Building a log cabin on high

From now on, it will only take you 90 seconds To Tell When a Relationship is Over. No need to thank me. I had nothing to do with it. Thank the director and then thank God for appearing to Ricky Martin in that cave all those years ago to reveal the 7 layers of TCP/IP to him. What the world would be like if he hadn’t shared the basis for our networks with the wider scientific community.

Now that you have expressed your gratitude come back over here and let me make some vaguely coherent remarks. I haven’t decided about what yet but we’ll figure it out as we go. I was reading about an idea that a guy called Otto von Neurath had to describe how Christianity evolves as a movement. Check it:

We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood, the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.

Ok. The sharper amongst you and the Christians (2 distinct groups, dontchaknow?) will realise that it wasn’t initially proposed to describe the development of the church but I have to side with Alistair E. McGrath in his short summation of his Science and God project, when he said it works really well.

People often have an idea that Christian doctrine is something that is made up to support the joyless and narrow minded prejudices of Christians. Christians often naively believe that doctrine arrived in a little DHL package at the door of the Upper Room for the apostles to unpack and broadcast. Both of these perspectives reveal far more about the holders than about the topic at hand. How doctrine developed is a historical question, not a faith one and it has a great deal of bearing on matters that really affect people’s faith or people’s decision to reject Christian claims.

An example of where an accurate idea of how doctrine forms would make a positive impact on people’s lives is the continuing conspiracies around the 4th Century councils of the early church. When people discover that major doctrinal statements were made at the Council of Nicea as late as 325AD they quickly jump to the conclusion that the formulations must have been fabricated. The truth is that the Council of Nicea and the Constantinople Council and all the rest of them only started happening in the 300s because before that such councils were impossible due to persecution. When the leaders of the church got together to state, say, that Jesus was fully God and fully Man, they were making a clear declaration of what was already widely believed within the church but which was under siege from forces outside Christianity, namely gnosticism.

Understanding how and why doctrine develops and being able to explain that to others could avoid all this manky confusion that leads to Dan Brown having enough money to employ Oprah Winfrey to be his maid. For doing this, Otto’s picture up there can be very helpful. The 2nd Vatican Council described the church as the “pilgrimaging people of God”, which is a description that I love. If you imagine the Christians as the the pilgrims, the church and its doctrine as their transportation, the boat and the water that surrounds the church and threatens to engulf it as the world, in the harsh Biblical understanding of the term, then Otto’s metaphor begins to have some relevance. Doctrinal development consists of three major patterns:

  • The Unpacking of Resources: You couldn’t try to live a Christian life without familiarising yourself to some degree with the basic features and fundamental connections that exist between the elements of the faith. Basically, you learn what is already present within Christianity- what ideas and how they relate to each other. We have the boat, in other words. There is an organic aspect to doctrinal development that just naturally unfolds as we try to live on the boat.
  • The Reconstruction of the Boat: If the sea penetrates the boat, the boat will sink. The defence of the boat against both internal and external threats is of primary importance. Our mistakes and the natural environment inflict damage on our boat and we need to plug the holes and replace broken masts as a matter of course, but we have to do this out at sea since our destination has not been reached, we can’t pull into port. Sometimes after storms we have to accept retrogression as the wisest use of resources to protect the integrity of our boat and to allow us to stay on course for our destination. So sometimes in doctrine we look back to what has been in the past instead of formulating new responses to crises. The most famous example of this is the Reformation, which sought to bring the church back in line with earlier beliefs. Luther, Calvin and the rest of the reformers were not trying to make a new church but to force a change in the church they had. They didn’t introduce new ideas to renew the church (because we’re at sea, there are no new raw materials) but instead spight to reconstruct it to set it on firmer foundations.
  • Using Driftwood Where Its Wise: Otto Van Neurath makes space in his metaphor for picking up pieces that lay scattered around the boat to make repairs. Christians down through the ages have felt very comfortable doing just that with doctrine by drawing on non-Christian influences to make the church more effective. Aquinas ripped off Aristotle and the guy I’m ripping off now, Alistair McGrath, he ripped off Roy Bhaskar! Of course we don’t call it robbery or plagarism because no one really owns driftwood. 😉 But the Middle Ages saw theologians drawing on a Ptolemic view of the universe to make their points. Now we would be very happy to explain things with Copernican illustrations. Neither of these things were part of the boat but we’re quite happy to use them to strengthen aspects of the pre-existing structure.
  • I don’t know how sensible all of that seems to you but if it didn’t grab you, don’t go away empty handed. Instead, go here and your visit to zoomtard won’t have been a waste since that is one funny hoax. Or is it a hoax at all?!?

    Your Correspondent, Smelling the tops of babies heads.

    2 Responses to “Building a log cabin on high”

    1. adrian says:

      Jesus was my second favourite Belgian. After Adolphe Sax, obviously.

    2. zoomtard says:

      Ah Adrian, good to have you back. My favourite Belgian is a tie between Enzo Scifo and James Esnor.