A man ill suited, continued

My last post struck a lot of readers as weird, and no wonder, because it was actually two posts that I had merged together (“redacted”, to use the biblical scholars’ jargon).  The first was about unhealthy trends in modern Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant, I believe, although my experience is mostly with the Catholic side).  It is too sentimental, too self-referential.  We spend all our time talking about our own feelings, rather than on the One we’re supposed to be having these feelings about.  Rigorous thinking–indeed, any attempt to read doctrines as saying something about anything other than our own mental states–is discouraged.  The aspects of religion that in times past had attracted men–a sense of the holy, loyalty to a transcendent cause–are ignored or denigrated.  Even the guilt issue is ultimately solipsistic.  In times past, people felt guilty because they realized they were in bad with God and the cosmos, and they wanted to make things right.  Now people just want to stop feeling guilty, and don’t care about their objective relationship to anything.

The second post was about my real spiritual inadequacies, or rather those of someone who has taken religion to the opposite, unsentimental and ideological, extreme.  (As I said, I don’t care to talk about my personal feelings.  Then I proceeded to write a whole post about them.  I’m sure many readers were itching to point that out to me.)  Is there not a danger that my loyalty is not to Christ or to God at all, but to an ideology that my mind has constructed out of them?  If Jesus is to me an idea and not a person, am I not falling into idolatry?  Probably the danger is not as great as the sentimentalists who run our churches claim, but it is not to be dismissed.

So why not keep things clear, and write two posts?  The thing was, I started to think it would be presumptuous for me to think I could be sure when aspects of the modern Church were rubbing me the wrong way for the right reason as opposed to the wrong reason.  There’s no reason to think the true faith should keep me in my comfort zone or ask only the sorts of things of me that I expect it to ask.  As Paige wrote

I think we are all ill-suited for Christianity in different ways, just some people are more aware of their inherent inadequacies than others.

Those with a warm/fuzzy faith often struggle to understand dogma, while those who understand dogma may struggle with the warm/fuzzy stuff.

I expect many of my readers share my basic psychological traits and find themselves similarly discomforted by the same aspects of modern Christianity.  It was useful to me to hear where you think the problem is with the Church, and where you think the problem is with us.

3 Responses

  1. I think you have illustrated an important point. I once read the remark, from one of those lake wobegone books, that “religion is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”. Probably describes the emotions we should feel.

  2. Bl John Henry Newman deals very well with the perils of subjectivism in religion, whilst reminding us that it is nothing new:

    “I would say this, then: —that a system of doctrine has risen up during the last three centuries, in which faith or spiritual-mindedness is contemplated and rested on as the end of religion instead of Christ. I do not mean to say that Christ is not mentioned as the Author of all good, but that stress is laid rather on the believing than on the Object of belief, on the comfort and persuasiveness of the doctrine rather than on the doctrine itself. And in this way religion is made to consist in contemplating ourselves, instead of Christ; not simply in looking to Christ, but in seeing that we look to Christ, not in His Divinity and Atonement, but in our conversion and faith in them. . . . The fashion of the day has been to attempt to convert by insisting on conversion; to exhort men to be converted; to tell them to be sure they look at Christ, instead of simply holding up Christ; to tell them to have faith, rather than to supply its object; to lead them to work up their minds, instead of impressing on them the thought of Him Who can savingly work in them…”

    And again,

    “True faith is what may be called colourless, like air or water; it is but the medium through which the soul sees Christ; and the soul as little rests upon it or contemplates it, as the eye can see the air. When, then, men are bent on holding it (as it were) in their hands, curiously inspecting, analysing, and so aiming at it, they are obliged to colour and thicken it, that it may be seen and touched. That is, they substitute for it something or other—a feeling, notion, sentiment, conviction, or act of reason—which they may hang over and dote upon. They rather aim at experiences (as they are called) within them, than at Him that is without them…”

  3. Interestingly, Gerry Neal has recently quoted the Protestant A. A. Hodge making a similar point:

    The man who is talking about his love unceasingly has no love; the man who is talking about his faith unceasingly has no faith: the two things cannot go together. When you love, what are you thinking about? Are you not thinking about the object of your love? And when you believe, what are you thinking about? Why, the object that you believe. Suppose you ask yourself, ‘Am I believing?’ Why, of course you are not believing when you are thinking of believing. No human being believes except when he thinks about Christ

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