A menace not of heresy but of apostasy and its attraction

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.

18 thoughts on “A menace not of heresy but of apostasy and its attraction

  1. In arguments over evolution, I cannot see how to get evolution from the bible. So God doesn’t seem to want us to believe it. So why do so many Christians fight so hard to justify their belief in evolution? Do they think if they state the obvious, that Christianity and darwinism are fundamentally incompatible that Christianity will be discredited?

  2. Pingback: A menace not of heresy but of apostasy and its attraction | Reaction Times

  3. I feel some trepidation venturing a physics analogy with you, but liberalism and materialism are just the entropy states of human consciousness. We naturally resent restrictions on our freedom of action and we naturally live in a world of observable objects and relations. It takes supernatural energy for us to rise above this base level. This is why leftism only has to break things to get “progress.” If I wish to see water run downhill, I have only to dynamite the dam. If I wish to see it run uphill, I have to build a pumping station.

    To continue with this hydraulic analogy, traditionalists are worried about cracks in the dam, which are real enough, but they have no plans for a pumping station. In any case, I’ve become a Spenglarian and think churches and civilizations are subject to what you fellows seem to call “heat death.” The only remedy is an infusion of supernatural energy from without.

    • Nicolas Gomez Davila was prolific in his production of aphorisms. Here is No. 1041: Intelligent optimism is never faith in progress, but hope in a miracle. I think this affirms your analogy. What is a miracle but an infusion of supernatural energy?

      • Certainly, there are attractions to libertinism, although far more for practicing it than for preaching it, so one might have expected genteel hypocrisy to have been the human default instead of liberal zealotry. Consider, the reason many feign respect for the Sexual Revolution is not their lust (which they don’t need an ideology to privately gratify) but their fear of reprisal, which indicates that some serious pumping is in fact going on.

        We must rediscover the attractions that make people want to be illiberal. Liberalism being historically anomalous, they must exist. The Left themselves often speak of fascism possessing an allure that they must teach people to resist.

  4. @Bonald – Considering our large theological and philosophical differences – I am stunned by the generosity of this post – Thank you!

    But then, from our long term interactions and mutual reading, I think this illustrates exactly what I mean. We both know that we are both ‘on the same side’, despite everything; and that that is what matters most.

    I believe that tribalism of the kind you advocate has become impossible (in The West), and the attempt to attain it will backfire; but if it turned-out that you were right and I was wrong, then I hope I would admit my error and ask to join ‘your’ tribe.

    • I’m not stunned at all. I have always noticed and admired Bonald’s charity, humility, and decency towards non-Catholics in general and toward you, Dr. Charlton, in particular.

  5. That entropy analogy is apt. If the church is to survive the 21st century, it will require a miracle. The good news is that miracles abound.

  6. Question: What do OnePeterFive, Rorate Coeli, Church Militant and Ann Barnhardt have in common?
    Answer: To an outsider, everything–amongst themselves, nothing.

    Look, I *WANT* to be an old-school devout Catholic, but tradCath sections of the Internet are increasingly becoming circular firing squads. I think part of the reason is that Catholicism has so much legally, spiritually and emotionally invested in the person of the Successor of Peter that as soon as one arrives who has feet of iron mixed with clay they have no idea what to do other than [poop] the bed sheets. It also doesn’t help that the current pontifical crisis is like a broken family situation–you have your biological father (BXVI) who left for no good reason, replaced with your mom’s charming but sociopathic Latin boyfriend (F) who–in the eyes of the law, is your “real” father now. (I’ll let you figure out who the mom is in this scenario).

  7. One of my other daily stops in the Dextrosphere is run by a Catholic science fiction novelist named Brian Neimeier. He formulated something he calls the ‘Witch Test,’ which he uses to detect Leftists posing as Christians. Simply put, he buttonholes them by asking them to confess that Jesus is the Christ and that God has raised Him from the dead. It seems reliably to filter out fake Christians on the Left from the real ones, but not to divide Catholics from Protestants, or the High Church from the Low, because at its heart, Leftism, Christian or otherwise, is so far divorced from the roots of Christendom that it amounts to apostasy.

  8. “-Secular liberal apostasy …presents itself as heresy [It is framed thus by orthosphere Christians because the method of identifying these goes by the genus of heresy].
    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, … Failure to attend to these considerations should not be considered a mark of sophistication…”
    This is the article, the rest is fluff.
    Apostasy presenting itself as a higher Christianity, such as Zionism and Modernism, is the worst and should be attacked without holding back.
    The apostate should have the decency to relinquish the Christian mantle or to have it pulled off him. The enemies of religion know how ineffective this makes them. Martyrs give more martyrs and the resurrection of the Church.

  9. One among many examples:

    Among other things contributing apostasy is abuse by those who claim to be of Christ. His Narcissistic so called “Catholic” Mother. Plus our modern culture results in apostasy and subsequent war against Christianity.

  10. That’s one sad test. If a self-identifying Christian cannot proclaim Jesus as the Christ and that he is risen, why would he consider himself Christian at all? Because he eats pork? Practices Anglo-Saxon manners? Sad, indeed.

    • Among various denominations of Christian, it’s actually a very effective test–it’s the test CS Lewis uses at the outset of Mere Christianity in order to ensure that readers are all occupying the same starting point. I too treated it as a given, but I was having a conversation with some folks who were adamant that the Trinity is symbolic and not at all meant to be taken literally. I was a little shocked because I thought that was fundamental. Guess not…

    • I think the folks posing as Christians may do so in order to borrow our moral framework and then use it against us. They might also claim to be Christians in order to sanctify what they’re doing, or lend it legitimacy. It’s like the ethical or spiritual equivalent of “I’m a gun owner, but….” Administering the test usually invalidates that claim to moral authority, because the test subject can’t actually confess even the most fundamental part of the Christian Faith.
      I think it works as well as it does because it doesn’t filter on the things that divide Protestants from Orthodox from Catholics, or Calvinists from Armenians, or congregationalists from those denominations which recognize Holy Orders. Folks who genuinely believe as well as they know how to believe are happy to confess and happy to hear the confessions of others. We might also call it the Romans 10:9 test, I suppose, or the Test of the Creeds.

  11. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 10/06/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.