Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Religoius Traditions are Relative to the Truth


One of the silent features of my view point, I think, influenced by the work of Neil McFarland (author of Rush Hour of the Gods, about New Religions of Japan) who was my professor at Perkins, is my acceptance of the validity of other faiths. I conceive of that as acceptance of other faiths but of course not the details of any particular faith in an absolute way; all such details are realitive to the context in which one finds one's self culturally.

I believe that God is speaking to everyone in a sense, and this is beyond conscious level of our understanding. For those who get the barriers out of the way and somehow manage to become aware of it (we call them "mystics") they must filter their experiences through culture in order to talk about them. Thus the same divine reality stands behind all faiths.

Paul said "To those who through persistence seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life.But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the good and follow evil there will be wrath and anger...first for the Jew and then for the gentile; but glory honor and peace for everyone who does good. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will perish apart form the law and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

Indeed when Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirement of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their hearts now accusing, now even defending them..." (Romans 2:7-15). New American Standard and other translations say "their hearts accusing, now excusing them..." Most Christians are afraid of this conclusion and they down play this verse. Often Evangelicals will come back and say "he makes it clear in the next passage that no one can really follow the law on their hearts." Well, if they can't, than they can't. But if they can, and do, than God will excuse them. God knows the heart, we do not. The verse clearly opens the door to the possibility of salvation (although by Jesus) through a de facto arrangement in which one is seeking the good without knowing the object one is seeking (Jesus). In other words, it is possible that people in other cultures who follow the moral law written on the heart know Jesus de facto even if they don't know him overtly. Paul backs up this conclusion in Acts 17:22 Paul goes to Athens as is asked by the Athenian philosophers to explain his ideas to them.

These were pagan followers of another religion. Paul stood up and said to them, "Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious for as I walked around and observed your objects of worship I even found an alter with this inscription 'TO AN UNKOWN GOD' Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you."He basically says that they are worshiping God, they just don't know who he is. That's why he says "I will make it known to you." He doesn't say "you have the wrong idea completely." Most Evangelicals dismiss this as a neat rhetorical trick. But if we assume that Paul would not lie or distort his beliefs for the sake of cheap tricks, we must consider that he did not say "you are all a bunch of pagans and you are going to hell!" He essentially told them, "God is working in your culture, you do know God, but you don't know who God is. You seek him, without knowing the one you seek. He goes on,(v27)"God did this [created humanity and scattered them into different cultures] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him though he is not far form each one of us." This implies that God not only wants to work in other cultures, but that it is actually his paln to do things in this way. Perhaps through a diversity of insights we might come to know God better. Perhaps it means that through spreading the Gospel people would come to contemplate better the meaning of God's love.

In any case, it does mean that God is working in other cultures, and that God is in the hearts of all people drawing them to himself. Of their worship of idols, Paul said "in past times God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (v30). Now what can this mean? God never overlooks idolatry or paganism, in the OT he's always commanding the Israelite to wipe them out and expressly forbidding idolatry. It means that on an individual basis when God judges the hearts of people, he looks at their desire to seek him, to seek the good. That their status as individuals in a pagan culture does not negate the good they have done, and their ignorance of idolatry does not discount their desire to seek the good or the truth. IT means that they are following Jesus if they live in the moral life, even though they follow him as something unknown to them. IT also means that all of us should come into the truth, we should seek to know God fully, and when we do that we find that it is Jesus all along.

What about "there is no other name given under heaven." I don't believe there is another name. one is not saved becuase one knows some name other Jesus, but if one doesn't know the name Jesus but knows the commands of Jesus and the love of Jesus, why would God exclude this person? Paul seems to think he would not. What about the statment God makes t Isreael al the condemnations of idols and "I am Jealous God." I am not advocating leaving the Christian to go worship other gods. Yet idols are things we put between us and God. For American Christians that's more likely to be money or politics or social status than the name of some dieity in another egregious tradition.

Dave. regular reader of this blog, Raises problems, he sees traces of the old exclusivity and superiority for Christianity in my thinking. In comments he writes:

Do you think you are qualified to judge all of major sacred traditions fairly in regard to their effectiveness, and if not, is you implication of the superiority of Christianity a provisional statement based on your own experience?

Do you think that other traditions could do a better job for other people? If not, on what basis can you make such a claim?
Frank Knitter of Xavier College wrote No Other Name? In which he analysis these issues. We read that book in McFarland's class. He argues that religoius traditions are relative to the truth. No one tradition is the truth becuase they are all cultural filters for experinces that are had a subliminal level. Some mediate better than others. For example the human sacrifice traditions and cargo cults probalby don't mediate as well as the "great world religions."

Neil McFarland was mocked and rescheduled by students for his class on religion in a global perspective They called it "heresy in a global perspective." Even in a liberal seminary like Perkins they had some very conservative students. McFarland had lived in Japan for 30 years. He had photographs of ever single manifestation of Kobo Diashi ever conceived, as Santa Clause, as a basket ball, as a pot holder, and so on. That's the Japanese equivalent of the plastic glow in dark Jesus for the dash board. McFarland once confided in me "these guys think I have forgotten I'm a methodist they think I'm a Buddhist. I haven't forgotten." He just didn't believe the issue is the chruch but Jesus.

The point of Christianity is Jesus. We make the chruch the point of believing in Jesus it's supposed to be the other way around. As Jurgen Moltmann says "Jesus has a mission, and the mission has a chruch." the chruch is just the tool it's not the main point. So being a Christian or Christianity itself is not supirior to anything it's just a tool Jesus is the point. "Christianity" is not Jesus. Of cousre I bleive Jesus is supirior to everything how could I think otherwise? If he's the incarnate logos then he's the turth, he himself embodies the truth in way no one else does. Yet there is a vast distinction between the trappings of religiosity and knowing Jesus as savior. In terms of comparison to other faith Jesus is not a mythological figure, he has a historical identity. Jesus was not a Christian. He was never in a chruch.

If Jesus is God then he's there to be known by everyone in every faith and every culture. In acts 17:21-29 Paul tells them God put people where they live so they might find him. That would only be the case for the tiny segment that live in the middle east if it was the case that people could only be saved by being Jews then Chrsitians. It must mean something else. It must mean something along the lines of God working in all cultures. If one follows the true creator one is following Jesus even if he thinks he's Gautama Siddhartha.

The historical nature of Jesus gives him a concrete identity as a real man and and stands oppossed 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.


tinythinker said...

The problem you have here is simple. Now I say problem without animus. I mean there is a potential contradiction and you have to decide how you are going to resolve it. Whether you acknowledge the problem and how you address it is up to you. It's your own business.

I will take three quotes of your writing to illustrate 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."

This shows the problem very well.
For those who have trouble seeing it, I will elaborate. See the comment just below this one. Please read and consider it in calm presence of mind, generosity, and good faith.

tinythinker said...

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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 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.

(Continued Below)

tinythinker said...

However, as Jesus/Christ is universalized in the way you propose, the more that figure must either become inclusive or exclusive. Exclusive is easy to understand. Jesus/Christ becomes a tiny idol of fearful, small minds. Inclusive is harder. The theme has cropped up many times on my blog over the past few years.

It means Jesus/Christ is pointing to something beyond Christianity and traditional Christian creeds, doctrines, and dogmas and must more and more be allowed to be identified with other images and symbols on their own terms, rather than trying to say other images and symbols are just second-rate placeholders for Christian images and symbols.

I am not so sure you are comfortable with that or wish to go down that road. That leaves the problem I mentioned before. How far can you travel that road? Eventually exclusivism and inclusivism must part beyond all reconciling.

It is one thing to say that some aspect of being can be found in the hearts of all and wants everyone to realize their true luminous ("glorified") nature and manifest as fully actualized spiritual beings, and that you know this manifestation as Christ as it was expressed through Jesus of Nazareth, but that others may know this manifestation by other names.

It is another thing to insist that all manifestations of the divine are in fact tied to and only have meaning in terms of a particular individual revealing this wisdom and through identifying with the historical name and body of said individual. In other words, in this alternative it isn't that Jesus was embodying and revealing what Christians call "Christ", and showing us that we all embody this nature, but rather it was just all about that particular incarnation and thinking that that incarnation is a deity to be worshiped. A deity that can only seen as separate, even if "it" comes to live in our hearts.

So that is the problem. One has to choose how to universalize Christ. Of course, there are those who suggest that if one simply actualizes Christ-nature or Buddha-nature or the equivalent in other traditions, there is no problem. The Pure Land, the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus, Buddha, these become arbitrary in a way. The argument is that Jesus and Buddha transcended such distinctions and wish for us to do the same. Again, agree or disagree, this is valid stuff for debate. It is out there among the contemplatives and theologians.

This is where an effort needs to be made for clarity in terms of discussing acceptance and efficacy of other religions. Thank you for reading. Be well.

tinythinker said...

And, as an after thought, I meant to say above, that of course from the relative point of view we will each have a special focus and relationship with the individuals, symbols, and images that have been meaningful to and efficacious for us, and at some stages we may need to focus on them as "the" way of expressing or visualizing the truth of this deeper truth. But that is a personal faith issue, not a philosophical issue.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I agree. that's a good point.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

Christ is pointing to something beyond Christianity. Yes of cousre he is. You can already see that in the New Testament.In act they confront the issue of including Gentiles in Judaism. then Paul comes along an takes to the gentiles. we think of that as Christianity becuase it became so and took over. at the time that was radical. that was just as radical saying "He I'm a Christian Buddhist."

Christ points beyond Jesus in a way. Not to say Jesus isn't divien/Holy and so on but beyond the given historical context of Jesus. Yet it's important to keep it rooted there.

It's a dialectic. we've forgotten that athletics were Christan and they are good.

Dave you touch on many vital issues. this is giving me lots of food for thought and bloging.

tinythinker said...

Just read this today, which is what I had implied could be done in an earlier comment. That is, use the same argument give in the original post in reverse:

"THE NATURE OF BUDDHISM. Shakyamuni Buddha revealed that he instructed living beings occasionally by speaking of himself or speaking of others, occasionally by indicating himself or indicating others, and occasionally by indicating his own affairs or the affairs of others. Whatever he says is all real and not empty air - that is, there is nothing useless in what he says; all is for the purpose of elevating people and leading them to real enlightenment.

"Here lies the vastness and profundity of the Buddha's teaching. Buddhism is not opposed to Christianity, Islam, and other teachings of great sages, such as Confucius, Mencius, and Lao-tzu. We understand that such saints and sages are the appearance of the Buddha in other forms and that their teachings are the manifestations of the Buddha's teachings in other forms. I do not say this because I am a Buddhist but because as long as the Buddha is the great truth and great life of the universe, there can be no truth that is not included in the Buddha, and no Law other than that of the Buddha. Accordingly, a narrow-minded Buddhist who indiscriminately criticizes other religions and thinks, for example, that Buddhism is a true religion, while Christianity is not, cannot claim to be a true Buddhist.

"A right teaching is right regardless of who preaches it. Truth is truth regardless of who proclaims it. Buddhists revere a person who leads all living beings by such a right and true teaching as 'the Buddha.' It follows naturally that they should not set themselves in opposition to other religions."

Another quote that will sound familiar to many Christians from the same book was given on my blog. There are others I have thought of adding as well. It's really interesting to see some of the parallels.

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

That's cool Dave.