Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rebuilding The Ruins

This summer’s treatment of the historic spiritual disciplines has brought one point of commonality to light, and that point is the shock to westerners that historic Christianity is a mystical religion. Most western Christians know about having a daily bible study and prayer time, which usually consists of reading though a book or books of the bible, followed by some extemporaneous prayers, and this usually leads to general feeling of well-being after wards, but anything beyond that enters into the realm of suspicion. Insert fasting, liturgical prayers, times of silence, kneeling, genufleting, lectio divina, and prayers of the heart into the disciplines the faith, and what we have is another religion. But, why and how did something so common to Christianity for so long become so foreign? There is a trajectory within western Christianity that has made this loss of these ancient Christian disciplines possible.

It began with the victory of Augustinian Neo-Platonism, in the 5th century. The consequence of this has left today’s Christianity thinking that the goal of a person life is to make it into heaven, rather than to become united to God in body & soul now and after this life. The long term consequence of this is a two story universe, God up stairs, & us downstairs, and our task should we choose to accept it, is to make it upstairs.

This distortion continued in the 10th & 11th century by the additions of St Anselm. By way of his orientation towards legal satisfaction, what we now have is a Christianity that is most of all concerned with how man gets off the hook for sin on light of its insult of God’s honor. Christianity lost its focus on why and how God restores humanity to our original design as Christ’s icon on earth.

Move forward to the 12th & 13th century and we find the influences of St Aquinas. His influence made Christianity something that must be explainable and definable at every point, in other words, scholastic. For many Christians today, there is no higher form of Christianity than intellectual Christianity. This is a faith that lives in the mind.

Move forward again to the protestant reformation of the 16th century, and there the west received the same authority that prior to it belonged to bishops and popes. Every individual became the protector of the faith, with the authority to keep, shed, or redesign the articles of faith as each saw fit according to their understanding of the bible.

Go forward again to the 18th century and find the great awakening; this movement in the Americas and England made Christianity something that must be the result of a personal crisis and catharsis. As a result, one must have had a moment that one can point to when they had their God experience, once having that experience of God no more was needed.

Couple this with the need to feel moral and aligned to God, the social Victorian moralism made its way into Christianity. This moralism shaped the faith into more than just something in the mind and a one time experience. However, the problem here is that there was a focus on a few select sins such as sexual concupiscence, drunkenness, and participation in the things enjoyed by the general culture.

To sum this all up; what we have in the west today is a faith that is dualistic, legal, intellectual, individualistic, based on a one time experience, and sustained by a biased moralism that focuses on avoiding a few specific sins. In short, the trajectory of the western faith has left us with a faith that has almost no relationship to the faith of the early church, and especially its mystical practices of transformation into Christlikeness.

Having exposed these foreign viruses that have attached themselves to the faith, we can see their emptiness, and our need to return to a faith that actually creates real union with God here and now. It is this need that gives the mystical historic spiritual disciplines their place of priority in the Christian’s life. My hope is that the exposure of the above along with the recovery of this ancient practice can help to rebuild authentic Christianity.

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