May 25, 2010

"Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism."

"The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions."

23 comments:

Joe said...

And this is in any way surprising?

Salvation is where you soul goes upon death, it has little enough to do with your enightenment and understanding.

roesch-voltaire said...

I would agree that at the core of most religions is the practice of love and compassion, the added on rituals and dogma, which make each one unique are the interesting extras.

Fen said...

Religion is man's interpretation of God. And man is imperfect.

Joe said...

Except for MY religion...which is the Truth Made manifest.

YOUR religion is no doubt some cobbled together interpretation...

Man this is so simple.

Paddy O said...

I think this is true.

The trouble is that Merton and the Dalai Lama really, really knew the content of their own religion. So they could listen and dialogue, while holding on to what they really do see as being exclusive claims within their own religion. There is no place for a "14th Dalai Lama" in other religions after all, as the whole idea would not make any sense.

So, it's certainly possible. But most of the time such attempts results in a strained mish-mash of religiosity that really doesn't reflect any of the core issues in any of the key religions. Even in this op-ed, he attempts a straining task which in trying to find similarity mostly has to radically transform the core insights each religion suggests.

What results is religions that sound good as a mish-mash, but don't really reflect any, or very little, real world expressions of the religion.

Christianity, for instance, isn't saying be compassionate and loving. It's saying we are substantively broken individuals who are caught in cycles of sin and death so need a radical intervention by God himself to overcome this inherent chaos and empower us to be whole. This is not about what happens to the soul, or about following all the rules, it is at its very core about righting a broken relationship with a very personal God. This relationship that God himself seeks with all, then leads us to be, in God's power, the sorts of people who reflect his values and hopes and love.

Contentless sorts of religion--like what Joe suggests--or watered down mishmash in which the specifics are more like tinsel than vital pieces, like what roesch-voltaire points out, really have no correspondance to any actual religion.

Because love and compassion do not have some overarching definitions. We bring to these words different meanings and values and priorities. What is love? What is real compassion? Is it giving alms to the poor? Or is is recognizing the poor as genuine people to be lifted out of the gutters? Hinduism and Christianity, for instance, answer this differently. And such differences run all the way through these different religions, making shared words like love and compassion almost entirely meaningless as to actual direction.

What we can see in different religions is lost or ignored priorities, different perspectives and different questions on life's challenges, and indeed different responses to shared questions that may challenge or sharpen our own religious considerations.

Joe said...

Not to dispute Paddy O., his words were very true...I'd say you can learn valuable insights from another religion, as an example...

A friend of mine talked of a Buddhist Concept, "Idiot Compassion"-IIRC. That would be giving an alcoholic money. An alcoholic will spend the money on ALCOHOL. You merely further his/her degradation...

True Compassion would involve providing food to the alcoholic or material suppport to his/her family.

Now admittedly, this idea isn't simply Buddhist, I'm sure my sect has the same idea, but a different term for it.

But I learned it from a Buddhist, and it was a profound enlightenment to me. It opened a window onto a world I'd not really considered before.

So, my Buddhist friends may not be "saved"-only God in the end knows that-but certainly the idea they presented ahd merit, outside it's religious framework.

Moose said...

It keeps surprising me how this keeps surprising people.

Perfectly obvious, in my opinion...

Paddy O said...

Joe, I think you get at exactly the right idea.

To add to what you said, I've noticed in my own explorations that sometimes it takes a different religion or philosophy to highlight aspects of our own religion that, for whatever reason, may be there but have been neglected or ignored or distorted.

Your Buddhist lesson is a very good example. Another one might be how many theologians learned from Marxism that we have to prioritize and help empower the poor. Now, this is deeply within Christianity too, but for far too many centuries the Church alienated and dismissed the poor for all the usual worldly reasons, attaching Christianized excuses for doing so, and telling the poor to just wait for their pie in the sky.

Marxism is atrocious as a controlling political philosophy, but it had some truths, some language, some values which Christian theologians needed to help renew what should have always been an inherent part of Christian theology and practice.

The danger, of course, comes in going being the worthwhile lessons and drifting into what are actual distortions of the faith--which becomes syncretism. Exactly like how many liberation theologians drank too deeply from the Marxist well and left behind the holistic balance that Christian theology could then provide. Some, like Gustavo Gutierrez, maintained the balance--and increasingly disavowed marxism.

But not all did, which helped allow for the present socialism of Latin America in which everyone is hurt except the politically connected.

Fred4Pres said...

And Marx taught him it was okay to be a Marxist and sell tickets to see him at $300 a pop.

Chomsky said it was okay too.

Quayle said...

Joseph Smith: "One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth. Let it come from where it may."

Brigham Young: "I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it."

Then this, the kind of statement that eventually got Joseph Smith shot:

"...the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter Day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived it's members of the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter Day Saints have no creed, but are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time."

tom faranda said...

That's all very well, but some things are not compatible. The Buddhist view of reincarnation vs. the Christian view, for example.

ricpic said...

The sure sign that someone is not a true believer in his religion is that he is full of tolerance for other religious beliefs and even embraces the tenets of those other beliefs.

Joe said...

The sure sign that someone is not a true believer in his religion is that he is full of tolerance for other religious beliefs and even embraces the tenets of those other beliefs.

I would argue the reverse. Intolerance can be seen as FEAR…fear that the “Other” may be right, and so in order to quell our fears, we suppress the “Other.” Tolerance, OTOH, can be seen as Strength of Belief. One is not threatened by the “Other.” And so, secure in one’s Salvation/Enlightenment one is free to examine the “Other” and learn from it. It the equivalent of the hyper-masculine, the fear of latent homosexuality.

And you might want to define “tenets.” IF by that you mean, Reincarnation v. the Resurrection then I’m not sure that’s correct…one cannot simultaneously believe in Reincarnation and the “tenets” of Christianity. And I’m not sure that many folks believe both, if by “tenets” you mean certain useful concepts or terms, that can be understood apart from their host religion’s core axioms, then yes one CAN hold the “tenets” of several religions, simultaneously.

Ken said...

Let's just ignore what religions actually say (have you read all of Leviticus?), and what adherents actually do. When you do that it's all just so much nicer. Cherry pick carefully enough you can even include the nazis.

Adrian said...

"Even when I thought, with most other well-informed, though unscholarly, people, that Buddhism and Christianity were alike, there was one thing about them that always perplexed me; I mean the startling difference in their type of religious art. I do not mean in its technical style of representation, but in the things that it was manifestly meant to represent. No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint's body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. If we follow that clue steadily we shall find some interesting things."
-Chesterton, continued here:
http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/orthodoxy/ch8.html

paul a'barge said...

Now, tell me how you could embrace Communism, sir.

Waiting ....

tick ....tock ....

jimspice said...

You don't need to read Leviticus, because it is superceded by the first line of the new testament which states, "just ignore that other stuff." So I can eat my crickets no matter how many legs they have.

Geoff Matthews said...

Can we differentiate between the moral obligations of religions and the theological underpinnings (ie, matters of the afterlife, judgment and punishment of sinners, etc.)?

For moral obligations (how believers should act), I accept the commonality of most religions. For the theological underpinnings, the differences are meaningful, and those differences, which should be tolerated, should not be glossed over.

Kirk Parker said...

I'm curious--didn't anyone else find this troubling?

"Though intolerance may be as old as religion itself, we still see vigorous signs of its virulence. In Europe, there are intense debates about newcomers wearing veils or wanting to erect minarets and episodes of violence against Muslim immigrants. Radical atheists..."

Hmmm, what's being elided here? If this is all you knew, you'd think Muslims in Europe were some kind of latter-day Mennonites, Anabaptists, or Jews: a despised and weak minority hounded from place to place and finding no stable refuge anywhere. No mention of Theo Van Gogh and his assassin, no mention of Mullah Krekar or that guy who held forth for years at the Finley Park mosque, no mention of Tariq Ramadan, no mention of Hirsi Ali...

And yes, yes indeed I know there are peaceful Muslims of the type you knew from Tibet, but guess what: they aren't the ones Europe is concerned about.

ricpic said...

Joe - What could Merton "learn in depth...from Buddhism?" A Christian, a truly believing Christian, is willing to suffer anything, even death, for his belief in the divinity of Christ. A Buddhist maintains that the highest wisdom consists in overcoming suffering, attaining nirvana, dropping out, getting off the wheel of suffering, blah blah blah. If Merton were a true believer he would have nothing but contempt for Buddhism. I do and I'm not even a believer.

Joe said...

If Merton were a true believer he would have nothing but contempt for Buddhism. I do and I'm not even a believer.

First, Christ had little “contempt” for anyone….so as a True Believer Merton would be ill-advised to have contempt for Buddhism. I can appreciate aspects of Buddhism without having to agree with it entirely. I tried to give an example. I believe Paddy O. gave an example. I have no contempt for Buddhism, I just don’t believe it’s core tenets or it’s religious underpinnings.

You may, indeed, have nothing but contempt for Buddhism, but that says far more about YOU, than it does about Merton or about tolerance. I can love British History and be an Anglophile, and STILL be a patriot (though I pronounce it “Pat-Tree-ot”) of my own nation. The fact I like bits and pieces of someone else’s culture/religion/society does NOT mean I accept that culture/religion/society as better than my own, in their entirety. I can admire the devotion and courage of Imperial Japanese Troops, and still deplore their war machine, the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and their atrocious human rights record AND while deploring Japanese, recent history, still harbor no ill-will towards Japan, today.

You seem altogether too holistic, one either accepts or rejects, in toto something and I don’t think that is a particularly wise way to view the world.

Cabbage said...

A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering.

That's a very Buddhist reading of the New Testament. Interestingly, it also demonstrates the Catholic/Orthodox argument against Sola Scriptura, which is that Christianity is not a religion based on the New Testament like Islam is based on the Koran. Instead Christianity is based on the Church founded at Pentecost that wrote the New Testament.

Revenant said...

Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism.

You can learn in depth from a bowl of pudding if your thinking is fuzzy enough. :)