The above comes from a comment Dr. Charlton left on his Notions blog. Needless to say, I am on the side of this “imaginable alternate history of Christianity and individual (family) based religion, the reality of which was brought home to me by The Fourth Gospel and, oddly enough, Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor.
It was in The Grand Inquisitor chapter of The Brothers Karamazov that I first encountered the idea of Jesus’ work being corrected, which immediately raised the question about the essence of Jesus’s work.
As Dr. Charlton points out, this essence permeates the Fourth Gospel and also appears in Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor. I present, yet again, my personal encapsulation of what this uncorrected Christianity is, with augmented parts added by yours truly in bold:
Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely into heaven, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, and with free heart actively choose resurrection and everlasting life, having only Thy image before him as his guide.
For me, this exemplifies the essence of Jesus came into the world to do and the Truth he revealed.
Notice the complete absence of things like churches, society, dogmas, doctrines, and so forth. Yes, the ancient rigid law is mentioned, but it is immediately overridden.
The passage above not only communicates the core of Jesus’ work but also reveals why and how the simple truth of Jesus’ work was “corrected”, a theme Berdyaev frequently addresses throughout his works:
Truth may be dangerous to everyday life. Christian truth might even become very dangerous – might cause the collapse of nations and civilizations. Hence pure Christian truth has been distorted and adapted to man’s everyday life; the work of Christ has been corrected….
The essentiality of Jesus’ work as presented in the Fourth Gospel is next-worldly in focus. This next-worldly focus does indeed make authentic Christian truth dangerous, not to individuals and families, but to systems, that is societies and civilizations, which are very much this-worldly in focus. As Dr. Charlton notes above, no Christian societies.
Living the truth of the Fourth Gospel, the same truth Dostoevsky captures in The Grand Inquisitor through the emphasis on freedom, would be the death knell of conventional conceptualizations of this-worldly Christian nations and civilizations.
The prevention of such system failure entailed the distortion and adaptation of Jesus’ truth to the mundane reality of everyday life in this world and the development of Christian societies.
Such a development was not entirely negative because it aligned with an earlier stage of human consciousness when spirituality was far more communal. It could be argued that the distorting and adapting of Jesus’s work also preserved it to some degree.
All the same, the Fourth Gospel essence was demoted in favor of communal, societal considerations — kingdoms, nations, empires, and civilization. The rigid law was re-introduced, albeit in a different form.
But why the incessant maintaining of this correction of Jesus’ work through the centuries? Berdyaev offers the following insight:
Truth is spiritually revolutionary; so is spirit, although in a different way from that in which revolution is applied to politics. And objectivization weakens or even completely destroys this destructive, anarchic quality of truth, which is spirit, since spirit is the truth of being. Therefore, the work of Christ was corrected and adapted to the level of millions upon millions of men.
Truth is not of the world, but of the spirit: it is known only in transcending the objective world. Truth is the end of this objective world, it demands our consent to this end. Such is the truth of Christianity, freed of its social adaptations and deformations...
To which I will add the following from Dr. Charlton:
It is likely that such a thing would not have been possible for the men of 2000 years ago, since they existed communally including at the spiritual level - but it seems like the Only possibility of men of 2024 - at least in the West.
It is worth noting that in this time and place, it is not Christian truth that is ending Christian nations and civilizations, but the opposite, which immediately spawns the knee jerk reaction to reinstitute Christian nations and civilizations, but such reactions sorely miss the point for the simple reason that returning to a national/civilizational focus would amount to little more than returning to a corrected version of Jesus’ work.
Moreover, reverting to a top-down, communally-based correction of Jesus’ work appears impossible given the state of men’s consciousness in 2024. Such a reversion would likely not work even if it were successfully implemented.
So, where does that leave us?
The corrections of Jesus’ work are coming apart at the seams, as are nations and the civilization founded upon these corrections. There are no Christian nations left in the West. This leaves Christians with two possible options.
The first involves saving and resurrecting the corrections to Jesus’ work, replete with all of their institutional, societal, and civilizational aspects.
The second rests upon the realization that for the first time in millennia, Christians have the opportunity to contemplate and engage in Jesus’ work in its original, authentic, and uncorrected form -- and see what develops...
As Berdyaev notes, it could be that…
...original and authentic Christianity, based upon truth which had been neither objectivized nor socialized, would be a personalistic revolution in the world.