Wednesday 13 January 2021

The abstracting versus the personalising impulse

The abstracting impulse seeks ultimate explanations in impersonal, not-biological/ physical abstractions such as spirit, energy, vibrations/ frequencies. 

It is often associated with sciences such as astrology, numerology, systems of divination and healing. Also with expert priesthoods or magicians, sacred temples, rituals, texts. 

The abstracting influence is rooted in deity, and deity is regarded as non-personal (a personal god is regarded as ultimately an error, due to child-like or ignorant thinking). 

The personalising impulse seeks ultimate explanations in terms of Beings, who are living persons with purpose and some degree of consciousness; the structure of reality comes from the relationships between these Beings. 

It is associated with family-/ tribe-like arrangements; with mystical, spiritual, intuitive modes of thinking - and the conviction that there are no 'things' - but all is alive, aware, purposive. 

So, the personalising influence is rooted in god/ gods who are actual person, agents, conscious and purposive - and the change and changelessness of reality explained in terms of these Beings and the relations. 

The abstracting impulse regards Beings and persons as either illusory; or as temporary phases en route to the permanence of abstraction; because real Truth is abstract. 

The personalising impulse regards abstractions as ultra-simplified models of reality - sometimes useful for short-term and practical purposes - but never True, because they leave out most of reality. 

As may be seen, we are dealing her with different metaphysical assumptions. And such assumptions come first, are deeper than 'evidence' (because evidence is itself structured by these assumptions). 

My point is that the abstracting and personalising point in opposite directions. 

Christianity, as is, is an internally-contradictory and incoherent mixture of abstracting and personalising

The future of Christianity would seem to be in one or other of these directions; but not both. 

We need to ask whether we personally regard Christianity as ultimately abstract, or is it personal? 

And ask our-selves whether we ought to aim for consistency and coherence in the way we regard it?  

Whatever our decision - whether we take the abstracting or personalising path; there is work to be done, because there is much inherited and accumulated confusion to be sorted-out. 



Francis Berger said...

I experienced a real moment of clarity about this choice just this week. Many serious Christians are acutely aware of this choice, but the very thought of choosing the personal impulse stirs alarm and apprehension within them. They appear to understand the necessity and desirability of the personal impulse, but are reluctant to commit to 'doing' it.

Heaviside said...

I think that someone who stands within an "abstracting" tradition would regard this as a false dichotomy. A god such as Kronos is neither just a person such as us but with great powers, nor just an allegory for the abstract concept of time, but something that actually is greater than either of these while still containing them. The magic of being a god is that he is both a "person" and a "principle" at the same time. There are many yogic and Buddhist traditions that would be heavily "abstracting" from this perspective where the practitioner is presumed to be united with the deity, but how could this happen if the deity is not a person also? To say that the god is an "abstraction" and the follower is a "being" would mean that there would remain an insurmountable difference between them when the goal is precisely the abolition of such distinctions. Moreover, if "abstracting" traditions held the idea of a personal god to be based in ignorance then that would mean they would have regarded their own foundational texts and mythologies as false.

Bruce Charlton said...

@H - That's a valid argument, from the POV of the past. But I think it can be answered by considering whether there is ultimately a Person, or ultimately Not a person. If there is a real actual Person in there, there we are dealing with a Person - especially when that Person is regarded as eternal.

If the Person is regarded as some kind of contingent impression, or flowing together of principles; then we are dealing with an abstraction.

For example, most mainstream Christian theologians are absolutely inflexible and unyielding about the abstract properties attributed to God - e.g. that he is omnipotent and omniscient, that he is 'without body, parts or passions', that he is parts of a 'three in one in three' abstract trinity etc.

Any dissent from these abstractions is regarded as heresy, or maybe non-Christian.

But if it is said that God is not really a Person, in the way that Men are Persons, because so qualitatively different - then this is tolerated. I have often heard it said that God's love is Not like Man's love, for example. That God does not have emotions ('passions'). That God feels no need, loss, yearning or desire etc.

So Theologians are quite 'cool' with people subverting the 'naïve' idea of God being a Person, chipping away at the Person-like attributes. But the same Theologians are absolute and stern about the need for assent to abstractions.