Friday 23 December 2022

'Reverse engineering' tells us that God does not want modern Men to be (anything approximating to) remote-controlled puppets

It was different in the past; but it should be obvious and uncontroversial that God no longer desires Men to be His obedient servants - His ideal is not that Men ought to be functioning as puppets under remote-control from divine sources. 

This is made explicit in a long section of the Fourth Gospel (Verses 13-15); when Jesus tells the disciples that he wants them to be friends, not servants. 

However; until the modern era, Men were not able to function with such individual agency; they lived in much more communal spirituality - their individuality was to a degree but significantly (albeit lessening through time) inseparable from group experience. 

Therefore, the ideal Christian life was (for many centuries) essentially a communal, group-ish life. Although individual salvation was the goal, this was necessarily attainable only via transformation of the community life in which each individual was (to a significant degree) immersed - this especially through the institution of 'the church'.   

The many centuries of the Catholic era were characterized by a cooperation of church and state that aimed at an ideal where life was externally-prescribed, down to the smallest detail: a series of interlocking, ritual, mostly-communal, activities; each with particular spiritual functions. 

This applied before the Great Schism, and - in different ways - in both Eastern and Western Catholic societies - up to the end of the Middle Ages in the West, and only terminating at 1917 in the East. 

After the Middle Ages, the Protestant era put forward the Bible as a comprehensive instruction manual for life; that (properly understood) covered every eventuality.

Both Catholic and Protestant held an ideal (sometimes explicit, mostly implicit) of the ideal Christian as being someone who was continually aware of the divine will - in communion with God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost - or other Holy persons. 

This to be achieved variously (according to denomination) by participation in rituals, performance of spiritual tasks, prayer, meditation, use of icons, reading and memorizing of scripture - and by other means.

In a nutshell; the ancient Christian was exhorted always to be thinking about God

The ideal Christian could crudely be caricatured as a remote-controlled puppet; where the individual's will is, voluntarily and by choice, replaced by the divine will.

Now, clearly that is Not the case nowadays, and has become (apparently) impossible for most people, most of the time. 

Yet I think it is fair to say that the Christian churches have continued to recommend this as the ideal way of life for Christians. As I say, the specific practices by which this should be achieved varies considerably, but there continual encouragement for Protestants to study and learn from scripture, for Roman Catholics more frequently to attend Mass and pray the Rosary, for Mormons to become more 'active' in church activities etc.  

The official ideal has remained much the same - but the actuality of conditions for Christians has declined greatly. 

For example the Roman Catholic ideal has gone from 24/7 immersion in the Christian life of the whole society - 365 days per year; via participation in daily Mass and several prescribed prayers, down to weekly Mass, down to the churches being locked for months during 2020.

This change demonstrates the development of Man's consciousness from the group-immersed and passive-responsive; to the modern individualism which requires frequent, chosen and sustained actions  from each person. 

As of 2022; there is no nation in the world that can provide the communal, total, and immersive Christian life that was normal (and essential) in the pre-modern world. That is no longer an option (except in a few, scattered and small, sub-groups; such as the Amish).

Even where it is possible to follow the external prescriptions; as with intensive Bible reading and individual prayer in Evangelicals - the effectiveness of these recommended activities in terms of establishing a guiding connection with God's will, is clearly very diminished. Nowadays few Scripturally-focused Christians experience the kind of unworldly, transformative and long-sustained external-guidance (leading to indomitable courage rooted in zealous faith) that was common and distinctive among the early Protestants. 


Such facts of modern life, in context that God is the creator and loves each of us with an individual concern, invite a 'reverse engineering' inference. 

Since modern Man is so poorly adapted to live the life of an externally-driven, remote-control puppet - under direct divine influence; this implies that God does not want us to behave that way. 

To put the matter differently, if God wanted us to live in continuous awareness-of, and in obedience-to, his divine will; then God would have made us (i.e. 'engineered' us) very differently from how modern Men are actually made. 

If we consider the human condition of 2022 in such a fashion; I think we can conclude that the baseline state of our modern life is that (most of the time, in most situations) God wants us to work-out for our-selves what we ought to be doing; and motivate ourselves to do it.

Or; God does Not want us to be living in continuous communion-with, awareness-of, and obedience-to the divine

(Whether that divine be understood as God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or any of God's Saints.)  

Such a statement seems shocking. Yet the fact is that God is always everywhere in His creation - so if God wanted us to be always aware of Him - He would have made it so. 

The Holy Ghost is always available for our guidance and comfort; but it seems clear that Jesus does not want us always to be consulting the Holy Ghost for advice, nor always seeking comfort.  

The spiritual set-up; seems to be that we ought to work-things-out for ourselves as The Norm; but divine guidance, inspiration, effective Grace etc... all are available when needed; for instance; when we have our-selves reached the wrong answer, failed to find an answer, or have made the wrong choices. 

If I consider our condition; I conclude that we are meant to proceed on the basis of true metaphysical assumptions - e.g. that God is real, personal and loving; that Jesus Christ is our Saviour, following whom we may attain resurrection and eternal life - etc.

These (and other) assumptions provide the correct framework for our Christian life. 

Then within this we ought-to be working-out how to live for ourselves, and how to live Christianly as best we can. 

And therefore we should Not always be seeking to be told what to do from external sources; should Not be attempting to be in constant communion with God, Not be trying to make ourselves a divinely-controlled automaton, Nor striving to suppress our-selves and fill our minds with God's thoughts, Nor even attempting to pray constantly. 

Therefore, our life task as modern Christians (i.e. as Romantic Christians) is different from that of earlier centuries and levels of development. 

That task is now to take individual and active responsibility for our Christian convictions and actions - to strengthen, not displace, our real self and its thinking.  

Note: It was substantially the work of William Arkle - especially A Geography of Consciousness, Letter from a Father, and the Essays in The Great Gift - that enabled me to attain a clear grasp of our ideal relationship with God: that is to say, the relationship that God ideally wants from each of us, and to enable which he made creation as-it-is. 


Alexeyprofi said...

I recently read Nikolai Berdyaev. He criticized democracy on the basis that it puts the will of man above all else, while the will of man must be subordinated to the will of God. I believe that we are part of God acting in this world, and if he wanted our submission, he simply would not have given freedom from the very beginning.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ap - I partly agree; but I do not believe that we are, or ever have been, *part of* God; because (it seems to me) that would make us all reducible to God, hence redundant, hence there would be no point to creation.

The usual response to this is that we are parts of God who have been endowed with freedom; but I can't see how that would make a difference; because if God gave freedom to parts of Himself, then 'freedom' would just be another 'part' of God.

Part of God + Part of God is still = God-only, with no basis for meaningful freedom.

Alexeyprofi said...

I think it's like with the author and the characters. They are created in his mind, through his thinking, and are inseparable from him, but at the same time we perceive them as distinct beings. The difference, while the human author is sustained by the universe, God must sustain himself(because there is nothing outside of him to cause his existence). That's my point of view.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ap - I am familiar with the analogy, but it doesn't seem to help!

Evan Pangburn said...

This causes me to wonder why God sent Christ at the particular time that he did. It would seem to me that it would make more sense to have sent him around the junction between medieval man and modern man (as in, maybe between 1600-1800 AD).

Of course, I'm sure that there are reasons why that isn't what happened, but as I said, it makes me wonder.

Francis Berger said...

@ Alexeyprofi - Sorry to "muscle in" on the conversation, but just for the sake of clarity, Berdyaev does not believe God created freedom or gives man freedom. Quite the contrary. He doesn't believe freedom was created at all!

Berdyaev believes freedom is the baseless foundation of all being and is deeper than all being. That is, freedom precedes being, which means -- in Berdyaev's view -- that God has some control over being but not freedom. Uncreated freedom as the only basis for meaningful freedom was the foundation and starting point of all of Berdyaev's philosophy.

Also, the term subordination is misleading. Berdyaev believes man's duty is to answer God's call and become a co-creator, which is a very different thing from being God's obedient servant.

Shannon said...

Timely post for me. What you've written resonates, if I've understood you well enough. Very recently, I've felt that I must "kick off the training wheels" and make decisions for myself regarding what is or isn't acceptable, using my God-given discernment. I feel infantilized in the Church system. I want to exercise my wisdom and strength. And I do believe God wants that for us. A Father is pleased when his child can do for himself or herself, no?

pyrrhus said...

It seems to me that our experiences in this life would be meaningless if they always reflected God's will, but are very meaningful if they are products of our own soul's decision making, however often flawed...
Rather, s we progress through lifetimes, we learn wisdom, and become closer to God in the process...

a_probst said...

@Evan Pangburn:

He changed history. Would there have been medieval and modern men as we know them without the birth of Christ and the rise of the Church?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Shannon - This was one of the posts that - as I was writing it - I had a feeling it was *for* somebody in particular. When I feel this, I almost always get a comment or e-mail such as yours.

@Evan - I have always supposed that Jesus was incarnated as soon as He was ready, and it could be arranged. But there is a possibility that there needed to be a specific coordination with the incarnation of John the Baptist, and perhaps others too. Probably the question is too complicated and multifaceted to be susceptible to any but the most general kind of answer!

Shannon said...

Thank you, Bruce.