Bruce Charlton writes
I see this A Lot in discussions online, and sometimes in real life. Secular liberal apostasy (i.e. the stepwise process of losing faith and leaving Christianity) presents itself as heresy (i.e. an unorthodox type of Christianity).
Traditionalists fall into the trap because they are unwilling to judge the true motivations of the liberalisers. Instead they try to resist apostasy legalistically – by more tightly defining and enforcing theological doctrines and rules of church order. They do this because it seems more ‘objective’.
But the more tightly they define and enforce the ‘objective’ rules and practices of their denomination or church; the more they separate themselves from other Traditionalist Christians.
But the real problem is not heresy but apostasy – the Fake Christians may be orthodox in narrowly defined legalistic terms, they are usually prepared to stand up and make strict oaths and promises in which they do not believe and have zero intention of living-by; but they are Obviously Not Christian in terms of not being followers of Jesus and/ or not believing in the divinity of Jesus.
He’s absolutely right. The point is central to the mission of the Orthosphere, and it connects to what I see as several weaknesses of traditionalist Christians.
We fail to make the distinction between friend and enemy, which is distinct from that of orthodox and heretical. We must recognize the legitimacy of these distinctively political considerations–that some people who disagree with us are actively hostile to us while others who disagree with us bear us no ill will, that some in our own denominations share our loyalties and others don’t, that only some heresies represent alignment with liberalism, the greatest menace to the continued existence of the Church. Failure to attend to these considerations should not be considered a mark of sophistication (as having transcended “tribalism”, is if that were a good thing) but as a great intellectual blunder.
It is true that traditionalists, at least of the Catholic sort, often put far too much hope in top-down, authoritarian solutions. The mark of a Catholic traditionalist is to spend half his time savaging the reputation of the episcopacy and the other half demanding this same episcopacy solve all the Church’s problems by administrative fiat. Not that the authoritarian structures of the Church–formally proclaimed and immutable dogmas, papal authority, a hierarchy structured to be able to resist popular pressures–have not been invaluable. In fact, I would say that authority in the Catholic Church has been working extremely well. It has had to take upon itself burdens that were not meant for it, and it may well be the only thing holding the Church together at all. But in the long run, it cannot solve the Church’s fundamental problem, which is the motivation (or lack thereof) of the “faithful”. The hierarchy and the exercise of its authority do not cause this problem, as if reliance on authority had caused other needed faculties to atrophy, but neither can the root problem be fixed by its decree.
Consider the assumption, which I make as well as any other conservative Catholic because it is undeniably true, that Catholics will always be at least as liberal as officially promulgated Church teachings allow them to be. (In fact, most of them will go further than is allowed.) Thus, these teachings must be as unambiguous and forceful as possible, because otherwise Catholics will all embrace religious syncretism, homosexuality, abortion, women priests, etc etc. They want to move Left. The motivation, the attraction, is always in that direction. Similarly, we must have clear dogmatic boundaries because everyone will move in their beliefs as close to naturalism/materialism as possible (and many will move farther). They will not believe in miracles, the Real Presence, or divine inspiration of the Bible unless compelled to. We take it for granted that Catholics have a consumerist attitude toward the Church, that they have no loyalty to the Catholic people, but remain with them only because of some hoped-for benefit (perhaps spiritual) and because the Church has not yet embarrassed them beyond their capacity for endurance. No one would imagine that Americans would take such an attitude toward their nation, nor African Americans toward their racial community, nor Muslims toward their religion. We have reconciled ourselves to liberalism owning the will and naturalism the intellect, with authority as our only check on the resulting tendencies.
There is a dangerous anti-intellectualism in this. Recall that I use this word in a distinct way. There is nothing wrong with distrusting most intellectuals or with being uninterested in theoretical concerns. The anti-intellectualism to which I object is the assumption that the answers to the great intellectual problems are easy, that no serious intellectual work or fundamental re-evaluation of given ideas is needed. This must not be true today, at least if Christianity really is true even though so few seem to find it credible. The solution must require breakthroughs in our thinking and our imagination. Having a more forcefully orthodox episcopate or holier priests will do nothing about the fundamental problem of people wanting to be as liberal and materialist as possible.
Bruce Charlton’s own “Romantic Christianity” is directed precisely to the problem of motivation. Right Scholarship has proposed something analogous from a Catholic perspective. In some ways, my thoughts move in directions opposite to romanticism. Rather than becoming more individualistic, I would like us to become more tribal; rather than wanting faith to be more like poetry, I would prefer it could be more like mathematics. Nevertheless, I value the romantics’ work because they recognize how great a change in thinking and imagination will be needed to solve the main problem. People are leaving Christianity because it doesn’t seem likely to them to be true and–perhaps worse–because they wouldn’t even want it to be true.