Tuesday 23 February 2021

"So you want to change your fundamental (metaphysical) assumptions?" Romantic Christianity in practice

Probably, you are hoping that this can be done in such a way that your new, chosen, Romantic Christian-type assumptions will become automatic, habitual, pervasive...

The bad news is that what you want is not possible; the good news is that the impossibility is part of the divine plan...

Romantic Christian assumptions must (to make a sweeping generalization) be consciously-chosen and will therefore happen in thinking. (Because thinking is the mode of conscious choice.) 

We usually, spontaneously, want our lives to be 'effortlessly good' - including effortlessly purposive, meaningful, deep and rich. 

But then, when we are learning something, some skill or practice (for me that was various types of academic work at school - then medicine, biology, systems theory, Christian theology...) we want that learning process to be effortless. 

Yet we soon learn that learning is only learning if it is effortful - if 'learning' is not hard work, sustained and focused; then there is no learning (but, at most, only parroting). 

(No insult to parrots is intended by this expression...)

We do not want to make mistakes - to err. But all that means in practice is that we deny our errors and double-down on them - and/or we curtail our ambition to much less than it should be, in our desire to avoid mistakes. 

Thus the 'imaginative living' of successful Romantic Christianity has characteristics of deliberate-day-dreaming - in that (because it is a kind of thinking) we know we are doing it, while we are doing it.  

'Magic' is thus contained within thinking

It is therefore necessary to value conscious thinking - and to repent our spontaneous desire to be overwhelmed by 'romanticism breaking-in upon us such that we are passive and helpless to resist.

We need to acknowledge that thinking is (or can be) real, and value our consciously-chosen thinking more than the unconscious and spontaneous. 

Then we may be able to intensify that imaginative thinking - so it becomes more satisfying and dominant within our lives. 

Yet, this mortal life is one of learning from experiences; and we should not expect to make cumulative-progress in our life project. We should not expect the desired mode of thinking to become habitual and spontaneous - but always to require conscious choice. 

After all we Will die, sooner or later - and before then, probably lose our higher faculties to disease, degeneration or just irresistible distractions. 

Yet - on a timescale of eternal Heavenly life - that does not invalidate what learning we do achieve; nor does it invalidate those (perhaps brief) times when our thinking is as it should be. 

It is in overcoming difficulties, and despite them attaining (for a while) - and in thinking - the desired mode of being; that we live in accordance with divine creation. 

In short - we can attain Heaven on Earth in our thinking - but we are not supposed to reach that state automatically. 

Our mortal 'job' is consciously to choose salvation - and keep on choosing


AnteB said...

This is just what I needed to read right now.


/Andreas Bragd

Kristor said...

Synchronicity again. Bruce, for the last couple days I've been reading a book that - from the sound of this post - you might have been reading lately, too. It's uncanny. Just yesterday, the author's discussion of participation had me thinking, "Gosh, that's original participation!" You might want to check it out: How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others, by TM Luhrman.

Bruce Charlton said...

@K - No - I haven't read it, although I have come across several references to Luhrmann in Ronald Hutton and Gareth Knight. She did 'undercover' anthropological work among British neo-pagans and magicians back in the 80s I think it was; and wrote it up in a book describing their activities (to the surprise and dismay of many). I always had the impression she was a mainstream (i.e. non-spiritual, not Christian, PC, not entirely honest) academic?

Kristor said...

She seems honest to me so far, even handed and at pains to make clear that her findings should not be taken to indicate that the gods and spirits whose invocations she investigates are not real. On the contrary, she announces her shock at discovering that the techniques she investigates actually work, and that they do not consist only of repackaging normal quotidian experiences under some alternate philosophical or theological frame of interpretation, but rather that they generate a reform of life, and engender qualitatively different sorts of phenomena, that do not fit comfortably the Enlightenment paradigm in which she is forced by her profession as an academic anthropologist to couch her remarks. Her attitude toward her subjects – and toward their reports of their spiritual experiences – is entirely respectful, and indeed not at all incredulous. Which makes sense, because she is honest enough to report the rather remarkable experiences of that sort she has herself suffered in the course of her fieldwork. The first of them overtook her suddenly, unprepared, and quite forcefully, as she was struggling to understand a book by Gareth Knight. It had physical effects on her surroundings that – given their extraordinary nature – she cannot honestly gainsay. And she does not, ever, gainsay.

So far. I’m only about 80 pages into the book. But already she has clearly and forthrightly announced about 30 difficult conclusions that I know from my own experience to be true. Difficult as in, not obvious, counterintuitive, and hard to grasp without serious work.

Kristor said...

The reason I notice her to you is that the pages I had just been reading when I encountered your post today were all about how spiritual life is a repeated choice, that it is hard work, that it can be learned, that it can be learned only by diligent practice, that (as with any other skill) one can improve with practice, and so forth.

As for original participation, I have already ordered a book she discussed a few chapters ago, by Lucien Levy-Bruhl. An excerpt from her remarks about his thought:

"… Levy-Bruhl argued that the distinctive feature of the “primitive” mind was that such people (nonliterate, non-Western, and living in small-scale societies) experienced themselves as participating in the external world and the external world as participating in their minds and bodies … Among the Koyukon Indians of north central Alaska:

'Traditional Koyukon people live in a world that watches, in a forest of eyes. A person moving through nature – however wild, remote, even desolate the place may be – is never truly alone. The surroundings are aware, sensate, personified. They feel. They can be offended. And they must, at every moment, be treated with proper respect. (Nelson, 1983: 14)'

Levy-Bruhl called such an orientation “mystical,” and he described it as governed by “the law of participation,” in which objects are “both themselves and other than themselves.” … Both affective and conceptual, the mystical mode of thought had those features that he had attributed to participation all along: independence from ordinary space and time (Jesus is still alive), logical contradictions (a man both is and is not the eagle that is the totem of his tribe), a shared identity between objects or beings and their features (like hair cuttings and the person from whom they came), and 'the feeling of a contact, most often unforeseen, with a reality other than the reality given in the surrounding milieu.'”

Theologians call this mode of thought typological. It is the logic of the forms (e.g., the totem of the clan), and of their actual instantiations (e.g., the clan and the man thereof); of metaphor and participation, in virtue of which there can be such things as inditia, signs and symbols, terms and their meanings, their connotations and denotations – and sacraments. Formal logic is a type of typologic.

A few pages later, she writes:

"Faith is about the mind. It is about the ontological attitude people take toward what must be imagined – not because gods and spirits are necessarily imaginary, but because they cannot be known with the senses, and people of faith must allow those invisible others to feel alive to them. You must be able to look at a glorious forest, and see not just an ecosystem, but intentions. You must be able to be moved by a sunset, and to think not only of the structure of light, but of a maker. …"

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - Thanks for these summaries. But I think it is potentially misleading to put too much weight on the similarities with what I have been suggesting for the past half dozen years or so, because my underlying, basic, metaphysical, assumptions are so completely different.

In other words, similarities are superficial, differences are deep.

(e.g. I believe that we live in an alive, conscious pluralistic reality consisting of many primordial beings in relationships. God as creator works in an already-existent reality consisting of beings and chaos - through time, it being love that is cohering these beings as divine creation. etc...)

I have found many authors (many non - or even anti-Christian) who have presented good analyses of the modern condition (for example, Theodore Roszak's highly discussed work on the counter-culture - back in the sixties). But I had got *that* far in my middle teens, some decades before I became a Christian.

I now regard Luhrmann's supposedly agnostic (neither atheist nor religious) stance (which claim she shares with the likes of Jordan Peterson) as nothing more than a subversive delusion or pose (whether she personally believes it or not).

There is no such ground from which to critique and write - one is either writing from religious-spiritual assumptions, or excluding them - and the difference is as profound as anything can be.

In fact, this affected neutrality is a particularly dangerous form of atheist-materialism for its adherent, because conceptually incoherent and resistant to acknowledged error and the possibility of repentance.

(This is one of the things that has become very obvious from 2020; by observing which way such personals choose on the Litmus Test issues.)

What is very rare is a genuinely positive and Christian response to the analysis of the modern condition (probably only Mormon theology, Steiner, Barfield, Arkle - and some of my co-bloggers listed in the side-bar) - and indeed, I have not found anyone at all who shares *all* of my most basic and essential assumptions. (I am in a minority of one.)

For me, participation represents a literal co-creation of ultimate reality, that we share with God (who is primary creator of this world and our-selves). When we truly create (from our divine selves) it changes reality, forever.

David Stanley said...

Paul Vanderklay is extolling your virtues on youtube as we speak?
It is heartening to hear someone outside this sphere wrestling with the issues you have discussed so eloquently.

ted said...

Bruce, your article made Paul Vanderklay's channel. I really like how he struggles with these questions, and presents your blog at 11 minutes.

A said...

Your article and Kristor’s comments about the “real presence” of the so-called dead (such as Jesus in the Eucharist) bring to mind that the global forces of evil, despite lockdowns, isolation, etc. can’t truly separate us spiritually. That is beyond their powers and our free choice.