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C. Ingram

The Vanity of Christianity

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Clickbait title is clickbait-y.

 

I want to present the beginnings of a project that I've been working on and get feedback. Just so you know, this post will be long, so let me try to give a tl:dr version. I don't think Christianity losses much if, to borrow a word from Max Stirner, "spooks", ideas which have no reality, are eliminated. To give you an idea of the scale I'm thinking here, I don't think Christianity looses much if, say, we cease to think of God in the conventional way. (I am not talking about atheism either -- the censor doesn't need to lock this thread.) To argue for this, I'm riffing off of Ecclesiastes (an old stomping ground for me) and making the claim that we have not really taken the time to read the book, let alone read it as something other than a boisterous nuisance to be dominated by the mythos built up around the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Notice that I do not say that Christ or Christ-hood is a myth, but I think it is an uncontroversial point among Christians that mold has grown well in the dank obscurity surrounding the Carpenter -- "we need to know Christ" has been the cry of my evangelical peers and the arrow shot from a crooked bow has perhaps found a bullseye. If that sounds interesting, settle in, grab a mug of tea, shot of vodka, pipe, cigar, cuz we goin' go at it.

 

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[Mind you, this is a very rough draft]

 

A distinction should be drawn between purposelessness and meaninglessness -- Ecclesiastes still claims a purpose even as he declares meaninglessness. The claim that a Christian will not be able to subscribe to the meaninglessness of life is suspect to me. Christ certainly imparts some kind of purpose, but he may not impart meaning. What is the difference between meaning and purpose? One can imagine the incoherence of life -- that life is not geared towards pointing in a direction. Perhaps nature does not declare the glory of God, does that then eradicate purpose or meaning? Does it even eradicate God? It seems that the instant we attribute some attributal property to nature we immediately are able to interpret nature and decide what our purpose is. But purpose also conveys the idea that we have been wound up and set loose. In the absence of God, there is no winder, we certainly have no divine purpose, but really, the change from a divine purpose to a purpose which we give to ourselves is not nearly so great a one as we might think. Indeed if we were to speak with God, I think we should find that he had never purposed our lives. The purposelessness of life is that which we secretly fear not the non-existence of God. The irony is that we have purposed our lives from the beginning but often with the intent of being a part of an imaginary purpose. We are like the child who cannot see and desperately wants not to hear that the training wheels have been removed for his entire time on the bike. But would hearing this fundamentally change the way that Christianity works? I don't think that it would. The supernatural and the natural are not so very different as you might expect.

 

But what actually is happening in "Vanity of vanities" ... "everything is vanity"? The term expresses futility, "achieves-nothing-ness". It is likely pointless to make the trite statement that "well, then his statement is also vain." But what if it were? Would that change his impact? And what would be worse for him here? I think it is precisely the case here that he is saying everything is vain, including his statement. That does not mean that it cannot impact or is self-refuting. The obvious and nearly overwhelming question is does no thing accomplish anything? The embryo of an answer may take the form of wondering whether Ecclesiastes has considered history, that is, as a field. Certainly at first gloss it seems as if we have remembered a great deal -- that his search for wisdom has not been forgotten as he supposed that it would be. We could proceed to simply begin to end our considerations by stating that he was wrong. But was he? Belief in an infinite or practically infinite earth would certainly lead one to surmise that all effort effectively accomplishes nothing. But what does it mean to be practically infinite? The great likelihood is that the human population shall outlive us individually -- those who have no more pressing concerns than reading my words. But even if it does not out live us, so goes those who might remember us. On one hand, infinity guarantees forgetting, while finity guarantees that eventually there will be no one to remember.

 

It is here that we must turn to considering what Ecclesiastes might mean by "accomplish" should he have occasion to use that word. Clearly he is set up to show that any human accomplishment will never be "cosmic" in scale (of course we know this, but Ecclesiastes points out that our accomplishment will last no longer than us and often times a great deal shorter. But does he here press in on supernatural accomplishments? He seems to disregard them at first -- really we must wait to answer this, though the "everything" suggests that he is as dismissive of supernatural accomplishments as he is of natural ones. But suppose he was. What then? It is here that the religious person is apt to despair, but I submit that such would be the colloquial crying over spilled milk. Has the situation ever been different? It seems not since no one who believes that God is a person, the Big Other in Lacanian terminology, One-Who-Is-Out-There, would also assent to the idea that anything they did accomplished anything effectively. Rather they were playing the role of the subject to the king and only by His good grace did they succeed in any endeavour and his arm which brought about success efficiently. It is rather a thin sense then in which they accomplish anything under their own power. "But" they may say, "He promised this or that." I think to think of him as so infinitely above us is to admit that he might at any moment renege on his promise for reasons which we could not understand. You might not go to heaven, you might all the same, you might do good, you might do great harm instead, etc. So it would not even matter if Ecclesiastes had not intended to include supernatural accomplishments in his thesis -- they are pointless all the same.

 

Here we begin to see the much more subtle critique that Ecclesiastes is developing, one which is not to overthrow Christian beliefs (of course that's not, historically, what he's criticizing) rather he may be simply be showing us that we have been playing in a charade in which we have flapped our arms for so long that the flapping has become central and the impression of a bird inessential. Up to this time, we have believed in our accomplishments (in the field of x), he seeks to show us that they have been vain. We find ourselves performing on a stage with fake trees whilst reality frolics behind the curtain. The essential question is, from Christ, what do we lose when we remove the fake trees and I think we may find the answer to be "very little."

 

[it's a pretty rough start.] Thoughts?

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This is very, very interesting commentary, even if I don't clearly understand all of it, haha. I do think your general point makes a lot of sense, though. I think you should keep going with it, it's cool. And it's interesting to think about the things we've assumed about God - I'd love to hear more.

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And here I was thinking that this thread would be full of "I read the title, now here's my opinion" posts.

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It is remarkably quiet. I think we have so many new members along with old members that are cautious about posting (as they should be) that there's a vacuum.

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I've skimmed this once, and read it through once, but I feel like I'm missing something. I don't quite follow what you're saying.

 

Broadly, a couple of things. (I) That there's a great deal of inconsistency between Ecclesiastes and some conventionally Evangelical positions (I'm concerned especially with doctrines on God, but of course many other things are connected to concepts of God), (2) that these positions tend to have strong historical opposition within the Church, (3) that, you could say psychologically, most of those invested in these positions are actually invested in something else, (4) that Ecclesiastes is triumphant, not pessimistic. I am not immediately trying to build a solid position on any of those things, I'm just concerned with extending Ecclesiastes' skepticism.

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