Orthodox Alexithymia

Orthodox Alexithymia July 8, 2015

Richard Beck wrote recently about a condition which he calls “orthodox alexithymia.” Here is a sample:

Orthodox alexithymia is produced when the intellectual facets of Christian theology, in the pursuit of correct and right belief, become decoupled from emotion, empathy, and fellow-feeling. Orthodox alexithymics are like patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex brain damage. Their reasoning may be sophisticated and internally consistent but it is disconnected from human emotion. And without Christ-shaped caring to guide the chain of calculation we wind up with the theological equivalent of preferring to scratch a doctrinal finger over preventing destruction of the whole world. Logically and doctrinally such preferences can be justified. They are not “contrary to reason.” But they are inhuman and monstrous. Emotion, not reason, is what has gone missing.

The point is much the same one I made in a recent post that I should have called “Bible WarGames.” That’s where the quote in the image below comes from.

No amount of exegesis quote

"It's certainly lost tons of credibility and relevance in America and Europe.I've told this story ..."

Dead Evangelicalism Walking
"I think it was only senators who were restricted in this way, since they might ..."

A Case from the Border
"hopefully they'll listen."

Not Liberal, Just Literate
"Seems to me that all Christians would want to be good stewards of the Creator's ..."

Not Liberal, Just Literate

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tim

    Thus, Calvinism.

  • John MacDonald

    Orthodox Alexithymia is the reverse of Jesus Mythicism, which is emotional, ranting vitriol bereft of calm headed sober hermeneutics.

    • Just like some historicism. And not all non-historicism is like this.

      • Marissa van Eck

        Shhhh. Don’t let facts and reason and evidence get in the way of a snarky little content-free mouse turd that just HAD to be pushed out.

        • Online denialism does tend to be characterized by ranting vitriol. And sometimes snarkiness is appropriate when defending mainstream scholarship and science.

  • Marissa van Eck

    But…this is the logical endpoint of Christianity. We’re shit, we’re born shit, we’re born deserving eternal torture in flame, the best we do is “as menstruous rags before God.”

    This is a feature, not a bug. This is what a meme that has ascended to basilisk-class looks like, and what it does to its carriers. Mr. McGrath, you are a good person, but you are a terrible Christian (and for that I salute you).

    Look closely at Jesus’ sayings. He is not a kind man. He is not a sane man. He is not, actually, even the original end-times preacher, as there’s precedent for a good 100+ years of that before and 50+ after him. His ethics are purely apocalyptic; he genuinely expected The End Of All Things within a short time of his own death.

    Please, admit this. Stop trying to rehabilitate him. He was insane at best, outright evil at worst.

    • I’m sorry that your experience of Christianity has been such that this is the impression you have of it. There certainly is and has been Christianity that fits your description. But I fear that your negative experience with modern Christianity makes it impossible to look at figures like Jesus in the context of the ancient world he inhabited, in which nearly everyone was religious and all attempts to change and challenge things were couched in religious terms. If “love your enemies” is evil to you, what is your idea of goodness?!

      • Marissa van Eck

        Don’t patronize me, James. “Love your enemy” is FAR older than Christianity; it can be found in Babylonian texts, for splinters’ sakes! And Confucius articulated the positive golden rule half a millennium before Jesus, using a combination of hanzi meaning “as heart.” Buddhism had, and has, superior ethics to Christianity in nearly all regards.

        I *am* looking at Jesus in context, and that context says he is yet another frothing apocalyptic doomsayer, much like many others before him and a few who came after. I’d like to say he was the original Howard Camping, except he’s not even the original in this regard.

        And if you tell me it’s loving to torture people, for all eternity, in literal goddamned fire, for the “crime” of not kissing your ass…yeah, don’t even go there. If you happen to be a Universalist, you have 1400+ years of tradition stacked against you thanks to Justinian and his anathemas.

        Your God is dead, James. He died of an overdose of Enlightenment thinking. And you “liberals” are mocking him by prettying up his corpse and flapping its jaws and making it say things its owner never intended to.

        • I find it ironic that you think I am a lousy Christian for being too loving and inclusive, while I think I am a lousy Christian for not being nearly loving or inclusive enough.

          Why does the age of the teachings you mentioned matter, and why do they suddenly become evil when Jesus articulates them?

          Jesus was clearly wrong about the dawn of the kingdom of God. But the impression I get of that kingdom from the material most likely to be historically authentic does not closely resemble your description, which seems based not on ancient sources but on modern preaching.

          Do you think that I think the God of classicsl theism is alive? Seriously, do you show up on a blog for the first time and start insulting people before even bothering to find out what they think?

          • Marissa van Eck

            I have read a fair amount of your work. Nice assumption I haven’t.

            No, I know very well that you know the God of classical theism is dead, indeed, never existed. My point is that trying to rehabilitate the religions that grew up around that God, the figure of that God, all the while claiming he’s dead, is both a waste of time and incredibly intellectually dishonest.

            My “description” of said kingdom is straight from the Bible. Right from the horse’s mouth as it were. Liberal Christians have the very severe problem that they call their God a liar and incompetent to his face: “Oh, well, he didn’t MEAN X Y and Z, it REALLY means A B and C. And he just couldn’t be bothered to tell us. Doesn’t he work in mysteeeeeerious ways?”

            What of Christianity’s core doctrine is left to you? Do you still believe we need to be saved from a penalty the same guy doing the saving decided to impose? Given what you’ve written about the penal substitution theory I would think not…so what’s left?

            This is Deism. That’s fine, I’m a Deist myself, but don’t call it Christianity.

    • ccws

      I don’t know a Jesus like that. Sounds like you’ve only met the Fundy caricature. I encourage you to read John Dominic Crossan (“The Historical Jesus,” “God and Empire”), Marcus Borg (“Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time,” “Reading the Bible Again For the First Time,” “Convictions”), John Shelby Spong (“Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism”), and Matthew Fox (“Original Blessing”) for starters. Oh, and Roger Wolsey’s “Kissing Fish: Christianity For People Who Don’t Like Christianity.”

      • Marissa van Eck

        Oh, you don’t? Try reading the Bible. You will find that Jesus in there if you are honest with yourself.

        I admire John Spong very much as a human being but boy is he ever a lousy Christian. He’s more atheist than some atheists I know. And that goes for Mr. McGrath too, though his latest reply irked me rather badly (seriously, how patronizing can you get?!).

        I have never understood liberal Christianity, and for a long time I WAS one. It seems to have taken the idea of needing to destroy a thing to save it hook line and sinker, and worse, not realized that it has done so. It treats anything that doesn’t match up with modern Enlightenment thinking like the embarrassing, racist old uncle who comes over every Thanksgiving and tries to shove it in the closet. The metaphysical inversion being committed here is enormous, in both senses of the word, and it absolutely gobsmacks me that no one can seem to see it!

        To me, this is fundamentally dishonest, and postmodern as all hell. In a way I prefer Cornelius van Til’s bald sociopathy to this; at least he’s an unapologetically horrible human being worshiping an unapologetically horrible demon of a God and makes no bones about it. These attempts to rehabilitate the monster than is Yahweh and his passive-aggressive son-who-is-also-himself are sickening. Own your religion. ALL of it.

        • This takes an essentialist approach to religion that simply doesn’t work. Do you have to own every belief amd action by atheists, or capitalists, or Americans? I believe it is legitimate to criticize and change one’s religion, ideology, economy, or nation. Your approach sounds more like you think one either says ‘my country right or wrong’ about the form in which it exists in one’s own time, or else one should leave it. I do not accept that those are the only two options.

          • Marissa van Eck

            The ironic thing is, there hasn’t been a “true Christian” since Saul of Tarsus strangled the religion in the cradle.

            I know all about descriptivism, I know about the relationship of language and meaning, I’ve heard it all from the Derrida crowd…I’m not impressed.

            There are certain base things you must believe in order to be a Christian. If you do not believe them, you may call yourself a Christian but you are not one, any more than Lincoln’s famous five-legged sheep actually has five legs.

            And there is a reason that Sunday schools and CCD programs rarely ever focus on the Old Testament: it’s much too honest and raw and revealing of the character of this Yahweh. A little thought shows that NT Yahweh is far worse, indeed infinitely worse, but the blunt barbarism of the OT is where Yahweh began.

            Your precious hippie liberal Jesus worshiped that. He was a devout Jew. He did not ask for a new religion; he saw his mission as purifying the already-existing one, in preparation for an extremely close-by apocalypse. The language in the Gospels, the Pauline epistles, and Revelation all points to the idea of an imminent apocalypse, especially if you read them in Koine. Jesus’ ethics, and Saul of Tarsus’, were purely apocalyptic.

            If the human race had less capacity for self-deception the Abrahamic religions would have died around 150AD. Unfortunately we do so love our comforting delusions…

          • arcseconds

            What ‘base things’ must one believe in order to be a Christian, and why?

          • Marissa van Eck

            At very minimum:

            There is a God, who first made himself (and it is a he) known as Yahweh. He is omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, time-transcendent, and above all absolutely-sovereign. He is Trinitarian, three beings in one, and there are no contradictions whatsoever in this or anything it implies.

            Around 2020 years ago he caused a young Jewish girl to become pregnant with the second person of this trinity. The child, Jesus, was essentially the Platonic ideal of the sacrifices the Jews had been making for their sins, and was crucified and died a horrible death for this purpose.

            Three days (more or less) after his crucifixion, he rose from the dead, and shortly (more or less) thereafter he ascended to Heaven, where he has regained the fulness of his Godly attributes. He will judge the living and the dead when the world ends, and those whom he rejects will go to Hell.

            That’s the bare minimum. I could just have belched the Nicene Creed at you too.

          • Your bare minimum to be a Christian includes things that the earliest Christian did not believe – virginal conception, incarnation, and Trinity, to say nothing of the notion of a Platonic ideal sacrifice taken from Hebrews which just got into the canon by the skin of its teeth.

          • Marissa van Eck

            Well, your omniscient, omnipotent God hasn’t seen fit to stop later generations from polluting His message with those elements…and besides, you seem to believe Christianity is whatever its followers say it is, so if the majority of them for the majority of its existence said that’s what it is, hey presto!

          • Sorry, whom was this a reply to? The comment shows as a reply to me, and yet it seems to regard me as adhering to classical theism, which I obviously do not.

          • Andrew Dowling

            You need to learn a little more about the history of the development of Christian theology.

            Ehg, nevermind. Reading your comments below, you clearly have way too much emotional baggage invested in this topic . . .

          • arcseconds

            What an odd list. As others have noted, the earliest Christians would fail to be Christians on your view. And yet earlier you say that there weren’t any true Christians after Paul… the logical consequence of this being that there have never been any Christians at all.

            So I don’t really know what to make of this… are you really intending on defining Christians out of existence entirely, or have you suddenly changed your mind on who counts as a Christian, or were you unaware that (for example) the Trinity didn’t exist as a doctrine until much later?

            And why are they the necessary conditions?

            Why, for example, is your list better than this one:

            A Christian is someone who:

            (a) helps people in need
            (b) gives all their money to the poor
            (c) eats bread and drinks wine with their fellows in memory of Jesus

            Or at least acknowledges that they have a duty to do the above.

            I don’t think necessary and sufficient conditions is a very helpful way of looking at religion, but my list at least has the advantage that it’s grounded in things that Jesus actually told his followers to do (according to the Gospels, at any rate)

          • Marissa van Eck

            He also told his followers to hate their family and place him above everyone and everything else.

            Again, all the good things you mention are things anyone with a basic set of humanistic morals would do, and are older than Christianity, sometimes by centuries or millennia.

            My list is better because it’s more thorough, and actually concerned with the backbone of the Christian mythos rather than the stolen concepts the religion likes to parade around as if it invented them!

          • arcseconds

            Again, all the good things you mention are things anyone with a basic set of humanistic morals would do, and are older than Christianity, sometimes by centuries or millennia.

            I’m not sure of what your point is here. What does it matter what other people do? If your tradition holds X to be important, the fact that my tradition also holds X to be important doesn’t stop X being part of your tradition.

            For example, democracy is an important and central part of American political ethos, to the point where it’s fairly likely to be part of an answer to “what does it mean to be American?”. If Jane Sam thinks democracy is a central American value, she doesn’t have to stop thinking this on discovery that the notion was neither invented in the USA nor first implemented in the USA.

            Is the point that the criteria should uniquely pick out Christians? Well, firstly any single criteria can fail to be unique yet the combination still be unique. Secondly, the ritual of the eucharist is in fact unique to Christians. Sacred meals, no, but the eucharist, yes.

            (Also, is it really true that ‘anyone with a basic set of humanistic morals’ would give all their money to the poor? It’s true that charity is generally encouraged, but Jesus is unusual (although perhaps not unique) in the extremity of the demand here. )

            My list is better because it’s more thorough, and actually concerned with the backbone of the Christian mythos rather than the stolen concepts the religion likes to parade around as if it invented them!

            It’s also largely a stolen concept, actually: while the precise formulation is unique to Christianity, many of the central ideas come from the Platonic tradition (e.g. Philo, Numenius, and Plotinus), including the trinune godhead, the notion of the logos as being a divinity, and the world spirit.

            And although the precise formulation is unique to Christianity, it suffers as a suitable criterion for being Christian from the fact that it’s not exhaustive of Christianity. There have always been non-Trinitarian Christians, whereas there haven’t always been Trinitarian ones.

            As you’ve been informed, the Trinity is a late development. Were there no Christians prior to the third century, on your view?

  • Marissa van Eck

    James I think you should watch this. It’s casual, not scholarly, but it says a lot of what I’ve been trying to with rather less profanity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmRQ8vLvfAY&feature=youtu.be

    • Why is modern religious people adopting views that were frequently minority views in the past a problem? Why is the acceptance of contemporary morals and insights any more problematic in our time than it was in the time of ancient authors? This speaker seems to assume that the Bible is supposed to be the focus of Christianity, and ignores the role that religious liberals had in pioneering things like biblical criticism.