maandag 29 februari 2016

How counter-intuitive can you be?

It’s good for me – as someone who has broken with Christianity – to get the Christian faith explained by people I find congenial. Because then, if I feel objections arise, I’m sure they are not motivated by an opinion about the person that I listen to at that time.

One of those sympathetic interpreters is Marilynne Robinson, whom I saw recently on television. What I understood to be her main message is that Christians are called to become what they by nature are not. People are selfish, and they should be altruistic; they are not naturally compassionate, but they should be so; they are easily scared, but fear is wrong. In short, Christianity according to Robinson is one big change program, away from our natural state, leading to a victory over our nature.

So much counter-naturalness cannot convince me, however sympathetic the messenger may be. Indeed, from a pedagogical or andragogical point of view such a program seems to me to be doomed to failure, because how counter-intuitive can we be? It could even be that the frustration built into this program accounts for the phenomena in church and Christianity which Robinson precisely dislikes: the focus on power and on winning souls. The latter might very well be the ‘natural’ and inevitable compensation for too ambitious aspirations which run off the rails.

Besides, I am not so afraid of human selfishness, lack of empathy and fear. Selfishness can give us firm starting positions, from which we on our turn have something to offer to others. The duty of empathy and compassion can easily lead to the overstrained situation in which empathy becomes an achievement of the autonomous self, and in which the other is no more than an object for compassion. Fear finally can be a very good counselor, as evidenced indeed by the images of the Bataclan which were shown during the interview with Robinson: visitors ran away as fast as possible from the Kalashnikovs, and that was a good thing. The fact that there also may be fearful situations in which you need to think well, as Robinson propagated, does not diminish the importance of vigilance that is generates by fear.

The recommendation by Robinson that I can fully accept is that it comes to live deliberately, even with regard to experiences that transcend us. That may be unnatural enough already, and I don’t want to burden that endeavor with additional unnatural commands.

Also see Holy fire