Sunday, August 5, 2012

Neo-Nominalism

After experiencing my 3 billionth discussion with folks on the importance of dogma this past week, something occurred to me which has undoubtedly occurred to a lot of folks already.

The increased disintegration of religions based on dogma in favor of religions based on individuals is heavily influenced by nominalism. I realize that nominalism is unfortunately (and somewhat ironically) subject to certain variant meanings, so let me be clear that what I'm meaning is the denial of universals. In more plain speak, folks might regard this as rejecting the idea of a thing's essence (using the lay definition of the word). Romano Amerio talks a lot in Iota Unum about a confusion about the essence of things, but he spends a great deal of time explaining how people have mixed things up, rather than completely forgotten them. To break it down even further, while attempting to do as little violence to the term as possible, think of nominalism as basically saying that the only things that there are are things that resemble each other and that we apply the same label to. Apples are apples because they are red, round fruits that have a certain taste and that grow from a certain tree. There isn't a greater concept of "appleness" to any of them. There's just the individual characteristics and the common name that we slap on them. Likewise for everything else, including people.

For an example of the latter point, consider the Reformed position of total depravity, which said that our human nature was destroyed by original sin, which meant that we were hopelessly corrupt and capable of nothing but sin. This is why the Reformers opted for theories like imputed righteousness and forensic justification. With no human nature left that could be redeemed, the best deal we could get was having Christ's righteousness cover us over and God play make-believe that we were holy instead of just turds.

The way Christians have evolved, including a lot of Catholics, they clearly apply this same sort of reasoning to Christianity. Take an extreme example, like that of the Jehovah's Witness. Jehovah's Witnesses are Arians. They reject the divinity of Christ and reduce Him to being St. Michael. No, really. Is it therefore possible to say that JWs aren't Christians?

Well, duh-doy. This is an easy one. Or it should be.

Of an equally duh-doy stature is the new Modalism aka Oneness Pentecostals. Some of these folks have gotten to be rather famous as ostensibly Christian. Think of TD Jakes, who is obviously a Modalist until he goes on TV and then he doesn't talk about it. Anyways, given that they deny the Trinity, should Oneness Pentecostals be classed as Christians? Of course not.

The only way such groups can be classed as Christians is if we accept a nominalist view of what a Christian is. In other words, if you take a bunch of monotheists who claim that there was a guy named Jesus who had something to do with their being saved from sin, you can look at such a group and label them "Christian." Don't expect for their to be any real underlying "Christianity." It's just a bunch of groups that look and act the same.

I used pretty radical cases, but you can take it through several levels of gradation, I think. Really, this is a popular mindset because it allows for a great deal of comfort and convenience. Every time you hear someone say, "I'm a Christian. I just love Jesus. I don't get into all that dogma/doctrine/religion stuff," what they're really saying is "I've taken a label for myself. Anything beyond that is immaterial and could be something else if you talk to someone else who has claimed that label. Now, get away from me before you make me think."

What we're left with, then, is a Christianity that has been stripped of any real meaning. Just a name-tag to slap on our shirts so that we don't have to ask the tough questions about stuff like who God is, who Jesus is, what people are, and so forth.

5 comments:

Mark of the Vineyard said...

That's pretty much it. My parents are Spiritists, though they claim they're Christians.

Danny Haszard said...

Your blog is well written.
My thoughts-

Destructive cult or benign religion?
Orthodox religions dont strive to gain control over your money and everyday life.
Cults that are high control are Scientologist and the cult that I was in the Jehovahs Witnesses.Scientology teaches that humans are infected by the souls of dead aliens called Thetans.
Jehovahs Witnesses teach Jesus had his second coming invisibly October 5th or 6th 1914.

Benevolent religions offer hope, compassion, and want peace for your fellow man - even the nonbelievers.
A cult wants power,money, and obedience. All the outsiders must be destroyed (Armageddon). I think that's the big distinction between two different belief systems.
--- Danny Haszard
FMI dannyhaszard(dot)com

Tancred said...

Idem sapitae. Let us be of one mind!

faughaballagh said...

Have you read Edward Feser's books? I think he does a lot of great philosophy to further this line of thinking about the death of Aristotle's realism in favor of modern nominalism as the source of all our ills.

Throwback said...

I've read excerpts from The Last Superstition. It's a great refutation of the modern atheist movement.