Thursday, June 10, 2010

living the zombie life

Spirituality is concerned with conscious living and with cultivating the sense of interconnectedness. Religion, by comparison, is often held captive by pseudo-orthodoxy and tends to be concerned with professions of belief rather than transformational living.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

First, we have to consider some of their stranger words here. What, for example, do they mean by 'interconnectedness'? And what kind of living do they consider 'transformational'? Or, for that matter, what they mean by 'conscious living' (I'm assuming it's opposed to some kind of 'unconscious living', like, maybe, people asleep, or in comas, or maybe the fictional undead-ness of a zombie?)

I consider these words to be vague, feeling words, mostly feel-good ego words. To my mind, it's not so much that these words have any concrete meaning, but that these words are how people like Burke and Taylor describe themselves, and thing of themselves. What they describe is more the sense of superiority these 'spirituality' people feel over the poor unenlightened unwashed, those who believe that creeds and professions of faith actually mean something over vague feel-goodiness.

Of more concreteness is "pseudo-orthodoxy". That seems to be saying that any attempt to say that there are certain things that must be believed is either false, or that more or all such beliefs that are called necessary in their view wrong. To put is another way, the term "pseudo-orthodoxy", as use in this context, is essentially anti-orthodoxy.

I am not anti-orthodoxy. I am very much pro-orthodoxy. In fact, I am very much pro-Orthodoxy. And I will show that Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, has already quite sufficiently answered these anti-orthodoxy types.

This is what I have called guessing the hidden eccentricities
of life. This is knowing that a man's heart is to the left and not
in the middle. This is knowing not only that the earth is round,
but knowing exactly where it is flat. Christian doctrine detected
the oddities of life. It not only discovered the law, but it
foresaw the exceptions. Those underrate Christianity who say that
it discovered mercy; any one might discover mercy. In fact every
one did. But to discover a plan for being merciful and also severe--
THAT was to anticipate a strange need of human nature. For no one
wants to be forgiven for a big sin as if it were a little one.
Any one might say that we should be neither quite miserable nor
quite happy. But to find out how far one MAY be quite miserable
without making it impossible to be quite happy--that was a discovery
in psychology. Any one might say, "Neither swagger nor grovel";
and it would have been a limit. But to say, "Here you can swagger
and there you can grovel"--that was an emancipation.

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery
of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble,
upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like
a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its
pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences
exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years.
In a Gothic cathedral the columns were all different, but they were
all necessary. Every support seemed an accidental and fantastic support;
every buttress was a flying buttress. So in Christendom apparent
accidents balanced. Becket wore a hair shirt under his gold
and crimson, and there is much to be said for the combination;
for Becket got the benefit of the hair shirt while the people in
the street got the benefit of the crimson and gold. It is at least
better than the manner of the modern millionaire, who has the black
and the drab outwardly for others, and the gold next his heart.
But the balance was not always in one man's body as in Becket's;
the balance was often distributed over the whole body of Christendom.
Because a man prayed and fasted on the Northern snows, flowers could
be flung at his festival in the Southern cities; and because fanatics
drank water on the sands of Syria, men could still drink cider in the
orchards of England. This is what makes Christendom at once so much
more perplexing and so much more interesting than the Pagan empire;
just as Amiens Cathedral is not better but more interesting than
the Parthenon. If any one wants a modern proof of all this,
let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity,
Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations.
Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing
of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the
Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens,
and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent;
the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct
of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent,
that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental.
We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity
called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."

Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains
what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history
of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points
of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word.
It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you
are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth
on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment
of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful
and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep
the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers,
of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong
enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world.
Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas;
she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit,
of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins,
or the fulfilment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see,
need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious.
The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean,
and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten
forests of the north. Of these theological equalisations I have
to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some
small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made
in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature
of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe.
A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither
all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had
to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might
enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful,
if only that the world might be careless.

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen
into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy,
humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting
as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to
be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses,
seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude
having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic.
The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse;
yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along
one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right,
so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand
the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers
to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving
to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly.
The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted
the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would
have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians.
It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century,
to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be
a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let
the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own.
It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.
To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration
which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the
historic path of Christendom--that would indeed have been simple.
It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at
which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into
any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed
have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been
one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies
thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate,
the wild truth reeling but erect.

What is most inane, and even insane, in the statement by Burke and Taylor is the statements of belief are somehow inferior to how one lives; rather, it should more accurately be stated that beliefs precede actions, and thus beliefs are most important, as they will lead to actions.

And let them not fool you, Burke and Taylor are very concerned about correct beliefs, as they define them. The whole book is about how the church's beliefs are either not-quite-right, or very wrong. Belief in hell, for example, should be either discarded or hell should be redefined; the belief that only those with faith in Christ will be saved needs to be discarded, and those of other religions and faiths should be welcomed.

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