Thursday, December 13, 2007

Heretosis - dissent from "religion"

In the churches I've attended all my life, I've often heard Christians claim that while Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and so on are "religions", Christianity is not. While many in the church often seem to agree that some Christians are tied up in "religion", most invariably think they themselves are not. Curious.

Over the years my Faith has grown a great deal. The most amazing thing to me now is how much a lot of popular Christianity is a religion. By religion, I essentially refer to buying into a mindset that subjugates common sense, reason and reality to "faith" in ideas that are not consistent with reason and reality. It seems to me that many Christians have crises of Faith during their lives because they notice this dissonance. There seem to be three ways people who face this deal with it.
1) They suppress it until a later life crises.
2) They give up their Faith.
3) They find ways to rationalize their Faith.

But there are many approaches to rationalise one's Faith. Following Calvin and the Reformed tradition, many Christians would consider subjugating their beliefs to reasoning to be forsaking true "faith". So they adopt the kind of religious mindset I mentioned above, and change their reasoning to fit their Faith. Almost by definition, this approach of people seeking to resolve their faith crises in this way doesn't seem to truly resolve and discrepancies between reality and their Faith. Instead it drowns out those problems by other ideas and reasoning that fit their Faith, and hides them quietly under the carpet of ideas that are really problems because we just don't understand things as they really are. The reason I don't like that approach is that I've seen it make people unwittingly hold on to ideas that really don't help, and in some cases cause harm.

The second way to reconcile one's Faith is to change it to fit common sense, reasoning and reality as best we can. Many Christians would see this as a process of becoming a heretic: a kind of "heretosis". It is heretosis precisely because it questions the accepted religious mindset with the aim of finding a faith that is consistent with our reasoning and experiences of reality. Care is needed, of course, because of course we don't know everything, and so a keen awareness of what's clear and what's uncertain is helpful.

Fortunately for me, I've found other Christians who share my desire for a Faith that makes sense. I think they too share my distaste for "religion", and accept a kind of heretosis in discerning and holding less tightly some of the unhelpful traditions within popular Christian ideology. It seems we share the concept that instead of being "Christians" in a religious fairyland we can be people who follow Jesus in a very real and very down-to-earth way that makes a lot of sense.

An unexpected effect of my dissent from religion, though, is that I've actually come to feel more comfortable discussing Jesus with non-Christians than I do with Christians. I can easily understand why now - to me following Jesus isn't about believing a whole lot of inconsistent and thus unconvincing ideas, but about living in a better way that makes a lot of sense and helping others to also.

So where does that leave me? Various Christians think I am not one, which saddens me for several reasons - both personally, and because it highlights how quick Christians actually are to judge people because of their religious attitude. But I believe one can be a Christian without adopting a religious mindset, perhaps it's even better not to. I say that because many Church services leave me cringing and thinking of things Jesus said about people like the Scribes and Pharisees, perhaps that makes me a little judgmental too - perhaps wrongly, perhaps rightly. Yet I hope for a new kind of Christianity that could be much more like the original than the popular modern version. I suppose I am a bit of a rebel. But then I think of how Jesus' was rejected and even hated by the religious authorities of his day and I see that perhaps I'm not such a rebel after all... and that in my heretosis from the mass-produced modern Christian religion, I might be able to learn more orthodoxy and orthopraxy.


A. J. Chesswas said...

"Following Calvin and the Reformed tradition, many Christians would consider subjugating their beliefs to reasoning to be forsaking true "faith"."

say what??

For me, the more I scrutinised my faith and sought a paradigm thatn made sense, the more Reformed I became...

I'm pretty sure Calvin didn't see an inconsistency between faith and reason. You're probably thinking of Descartes - and he wasn't Reformed by any means...

On another note, I'm not into this "Christianity isn't religion, its relationship" buzz... Christianity is relationship with God, but it is also relationship with other Christians, and the world: so Christianity is Relationship AND religion, AND politics!!

Check out this facebook group:

I am religious but not spiritual

Jim said...

Dealing mostly with just your first paragraph — I've heard it too " Christianity is not a religion, it's a faith" or also " Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship"

to my way of thinking the difference between a "religion" and a "faith" is that a religion is defined by religious behaviour and a "faith" is defined by a set of ideas.

kinda like a mutual acquaintance of ours, who was part of the muslim religion - he wore the clothes, ate the diet, and I think did the regular prayer too - but in a ceremonial way. The one time I asked him about what muslim's believed/ what the koran said, he didn't really know - perhaps even beyond religion, he was culturally a muslim.

I've also heard people talk - especially within the church - about how to our generation belonging is seen as the most important thing, whereas a generation ago, believing the right things was the most important thing, and a generation before that the right behaviour was the most important thing....

I wonder how that impacts what you've heard in churches "all your life"
Perhaps it is part of our parents' (spiritual or physical) generation rebelling against the religious behaviour of the generation before them, and saying it's not about that, but about believing the right things- and hence, it's not a "religion"

Perhaps now, many of our generation are rejecting those beliefs, but still want to be able to call themselves "christian" as they did not want to give up belonging to that group.

none of this is necessarily concrete opinion - just some musings on a Friday afternoon.

Reuben said...

Jim: Insightful comment about the focus of each generation being different, I think I basically agree with that generalisation and your comments on it.

I agree that religious behaviour can be put under the umbrella of "religion". The point I was making in my post is that people can also adopt religious modes of thinking also.

A. J Chesswas: Thanks for visiting my blog and taking time to comment. Regarding Calvin, it sounds like you haven't really studied his theology much. He held that "the reason of our mind, wherever it may turn, is miserably subject to vanity" (Institutes, 2.2.25). He thought that sin has corrupted our reasoning, and thus that it must be submitted to the "Holy Spirit's teaching in Scripture" (3.7.1). There is some truth in his ideas, but I think he went much too far by juxtaposing our reasoning with the revelation of Scripture. Because of this, he did not subject his interpretation of Scripture to reasoning and careful study to ensure that it was an accurate understanding. He did not think people needed to recognize and account for his own internal biases in understanding the text, but instead implicitly assumed his interpretation was above question because he thought it was "revealed by the Holy Spirit". That is precisely the mode of thinking that I would classify as "religious", and it is especially characteristic of the Reformed tradition.

Kerry said...

Well for a while there I thought you were talking about helitosis!
But either way I guess it gets up ones nose. Religion that is. As I nearly always do I must say I agree with much of what you say. We obviously read the same Bible. We both agree that there is Christianity as the author wrote it and then there is religion as it is practiced by those that call themselves Christian. I think there is something of the religious in all of us and I also think Christ is in the process of teaching us to avoid or relinquish our religious ideas and behaviours. As for the other faiths they may have good principles that may in an outward sense make better people out of the adherents- but they are purely religious.

Just as Mohammed purported to point people towards the more valid revelation of
God, Buddha showed (apparently) the more enlightened way. And so on for all other religions. They all claim to point toward the truth. I don't know of any one else other than Christ who actually claimed (at least with an ounce of credulity) to BE THE TRUTH. In this lies the uniqueness and yes- exclusiveness of Christianity.

Christianity becomes a religion when it has kept the name but departed from him from whose name it has sprung. But of course you know all that. What we need to decide is what constitutes Christianity as Christ would have us know it, and whether your view of the "orthodox" faith will make Christians of us or merely religious people. Of course ditto for my views, or anyone else’s for that matter.

We both would agree, I'm sure- that the truth is what sets us free; whereas ideas held to be true which are not will make slaves of us. That incidentally (so I'm told) is the original meaning of religion- to bind.

To comment on "buying into a mindset"..."not consistent with reason and reality". Whose reality? I mean you can't ignore that what is "experienced" as real is often interpreted very subjectively. Three of the disciples "experienced" something stupendous; it was called the "transfiguration". Perhaps it is true to say no one has ever seen the like since. Yet listen to what one of them went on to say after that experience- "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts"(2 Peter 1:19): In other words his "experience" (even something as amazing as the transfiguration) was not going to determine or have the last say on what was real to him, but the "word of Prophecy" the scripture, was for him the arbiter of all reality.

I agree re the "crisis of faith" that it is common, in fact I would venture that your change of view was in fact a crisis of faith. But then the trial of our faith (1 Peter 1:7) is meant to be somewhat of a pressure-cooker otherwise it could hardly be called a trial could it?

I am always grateful for St. Peter; despite him disowning Christ he did not disown Peter. (This is a confession that I have let him down him often!)

I think that a trial or crisis of faith is so essential in real life and so basic to faith as to suggest a faith that suffered no crisis was too easy, perhaps... no definitely- not real.

"Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried" - G. K. Chesterton

I would also agree that it is wrong to hold ideas that do not make sense, or are inconsistent with reason and reality. I believe reason is the handmaiden to faith not its antithesis. But note the priority. Reason serves faith not the other way round. When you put reason on the throne it will tell you that the virgin birth is impossible, same with the resurrection, miracles, walking on water, etc- heck let's get rid of God as well!
As Clark H. Pinnock wrote "The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false." And like you I believe the dissonance you speak of is a direct result of the ideas held as part of "the faith" which are in fact only religious in nature, and do indeed cause harm at times.

Having said that makes us sound like we have got it together entirely doesn't it! Like you, no doubt, reality brings us down to earth. A pure faith does not immunise from struggles and problems, it in fact guarantees them.

"There are many approaches to rationalise one's faith" I know you have written against the ambiguity of language and I agree with that too. For that reason I would suggest the word rationalize may not be a good choice here. For some that may mean:

1. to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes or to invent plausible explanations for acts, opinions, etc., that are actually based on other causes. (I imagine you are using the word in this sense.) or 2. to remove unreasonable elements from.
3. to make rational or conformable to reason.
4. to treat or explain in a rational or rationalistic manner.

Given that you mean definition 1, I would say all views held by anyone are "rationalized" else why would someone hold it as the truth?

What appalls me is your view that reformed theology is unreasonable, and I would say it is more consistent than Arminian theology but may be to many unpalatable. I think reformed theology goes way further to make the paradoxes more understandable and less of a mystery. As far as mindsets go, lets face it whenever you hold something to be true and especially when you start telling others about it you have a mindset, after all the "truth" is what you're s’posed to hang onto isn't it? Anyone can be accused of a "mindset" it just happens to be a convenient way of "dissing" someone. It's just rhetorical tactics.

Your quote from Calvin's "Institutes" needs to be put into context. He was referring to the fallen nature or the "natural man" the "carnal nature". It is the reason the scriptures talk about the "the renewal of your mind".(1 Corinthians 2:11) For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:14) But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither# can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Calvin is referring to the inability of a man to know God by native reason- not renewed reason or reason as such. As to your reference to him not recognizing "his own internal biases"- on the contrary, it was just because he recognized through the word of God the danger of the internal biases of the natural mind that he wished to firmly anchor the reason to the perfect testimony and standard of scripture under the care and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Any other mode of thinking I would call religious.

You are right about Christ's atitude re. the religious authorities, trouble is the moment we start upholding some favorite views of our own we become one don't we?!

As for "mass-produced modern Christian religion" I would have thought it was far more "Arminian" than reformed at least that has been my experience.

Reuben said...


Thanks for your rather long comment. You're correct that Reformed theology does highlight the role of our mindset, and that is indeed a good thing. I'll talk about that again soon...

It amuses me though that you seem to be setting up the age-old dichotomy between Calvinism and Arminianism as if those encompass the full scope of Christian ideas. While this debate is an one important issue, there are many many more important ones that do not fit within these labels.

You seem to have a different view of Reformed theology than I do, and lean far more towards Reformed ideology than me. Your opinion that reason ought to "serve faith" is essentially saying that reason ought to be subjugated to faith (like I discuss in my post). Such a view seems based on the assumption that reason cannot nurture, guide and strengthen authentic commitment to God and Jesus (faith) if it is given some authority. My personal journey has proven that assumption to be quite false. In fact I have found quite the opposite is true: by equally heeding both reason and the call to be faithful to Jesus, I have found my faith to be vastly stronger than it has ever been before.

So it seems that your view is in fact based on some assumptions about how reason and faith interact that are not necessarily and universally true. The bulk of your comments seem to be less convincing because reason does not in fact have to undermine faith as you have presupposed. Your comment seems to be born from a mindset which I do not share, and one which I see no benefit from.

Of course, you may not be able to understand how in my case I have actually strengthened my faith by not subjugating reason to it. But that does not give you any grounds to assume a priori that I must be mistaken or in error. Given my previous experience, I expect that you will not be able to actually understand my position, because you likely have too much invested in your own view to entertain ideas outside it as possibly valid. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just how people tend to think. All it means is that I won't try to explain it further.

Kerry said...

Sorry about the length but (havent learnt the art of compact
expression) I would like to comment further to your recent
post re. "buying into a mindset that subjugates common sense,
reason and reality to "faith" in ideas that are not consistent with reason and reality"

I'm sure you agree with the following since you have already
spoken of internal bias- "We each create our world by what we
choose to notice, creating a world of distinction that makes
sense to us. We then 'see' the world through the self we have
created." Margaret Wheatley and Kellner Rogers

So how do you distinguish between what is reality and what
simply "appears" to be real?

There is an inherent danger in implicit trust in "reason" per
se. When people believed in a geocentric universe all the
available facts told them this was reality and so it was
"reasonable" to concur with the idea. This also happened to
fit at that time, with religious ideas as well!

(Incidentally a geocentric view is to me an apt analogy of one whose view revolves around the centrality of reason and has faith on the periphery.)

(Proverbs 3:5) Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and
lean not unto thine own understanding.

If one was to interpret this scripture strictly according to
reason, then it would be impossible to comply with what the
scripture requires. If we are not to trust our own reasoning
then we must not trust what our reason has just told us this
scripture means. Catch 22.

How then do we understand it? Common sense tells us that we are to trust him beyond the confines of our own reason. There are realities which exist beyond our ability to find reason for. Therefore we must trust a "higher reason". Sometimes then we must relinquish what we hold to be true according to "our reason" but of course we need "good reason" to do so! Having trusted higher reason we then look back and discover good grounds for it. In a way it's like buying a new car. Having bought it you drive through town and are pleasantly surprised to see how many of that model are around and nod your head in agreement at the many people who have had the good sense to do the same!

Reason is a bit like the chap who left home at a young age and after some years returned home and said to his father "Well Dad when I left home I have to admit I thought you were a pretty ignorant sort of bloke, but to my pleasant surprise I'm amazed at how much you've learned since I've been away!"

Blaise Pascal wrote something like: "The heart has reasons
which reason never knows" It seems to me that we all have or are capable of a hidden agenda our subconscious keeps us from
knowing, we do well to trust the divine source of wisdom.

I think we either believe man is the measure of all things or
we subject our understanding to him who made the heavens and
the earth. It appears to me your sole authority (or at least hightest) is reason and God must be subject to it. This is your expression abbreviated- "The...way to reconcile...Faith is to change it to fit common sense, reasoning and reality"
I am trying to express the proper order of priority of faith and reason. This is what C.S. Lewis was referring to in his book "God in the Dock". God is put under the scrutiny of "our reason" and he doesn't measure up therefore we subjugate the "higher reason" to ours and discard what we call "unhelpful traditions". I stand in the defence of reason, but caution that "reason" that stands in opposition to higher reason ought to bow before it. Good reason does indeed undergird not undermine faith, which is why I am passionate about Christian apologetics. But reason is only as good as the presuppositions upon which it is based. Reason makes a very little god- one can use reason to point out error and undergird faith but it cannot produce it.

“This life's dim windows of the soul
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.”

If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of

All of your posts positively drip with an enthusiasm for contemplation, thoughtful, and caring for truth, the desire
to honour Christ, what is it exactly about reformed thought
that so irks you? What are the unhelpful traditions? I rather
thought that your continued mention of reformed thinking was
designed to provoke comment re. the same. I certainly think
that the battle is centred around the major differences
between reformed and arminin. thinking because the differences are so basic, they hold implications that
"encompass the full scope of Christian ideas" As you have
said yourself having taken a certain direction at a fork in
the road one cannot simply appear on the other road, one has
to retrace the steps.

If you build an entire theology on a false premise then you are on shaky ground that's how basic I see the difference.

Reuben said...

Kerry: See the next post I'm about to publish on the grounds of surety and authority for biblical interpretation. I think it will address most of your questions here...

era said...

Kerry, I have no idea what you mean when you are using the word "reason", because you don't seem to use it very consistently. Could you please enlighten me as to what you understand being rational would involve?

Jim said...

What's so different about trusting completely your own experiences of divine revalation from God - that don't make sense to other people,
and trusting completely your own interpretations arrived at through your own logic, reasoning, common sense and experiences of the real world- that other people don't seem to agree with?

Reuben said...


Good question. I am in the process of drafting another post which will cover my thoughts on that issue...

A. J. Chesswas said...

Hi Reuben, good to be here... and you got me there... but then I've been aware for a while that while I am a Calvinist as far as TULIP is concerned, my approach to epistemology is more akin to Schleiermacher and the early liberals than to Calvin...

Katherine said...

Kerry: thoughts on two of your statements:

1) "As for the other faiths they may have good principles that may in an outward sense make better people out of the adherents- but they are purely religious."

I'm not sure what makes you so confident of this. Well, I'm not entirely sure what you're contrasting 'purely religious' with - perhaps a genuine change of heart, an inner peace, or experiences of spirituality? (these being things that western evangelicals at least tend to value). But I've met Muslims who experience more of these kinds of things than some Christians, and I don't believe Christianity has a monopoly on them. Sufi Islam is a good example - check out the poetry of a 14th century Persian named Hafiz. I consider that all the major religions have, or can have, what might be termed 'religious' and 'non-religious' forms.

2) "When you put reason on the throne it will tell you that the virgin birth is impossible, same with the resurrection, miracles, walking on water, etc- heck let's get rid of God as well!"

Not necessarily. Reason is not the same as scientism, for one thing, nor ontological materialism. If there is compelling evidence for these events having occurred, it may be more reasonable to accept them as true than to cling to assumptions that they cannot be true, as scientism does (with as much 'faith' as it takes to believe any metaphysical or ontological assertion that cannot be proven).

Kerry said...

Reuben and fellow bloggers, I trust you all had a pleasant Christmas break.

With regard to your comment re my inconsistent use of reason- might it be reasonable to ask for you to be more specific? What were the comments which you felt were inconsistent with reason? As for what being rational means: The right use of reason means employing the laws of logic to arrive at reasonable conclusions. Reason being the means of determining truth, but with the qualification that the revelation of God is what facilitates it. Essential to reason are principles of knowledge, which include the principle of non-contradiction, principle of identity and the principle of excluded middle. As Jonathon Edwards taught- truth is given by revelation…and it must be received by reason. God reaches the heart with truth but he does not bypass the mind.

if I may comment on your thoughts re What's so different…I would say that if your revelation was divinely inspired and your reasoning perfect that there was no essential difference but that they were hand in glove. Divine revelation comes through (among other means) good reasoning. I would caution though, that the validity of your revelation/reasoning would have to be dubious if no-one else shared your view, since it would put you in a unique position as the only “all seeing one” something I don’t think God does very often! If your comment is with regard to “lean not on your own understanding…” I think it is God’s way of cautioning us not to be self-reliant, particularly where wisdom is concerned. In some ways Luther for example seemed to be bold, confident, even loudmouthed and bawdy in his expression but closer examination of his private life often seem to express self-doubt, trepidation and fear. When he was weak then he was strong, and vice versa, to me this was a sign that he knew that whatever answers he had arrived at only left him another thousand new questions unanswered.

1) The phrase “purely religious” I have used to denote ideas and beliefs, which ultimately make people worse off than had they never known them, despite the temporal good they may cause. Ideas, which enslave people, bring into bondage. I contrast this with Christianity, which will ultimately free people to be how God intended them to be. At the risk of being called arrogant, as far as monopolies go, I believe Christ has the monopoly on who God is, and there are no other takers. And in that sense Christianity is unique and all others are religions. This may sound pretentious exclusivity but if take an objective view all religions make some claim to exclusivity. The “all inclusiveness” of Eastern religion asserts that their idea of the melting pot religion is the right way to go. By defining this universal inclusion they must exclude what Christianity asserts as the one true worship of the one true God or discard the laws of logic. The inclusion and acceptance of all beliefs sounds great but it just doesn’t work if one of those beliefs denies what the other asserts. If Sarah claims Mary as her daughter one could hardly accept that Mary could rightly claim to be Sarah’s mother. They cannot both be right. In the same manner Islam acknowledges Christ as a true prophet, and a true prophet by definition speaks the words of God on his behalf. Last time I checked God didn’t tell lies. But Christ made claims, which Islam denies, how does it figure to agree someone is a prophet and then deny his words? All assertions must render some degree of exclusivity; else there is no assertion.
2) I agree with your comments re. Reason and compelling evidence. But what often passes as “reason” is merely the very human capacity for denying what is in fact very compelling evidence. What is often touted, as reason is in fact the denial of reasonable evidence. From what I understand, we are so good at suppressing what is reasonable that we need direct revelation from God to “make known…this mystery …which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:” (Colossians 1:28) This capacity of God to “make known” is to my mind uttered in the strongest of terms and is synonymous with revelation. This is also an aspect of faith, which you, Reuben, appear to have overlooked in your earlier overview of the subject.(What “faith” really means, Saturday, June 09, 2007) I should like to comment further on this at a later time.

Reuben, I have to agree with (I think it was A. J. Chesswas) that your approach is somewhat Kantian with regard to the role of reason and how it relates to revelation. No matter how hard we work at our thinking (and I don’t deny for a second the value of it) we are still utterly dependent on revelation (even though it may seem otherwise) when it comes to spiritual realities. In that regard a twelve year old may know more than a college professor when it comes to spiritual truth. This is so because of the wisdom of God and the way of grace, after all how would it affect his plan of salvation if a person could reason his way into the kingdom of God apart from grace and revelation? Imagine if you arrived in heaven and the only people to greet you were other intellectuals? Wouldn’t we find that rather prejudiced and discriminatory?
I guess I take my cue from this teaching, “the world by wisdom knew not God”, (1 Corinthians 1:21) What would you understand by this phrase?