Saturday 3 November 2018

Traditionalist Christianity, Biblical inerrancy and their residuum of unresolved positivism

The deep and ineradicable problem with all forms of backward-looking, traditionalist Christianity is explained by Owen Barfield's idea of 'RUP' - the Residue of Unresolved Positivism.

Of course, understanding the full power of this critique depends upon accepting the idea that human consciousness has developed/ evolved; such that throughout Man's history possibilities are closed-off, as other possibilities emerge. Nonetheless the negative critique can be appreciated even without this; if we take into account what is known about the Hunter-Gatherer societies that preceded the agricultural - and if it is acknowledged that the conditions of H-G societies were closer to Man's natural and spontaneous behaviour.

Anyway; the insight is that all agricultural-based - or 'agrarian' - societies are a development from H-G conditions, and contain ways of life that are specific to them - they are an historically-contingent society, as we can now appreciate since we are aware of the H-G societies that preceded them and the post-industrial revolution/ modern societies that replaced them. The Agrarian are 'middle' societies.

It is an historical fact that Christianity emerged and grew in developed-Agrarian societies - and many of its features were (either therefore or contingently) those of such Agrarian societies (and probably-therefore have declined since) - for example Christianity depends on literacy (which was not a feature of H-G societies), sedentary settlement, social-function hierarchy and specialisation - eg. a priesthood, an institutional church... and so on.

Furthermore, Christianity emerged and grew in societies where people were less able to attain direct contact with the 'spirit world' than H-G societies, and less 'animistic' than these societies; but much more spiritual and animistic than modern societies.

To put is another way, the agrarian Christian societies were not as positivistic/ materialistic/ reductionist as modern societies, but far more positivistic than H-G societies.

This Agrarian positivism is evident in - for example - their highly systematised, formal, abstract theology; their dependence on literacy with its requirement for interpretation, memorisation, analysis and synthesis of texts; the existence of specialised systems of law and philosophy - and so on. For instance; any system of Christianity based-upon the textual inerrancy of The Bible (which underpins much 'evangleical' Christianity of the post-industrial modern era) is significantly positivistic.

In other words, all backward-looking traditionalist Christian systems have a great deal of positivism in them - a great deal of materialism; with the consequent distance from the livingness of the world, the experience of the spirit realm and instead the experience of alienation (only sometimes and temporarily overcome in specialised situations such as ritual and prayer).

If it is agreed that we moderns need to get beyond positivism/ materialism, going back to traditionalism, going back to The Bible, just Will Not Work.

We would need to do something more, and different.


Chiu ChunLing said...

Positivism would seem to reject logic, since we know that logic is neither logically nor scientifically proven, nor ever could be either in principle. The validity of logic is the premise of all logical reasoning, therefore any logical proof that logic is valid necessarily would be an exercise of petitio principii. Logic is also fundamental to science, and thus a scientific verification that logic is valid would encounter the identical problem.

Anyone that has talked to a delusional person (especially someone with generally disordered reasoning rather than something like a persecution complex, which only involves a discrete obsessively held error) realizes quickly how reason and science are helpless if you don't have a shared set of assumptions of valid inference and induction. In dealing with an unreasonable person, you have to appeal to their own unreason rather than to reason.

The faculty for spiritual understanding is similar to reason, particularly in this sense. It is pointless to try and communicate spiritual truths through the medium of characteristically spiritual insight to someone who is closed to such insight patterns. You simply have to appeal to their unspirituality to help them see that they are in error.

The question is whether it's at all necessary. Much as I aver that everyone must make a sincere effort towards their own salvation rather than relying on a communally imposed habit of socially approved obedience to some outward performance of the commandments, there really doesn't appear to be any fixed standard for how well one must understand the doctrine in a given sense. As long as someone is trying their level best to live the Gospel, they may be doing well enough for eternity even if they seem foolish to others, whether those others are worldly or really more advanced in spiritual understanding.

Of course, charity demands that we offer our spiritual insights to all who desire them...but frequently those trying hard to follow a basically flawed understanding of the doctrine don't really want to change their understanding, and if they are really making an effort to live the best they know, and that is enough for the grace of God in eternity, then our reasons for wanting them to adopt a fuller understanding can only be practical and applicable to this world.

Not that there is any lack of practical problems that arise from faulty doctrine.

But people often don't want to fix their doctrine till the practical problems start coming home to roost. And while that can produce an excellent opportunity to invite them to a better understanding, creating that opportunity isn't a good enough reason to confront anyone with the practical problems of their faulty doctrine. We divert the practical problems back to the source to reduce the hardship those problems would otherwise cause others. If they aren't causing anyone else problems, then it would be wicked to contrive to hasten the course of justice.

Not that there is usually a lack of innocent bystanders if you let justice work entirely naturally.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - Somewhat aside - "Anyone that has talked to a delusional person" - my experience is that there are (at least) two types of delusional person; one that argues coherently from false premises (e.g. the 'delusional disorders').. and in a sense such people are wrong (or disagreed-with) rather than delusional.

The others are the classically deluded people of schizophrenia, mania, psychotic depression, delirium and dementia. With them it is more that they cannot be coherent; they cannot follow a line of thinking without it being rapidly broken off; their thinking is borken up into segments that cohere within, but are too short and isolated to be able to make sense of things.

Interestingly, modern mainstream 'thinking' - as seen in the mass media and public discourse - often includes incoherent as well as false-assumption type of reasoning. They simply cannot reason across more than a couple of steps - after which their attention wanders and the line of thinking is broken. This is how public issues are presented, and why lies can survive apparently permanently - because to detect the lie entails joining together more than two pieces of information.

On top; there is a double standard of reasoning whereby people on my side are to be regarded as overall good despite (inevitable) mistakes; whereas people on the other side are judged by the worst possible interpretation of perhaps a single speech or act - and the fault there is to deny that evaluation is actually almost-wholly dependent on our assumptions concerning inferred motivations.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Yes, though the specific point I'm making is about the error of failing to recognize the limitations of reasoning. You must accept logic (as a whole and in each particular rule of inference) as a premise before you can reason. You can't reason your way to a proof of logic because that involves confusing your conclusion with your premise, which is inherently unreasonable.

People who seem to reason generally well, but have a premise that they insist on proving as a conclusion, are still being quite unreasonable. It is just less clearly obvious than the unreasonableness of people who can no longer appear to reason at all.

But the positivist assertion that you must prove everything by logic or science is that exactly. You cannot prove either logic or science logically or scientifically, let alone that there is any moral imperative to reject all other knowledge, so positivism is clearly false even granting its own premises (which courtesy it does not bother extending to anything else).