Sunday, 21 February 2021

Two options for being a Christian - here-and-now (and one of them is not viable)

We have, in The West, experienced a couple of centuries of high level critique and rejection of Christianity - perhaps most famously/ influentially by Nietzsche, who blamed in-practice Christianity for that attitude of passivity, guilt, self-hatred, and covert suicide that now dominates The West (even though it is several generations since Christianity was excluded from all significant public discourse in The West). 

The implication is that either we go back to pre-modern 'traditional' Christianity - along with everything that might entail such as monarchy, top-down rule by the church, agrarian societies etc. 

Or else we re-make the philosophy of Christianity - which entails making a distinction between actual Christianity and all traditional attempts to describe, explain, instantiate and implement it. It means re-examining the assumptions of that Greek-Roman philosophy within-which traditional Christianity is explained. It means re-examining the assumption that Christianity be church-led and church-controlled. Re-examining the usually historical understanding of Christianity; the several assumptions underling the assertion of of the primacy of scripture; and very idea of tradition itself...

In other words; the choices are traditional Christianity (in some version or another) and re-making the medieval world; or else Romantic Christianity (in one form or another) and using this as the basis of an unknown and unknowable future. 

But if we conclude that the traditional path is both (overall) undesirable and (actually) impossible* - then there is only one choice: Romantic Christianity. 

*I shall not attempt to persuade anybody of this; but I tried for several years to think through the implications - honestly - and found the project to be literally impossible; as well as harmful to embark upon. This despite my being perfectly clear that the Medieval Traditional world was objectively better - more God-aligned, more good, more motivated to be in accord with divine creation than is the world in 2021. Much better. Until you understand how these two convictions (better - and also bad/ impossible) are simultaneously possible, then you do not understand the point I am making (whether or not you agree with it is another matter!)


Lady Mermaid said...

This explains why I tend to see myself more of a "restorationist" as opposed to "reactionary" even though I share most if not all the goals of reactionaries. As a history lover, I admire much of medieval Europe & Byzantine Eastern Europe. However, I remember reading a comment stating that a restoration will never be the same as it was before, nor should it be. It was pointed out that the fact the something needs to be restored is a sign that something broke down in the old order. While a restoration will be based on tradition, it cannot simply wind back the clock or we end up back to the same place as today.

I believe that the key lies in finding out what went wrong w/ the church in the past that led to its collapse. In my humble opinion, the church went the wrong way when Chalcedon led to the first major schism. Yes, heresy is real and must be opposed. However, are debates over abstract theological issues serious enough to split a church? It's obvious that both Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy have serious Christians within their denominations. I could be wrong on this issue, but I believe that being able to judge heresy that can endanger one's salvation versus respecting an honest difference of opinion will be the great challenge of Christianity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LM - "It's obvious that both Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy have serious Christians within their denominations. "

Yes, but that is not the issue. My understanding is that the Orthodox churches closed their doors and ceased activities in 2020, on the excuse of the birdemic, just like the other Christian churches. This shows their true nature, and where their affiliation lies. Of course they might explicitly repent... but until then...

If the evolutionary-development of human consciousness is a real thing; there can be no restoration of the old order, since Men have changed. Such evolution is a metaphysical assumption.

And so is the prevalent modern belief that Men's consciousness is the same now as it always has been, and the same everywhere.

But if Man's consciousness really has changed, there can be no going back. We would perceive this in ourselves if we honestly thought about the reality of a return to the past. After all, creating a medieval society from here, is going the opposite direction from the way that these societies actually emerged.

weka said...

I think this is where you and I disagree, Bruce. I don't think there is an evolutionary developmental form of human consciousness. I think instead we are devolving.

LM is partially correct. The problem is that the older saints generally were seen as heretical and needed to be shut up instead of having their ideas examined and corrected. The church did not need division. But if you are not going to have division, you need a few St. Nicholas punching the modern Arians out.

Bruce Charlton said...

@w - "I don't think there is an evolutionary developmental form of human consciousness. I think instead we are devolving."

Well, it depends what you mean by devolving - but I don't think I disagree, if you mean that wrong choices have made people worse. Not just worse, but open-endedly worse - so that it is now hard to imagine any evil that may not at some point become officially regarded as morally-good, since even 'natural morality' has been destroyed/ inverted.

My understanding is that we have the power to 'make our world' - that is a fact; and that world will be a hell unless we consciously choose Christ.

And this is a 'culturally' new situation - it has not always been thus - i.e. Man's consciousness has changed. People in (say) the middle ages could not have been convinced that sex was an arbitrary choice; nor that surgically mutilating and hormone-poisoning children caused them to have their 'gender reassigned'.

People in the past were not capable of such belief - this limited their evil, but it was also a limitation of their consciousness.

But ultimately, this is a matter of metaphysical assumption - not of proof; and 'evidence' is not decisive (i.e. the same 'evidence' or 'fact' is interpreted and understood differently according to prior assumptions).

Jake said...

I'm sensing more and more how right you are, Bruce.
I am a romantic at heart, and romanticize the past, and would love to be able to time-travel back to medieval Europe, and experience what they experienced.
And perhaps it's enough to be able to do that imaginatively, through novels and stories.
But as for our own spiritual fates - it seems we have to push off into uncharted waters.
The feeling I get is sort of like when you are just learning to swim, and you have to go out and swim to some distant island. You just aren't sure that you can do without the support of terra firma. One may or will also get flack from religious types who claim that salvation can only come from their system of practices and recitations and incantations.

I'm starting to realize, deeply, how immature in some sense it is to believe that simply being obedient to some institution or codified practice will "save" you or get you to a higher, more divinely-suffused way of being. However, I still feel the trepidation that most of us feel when we reject what the masses do.
It's similar to the unease one might feel for say not believing in the birdemic, or embracing any (likely true) conspiracy theories. Except that spiritual growth is more important that figuring out what sort of conspiracies evil beings are up to.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

I see both sides of this question, in general agreement with Dr. Charlton and Lady Mermaid.
In imagination and loyalties, I often feel my ideal time and place would have been England and Western France in the reigns of Henry I, Stephen, Henry II above all, and Richard I (1100-1199). The Twelfth-Century Renaissance - an organic perfecting of things long in the making more than a renaissance, but never mind - in full flower, strong and healthy Catholic Christendom, the Crusades not yet perverted as in 1204, flourishing of arts, literature Latin and vernacular (Chretien de Troyes, et al.), great building sacred and secular. Fertile ground for Romantic Christianity, one would have thought. But no sooner had the Thirteenth Century arrived than the pendulum began to swing away.
However, if I were to find my 20th-century - not a typo - self transported to Oxford in 1170 I know I should find myself badly out of synch with 12th-century reality. I wasn't born into it, and I should be ill-prepared to live in it. And very likely I should find I don't share the fundamental assumptions of Twelfth Century Man nearly as much as I feel I do. So, time-travel novels notwithstanding, we can never go back to where we, individually, never were to begin with.
As for how we live Romantic Christianity, while a return to stronger monasticism - a feature of my beloved Twelfth Century - feels appealing I doubt it would work for many post-modern men. And, as Dr. Charlton notes, most institutional churches have failed in their submission to the WuFlu Panic.
I have been investigating Latter-day Saint Christianity recently, in touch with Latter-day Saint friends to ask questions I had not thought to ask before. While I'm not convinced of the truth of all they teach (e.g., Is the history in the Book of Mormon real?), the Latter-day Saints' mode of lived Christianity is robust and socially successful. There is a stronger focus on preparation for eternal life as the primary purpose of this mortal life, through unapologetic insistence on the saving atonement of Jesus Christ, than I've found in other churches - including the Catholic Church. Seeing CJCLDS leaders in face-nappies at general conference, and learning LDS temples closed for a time, is dispiriting. Nonetheless, our Latter-day Saint brethren are much better at resisting this time's inverted zeitgeist than almost anyone else.
Might the Mormon Model of lay-led, self-reinforcing, family-centred Christianity prove a good example for other Christians, as other more bureaucratic - Ahriman-vulnerable - cleric-led churches miss the mark?