Monday, June 25, 2012

Truth is Relative to Religous Tradition part 2


Last time I discussed the relative nature of truth in relation to religious traditions. This produced a torrent of comment form Dave. He singled out three quotes by Professor McFarland that show the problem:

"[McFarland] argues that religious traditions are relative to the truth. No one tradition is the truth because they are all cultural filters for experiences that are had a subliminal level. Some mediate better than others."

"The historical nature of Jesus gives him a concrete identity as a real man and and stands opposed to mythological place holder. The issue is not the tradition, which is just a cultural filter and serves as a guide, not an absolute orbiter of truth, vs. an actual relationship with Jesus which is a mystical reality and transcends any particular religion."

"If Jesus is God then he's there to be known by everyone in every faith and every culture... If one follows the true creator one is following Jesus even if he thinks he's Gautama Siddhartha."

Then he Clarifies he problem:

If the "logos" is the incarnational aspect of the ground of being, then it can be argued that all of existence is a manifestation of the logos. This is something professional theologians have said whether or not one agrees.
If the convectional Evangelical take on the Bible is correct we can see the world as a manifestation of the logos as well. The logos is the rationale of God, the Logos took part in the creation of the world: thus the world is a manifestation of the Logos at lest in the sense of being a manifestation of Logos's power and design. There is no need to see the world as a manfiestaion of the Logos in the sense of deifying the world.

That raises the perennial question of Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Christ. The early followers of Jesus argued over this. Is Christ, or the Messiah, a special embodiment of the logos? Are Christ and logos interchangeable? This is valid debate.
Only because one rejects Christian doctrine. The issue was resolved with in the tradition. There's good reason for digging it up but that one wishes to deify someone else.

Also, was Christ-nature awakened in Jesus? Is Christ-nature in all? Can everyone awaken to it? Can we all be "one" in non-dual God-consciousness like Jesus? Can we also be Christ? Again, valid debate and theological speculation.
That assumes Jesus is not the unique incarnation. In speaking of Jesus as the foal of God* (John 3:16 = "only begotten") the New Testament is stating that Jesus has a relation to God shared by no one else. (see PDF by the great Raymond Brown arguing that NT does reference Jesus as "God.")

This raises the question of whether Hellenistic/Jewish cultural and linguistic constructions for the manifesting aspect of the ground of being , i.e. the logos and Christ, are somehow essentially superior to other cultural constructions referring to the different aspects of the ground of being. See this post on my blog for one of many ways Buddhism (since you chose that as a foil) can express a similar idea. It tends to avoid the more formal philosophical Buddhist terms about the nature of reality and the manifestations of existence (such as emptiness, dharmakaya, nirmanakaya, etc.)
Of course that would violate the known canons of linguistic study. We can't say one lanauge is superior to others that would steak out a special "Holy Spirit Greek." It was thought at one time that this is what Koine Greek was, but it then it was proved through archaeological discovery that it was just the language of the common folk. I don't see why this must be raised. The languages used in Biblical reference are the lanagues used. There's nothing we can do about that. There's over arching "true language" that would serve as a guide line. You have to take what we are given try to understand it as best we can given the context, and find equivalents for translation. Let's mot forget most of us reading this blog read the Bible in English, and there guarantee that the English is any better a translation than any other.

If we follow McFarland as you presented his views, then we would say, "No, each construction is relative, and no one construction can be considered the truth, just a different reflection of the underlying truth common to all constructions." Here constructions refers to the cultural and linguistic notions of religion regarding the ground of being.
Yes, that is what he said. He actually did say that to me in private.

This in turn means that if we speak of Christ, we are speaking of a way of understanding this manifesting aspect of the ground of being through a particular cultural lens that isn't automatically privileged over other ways of speaking about it. It means that one could reverse it, and say that to talk about Christ or Christ-nature is to talk about Buddha or Buddha-nature. The Buddha also was a historical manifestation. We can say that the Buddha is Mind, that in fact we are all Mind, and that if we are talking about Mind, the Unborn Self, then Jesus the Christ is also a manifestation of Mind, Jesus is the Buddha.
That's theoretically true but there's a counter problem. While there may not be the kind of understanding in Eastern languages to think of Christ as uninquley divine that still doesn't mean that specially Hebrew concepts necesasry have a 1x1 correspondence with Buddhist or other concepts. Incoranton is not necessarily re-incarnation. Mind of Christ is not necessary Buddha mind. We can't translate Jesus into Buddha. We can't assume Logos is Buddha mind. Although I would inclined to consider that since Justin Martyr considered the Logos of Christ as the Logos of the Greeks. Rather than trying for one-to-one correspondences I think makes more sense to try for equivalency and allow the traditions to speak for themselves. I'm not trying to replace Buddha with Jesus in the minds of Buddhists.

That is, Jesus/Christ could be discussed in Buddhist terms just as Buddha can be discussed in Christian terms. This would involve bringing out many terms and concepts for comparison. That is neither my intention nor my desire here.

That's true and it's only fair. Yet it doesn't have to be a literal one-to-one relationship. when you expect that kind of detail some traditon has to lose out. the constructs do differ. The result is not a clear sharp division bewteen the construct and the mystical reality behind it. This is another problem that Daves seems to forget to make of the mystical. We don't need make those kinds of judgements we can just let the camp speak for itself. The idea is to be positive about the other guys and not see them as threats not to take then over or give up our own thing. It doesn't have to be a contest or a rivalry. The truth stands behind the traditions it can be experienced but it can't be explained clearly. We use metaphors to bridge the gaps not produce idols. Therefore, stay in your tradition. Be nice to the other traditions and remember we are colleagues not competitors. I do have my own beliefs and there is a point where I have to say "gee these guys are wrong about that." What it is.

God transcends all our neatly derived categories. The most brilliant theology can never do justice to the reality that stands behind the many symbols. We can't get literal with it because the more literal we get the more we emphasis the language and that means we turn to the contrasts of culture and away form the transcendent reality that can't be pinned down by the language. The only help for it is to seek God. It doesn't work to seek the experience, this is what mystics all over the world tell us. Seek the giver not the gifts. Just seek God and we have to seek God through the tradition that speaks to us.

* this is not a note on Brown's PDF. He uses different arguments. In referring to the "foal" of God (which is not from Brown) I had reference to the term "only begotten son of God" which is used of Jesus.(Jn 3:16). The Greek 'mongenes" means "unqiuely born of" and is translated into the French Catholic traiditon in ways that would be best rendered in English as "unique." The implication is one of a kind it comes from a word that rerefs speciclaly to the foal of a horse. There are those who squabble about weather the word implies literal birth or adoption but it it clearly implies literal birth, weather it could be used of adoption as well I don't know.


Dave said...

Of course there is no pure human language to express such insights. That's why the mystics all say the divine language is silence. And I did mention that from the perspective within a tradition, one would need a focal point as reference (Jesus, Buddha, etc). That doesn't mean the theology of different traditions is one to one, but what they represent and lead to can be. And for some reason, this does lead to some pretty striking parallels.

As for me, I can appreciate this from a non-religious/non-sectarian point of view, so it is no problem to switch between the language and culture of one religion and another and compare them. To go beyond such an academic perspective and truly appreciate the meaning and transformmative aspects requires one to actually be rooted in a specific tradition.

However, seeing this from the outside makes it impossible for me to pick one tradition and say, "Well, I guess I will just apply these general themes that can be developed and appreciated in many different major religions within this specific religion." I recently tried that for a two year run in Christianiuty and it hasn't worked.

I suppose that might be because I picked a tradition that isn't right for me. Perhaps trying Buddhism with a more mature and informed perspective might make a difference. But my recent experience doesn't really endorse the whole process of cramming oneself into a tradition. It seems a bit backwards. I think we should start in a tradition and outgrow it, even if we still honor it and use it's language and symbols.


(And yes Buddhism was your foil -- you specifically mentioned the Buddha in your original post.)

Metacrock said...

I have a comment to this in the main blog section.