Friday, 22 May 2015

Hard hearts and literalism in Christianity - using Christianity as a transcendental justification for hatred


Edited from Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield (1965) - the chapter "Religion":

The needful virtue is that which combats the besetting sin. And the besetting sin today is the sin of literalness...

The relation between the mind and the heart of Man is a delicate mystery, and hardness is catching. 

There is a connection, at some level - however deep, between literalness and hardness of heart.


The above quotes hit me with the power of insight - 'literalism' is indeed our besetting sin; and this comes out most starkly in disputes; and Christians are just as prone to it as are the majority secular culture. And literalism does often lead to hard hearts - indeed that is how it can usually be noticed - by the hard, brittle, cold tone which enters discourse.

In mainstream secular culture, literalism is seen in the legalism, the microscopic analysis of sentences and individual words, which prevails in modern bureaucracies (which means in most of modern life - since the interlinked bureaucracies - the system - is almost everywhere).

And in Christianity literalism is also a besetting sin - which can be observed in all denominations - although some are worse, in this respect, than others. It is my impression that literalism is what attracts some people to Christianity, and retains them in it.


The problem is that literalism justifies itself, by dichotomizing Christian discourse as all or nothing, and dividing the faithful from the heretics on clear technical grounds: either either people fully implement every line of scripture (when quoted line-by-line) or people have rejected the Bible; either people fully live by the rule-book or people are making it up as they go along; either everyone fully submits to church authority; either people adhere to traditional practices and ritual in every respect or else they have rejected it; either people are theologically orthodox or they are heretics or apostates.

In practice, individuals have their own favourite tests - the response to a particular passage of scripture, attitude to contraception or doctrine. In modern culture-wars (Christians versus secular mainstream) litmus test issues include abortion, and the ordination (or pastorate, or full membership) of women and sexual-revolutionaries. Within Christianity the tests are much more numerous- and generally reduce to the authority of authorities - the primacy of church leadership, scripture, traditions etc.


My point is that these disputes have a horrible way of playing into the enemy's hands; and the way this often works is by literalism - both sides end-up using literalist arguments, and both sides have their hearts hardened and chilled by the process. Those with the hardest hearts come to the fore, take charge and and take-over the disputes, and ensure that - from a Christian perspective - there are no winners but only losers. 

What I mean is that the right side - the side which holds the correct views - ends-up as being corrupted - so they come to hold the right opinions for the wrong reasons - and thereby the right opinions become invalidated and irrelevant.

Because in Christianity, having the right beliefs for the wrong reasons means having the wrong beliefs: the reasons are a non-optional part of the right beliefs.


It should be obvious, and it certainly is true, that a persona can sincerely hold all the correct beliefs, and do all the prescribed actions - every single one of them, and obey all the legitimate church authorities to the letter - and not be a Christian because they have hard hearts.

In other words because they lack love - also termed 'charity' and agape.


This hard-hearted lovelessness seems to be terribly common among strident self-identified Christians on the Christian blogosphere and even more so on the secular Right Wing/ Reactosphere. 

Among Christians, the inference is that these are people who have become Christian to provide a transcendental excuse to indulge in hatred.

In other words, a literalistic definition and interpretation of Christianity is being used to justify an attitude which is consistently and hypocritically directed at teh expression of hatred.

This is sometimes called Phariseeism - after the revealed attitude of Jesus's enemies among the Jewish priesthood - but it remains extremely common (albeit less rigorous, and not always focused on 'the law).


This kind of thing is very obvious to non-Christians, and 'hypocrisy' by this definition is one of the legitimate criticisms of the Christian churches throughout history.
Because, hypocrisy is properly a matter of motivation - the prime hypocrisy is to be motivated by hatred and pride in the name of a religion that regards love as the primary and always necessary virtue. 

We are almost all of us prone to this kind of hypocrisy, and it is understandable how debates and arguments easily degenerate in this way.  But while it can be explained, there is no sufficient excuse for it - and it is very, very dangerous (I mean morally hazardous) to seek to excuse hate-motivated discourse on the grounds of necessity, on the grounds of the greater good.

When we detect it in ourselves, we must repent and cease; when we detect hate-motivation in others we must be careful not to treat them as mentors, teachers, authorities, or good interpreters - no matter how learned or rhetorically skilful they may be, no matter how correct in their expressed beliefs practices and obedience.

Such hypocrites (by the above definition) are extremely dangerous if given power as Christian leaders - dangerous to those under their authority, and damaging to the faith itself; and very difficult to get rid of once in place because it is their motivation which is at fault, rather than their actions - which are always correct and orthodox.


So Christians must guard against hate-driven-pseudo-Christians - who are often the most orthodox and obedient in their behaviour; and must recall that love comes above all: Love of God and Neighbour covers, compensates-for, is far more important than total literalistic correctness.

In other people, but also more importantly in ourselves. We must guard against hardening of our hearts.

And if our hearts are hardening and we become aware of this, then there can be no excuse or compensation - the immediate priority must be to restore warmth to the heart (or to allow warmth to re-emerge, to become warmed); and the antidote for hardness is love.


Thursday, 21 May 2015

What does God want from Men?

It is helpful, in being a Christian, to know what God wants from us Men - To know, ultimately, where it is all supposed to be going.

The answer is that God wants us to become like Him, as much like Him as possible - so that we can dwell with Him in the same kind of relationship as he has with Jesus Christ.

We are Sons (and Daughters) of God, and so was Jesus Christ - but Christ began as God and became Man - we begin as Men and are offered the chance to become gods.

We are currently immature, childish, weak and flawed Sons of God - and God wants us to grow-up, as much as possible (eventually).

(This growing-up process is variously called theosis, sanctification, spiritual progression, divinization.)

That is what God wants from us; and salvation is ('just') the necessary first step on this path.

And it all depends on whether we agree with this plan; because we have to choose to cooperate with it - it will not be forced-upon us.

Do we want to become gods and live with God the Father and Jesus Christ - not as equal in status; but able to relate and communicate with them on the same level?

Or not?


Present Receptivity - a neglected form of meditation

I have become aware that there are multiple forms of meditation, with several goals and different - contrasting - effects.

One thing I do, or which sometimes happens-to-me, is something I haven't seen specifically described - perhaps because its effects are modest. It is a state of heightened present-moment, here and now, dynamic receptivity.

The first time I noticed it was when I was at college, walking on a path across a field, when I became aware that a warm wind was blowing between my fingers in a pleasant way, and I began to focus on the sensations that were happening to me - the feelings on my skin, the appearance of the path and the grass nearby, sounds of birds and traffic - and quite suddenly my consciousness snapped-into awareness of the here and now of what was happening to me: a state of Present Receptivity.

It didn't last long, because almost immediately I started 'thinking-about' the sensation, which distanced me from this sensory contact; but it was a valuable experience because I knew myself to be orientated and placed - also it dispelled that angsty worry which tends to grind-away for much of life.

Since then, I have always been able to induce the feeling whenever I remember to do it - which is not very often! But one time is in the morning or evening when I step outside to stand and look at the sky.

For just a moment or two, life is not just sweeping-by - but slows to the point that I become aware of myself, floating in the stream of time.


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Yet more evidence that we are living in WD Hamilton's 'Planetary Hospital'

I was talking with Michael A Woodley yesterday, and he told me of yet more research evidence in the pipeline to support our hypothesis that modern men are suffering from more than a century's worth of mutation accumulation.

This follows-up on our work of three years ago when we discovered that simple reaction times had slowed substantially since they were first measured in the late 1800s - and that this indicated that general intelligence must therefore also have declined substantially over that period.

This decline could partly be accounted for by the inverse correlation between intelligence and fertility but this mechanism alone was insufficient to account for the magnitude of the reduction in intelligence.

We hypothesized that mutation accumulation might be the other main cause. This is almost certain to have been happening for about 150 years, as child mortality rates have declined from historical levels of a half or more to just a few percent. Hence the primary mechanism for purging the gene pool of spontaneously-occurring mutations - of which there are probably many in each generation - has been all-but eliminated.

Early indications were that this was indeed the case:

Michael has now unearthed confirmatory evidence of mutation accumulation using a completely different measure and in an independent population (paper prepared for submission, but still confidential).

It is becoming hard to avoid the conclusion that we have been, for several generations, living in what WD Hamilton (in Narrow Roads of Gene Land, Volume 2) called the Planetary Hospital - in other words, a world in which almost everyone is suffering from significant genetic damage, and an increasing proportion of the population are suffering from genetic disease.

This raises the possibility that some or much of the social pathology in The West, including the general mainstream attitudes to this social pathology, may be attributable - in part, at least - to the accumulation of endemic genetic damage.

Is this plausible? Against it is the greatly increased Western life expectancy; but in favour of it is the ever reducing fertility - which mostly reflects an ever reducing desire for people (especially women) to have children - with fertility rates well below replacement levels despite unprecedented prosperity. And biological fitness is about reproductive success, not life expectancy.

But superficially, aside from a possible increase in 'autistic spectrum' disorders, there is no obvious epidemic of innate genetic disease among the native Western population. However, there is evidence of behavioural maladaptiveness - behavioural change which would (under ancestral conditions) lead to reduced reproductive success.

The subtlest and most easily-damaged human traits are social and sexual behaviour; and here there are very obvious changes which would tend to be net maladaptive. These might include a reduction in average self-preservation, bravery and ability to deploy violence among men to the extent of a near-suicidal passivity in the face of danger and indifference to the prospect of genetic extinction.

And among women an indifference to having children, rearing children; and the embrace of fashions which signal (according to innate signalling mechanism) sexual promiscuity and the presence of disease (eg deliberate, usually asymmetrical skin lesioning by piercing and tattoos - which mimics pathology).

In terms of sexuality, as well as the widespread embrace of non-reproductive sex in many manifestations, what is perhaps even more striking is the bland social indifference to this.

Indeed, what is most distinctive of all is an inversion of mainstream attitudes concerning sexual pathologies (by 'sexual pathologies' are meant those sexual practices which biologically impair net reproductive success). For perhaps the first time in human history, we are approaching the situation in which non-reproductive sexual practices are becoming the officially-sanctioned 'norm'.

The fact that traditional religion is an effective antidote to these trends indicates that biology is not the whole story by any means - and the abandonment of religion must bear a great deal of responsibility.

However, the abandonment of Christianity in the West may, to some extent, have been driven or more likely facilitated by changes in disposition (in attitudes, motivation etc) that are themselves a consequence of (mostly) sub-clinical genetic pathologies (ie. mostly-subtle impairments to social and sexual behaviours) due to mutation accumulation.

So, the current scenario - unrestrained as it is by the compensatory wisdom of traditional religion - increasingly resembles Hamilton's Planetary Hospital with more-or-less sick people in a majority; to the point of generating an inverted ethic in which sickness is seen as not just normal but good: a world of sick people (in effect) trying to induce as many others as possible to share their sickness (presumably so the sick will not be relatively disadvantaged).

Of course, this situation cannot long persist; not least because the sick need healthy people to look after them. But in the meantime, we have an extraordinary situation of the (indirectly) suicidal policy of promoting sickness.

This is probably unique in world history, because never before have child mortality rates been so low for so long; and never before has mutation accumulation been able to become so advanced - due to the soft, comfortable, prosperous life bequeathed to us by our recent ancestors.


Note added: According to WD Hamilton, when someone has a large accumulation of deleterious mutations, this will typically reduce the desire to reproduce. This impaired libido will presumably be partly from feeling ill and lacking energy; but also, and importantly, probably as a built-in, evolved, species-benefiting trait which is actually designed to reduce the mutation load in the relevant gene pool. In effect, the individual sacrifices his own reproduction for the benefit of his genetic relatives or group (indeed, this trait may be necessary for the evolution of complex brained species, such as humans, where mutations have exceptionally large scope for causing significant functional damage. This tendency to 'reproductive suicide' of the unfit would normally be a beneficial trait; however, when there is a heavy mutation load spread through the whole population, then this trait will lead to population reduction and eventual extinction; since too many individuals opt not to reproduce.

Slogans, badges, T-shirts, signs, masks and post-sixties, counter-cultural politics

There is something seriously creepy and repellent about the public display of 'political' slogans; which began in the sixties with badges or 'buttons', expanded to T-shirts, and more recently has settled upon photos or selfies of people holding-up signs with a 'message'.

What is worst about these photos of people holding-up signs, is the typical facial expression; which combines fake-anger, smugness and vacuousness in a way which is, at least, accurate concerning the probable state of mind of the sign-holder.

A singularly repugnant version is when a profession photographer gets a carefully pre-written sign and puts it into the hands of some 'minority' person - poses that person in some suitable fashion, then (presumably) shoots-off a couple of hundred images to find one with exactly the requisite combination of fake-anger, smugness and vacuousness.

Beyond this is the Guy Fawkes face mask; which comes from a shallow reading of a sophomoric graphic novel by a gifted but evil author based on a truly absurd analogy that equates an historical violent revolutionist who risked his life, and lost it, trying to restore the full severity of a Roman Catholic state - and the blank-faced, flaccid, lecture-skiving, weekend self-indulgence characteristic of modern ultra-left 'anarchism'.

Nauseating although this whole phenomenon is; I have to admit that badges, T-shirts, signs and masks are not false to reality; because they constitute a precise and complete account of current politics - which is indeed nothing more than just this: sound-bites and egotistical posturing in service of the mass media.


Is Social Justice/ Political Correctness/ New Leftism a religion? Actually *not* (despite superficial similarities)


"Social Justice” is a religion. It has saints, dogma, and sacraments.

There are some similarities (which the writer goes on to enumerate) but actually, in its core features, 'social justice' (New Leftism, political correctness) is not a religion - because it is essentially negative and oppositional, hence fluid and self-consuming.

The Old Left, such as Communism, was very much like a Godless religion; and it did have saints- such as Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao. But the New Left of Social Justice and Political Correctness has only temporary idols, any of whom may be vilified and demonized at any time.

The idols of the Social Justice Warriors are not saints, but merely function as clubs, taken-up to beat the enemy - then usually discarded. 

The evidence is that the majority of hate figures of the Left are themselves Leftists who used to be revered. Most early IQ researchers - such as Cyril Burt - were socialists; most victims of Two Minutes Hate such as James Watson and Larry Summers are Democrats; ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair was a socialist. For Heavens sake, the Nazis were socialists! 

The lesson is that modern Leftism is parricidal (as well as fratricidal), nobody is secure in their Sainthood - indeed nobody and no group is secure in the status: even Marx's 'proletariat' was redefined as evil white males. Today's Gods are tomorrow’s devils.

And this is the essence of the beast: it is negative, oppositional, lives by subversion, inversion and destruction of the Good; its stance is perpetual opposition.

Stability and the status quo and tradition is attacked, but there is no alternative stable state in view; no Social Justice utopia being aimed-at; no end-point at which political correctness will say 'enough', 'this is it'.

This non-religious nature comes from the New Left being located in the mass media, and not in any political organization. The mass media is subverting, inverting and destroying;one thing after another; but it is going nowhere except towards chaos.

So, fundamentally the Social Justice Warriors are something new; not a religion but instead something only possible after the death of religion as a political force; after mass apostasy and the forcible exclusion of religion from public discourse.

The New Left is in reality an anti-religion; and its religious aspects are merely tactical accidents of its negative and oppositional stance.


Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Mere Christianity - not merely, but not mere enough?


[CS Lewis’s and Richard] Baxter’s “mere Christianity” was not “mere” Christianity in the weak, attenuated sense of the word mere.

Both Lewis and Baxter used the word mere in what is today—regrettably—an obsolete sense, meaning “nothing less than,” “absolute,” “sure,” “unqualified,” as opposed to today’s weakened sense of “only this,” “nothing more than,” or “such and no more.”

Our contemporary meaning of the word mere corresponds to the Latin vix, “barely,” “hardly,” “scarcely,” while the classical, Baxterian usage corresponds to the Latin vere, “truly,” “really,” “indeed.”

Baxter had no use for a substance-less, colorless homogeneity bought at the expense of the true catholic faith. Indeed, he had his own list of non-negotiable fundamentals, including belief in one triune God; in one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, God incarnate; in the Holy Spirit; in the gifts of God present to his covenanted people in baptism and Holy Communion; and in a life of obedience, holiness, and growth in Christ.

It is surely correct to focus on what is “truly,” “really,” “indeed" - but the list of 'non-negotiable fundamentals' has come to look more and more misguided; as the denominations which officially hold to these fundamentals have become less and less 'mere' in the sense of truly/ really/ indeed - but have assimilated almost invisibly into the prevalent Western secular Leftism.

'One triune God' is hardly a useful discrimination - except to distinguish Christianity from pure monotheism minus Christ - since it amounts to espousal of a paradoxical or non-common-sensical form of words. It is, indeed, a ludicrous misrepresentation to put 'one triune God' first and foremost as a 'mere' Christian belief - when this is not even stated in the Bible (only in creeds from many generations later), but extracted from an elaborate close reading of the text combined with philosophy at a high level of abstraction!

Clearly Mere Christianity entails acknowledging Christ as our Lord and Saviour - but there are counter examples to the need for baptism and Holy Communion in some low church Protestant groups that certainly seem Christian - such as the Salvation Army.

And while a life of obedience, holiness and growth in Christ are certainly desirable and pleasing to God; the essence of the Gospel is that none of these are necessary for Salvation - thank Heavens, or else hardly anyone would ever be saved!

A better definition of real Christianity would therefore need to be much simpler and less parochial on the one hand - to include more than the mainstream 'catholic' churches (Orthodox, Roman, Anglican) ; while on the other hand much more rigorous in excluding the mass of clergy and laity in these 'catholic' churches who are happy to repeat 'orthodox' forms of words in creeds and catechisms - but who in practice systematically (and indeed aggressively) subordinate Christianity to the changing expediencies of secular politics.


The fallacy of fixing things (more on motivation, and its lack, and its absolute necessity)

Almost all of public life nowadays focuses around the business of fixing things; and virtually no fixing actually gets done.

It is certainly a thing which draws you in: diagnosing what is wrong, coming-up with schemes to fix it...

But it is wearying because the most sensible (simple, effective) schemes don't ever get adopted - and instead there are stubborn attempts to 'implement' ineffective, complex schemes, which are only tangentially related to what needs fixing - or else completely unrelated but simply 'sold' on the basis of lies and misrepresentation. Once introduced these useless, expensive, intrusive schemes are virtually impossible to dislodge.

But none of this stops the bandwagon rolling. Every day new fixes, critique of fixes, defences of fixes...

Things don't get fixed because at a very fundamental level people don't want them fixed. Failed pseudo-fixes persist because people benefit from the failures.


Motivation, motivation, motivation! The key to humans is motivation. Real motivations - and not asserted motivations.

In Britain all sorts of agencies and organizations are always claiming to be 'passionate' about some or other issue - but that is the point: they are not passionate, they are not motivated - they merely use the word.

Being passionate, being powerfully motivated, is not about rhetoric, nor is it about making passionate faces or noises: it is seen in actions.


The level of lying in public life, in organization life, in any of the bureaucracies - is so vast that it is really better not to listen to the words or look at the pictures; but just look at what people do, and what they do not do.

Less information is more knowledge. Less training is more understanding.

And nothing can or will be done without motivation - motivated leaders; yes - but motivated leaders only come in a context of motivated followers; otherwise there are just fake-motivated leaders (and a pretty feeble fake it is too).


There is really very little point in the vast exercises in information gathering and analysis, in strategies and plans and regulations, when there is near zero motivation. To say we are living in a house of cards is to understate the situation.

If or when any group emerges that is genuinely motivated they will simply walk-in and seize power; nobody will be sufficiently motivated to stop them; and they will attract support simply because they are motivated.

Such motivation cannot be manufactured; there is no formula or trick - it must tap-into some reality of human nature. This doesn't at all mean that anything which motivates is good; but it does mean that anything which fails to motivate is bad.


And our general societal state of demotivation is bad: it is completely unacceptable.

We should not tolerate it, we should not try and get used to it or adjust to it; we should regard it as a matter of extreme urgency to find what it takes to motivate us.

I do not mean motivation at any cost; but I do mean that we must reject anything which does not motivate.

I do not mean superficial motivation, a motivation for an hour or a day or a fortnight (these are over-provided a thousandfold) - I mean deep, slow-burning, sinewy, rugged, tenacious, stubborn, resistant motivation - that drives-us, drags-us, fuels-us, and inspires-us to trudge onward through the headwinds and bogs and despite our handicaps and hunger.


Motivation cannot be faked; and if we have it, then we know it.

We do not have it, as a culture; but it is there to be had.

It is absolutely necessary; and we should be satisfied with nothing less.


Monday, 18 May 2015

The big problem - and the solution

The problem is one that is easier to notice and feel than it is to prove, but I would suggest that it is something like this: that life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow. 

I do not mean that our lives are meaningless, nor that the opportunity liberal democracy uniquely gives to pursue our own conception of happiness is remotely misguided. On a day-to-day basis most of us find deep meaning and love from our families and friends and much else. But there are questions which remain, which have always been at the centre of each of us and which liberal democracy on its own not only cannot answer but was never meant to answer. 

“What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” These are questions which human beings have always asked and are still there even though today to even ask such questions is something like bad manners.

What is even more, the spaces where such questions might be asked — let alone answered — have shrunk not only in number but in their ambition for answers. And if people no longer seek for answers in churches will they find them in occasional visits to art galleries or book clubs? ...

But what is interesting to me is that everything about these accounts is both of our time and runs against the assumptions of our time. The search for meaning is not new. What is new is that almost nothing in our culture applies itself to offering an answer.

Nothing says, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religion which has nurtured people for thousands of years.” At best the voice says, “Find your meaning where you will.”

At worst it is the nihilist’s creed: “All this has no meaning.” Meanwhile politicians — seeking to address the broadest range of people — speak so widely and with such generalities as to mean almost nothing.

Almost nowhere is there a vision of what a meaning-filled life might be. The wisdom of our time suggests that education, science and the sheer accessibility of information must surely have knocked such urges out of us. And the divide can be staggering...

I know that non-religious people do not like talk like this. And I know that religious people find it frustrating because for real believers the question will always be, “Why do you not just believe?”

Yet this latter question simply ignores the probably irreversible damage that science and historical criticism have done to the literal truth-claims of religion and ignores the fact that people cannot be forced into faith.

Excellent diagnosis - terrible (non-) prescription.

What is the point of saying that we are painted into a corner without checking whether we really are painted into a corner? What is this nonsense about the probably irreversible damage that science and historical criticism have done to the literal truth-claims of religion?

Honestly, people really need to be able to distinguish between metaphysics and wissenschaft. Science and historical criticism exclude religion by assumption, therefore they can have nothing to say - and say nothing - about the truth claims of religion.


No actual or possible discovery of science or history makes or could make any difference to the truth of religion. If  you don't understand this, then that is what you need to understand.

Don't keep on and on and on spouting nonsense - stop; analyze the nonsense and find out why it is nonsense.  


And what is this straw-mannic stuff about 'literal' truth-claims? I have never come across a literal truth-claim from anybody that did not really mean something contextualized. Words need to be interpreted for intentions; especially when words are the end-product of chains of forced choices. Accusations of literalism are just a rhetorical device to discredit the opposition. Nothing at all is 'literally' true - in the sense that religion is supposed not to be literally true - certainly science is never literally true (even when uncontroversially regarded as correct).


Sometimes things really are simple - this situation is simple.

“What am I doing here? What is my life for? Does it have any purpose beyond itself?” Do you really want to know the answers? If so, then choose your religion.


Religions can't be invented to order, not real ones; so decide which existing religion is true/ truest, and then get on with it.

Get on with it as best you can.  

You may not get it right first time, or second time or even third time (we work by trial and evaluation, repentance and try-again), but you will at least be on the path, and moving broadly in the correct direction.


Ashamed of the gospel?

The days of socially acceptable Christianity in the West are surely over. The days of comfortable Christian orthodoxy are past. It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic Evangelical witness to the truths of the gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid. There are costs of discipleship—costs that are burdensome and painful to bear.Of course, one can still safely identify oneself as a "Christian," and even be seen going to worship services at church. That is because the guardians of those norms of cultural orthodoxy that we have come to call "political correctness" do not assume that identifying as "Christian" or going to church necessarily means that one actually believes what the Church teaches on issues such as marriage and sexual morality and the sanctity of human life.

The choice for real Christians is often presented as an impossible dilemma: either capitulation to secular politically correct Leftism or some kind of crusade embracing martyrdom.

But this would be a crusade which opposed the leadership, the priesthood, of most of the mainstream Western Christian denominations - including Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and most other nonconformists. So, in practice, for many or most people, this would be a one-person-crusade... which is asking a lot more than most people have to give, and also guaranteed to fail in terms of the visible, public realm of discourse.

However, the visible public realm of discourse is not the only measure of success; and is indeed a shallow, ephemeral and ultimately irrelevant criterion.

The strength of individual Christian belief is measurable in the spiritual realm, and the success of resistance is to be measured in this realm. If there is to be a spiritual revival in the West, it will emerge from this invisible realm: having its effects by mysterious and apparently non-causal means.

In this sense, real Christianity is simpler and more powerful than ever before. Simply determining to be always honest, and to repent every failure in this aim, is now an idea of astonishingly radical import and implications - even when this honesty 'merely' takes the form of silence, and refusal to endorse. Such'negative' acts now have vast, potentially explosive, force in the real and vital realm of the spirit.

Thus nature balances itself: as the scope for public heroic positive action diminishes, so the significance of personal, private, micro-acts of refusal is amplified.


(Justly-) neglected philosophers

Despite the spread of feminism and multiculturalism, and their impact on fields from literature to anthropology, it is possible to major in philosophy without hearing anything about the historical contributions of women philosophers. The canon remains dominated by white males—the discipline that some say still hews to the myth that genius is tied to gender.

How tiresome is the academic subject of philosophy, how unjustifiably and dishonestly it appropriates the name of this subject, how ever-more tedious and shallower are its fashions and fads.

I would rather recommend a modern philosophical canon that included none, not one single representative, of the standard line-up of post-Medieval philosophers; but instead a collection of literary and middlebrow writers of the ilk of Samuel Johnson, RW Emerson, GK Chesterton and Robert M Pirsig.

(The exception, the cross-over, would be William James.)


Christian churches and the poor

A church that pays out to help the poor, but doesn’t pray with them, looks less like a church than ... merely another N.G.O.

When I was considering becoming a Christian, this was exactly how churches seemed to me. From the advertizing material outside or the leaflets and decor inside, I could not perceive anything spiritual going-on in them; but just an adjunct to mainstream soft-left, feel-virtuous politics and charity. Nothing that would turn around my alienated life; nothing that would turn around the demotivated and nihilistic nation. 

Anyway, there are no real 'Biblical' poor in Britain - instead a vast, massive, majority of the population are spiritually impoverished; starved almost to death, hungering and thirsting for meaning.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The gift of Thomas Traherne to our age

One of the most extraordinary, but hardly known, events in the history of the Christian church was the recovery of the great works of Thomas Traherne (c1637-1674).

And his work really is great: the quality and beauty of his prose is among the highest in the English language, and unique. Nobody has ever matched Traherne for his Christian expression of gratitude and sheer joy in in the beauty of natural life.

Yet all his great work was lost for more than 200 years, then emerged by strange accidents through the twentieth century.


In the late nineteenth century, nearly 200 years after the publication of A Serious and Pathetical Contemplation, two manuscripts were found on London bookstalls: some of Traherne’s poems and a series of prose meditations divided into sections of a hundred. The poems were published as The Poetical Works in 1903 by Bertram Dobell, who then published the prose work in 1908 under the title Centuries of Meditations. A second version of many of the poems, seemingly prepared for publication by Traherne’s brother Philip, was then identified in the British Museum. This latter version of the poems, which included various poems not in the earlier volume, was published by H. I. Bell in 1910 as The Poems of Felicity. 

Select Meditations was almost certainly written at the end of the Commonwealth when Traherne was in his twenties, and had just become Rector of St Mary’s Church Credenhill (1657-74). It includes reflections on the problems confronting the ecclesiastical settlement of the Restoration England (1660). The handwritten book, found in Birmingham in 1964, was edited by Julia Smith and published in 1997. 

In 1997 two further discoveries were made. One was of five previously unknown works found by Jeremy Maule in Lambeth Palace Library; these were edited by Jan Ross and published in 2005 as the first volume of The Works of Thomas Traherne. One of these five works, The Kingdom of God, is arguably Traherne’s magnum opus. The others are Inducements to Retiredness, A Sober View of Dr Twisses his Considerations, Seeds of Eternity or the Nature of the Soul and a fragment with the editorial title ‘Love’. 

Prior to this in about 1967 another manuscript had been rescued from a fire on a Wigan rubbish tip by a man looking for car parts. This was Commentaries of Heaven, a kind of Christian encyclopaedia. It was not identified as Traherne’s until 1981 and was finally published in two volumes in 2007, edited by Jan Ross.

In 2009 The Church’s Year-Book was published as Volume 4 of The Works of Thomas Traherne together with A Serious and Pathetical Contemplation and a doubtful work, Meditations on the Creation. In preparing the Year-Book Traherne drew on a wide range of sources. It covers church festivals from Easter to All Saints’ Day (but with the pages for Trinity cut out). If there was a second book covering the rest of the Christian year, it has yet to be found. 

The other discovery of 1997 was at the Folger Library in Washington DC. Here Julia Smith and Laetitia Yeandle identified as Traherne’s a poem of about 1800 lines based on Genesis and Exodus and called The Ceremonial Law, which is currently (2013) being prepared for publication in volume 6 of The Works. Traherne’s notebooks, edited by Jacob Blevins, are also due to be published as part of The Works.

Has there ever been such a situation? A writer whose prose is - within its range - the equal of Shakespeare; yet who was utterly obscure at his death and whose significant work was unpublished and lost - yet finally much of it recovered.

What does it mean? It means, I think, that Traherne is exactly what somebody needs now. He is a man for our time. He has emerged in this age, because he supplies what was previously lacking in our tradition.


Perhaps he has already done some of his work, especially via CS Lewis (perhaps the best-read man of his era) - who called Centuries of  Meditations 'almost the most beautiful book in the English language'

and transmitted some of the spirit into his fictions such as Perelandra and the Narnia stories - especially the Last Battle.


But perhaps there is more to come - perhaps that is the meaning of the continuing discoveries of Traherne's work. Perhaps we are supposed to be taking notice of him.

Traherne is not the kind of author that invites analysis or exposition, there isn't much to say about him. You don't need to read much of him. He was a pure angelic spirit who communicates briefly, almost instantly and permanently.

Traherne's primary expressed emotion was joyous gratitude at the gifts of God; his words are a delayed-action explosion preserved and saved for a cynical and nihilistic age.

My feeling is also gratitude and joy that these manuscripts survived; and to try and allow my Christian life to grow from a heart in harmonious accord with the spirit of Traherne.


Saturday, 16 May 2015

And did those feet? Jesus in England


I will not try to persuade anyone, and it is not a matter of Christian importance - but I personally believe the legends that Jesus came to England in his youth, with Joseph of Arimathea: I just cannot help it, and it gives me great satisfaction!

Not because the evidence is in any way overwhelming - although there is some; but (presumably) partly because I spent my school-days just a few miles from perhaps the main place He is supposed to have visited (Priddy, in the Mendip Hills); and partly because it fits with my general understanding of what seems like the special role of England throughout the history of Christianity (including the role of that Englishman abroad - Joseph Smith).

Anyway - if you are likewise inclined, I have found a very enjoyable and engaging book on this subject for you; a book which collects pretty much all of the legends and stories of Jesus in England: The missing years of Jesus: The extraordinary evidence that Jesus visited the British Isles by Dennis Price.

The idea is that this visit was between the ages of 12 and 30, and was prolonged; but it was not part of Christ's ministry and He did not perform any miracles; but rather He was engaged in some kind of 'work' relating to the metal and stone (tin, perhaps silver, mining and smelting) trade and business interests of Joseph of Arimathea (who is here presumed to be Jesus's uncle).

I need to point-out that this book is not really Christian. I mean it is compatible with Christianity, but does not seem to assume that Jesus was the Son of God. It is written from a New Agey perspective - for instance, the lurid cover has a picture of Stonehenge, which Jesus is presumed to have visited.

Indeed, one thing I liked about this book's speculations was its linkage of Jesus's visit and residence, with the Neolithic monuments, about which I also have off-beat beliefs (i.e. I suspect some of them are relics of a proto-Christian, literate, monotheistic civilization).

Incidentally, Stonehenge (unlike some of the earlier monuments such as Silbury and Avebury) is here interpreted as essentially a demon-and-ghost-haunted place of death: animal sacrifice, and probably human sacrifice. So Jesus's visit is argued to have had the nature of an exorcism and new sanctification.

Aside, there are some good bits of scriptural close reading; for instance, I was convinced by the collection of passages which seem to indicate that Jesus (age thirty-ish, at the time of his ministry) was treated as unfamiliar by many people in the gospels, and was not immediately recognizable even by those neighbours and family who would have been expected to know him (not even to his cousin John the Baptist).

This seems to be there in the text; and is interpreted as evidence that Jesus was absent from Nazareth for many years during which his appearance changed.

Of course it doesn't mean He must have been in England; but He might have been...


Friday, 15 May 2015

Trust in the ultimate goodness of reality

Either things are basically good - or not.

We (each of us) need to decide which - because the evidence is inconclusive.


What is wanted, and needed, is the kind of confidence in the goodness of ultimate reality as may be found in a loving family or marriage.

Not doubt.

Would we say that doubt in the love or faithfulness of a good mother, father, spouse, child is healthy? No.

Unless there is a reason which can be resolved, then persisting doubt is a sign of psychopathology or error.

There can be not ever in a million years be proof, there is no 100% assurance, of the love or faithfulness of another person.

Doubt feeds on doubt - and indeed (with humans) often leads to its own confirmation.


We must choose - and indeed if we want a good life, it only makes sense to choose that life is good: God is real and good.

Why not?

...Mostly (and bizarrely) because (we are afraid of making fools of ourselves, being 'duped' - being cuckolded by a sniggering 'fake god', taken to the cleaners, gulled, betrayed and laughed-at as childish, idiotic fools.

(God wants us to be humble -  well, there is humility for you! As much as you want.)


But so what? Suppose it happened, supposed we made complete fools of ourselves - ultimately we would lose nothing at all. In a world that really was not good, was meaningless, purposeless... then nothing at all would matter- certainly not being a fool.

If we lived a deluded life of happy hope in vain - so what?

Pascal was right, Puddleglum was right, cynicism is a mug's game.

And cynicism's one and only (brief) consolation is the dog-in-the manger trick of trying to turn everybody else into a cynic - to spread the poison of doubt and despair.

(How absolutely maddening it is for the cynic to observe loving carefree joy. The only answer is to destroy that loving carefree joy - to twist it into shame and despair; but even then the mere memory of loving carefree joy is a nagging torment...)


Invincible hope in the ultimate goodness of reality, and reality of a good and loving God, is as easy as being blissful on a sunny spring morning in a lovely place and some hours of leisure... but consider how often we ruin such times for ourselves by our guilt or angst or grasping?

It is so easy! - so long as you are not worried about appearing a gullible fool (especially not about appearing a gullible fool to yourself!).

When in doubt, give God the benefit of the doubt.


Christian apologetics, the internet, and anti-troll triage

I have been listening to a droll and informative lecture by Daniel C Peterson, who is a well-known Mormon scholar (and pundit) on the subject of using the internet to promote and defend Mormon Christianity.

He gives a good picture of the scope of the internet, and the new possibilities; balanced by a hard-headed appreciation of the limitations of traditional/ conventional missionary attempts - ringing doorbells, accosting people on the streets.

A few of his suggestions are:

1. Respond to interest, rather than cold-calling, Anyone who comes and asks about Christianity is much more likely to respond than a random individual - who may be annoyed (quite reasonably!) by an approach from a stranger.

2. Don't always be defending against criticism and ridicule; (if asked) sometimes it is better to emphasize the positive - especially if it is personal (explain, honestly, why you personally are Christian - what the faith gives you that you need).

3. The secular world often sees devout Christians as boring people, and Christians unwittingly may exacerbate this by always trying to reassure; therefore it may be better not to hide or downplay, but rather to emphasize upfront the 'strange' aspects of your faith, the supernatural, the distinctive etc.

4. Practice Triage - because your time and efforts are finite. Some people don't need apologetics and with other people it is a waste of time because they are not serious or not ready or have malign intentions. Direct your efforts where they are most needed and most effective.

This point about triage struck a chord, because I often see blog commenters who are, I believe, deliberately wasting the finite time of Christian bloggers (i.e. 'trolling') - and in the process making the comments section repulsive and inhospitable to those who might benefit from it.

This kind of thing may be a calculated anti-Christian strategy - and it is really quite common. I have also seen it in 'real life' as well as the internet. 

The answer is straightforward - don't let trolls dissipate your finite time and effort, and don't let trolling spoil the pro-Christian environment you are trying to create; don't let those who are (currently) beyond help, prevent your encouraging and helping those who might most benefit.  


Make a judgement - and if you believe that trolling is afoot, ban them from the venue!

You may get it wrong, but the failure to triage swiftly and effectively may be much more serious than an error in triage.

Of course 'trolls have souls'  - but a ban might well be good for them! It is not helpful if Christians always behave like gullible idiots - and acts of insightful, realistic, tough-mindedness from Christians may sometimes be the most effective 'argument'. 


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

God must have direct, unmediated knowedge - and if God, then so must we (albeit distorted and partial)

It struck me suddenly that God must have direct knowledge of reality, of truth, with no possibility of error - and that was perhaps the primary reason that He is God.

This may be what sets God the Father altogether apart and unique - His direct knowledge.

Of course, to us, the mechanism of direct knowledge is inexplicable - since any mechanism implies mediation which implies a possibility of error. So we must (it seems) think of direct knowledge as having no mechanism, but simply being... direct.

And the reason why God has this knowledge is one of those things that could not have a justification - it is one of those things that is primary and can only be assumed: It Just Is The Case that our Heavenly Father has direct knowledge.


But then I remembered that we are His children, and our destiny is to become like Him; and that He has put something of Himself into each of us.

That something divine given-us must (it seems) include a capacity for direct knowledge without possibility of error.

Our capacity for direct knowledge is real; and it derives from God - which is its only possible source. 


Why then are we so often wrong? Why is it that our knowledge so often seems like nothing but 'theories'?

Simply because we are grossly immature.

Our true knowledge is there but embryonic, overlain and distorted - sometimes it is inaccessible. When we try to state it, our statements are always incomplete and unsatisfactory.


But all that is to be expected.

We are here - living mortal life - partly to choose-to, strive-to discover and grow our God-given capacity for direct knowledge.

Aside from the New Age/ Psychotherapeutic cant - we really do need to 'find ourselves', we really do need 'personal development' that can only come from our own decisions and efforts - but we should know that this finding and developing is actually a God-given, divine destiny.

This feels like a satisfying answer to (and way-out-from) the endless self-torture of epistemology, the philosophical search for knowledge about knowledge, for truth without possibility of error.

Hopeful, even optimistic - yet realistic. 


Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Middle Managers, Hysterics and Psychopaths are the most typical modern 'Leaders'

Leadership is a rare trait - but it can confidently be identified; not least because we are 'programmed' to recognise and respond to leadership.

But, most appointed modern leaders are not leaders; indeed very few indeed are leaders - most are mediocre middle managers over-promoted by committees comprising the same type - and most of the rest are hysterics or psychopaths.


The 'safe choice' nowadays - in a bureaucracy-dominated world - is for mediocre middle managers in committees to over-promote a mediocre middle manager into a leadership position.

This accounts for the majority of the national leaders in the West, including leaders of most major religious denominations, and social systems such as law, education, the police.

These are people who cannot be strategic (but adopt their strategies from others - even paying to have a strategy artificially manufactured by the phony posturings of management consultants, if no other source suggests itself); who cannot decide without a procedure to follow; who cannot take responsibility on themselves.

These are fake leaders who fundamentally can only be led; and who therefore engineer their jobs on the principle of 'teams' and 'teamwork', and 'team-building'; so that they are always following advice and seeking endorsement.


We now live in a  world of mutually-interacting middle managers; of followers leading followers, the directionless leading the directionless; of arbitrary meta-procedures generating arbitrary micro-procedures validated by arbitrary committees of arbitrary 'experts'.

It is a world of management-speak, slogans, mission statements, targets, audits - all of which fail to disguise a total lack of leadership based upon an unchangeable psychological inadequacy.

Because, if you are not a leader, then you cannot lead.

For instance, nothing can be done to make the current Prime Minister or the Archbishop of Canterbury into real leaders - they are not leaders but middle managers; they never can be leaders and never will be leaders. Hype and spin do not affect the facts.


We can see this in sport - including my favourite sport of cricket - because sport is one of the few areas of modern life where real leadership still exists; and where real leaders sometimes get appointed to leadership positions.

England have had two real leaders as national cricket coach recently: Duncan Fletcher and Andy Flower (both from Rhodesia, interestingly). In between they had Peter Moores who was an over-promoted middle manager, who was sacked after about a year. Then Moores was re-appointed after Flowers, and Moores has just been sacked after a year, on the excuse of poor results.

In reality, Moores was sacked for the second time because the incoming Andrew Strauss was a successful test cricket captain, and a real leader; and Strauss knows for certain and from personal experience (being 'led' by him) that Moores is just an over-promoted middle manager and cannot ever lead.

Since nothing can be done about what Moores is, he must be got-rid-of regardless of short-term results or insufficient time in the job; simply because he should never have been appointed in the first, or second, place.


Moores cannot help not being a leader, and I always felt sorry for him as someone so obviously out of his depth. Nonetheless Moores was wrong to take-on the job, and double-plus-alpha wrong to do it a second time, when he knew for sure that he as incapable of doing leading.

The sin of the over-promoted middle manager is not in failing to be a leader - that cannot be helped; but in failing to be honest about the fact that his is not a leader, and seeking and accepting a leadership position nonetheless.

It is for this, and for the consequent damage they inevitably do to their organisations, that I blame the current crop of mediocre middle management non-leaders such as Archbishop Justin Welby or his predecessor Rowan Williams; David Cameron or his predecessor Gordon Brown.


But not all modern leaders are middle managers.

When the leaders are 'diversity hires' they are often hysterics (female or male) of the 'it's all about me' variety. For hysterics the job, any job, becomes a schoolgirl psychodrama, a popularity contest about how the leader thinks other people are treating the leader: are they respecting, are they being mean?

This is sometimes called narcissism but that is the wrong name - it is a form of hysteria or histrionics. As the name implies; the leader is an actor, and he perceives the organisation as a performance in which he plays the leading role.

The hysterical leader is not in the job for money, or power, or perks - but for the status. He wants to be admired, loved, he wants adulation - therefore the hysteric tends to surround himself with mediocrities. The hysteric may therefore be loyal to subordinates. So long as they flatter and worship him uncritically; then he will be happy with their performance.

Of course, hysterics inflict terrible damage when made leaders, because they do not care anything about the organisation they lead - the organisation is merely a means to the end of their own glorification.


And some modern leaders are psychopaths - these are the leaders who exploit the organisation for personal gain: for money, power, sexual favours, for the pleasure of tormenting others, to settle old scores... for whatever they most want. Many gang leaders are psychopaths; and psychopaths quite often get into leadership positions in modern society because mediocre middle managers are often impressed by the psychopath's total self-belief and 'dynamism'.

Once in a leadership position, psychopaths engage in fraud and corruption, terrorism and blackmail, flattery and bribery, rule-breaking and making, jury-rigging and gerrymandering... they will do pretty-,much anything which seems expedient in achieving short term goals, and if they believe they can get away with it.

Anger is seldom far from the surface. The psychopath wants to be surrounded by strong allies, not mediocrities - but he will always turn against them (sooner or later). The psychopath is always 'paranoid' and believes he is being persecuted, plotted- and schemed-against (because nothing is ever his fault, and conspiracies explain his failures).

A psychopath may be gifted at telling people what they want to hear - but the psychopath is ruthless, heartless, impulsive, aggressive - his morality is merely a convenient (and therefore labile) rationalisation for his own gratification.

A psychopath in a leadership position is probably even more destructive than an hysteric; because the psychopath will deliberately destroy the organisation he leads, partially or completely, if or when he beliefs this will benefit him in some way that he values.


Therefore, when choosing leaders for an organisation or institution or nation which actually requires leadership; it is important to choose a leader.

A leader might in practise do a good or bad job of leading, but a non-leader will always do a bad job because he can only do a bad job.

Christianity and problems with Time

There is really no necessity for Christians to be concerned with the ultimate (i.e. metaphysical) nature of Time; but they often have been, especially when wanting to think or talk about eternity.

(Eternity might be thought of as time from God's perspective; or time as it really is.)

There seem to be two options - either to regard eternity as something different from earthly mortal time, or as something essentially similar to earthly mortal time (and which transcends or contains earthly mortal time).

Earthly time is linear and sequential change; so if divine eternity is different from it, then eternity is seen as simultaneous rather than sequential, and about the absence of change.

But Christianity is all about change - not least because love entails change; or, at least, love is dynamic and sequential if it is accepted that relationships are the key metaphor for Christianity (God as Father, Jesus and ourselves as Sons of God; the primary commandments being love of God and neighbour; the Apostle John's definition that God is love - and so on).

So, if it is decided that ultimate, divine reality is simultaneous and static, then the core metaphor of Christianity is demolished; Eternal Heaven cannot be imagined as a place of ultimate love if Heaven experiences no real change.

Yet, if we regard divine time as being, like earthly mortal time, a matter of linear change - then there are problems of another kind. The idea of reality as un-endingly changing, or evolving forever, with no end-point and no cyclical recurrence, is pretty-much as alien to human nature and common sense as the idea of unchanging simultaneity.

The difficulty of squaring Christianity with eternal evolution and time as linear and sequential is that change is destruction, as well as building. How can things change forever without end or ending, without destroying everything sooner-or-later? It becomes hard to imagine that eternal change really is eternal progress; because here on earth our experience of perpetual change is usually destructive of meaning and purpose and associated with inversion of values - as with the senseless round of styles and fashions, or the existential horror of 'perpetual revolution'.

So, in my opinion, while I tend towards the idea of Heavenly Eternity being of the same general nature as earthly time (i.e. I believe that all time entails linear sequential evolutionary change) neither of the metaphysical concepts of time are really satisfactory from a Christian perspective; both can answer one set of questions only to generate a further set of questions; both will - if taken to be axiomatic and followed through - tend to dismantle Christian revelations concerning the primary nature and purpose of reality.

The only answer I can come-up-with - which is more of a change of subject than an answer - is that if we accept relationship as the primary metaphor given us by revelation; then the model for eternity is one of families and their generations in a progressing situation of ever-more, open-ended, increase in quantity and quality and complex interaction of loving relationships.

In other words the universe of reality is an ever enlarging and ever more extended family and family of families; and what binds them and gives primary meaning is loving relationships as they emerge, grow, interact through time. Nothing repeats, complexity grows, direction and objective progress come from the absolute and unchanging nature of love.

Reality begins without love, and love increases through time, and this process is eternal in the sense that we cannot imagine any point at which it must (or should) stop - so long as increase of generations continues, and each individual chooses to live by love, then there is always scope for more love than currently exists, and new configurations of love.

So eternity is seen from the inside, from the perspective of individual consciousness (whether human or fully divine in God) as the absence of an absolute limitation on the increase of love; rather than as if from standing outside of reality, from which stance eternity seems like a containing and limiting and static sphere.

Note added: I just found quoted a passage from CS Lewis in The Allegory of Love which says (albeit about something else!) what I was trying to say about our experience of eternity: [Man] does not through phases as a train passes through a station: being alive [Men have] the privilege of always moving yet never leaving anything behind. That is what, somehow, our understanding of Time must encapsulate. Lewis tried to explain how nothing is lost from the perspective of static simultaneity - which is somehow also experienced as open-endedly dynamic; I would try to explain it from the perspective of unending linear sequentiality which is somehow also able to achieve permanence. Lewis's Platonism views things from an imaginary stance outside the train; mine from the imaginary perspective that there is no outside and all is seen from within the carriage. But 'somehow' 'always moving but never leaving anything behind' is what must be explained...

Explaining why visual hallucinations are associated with more widespread brain dysfunction than are auditory hallucinations