Bruce Charlton continues his attempt to make “mere Christianity” respectable in an interesting post titled “A scientist’s idea of Truth (in relation to theology).” Therein, Charlton argues that a theological formulation can only be broadly correct and “the best among rival theories.” As such, various sects’ theological differences are disagreements among many inadequate points of view, as none of them have a claim to the “Truth.” I reply:
I do not think that theology constitutes the Church. Rather, theology is the attempt to articulate the truth revealed and experienced in the Church. So, instead of seeing the Church as an inadequate glimpse or expression of truth, we see it as the community of scientists where most of the research is done.
Now, there may be independent scientists who discover important things who are not visibly part of the organization (say, the NIH of the soul, or whatever your British equivalent is). However, the bulk of the work is done by the Church because that is where the (divine) funding is, where the best labs are, where proper training is instilled, and where methodologies are followed.
Charlton responds that such requires a definition of the “church.” Of course! And that is where the “Mere Christianists” throw up their hands. Their unwillingness to deal with ecclesiology reminds me of phenomenologists’ attempt to bracket fundamental philosophical questions in order to deal rationally with certain “agreed upon” areas of human experience. It is true that work may be thus done. However, those bracketed questions are the very point of philosophy. How can one pretend to grapple with the world in the struggle for wisdom when one lazily disregards the most formidable challenges?
Furthermore, “Mere Christianists” appear to be blind to their own Protestant and modernist assumptions. For “Mere Christianity” makes the faith an individual struggle to know and to grow in God rather than a corporate restoration of the world in light of Christ’s resurrection. As if the Christian religion were chiefly a philosophical or poetic exercise! For in “Mere Christianity,” the individual and his salvation are primary. It is the individual who discerns the Holy Spirit, and then disparate individuals come together to pray or to worship, but the real action happens with the individual, whereas the aggregate of individuals is secondary. A few years ago, I criticized Auster’s portrayal of Christianity as an individualistic religion in the comment thread to “Made Whole” at View from the Right (about which I offer further commentary in “Hebrew Catholics”):
I also do not think that Christians come to Jesus Christ as individuals. That is a rather modern, and to be frank, Protestant, manner of describing Christianity. The gospel is not a set of intellectual doctrines but rather the life in Christ, which is a life of being fellow members of one body. Christianity is essentially communal, even for the hermit in the desert.
The Body of Christ is primary, and we as individuals are parts of that greater whole. The turn to the individual is one of the essential transformations that occurs at the beginning of modernity—in religion, in philosophy, in politics, and in daily existence. It is a Satanic move, and the hellish alienation of the modern world is the result, where everyone attempts to arrive at his own solipsistic existence. As with any error, this change has an element of truth. There is a reality to individual life. However, our awesome—in the proper sense—inner lives (which, far from being comprehended by us, are quite mysterious to ourselves) complement rather than constitute “external” reality. The content of our being lies within and without us; we are not the atomic building blocks of the world, not even of the human world. Rather, we have our time to act in the passing drama of history. In providential terms, we have our calling.
As one of my professors used to say, “Christians are like bananas; we come in bunches, not alone.” “Mere Christianity” is like evangelical Protestant Cartesianism, where the primary, disembodied ego seeks to reconstitute the world as a little god playing at creation ex nihilo. This is not the Lord’s gospel, but rather a watered down, perverted imitation of Christianity.
* Old René would surely find it ironically amusing that, in a post critical of him, I compare the Church to the National Institutes of Health.