Epistle to the ChristiansThe Desert Religions and Their Shame
1.1 The history of Christianity is very edifying. I recommend it. It is a vast record of shame, and especially the part set in contemporary America. Of course it wasn't all evil any more than is any single person purely good or bad. But the good parts are surprisingly few and far between, given that the religion brands itself as "good".
1.2 The same can be said about its close cousin, Islam, which shares some 87.3% of the same theology and which historically grew out of the same desert religious tradition in that region and which draws upon the same set of myths, legends, verses, and proper names. They are both intensely concerned with personal immortality of the "Me" and with patriarchal control over the community and with a coming end-of-the-world scenario and with suppressing any competing forms of knowledge and with a God of judgment and sacrifice. That continues to be the same toxic mix it proved itself to be for over a thousand years. The proof is in the pudding. Look at the history, a history of the damned rather than the saved it would seem. And then read the headlines today. You see the same toxic mix in all its fatal results.
1.3 I am simplifying here, yes, but only to highlight the simple things that are suppressed today. We live in a time of complexity and of repressed truths: odd mixture isn't it?
1.4 The perennial combat between Islam and Christianity is explained by the fact that they are mirror images of each other: except the distortion of this funhouse mirror disturbs and makes crazy the man of faith who believes that his version is the True Original, while the mirror image is therefore a false copy, a simulacra, a mockery which threatens the very stability and Identity of belief. But they reflect each other nonetheless.
The Riddle of Faith
2.1 Faith solves all sorts of existential anxieties. I'm not interested in that comfort, because I have never met anyone personally who is both a good role model and also comfortably ensconced in their faith. On the contrary, the more comfortable and confident they are, the more they injure others around them. G.W. Bush is a spectacular example, but merely one of millions. Faith is by definition to believe willingly in something that you don't know. It is to behave as if, in the sense of pretending, and of avoiding.
2.2 The Christian faith says that you will believe if you first believe, which is of course the closed circle it sounds like. If I tell you that you will believe in me only if you first take the leap of faith and believe in me, then of course you will believe me if you believe me. That same closed circle is the one I get from the Mormons at my door telling me that their scripture is the verifiable Word of God revealed -- because the book itself says that it is! These people are not awake, much less awakened. They're like programmed robots.
2.3 Atheism is inverted faith. Two sides of the same coin. A belief versus an anti-belief, yet both taken on faith.
2.4 We all take a great deal on faith, by faith, and necessarily so. A banal example is that we take on faith what the news tells us that happened far away. A terrible earthquake in Pakistan killed 42,000 people. How do I know? E.g., sometimes weeks later the newspaper issues a correction and apology. Or I ride the bus with some faith that the driver knows where to go. As it happens, last summer in Oregon a Greyhound bus driver didn't know the way and got lost a couple of times. Sometimes our banal little faiths are demonstrated to us as merely faiths. It was my faith that hid from me the fact that we were travelling in the wrong direction for 20 minutes on a route that I otherwise knew. But these examples are banal, because they are precisely in principle knowable by means other than faith. We can find out if we really want to. And the finding out sometimes reveals the errors of our mini-faiths. The objects of such miniature "faiths" are in principle discoverable by empirical observation or by experience or by training or by an inductive process at the least. Sometimes they encounter a correction in the form of contrary facts.
2.5 Religious faith, however, is neither miniature nor in principle discoverable by other means. It is enormous and has extensive consequences on human history. Faith hypnotizes and blinds inevitably. Skeptical inquiry halts. Progress halts. Freedom is squeezed into the narrow container of doctrine. Dissidents are thrown out as heretics, or even worse: forced in.
The Zen of Not Believing
3.1 This principle distinction is also what interests me about Zen. It isn't a faith in the end, but an experience. The upshot is equally distinct: theology doesn't come into it, much less that toxic mix of the desert religions. Theology is scorned as a distraction. Faith is employed only as a temporary motivator toward getting beyond faith empirically, never as an end in itself. Moreover the "goal" itself in never ultimately attained: Zen insists that you don't stop, the practice continues, even after so-called enlightenment you must continue to develop since you're always already there yet also only half way there, and further Zen as a whole discourse doesn't stop developing, never resting assured in some final faith. It is the counter-culture of religion (above all as counter-culture to Buddhism itself), nevertheless Zen continues the universal religious concern for the anxious mysteries of life, for the wonder at life, for the suffering we each experience, for cultivating compassion and community, an attempt to heal the wounds of that community, and also for providing a path for seekers wandering away from that community. Yet Zen does so without faith in faith.
3.2 Moreover I remain a dissident even in regards to Zen, even when within Zen, which turns out to be the definitive dogma of Zen paradoxically. This is what they mean by the harsh saying, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." That isn't to advise general mayhem and violence! It advises you to remain a true dissident, avoiding the false comforts of worship and faith. False because they prevent you from going down that path you must still travel. Just because you see a God, doesn't mean that you're anywhere near home yet. You're still lost in the total animal soup of time.
3.3 What interests me still about Christianity is how it couples together a recognition of "sin" with "forgiveness" (or lets say the general and personal tendency to human weakness and error and selfishness together with the idea of love in spite of that). Despite all the religious PR work, this recognition is not copyrighted and branded by Christianity alone. (See i.e., the Buddhist emphasis on compassion and ignorance.) So my interest here is not owned and operated by a single tradition, much less a scripture or church. But Christianity certainly does have a great take on this coupling of sin and forgiveness. I tend to respect therefore the right of others to choose this faith, even to promote it. But I always keep a wary eye on their ensuing mischief, as fellow sinners who need constant forgiveness.
4.1 In other words, I forgive you for your Faith, but then I fear for the consequences too, if 2000 years can be allowed as evidence of a precedent. Perhaps forgiveness too is not finally sufficient.