Sunday, October 14, 2012

Christian Homeopathy: Diluting the Doctrine.

With the NHS suffering rather from the budget cuts and enforced expense slashing, one might be forgiven for seeking out alternative medicine. Such an alternative medicine is Homoeopathy.

Homoeopathy claims to work by the repeated dilution of a given substance in water or in alcohol which apparently increases its potency. Forgive me if I seem harsh, but I find this a somewhat ridiculous notion. How can repeated dilution make a substance stronger? The human body would hardly find any efficacy from something so dilute that it simply passes through the system affecting only a few cells before being expelled. I cannot imagine the effect being anything other than placebo.

The same is also very true of the Christian religion. There are two ways in which the same homoeopathic mentality enters Christianity.

First, consider the Roman Catholic decision to move midweek festivals to the following Sunday (e.g. Corpus Christi and Ascension Day). Why is this done? Well, if it's a Holy Day of Obligation then it is a sin for people to wilfully miss Church. Yet many people either cannot get to Mass on a Thursday due to the pressures of their work (which is hardly a problem of willfulness) or just cannot be bothered to go out on a weekday. Far better, then, to prevent people from missing their obligation by moving it from Midweek to Sunday.

Well it certainly looks reasonable, but there is still a problem. If one cannot be bothered to go to church on a Thursday, then  the Church has just demonstrated its sanctioning of not going to Church for a midweek. Suddenly it's okay to find a midweek Mass as unnecessary and unimportant, just as it is suddenly okay to eat meat on Friday.  Yes, it makes things easier for a Christian to live a weekday life, but it also makes weekdays more secular and less sacred. What has happened is that sanctity has been diluted out of the week. We are now allowed to be Christians only at the weekend.

Second, consider modern liturgies. If something is too hard for people to understand, then it seems quite reasonable to rephrase it into a language which everyone can understand. In a culture where things are learnt in soundbites, it seems to make perfect sense to reduce everything we believe into short pithy statements.

I really struggle with this and I mean really struggle. This is yet another situation in which the exploration of the Divine is diluted down and down into ever more "easy to understand" chunks and what is lost is any depth, any struggle and any engagement with a life that is immeasurably more immense than ours. Human life is a struggle. It is unfair; it is incomprehensible; it is confusing; it is exasperating, but it is ultimately a ray of God's Light piercing the gloom of an otherwise meaningless Eternity. Any expression of Christianity that seeks to boil it down to its essentials, or reduce it to its component parts misses the point as easily as homoeopaths do when it comes to healing the human body through quantities that the human body cannot even detect.

I am often asked to explain myself: why I am an Anglican Catholic; what a Deacon is; why I believe XYZ. It isn't easy, especially when the questioner is expecting a single word answer. I cannot explain the Christian faith in a few short sentences. It takes a full lifetime in order to grapple with what Christianity is saying. The Problem of Evil is an enormous problem that keeps many from believing in God. One has to understand this very clearly. I have answers, but they do not convince me wholeheartedly - this is where I must put my trust in God, after all, I really do know next to nothing.The PoE is a very good objection to the existence of God, but it is not a knock-down argument as some philosophers would have it be. This is why God calls us to be patient, because we cannot possibly explain ourselves in any way that would water down what we believe.

In the same way, we should not try to reduce what we believe to soundbites despite the temptation of the modern world to demand soundbites from us. The Apostle's Creed is only the starting point for an explanation, not a complete statement of the Faith. The same is true of the other two Creeds. We have to take time to give an answer to people who ask us who we are, and we should not apologise if this takes some time. We should of course try to make that answer as engaging and as interesting as possible. If they listen well, then perhaps we may have made that important step in making them more curious about who we are and what we do.

Diluting the faith to suit the impatient and the superficial is just not the way forward. It promotes further superficiality, reinforces a sense of impatience and does not engage with the complexity of real living and the true immensity of Immanuel. There is nothing alternative about the Christian Faith!

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