselves.

We are not in the position of taking on a responsibility that does not exist till we embrace it. We are only in the position of facing the reality that we are responsible or choosing to be held responsible for trying to evade our responsibility.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Yes, important point.