Monday, 26 November 2018

Traditionalist Christianity, Biblical inerrancy and their residuum of unresolved positivism

The deep and ineradicable problem with all forms of backward-looking, traditionalist Christianity is explained by Owen Barfield's idea of 'RUP' - the Residue of Unresolved Positivism.

Of course, understanding the full power of this critique depends upon accepting the idea that human consciousness has developed/ evolved; such that throughout Man's history possibilities are closed-off, as other possibilities emerge. Nonetheless the negative critique can be appreciated even without this; if we take into account what is known about the Hunter-Gatherer societies that preceded the agricultural - and if it is acknowledged that the conditions of H-G societies were closer to Man's natural and spontaneous behaviour.

Anyway; the insight is that all agricultural-based - or 'agrarian' - societies are a development from H-G conditions, and contain ways of life that are specific to them - they are an historically-contingent society, as we can now appreciate since we are aware of the H-G societies that preceded them and the post-industrial revolution/ modern societies that replaced them. The Agrarian are 'middle' societies. It is an historical fact that Christianity emerged and grew in developed-Agrarian societies - and many of its features were (either therefore or contingently) those of such Agrarian societies (and probably-therefore have declined since) - for example Christianity depends on literacy (which was not a feature of H-G societies), sedentary settlement, social-function hierarchy and specialisation - eg. a priesthood, an institutional church... and so on.

Furthermore, Christianity emerged and grew in societies where people were less able to attain direct contact with the 'spirit world' than H-G societies, and less 'animistic' than these societies; but much more spiritual and animistic than modern societies.

To put it another way, the agrarian Christian societies were not as positivistic/ materialistic/ reductionist as modern societies, but far more positivistic than H-G societies. This Agrarian positivism is evident in - for example - their highly systematised, formal, abstract theology; their dependence on literacy with its requirement for interpretation, memorisation, analysis and synthesis of texts; the existence of specialised systems of law and philosophy - and so on.

For instance; any system of Christianity based-upon the textual inerrancy of The Bible (which underpins much 'evangleical' Christianity of the post-industrial modern era) is significantly positivistic.

In other words, all backward-looking traditionalist Christian systems have a great deal of positivism in them - a great deal of materialism; with the consequent distance from the livingness of the world, the experience of the spirit realm and instead the experience of alienation (only sometimes and temporarily overcome in specialised situations such as ritual and prayer).

If it is agreed that we moderns need to get beyond positivism/ materialism, going back to traditionalism, going back to The Bible, just Will Not Work. We would need to do something more, and different.