‘The Christian Middle Way’ by Robert M Ellis

The case against Christian Belief but for  Christian faith

to be published by Christian Alternative, July 2018

The Middle Way is the practical principle of avoiding both positive and negative absolutes, so as to develop provisional beliefs accessible to experience. Although inspired initially by the Buddha’s Middle Way, in Middle Way Philosophy Robert M. Ellis has developed it as a critical universalism: a way of separating the helpful from the unhelpful elements of any tradition.

In this book, the Middle Way is applied to the Christian tradition in order to argue for a meaningful and positive interpretation of it, without the absolute beliefs that many assume to be essential to Christianity. Faith as an embodied, provisional confidence is distinguished from dogmatic belief. Recent developments in embodied meaning, brain lateralization from neuroscience, Jungian archetypes and the Jungian model of psychological integration are drawn on to support an account of how Christian faith is not only possible without ‘belief’ in God or Christ, but indeed puts us in a better position to access inspiration, moral purpose, responsibility and the basis of peace.

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Roderick Tweedy, editor of Karnac Books and author of ‘The God of the Left Hemisphere’:
The recognition of the different functions of the brain’s two hemispheres provides a whole new approach to thinking about the meaning and values of human life, that can be applied in the context of every philosophy and religion. Robert M. Ellis here uses it to distinguish between abstract left hemisphere belief and live embodied faith in the Christian tradition: an important consideration for anyone influenced by Christianity.

Edward Walker, author of ‘Treasure Beneath the Hearth’:
The author describes the aim of this book as being to present “the case against Christian belief but for Christian faith”. In my view his aim is amply fulfilled in its ten chapters, which begin with a discussion of “faith without belief” and end with a discussion of Christian ethics and politics. Reflecting the author’s sojourn in Buddhism, there is much talk of “The Middle Way”. Jesus, enlightened like the Buddha, is no absolutist; rather, in his life and teaching he provides an example of a wholesome balance between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. As the Christ, he is “the balancer, the mediator, the transformer, the bridge-builder that we find within ourselves. This is a densely argued book, needing, and deserving, time to digest; and to work out, with the author’s help, the implications of approaching religion in general and Christianity in particular, in terms of the Middle Way.


Outline of the book by sections

Introduction: Click to read full text of The Christian Middle Way – Introduction

Section 2: Faith without belief: this introductory section challenges us to think differently about the basis of meaning, the role of absolute beliefs, the archetypal significance of God, and the relationship between the brain hemispheres. The distinction between meaning and belief is crucial to the one the book wants to make between experiential faith and absolutising belief, drawing on the embodied meaning theory of Lakoff and Johnson, Jungian archetypes and other evidence from psychology and neuroscience.

Section 3: Respecting God refers to Exodus to argue for quite a traditional definition of God that recognises him as meaning something beyond our human comprehension, but that such a God cannot be turned into an object of belief without idolatry – turning the infinite into the finite. A parallel is drawn between the Middle Way (avoiding positive and negative absolutisations) and the insights behind the prohibition of idolatry in the theistic traditions.

Section 4: God, humans and creation offers an interpretation of the story of the Creation in terms of human creativity, and of the Fall as a symbolic event of mixed significance – offering both evil and the potential for a human integrative process.

Section 5: Jesus: Integrated teacher? Offers a reading of Jesus as a Middle Way teacher, as well as confronting his apparent absolutism in the gospels which would go against such a reading. A principle of interpretative responsibility is employed rather than historical re-interpretation.

Section 6: Christ the Middle Way then offers an interpretation of the archetypal Christ, inspired by the traditional gospel material but not appealing to historical events or revelation. It interprets the key symbolic events in the Christian story of Jesus’ life – the crucifixion, resurrection etc. – in relation to the breaking of closed feedback loops in human judgement, that allow us to gain new inspiration at the very point of greatest frustration.

Section 7: Christian Agnosticism argues that Christian agnosticism is very far from being a contradiction in terms as may be widely assumed – but should rather be the responsibility of Christians who respect God. It is argued that the mystical tradition in Christianity offers much material to support Christian agnosticism, and that this approach allows the healing of conflicts with other religions as well as with science, atheism and feminism. It is argued that this is not the preserve only of any one Christian denomination, but rather is a way of interpreting any tradition.

Section 8 Christian practice argues for a practical interpretation of the traditional sacraments and Christian rites of passage in line with the Middle Way: that is, fully participating in the meaning of the symbols used in these practices without assuming that they are based on any known ultimate truth or reality. To facilitate this approach Christians need to learn from psychology, rather than rejecting psychological insights on the basis of theological dogmas.

Section 9: Christian ethics and politics outlines a Middle Way Christian ethics. It is argued that moral objectivity depends not on moral revelations, but rather on the recognition that any given type of moral approach does not give the final answers. The most morally justified judgement is rather than one that stretches our egoistic assumptions most whilst remaining within the sphere of the practicable


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