Monday 1 July 2019

Christians attributing false motivations to God (William Arkle)

The superstitious attitude assumes that there is some cunning and perverted consciousness presiding over all our acts and, if we fail to keep to the special and secret rules, this presiding entity causes unpleasant things to happen to us and to our loved ones.

This sort of thing concerns touching wood, sitting thirteen people at a table, spilling salt, breaking mirrors, putting up umbrellas in the house, wearing certain colours at a wedding and many, many other peculiar activities.

These are at first harmless and childish thoughts, but they do become more serious when they enter the filed of a religion. The examples one can give in this context are many. They start with offerings and supplications and they finish up with the ideas that dispensation can be bough from God with hard cash.

There is no doubt that the teaching of the fear of the Lord has much to do with this, but there is still a great deal of pagan and demoniac thinking behind a lot of outwardly religious observances and ceremonies. This type of attitude leads into the one which considers that God is not only capable of knowing and judging our smallest act and thought, but that He considers each one important enough to merit separate and distinct response in the form of applause or rebuke.

Then there is the attitude which considers that our acts are secret enough that they will not come within the realm of any sort of judgement either from man or God.

There is also the attitude of science which sees everything as 'mechanical' cause and effect.

Lastly, there is that vague frame of mind, which many of us are in, which accepts that we have runs of good and bad luck.

Most of us oscillate between the idea of luck and the idea that somewhere along the line we get what we deserve, but have no picture in our minds of how these processes can work.

We must, if we are going to attempt to understand seriously our position in the scheme of nature, try to construct some system of reciprocal effect which is neither purely mechanical nor dependent upon the constant personal attention of God.

From A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle (1974) - Justice - Section 2


This passage by William Arkle has had a big impact on me, because it made me realise that I myself was prone to attribute adverse events to 'bad luck', and to get worried about saying things that are 'tempting fate', without thinking what this implied.

Because much of this kind of superstitious belief implies a malicious God, a God quite contrary to what Jesus revealed of God's nature - and in stark contrast to what any of us can know about God by reflection and direct personal intuition.

Indeed, superstition is a demonic lure, a habit that poisons and degrades our relationship with God. Any God that would inflict suffering in response to someone expressing gratitude at his current good fortune ('tempting ftae') is not the Christian God. But in fact attributing false motivations to is common among Christians - for various reasons.

One reason is there is a great deal of this kind of thing in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament - describing God's motivations, or indirectly implying motivations of God, that would be unworthy of any loving mortal human Father. But because of the idea that canonical scripture is inerrant, many Christians feel obliged to incorporate this into their faith.

At worst this degrades and inverts the understanding of God's nature; often it leads to an attitude that only expert theologians can understand what God wants from us - meaning that Christian faith is reliant upon the (nowadays corrupted) traditions of academic scholarship; and even at best, it leads to the imputation of a false 'mystery' concerning God's motivations.

Yet if there is One Thing about which all Christians should be crystal clear, it is the Goodness, Lovingness of God's motivations - and (the incarnation, example and teaching of Jesus tells us) this Loving Goodness of God's nature is an amplification to the extreme of ordinary mortal human virtue - therefore understandable by anyone capable of understanding (even children and the simple-minded).

Many Christians are (understandably) extremely wary of critiquing the validity of any part of scripture, on the basis that even a little of this will lead to the kind of picking and choosing that have led Liberal Christians to apostasy; and to the unravelling of the whole tapestry of doctrine. (This is why I regard it as important that scripture be regarded hierarchically, with the Fourth Gospel at the pinnacle of authority.) But in this as nearly all things, motivation is the key. What is wrong with mainstream Liberal Christianity is its covertly-evil motivation.

By contrast, challenging scripture is necessary for all serious Christians in the modern age (where all institutions including churches are significantly, sometimes mostly, corrupted). Selecting and prioritising in scripture is therefore A Good Thing; insofar as the motivation is genuinely Christian.

Which is why Christians need to evaluate scripture in light of their own direct, inner knowledge of God's nature and by direct and personal revelations. It is the fact that we are God's children, with divinity in each of us; and that everyone potentially has access to revelations of the Holy Ghost, that enables each individual validly to evaluate any claim about Christianity.

The difficulty is that each evaluation needs to be from our divine self, and not from our superficial or expedient personality aspects; and that we need really to listen to the direct conviction derived from the Holy Ghost, and not to equate revelation with mainstream media/ political ideology. But revelation is self-validating for any person that is honest with himself - and whether or not such conviction can be argued or justified to others is a secondary matter. 

Arkle explained to me that 'God the creator is our loving Father' ought to be the primary conviction and guiding principle of a Christian - and any 'evidence' (whether from scripture, church authority, tradition or theology) which contradicts with this principle needs to be rejected.

Christians need not tie ourselves in knots over this - simply check any significant statement against our understanding of the attitude of an ideal loving Father or Mother towards his or her children - taking into account that that these divine children are immortal beings destined to be (if they choose) gods; and not merely the earth-bound mortal animals, that mainstream modern materialism tells us we are.  


S.K. Orr said...

This is so encouraging to me, because I am definitely one of those who has tied himself in knots over the years, trying to reconcile what I've been told with what my instincts tell me. So much of my struggles have stemmed from anger/resentment towards God, anger which is not His fault, but rather my fault for having unquestioningly accepted certain "truths" and then having been forced later to compare them to reality and instinct. I probably never would have learned of Arkle had it not been for you, Bruce, and I'm indebted.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SK - Over the centuries there have been many attempts to devise a 'motivation-proof' system of Christianity - some system that is both true and also cannot be twisted or corrupted. But it's an impossibility. When people (or demons) are wrongly motivated they/ we can twist and corrupt anything to false, evil ends - and system of authority, any scripture, any tradition or philosophy. Conversely, there have been good Christians (real Christians) of many denominations and churches, and no denomination or church. I see no way around the fact that we must ourselves have good motivation and need to infer motivation in others - which is itself an intuitive act (since good motivation can be faked, and there are no reliable perceptible measures of goodness).

Jared said...

Your comment beginning "Over the centuries there have been many attempts to devise a 'motivation-proof' system of Christianity - some system that is both true and also cannot be twisted or corrupted" interested me and I would like to comment on it.
Maybe everybody's different on this point, but looking back at my experience in trying to be a Christian, I think it is revelation (primarily from the Holy Ghost, but also from the LDS prophets and scripture) and the truth I learn from it that I try to align my motivations with rather than relying on good motivations within me and following those.
I think there may be a hierarchy of motivations, so maybe I don't really disagree. My experience is labeling some things as good and some things as bad according as to what I can discern from the Holy Ghost in the 'tough' cases, whereas in my daily actions I rely a lot on the goodness of what I have already received. Every motivation which has been labeled as 'bad' has eventually gone away or has weakened enough so that I can steer my course to ignore it.
So I guess my comment is just a difference in focus, I focused on revelation which is important for resolving the tough or problematic cases, but I guess that really for the most part I rely on my motivations which I hope are good because I try to get them from a good source (God). I just think the distinction is important between the tough cases and the day-to-day because otherwise problems can get unwieldy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Jared - I suppose I am just pointing out that even when one gets revelation from trusted sources - this rests upon a personal revelation that the sources can be trusted. There may come a time when once trustworthy sources can no longer be trusted, and at that point it will be personal revelation that informs us of the change.