Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Epistle to the Christians

The 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.


At 8:59 PM, Blogger Mac said...

As always Erick, you amaze me both with your depth and clarity, but also your fairness tot he subjects at hand.

And you have inspiried me to come out of my couple week hibernation and doa piece in response. As always, not an argument, but an exploration, or different angle (though I agree with much that you say, sadly). I would say this, I have found Zen Buddhism to be, for me personally, a natural corrective, and sort of anti-dote (a blessed one) amidst the Consumer Christianity all a round me. Many have understood this and written about it, most notably Thomas Merton.
Thanks for the personal email alerting me to this. I look forward to writing about it, and would love responses from you and others.
As always, thank you for your log and also your friendship, Mac

At 9:00 PM, Blogger Mac said...

P.S. sorry abt the's not even 6 am here in California and I need coffee!

At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, i got to admit that Christianity and Islam as a whole pretty much think they must go to war for God. Inflict pain in the name of Good. And you are right, they look in the mirror and see the enemy.

Progress halts. Freedom is squeezed into the narrow container of doctrine. Dissidents are thrown out as heretics, or even worse: forced in.

That is a really neat statement! especially 'Squeezed into a narrow container of doctrine' I see this thought a bit more violent.
I don't think it is squeezed, i think it is hammered in and the doctrine crammed to the point of bulging to fit into faith.

People worked hard to get that doctrine and so others will pay if they try to loosen the bulges of fallacious ideas. As you have said Freedom is stripped, progress of moving forward fails because the doctrine forced is the end of the means. As long as you get the doctrine you are 'secure'

I agree that there is this 'faith in faith' that Christians hang on to. Although, they disagree that they do. They think because of their 'faith' that they are able to 'understand' the mystery and wonder of life. They have an explaination for the suffering of others, it usually is a negative. Of course unless you are of the Faith and God is 'doing a work' in them so they are to be loved and given patience.

I can't comprehend that thought process. You would think seeing anyone suffer would invoke love and patience without expecting anything from them.

I am not well versed in Zen but it appears to be a good basis of what Christianity should be?
Christianity is about transformed life (and it is always developing and reforming), to help others in need and to give healing in communities. As well as to lovingly allow those wandering away to seek out what they are looking for.

Christians are to be indentified with Jesus. It would seem that they would want to see how Jesus thought and lived in life. This is found in Scriptures and we don't see a man banging people on the head making them see things his way. What he does do is heal, love, accept and give of himself completly.

I see the great sorness in christianity is the doctrine, the doctrine is the only matter. They set aside what scripture tells us and look to their doctrine as the litmus test of 'being a Christian'

So, we could say that Christianity is Faith in Doctrine,not faith in faith OR even Faith in God.
Which i like the Zen thought of being a dissident. It seems to call for evaluation of oneself and the idea that there is always reforming to do, which expresses that we all are no different from one another. We all fail, We all need forgivness.

What strikes me is that when i read Scripture i see that same thought! Christians are not to judge but to love and give comfort and
Christians see the price of love and forgivness through Jesus.
God of compassion walked the earth and gave himself completly even unto death so that we may have forgivness.
That is the faith, what Jesus has done, which gives us freedom to love and give compassion and healing.

If Christians stopped living the doctrine and lived out what Scripture says to do (the new testament is quite explicit) there would be progress and freedom.

because of 'correct theology' Christians have legalists and gurus.
If i don't accept a theology i am shamed and shunned, if i don't respect and listen to the person with Phds and 'calling' as a leader
(guru)i am ignorant and unable to know anything spiritual.

so, for the most part, you are right in calling Christianity a religion. That is what it is doing following a list of things that is to be followed. Nothing to do with a life of transformation and continuos reforming


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