Monday, 19 December 2011

How much nurturing does faith require? Does society matter?

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There is an extreme position that all people in all societies have an equal chance of salvation, that the quantity of devoutness is fixed, that there are always about the same number of Saints at whatever time or place in the world.

Such a view is wrong: it denies free will of individuals on the one hand, and it denies that humans are 'in it together' on the other hand.

(It denies co-inherence - mutual in-dwelling.) 

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Christianity places free will and the choice of the individual at the centre of salvation, yet the individual is not isolated but a part of Man, and men are united with each other, and with God by and via Christ.

Our personal choices therefore affects everybody; other people's personal choices affect us.

Good deeds do Good; but evil deeds do evil.

Not merely materially, which is obvious, but transcendentally - in a supernatural way.

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When a mass of people in a society are devoutly Christian, this aids the others in salvation; but when a mass of people in a society are consumed by pride and are willing servants of evil - this harms the chance of salvation of others.

When many people in a society have made bad choices, have chosen pride rather than the Lordship of Christ, this is not merely a matter of numerous isolated choices, but an accumulating burden of sin.

This burden is not only felt at the level of a society of interacting humans, although it is felt very directly there, but everywhere in the world, and indeed everywhere in the universe.

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Some societies are therefore better than others, some societies are worse than others - human choice makes a difference and not just to the person making the choice.

In some societies salvation therefore is 'easier', more probable, can reach a higher level of sanctity due to the help of others - however, the flip-side is that in other societies salvation is harder due to the effectiveness and ubiquity of temptations (to selfishness, to pride, caused by the choices of other humans) and because the individual would-be-Christian gets little help from others but instead gets misleading advice, deceptions and distractions.

The Biblical prophecies imply that the burden of sin is accumulative through human history, because the consequences of bad choices cannot be cleansed from this world (at least, not without destroying human choice); and that at some point therefore the world will be brought to an end - probably when the probability of any individual choosing salvation has dwindled to zero or close to zero.

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In a sense, none of this is any of our business - certainly it is not necessary knowledge, either way we must make the best choices we can in the situation in which we find ourselves.

But - to deny the differences in Christian devoutness in different times and places and types of society is false: it is to damage one's discernment of Good from evil and may be a denial of the co-inherence of each with all. 

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8 comments:

Gyan said...

"this harms the chance of salvation of others."

We have not been given this information as to the "chances" or "probability" of salvation.

In fact, I do not think it is wise to dwell on these probabilities.

Also' God sees the heart but men only see the outside.
CS Lewis has said that a small act of mercy by a Nazi guard that has been trained from boyhood onwards into cruelty may be more credited the habitual mercies and kindnesses of a man that knew only a kind environment.

That is, an apparent free act is not necessarily a purely a free act.
There is environment, habits, your personal mood, digestion etc etc that factor into it.

bgc said...

@Gyan - "I do not think it is wise to dwell on these probabilities."

Not to *dwell* on them.

But it may be necessary to refute the error that the 'probability' (or ease, or level) of salvation and sanctification is the same in all times and places.

Reggie said...

I believe that this post was inspired by my putting forward the idea that is being challenged here as "false", so I wonder if I might add my own observations.

"There is an extreme position that all people in all societies have an equal chance of salvation, that the quantity of devoutness is fixed, that there are always about the same number of Saints at whatever time or place in the world."

This broadly represents my view, though I would not state it in such a rigid form. Clearly, there are *some* variations in these things - there is not a precise mathematic quantity of "devoutness" in every society. The point is rather than human nature is no so elastic that one society might have (say) 5% sincere, committed believers and another society might have (say) 80%. Social influences will tend to exert a limited upward or downward pressure on the number, but even here I would resist giving in to the temptation to try to engineer a higher level of belief because societies which try to implement (their interpretation of) the will of God by means of state power have a pretty dismal historical record.

My positon may seem "extreme", but I submit that it is evidence-based:
- The decline in religion in the West has repeatedly been shown to correlate with governmental provision of social and welfare services. The irresistible conclusion is that the factors that were driving most religious observance before then were material rather than spiritual.
- Contemporary evidence from apparently devout societies makes clear that there were high levels of irreligion and immorality behind the official facade. I've already mentioned K.V.Thomas' classic book "Religion and the Decline of Magic" in this regard, as well as the evidence from Franquist Spain. Something similar could be said of contemporary Iran.
- "Religiosity", if we can call it that, seems to be innate, a feature of the personality rather than a product of social influences. There is psychological research on this.

Plus, from a Christian perspective, the Gospels make it clear that true believers will always be a minority group.

bgc said...

@Reggie - yes indeed, it was you I had in mind, so you can have as much space as you need here to debate matters!

"The point is rather than human nature is no so elastic that one society might have (say) 5% sincere, committed believers and another society might have (say) 80%."

The bottom limit is actually zero percent, and no matter how conservative your estimate there will be at least severalfold differentials between societies. And that is a lot!

"the temptation to try to engineer a higher level of belief because societies which try to implement (their interpretation of) the will of God by means of state power have a pretty dismal historical record."

Your language is loaded. In a devout Christian society, there will a high frequency of exposure to Christian 'things'.

A person in Constantinople might awake and pray in front of a corner devoted to icons, would discuss Christian matters with nearly everybody, see processions on the Streets, all official events would be prefaced and permeated by prayers and praise, and so on...

A modern Christian will nearly-never be reminded of Christian matters outside of Church; will on the contrary be assailed by new, gossip, arresting pictures, horrific violence, sexy stimuli, leaden soul-less bureacratic stuff, policies and discussions built on the assumption that worldly happiness is the only important topic, and attacked by political correctness subversive of the True, Beatiful and Virtuous - and instead will be reinforced in the direction of lies, ugliness and moral inversion, can be severely sanctioned for mentioning Christinity in the wrong place (a doctors surgery, the classroom) etc.

All this makes a difference - it makes a BIG difference.

"The decline in religion in the West has repeatedly been shown to correlate with governmental provision of social and welfare services."

The Bible tells us that poverty is good/ luxury is bad for our souls (rich man camel needle etc). Nowadays there is zero poverty - only degrees of luxury.

""Religiosity", if we can call it that, seems to be innate,"

Agreed - but 1. our society subverts natural religiosity, as it subverts and reverses many other instincts (eg a third of college educated women have no children).

and 2. Religiosity is not Christianity - but includes the worship and service of demons, which is not really compatible with salvation, you'd agree?

"there were high levels of irreligion and immorality behind the official facade."

But immorality has nothing to do with Christianity. People try to be moral and fail. By irreligion I guess you mean Churchgoing? This is more relevant, but there are other aspects to Christian life. Some ascetic ermitic Saints did not go to Church (or receive communiuon) for decades.

Reggie said...

Hello again.

Just to be clear, I have no problem with the notion of a society with "a high frequency of exposure to Christian 'things'". I would be delighted if our country had a sincerely religious culture in which acts of devotion and prayer were commonplace. But this sort of thing *must be freely chosen*. Otherwise, it will be insincere at best and oppressive at worst.

Essentially, what I have a problem with is what Jonah Goldberg calls the "totalitarian temptation". In this case it would go something like this.... We all agree that Christianity is true, right? And people need some encouragement to keep up their faith, right? It looks like those annoying little things like freedom of conscience and freedom of speech get in the way of saving people's souls. Why don't we just get rid of all the "news, gossip, arresting pictures, horrific violence, sexy stimuli, leaden soul-less bureacratic stuff, policies and discussions built on the assumption that worldly happiness is the only important topic"? After all, we're doing the will of God, right? And if anyone opposes us, they deserve to be punished - right?

Forgive me if you think this is an exaggeration, but we know where this road leads - and it isn't to heaven. As it is, we have a free society in which we can freely practice, manifest, discuss and promote our faith, and that's good enough for me.

On some other points:

"Agreed - but 1. our society subverts natural religiosity, as it subverts and reverses many other instincts (eg a third of college educated women have no children)."

This opens up an interesting debate about whether things that are truly natural and innate can be (substantially) subverted and reversed. If we go down the road of saying "college educated women should have children", are we humbly submitting ourselves to the will of God - or are we presuming to play God ourselves?

"and 2. Religiosity is not Christianity - but includes the worship and service of demons, which is not really compatible with salvation, you'd agree?"

Of course I'd agree, but satanism and the like aren't at issue here and certainly don't enter into my definition of true faith. I guess how much you think the above is a problem depends on how strictly you interpret "extra Ecclesiam nulla salus". Explicitly professing the Christian faith might be the ideal, but there's plenty of room for sanctity and salvation outside that. And that's not just my view, that's official Catholic doctrine.

I think that the true division between you and me may be that I am inclined to the pietist view of religion. Politics is a fascinating and absorbing subject, but it really has little to do with my faith. Maybe I ought to have been an 18th century Lutheran rather than a Catholic.

bgc said...

@Reggie - without wanting to labour the point, the main problem is that you do not differentiate between traditional Christian monarchies on the one hand and 'totalitarian' societies - which are a 20th century atheist phenomenon.

The distinction was clear to Solzhenitsyn, who did more than anyone else in the twentieth century to explain and reveal the archetypal totalitarian society of the USSR - yet would have regarded Orthodox Monarchy as his ideal for Russia.

Until you see this distinction, I think you will be trapped into defending evil on the basis that to fight it would be authoritarian; and forbidding the Good from defending, sustaining and spreading itself.

Reggie said...

Solzhenitsyn is certainly a very interesting thinker. I read a little of him when I was younger, and he is vaguely on my future reading list. We will have to see if he changes my perspective.

And, on that note, best wishes to you and your family for a happy and holy Christmas.

bgc said...

@Reggie - Thank you and a Happy Christmas to you.