June 18, 2018

Hauerwas on Individualism

Here’s an intriguing passage from an article I’ve posted on the bulletin board about theologian Stanley Hauerwas.

“No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America.”

Perhaps the only surer way to enrage an American Christian than threatening to take the Bible out of his hands is threatening to take away his gun (no doubt, Hauerwas would bid both farewell gladly). Hauerwas wants to remove bibles from the pews because he is worried that individualism—the conceit of self-sufficiency—has thoroughly corrupted American Christians’ ability to interpret Scripture.

Lost in the smoke, American Christians “feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read.” This despite centuries, if not millennia, of church teaching that a rule of faith is necessary to preserve orthodox theology. In the end, it was not so much a commitment to Scripture that separated out the world-hating gnostics from those who worshipped God enfleshed, nor raw assent to scriptural authority that separated out the Arians from the Trinitarians. All sides used the Bible to make their arguments. In the end, it was the rule of faith, the pattern handed down across time by the apostles, that enabled Christians to interpret Scripture rightly.

By taking the Bible out of the hands of Christians, Hauerwas hopes to remind them that the Bible can only be read well when it is handed down. Interpretation, where it is faithful, always occurs within a tradition. As G. K. Chesterton would remind us, “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead” (Orthodoxy). Hauerwas has no patience for individualism, for it denies the necessity of thinking with those who merely happen to be dead. But even more crucially than Chesterton’s point, individualism forgets that we are indebted to the dead, those whom the tradition gives voice, for collecting, preserving and passing the Bible, as well as its proper interpretation, along to us. We inherit a set canon from those who came before. Without the tradition, we would not have a Bible.

“I do not want students to think for themselves[.] I want them to think like me.”

At the beginning of a course, Hauerwas never fails to tell the classroom, with grinning candor, that his goal is not to make them independent thinkers but instead little Hauerwasians. His point, beyond quite literally desiring to make a peaceable army of minions, is this: we never think for ourselves; we learn to think by submitting ourselves to instruction by others. As John Maynard Keynes warned any would-be freethinkers, “practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.” Individualism pretends as if humans were actually capable of independence, forgetting that we owe our life and our ability to think to others. Insofar as individualism is a refusal to submit to the authority and critiques of others, individualism is a refusal to think.

Together, individualism and liberalism eat away at the conditions and virtues necessary for community, leaving Americans incredibly lonely and without any story by which to make sense of their sad condition. As Jesus warns, when an unclean spirit is driven out of a man, “it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself … And the last state of that person is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26). So it is when liberalism drives out religious narratives from our self-understanding. Just as Legion is the name of the myriad demons Jesus drives out in Mark 5, Nationalism is the name of the many demons that have taken residence in American churches.

I get Hauerwas’s point, I really do.

However, I think he is not necessarily describing a problem within most churches, a problem of the parishioners themselves. Oh, it’s there of course, but even in congregations that are filled with people holding their own Bibles, those folks have bought into the narrative of their tradition and are not thinking for themselves as autonomous individuals. They generally toe the party line instead. Having a Bible of one’s own doesn’t change a thing.

Regardless of our rhetoric, I don’t think we can avoid this. Most people will only think for themselves up to a point. They will bind themselves to a story and submit to it. The people who really are thinking for themselves are the ones leaving the church and attaching themselves to other narratives.

Perhaps it is more a problem that our institutions are being led by people making up their own stories rather than submitting to the received tradition?

Or, perhaps the real problem is that our narrative has been found wanting?

Or, perhaps the church has done such a poor job of tending to the health of our narrative that we have been found wanting?

Comments

  1. “Perhaps it is more a problem that our institutions are being led by people making up their own stories rather than submitting to the received tradition?

    Or, perhaps the real problem is that our narrative has been found wanting?

    Or, perhaps the church has done such a poor job of tending to the health of our narrative that we have been found wanting?”

    Yes.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””Most people will only think for themselves up to a point. “”””

      I feel it is first an important people to teach people THIS, to allow them to recognize this. And to be OK with it. Perhaps that is an aspect of Humility?

  2. Robert F says:

    The Church doesn’t has had multiple narrratives for a long time. Since at least 1054 C.E., believers have potentially had to make a choice between two competing narratives that claimed authority for their versions; I believe that multiple narratives existed even before that, way back. Given the narrative divisions that have opened like the fissures around Kilauea, more and more people inevitably were forced back onto their own resources for making decisions about which one to follow, and naturally enough more and more people then reached a point when they decided that they could develop their own variants. The Christian inevitably faces the plethora of possible choices for ecclesial belonging as a consumer having to make choices, and then realizes he has the option of developing his own product from what went before. All this is because he does not confront a single narrative from a single Church; he sees multiple narratives and divided churches.

  3. I’m at the point of thinking that the “average” bible reader only thinks they understand what they read–in their chosen translation curated by like-minded translators within a particular translational tradition.

    Since at least the early 19th century a reversal has occurred in that it is more often than not thought that instead of the church being the matrix of the scriptures that rather the Bible produces the church.

    I think Hauerwas identifies a significant problem.

    After the Enlightenment in the 17th century, we regressed in many ways as religion wanted to compete with the rational, intelligent thinkers of Europe. The later Protestant Reformation moved forward with this mind as individuals and groups claimed there was only one correct interpretation of every scripture. Catholics looked to the Pope for that one correct interpretation. It’s no surprise there are 30,000 Protestant denominations today, and Catholicism became so monarchical. We will never agree on the meanings of words. That’s why the Word became flesh, to reveal that words can’t get you there. Only experience, love, and relationship can.

    Richard Rohr

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””as religion wanted to compete with the rational, intelligent”””

      And is it not abundantly clear that this is NOT what the practitioners want their Religion to do? But we get all kinds of nonsense when Religion insists on doing this.

  4. Robert F says:

    I’m sure that the Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to my door Saturday do not have the same Christian narrative that I do. Multiply this hundreds or even thousands of time for all the different, often stridently different, denominations, and you that is the situation on the ground for both Christians inside a church and people who don’t belong to any church. To many people, it doesn’t even look like one Church with markedly different narratives, but like different religions.

  5. Stephen says:

    It’s interesting how the “democracy” of the dead so frequently turns into the “tyranny ” of the dead. The problem with Hauerwas’ point of view is that if the early Christians had thought the way he does Christianity would have remained a sect of Judaism. But then all conservatisms, political and religious, depend on some prior act of radicalism to enable the conservatives to have something to conserve. An interesting paradox.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > how the “democracy” of the dead so frequently turns

      It works that way with all democracies; living or dead.

      > some prior act of radicalism to enable the conservatives to have something to conserve

      Spot on.

      > An interesting paradox.

      I think it is a necessary paradox; which serves us best when it is intentional and self-aware. Which seems like it should be the job of a society’s priests.

      “Secular and religious institutions are the same in all this: we are being led by old people, men and women both. And the result is not necessarily a lack of wisdom, but a dreadful lack of decision and courage. Wisdom and action must work together, but all of human experience tells us that they are rarely to be found in the same person, for the simple reason that they are generational gifts, not individual talents. To some extent, this challenge is a recurring one. But now the problem has been systemically injected into national and even global orders. … having shown the way, the old must let go of the reins, for though they are wise, they are corrupt. That is what age does to us, by definition. As for the young? They must listen, and act. We can’t afford to have old people running things; we can’t afford to have young people construct their lives – and worlds – apart from the counsel of the aged ” – Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radne

    • “all conservatisms, political and religious, depend on some prior act of radicalism to enable the conservatives to have something to conserve”

      Good old Fat George (George III) probably thought the American Founding Fathers a right lot of hotheaded radicals… 😉

      • Stephen says:

        In their own context our Founders were radicals. And in many ways they still would be. Conservatives get all misty eyed looking back at those portentous events of 1776 but the amusing part is that if they had lived then they would have been Royalists and Tories.

        • Robert F says:

          But they didn’t just exist in their own context. They also existed in the context of the first peoples they drove out from before them, and the Africans they enslaved to pacify and fructify the wilderness they were entering. The democracy of the dead needs to extend the franchise, and along with it the narrative(s).

          • Stephen says:

            Well the first amendment to the constitution is as radical a concept as ever has been. It’s easy to criticize our ancestors for their failings when we have the luxury of hindsight. Perhaps we should be more concerned about how our descendants are going to view us?. The Founders of this country made it possible for us to have this conversation about their shortcomings.

            • Robert F says:

              You’re right. And I fear we may be losing the ability to have this conversation in our current political and social crisis.

        • I would have. “I had rather be ruled by one tyrant 5,000 miles away than 5,000 tyrants one mile away.” 😉

  6. StuartB says:

    “No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America.”

    I guess I’m more devious. I’d rather give people all the Bible they want, but just teach them *how* to read it. I’m thinking inserting chapter numbers and verse numbers will help isolate passages, lifting them from context. Teach people to find the hidden, inner, gnostic meaning that’s special just to them because God is speaking directly to them through the passage. Make the words of the dead into living platitudes that can be spouted off to justify anything, from winning an important sporting match to exporting the poor and illegal from the community. Insert extra-biblical passages above and below the words themselves that explain the words, spinning fanciful fantasies about dispensations and eras of human life, all leading up to some glorious fantastical reckoning. And if that is not enough, encourage them to carry the words of life with themselves as close as they can in their pants pocket, and make it easier for them to read by projecting the words themselves on the wall for all to see.

    See, that’s much easier. And better.

    Give me 50 years and I can change the world.

  7. Radagast says:

    So here is an outsider’s view of what I just read….

    My experience with the Non-denom parishioner is that they claim their own interpretation but in the conversations I’ve had on scripture most refer to their pastor for interpretation. This is not the case with those who are on fire for the word and want to become a preacher themselves, these I find embrace their own interpretation and scowl at the Church Fathers.

    Mainlines tend to follow the tradition they are associated with unless they are surface Christians, then its more of a touchy feely don’t know my scripture kind of thing.

    Catholics have their belief system hammered out to the nth degree (Catechism of the Catholic Church). The problem is many Catholics have never read it, never picked up a Bible etc (although as our numbers shrink, more and more have a desire to know their faith and Bible).

    Non-cultural EO’s rock on what they know, cultural EOs (Serbian, Russian, etc) please see my comment on the Catholics….

    Aside from the above I believe American individualism is destroying the community of the Church as more and more make their interpretation of their form of Christianity their own and don’t venture outside their four walls to be communal…

    My thoughts…

  8. Burro (Mule) says:

    Sometimes I wonder what the typical layperson in the immediate pre-Nicean and Nicean church knew about the intellectual content of the faith, distilled from the Bible. My guess is that they lived in a spirit-filled world the joys and terrors of which we can only imagine. They knew that the Man Jesus was the Lord of the spirits, that he awaited them after death. I think they knew as well that their bishops loved them. Much more than this I don’t know.

    I am in Peru visiting my wife’s family. On the flight down here, we sat behind three college students heading for the Andes for a shaman-led Ayahuasca ceremony. It’s kind of a big business down here. I’ve never done Ayahuasca but yes, related alkaloids. I know what’s waiting for them. It will change their lives, I pray for the better but I’m inclined to think not. At any rate, they weren’t hungry for dogma. Unfortunately, someone will be on hand to interpret their experiences for them.

    • StuartB says:

      Ayahuasca is high on my bucket list. Only heard amazing things.

      • Burro (Mule) says:

        My advice would be, if you’re committed to doing it, to do the heavy lifting of clearing out own soul first. There’s some scary stuff inside of us that psychedelics will put front and center and right in your face.

        The point I was trying to make is that the modern hunger that the Christian church has to address is just this; for an integrating EXPERIENCE that will unite all the disconnected parts of our psyches and cause us to be people of love and peace. I went from the psychedelic experience to the charismatic experience for this reason. I found the psychedelic experience wanting because there was no one at hand to guide me into the hard work of soulcraft that was necessary after such a volcanic experience. The charismatic experience I found wanting in exactly the same way.

        But I found that being a Bibley-ibely-ibely chapter and verse Reformed-ish cessationist created more problems than it caused. That, for me, was the road to Hell. Sometimes, when I have kept Lent and Holy Week well, at the exhausting end of the Pascha service I catch an intuitive glimpse of what I am missing, and it keeps me going forward.

        Mount Athos is on my bucket list, but I notice Fr Stephen was somewhat diappointed with his experience. At least he doesn’t blog about it.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Fr Stephen was fatigued from trying to do too much while there, and I think he was ill besides. He basically advised, when he did write about it, that one should not visit any more than 2-3 monasteries.

          Everyone’s mileage varies. Whatever one experiences is for the good of one’s soul.

          “The point I was trying to make is that the modern hunger that the Christian church has to address is just this; for an integrating EXPERIENCE that will unite all the disconnected parts of our psyches and cause us to be people of love and peace.”

          Yup. Our culture is all about Experience.

          May the Lord bless your time in Peru.

          Dana

        • Stephen says:

          But if you”do the heavy lifting of clearing out own soul first” then why do you need the drugs? I thought the claim was that the drugs flush you out and present your insides to you for inspection? Of course some of it is going to be ugly. I enjoyed getting high like everybody else but I am dubious about any long term spiritual value. Not to be cynical but perhaps we are overly suspicious of pure unalloyed pleasure so we have to invent a reason to justify our joys?

          • Robert F says:

            There has been some new experimental work, under extremely controlled clinical circumstances, exploring the value of psychedelics in treating certain mental illness and emotional problems. One uses guided psychedelic experience to help those who are dealing with an inability to accept and cope with their own impending death due to terminal illness. Early reports on these experiments are positive. All the experimental research stresses the importance of a controlled and structured environment, with assistance at hand to supervise and provide help if needed, as do all the traditional religious teachings about the use of psychedelics and meditation techniques for spiritual growth.

            • But beginning in the 1990s, a new generation of academics quietly began doing psychedelics research again, much of it focusing on people with cancer. Since then, several dozen studies using psychedelic compounds have been completed or are underway. In a pair of Phase 2 psilocybin trials at Hopkins and N.Y.U., 80 cancer patients, many of them terminal, received a moderately high dose of psilocybin in a session guided by two therapists. Patients described going into their body and confronting their cancer or their fear of death; many had mystical experiences that gave them a glimpse of an afterlife or made them feel connected to nature or the universe in a way they found comforting. The studies, which were published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology in December 2016, reported that 80 percent of the Hopkins volunteers had clinically significant reductions in standard measurements of depression and anxiety, improvements that endured for at least six months.

              Other, smaller studies of psilocybin have found that one, two or three guided sessions can help alcoholics and smokers overcome their addictions; in the case of 15 smokers treated in a 2014 pilot study at Hopkins, 80 percent of the volunteers were no longer smoking six months after their first psychedelic session, a figure that fell to 67 percent after a year — which is far better than the best treatment currently available. The psychedelic experience appears to give people a radical new perspective on their own lives, making possible a shift in worldview and priorities that allows them to let go of old habits.

              https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/15/magazine/health-issue-my-adventures-with-hallucinogenic-drugs-medicine.html

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “My guess is that they lived in a spirit-filled world the joys and terrors of which we can only imagine. They knew that the Man Jesus was the Lord of the spirits, that he awaited them after death.”

      That got me thinking… Back then, when he calmed the storm, HE CALMED THE STORM! I mean, he literally calmed the storm. None of this figurative, “It’s the storms in our life, see!”

      So yes, I think they saw him as Lord of the spirits and able to take care of all those REAL terrors that plagued them.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > None of this figurative, “It’s the storms in our life, see!”

        Yep.

        Also – people then were afraid of storms; not tucked away in their safe climate-controlled late 20th century construction homes. We’ve come a l-o-n-g way.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          So the question is, do I think he can calm a literal storm today?

          Umm…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Also – people then were afraid of storms; not tucked away in their safe climate-controlled late 20th century construction homes.

          Tell that to the tucked-away safe climate controlled 20th century homeowners after Katrina, Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Or the mudslides in CA this past January. Or the CA rainy season a year before that, biggest since the Big Rain of ’69.

      • People don’t think about the vast amounts of kinetic energy tgat reside even in a small lake squall.

        Jesus literally hand-waived it away.

        Yeah, I’d be scared pantless too.

  9. Christiane says:

    “Hauerwas wants to remove bibles from the pews because he is worried that individualism—the conceit of self-sufficiency—has thoroughly corrupted American Christians’ ability to interpret Scripture.”

    I remember when our U.S. Catholic Bishops called B.S. on the Romney-Ryan Economic Plan during the 2012 elections because Paul Ryan had said he was inspired by ‘his Catholic values’ when, in fact, he had put more of his love for Ayn Rand into the Plan than anything remotely ‘Christian’.
    Actually, the Nuns on the Bus came after Ryan first, and their words and devotion to the poor shamed the bishops out of silence (yeah, nuns!) and THEN the Bishops kicked Ryan tail with these words:

    “Major reductions at this time of economic turmoil and rising poverty will hurt hungry, poor and vulnerable people in our nation and around the world … The bishops’ conference acknowledges the difficult challenges that Congress, the Administration and government at all levels face to match scarce resources with growing needs. A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all. …
    With other Christian leaders, we urge the committee to draw a “circle of protection” around resources that serve those in greatest need and put their needs first even though they do not have powerful advocates or great influence.”

    I’m all for individualism and self-reliance, but when the common good demands we behave as human beings with souls and consciences, we do owe a Christian duty to come together to help those who would perish without the compassion of others.

    • Burro (Mule) says:

      Its just that government is such a blunt instrument to accomplish this. But if you’ve thrown all the other instruments out the window, I guess your point stands.

      • Christiane says:

        Hi BURRO,
        Yep. You are right. Sometimes ‘government’ IS the trouble-maker.
        there are times when ‘government’ created the problem because of ‘greed’ (Flint, Michigan water crisis) and then did not accept responsibility for the disaster, in which case for generations, children exposed to lead will pay the price

        Well, I suppose it’s all about ‘who’s in power’ and ‘who calls the shots’,
        but if the public policy is to HARM the common good, then I’d say it’s a rotten policy and those responsible need to be held accountable

        ‘common good’ is a term that means what is SHARED by all of us . . . . the quality of the air and water, the safety of the food supply, the integrity of the infrastructure . . . so much more that, if poisoned and/or neglected may bring harm to all . . . . .

        I know that now, in certain political circles, the phrase ‘the common good’ is maligned . . . . but there is such a thing as the public trust that we can expect from one another decency and a regard for those rules that keep us and our families safe in the community and even in the wider community of our nation (ie, we have a right to know that people will stop at red lights, and observe safety rules)

        But when it comes to ‘freedom FROM responsibility’, do we REALLY want to get rid of all the safe guards and let industry and business make profit without thought of public safety and well-being??? I don’t think so. No. Politicians who allow shoddy building materials to be used ARE thrown out of office when large buildings come crashing down on the public in almost all countries. Some of these politicians are even imprisoned.

        Sometimes a people will govern themselves ‘grass roots’ style, especially in a land where the current tax cut for corporations and the wealthy was paid for by borrowing billions from China . . . but it takes while before the people at the grass roots level ‘get it’ that they have been had

        We probably disagree on much of this, but I appreciate your voice, Mule. You make more sense than not. 🙂

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > government is such a blunt instrument

        Rubbish. Blunt, like the $50 grants my neighbors can apply for for small repairs?

        Government can be blunt, or surgical, it is up to us.

        The blunt-instrument meme is a trope used by those who have no idea how things work.

        • Heather Angus says:

          Well, I am certainly one who has no idea how things work, so perhaps you could “unpack” your statement a bit? Your reference to your neighbor’s repairs did not clarify the subject for me.

          For instance, depriving 20 million plus people of health care seems pretty blunt. Holding a zillion-dollar military parade for Mr. Trump, while elderly veterans go homeless, seems pretty blunt. You must be talking about some other concept, and I’d like to understand what it is.

          • Robert F says:

            I don’t know how things work, either, but in the wrong hands it seems to me there can be no blunter or more destructive instrument than a highly organized and centralized government.

      • As Americans, we *have*. If all government aid programs disappeared tomorrow, there’s no way the existing charity structures could take up the slack. And most of those I know who are loudest in calling for that don’t seem too eager to increase their charitable giving if it does.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          And most of those I know who are loudest in calling for that don’t seem too eager to increase their charitable giving if it does.

          “MINE! MINE! ALL MINE! THERE’S ONLY ENOUGH FOR MEEEEE! MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE!”
          — Daffy Duck

        • Robert F says:

          “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

          • john barry says:

            Robert F. We must not be tiny or tim id in how we think. It could be just a bad piece of meat or Marley smoking the weed but a person can change his heart but can a government?. Our goose could be cooked.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            “I GOT MINE,
            I GOT MINE,
            THE WORLD’S THE WAY IT’S MEANT TO BE
            NOW THAT I GOT MINE!”

            “I GOT MINE,
            I GOT MINE,
            I DON’T WANT A THING TO CHANGE
            NOW THAT I GOT MINE!”
            — Glenn Frey

  10. Wayne Essel says:

    I think the value of a community is in the relationships and the focus (living a Jesus-shaped life), in that order. If you just tell people how to interpret scripture, you will make some happy and others will leave. If you have good relationships and good focus, you work out the scripture’s meaning in the context of the readers’ life. God gave us hearts and brains, and we should use them. Both. All of us. And I don’t think that traditions necessarily foster that perspective.

  11. john barry says:

    Wayne, well said.

  12. Christiane says:

    the thing about ‘the Scriptures’ and ‘tradition’ is this:

    that for a good part of the Early Church, the ‘service of the Word’ was prayed out loud, and IF there were letters circulated and read from the Apostles, those letters were read out loud . . . . a lot of the New Testament was prayed before it was written down BECAUSE the earliest Christians were waiting for Our Lord to return imminently. When years past and this did not happen, they began to write down the ‘Good News’ and to circulate the ‘letters’ and after a couple of hundred years passed, the Church gathered to form a ‘canon’ of those writings which had been circulated among all of the Churches and read aloud in them over a period of time.

    So when you find a Christian person who thinks that the earliest Christians all had a bible in their hand, you wonder about what they really know about how that N.T. portion of the Bible came to be their own hands. . . . .

    so, if you trace the history of sacred Scripture in Britain from the King James Bible back into previous centuries, you will come to Tyndale, Wyclif, and before them, Alcuin.
    And before Alcuin, to Ceolfrith and to the ‘Lindisfarne Gospels’ which were copied and illuminated beautifully (in the tradition of the Book of Kells) in the ‘scriptorium’ room at Lindisfarne Abbey (founded by Aiden).
    You see, the tradition of the ‘scriptoriums’ (rooms where Scripture was copied by hand) goes back even further to the time of the Septuagint scholars who were set to work on the island in the harbor of Alexandria and produced a Greek translation of the Old Testament, through Saint Jerome and his Vulgate tradition, through Cassiodorus and his reworking of Jerome’s Vulgate of the old Latin texts.

    The Lindisfarne Gospels represent the ancient tradition of ‘recieving what was handed down and preserving it to pass on intact’,
    and in the scriptorium on Lindisfarne, the hand-written sacred texts were copied with great care according to that tradition.
    The printing-press would not be invented for another eight centuries into the future, so these monastic scriptoriums were an important connection for the sacred writings to be preserved and passed on.

    It’s good to know something of the history of how sacred Scripture ended up in your hands . . . there was a long line of people who cared greatly that this should happen, and they too were members of the Body of Christ and a part of the heritage of all Christian people.

    Part of Christian ‘tradition’ is a remembrance and thankfulness for those Christian people who preserved and ‘handed forward’ the sacred Scriptures, and we are connected to them not only through Christ but also by gratitude for their service to the Word.

  13. Robert F says:

    I wonder: When Bibles are being gotten out of the hands of individual Christians in America, will Stanley Hauerwas get to keep one? If the answer is yes, why, exactly? Or should I just let the religious experts and authorities decide that, and not worry my little Protestant head about it? But who exactly are the religious experts and authorities?

  14. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It seems to me something of a logical contradiction to adopt a consciously contrarian and radical position a
    that individual Christians ought not to think for themselves, in that apparently Hauerwaus’s dictats don’t apply to Hauerwaus himself.
    His portrayal of the Arian controversy is somewhat simplistic, in that he is trying to maintain that somehow Nicean Christology sprang into being fully formed from the beginning, and Arius & co were a bunch of ill-informed parishioners coming up with some radical nonsense when someone was foolish enough to give them a Bible to read. The truth of the matter is that Nicean Christianity and Arius ideas both had their supporters in the tradition and theological schools: the Creed is the product of theological development and the exchange of ideas, in a large part on reaction to Arius, and could not have come about without the controversy.
    I think that Hauerwaus is infected with part of what Thomas Merton called “the Devil’s theology” in an earlier article you posted. This is the need to be right and associated conviction that (what one thinks is) the truth is obvious and incontrovertible and the inevitable conclusion of every intelligent and fully informed person who has given it proper thought, and that therefore anyone who disagrees must either be stupid, or ignorant, or ill-informed, or deluded, or in denial or arguing in bad faith. Individualism is the “refusal to think” because obviously if people were thinking they would inevitably agree with me.
    Instead of admitting, as Paul says, that we only see “through a glass darkly”, churches insist that the truth is plain and obvious to all. Tell someone this, and give them a Bible, and who knows what “plain and obvious” conclusions they will come to. Admit that the truth is so vast that centuries of thought and study and prayer have given us only a few glimpses of it, and they will study, and listen, and learn and seek to understand the tradition and help develop it, rather than decide they know better than it.

    • Christiane says:

      Hello Iain,
      I’m still trying to sort out how it is that many fundamentalist-evangelicals accept the teachings of some of the early Church Councils on ‘Who Christ Was’ and ‘the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity’ . . . . . .

      if the NT sacred Scriptures were not intertwined with the very early Church in how they prayed and their handling of the Apostle’s writings, I would not think that we would have a NT Bible today ‘in our hands’, and yet people today find ‘no need’ for the consensus of the whole Church on the great doctrines which were attacked long ago by early heresies that were dealt with through the work of those early Church Councils . . .

      even today, I see ‘wobbly’ understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity among some Southern Baptists, so I’m not sure if there IS an agreed-upon consensus in that denomination concerning the Trinitarian doctrine.

      My own thought is that fundamentalists ping off of Catholic doctrine to compare and contrast their own beliefs as a way of taking measurement in how they stand with the orthodox beliefs of the Church. In some ways, their beliefs are exactly in agreement, but in most not so much, or not at all.

      It is in the areas of agreement that I find wonder at how they can accept from ‘orthodox’ Church teachings those doctrines which are ‘not that clear’ in sacred Scripture . . . . (?) But then there are so many different fundamentalist denominations and I suppose unless people bend to accept the teachings of the local town Church in order to ‘be accepted’, that they have plenty of choices to be able to find a place they can related to in their hearts as ‘Christian’. I feel sorry for those who join a denomination for the wrong reasons. It should mean more to them than a social club for the family or status in a town. It should mean far more to them than that.
      some thoughts

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I am afraid I find the various fundangelical denominations’ attitude to the authority of scripture, tradition and their own churches as incomprehensible as I also find the Catholic.
        The claim by fundamentalist Protestant churches that what they preach is nothing but the plain and obvious meaning of the unvarnished Bible is patently obviously untrue, not just in the case of traditional doctrines they accept without analysis or acknowledgement but also their own peculiar takes on it, whether it is dispensationalism, TULIP Calvinism, Lutheran “sola fide” extremism or what-have you, which they proclaim as doctrine.
        On the other hand, while thr Bible’s reliability is founded on it representing the emerged consensus from centuries of study, prayer, discussion and thought by the Christian church as a whole, as does that of the traditional, consensus doctrines of the church, I can’t follow how this gets you to the Catholic church’s concept that truth is a matter of intellectual property rights, and that a claim of organisational continuity means a monopoly on determining what is true.

        • Christiane says:

          Thanks for responding, Iain.

          I expect that the Church DOES hold to the idea that the Apostles handed down to their disciples a ‘deposit of faith’ (so to speak) and that this was preserved and past down through the centuries . . . and when things got ‘threatened’ by the various ‘heresies’, the Church came together in Councils and tried to work out what it believed as opposed to the heresies, usually leaving some kind of findings as a result of the Council’s work, hence we get ‘creeds’ and such. 🙂

          I think your comment is brilliant, this:
          “On the other hand, while thr Bible’s reliability is founded on it representing the emerged consensus from centuries of study, prayer, discussion and thought by the Christian church as a whole, as does that of the traditional, consensus doctrines of the church,
          I can’t follow how this gets you to the Catholic church’s concept that truth is a matter of intellectual property rights, and that a claim of organisational continuity means a monopoly on determining what is true.”

          Just this comes to mind: that recently, the Pope INVITED many different Christian faith communities to a conference on marriage and the family . . . as PARTICIPANTS in the conference, able to speak to the whole gathering and have input in sharing their perspectives freely in a respectful setting where Catholic scholars would listen to them and be able to communicate with them. . . . . was the Pope trying to WIDEN the ‘consensus’ of the whole Church in that conference ???? Was he setting an example for the future of inclusion on matters that affect the whole ‘Church’ of baptized Christian people of all denominations???

          I think he was.

          The Church moves so slowly . . . . but there is a kind of stability in that, though the slow progression can be maddening to those of us who want progress in certain areas, yes.

          Who know? At some point, that larger context of a wider ‘consensus’ may begin to be practiced as the ‘norm’ and representatives from many denominations may come to Rome or wherever to meet ‘in Council’ that provides input especially on areas and issues that ALL Christian people share. (?)

          I see it happening. Not today. or even in my lifetime, but I see it coming 🙂