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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Protestantism and Isolation

This has come up enough times that I thought I would say a little bit about it before I roll out a longer treatment of the subject.

As I have been looking at the problem of loneliness, I cannot escape asking the question as to how it is that so many people are lonely when we have, more than ever, the greatest availability of the means of curing our loneliness.  It isn't about ability, it is about perception.

Excluding a larger talk about politics and Islam (both contribute to the problem of loneliness by enshrining certain precepts that separate people, but that's for the longer paper), in the West we have the problem of  'theological loneliness.'  Humans are seen as 'bags,' with each bag being utterly walled off from the other.  Sure, what's in the bag may be the same, but the wall of the bag is a completely impenetrable barrier between one 'sack of substance' and the next.

We call this 'individuality.'

My hunch is that individualism arose within the West with the exaltation of the Pope.  How?  Well, when you have one man who is granted a special status which no other human can have (and we are talking about humanity here, since the Pope's authority was not placed on the level of a king or warlord), you begin to de-emphasize the shared equality of all mankind.  When one man becomes exceptional, then you open the possibility that humans can become rather separated from the rest.

The Protestant Reformation wasn't able to cure or even identify the root of this problem of human exceptionalism.  Instead, it enshrined it as a universal principle: all men are exceptional, therefore all men are individuals.  With this in heart, the Reformers sought to gradually pull down the various traditional notions of communal Faith and human unity.  Sure, there were communes like the Hutterites, but they still operated with a principle of individualism manifested in shunning and other exclusionary tactics which reveal that the group really has no need for the 'individual' and can survive quite well without him.

The Body of Christ is no longer an organic whole, but an assemblage of tiny sub-units that can be thrown away when they are no longer useful.  We are 'cells' in the Body of Christ rather than parts of a whole as described by Jesus and His Apostles.  Of course, cellular knowledge did not come until later, so the understanding of the parts of the body as used in this analogy were not as radically separated as cells are seen.  The Body is an organic unity, with parts that were distinct yet inseparable.  Cells are far more distinct.

With this matrix of distinction between humans, the Sacraments which united the Church were largely done away with.  People became independent and separate.

Within three hundred years, psychology arises in the West to cope with the problems men wrestled with while not having access to priests and confessors.  The communal aspects of Christian guidance are absorbed by the field of Psychology.

Prior to that, in the 1860s there were already attempts to deal with the formal treatment of  'inebriates,' the earlier term for an alcoholic or drug addict (opium was a significant problem, especially after the Civil War).  The advent of Alcoholics Anonymous came through a Protestant bible study where the participants realized that mainline Protestantism was missing certain elements that were absolutely necessary for the treatment of the disease of addiction.

They took back those missing elements of Traditional Christianity, sans the terminology and some outwardly blatant Christian references, and called it the 12 Steps.

What I am saying is that AA was a necessary back-tracking of the Reformation's push towards the utter isolation of the human person as an individual.  

So, many of our societal problems arise from this isolation enshrined in the Reformation, where no Christian needs any other Christian to 'get salvation.'  Even there, the language does not so much emphasize communion with Christ as it does 'salvation,' which becomes a 'happy hunting grounds' rather than a Marriage Feast.

So, we have a theologically-inspired loneliness, where each man faces eternal damnation as a lone figure in a macabre scenario of divine wrath and personal isolation.  No wonder so many people have chucked in the towel on Christianity... this version of it is horrid even with the best of representations.

there is far more that I have to say on this, but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

1 comment:

  1. This topic of isolation has caught my attention, though I am only beginning to understand it. Personally, I have been thinking about how lack of faith in a loving God leads to lack of love among us, and then this lack of love leads to isolation from each other. Simple thing to say, but if you remove love, then you can introduce things like the need for judging people and this in itself is already an (invisible) isolation from each other as persons, even though we might get together, or might even co-operate in various activities.

    Then, I was looking at a picture of a pope-mobile :), and was realizing that the only reason that bullet-proof thing is necessary is because of the way people perceive the position of the pope, as one who is better than everybody and needs to be protected. I mean the Orthodox Church has hierarchs, but they are generally very humble (or their position is) and they travel freely without much protection, and yet nothing ever happens to them. Again, there is this invisible layer of separation that is only caused by how the image of the pope is perceived.