The Scale of Perfection, Book 2, Part 1 – Chapter 1

dohpeterchina's picture

SECTION I: That a Man is the Image of God after the Soul and not after the Body; and how he is restored and reformed thereto that was misshapen by Sin
SECTION II: That Jews and Pagans and also false Christians are not reformed effectually through the virtue of the Passion through their own Faults

These are chapters 1 to 3 of The Scale of Perfection – Book 2 in Middle English:
This chapitle scheweth that a man is seid the image of God aftir the soule and not aftir the bodi.
Hou it nedide to mankynde that oonli thorugh the passioun of oure Lord it schulde be restorid and reformed that was forsaken bi the first synne.
That Jewes and paynymes and also fals Cristene men are not reformed effectuali thorugh vertu of this passioun for here owen defaute.

jnwarren's picture


    Again, I'm not an expert on Marx, but it seems to me that the man was
    steeped in the secular materialism that was budding then and permeates
    now the irreligious world. It seems like one of his basic assumptions is
    that religion, being the personal or social expression of immaterial
    structures, is inferior to the expression of material, empirical, or
    quantifiable realities. He seems to be enchanted with the idea that
    reality is defined not by the human soul or psyche but by what is
    tangible, what is measurable, what is rational. Those are the
    assumptions of an individual who endeavors to look at religion at its
    worst, to interpret the uninterpretable through the least flattering
    lens possible.

No, you misunderstand. Neither Marx nor myself are arguing that religion is an "inferior" form of human expression, secondary to material, empirical or quantifiable realities, but that it is inseperable from these and is thereby historically and culturally contingent. I will say, with Wittgenstein (whose views on religion are not particularly noteworthy) that religious discourse is neither "true" nor "false"; it is an attempt to extact meaning in a particular social environment, nothing more.

    Man does make religion, but it does not conversely follow that religion
    therefore fails to make man. That is what religion is. It is a social
    construct of the sacred. It is the formal expression of perceived truth.
    And truth is what?Or put another way, what is reality? Religion is the
    construction of spiritual expression with the intention of preserving
    sacred perception--therefore, when men make religions, they endow it not
    only with the opportunity to control, to create conflict, to gain power.
    They also build, protect, express, and preserve. Only when we highlight
    every negative aspect of religion and abandon those positive aspects
    does the orthodox Christian church become an arcane, irrelevant dinosaur
    standing in the way of true human hope and dignity. Religions, made by
    men, then proceed to make men. And this is not inherently bad.

This is exactly the same issue philosophers have been wrangling with since the time of Plato, and have come no closer to answering in 2,500 years. Wittgenstein argues that this confusion results from the systematic misuse of language, and that what we mean by "reality", "truth, "sonsciousness" or any other concept is determined by context, not the other way around.

    No other institution in the history of the West (to betray my
    Eurocentrism) has done as much to better the living conditions of the
    poor, to alleviate the suffering of the sick, to comfort and salve the
    consciences of the dying. Just because the church does not absolve
    conflict in the way that you believe it should be solved, within the
    timetable that you would prefer, does not mean that the church has
    failed. Perhaps the church is succeeding by criteria other than the ones
    you have adopted.

When Marx said that "religion is the Opiate of the people", he did not mean to deride religious advocates. He was merely remarking about just what you have said, religion's tendency to "salve" the wounds caused by oppression and inequality (feudalism, slavery, wage-labor, European colonialism, etc.) without redressing the wounds inflicted by that oppression, eg., the tendency of esoteric sects--Dominicans, Franciscans, Carthusians, etc. to "flee the sins of the world and devote themselves to God"-- Marx would compare this tendency to the administration of an opiate, dealing with the symptoms (the immediate unpleasantness of inequality) rather than the illness itself (the conditions that create that inequality). This is not the most proper distillation of his philosophy of religion, which can most properly be found in his Contribution to a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right and The Poverty of Philosophy which both attack traditionalist, rationalist and idealistic doctrines (religious or secular), which he argues fail to see the necessarily interconnected nature of the material and ideal realms, which eventually led Marx to distance himself from his own Hegelian roots, while yet "coquetting" some of the terminology (as late as "Capital" he refers to "contradictions" and "antinomies", a term Hegel borrowed from Kant).

THough I am not arguing the Church is itself a success or a failure (by what standars would we measure this), I will assert that it is in the interests of human progress to encourage and promote not only toleration but diversity in community, that, furthermore, cultural conformity and homogeneity stifle diversity and arguably hinder society from engaging in pressing issues, eg., redressing the exploitation of labor, organizing the proletarian as a class, critiquing existing power relations, advancing the rights of minority groups, etc. Though I do not believe it must necessarily take the form of explicit advocacy, I think that to the public confession of faith amounts to religious advocacy and derails inquiry into these pressing social concerns. After encountering various intellectual arguments for Christianity, it has come to my attention that most of these just don't hold water. The typical argument lays claim to tradition as a foundation for belief, when this is tantamount to arguing "if it ain't broken, don't fix it." If this were the case, we would view the structure of atoms as Democritus explained them, the revolution of the sun as Ptolemy taught us, the passage of time as Kant described it to us and so forth, when we know better. Just because a certain belief is historically entrenched does not mean it is right.

    It is, I think, a mistake to judge religion in general based on the
    empirical evidence. Religion expresses something that cannot be measured
    empirically. You have chosen to analyze the function of religion and the
    church based on specific criteria, to catalog its failings and ignore
    its successes. But this seems inconsistent, because your own analysis
    seems to be full of the religious sentiment which you dismiss. Who, for
    instance, suggested that inequality should be eliminated? Should there
    be no distinction between the criminal and the victim? Inequalities
    exist in nature, after all. The lion does not tolerate the rights of the
    zebra. The assumption that the church SHOULD eliminate inequality is a
    religious assumption, expressing a spiritual conviction expressed in
    moral terms. And I would like to submit, for your consideration, that
    those who work for the creation and sustaining of equality among all
    human beings are in the truest sense the church of God, and in such a
    case, orthodoxy be damned, in the most biblical sense of the word.
    Orthodoxy is what you rail against, and perhaps rightly so, but it is
    important to distinguish between religion and religious dogma. They are
    not always the same.

Again, we will not judge "good" or "evil" (in this regard I would direct you to the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who writes of the relativity of these terms) of the various actions of the Church. However, to argue that one theory is true regardless of empirical evidence to the contrary is pure arrogance.A dismissal of religious belief does not deny one the ability to make normative statements: quite on the contrary. Once we abandon the reified "pie in the sky" projections of our forebears, we are first able to choose and think and decide for ourselves why and whether our values are "worthwhile" (whether they wash or not) and establish criteria that exist outside the contingencies of the present. ANd there is nothing wrong with this! For instance, we make improvements all the time to technological devices. These "improvements" must originate in some normative observations by certain individuals. This is quite normal, and will be with us as long as we are here on earth!

    It is so hard to describe the light to someone who is blind.

I couldn't have said it better myself!