Tuesday 26 July 2022

The Bad Faith of Traditional Christians; or; why we should acknowledge that our bottom-line convictions need to be personal, endogenous, intuitive, directly apprehended

The main difference between Romantic and Traditionalist Christians (when they are real-Christians) is that Romantics will acknowledge explicitly (to themselves, as well as others) that their bottom-line convictions are a matter of intuition... 

Whereas 'Traditionalist' Christians will claim that even their bottom-line convictions come from outside themselves; i.e. typically from The Church (i.e. whatever aspect of church or denomination they personally regard as true). 

I believe that, when the Christian is true, this claim is false. 

It is clear to me that the real Christians now (i.e. those who have survived the temptations and passed the Litmus Tests of recent years - demonstrating their are not merely Christian-flavoured apologists for totalitarian leftism, or Establishment bureaucrats) - are people whose faith is solidly founded-upon an inner, intuitive and personal discernment of truth. 

The difference is that Traditionalists claim that they are merely obeying the external and objective authority of their church; while the Romantics are clear that whatever complex superstructure rests upon these baseline discernments; and this is true however much that superstructure is derived from one or more churches/ denominations.

The foundation of a genuine and robust Christian faith in 2022 needs to be personal intuitive discernment; a direct knowledge-of, and relationship-with, the divine. Validated from-within - not obeyed from-without. 

Any external source of knowledge may be, is-being, and almost certainly already-has-been - subverted, destroyed or (worst) inverted. 

And therefore one who really did base his Christian faith on the external is no longer a Christian.  

This is why I continue to debate these matters with real Christians who regard themselves as externally-validated Traditionalists, Orthodox, Mainstream; because I believe they are living in a state of denial of both freedom and responsibility, of error, of self-dishonesty and self-deception; in a Christian version of what existentialists used to call Bad Faith

And this inauthentic, faith is 'bad' for Christians because it is genuinely self-deceptive and dishonest. This untruthfulness inevitably weakens faith; and therefore renders Traditionalists highly vulnerable to seduction by mainstream atheistic-leftist-materialism operating via general culture; and specifically through the top-down net-corruption of the leadership class in all major churches and denominations. 

In sum: I ask traditionalists for something very specific: an explicit acknowledgement that - here-and-now - the effective and resistant faith of even the most traditionalist and church-orientated of real-Christians has a personal and intuitive foundation.  


The Anti-Gnostic said...

My complaint is more prosaic. The Traditionalists, in whose camp I used to abide, are failing to acknowledge reality: the Church qua Church, immanentized in a Christendom geographically and sociologically centered in the Greco-Roman Empire, simply no longer exists. Over the centuries, the Church has mattered less and less to public life and now, in a last bid to avoid becoming an elaborate book club, she embraces secular democratic (i.e., atheistic) rule.

The response, incredibly, is "the physical Church--all those buildings and theology grads getting government money to house immigrants, following COVID dictates, teaching Anglos and Europeans to hate themselves, among other nation-destroying activities--doesn't really matter. The platonic ideal of the Church is what matters."

Gnosticism. Like a Greek ghetto in Turkey calling itself "Constantinople."

And why are we paying for all these expensive buildings and crooked old men if they're not "really" the Church?

The substantive argument I've seen so far is we need a magisterium to enforce doctrinal purity. My abbreviated response to this is first, indoctrination is overrated. The Desert Fathers generated elegant, eternal orthodox teachings without entire colleges of scholars getting lost in the weeds over the minutiae of Trinitarian doctrine. Ninety-five percent of the faithful won't bother reading theology and just go about their praxis; scholarship is for scholars. Second, the enshrinement of indoctrination is extremely problematic. Christians will literally kill each other over arcane doctrine while the barbarians encamp outside the gates.

The Church's ecclesiology just no longer works. The whole structure is essentially a pyramid scheme, and the further up the pyramid you go, the greater the sums involved and the more ruthless and corrupt everyone gets. Power--scale!--corrupts. The College of Cardinals ate the Catholic Church, and Orthodox ecclesiology is a joke.

Sorry for the lengthy rant. I am very early in this process unfortunately, and still trying to figure out what was the use of 50+ years in organized Christianity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - The thing I am trying to do is get the discussion down from the infinitely-complex business of disputing 'facts'/ evidence; to the level of simple, ultimate and metaphysical assumptions - that provide the foundations for all the rest, even when they are unconscious, unacknowledged - or denied to be assumptions.

Only at that level is there possibility of genuine understanding; and only after understanding can there be either agreement or change.

Negative critique is necessary as a component - but of no value unless some better alternative is available, because we must and do believe Something.

It is actually very difficult to get across Romantic Christianity; because it is unprecedented (until recent history) - indeed the linear and irreversible nature of 'history', including human consciousness and being, is part of its assumptions. It does not fall into any of the standard categorizations and is not one of the usually available 'options'.

Once it can be understood what is meant by Romantic Christianity, I think/ hope many traditionalist Christians may recognize: 'Yes, that is what I do, but without realizing the fact; and - now I am aware of it - what I believe ought to be done'.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Dr. Charlton - I mention the Desert Fathers because that is what your notion of Romantic Christianity reminds me of. So hopefully I am getting some understanding of your thesis.

Again, my observation remains that what is here is not having any effect on civilizational decline. And for people to respond that well, the Church is a platonic, spiritual ideal and each individual has to forge their own path only buttresses your thesis: the individual must work out theosis at the level of the person in any event. And from there, we can figure out what comes next, because Traditionalism is not coming next. (Again, I anticipate vigorous argument--my parish is filled with young people!--but show me the numbers and the trendlines; Traditionalism remains a dissident redoubt).

In the meantime, over two millenia in fact, a large, elaborate institution has formed which is now out of its time and therefore serves to retard transcendence at the societal plane. The institution will either be wholly deconstructed or it will be entirely co-opted. E.g., the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Turkish government.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A-G - I would say that the Desert Fathers are a misleading comparison with Romantic Christianity; RC is something that was only possible from around the middle 1700s when men's minds (in Western Europe) had changed in certain ways. If you do a word search on this blog for Romantic Christianity, you may be able to catch on to what is intended.

Francis Berger said...

It's been a while since I read or thought about Sartre, but the link you posted to the summary of his "Bad Faith" really gets to the core of the matter.

Reading that summary reminded me (once again) of the Grand Inquisitor's injunction against Jesus in Dostoevsky's The Brother's Karamazov. The Grand Inquisitor accuses Jesus of burdening men with too much freedom, too much responsibility, too much personal discernment.

According to the GI, men are incurably weak, slavish, and servile by nature. The last thing men want is to be free to choose between good and evil, let alone "own" that choice via personal responsibility. Thus, Jesus's invitation that men should follow Him with a free heart and decide what is good and what is evil using Jesus's example as a guide is simply too much for most men because it exceeds their vast limitations. On top of that, the GI claims that Jesus's high expectations of men reveals He does not really love them because if He did, He would have been more "charitable", accepted their slavish nature, let them off the hook, and asked less of them. He even goes as far as to accuse Jesus of cruelty!

The GI then explains how the church has corrected Jesus's work. The GI regards human beings as weak and despicable; thus, they are incapable of spiritual freedom and personal intuitive choices and must instead be coerced with bread, authority, and "miracles", which the GI and the church is all too happy to provide to relieve men of the burden of freedom and responsibility Jesus placed on them. All they need to do in exchange is faithfully obey the external authority of the church. In exchange, the church will relieve people of their personal responsibility of "owning" their choices and allow them to fall back on things like "fallibility", "sinful nature", and "weakness".

Anyway, I'm sure most people are familiar with the legend, so I'll stop there. I only bring it up because Dostoevsky is often referred to as one of the first existentialists and the much of the Legend mirrors Sartre's concept of Bad Faith.

Back to Bad Faith, it very much does seem that some (many? most? nearly all?) Christians have completely outsourced their faith and responsibility, to the point that these have not gone through any sort of authentic inner validation and exist instead as complete obedience to externals.

What strikes (and baffles) me is how vehemently this complete obedience to externals is defended and how scathingly Jesus's original offer to follow him based on a personally-intuited, inner-validated choice made in freedom and love is denigrated as "not Christianity".

Your main point in this post is imperative. Christians need to trace their way back to "personal intuitive discernment; a direct knowledge-of, and relationship-with, the divine. Validated from-within - not obeyed from-without."

How many actually will is another story. From what I've encountered recently, it appears most are unwilling to take that step because -- too much freedom, too much responsibility, too much discernment.

Ingemar said...

I guess I am more of a Romantic Christian than I thought. My praxis of the faith has more to do with my own discernment than what "Rome" "allows."

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Dr. Charlton - I was thinking more about the form. I don't think they really bothered checking in with any bishops. Also, you are on the philosopher's plane which is a little above my pay-grade. My thought is RC would coalesce more around home gatherings and mendicant priests, which are the sort of operational details in my wheelhouse.

The Desert Fathers eventually abandoned their hermitages and monasteries due to anarchic banditry.

So I'll humbly continue to explore all this. Thank you for publishing my comments.

Alee said...

“needs to be personal intuitive discernment; a direct knowledge-of, and relationship-with, the divine. Validated from-within “ = natural law; “external” = scriptures and traditions… the balance of the two is the Christianity. Without the external, we are noble pagans.

No Longer Reading said...

Anti-gnostic, reading your comments on here and the Orthosphere, I think you touch on some important issues; I want to write some of my own thoughts on these topics:

One of the most difficult things, at least in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is that when the churches were closed, there was nothing the laity could do to stop it, except agitate for the churches to be open. I know very little about ecclesiastical law, and I'd be glad to be proved wrong on this point, but at least from the impression I get, there's nothing even in principle that the laity can do, because the authority does not rest with them.

And I think this relates to one of the biggest issues in both the sacred and secular world. People *want* to contribute. They want to contribute to a community, especially a Christian community. In the middle ages, the laity had a role. They had a place in a well-ordered society and they contributed not only by going to church, but also by their tasks in the secular world. Everything they did was building up and supporting Christendom.

But now, that whole social order has gone away. It's not that we used to have horse-drawn carts and now we have trucks, but rather that the whole framework is gone. Back then you had to *try* to not contribute; even a charcoal burner living alone in the woods was doing something worthwhile and their work was integrated back into the whole order.

But now, it's much harder for ordinary people to contribute via their normal daily lives. And no one really knows what to do. No one, even as recently as the early 20th century, let alone the time of Jesus could even have imagined the way the world is now. Even if there were prophets able to forsee it, that's not the same as living through it.

And the advice that some people give, while it is well-meaning, I believe does not apply to most people. Some speak as if everyone has a special vocation and they should just find it. But as far as I have been able to tell, people with special vocations are rare and you can't become one just by wishing it. So, as far as I can see, the question is, what can ordinary people, those who don't have extraordinary gifts, whether they be spiritual, intellectual, physical, leadership, or in any other domain do to contribute? I wish I knew the answer, but I believe that's the challenge that we're facing.

On a related topic,

I also admire the desert fathers. One thing that is significant about them (as well as the hermits and monks in other places, such as Ireland and Russia) is that they were able to contribute to the Christian society around them in a way that went beyond arguing about theology or top-down organization. Just by their prayers and lives they had a good effect on everything that was going on around them. We could use some people like that now.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Alee - I used to think that. But it can't be true; because God the creator loves us each as his children - therefore *obviously* he will set-up this world so that he can communicate, directly, with each individual, whatever is necessary to his salvation.

This is set out in the Fourth Gospel - but it can be inferred from the nature of God, and our relationship with God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Excellent comment.

"people with special vocations are rare and you can't become one just by wishing it."

This is true. I am one of those rare people; but even for me I could not find what I ought to be doing until my middle thirties - and up to that point the vocation was expressed mostly negatively avoiding entanglements that would conflict with it, and ensuring enough 'thinking time' (a 'broad margin' to life, as Thoreau described it).

But it took me a ridiculously long time to realize how unusual I was; and I mistakenly expected everybody else to want the same kind of life, was recurrently surprised that they did not, and was perpetually having to fight-off advice about how I might be a 'professional' success.

AnteB said...

The discussion over at the Orthosphere took a strange turn, I have to say.
The traditionalists profess that allegiance to the church is essential while they do not seem to be very concerned about what actually happens with the "outer" church. The suspension of the sacraments and the almost flippant attitude about it is a particularly notable example.

What is also notable is the extent to which traditionalists rely upon ambiguity. The invisible or the "mystical" church cannot be destroyed or subverted, what its corrupt representatives do not matter much. From the outside the meaning, the limits and contours, of this mystical church seem very unclear and especially how it relates to the outer or embodied church. The same goes for doctrines. One of the points of the tradition is to prevent us from falling into error but, as have been written on this blog before, doctrine (even about really substantial things) is continually developed and changed. Which doctrines that are essential and which are not seem quite negotionable. And of course, the pope. Traditionalists make discernments all the time regarding which statements from the pope, their supreme authority, should be taken seriously and which can be disregarded.

This comment might sound more harsh than intended, and I don´t want to make a straw man argument but the traditionalist "case" appear to me more rather than less confusing after the discussion on the Orthosphere. There is something of this "bad faith" to it, an unwillingness to take responsibility.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AB - I think one value of this discussion has been precisely in bringing-out the 'reductio ad absurdum' aspect of traditionalism (as practiced here-and-now).

Traditionalist Christians have been compelled to argue beyond the comfort zone that prevails among traditionalists, which is a consequence of being united-in-opposition rather than a genuine sharing of positive ideals.

Yet this source of church unity has proved demonstrably grossly ineffective over recent years (and especially in 2020) - I think because it is insufficiently motivating.

I think the idea of an incorruptible genuinely-mystical church of 'true-believers', is something that Romantic Christians and Traditionalists *should* agree upon; especially if this is candidly acknowledged to have zero necessary relationship to the official church.

The key is that the individual Christian in 2022 needs to determine for himself the extent and nature of his engagement with his church - and this will depend upon (e.g.) personal, personnel and geographic considerations; and would change through time - and would be expected to range from the fullest possible engagement to zero engagement - with all degrees in between.

BTW: My candidate for the most over-worked and over-interpreted single verse in the entire Bible is MATTHEW 16: 18: "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it".

The Anti-Gnostic said...

The traditionalists are coming at this from the perspective of people who have raised families in, and put many years, thousands of dollars, and immense emotional energy into the institution. The sunk costs are enormous, a whole life's worth.

I'm less vested because among other life events I've seen this before: older Episcopalians in complete, devastated shock when they realized the ECUSA was a completely different entity in 2006 A.D. This is happening throughout the West as one institution after another is unmasked as an impostor wearing the skin of its victim.

I put a lot of time, money and energy into Orthodoxy, only to realize the ecclesiology was worse than confused; it was simply non-existent, and the Old World Patriarchs are engaged in a cruel and venal game.

I'm recalling another existential catastrophe: the abdication of Benedict, who is still alive and in retrospect would obviously have been able to delegate his ceremonial duties to another bishop while he remained on the papal throne. Something is at work under the surface and one day it will be revealed, as it was in the ECUSA, the academy, the US Executive branch in 2020, and elsewhere. This process is not reversible at this point.

No Longer Reading said...

On my previous comment, I shouldn't have said that there's nothing that the laity can do because that sounds like nothing at all. They cannot open the churches on their own, but there are many things they can do both individually and to support the Church, depending on the circumstances.

Matthew Etzell said...


Regarding your comment on Matthew 16:18, as it is used in the Roman Church:

I posted a series of links in a comment over at The Orthosphere, which I will post below. The linked articles/videos show that there is no evidence for the Vatican I interpretation of Matthew 16:18, while there is abundant evidence against that interpretation. Simply put, neither Scripture, nor the patristic exegesis thereof, suggests anything like papal/magesterial infallibility, nor do they suggest that any one bishop (regardless of his formal title) was/is to govern the whole Church. I will also post links (which I did not share at The Orthosphere, because they not relevant to my comment) to articles showing that a great many of the Church fathers held to a principle very similar to sola scriptura (i.e. the Reformers, and modern-day Romantics, were/are in good company).

1) https://christiantruth.com/articles/mt16/

2) https://christiantruth.com/articles/fathersmt16/

3) https://christiantruth.com/articles/papacy-and-the-facts-of-history/

4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zucvbDnjyg

5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHk-pmg-9LE

6) https://christiantruth.com/scripture-and-church-fathers/

7) https://christiantruth.com/articles/formalsufficiencyofscripturefinal/

Bruce Charlton said...

@NLR - Well - there was "nothing the laity could do" to get access to the sacraments - which for some Christians has been the centre of Christian like.

Matthew Etzell said...

Upon further reading of your work (e.g. 10 January, 2019, and 22 October, 2021), it looks to me like you (and your fellow Romantics) would reject the notion of sola scriptura just as thoroughly as you reject sola ecclesia. Is this an accurate understanding of your position? If so, then I withdraw my previous comment placing the Romantics in the same camp as the Church fathers and the Reformers.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ME - Yes, as I said in another comment reply - Romantic Christianity was not possible until (approx) the middle 1700s, due to changes in the way Men think and are conscious; so any analogy with Men of many centuries earlier is bound to be loose, and not fundamental.

To understand what is meant by Romantic Christianity, one has to accept that it is something new - at the metaphysical level; and not a recapitulation.