1. Welcome to Religious Forums, a friendly forum to discuss all religions in a friendly surrounding.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Our modern chat room. No add-ons or extensions required, just login and start chatting!
    • Access to private conversations with other members.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

Featured Religious fictionalism: believers without 'the belief'?

Discussion in 'Interfaith Discussion' started by Vouthon, Dec 2, 2019 at 6:30 AM.

  1. Vouthon

    Vouthon In varietate concordia
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2013
    Messages:
    2,387
    Ratings:
    +2,063
    Religion:
    Catholic Christianity
    What is your opinion of 'religious fictionalism', the stance which holds that religious doctrines / beliefs are fictional discourse but it is still worth living a religious life, practising religion, going to church / mosque / temple, participating in all the rituals, living by the ethics and using the 'language / symbols' of faith?

    Religious fictionalism can come in "strong" and "weak" forms (its a scale of degrees): on the 'strong' end, an RF might believe God doesn't exist and neither do souls or anything else supernatural (i.e. Jesus did not rise from the dead, isn't actually the incarnate Son of God or perform miracles; Muhammad did not really have a vision of the archangel Gabriel who dictated Qur'anic revelations to him; the Hindu gods don't actually exist, nor do avatars or Atman etc.), while on the weak end the RF might believe in God in a kind of deistic fashion but not in any of the miraculous claims made for his religion (like the ones just mentioned, such as the resurrection!).

    I am reminded of JRR Tolkien's words on the inherent 'truth' of mythology: "After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.

    Indeed, one of the defining characteristics of human culture - since the days of the paleolithic cave-art - has been our facility for creating meaning, social identity and moral systems through the articulation of mythical stories and complex symbols.

    Religious fictionalism is, apparently, by no means a negligible phenomenon. Research among self-identified Catholics in the Netherlands, published in 2007, found that only 27% of the Dutch Catholics could be regarded as a theist, 55% as an ietsist, deist or agnostic and 17% as atheist. Thus, the vast majority of Dutch Catholics were apparently "religious fictionalists" on some level.

    The philosopher Philip Ball declares himself to be a 'Christian' religious fictionalist. He believes God to be a 'fiction', along with the resurrection of Christ, but attends church, prays (for his own mental wellbeing), reads the New Testament for moral edification and aspires to lead a Christlike life. Here he is writing about his framework:

    Believers without belief - TLS


    According to conventional wisdom, religions are systems of belief. Religious people are “believers”. Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead; Muslims believe that Mohammed was the final prophet; Jews believe that the creator of the universe has a special affection for the children of Israel. These beliefs of the religious are often taken to be unsupported by, or even inconsistent with, available evidence. Indeed, many understand “faith” as a matter of believing without any evidence at all.

    However, this belief-orientated – or “doxastic” – conception of religion is not universally accepted...As the philosopher Daniel Howard-Snyder has argued in detail, the contexts in which Jesus talks of “faith” make it quite clear that he was concerned with the resilience of the religious commitment of the people around him rather than with their abstract theories of reality; in other words, with “belief” in the sixteenth-century rather than the twenty-first-century sense...

    But suppose you think the arguments for the existence of God fail entirely. Or suppose you think we have very good reason to think that God does not exist...Could you still have some grounds for taking religion seriously? One might think not. Yet there is a philosophical position that combines out and out atheism with a positive commitment to religious practice; this is the view known as “religious fictionalism”.

    Religious fictionalists hold that the contentious claims of religion, such as “God exists” or “Jesus rose from the dead” are all, strictly speaking, false. They nonetheless think that religious discourse, as part of the practice in which such discourse is embedded, has a pragmatic value that justifies its use. In fact, fictionalism is popular in many areas of philosophy. There are, for example, moral fictionalists and mathematical fictionalists, who think that there are pragmatic benefits to using moral/mathematical language even though such discourse fails to correspond to a genuine reality (there are, on these views, no such things as goodness or the number 9, any more than there are dragons or witches). Religious fictionalists merely extend this approach to the statements of religion.

    What is the pragmatic benefit for the atheist of using religious language? The religious fictionalist Andrew Eshleman proposes that religious discourse can be understood as mythological, by which he means “a meaning-loaded narrative that has been adopted by a particular community to give expression to and foster a form of life defined by its guiding ideals”. The religious community is bound together across space and time by its stories, rituals, regular meetings and celebration of rites of passage. At a time when globalization has fractured communities and weakened our shared forms of life, there is arguably a real need for institutions that bring people together around a shared moral purpose. The rise of nationalism around much of Europe may, in part, speak to a deep human need for shared structures of meaning...

    Moral character is cultivated and sustained, at least in part, through emotional engagement with fictional scenarios. For the fictionalist, immersion in the religious ritual is akin to losing yourself in a book or a film, the only difference being that the effect is accentuated through our active and corporate participation in the act of worship...

    The New Testament scholar Marcus Borg – another late, great voice in liberal theology – developed in some detail a Hickian conception of Christianity. Although sceptical of the literal truth of the virgin birth and the resurrection, Borg believed that the Christian myth expressed what he called “the character and passion of God”. By conceiving of God as born into poverty, eating with outcasts, suffering a humiliating death at the hands of the unconquerable colonial power and yet paradoxically triumphing through that very suffering, we are led into a deeper and truer experience of the Real.

    One might be forgiven for thinking that fictionalism was a new-fangled approach to religion, but in fact there are fictionalist elements in Christian theology going right back to the Early Church Fathers. Origen (c.184–253) and Gregory of Nyssa (c.335–395) were proponents of apophatic, or “negative”, theology, according to which the real nature of God is unknowable. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (late fifth/early sixth centuries) wrote that God is “beyond every assertation” and “beyond every denial”. And the hugely influential late fourteenth-century text The Cloud of Unknowing guided Christians to a knowledge of God that left behind the superficial descriptions found in ordinary worship. If God’s nature cannot be captured in human language, it follows that talk of God as having personal characteristics – such as “wisdom” or “omnipotence” – although perhaps essential for regular practice, is strictly speaking a fiction.
     
    #1 Vouthon, Dec 2, 2019 at 6:30 AM
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 7:24 AM
    • Informative Informative x 6
    • Like Like x 2
    • Useful Useful x 2
  2. shunyadragon

    shunyadragon Veteran Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2017
    Messages:
    12,270
    Ratings:
    +5,585
    Religion:
    Baha'i Faith
    'religious fictionalism' dominates the ancient religions like Christianity and Islam, and in the long term it is detrimental to the advancement of humanity. One of the worst manifestations of this problem is the fundamentalist Christian view towards science, which is supported by literal scripture. 'Religious fictionalism' is accepted as conditioned when young and often pragmatically in adults for the sense of belonging and community of the belief system.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Friendly Friendly x 1
  3. Terry Sampson

    Terry Sampson ζει

    Joined:
    Apr 5, 2019
    Messages:
    1,719
    Ratings:
    +1,252
    Religion:
    Creedalist Xian
    The religion of wildebeests?
     
  4. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2008
    Messages:
    46,396
    Ratings:
    +14,854
    Religion:
    Advocate of letting go of theism. Buddhist with an emphasis on personal understanding.
    Looks like the best, purest and quite possibly original form of the Abrahamics for me, and would be the standard for other creeds as well if they even allowed themselves to be subject to literalism (which they generally don't).

    Edited to add: a fairly good example would be the Shinto Creation Myth, which goes out of its way to point out that the Creator Kami of Japan are not responsible for the creation of any other land mass and state that the Japanese people are literally descendants of the Kami. I don't know quite how prevalent the fictionalist view is among Japanese, but I assume that it is very frequent.

    Origins Of The Universe - Shinto: An Ancient Religion

    When I was raised (in a Catholic environment) I assumed something very similar to that stance to be the mainstream.


    Also, thanks for bringing the concept of Ietsism to my attention. I had not learned of it yet.
     
    #4 LuisDantas, Dec 2, 2019 at 7:09 AM
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 7:19 AM
    • Like Like x 1
    • Informative Informative x 1
  5. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2008
    Messages:
    46,396
    Ratings:
    +14,854
    Religion:
    Advocate of letting go of theism. Buddhist with an emphasis on personal understanding.
    How so?

    Are you saying that fundamentalism somehow benefits from fictionalism or is supported by it?

    Quite so. And it leads to a lot of confusion too. But what do you see as a better situation?
     
    • Friendly Friendly x 1
  6. joe1776

    joe1776 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2017
    Messages:
    2,929
    Ratings:
    +1,019
    Religion:
    None
    I think it's a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages. For a disadvantage example for Christians, "living by its ethics" would entail following the immature ethical standards of a 2,000 year-old culture as interpreted by contemporary religious leaders rather than living by our moral intuition (conscience).
     
    #6 joe1776, Dec 2, 2019 at 7:30 AM
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 7:42 AM
    • Like Like x 1
    • Friendly Friendly x 1
    • Useful Useful x 1
  7. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2008
    Messages:
    46,396
    Ratings:
    +14,854
    Religion:
    Advocate of letting go of theism. Buddhist with an emphasis on personal understanding.
    Ah, but doing so by a fictionalist perception does not excuse the adherents from feeling responsible for the applicability of those ethics and their eventual reform or even abandonment.

    Which is the ideal situation far as I can see.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  8. bobhikes

    bobhikes Nowoligist
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Jan 25, 2009
    Messages:
    8,076
    Ratings:
    +1,985
    In general the majority of people are followers, it is not just religion they get their ethics from but from Movies, Fiction Books, Major Personalities and Governments to mention a few of the major ones.

    There are people that base their values on Star Wars.
    There are people that base their values on unscientific works Such as invalid comments on vaccines.
    There are people that base their values on the Kardasians
    Scientology is the work of a science fiction writer.
    Etc.

    It just is what it is. At least with Religion the ultimate goal is to united even though it is not always interpreted that way.
     
    • Useful Useful x 1
    • Creative Creative x 1
  9. sayak83

    sayak83 Well-Known Member
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    May 7, 2012
    Messages:
    8,580
    Ratings:
    +8,043
    Religion:
    Pluralist Hindu
    It's a sophisticated concept that may be misinterpreted, unfortunately.
    Scientific theories are also strictly fictions in this sense.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  10. Brickjectivity

    Brickjectivity Veteran Member
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2012
    Messages:
    26,311
    Ratings:
    +8,517
    Religion:
    Liberal Christian
    Real religion is about taking care of people, so I think that the above should be restated. Believing that its worth living a religious life, to practice religion in order to help people is real religion.

    I don't like secrets, but I accept the fact that not everything can be explained through words. Honesty is necessary but its not what happens when there is a chain of people. Some messages in a religion are directed at children and those who believe that people can be completely honest. Most are not. Those directed at children and believers in honesty, those are the messages which get garbled and twisted. There are different ways of communicating, and there are different kinds of messages in religions. People are not honest beings, not honest either with ourselves or others. We also don't perceive truth purely. We don't repeat it purely. We can't exist in a purely honest environment. Those who believe that we can are probably deceiving themselves. To pass a religious tradition along through a dishonest species full of selfish and cruel creatures is no easy task. The adult who realizes that people are liars but still sees a humanitarian value in their religion and continues to practice it for that reason has validated their religion. The one that leaves has voted against it. The rest have not understood it.

    A lot of emphasis upon belief I think points to a criminal element, which causes me to object to calling normal religion 'Religious fictionalism'. That is what I think he is doing. Things that should be called 'Faithfulness' are mistakenly in modern English canon called 'belief' in modern times. The language and meaning of 'Faith' has drifted along with 'Religion', but the translators haven't kept up with the drift. This can't be fixed by coining the new phrase. Real religion is caring for widows and orphans etc.; but half of religious people will tell you its belief in your heart of certain things. Definitions have skewed, so the term 'Religious fictionalism' for me I think would just add to the fog. I

    Its positive that he is recognizing that religion is about doing more than believing, but at the same time he's painting a target on himself by claiming he is doing something new. I think he's not. I think his saying that God is a fiction can be confusing. A lot depends on what he thinks fiction and reality are. Christians (not Muslims) believe God is spirit which is quite close to saying God is conceptual but without limiting God to being only that. The thing about God is that we are able to contemplate but not to interact with God with our eyes and fingers. Hence God is called 'Spirit'. What the prof is saying is very similar, but he's inventing a new term that might be confusing through redundancy. What does he think 'Spirit' means to the Christian writers?

    Tolkien saw the good in people, unlike his buddy CS Lewis who saw us as children playing with matches. There are two different approaches to religion represented in these two men. Tolkien entrusts us with symbols, with complicated stories to which we can add our own symbolism and entrusts us with the future of the world. CS Lewis wants us to live in a dreamworld, to not use technology, to view our own empowerment as dangerous and to stay in a confined story where progress is equated with evil.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Informative Informative x 1
  11. crossfire

    crossfire Antinomian feminist heretic freak ☿
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2012
    Messages:
    10,629
    Ratings:
    +3,671
    Religion:
    ☿ Mercuræn Buddhist & Ordained Pastafarian
    • Like Like x 2
    • Winner Winner x 2
    • Useful Useful x 1
  12. Vouthon

    Vouthon In varietate concordia
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2013
    Messages:
    2,387
    Ratings:
    +2,063
    Religion:
    Catholic Christianity

    "The education of the human race has advanced, like that of an individual, through certain epochs, or, as it were, ages, so that it might gradually rise from earthly to heavenly things" - St. Augustine of Hippo (City of God, Ch.14)

    Well, that's not strictly true and certainly not for Catholicism. Progress is itself a mythical construct (and I mean that in the positive sense in which Tolkien understood myth).

    Most cultures worldwide have believed in cyclical cosmology and eternal recurrence, outside the Zoroastrian - apocalyptic Jewish - Christian eschatological 'myth' that laid the groundwork for future-oriented utopianism. And like all 'myths', it contains 'truth' but purely materialistically speaking - the laws of nature are purposeless and without telos: there is no overarching 'grand narrative' in the universe, except what we humans make of it.

    As we have discussed in the past (in our debates over conscience and reason), Catholic theology sets an enormously high bar on conscience - understood as syderesis or moral intuition subsequently applied through reason or conscientia (as explained by one scholar, Lyons (2009): “conscience is the whole internal conscious process by which first principles of moral right and wrong, learnt intuitively by synderesis [a functional intuitive capacity], are applied to some action now contemplated in order to produce a moral verdict on that action, known as conscientia." (p.479)).

    This is then affixed to the notion of development of doctrine and social / moral / cultural progress, which goes back to the early church fathers (and provides the ideological forebear of the enlightenment belief in progress). The early church father Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 AD), for example, counselled his pagan counterparts to appreciate that (in contrast to their cyclical understanding of life), human society had progressed:


    CHURCH FATHERS: A Treatise on the Soul (Tertullian)


    The human race has progressed with a gradual growth of population, either occupying different portions of the earth as aborigines, or as nomad tribes, or as exiles, or as conquerors...or by the more ordinary methods of migration, which they call ἀποικίαι or colonies, for the purpose of throwing off redundant population, disgorging into other abodes their overcrowded masses...

    Surely it is obvious enough, if one looks at the whole world, that it is becoming daily better cultivated and more fully peopled than anciently. All places are now accessible, all are well known, all open to commerce; most pleasant farms have obliterated all traces of what were once dreary and dangerous wastes; cultivated fields have subdued forests; flocks and herds have expelled wild beasts; sandy deserts are sown; rocks are planted; marshes are drained; and where once were hardly solitary cottages, there are now large cities. No longer are (savage) islands dreaded, nor their rocky shores feared; everywhere are houses, and inhabitants, and settled government, and civilized life.

    "Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt": "Christ's works do not go backwards, they do not fail but progress" said St. Bonaventure (1221 – 1274) in his De Tribus Quaestionibus. In its modern articulation, the Catholic Church describes it thus (in the Vatican II document on sacred scripture, 1965):


    Dei verbum


    The Tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is a growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on. This comes about in various ways. It comes through the contemplation and study of believers who ponder these things in their hearts. It comes from the intimate sense of spiritual realities which they experience. And it comes from the preaching of those who have received, along with their right of succession in the episcopate, the sure charism of truth. Thus, as the centuries go by, the Church is always advancing towards the plenitude of divine truth, until eventually the words of God are fulfilled in her.”


    In that respect, it is by no means true to say that adopting the "Christ-myth" as the basis of one's religious fiction would lead to slavish adherence to the morals of a 2,000 year old culture.

    The Baha'i "myth" is likewise explicitly progressive in outlook.
     
    • Useful Useful x 1
  13. joe1776

    joe1776 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2017
    Messages:
    2,929
    Ratings:
    +1,019
    Religion:
    None
    Why is that ideal?

    Morally, we "can't serve two masters." So, for example, if we choose conscience as our moral authority, then the religious leader, offering a conflicting moral opinion, is merely offering a potential bias. What advantage do you see in that?
     
    • Useful Useful x 1
  14. Vouthon

    Vouthon In varietate concordia
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2013
    Messages:
    2,387
    Ratings:
    +2,063
    Religion:
    Catholic Christianity
    For one, the sacral 'authority' of the religious leader would be rejected by the "religious fictionalist" as falling under the supernatural order that he doesn't believe in.

    So while he would recognise his cultic role in overseeing the rituals and symbolic system of the religion, and as a means of interpreting its moral code for modernity, he would not be obliged to obey it in the same way an orthodox believer in the actual divine authority would.

    Let's remember that the fictionalist is part of the religion because he sees value in its social, ritualistic, cultural and moral framework, but he or she would evaluate all of this on his / her own terms.
     
    • Like Like x 2
  15. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2008
    Messages:
    46,396
    Ratings:
    +14,854
    Religion:
    Advocate of letting go of theism. Buddhist with an emphasis on personal understanding.
    People ought to accept their duty of keeping (and questioning) the quality of what they believe to be proper, don't you think?

    I don't know about you, but my experience is that we do in fact serve not only two, but myriad masters, according to circunstances. We are also masters and equal standing colleagues according to the specific situation.

    It is all very circunstantial, and perhaps besides the matter here.

    We should have our own moral judgements, and we should also be wise and humble enough not only to learn from others, but also to learn when and how to question and even challenge them outright.

    That, to me, counts as religious practice in a way that "faith in the Bible" or "submission to the Qur'an" simply don't even try to achieve.
     
    • Like Like x 1
    • Useful Useful x 1
  16. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2008
    Messages:
    46,396
    Ratings:
    +14,854
    Religion:
    Advocate of letting go of theism. Buddhist with an emphasis on personal understanding.
    Well put.

    The way I see it, a fictionalist would probably acknowledge the role of the priest, but not necessarily see it as imbued with religious authority as such. Or, at the very least, he would not feel much of a duty not to question or challenge it when the proper moral motivation presents itself.

    Far from being a contradiction, such an attitude is IMO a logical consequence of the reality of a community that decides their children's religious upbringing long before they have enough discernment to voice any form of meaningful consent.

    Parents and priests arguably should act in what they understand to be the best interests of their young, even when it involves "choosing their beliefs" on their stead.

    But that will unavoidably result in those young eventually having to decide to which degree they will play along; some measure of rebellion should be expected, and is in truth a much necessary mechanism for keeping the faith honest.

    Edited to add: Also, the alternative would be persistent and non-constructive confusion between what one learned and what one believes to be true. I don't think that there is an upside for that confusion.

    I don't even think that it is very respectful towards religious communities to treat them as too weak to deal with that difference, either.

    A sincere adherent ought to feel prepared to deal with the reality of divergence of perspectives without freaking out. Our families and friends are not our enemies or anything simply because they have understandings about doctrine that do not coincide with our own, and it is a good thing to be mature and serene enough to accept that with a measure of harmony.
     
    #16 LuisDantas, Dec 2, 2019 at 9:08 AM
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 9:16 AM
    • Like Like x 2
  17. Left Coast

    Left Coast Active Member
    Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2019
    Messages:
    926
    Ratings:
    +733
    Religion:
    None
    My first exposure to this way of "doing" religion was through Unitarian Universalism. I've experienced it since then in progressive mainline Protestant circles. My first reaction has been admiration for these folks who are taking the fundamentalist "sting" out of religion (I'm into quotes this morning, apparently) and representing a more progressive, secular version of their faith(s) to the world.

    At the same time, having attended these churches a number of times, eventually I couldn't help but look around at a certain point and say, ok but what are we actually doing here? We're using the same words as fundamentalists, we're performing the same rituals as fundamentalists, but we don't actually believe it's real? I can understand the value of a good metaphor, but let's be honest - in a Christian context, there's only so far you can drive that car. The Bible says what it says. Reinterpreting it "metaphorically" throughout eventually strains plausibility.

    I realize this reaction is probably a function of my history as a conservative Christian. But for me, at a certain point it felt inauthentic to go through the motions of church while not actually believing any of it.
     
    • Useful Useful x 2
    • Like Like x 1
  18. LuisDantas

    LuisDantas Aura of atheification
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2008
    Messages:
    46,396
    Ratings:
    +14,854
    Religion:
    Advocate of letting go of theism. Buddhist with an emphasis on personal understanding.
    Having only very distant awareness of the UU Church, I find myself very curious about what they are like. I would venture to guess that different parishes (if that is the proper term) display a considerable variety of takes on that dilemma.

    Don't get me wrong; I happen to believe that there are very good, very exciting answers to those questions. But I do not particularly expect the random UU community to have well consolidated understandings of those answers, not least because it is all so new for so many people that would in practice frequent an UU Church.
     
  19. Vouthon

    Vouthon In varietate concordia
    Staff Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2013
    Messages:
    2,387
    Ratings:
    +2,063
    Religion:
    Catholic Christianity
    The British historian Tom Holland is also a Christian religious fictionalist and published a new book early this year on it, entitled Dominion. Here is his perspective - firstly he regards Christianity as a "myth" (not literal history):


    Dominion Quotes by Tom Holland

    “A myth, though, is not a lie. At its most profound—as Tolkien, that devout Catholic, always argued—a myth can be true. To be a Christian is to believe that God became man and suffered a death as terrible as any mortal has ever suffered.

    This is why the cross, that ancient implement of torture, remains what it has always been: the fitting symbol of the Christian revolution. It is the audacity of it—the audacity of finding in a twisted and defeated corpse the glory of the creator of the universe—that serves to explain, more surely than anything else, the sheer strangeness of Christianity, and of the civilization to which it gave birth.

    Today, the power of this strangeness remains as alive as it has ever been. It is manifest in the great surge of conversions that has swept Africa and Asia over the past century...and, in Europe and North America, in the assumptions of many more millions who would never think to describe themselves as Christian. All are heirs to the same revolution: a revolution that has, at its molten heart, the image of a god dead on a cross...

    Nor, even if churches across the West continue to empty, does it seem likely that these standards will quickly change. "God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong". This is the myth that we in the West still persist in clinging to.”


    ― Tom Holland, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World

    Tom Holland interview: ‘We swim in Christian waters’


    “This isn’t a history of Christianity,” he says. “It’s a history of what’s been revolutionary and transformative about Christianity: about how Christianity has transformed not just the West, but the entire world.

    “People in the West, even those who may imagine that they have emancipated themselves from Christian belief, in fact, are shot through with Christian assumptions about almost everything. . . All of us in the West are a goldfish, and the water that we swim in is Christianity, by which I don’t necessarily mean the confessional form of the faith, but, rather, considered as an entire civilisation.”

    “Change is almost the essence of Christianity as a civilisation, because what it does is to import into societies the idea that progress is something to be welcomed.

    “Essentially, what happens distinctively in Latin Christendom — more than in the world of Orthodoxy or the Eastern Churches — is the idea that lies at the heart of Christian message: that you can be born again, that you can be baptised, that your sins can be washed away, that your soul can be enlightened by the action of the Spirit.

    “This serves as a kind of depth charge, a massive explosion. And one of the aftershocks that ripples out, particularly through Latin Christendom . . . is the very notion that change is a positive.”


    FOR Holland, there are two fundamental revolutions in the development of Christianity which led to our contemporary society. The first, of course, is the idea of the incarnation, and the revelation that God took the form of a powerless, tortured, innocent criminal. The second came a thousand years later, with the Hildebrandine papacy.

    “I think of Christianity as a series of explosions. You have the primal explosion, which happens in the first century, and its after-effects. Then, again, another really distinctive explosion happens in the 11th century. The measure of how significant the 11th century is is that most people have forgotten it. Most people don’t know a huge amount about it, but it sets the pattern for all subsequent revolutions.

    “What happens in Latin Christendom from essentially the year 1000 onwards is that this becomes an agent of societal revolution: revolutionaries who, by the standard of earlier Christians, would rank as heretics, seized control of the most significant and prestigious bishopric in Latin Christendom — that of Rome — and they use it as a weapon with which to radically reconfigure the understanding of the role that kings, emperors, and other traditional offices of power, in not just Europe, but across the world have played.

    “Their word for this was reformatio. This sets Latin Christendom and, by extension, the West, on a radical new course.”

    One of the organising principles of the book is that Holland talks about Christianity almost as a dialectic, in which the tradition constantly renews itself by criticism from within. Then, at some stage after the Reformation, these weapons are turned against Christianity itself, so that not just the conduct of Christians is attacked, but so are their beliefs, for failing to live up to the promises or demands of the Christian revelation.

    “Our Western form of assumption that angels and demons and, indeed, God, are simply superstition is, of itself, bred of something deep within the marrow of Christianity as it has evolved. . . It may be that atheism becomes a kind of inevitable endpoint to Christianity,” he says.

    “I have to say that all the reading that I did for this book, all the many Christian apologists, all the many great works of Christian literature — no writer made me feel more personally Christian than Nietzsche, and that’s because he really hates Christianity for everything that most people respect it for.

    “Nietzsche’s famous parable is the death of God. The man comes into the marketplace and says that God is dead. Everyone ignores him because people can’t believe it, and the reason for that is that, although God lies dead in the cave, his corpse continues to cast shadows.

    “The objects of Nietzsche’s parable are not so much believing Christians; it’s the people who think that they have reached a higher plateau and escaped: the philosophers, the socialists, the liberals, the people who assume that they can have Christian morality, Christian ethics, and Christian assumptions without Christian belief. They are the real object of Nietzsche’s scorn.”

    “In that sense, liberalism, atheism, secularism, whatever you want to call it, the kind of climate, the moral, the intellectual climate that is now hegemonic in the West, again, is recognisably in a line of descent from this Christian idea that superstition has to be banished and that people have to become enlightened.

    “I think that one of the paradoxically Christian expressions of de-Christianisation is in the anxiety that people who’ve been raised in Christian civilisation feel about the authority and the harmony of Christianity itself, to the degree that they want to turn their back on it. That’s the Christian notion that the first will be last and the last will be first absolutely cannibalising itself: that Christianity’s become so hegemonic you’ve got to repudiate it.

    IN THE light of this belief, the obvious question is just how Christian he feels he is, and how much more he feels he ought to be. He’s said that Nietzsche made him feel more Christian than anything else. Does he pray?

    “I don’t pray.”

    Does he go to church?

    “I do go to church. I’ve been going to church over the course of writing this book because I wanted to experience what it was like to go to church. . . The process of writing about the Romans, about the Greeks, about the Persians, and then about Islam was to make me feel increasingly that I’m very, very culturally Christian, as I think basically everyone I know is culturally Christian. The Nietzschean question is: can you have this without belief?”

    "What changed this was an encounter with jihadi Islam, when he was making a film about IS and found himself in a Yazidi town in Iraq, on the front line (TV, 26 May 2017): “The women notoriously were enslaved, or if they were too old, were massacred, and many of the men were killed, and some were crucified. We were in this town where people had been crucified, and the people who’ve done this, Islamic State fighters, were a mile or so away across flat, open ground, so within reach.

    “For the first time, I was facing the reality of crucifixion as it had been practised by the Romans, face to face. It was physical in the air, it was very hot. There was the smell of dust and the bodies and of heat.

    “I was in a town where people had been crucified by people who wanted the effect of crucifixions to be that which the Romans had wanted. They wanted to generate the sense of dread and terror and intimidation deep in the gut, and I felt that. I’m not a brave person. I felt very scared to be there. I did feel intimidated by it.

    “At the same time, I experienced it as blasphemy, and what I experienced transcended rationality, or consciousness even. I felt it as a blasphemy that anyone could crucify people, and it had no reference to the Christian story at all.

    “I realised how important it was to me to believe that, in some way, someone being tortured on the cross illustrated the truth of the possibility that power might be vanquished by powerlessness, and that the weak might vanquish strong, and that death and hope might be found in the teeth of life in despair.”


    Dominion: The making of the Western mind is published by Little, Brown at £25 (CT Bookshop £22.50).


    He doesn't believe in God, the supernatural or in the literal truth of the resurrection - but the 'Christ-myth' has great personal resonance for him because of its influence upon his culture and personal values. For that reason he does go to church but doesn't 'pray'.

    Holland also uses my analogy to Tolkien's work on mythology (which spawned his Middle-earth / Lord of the Rings):

    Speak Life | reaching


    Dominion does not engage with issues regarding the historical Jesus. Holland uses Paul as our earliest source on Christ...

    Does this mean the historicity of the gospel events is unimportant? You might get that impression as he speaks in terms of Christian ‘myth’. The gospel is, he says, the most potent “myth” humanity has known. But (see from 36:50) he insists:

    “I don’t mean ‘mythic’ as an insult. I mean mythic in the sense that… it transcends ideology, it transcends commandments… it’s like drama.”

    His purpose for the book is to underline the power of the myth.
     
    #19 Vouthon, Dec 2, 2019 at 9:26 AM
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 9:46 AM
    • Informative Informative x 1
  20. joe1776

    joe1776 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2017
    Messages:
    2,929
    Ratings:
    +1,019
    Religion:
    None
    First of all, I'm not arguing that adopting the Christ-myth would lead to "slavish adherence to the morals of a 2,000 year-old culture" as you put it. My argument is that Christian leaders, including Catholic leaders, would be offering their opinions on moral issues based on their interpretations of scripture which depicted a morally immature culture.

    In the past, one pope in 1866, when much of the world had abolished slavery, told his faithful that he saw nothing in Divine Law opposed to the buying, selling and trading of slaves. He was right according to scripture but wrong according to conscience.

    Currently, the Church is opposed to mercy killings. Since the intent is not to harm but to prevent suffering, conscience finds such acts justified.

    Currently, the Church opposes abortion. But when a wrongful act causes serious harm, the judgment of conscience is confirmed by an urge to punish the wrongdoer. The fact that those opposed to abortion don't have the urge to severely punish the woman who terminates her pregnancy is evidence that their judgment is flawed.

    If Aquinas was right that the judgments of conscience are the product of reason, then the Church is justified in its position that it can inform-teach the consciences of its faithful. But both logic and science are now running in favor of the position that conscience is moral intuition. Its judgments emerge immediately from the unconscious. If one believes in God, then conscience can be thought of as the voice of God. When it conflicts with conscience, the Church's moral guidance holds only the potential for bias.
     
    #20 joe1776, Dec 2, 2019 at 9:58 AM
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019 at 10:13 AM
Loading...