Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wise words ...

... A dangerous seduction. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

... the mistake is to collapse the diversity which springs from that desire into one undifferentiated whole. And there's at least two reasons for that. One is that human experiences are inevitably particular. My experiences are conditioned by my context. Yours by yours. The differences should not be minimised – consumed, say, by some high expression of benevolence. Rather, they should be maximised – sorted and sifted. This is because our growth as individuals lies in discerning our experiences, and that means keeping them sharp, not dissolving them in some soggy universal.

All faiths may have something in common -- in fact, I'm sure they -- but that does not mean they are a common faith.


  1. Related to what you say about faith, Frank, here is a recommendation:

    God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter [Hardcover]
    Stephen Prothero (Author).

    Prothero argues that it is dangerous to buy into the notion (popular with Huston Smith, among others) that all religions are simply different paths to the same goal; the danger lies in not recognizing that religions are quite different, some in fact are dangerous as practiced or promoted, and it would be wise to examine each critically rather than joining hands in some sort of 1960s kumbaya moment that pretends different religions are actually different notes in a sublime harmony.

  2. This is one of those rare times when I completely disagree with Mark Vernon, who I often find to be quite insightful. Although I have also found him to consistently miss the point when he engages with Zen, or mysticism, or this topic.

    Mark uses a misreading of Meister Eckhart, though, to bolster his case against Huxley. Eckhart's continuous thread, of which the quoted comment was one example, was that whatever image of God (imago dei) we carry around with us is not the true God, and we must rid ourselves of those images. Eckhart pointed us towards the almost unknowable Godhead, which lies behind all images of God.

    Eckhart was saying something almost identical to the Zen idea of destroy the images you carry of the Buddha, to encounter to real Buddha. Which is almost identical to the Sufi teaching that you cannot meet God face to face until you remove all ideas of what you think God to be. Which is very similar to the Jung-Campbell idea that what we see is what we project, that except for the mystical experience all we ever see is the Mask of God.

    And there's another problem here: If we emphasize the differences rather than the similarities between religions, then there can be no true ecumenism, and no true meeting between world faiths. That's utter bunk. Yes, certainly let's focus on what makes us all different, so we can continue to fight and argue about it, and continue to portray other humans as the inhuman Other. You see the dangers here.

    And in this era of easy, knee-jerk anti-Islam sentiments often found in dominantly Christian societies, yes indeed, let's find more reason to despise each other rather than find some common ground for peace. Speaking of real dangers. Prothero says he not believe he is seeing a clash of civilizations between Christianity and Islam—which is fatuously wrong. He doesn't apparently watch the world news. Prothero also does not seem to know what to do with those who emphasize cultural and religious differences in order to claim their own to be the One True Faith—Prothero mentions this tendency, but he does not address it, nor does he provide a response to it. Which is singularly unhelpful; what are you really saying, then, Mr. Prothero? Underneath his emphasis on difference, I detect a certain whiff of that same "I'm right, you're wrong" attitude.

    I'm all for wise discrimination between belief-systems that promote spiritual growth vs. those that create suffering.

    Yet it seems to me that a focus on what keeps us apart rather than what draws us together perpetuates the status quo, while answering none of the deeper questions.

  3. Hi Art,
    I didn't take Mark to mean that we should accentuate the differences, but only that we shouldn't gloss over them. I actually think the differences, of shared and discussed, can help all toward a richer faith, whatever the language of that faith may be (I often think of Catholicism as my native faith language). The problem with the perennial philosophy, as I see it, is its tendency to ward blandness and homogenization. Faith lived is never blend. It can - and should - be quite pungent.

  4. Hi Frank, that makes sense. Thanks for the clarifications.