‘Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine… my sins my own, they belong to me.’ Patti Smith
I know that for many people Easter is a time that marks the salvation of humankind. I don’t believe in salvation anymore. I don’t mean Christian style salvation alone. I mean any kind of salvation.
The word ‘anymore’ above is telling…
Because once I think I did believe…
As a young man I was very much taken by the idea that the late 1960s movements could bring a new social order. I mean Hippies and Woodstock and Jefferson Airplane and…
love, love love… love is all you need…
That morphed into New Left thinking, Marxism and Cultural Studies. For those that are interested I published quite a lot under the banner of Cultural Studies.
One thing that Christianity, Marxism, and other salvation narratives have in common is a totalising vison. By this I mean, they seek to explain everything under one philosophical rubric. This leads to number of problems in my view:
- Not everything can be explained by one theory. (In this context Faith is not a valid explanation).
- To claim that one theory will explain everything is to ride roughshod over ‘reality’ and impose theory on the world instead of allowing theory to be derived from piecemeal, situational observation of our world.
- Suggesting that one theory explains all things tends towards authoritarianism, that is ‘I’ have the right theory and ‘you’ are wrong.
- Theory should be situational and provisional. We can seek to explain this or that phenomenon in context at this time, but not ‘everything, everywhere, anytime.’
Concretely, Christianity and Marxism, prime examples of ‘totalising metanarratives’ (stories that seek to explain everything). Both have sought liberation in one way or another and both have spawned authoritarian violence. Marxism has some useful context specific things to say about capitalism and class, but it does not and cannot explain everything. States that have made Marxism their guiding ideology have been authoritarian. Same for Christianity. I accept that many people are believers and find salvation through Christianity. Fine if that’s your thing, it’s not mine. But it is not valid to seek to impose this on others. In the name of Christ people have been tortured and massacred because of their ‘wrong’ beliefs. For example, the Spanish Inquisition; the Crusaders; the troubles in Northern Ireland; attacks on abortion clinics; etc, etc …
And if as a Christian you think I am singling you out, I also mean Islam and Judaism and Communism and one-party state socialism; and even authoritarian environmental activism or the intolerance displayed by some in the domain of gender, sexuality, and race.
In short, I’ve given up on salvation. I don’t believe in any totalising philosophy. Belief is a dangerous thing. I value not-believing (See my earlier post on the value of non-believing).
None of this means that we can’t try to make our world a better place (putting aside for a moment what ‘better’ may mean, which is a matter of our values). I am not supporting nihilism or in-action. We can (and in my view should) adopt a piecemeal, experimental, and pragmatic view by which we try out ideas, values, and policies to see if they work for us or not. We can have open pluralistic discussion about theory, ideas, beliefs, values etc. We won’t always agree… but we can talk and try and understand each other’s point of view. Instead of knowing the ‘truth’ we adopt an experimental, conversational and experiential view on life, both personal and political (and yes, the personal is political).
I have spent a lifetime reading and writing about theory. Nowadays I write fiction. On the whole fiction does not totalise but places people and their motivations in a specific concrete world. People in fiction, at its best anyway, are particular in their motivations and contexts.
For the philosophically inclined I would refer you to the work of Richard Rorty and his book Contingency, Irony, Solidarity.
2 thoughts on “Easter Sunday: Save me from Salvation”
Great to see your comments, Chris. I agree that totalising visions can be dangerous, at least when linked to power systems. However, I’ve met quite a few Christians and Marxists who don’t subscribe to a totalising vision. They may join groups as much for community as ideology, and furthermore the vision within their belief system doesn’t prescribe actions. I know committed Christians who are passionate about social justice and completely opposed to authoritarianism.
Theory can explain things but does it provide direction for action? I’m attracted to your “piecemeal, experimental and pragmatic” view but can’t see how it gives much guidance about what to do. Visions can serve a purpose. Maybe authoritarian states are the main problem, not the belief system used to legitimate them.
Hi Brian, Thanks for you comments. Roughly speaking, I would agree such an approach needs to be underpinned by values. I would say values rather than a vision. A vision feels totalising. Values are not I think. So then a value like compassion or peace or justice would be approached in a piecemeal, experimental and situational way. ie, what is ‘just’ under these circumstances and how would be go about it in a specific context. Good to re connect Brian, cheers Chris