Saturday, October 03, 2020

A Christian Heresy


One of the things that I've been trying to understand is how the Left was able to achieve a total dominance in Western Civilisation over the space of the last 100 years. Taking a big picture view, the stand out fact of 20th century has been the de-Christianisation of the European peoples replaced by a materialistic conception of themselves. The bloody struggles that have marked this period can best be considered a consequence of the struggle between Left and Right versions of materialism.  The curious factor of this state of events--unlike in previous ages-- has been the lack of participation of the Christian factor in this fight. Whereas in previous European ages, men to fought to assert or defend their their religious views  what's been interesting is Christianity's passivity during the materialistic ascendancy.

And I think it's important to explore the relationship of this passivity with the phenomenon of  dechristianisation. There is clearly a correlation but is there a link?

As I have said before, Faith is a product of Grace and without it, it cannot exist.   Therefore at its most fundamental level, the lack of Grace--either withdrawn or rejected--is the ultimate cause of the de-Christianisation. Traditional approaches have tended to emphasise the disobedience of the "people" as a causative factor in this state of affairs, the problem however is that the people aren't disobedient as much as indifferent. It's not that they're rebelling against God it's just that He "isn't there" in their lives to rebel against. The Christian God is as relevant to the practical day to day affairs of men as is Thor or Zeus. In many cases, rabid atheists, who care about God enough to hate him are closer to Christians than the mass of european peoples who simply and innocently don't care.

I personally think that the problem lays with the theocratic class, the group of men and women charged with the care of the Christian laity. In my opinion, under their leadership, they have forged a new version of Christianity with the last century which has sapped it strength and led to a withdrawal of Grace. I would like to stress that this is not a Vatican II thing, rather it's more fundamental and in the background, something that affects both "sides" of Church politics. To put it very crudely the problem is the issue is the Buddhist transformation of Christianity. In theological language it has to do with modern interpretations of the phenomenon of kenosis.

The essential issue is how to understand the phenomenon and it would appear that even in very "orthodox" factions an interpretation has been given which takes Christianity to the very steps of nirvana.

Let me illustrate what the problem is. 

Traditional Christianity always asserted that Christ had both Divine and Human natures. The concept behind kenosis is that God, in the being of Christ, "emptied' himself to become man. The traditional heresy, condemned by the Church was that in doing so Christ got rid of his "God-ness" in order to become man. The modern heresy is the opposite, namely that Jesus the man, got rid of all his man-ness in order to accept God more fully; all his desires, ambitions and even sense of self. In doing so, by ridding himself of his personality and activity, he became a passive receptive vehicle through which God could act. Jesus essentially became a shell of a man in order to let God work through him. He accepted whatever he was sent, and his suffering was meritorious insofar as it was done that it as the price he had to pay in order to do God's will.

The problem is that when Christians go to emulate Christ's life, as we are always told to do, we are expected to nullify ourselves again in order to to be perfect like Christ. Suffering needs to be accepted and is seen as a vehicle of Grace. The less we are of ourselves the more we are like God. Accept what comes your way, suffer cheerfully and let God work through you. What could be wrong with that?

Indeed it's almost ecumenical since Buddhist scholars have seen this approach as very similar to the concept of sunyata, in the Buddhist religion. Smarter people than me have recognised this problem as well though it appears they're on the outside.

In the twentieth century, in fact, there were many “theologies” that claimed authentication by resorting to what they called the “key” concept of kenosis, which was made to serve in a thousand different ways: “radical theology,” “theology of secularization,” “theology of hope,” “liberation theology,” “ecumenical theology,” “theology of dialogue,” “theology of trinitarian kenosis,” “theology of crisis and chaos,” “neocultural theologies,” “kenotic Christology,” “theology of kenotic anonymity,” “theology of biblical kenosis,”etc., etc. In all of these one notes the proper at-tempt to promote the kenotic principle in Philippians 2:7, so as to place truly at the center of Christian thought the mystery of the abasement and self-giving of the Son of God ................ We should also note, however, that this “kenotic key” has allowed many writers gradually to evacuate the Christian faith of everything that properly identifies and characterizes it (whether at the level of the concept of God, the level of ecclesial mediation, or the level of theological language), leaving only an empty, indeterminate space in which everything can be reconciled with everything: all faiths, all beliefs, all confessions, all languages are invited to censor themselves, to limit them-selves, to “weaken” themselves in the conviction that they thus imitate Christ’s self-emptying with a view to universal salvation. At the same time, this kenotic process supposedly liberates the Church from all religious, political, cultural, and scientific conflicts (for example, in relations between faith and science), simply be-cause the Church would finally recognize that it can have no “strong” language, no truth that can be formulated definitively, and thus no “strong” claim or presence in the world.
Sound familiar? The suffering weak Christ becomes  the suffering weak church and ultimately Christian culture that cannot assert itself. Modern interpretation of Kenosis, that have gained considerable traction even among the orthodox have emasculated the Church. (There are similar tendencies at play in non-Catholic Christianity.)

So how did we get to this place? The short answer is that it's complicated, but if I had to summarise the major forces at play it would be:

a) A glorification of asceticism which had the effect of encouraging a culture of passivity and suffering. 

b) The institutionalised Christian contempt toward the flesh i.e. decarnalisation.

c) The atrophy of the militant factions of Christianity which came about from the general disgust among reflective men to the Christian slaughter in the European wars of religion.

d) The secularisation of European governments as a result of the Enlightenment which meant that practical business of  using the "sword" was taken away from Christianity. This resulted in a greater emphasis on "caring" Christianity instead of fighting/defensive Christianity.

e) Further more, state sponsored Christianity gave it a "safe space" in which to operate, ensuring that questions of survival did not have to answers real world tests meaningfully.

f) The slaughter in the 20th Century which gave pacifism and ecumenism a new impetus.

g) Increasingly theological freedom from the mid 19th Century onwards resulting in a co-option of Modernism by liberal theologians

h) The sterility of conservative theological thought which was unable to respond to the challenges of liberalism and modernity. This latter is a very important point. It's not the liberalisation of the Church which is the problem, rather it was the inability of the conservative theologians to push back against the liberals within the intellectual "space" allowed by the liberalisation.

There are other forces at play, but the point I'm trying to get across here is that while there has been no explicit doctrinal change there have profound shifts in emphasis within the culture of the Church resulting in its Buddhisation.  Podles what right in describing the phenomenon:

A change of emphasis here, a neglect of inconvenient Scripture there, and soon a religion takes a shape that, though difficult to distinguish from the Christianity of the Gospels, somehow has a quite different effect. .........., but how far can one go in stressing the immanence of God and his will to save before Christianity is left behind? When does bridal receptivity become passivity, and when does passivity become Quietism? There have been differences of opinion over where to draw the line. The authorities win in the textbooks, but the mystics have often won the battle for popular influence.
There is a flipside to this as well. No society can survive without the ability of self assertion when faced with a threat. What has happened with the decline of Christianity is that assertive void was filled by secular, generally "right" materialist West which for a long time was happy to let Christianity subsist within its structure. Christian pacifism essentially was protected from destruction by a military which was frequently the subject of its criticism.  However as both left and right materialism have now begun to converge, the "safe space" offered to Christianity is decreasing and unless it starts asserting itself in a manner appropriate to the times it risks becoming a faded memory, in the West at least.

 


 








19 comments:

millie78 said...

Perhaps the reason why materialism has taken over the church and world is because most people are and have been materialist instead of people of faith. Even Christ himself made it clear that faith in the hearts of men was the exception, not the rule ("many are called, few are chosen;" "broad is the way that leads to destruction and many are those who enter in it," etc.) I think the central fallacy in your analysis is that you assume that most of the people who practiced Catholicism did so out of genuine belief rather than social convention and habit. If "by your fruits you shall know them," then the only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence is that most Catholics throughout most of time have been insincere and pharisaical in their beliefs.

Carnivore said...

You've forgotten:
i) The homosexual infiltration of the clergy, probably beginning in the early part of the 20th century (maybe earlier) followed 2 decades or so later by Communist infiltration.

I'd also broaden d) - the Enlightenment is the source of a host of problems, not just the secularization of government. Some of your other items have a root cause in the Enlightenment.

My emphasis would be d) and i).

I disagree with millie78's comment. Different ages support different amounts (is that the correct term?) of Faith. The Middle Ages (Age of Faith) supported even those with a shakier Faith foundation. At the opposite end would be the Roman persecutions, for example, where only those with the firmest Faith remained Catholic. Perhaps I'm not expressing this correctly. It is a blessing to live in an age when and a nation where the Faith is reinforced. Less so if the Faith is merely tolerated. At the bottom is active persecution.


MK said...

the de-Christianisation of the European peoples replaced by a materialistic conception of themselves.

I think this quote is the entire point. The rest of the post are mere downstream effects.

JPII's TOB highlighted this; everyone thinks "sex" but again this is downstream of losing our sacramental culture (via the cultural dominance of Protestantism). Christians simply have no cultural defenses once rejecting their sacramental roots.

Evidence: obesity & cremation & mental illness related to body issues are flat-out exploding among Christians, let alone everyone else. Two good books helping me understand this: "Hope To Die" (Hahn) & "These Beautiful Bones" (Stimson).

The Social Pathologist said...

@millie78

If "by your fruits you shall know them," then the only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence is that most Catholics throughout most of time have been insincere and pharisaical in their beliefs.

I'm quite happy with a "mediocre" Christianity, not a hypocritical one. The one thing you're assuming is that the people have gone bad. Good and bad can only be measured against a yardstick and for most people the Christian yardstick is not even apparent. Their "badness" is almost "innocent" since they have no faith. I want to be explicit here. A satanists, with his invectives against Christ, at least recognises his existance. While a "modern" simply regards Christ as a fairy tale and not something that has to be factored seriously in real life.

@Carnivore.

) The homosexual infiltration of the clergy, probably beginning in the early part of the 20th century (maybe earlier) followed 2 decades or so later by Communist infiltration.

The homo's bring their own problems but the ones I'm talking about don't really concern them. The whole meekness, total dependence, passivity element of Christianity has been pushed by some of the most orthodox elements of the faith.
Francis is an inheritor of this "orthodox" tradition and he is definitely against identitarianism and any sense of pushback against evil.

Perhaps I'm not expressing this correctly. It is a blessing to live in an age when and a nation where the Faith is reinforced. Less so if the Faith is merely tolerated. At the bottom is active persecution.

Agree.

@MK

Christians simply have no cultural defenses once rejecting their sacramental roots

True, but only a Grace given faith gives you the capacity to see that sacramental dimension. Without a sense of faith man's sacramental nature is a quite a ridiculous notion given the dominant positivism/empiricism.

Evidence: obesity & cremation & mental illness related to body issues are flat-out exploding among Christians, let alone everyone else.

True, but when have you ever heard a sermon against obesity from the clergy, or the importance of looking good? I think that Christianities second rating of the flesh tends to regard all sins against it, with the exception of sexual ones, as being quite trivial.



MK said...

True, but only a Grace given faith gives you the capacity to see that sacramental dimension.

Don't get me wrong; I accept your thesis of "lack of grace" as a reasonable working hypothesis. I just don't think we can ignore the feedback loop of works and faith; for me, they are two sides of the same coin.

Being an evolutionist-kind-of-guy I believe the faith comes through the group, not some individualistic effort alone. Therefore, to give up the sacramental faith is to have the necessary effect of losing our grace. YMMV.

scott said...

I would also tie in with something you've written about before - the sheer ability of people to travel/move about so much easier has had massive effects. Cutting off children from their parents and the traditions usually passed down in the same geographical place from generation to generation is hard to undo. But the kids were moving to the city - and that move coming often for specifically material reasons. As any church will tell you: when the kids move away, many of them never come back to the church.

As a Lutheran, (but sympathetic here, I'm not trying to scold) I would also chime in that God's grace comes to us through means (word and sacrament). One thing that certainly strikes us about the 20th century was not only Rome's two pronged bible and tradition approach (which had been around a while), but Rome's further insistence on denying the truth of scripture (where they'd previously said very similar things as us in that regard). So you have Rome coming out and saying how evolution jives with the bible. Then, with Vatican II, the talk about being saved by being faithful followers of non-Christian religions.

By denying/contradicting the word, and with lower church attendance (and therefore sacramental reception), the logical outcome would be what you are describing - less grace - and that, as you nicely point out, has consequences. Give it 100 years, and you're talking "to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me," as someone put it . . .

Thanks for thinking out loud on this blog about this stuff. I've found it interesting.

millie78 said...

"I'm quite happy with a "mediocre" Christianity, not a hypocritical one."

Christ is not. He's quite clear about it, too. Not do I assume most people have gone bad. Scripture is crystal clear on this too: " all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," "there is none righteous, no not one." All men are bad, and need redemption; this is a cornerstone tenet of faith. It seems to me that you keep casting about for reasons why people are abandoning the Church, and don't want to consider that the abandonment of the church is a consequence of abandoning the faith.

The Social Pathologist said...

@MK

I just don't think we can ignore the feedback loop of works and faith; for me, they are two sides of the same coin.

There's no doubt that you can lose the faith by active rejection of it, and there's no doubt that its harder to sustain in a community that doesn't believe, it just how do explain the state of affairs where faith doesn't even register on the radar. I mean, is my lack of belief in Vishna as sign of poor faith. I don't even consider the Hindu gods in my day to day affairs.

@Scott

As any church will tell you: when the kids move away, many of them never come back to the church.

I think that's a really important point. As per MK, "environmental" factors can facillitate or inhibit religion. But there are plenty of people who inhabit urban- modernity and still believe. What separates them from the others? It would appear to be some kind of individual "internal factor" i.e Grace, which makes environment far less important.

As a Lutheran, (but sympathetic here, I'm not trying to scold)

I don't mind well intentioned critique, it's welcomed.

One thing that certainly strikes us about the 20th century was not only Rome's two pronged bible and tradition approach

My own view is that there has to be some kind of interpretive body with respect to the Bible for a whole host of reasons. I also think that there is a legitimacy of an interpretive "tradition". This inevitably means that there is going to be disagreement on various interpretations, I accept that. However, even with my sympathetic stance to "tradition" I realise that there is a limit to how far you can take "tradition" and magisterial authority. It always has to be done with reference to the Bible, in its totality.

Take, for instance, the Church's current stance on the Death Penalty. There's no way you can really square it with the Bible. There may be quite legitimate grounds to limit it but to say its "inadmissible"--whatever that means--would appear to repudiate scripture. Here, I personally feel my inner Protestant coming out. The question I ask myself the is: Does God approve of this, would he put himself in opposition to this and withdraw His blessing? It's a speculation.

Thanks for thinking out loud on this blog about this stuff. I've found it interesting.

Thank you.

@millie78

Christ is not. He's quite clear about it, too.

Sure, that's why he approved of the Samaritan over the Pharisee. Remember the pharisees were doctrinally correct except that they weren't.

and don't want to consider that the abandonment of the church is a consequence of abandoning the faith.

You can't have a abandon a faith you never had in the first place.



scott said...

@TSP Re: capital punishment - Yes, I would agree this is another specific example of Rome going against scripture. And I think Rome did this type of thing more often in the 20th Century, lending to the Left making the large gains in that 100 years you mentioned.

When any church goes against the plain meaning of the scriptures (the liberal Protestants are even more guilty on this front than Rome), it's not a good move. And, at least in the West, this usually ends up with the church adopting wholesale the views of the Left. Then Christianity gets reduced to moralism, although not a moralism tied to the bible but rather the liberal causes of the day.

As for what makes some still cling to the faith, I think you are correct that it revolves around grace. There are a few ways to distinguish grace, but clearly in regard to having faith, we're talking about God's favor shown in Christ - which comes to us in His word and sacraments (baptism, Lord's Supper). When some of the kids leave, they still go to church. Many don't, which is a rejection of God's grace, and leads down broad paths not headed anywhere we want society to go.

I think the environment is important, as even righteous men have their souls vexed when surrounded by a sinful society. Thus Lot lingers when the angels tell him God's going to destroy the place, and his wife looks longingly back at the home and life they just left.

Cheers

MK said...

SP: how explain where faith doesn't even register on the radar.

Mt 25:26 - ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’

IMO these are the best of times for real Christians in nearly 2000 years...at least one parish per city of decent size in the US (albeit usually small/traditional) is visibly rich in faith, with plenty of food, peace in the land, and the families are large and healthy.

Yes, the vast majority remain stubbornly proud, materialistic, disobedient, and non-sacramental, eating processed food, staying up late imbibing media, and don't exercise. And yes, this has real consequences for grace and faith. But anything else would be simply unjust.

John Rockwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Rockwell said...



"When any church goes against the plain meaning of the scriptures (the liberal Protestants are even more guilty on this front than Rome), it's not a good move. And, at least in the West, this usually ends up with the church adopting wholesale the views of the Left. Then Christianity gets reduced to moralism, although not a moralism tied to the bible but rather the liberal causes of the day."

Its even worse when said church says that the plain meaning of Scripture actually means what they want it to mean. And that individual subjective interpretation is wrong.

Despite the plain meaning of Scripture.

Even clear passages like the disapproval of homosexuality has been reinterpreted to mean just shrine prostitution and not homosexuality in general including a lot of squid ink to obscure the plain meaning of the scripture.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Scott

When some of the kids leave, they still go to church. Many don't, which is a rejection of God's grace, and leads down broad paths not headed anywhere we want society to go.

I tend to look at this at a more "atomic" individualistic level. Grace operates through the individual and many of those who don't go to church don't reject it as much as are indifferent to it.

@ JR

Its even worse when said church says that the plain meaning of Scripture actually means what they want it to mean

Agree this is a big problem but it also must be remembered that the plain meaning may sometimes be contradictory even within scripture. That's why you can't just take one section of the Bible and use it as a "key" to explain everything else. You've got to interpret it within the totality of scripture.

John Rockwell said...

@Social Pathology

"Agree this is a big problem but it also must be remembered that the plain meaning may sometimes be contradictory even within scripture. That's why you can't just take one section of the Bible and use it as a "key" to explain everything else. You've got to interpret it within the totality of scripture."

Indeed. But you won't believe how much squid ink can even make that confusing. Our enemies are Grima Wormtongue indeed.

John Rockwell said...

@Social Pathology
This is a church wide problem that would need as much as our own efforts the work of God to correct.

@MK

"Yes, the vast majority remain stubbornly proud, materialistic, disobedient, and non-sacramental, eating processed food, staying up late imbibing media, and don't exercise. And yes, this has real consequences for grace and faith. But anything else would be simply unjust."

I think some Orthodox priest I remember back noted how Exercise in its proper place is a form of Asceticism that helps to tame the passions.

Asceticism in a proper sphere is healthy both spiritually and physically in this manner.

And I do note that my usual temptations get muted after I work out at the gym.


Anonymous said...

One of the bitterest fruits of Protestantism was its attack on monasticism and asceticism. You talk a lot about the Reformation as a movement of divine grace in history but to me, its attack on asceticism represents a deep despair at grace's ability to build on, transform, and perfect nature. I recall during the early phases of the gay marriage debates a secularized remnant of the old Protestant contempt for celibacy was frequently deployed. The idea that any part of the populace could be denied the benefits of domestic bliss was simply incomprehensible. For many moderns celibacy is seen as unnatural while acting out on one's sexuality is seen as a human right. You, SP, likely view this as (a justified?) overreaction to traditional Christian morality but you haven't shown why modern people would be revolting against an ideal (celibacy) that was extinguished centuries ago instead of pushing the limits of the new paradigm. Protestantism dignified marriage as the new default thus boldly contradicting St. Paul's adnomination that the married man is "solicitous of the things of the world". Well, we have plenty of worldliness now and even the Catholic Church has been obsessed with marriage and the family especially since Vatican II and the pontificate of John Paul II. Shouldn't this be seen as a movement of divine grace in the ossified church according to you? What have been the fruits of this obsession with domesticity in the last 50 years?
In sum, the Protestant - bourgeois - post-modern devolution is more convincing than the one you present here.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Anon

One of the bitterest fruits of Protestantism was its attack on monasticism and asceticism

It was a swing of the pendulum. An equal reaction to excess.

its attack on asceticism represents a deep despair at grace's ability to build on, transform, and perfect nature

Isiah 58:3

>>Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded: have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice? Behold in the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors.

Behold you fast for debates and strife. and strike with the fist wickedly. Do not fast as you have done until this day, to make your cry to be heard on high.

Is this such a fast as I have chosen: for a man to afflict his soul for a day? is this it, to wind his head about like a circle, and to spread sackcloth and ashes? wilt thou call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen? loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden.

Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh.<<

Ascetism is not the end point of the faith.

I recall during the early phases of the gay marriage debates a secularized remnant of the old Protestant contempt for celibacy was frequently deployed.

Celibacy and homosexuality are two different things. They have different relationships to the sacrament of marriage.

St. Paul's adnomination that the married man is "solicitous of the things of the world".

But read what he says afterwards about the married man:

>>So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better. <<

Note: Marriage is seen as a positive not some kind of secondary state for runting Christians. Catholicism over-stressed the ascetic and it still does and that perhaps partially explains its failure to beat modernism practically. Being concerned about the world is not a bad thing, provided the concern is appropriate and the ascetic emphasis sets up a hierarchy where feeding the poor is secondary to ascetic contemplation.

>>Shouldn't this be seen as a movement of divine grace in the ossified church according to you?<<

Yes it is.

>>What have been the fruits of this obsession with domesticity in the last 50 years? <<

It may have stopped the Church from sliding into total irrelevancy. The Church has a lot of problems and I suggest its miserable response--by many Trads BTW--to the sexual abuse saga has been more a solvent for Church membership than any element of its doctrine on the family.

MK said...

Well, The Masculinist podcast quotes you from your Christian Buddhism post. Of course, the then quotes Dreher to back you up, so it's a hollow victory (that's a joke!).

The Social Pathologist said...

@MK

Thanks for the heads up.

Might have to post some more.