The Two Truths of Christianity: Part II

In the last post I discussed this bifurcation between the so-called Methodist self-help pre 9/11 W. versus the post 9/11 Calvinist cosmic dualist messianic W.

Now to put those in a larger context.

To return to the key framework to help interpret everything that follows: The Two Truths. There are Two Truths to Existence (however Existence be conceived…whatever “whatever” menas to you): Absolute and Relative.

The Absolute Truth is the Truth of Indistinct Union–Ultimate Oneness or Even Non-Oneness/Non-Duality. This is a truth not describable but experiencable. It is the Ground, Source, and Essence of all Relative Truth.

When this “ONE” creates it does so based on polarities. Like a battery that needs both a positive and negative charge to produce energy. For every liberal/progresive there is a conservative. And vice versa. For every good cop, a bad one. Up.down, left/right, male/female, you get the picture.

The Relative Polarity for Spiritual Practice bifurcates between Other-Powered and Self-Powered Paths. For a larger overview of this, see a post (and especially the comment) of mine on Generation Sit:

But in short, Other-Powered Paths rely primarily on the Power/Grace of the Other: God, the Higher Self. The Self-powered, as the name suggests, rely primarily on one’s own power…this is particulary the case in Buddhism which is non-theistically (non-Higher Power) oriented.

What is very interesting to note, however, is that no Relative Spiritual Path is either exclusively Self-Powered or Other-Powered. Self-powered paths like Tibetan Buddhism are filled with the “grace of the Guru”. And Other-Powered Paths like Christianity have the notion of free will. The problem occurs when the Relative path either A)Does not recognize the Absolute (which is neither Other nor Self-Powered) and/or B)Tries to relatively destroy one of the polarities to the demise of the other (known intererestingly as ABSOLUTization).

Christianity unfortunately has committed both A and B. A occured when the Church refused to accept the legtimacy of the experience of Indistinct Union (e.g. condemning Meister Eckhart’s theses, burning Marguerite Porete at the stake, and ignoring Nicholas of Cusa).

B happened when Augustine, in his battle with the Irish monk Pelagius, overturned the presiding Patristic wisdom of the synergistic relationship between grace and free will, and stated that human will was corrupted completely and everything was Grace. Salvation depended on God’s grace alone–no argument there, everyone believed that–but the new wrinkle with Augustine was that God’s grace was required to enable the will to say Yes to God’s grace. In the earlier Patristic tradition–still the teaching 2,000 years later of the Eastern Orthodox Churches–the will is free to either accept or deny God’s grace. On its own terms–thereby keeping the relationship between the two poles in tact.

So with Augustine all Western theology both Catholic and Protestant goes a separate direction.

All Western theology accepted the basic Augustinian framework.

The Catholic and Protestant Churches split over their interpretations of Augustine. The issue is most famously known as the debate between justification by faith and good works. Justification by faith–or more properly justification by grace through faith is the Protestant interpretation of Augustine. Luther promoted this most directly. Justification by grace through Faith is the belief that, as Luther said, we are shit covered in snow. The snow being justification–a state redeemed from our inherent original sin. We are still the shit though, that is in Protesatnt theology Original Sin is our cupidity (our self-centered selfish motivations). In Catholic theology Original Sin is an objective state that is wiped away at baptism (symbol of justification), leaving us opened up to be sanctified. A state of transformation. Catholic theology therefore states that God’s grace gives us the power to do good works which then cause relative transformation, meriting rewards as a consequence for the good actions.

The Catholic tradition leaves open the possibility of sanctification known in Eastern Orthodox theology as Deification: God became human, so that humanity might become God. Protestantism on the whole because of its notion of original sin and justification by faith through grace denied this mystical element to Christinaity, focusing almost exclusively on redemption (justification, redemption from a state of original sin). Sanctification rather points to redemption towards–redemption towards perfection.

For classical Protestant theology the notion of perfection or the advanced in this life is anathema. Luther re-interpreted Dionysius the great Christian father of the three-fold (Relative) path of mysticism as meaning that all mystical statements, negatively described–called apophatic theology–referred to the folly of the Cross. Unfortunately this is not the case. Apophatic theology is firstly the experience of God beyond form in the Cloud of Unknowing, an experience by all accounts Luther (and Calvin, Zwingli) was not familiar with.

As Paul Tillich says Catholicism is a relative value. The sacraments, the church hierarchy, the counsels (for the perfecting versus the commandments for all–again abolished by Luther), penitential system, merits, good works, and all the rest. Protestantism, in his view, is meant to point to an absolute relationship with God. An I-THOU interaction with the Great Unkown, the Mysterium Tremendis, the Holy (according to Lutheran Rudolf Otto).

Protestantism unfortunately did not understand the Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth is the Truth of Indistinct Union. The statement of Eckhart: In the breakthrough I realize that I and God are One. The realization of Godhead, where both the Soul and God dissolve their love partnership into an unspeakable “oneness”.

Classical Protestant theology therefore lost both the Relative and Absolute Paths of Mysticism. The relative path of transformation from purgation, illumination, to union. The path laid out by Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor and Gregory Palamas in the East; and Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St. Thierry, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Avila in the West.

Protestant theology has only two great mystics of this type: William Law and Jacok Boheme. Law relative, Boheme Absolute (and maybe the Wesley Brothers). At least Charles.

Catholic theology kept the Relative Threefold path, though not as strongly as in the Eastern Church. And had openings to the Absolute, though never officially recognized.

Now onto how the Other-Centered and Self-Powered Paths manifest in the Catholic and Protestant Churches.


Protestantism, philosophically is influenced by Kant. Kant argued that the human mind can not point to nor describe realities above what it was experiencing at the moment–e.g. heaven if one is alive on earth. And the human mind shapes the data of the world not the world and the mind correspond one to one as in Aristotelian influenced Thomistic Catholic theology. So out the window went Aquinas’s Proofs for God’s existence.

The human mind could not naturally prove (nor disprove the existence of God). Kant understood this. Therefore theology was left with two choices. Either God was accessible thorugh non-rational aspects of the mind like emotions, subconscious, dreams, etc. or God was wholly Other and must Reveal Himself in this world in a non-rational, incomprehensible way.

The first group is represtened by the Liberals–both in the Protestant and Catholic Churches. In the Prot. group the big name of course if Frederick Schielermacher (also Bultmann and Tillich). F.S. famously re-interpreted all language of faith to be that of emotions. In the Catholic world there is Karl Rahner who talked of God being the horizon of our consciousness. Another name of course is Swiss Carl Jung–again note the emphasis on dreams, subconscious elements as markers to the Divine.

The second option was exercised by the Conservative/Traditionalists. The most famous name in Prot. theology being Karl Barth. In Catholic theology his friend Hans Urs von Balthasar–beloved by both this pope and John Paul II.

Both unfortunately were caught in the basic Kantian divide between consciousness and the thing-in-itself (in this case God). In integral mystical theology we know that different phenomena arise in different worldspaces. The mind must be transcended to experience trans-mental categories of experience. Hence the turn to Idealism after Kant.

But Prot. for all its loss of mysticism could not get rid people of being on the Relative path. It just did not afford an awakening to the higher state-stages of the process. Prot. in general was healthy in bringing about the modern stage-structure (orange meme) in existence. But lost mysticism of the state-stages. Hence the Biblical Criticism–orange theology–as well as the emphasis on social action (Social Gospel), the ordination of women, of blacks, abolition, and all the rest.

So the Other-Power in Prot. is obviously the grace for justification. It tried its damned-est to totally viciate the human will (Self-power) but only ended up promoting it more nad more. Without referencing it though.

The whole self-help movement in America grew out of self-power Prot. While theraphy grew out of Catholicism (see Michel Foucualt) in Austria–from the confessional to the therapist’s chair there is a direct link–in America therapy became self-help.

The self-help is as noted in the earlier passage an outgrowth of Methodist Evangelicalism.

Remember the phrase justification by faith. Justification by faith is actually anti-Protestant (hence Tillich always saying justification by GRACE through FAITH). God grants the Faith; Faith is considered a theological virtue awakened by God’s grace. Justification by faith would be justification based upon someone’s action (again: I argue the Eastern synergistic model does away with all the difficulties here).

So the Evangelical Tradition promotes confession of Jesus Christ as Savior, particularly in an emotionally-charged conversion experience–predicated upon Luther’s Tower Experience. Thsi is overly involved “self” power. Meanwhile leaving go of the entire philosophical-theological tradition of Luther-Calvin-Barth-Schielermacher.

The Second Great Awakening (early 19th century) fueled by the Methodist Evangelical tradition became the main stream of American Christianity. The Self-power underground became the source of the so-called Protestant Ethic…ie no cursing, smoking, drinking, dancing, hardworking, capitalist.

The Bible in the Prot. tradition became the objetive standard to create a pole of reference around which the subjective-Prot. ethic-self power-evangelical-born again tradition could revolve. Luther proclaimed sola scriputra–only scripture. In Integral philosophy we know that this idea of an objective, “real” Biblical Church was nothing but a modernist fallacy of the Pregiven, a metaphysics of modernity. The real world exists out there (as described by the Bible), that all can see for themselves.

Without a strong emphasis on interpretation–as in the Catholic and Orthodox notions that the tradition interprets the Scripture (interpretation determines the level of facts, the meaning is the injunction in integral language) interpretation became wildly overboard in Prot. Just as without really deeply delineating the role of free will (self-power) in Western theolgoy, Catholic mysticism became overly subjective and Prot. ethic (orange structure-stage) became overly subjective as well.

In the Catholic tradition with its emphasis on the Sacraments and the Church Hierarchy, self-power was left to the “natural” world–the world of virtue, science, politics, history, language, sociology and so on. Ethic was not practiced in the same way–think of the sexual and cultural freedoms of a France, Italy, Spain, Bavaria (Catholic) versus Northern Germany, Scandanavia, AngloSaxon America (Protestant).

The polarities go on and on. The communion emphasized by Catholicism versus the individualism of the Protestant tradition.

So Methoidsm-Evangelicalism morphed for many into the self-help success world. While the Catholics cum European Psychotherapy led to Freud, Jung, Adler, Farnkl, and the Existentialists. The Existentialists started to act as a bridge between Europe and the States particulary in NYC. Tillich ended up at Union. Karen Horney, Rollo May, Perls, and May bridged American boot-strap self-helpism with cerebral-philosophical-theological European thought patterns.

But US has gone very reductionistic in terms of cognitive neuroscience and have left the self-help world to drag on without renewed phenomenlogical depth. Lost in a traditional modernist metaphysics of the Pregiven Myth, the monlogical worldview of orange, etc.

So as Bush went from self-help (faith-based) Methodism/Evangelicalism to the dualistic Calvinist strain he came in contact with the Scotch-Irish stream of American Christianity. Scotch-Irish very strong in Texas and particularly in the entire Southern aristocratic warrior culture rampant in the Army and the Southern Gun Culture at large.

He shifted to the seemingly all Other-Power Calvinist dualist tradition. But right there, how can we know which Other Power is at work when there are Two: The Light and the Darkness at war with each other. Then the self-power of America as the New Messiah. And Bush as the Prophet figure of the Coming Wrath of the Divine Almighty through its chosen representative. Appointed to bring light to the nations. A people set apart. The Self-Power no longer of individual self-help but of a nation, a collective on the march.

Calvin sought to bring sanctification back into the Christian fold–left out by Luther. The Sanctification of Calvin though dealt with the cosmic, worldy sanctification, not the individual’s soul mystical connection to the Divine. That is why the theocratic strain in Calvinism-Prebysterianism. The secular must be sanctified not by its perfectability, its deification, but by abolishing the secular in favor of the “holy.” Again original sin is the snow covered in shit. Theocracy is covering the nation, the people in “religious” snow leaving the shit of human politics, culture, and all the rest. Prohibition, moralism, and that whole strain of Presbyterian righteousness.
And sadly this cosmic dualism masks our own sinfulness, acts as an inviolable justification to become just like our enemy in tactics, thoughts, words, and sadly often enough deeds.
Published in: on October 29, 2005 at 2:25 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. I read this post religiously, so don’t you dare stop writing…

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