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   Therefore at its most fundamental level, the lack of Grace--either withdrawn or rejected--is the ultimate cause of the de-Christianisation.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.