Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Minimal Christianity, not even Mere Christianity, may be all that is possible

I have been thinking about the apparent impossibility of what C.S. Lewis described as 'Mere' Christianity in the modern world.

From a Christian perspective, the religious decline (including decline in many churches) has been so great since Lewis wrote his talks in the 1940s that what seemed like a very basic definition of proper Christian life now seems over-idealistic and unattainable to many people - including myself.

My feeling is that many modern people, especially (perhaps) intellectuals, cannot even take one single baby step on the path of Christian life; but can *at best* only make the very first move, and the first move is not a step on a path but rotation round an axis.

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To 'repent' is to 'turn away' - specifically to turn away from 'sin'.

But sin should not be thought of as a (long) list of forbidden and compulsory behaviours, instead the essence of sin is the 'natural' or default state of the human organism in this life at this point in time.

Sin is a false understanding of the nature of reality, and a wrong understanding of the purpose of human life.

So repentance is to turn-away from a false and wrong understanding of our situation, and a turning-towards a correct understanding of our situation.

Turning and affirming the attitude we ought to have, wanting to have that attitude.

Having turned, a true Christian church would help us progress at least some way along the path ahead (it is not impossible, this has happened, and some have reached the end of the path while still on earth); but many Christian churches are, by now, fundamentally corrupted and blinded by worldliness, by politics, by dishonesty.

Or else we may simply be too weak to join and follow a church. Too weak or (more likely) too thoroughly corrupted.

And some people will never take even the first step, but before anything further can be accomplished, before a single step can be taken, they will turn (or be turned) back towards the world. By weak distractibility or by conceit or by evil intent they will be tempted or they will simply forget their understanding, they will lose their desire to believe and behave in accordance with reality.

And some people will be discouraged and will despair, and some will recognize their own weakness and be embarrassed and ashamed and will give-up.

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This recurrent failure to hold to truth and to sustain belief is not even worthy of being called ‘back-sliding’ because there has not been any progress to slide back from!

Rather, it is like looking at the light, then getting bored, then turning back to look again at the dark, or to become curious about what is in the dark, or to seek to spy-out something nasty in the dark.

So, every time we manage to turn and look at the light, and begin to want to progress towards the light; we are either distracted, or desire to take another look at the dark – and we do so, every time, it seems inevitably.

The only answer is to turn again back to the light: again and again. With sorrow for failure to have the correct attitude fully and at all times. (Recalling, with humility, that many have gone far towards this, and some have succeeded in reaching this.)

Turning every day, multiple times a day, by whatever means are effectual. Never getting any closer to the light; never getting any of the consolations of progressing towards the light (never getting closer to God)…

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So minimal Christianity is not a positively desirable strategy, indeed it is a miserable strategy – it is a last resort.

But at least we continue to turn. And that least is, we are assured, enough - *just* enough - to make the difference, the ultimate difference.

This is not a recommendation – because clearly mere Christianity (if you can do it) is better than minimal.

But if minimal is all that is possible (at present, or in the long term) for some or many or most people under modern conditions, then so be it.

If so, then by all means embrace minimal Christianity. It is infinitely better than the alternative.

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