The Alpha Course is making inroads into the heart of Western Christianity, the Catholic Church. This reminds us that, though the Church can resist any outside pressure, it’s vulnerable to heretical subversion.
That should worry not only Christians but also those I call Christianists: unbelievers who nonetheless acknowledge the irreplaceable utility of the Church as a social adhesive.
I have problems with that point of view. As atheists (or agnostics: a distinction without a difference), they have to believe that Christian doctrine is false. In that case, it’s both illogical and ahistorical to believe that a successful society can be built on that foundation.
Christianity is only useful if it is, or at least is commonly believed to be, true. Otherwise any social edifice using a falsehood as its foundation will be very rickety indeed. The whole structure will come down soon enough, and I shan’t bore you with a litany of historical examples testifying to that effect.
Yet that’s a different argument. For even those who see Christianity as merely a social or cultural institution have a vested interest in its continuing good health.
Contrary to a widespread belief, I don’t think rampant atheism threatens Christianity all that much. It doubtless causes numerical attrition, but as the first 12 apostles show, the truth isn’t a numbers game.
Atheism gnaws at the periphery of the faith without jeopardising its doctrinal core. This can only suffer serious damage from heresies – such as the Alpha Course. Now what makes it heretical?
Most people assume that a heresy puts forth a wrong proposition, or at least one that contradicts the orthodoxy altogether. That’s not quite true. In fact, most heresies aren’t wrong in their main belief.
Where they err is in trying to assign an unduly universal significance to that one idea, passing a part for the whole. This inevitably puts too much weight at one end of the seesaw, destroying the balance.
For example, it’s not wrong to assert that Christ is God, as Docetism did, and neither is it wrong to say he is a man, as Arianism did. It’s heretical, however, to deny the balance of the two, the dialectical yes-no-yes synthesis without which Christendom would not have come about.
Proposing a partial thesis as the essence of absolute truth makes any synthesis impossible. There is nothing to synthesise. The ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ aren’t resolved, they only tear each other apart. The balance no longer works, and religion is divided into mutually exclusive aspects.
The business of heretical, sectarian reason is choosing the fragments it finds attractive. On the other hand, the business of orthodox, catholic reason has always consisted in preserving all the pieces in their wholeness.
This is what the Alpha Course doesn’t do, and our antennae should start twitching before we even get down to the specifics. As is often the case, the style says practically all.
The original Alpha-men wrote: “We believe it is possible to learn about the Christian faith and have a lot of fun at the same time.” This is sheer vulgarity, a sin not mentioned among the cardinal seven, but potentially just as deadly.
Did the apostles have fun learning Christianity? Or teaching it? Not unless they suffered from extreme forms of masochism: they were scourged, stoned, imprisoned, chained, humiliated, and eventually all but one were martyred. Some fun.
Vulgarity naturally segues from form into content. Faith, teaches the Course, is a man’s decision. You decide to have it, and presto! – the Holy Spirit descends. And there I was, thinking it’s God who chooses a man, not vice versa.
One almost doesn’t have to delve any deeper, but do let’s look at a few other things. The Course is charismatic, which by itself makes it not only heretical but downright pagan. It encourages laughing uncontrollably, shaking, dancing, gyrating, screaming incoherently and speaking in tongues.
This glossolalial gloom is supposed to communicate the descent of the Holy Spirit, which hypostasis the Course grossly overemphasises to the detriment of the other two. “How can I be filled with the Holy Spirit?” is the principal question the Course is supposed to answer.
Why, by adlibbing an epileptic fit of course, there’s no other way. That’s how one feels the presence of the Spirit. But, if Christ is to be believed, it’s the truth that makes one free, not the feeling.
And the Course is rather sketchy on the subject of the truth. Specifically, while talking about love as being inherent to God, the Alpha-men say next to nothing about God’s wrath and last judgement.
Please, sir, what did Jesus mean when he said: “I came not to send peace, but a sword”? No answer.
They’re particularly weak on the nature of sin, which they define as doing something wrong. Original sin passes by them altogether, leaving the pupil wondering why Christ had to die in the first place. To teach his followers not to live what the Course calls “messed-up lives”?
The Course displays every classic feature of a heresy. It’s fragmentary, in that the Trinitarian God is mentioned only in passing, with an undue emphasis placed on the Holy Spirit alone. It’s unsound on doctrine, making it possible for a pupil to leave the Course without any clear understanding of God, Christ, the Cross, judgement and sin. And it’s ecumenical in the vulgar, PR sense – trying to put bums on pews, not to find common doctrinal ground for various confessions.
One expects that sort of thing from Protestantism, which by its very nature encourages sectarianism – witness its current 30,000 denominations. But the Catholic Church was supposed to be the last bastion of orthodoxy, in the West at least.
Well, if it is, the walls are beginning to crumble. Alpha leads to only one omega: destruction.