Friday 3 September 2021

Living Jesus, historical Jesus (or, Romantic Christianity in a nutshell)

It is a distinctive aspect of Christianity (as I understand it) that Jesus was an historical person, who changed the world - such that things were qualitatively different after Jesus than before. 

Being located in history, Christianity is a religion that has a time-line. For Christians, time is quite naturally understood as sequential - before Christ; his life and death, and what came after. 

This is why I find fundamentally wrong the long-standing, classical and mainstream theology, desire to make Christianity into a quasi-Platonic spirituality, rooted-in a God conceived to exist in timeless/ out-of-time eternity.  

However necessarily historical, Christianity is also about the living and future Jesus Christ. This is expressed in many ways - but the essential point is that Jesus is alive and active in this world; and can be felt by those who follow him as a daily, hourly, influence, guidance, inspiration.  

The historical and living Jesus have mostly been combined by practices like Holy Communion (whether as re-enactment or as memorial), reading the Gospels, reflecting on the life and teachings of Jesus, and by iconography and symbolism. 

But all these share the primarily backward-looking perspective: the living Jesus is experienced by first attending to the historical Jesus. Whatever the subsequence experience, this is to regard Jesus at one remove, the present seen through the past. 

And therefore all these share the disadvantage of requiring assertions about the past, which have by 2021 become extremely clouded by a vast accretion of rival interpretations - whether theological, traditional, scholarly, or whatever...

My conviction is that from here and now we need to strive for a contact with the living Jesus Christ that is primarily direct, and therefore independent of the historical evidence and theories. 

Having established such primary, direct, living contact; it can (and for most people will) be strengthened and enriched secondarily with whatever is found valuable - and this is where scriptures, churches, and the vast mass of practices, symbolism and art through the ages may come-in. 

But some will probably find that many or most of these referents of the historical Jesus are unhelpful or counterproductive; and certainly a primary focus on the historical Jesus can be very off-putting to the prospective convert, for whatever reason - anything from personal or aesthetic preferences to socio-political prejudices; or simply from the confusing and disorientating morass of controversy that surrounds every statement. 

The search for Jesus Christ has thereby, I feel convinced, become an unprecedently personal and experiential matter. As such, there is always the danger that Jesus will simply be invented to support pre-existent socio-political assumptions. 

Yet nowadays this is less of a problem than ever before; since the evil of the mainstream, official and dominant socio-political assumptions is so extreme and separate from that Good which we know by inner intuition of our divine selves and from direct contact with Jesus Christ (by the Holy Ghost); that confusion and conflation by a sincere, truth-seeking and virtuous spirit is ever less likely, with each passing month. 

Also, the kind of person who wants a Jesus to fit and sustain the assumptions of this modern world is not likely to want Jesus very much; except as an expedient pseudo-belief to support a job or position: that is, as a religious leader. And we observe that Christian leaders (as with leaders of other religions) are almost all exactly thus corrupted. 

But for someone seeking Jesus for himself or herself and who will not profit by it in terms of salary or status; there is a greater chance of knowing the truth of Jesus primarily by inner and direct intuition than ever before. 

Note added: the above can serve as a brief encapsulation of what I mean by Romantic Christianity


Brief Outlines said...

Just wonderful. If you don't mind me saying, this is the culminating point of your entire blog.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Brief - Thanks very much!

@SCN - I think you are missing the point...

Sam Charles Norton said...

It's possible that I'm missing the point. However, I would argue that the metaphysical shift associated with the rejection of the Thomist synthesis (about time) was bound up with Protestant culture; also that the turn away from church authority was bound up with Protestant culture; and that the emphasis upon individual judgement in the light of experience is, par excellence, bound up with Protestant culture.

I just find it odd that there is such a clear-sighted rejection of contemporary evil here, combined with a reliance on one of the metaphysical elements most essential to that contemporary evil (the sovereignty of the individual will).

For what it's worth, the greatest Christian mystics (pre-1500) were the most insistent on a) being integrated with a believing community and b) not giving too much attention to the *experiences* themselves. Such as Theresa of Avila asking God to stop as she had to get on with doing the dishes...

So that's the context for thinking that - here - you're being a Protestant. Apologies if I'm wrong, I'm not intending to be partisan.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SCN - If you try to fit what I am saying into the intellectual categories of the Reformation era, you cannot possibly understand it.

I am guessing you are quite happy with your current understanding of the essence of Christianity, and therefore fundamentally uninterested in following the thought processes which lead to something that was not even conceivable until the Romantic era (late 1700s) and not clearly articulated until much more recently (middle 20th century).

It requires a very fundamental reframing with an explicit recognition of some of the metaphysical and theological assumptions that came into Christianity soon after our earliest written source - i.e the Fourth Gospel (which I believe was written (Chapters 1-20) shortly after the ascension of Jesus).

It indeed requires a re-examination of the deep and habitual assumptions that lie behind Greek and Roman philosophy and what frames all subsequent philosophy (until William James).

I don't mean that one needs to be any kind of expert on the history of philosophy, but that there are some deep habitual ways of thinking that affect Christianity as well as almost everything else in modern thought which contradict simple observation and common sense.

If, on the other hand, one allows oneself to follow simple, common sense reasoning, then everything important becomes quite easily explicable. But not many are - because not many people are sufficiently dissatisfied with their habits and assumptions.

Yet, there has been a seismic rejection of the habits and assumptions of all traditions of Christianity over the modern period; that can easily be confirmed by the catastrophic collapse of not just Christian churches, but all other major religions, from early 2020.

Having significantly complied with the demonic Global Establishment without objection and/or keep enthusiasm; None of the Christian denominations now command that level of deep and serious commitment which is necessary to provide the courage and discernment to discern that the basic fact that we are living on the distal side of a global coup by totalitarian powers that serve evil in the escalating spiritual war.

Such a colossal failure across all denominations and all the world implies (tho' it does not prove) that all denominations have altogether lost their religious authority, and challenges the very basis of what that authority is based on.

Because those individuals or small groups with discernment within denominations are, In Fact, using personal discernment to pick and choose between (and mostly reject) the arbiters of truth within their churches.

All of those Now on the side of God and creation (Good) in the spiritual war as of 2021; are In Fact doing so based *primarily* on personal discernment - it is just that some are unconscious-of, or denying it.

If the Church catastrophe of 2020 does not move the discussion beyond the tired and ill-conceived categories derived (by degenerate processes) from past centuries - I don't know what could.

Francis Berger said...

@ SCN - If I may, "the sovereignty of the individual will" that regards man as ultimate and God as secondary or unnecessary has indeed been the source of great evil, but the same could be said about the sovereignty of external religious authority, which regards God as ultimate and man as secondary unnecessary.

Authority has become a complicated issue because it is intrinsically connected to obedience and is, usually, in direct conflict with subjectivity.

Individual will that is not aligned with God is, at best, misguided, but the capitulation of individual will to external religious authority and/or a religious community that is likewise not aligned with God is equally misguided. This applies both to modern churches - which have all subordinated themselves to secular authority - and to historical forms of church, which served a particular stage in man's development of religious consciousness.

True sovereignty of individual will does not deny that man is dependent on God, but understands that complete surrender of subjectivity to God in the form of passive obedience to external authority no longer constitutes the fulfillment of divine will. It also acknowledges that God is, to a certain degree, dependent on man - that the fulfillment of divine will depends on both God and man.

Individual will only becomes sovereign (authoritative) if it freely, willingly, and actively chooses to align itself with God (that is, the subjective will emanates from the internal; from what is divine within). Divine will only becomes sovereign (authoritative) when man, as a subject, aligns with God and when God, as a subject, aligns with what is divine in man. In this sense, divine will is an active, theandric co-operation of two individual, subjective "wills" working together creatively.

Authority, sovereignty, subjectivity are primarily matters of consciousness, and I believe Dr. Charlton is correct in his emphasis on the importance of personal discernment in this time and place. To label this simply as Protestant comes off as flippant remark. Moreover, it is excruciatingly obvious that reverting back to some earlier, "safe" form of Christian consciousness that works against subjectivity is not only untenable, but, ultimately, undesirable.

Bruce Charlton said...

To continue from Frank - I believe that Owen Barfield, also Rudolf Steiner, was correct in stating that Men in the past (for example at the Reformation) had minds which operated differently; and the kind of personal and direct relation with God that is needed now would simply be inconceivable until the past several generations. Men's minds were not then fully detached from the group mind; which is the modern condition of alienation.

There were probably no Men until c250 years ago who had the kind of detached consciousness, with no spontaneous awareness of God/s or the spiritual realm, that is very common nowadays.

Similarly, as all (normal) Men *Then* saw themselves as representatives of their family and not as detached agents, leaving family behind and making their way in the world alone (and without any interest in having children).

*Then* it was natural, right and inevitable that the ultimate authority came via the group - now this is not the case, yet people have failed to embrace the need and desirability for individuals to live in accordance with direct personal knowledge of the ultimate; and consequently nearly-all Men are (since the 1960s, very obviously) so profoundly demotivated and nihilistic as to be habitually (and indeed aggressively) dishonest and cowardly, as a long term way of life.

Lying cowards are all but universal (and indeed mandatory) among the leadership class (including of churches), in bureaucracies, corporations and the mass media. i.e. those who now rule the world and all groups of significant size and status.

To a Christian, it ought to be obvious that (unrepented) dishonesty and cowardice are hallmarks of Satan and his servants - and there should be no question of living in obedience to such persons.

MagnusStout said...

Good comments.

Would it be correct interpretation of Romantic Christianity to say that (other than the Godhead): no external authority is "authoritative" unless validated through personal discernment?

A related question: how can (or should?) children be raised as Romantic Christians? Put different, what is the relationship between this dogma and authority in that context?

Bruce Charlton said...

@M. That's a reasonable summary.

As for childre, parents are snd should be responsible for how children are raised, and this includes tailoring expectations and responsibility to development.

Anonymous said...

If Jesus is God, or a part of God - why can't he be a god who can live outside or inside time, or both? It might be that he existed before creation (before he created matter and time - not simply a re-arranger of chaotic material). Then after he began creating (still is)- he had matter/time to step into and out of at will. This doesn't mean he could move backwards and forwards in time - forwards may be the only way once the clock of matter/time has been created, but it would account for God's interventions in the OT - eg. In Exodus, God appeared in a burning bush, as a pillar of cloud by day, and as a pillar of fire by night. These clearly happened in time because they were observed in the material world. In the NT, he sent himself to earth, entering the body of a human being, and after the resurrection, he became another sort of body - a perfected, incorruptible one, but he ascended into heaven. Is heaven in time or not? May be, it is in time, and only God the Father can be out of time. Even in John, it says Jesus was with God in the beginning, but not before the beginning. Perhaps, the Christ emanated from the Father at the first moment (first bit of time) of an ex-nihilo creation. After Christ's death, he sends the Holy Spirit, which might or might not be Christ himself - I'm not sure. But the HS clearly operates in time - perhaps the HS is an emanation of Christ, and could never have existed prior to the resurrection.

Perhaps the trinitarians have it more or less right?


Bruce Charlton said...

@P - " a god who can live outside or inside time, or both?"

It does not make sense *to me* to posit anything that is not 'in' time; it is just a black box concept that stuns and stops thought. Un-conceivable. A terminus of non-understanding rather than a way of understanding.

If you are interested in the metaphysics of understanding Christianity on the assumption that time is a basic assumption, then I have written thousands of words on this blog about and expanding on this assumption. It fits quite naturally and spontaneously with Jesus and the Gospels. You could word search Trinity and Monotheism, which are related.

Anonymous said...

"It does not make sense *to me* to posit anything that is not 'in' time; it is just a black box concept that stuns and stops thought. Un-conceivable. A terminus of non-understanding rather than a way of understanding."

I can feel and understand being in time better because I live it. But the other? As a concept,yes - perhaps, but I haven't lived it. I don't have to fully understand a concept to believe it may be possible.

If time is an always was, is, and always will be, that doesn't fit well with big bang - but that may be wrong. If time always was, then that probably presupposes that matter always was too, and that re-arrangement of matter that always was is what God did at creation, and creation from nothing is wrong. But that sounds like a lesser, less wondrous god than the ex-nihilo version.


Bruce Charlton said...

@P - On the whole, I believe that God equipped us with the correct metaphysical intuitions, which we know as children. The abstractions (about time, ex nihilo, strict monotheism etc) which were introduced into philosophy and then Christianity, lead to vast and insoluble paradoxes that have never been solved and create all sorts of incoherences.

eg the 'wondrous' God that created ex nihilo leaves no space for free will/ agency or for a distinction between good and evil - since every-thing comes from God.

I can understand the immediate motivation for the omni-God/ supergod - but I regard these motivations as ultimately sophomoric, pretentious, boastful.