Tuesday 23 May 2017

Christianity and Mystery

Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life but much modern Christianity offers no real way and has little truth and still less life. Indeed, in many cases what calls itself Christianity today is something else entirely. This is because it has lost touch with what should be its central concern which is, of course, theosis; the deification of man. That is what Christianity really exists for. To spiritualise men and women and turn them into gods. But sadly it has been reduced to something far less, a mere code of beliefs and practices that aims to make men better instead of radically transforming them. It has over-simplified itself and, having been infected by secular humanism, it now prioritises loving your neighbour over loving God*. Consequently it has become a thing of this world. You might think I exaggerate to make a point, but the exaggeration is not that much and the point is valid.

This accommodation (capitulation would be another word) to materialistic humanism is a foolish mistake because by going down that path Christianity has rendered itself largely irrelevant to many people for why bother with it if the essential part of it is better catered for elsewhere? One has to ask why it has done this, and the answer can only be that far too many of its leaders do not have any deep spiritual insight or feeling. They have no connection to divine mystery, no sense of real holiness, no perception that the human being as he or she is in this world is just a limited part of the true soul that exists elsewhere and comes here to learn certain lessons, the better to fit it for its divine destiny. They are bureaucrats working to keep the show on the road rather than visionaries or saints or even, since the percentage of visionaries and saints has never been high, people who really believe the inner truths of their religion.

As a result modern Christianity has lost its sense of sacred mystery. Now mystery is the essence of any true religion and when that is no longer at its heart then the religion becomes just a worldly club for like-minded members to get together and socialise or do good. Religion only exists because of the complete superiority of the next world over this one. As soon as this world becomes important or meaningful in itself, rather than being something only seen in the light of higher realities,  then religion is dying and this is the situation we have now in practically all religions though some branches do heroically hold out more than others. But they are few and even many of them have been compromised in one respect or another.

Christianity must rediscover its spiritual side and put that front and centre. It must emphasise holy mystery. It must not be afraid of confronting the world with a radically different view and nor should it ever seek to compromise with the world. It should not try to simplify itself even if its essential message is simple and open to all, the wise and the foolish, the educated and the uneducated alike. But behind this simple message of salvation lie profound mysteries which must be seen as such and not brought down to our level. For if you bring the high altar down to the people then the people have nothing to pull them up beyond the banalities of this world. They have nothing to inspire them and take them out of themselves.

It is worth repeating. Sacred mystery is the essence of religion and religion can only survive in a meaningful way when that mystery is preserved. But note that mystery is not mystification for it is not hidden in darkness or obscurity but in light. Christianity must realign itself with the light that is not of this world.

 Right on cue shortly after I had written this I saw an article in which the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is quoted as saying, "The heart of Christian values has something to do with mutuality - a real commitment to and investment in the wellbeing of your neighbour." But this is not the heart of Christian values at all otherwise what's the difference between a Christian and a liberal humanist? The heart of Christian values must be the love of God and everything else is subsidiary to that. Which naturally doesn't mean don't love your neighbour but that can never be primary or else it could be used as an excuse for all sorts of spiritual misdirection as it is now.


Anonymous said...

We can hope to become saints, but not gods. That is not our destiny.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think I understand what you imply by Mystery - which is non-material, spiritual, supersensible, transcendent... But I feel that over the long haul, as divinisation proceeds, all mysteries will be understood consciously: that is our destiny and goal.

But of course, we should not pretend to understand (create a pseudo-understanding)by first creating a partial and biased over-simplification - and then understanding *that* instead of the full reality.

William Wildblood said...

Anonymous, I only means gods in the sense that the word is used in Psalms 82.6 (I said, "You are gods, And all of you are sons of the Most High.`) and John 10.34 (Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?), but I agree the word is open to misunderstanding. I almost wrote 'like gods'.

Bruce, that is what I mean, something we can't grasp with the intellectual mind. However I also think we are destined to grasp this mystery in other ways, some of which we can't begin to comprehend now. However there will probably always be new mysteries for us because life and its unfolding is endless. The revelation of God to his children doesn't stop. Or so I believe.

Aaron said...

Good post, William.

"Investment in the wellbeing of your neighbor..." makes it sound like our highest vocation is to help everyone have a comfortable life on earth! These people betray their materialism and lack of belief in another world.

"However I also think we are destined to grasp this mystery in other ways, some of which we can't begin to comprehend now."

I think this gets close to it. I am surprised that Bruce does not like it, as it is very consistent with his own theory of human evolution.

Bruce - consciousness is just a faculty. It would make sense that we can evolve beyond it.

Your insistence on evolution and your insistence on remaining eternally within currently evolved mental faculties do not seem to me to match well together.

Aaron said...

William - I too have often stumbled at the word "gods". Its especially troublesome on the beginning of the spiritual path, as it suggests superhuman earthly powers that appeal to the lower self, when that is not at all what is meant.

I think of it now merely as participating in a divine state that is utterly transcendent, that leaves our earthly humanity behind - "powers" being something that applies to earthly conditions (the ability modify material).

Aaron said...

I thought about it some more, and I think I understand your position, Bruce, why for you evolution does not imply evolution beyond consciousness. Indeed cannot.

For you, evolution takes place in Time, and Time is a thought-category of consciousness, therefore evolution cannot go beyond consciousness - the moment evolution goes beyond consciousness, it destroys Time.

Yet for you Time is primary. Therefore, there cannot be evolution beyond consciousness.

For me, I could accept evolution within Time, but only with the final goal to evolve beyond consciousness, and thus beyond Time.

(which, in a sense, is not really "evolution" at all. My position really negates the importance of Time, and the importance of evolution.)

Whether Time is primary is the clincher. Your position does indeed flow perfectly from your assumptions.

Bruce Charlton said...

RJ Reilly in Evolution of Consciousness - studies in polarity:

"Coleridge and Barfield accept as a 'given' the reality of time, as they accept the basic Christian story. Or rather, they accept time because it is an obvious part of the Christian story that must be believed or philosophized away... One thing seems clear: without a belief that historical time is real, and a factor in man's destiny, the true polar relationship between God and Man is endangered. To ignore or minimise time is to change the shape of the hour glass and let all the sand run together."

Or to put in another way, for me (and Mormons, or Coleridge, Steiner, Barfield, Arkle) the distinction between God and Man is primarily a matter of Time.

But those who disbelieve in the reality and primacy of Time must fix an impassable qualitative gulf between God and Man If they are to keep the understandings of God and Man from collapsing together (as happens in Eastern religions, or Western adherents of the perennial philosophy).

William Wildblood said...

I tend to think that whenever there is a metaphysical 'and/or'as in time and eternity or the one and the many or being and becoming the solution is to think of them as a' both/and'. So time is somehow absorbed into eternity and imparts a flavour to it as sugar does tea. We need time in order somehow to go beyond time though when we do it may still be present but in a totally transformed way.

But I certainly don't think we can just dismiss time as belonging to an inferior category of reality that needs to be gone beyond or abandoned without fully assimilating its benefits. Its role is clearly crucial.

Aaron said...

Bruce -

Indeed yes. Metaphysics that deny Time must necessarily be monistic - all is One. Individuation must take place within Time, and thus can only be relative (accordingly)

But I believe the ethical tendency of Christianity is clearly monistic - resist not evil, judge not - i.e do not differentiate between yourself and others - as well as St Pauls "kenosis" and "not I, but Chirst within me". Etc.

These monistic tendencies were fully developed by the early Fathers and the Christian mystics.

I am aware Owen Barfield believes since Chirst occurred within Time, Time must be ultimate, but I do not think this is sound. This is itself a philosophical extrapolation (instead of "...Time must be philosophized away"), and the ethical tendency of Christianity, which is monistic, must be explained away.

But of course, we disagree on this.

Aaron said...

William -

Well, "inferior" only in the sense that it is not ultimate, but only relative.

Of course, Time, like this entire realm of Maya, "exists" - but the mistake, in my view, is when we regard it as ultimately true in itself, not as a relative part of something larger, with no "essence" ( no individual existence - or as you would say, separate existence".)

That is the view of Eastern religions.

I think your view hints at this and often gets at it better than my explanations often do - whereas I deny, you tend to affirm both. What I should be doing is to neither deny nor affirm - but transcend.

ajb said...

Mystery is contra excessive, put-yourself-in-a-trap-of-your-own-making theology, of which the history of Christianity is littered.

I think pragmatism and mysterianism arrive in certain aspects at the same point (does it work? good, then don't worry too much about figuring out why it works, because theories are epistemically fragile and we can only guess at this point).