Statesboro, GA, USA
Interesting points, Stephanos. However, your argument seems to be structured towards someone who is a Relativist, and that would be an inaccurate description of my views on spirituality. I believe in free will, and that means that there are wrong choices, that all paths, regrettably, do not lead to the top of the mountain. However, I also believe that there is not just one path.
I think you may be more relativistic (spiritually speaking) than you think, because from what you've said I can't imagine a spiritual scenario where a person says "I'm happy with my beliefs", that you wouldn't approve upon that basis alone. That's still a high degree of subjectivism. And so I would like to ask you, where exactly (in spiritual doctrine) might unyielding objectivity actually intersect and correct the subjective?
Your view presents me with another problem historically speaking, as I believe that the personal transcendent God has left us a reliable written revelation of himself (propositional truth as Francis Schaeffer called it). Through this propositional truth God has spoken to us about a particular history. And the New Testament emphatically says that salvation / redemption is exclusively through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said "I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
So do you believe such sayings are not accurate concerning Jesus, and if not, why?
If, conversely, you believe in their textual accuracy, how do you substantiate such an ephemeral interpretation that would throw out much of what our minds naturally tell us when we hear such words in their context? It's probably easy enough to be fluid with Buddhist / Hindu interpretations, since their "scriptures" are mainly philosophical and aphoristic texts. But the New Testament, being rooted in history (as you've attested to) is not so easy to spiritualize in a way that would contradict what the text indicates in very overt fashion.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying that God is not working in and through the truths in other religions. I'm just insisting upon an exclusivity of who Christ is revealed to be ... God incarnate who has paid the penalty for our sins.
Not only that, but the Old Testament dialogue about the uncleanness and danger of idolatry, keeps me from adopting a "harmless" view of syncretism. I think wrong beliefs can hurt, and there are certain doctrines, beliefs, practices, in which it would be much harder to find and keep anything of Christ (I'm referring to that experiential contact with God you mentioned), apart from renouncing those very religious expressions. About the best I can do is align myself with Paul in declaring that partial truth, though good in some ways, is not enough, and therefore an "unknown God" can be declared and seen from any religious system. But as one moves from unknown to known, dogma imposes more rigor and necessity.
Lastly, Patheistic religions (Buddhism and Hinduism) and Orthodox Christianity cannot be in further disagreement on the most fundamental aspect of their beliefs ... the nature of God. One says that humanity needs only to understand that it's individuality is illusory, and by ascetic discipline and thwarting desire, escape the human condition. This flows from the personal (evil) to the impersonal (beyond good and evil). Christianity says that God is and always has been personal, having created man in his own image. Humanity, through sin, allowed something foreign and destructive to infect and spoil the personality. Therefore personality is to be redeemed and restored, not abolished or escaped from. And how is this to be accomplished? By God literally becoming a man, being born into the world of space-time, and taking on even a distinctly human personality. This flows from the imperfect personal (good and evil), back to the personal (good).
Spiritual truths, by their eternal nature, cannot be defined, because to define something is to place limits on it. In science, laws are merely observations about what will always occur in given circumstances, and what has been shown not to. They are not really forces unto themselves, but descriptions of observed forces. It is no different with spirituality.
To define something is also to prevent a loss of meaning. Ask your optometrist. Don't rivers without banks become marshes?
Now notice, in your sentence about scientific law, you said that laws were "obervations about what will always occur in given circumstances". If a law declares what will "always occur" in given circumstances, then it is more than observation ... it is also inference. No one, like David Hume proposed, could really live as if there were no uniformity of nature. He put forth a very rigorous empiricism which declared that scientific inference was a very irrational thing if epistemology only included what is directly observed ... which philosophy led him to a scepticism that evntually bordered on insantiy.
Christianity however, declares that reliable knowledge of God comes in two fashions. 1) Natural theology ... or human inference about what is seen. 2) Special revelation. But both of these methods operate on the truth that definition is not a bad thing, but a necessary thing. The former is man defining God, based upon what he observes. The latter is God telling man (propositionally) what he is like.
That doesn't mean that human knowledge of God is exhaustive, just that it is knowable. And to be knowable requires definition. The Judeo-Christian view of God, and the revelation of the Bible, maintain the necessity of antithesis.
No longer will a man teach his brother, saying: 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest." -Hebrews 8:10,11), then contacting him within, letting Christ into your heart, being absorbed in the Atman, letting the Holy Spirit move through you, whatever you want to call it, alleviates the individual from the need to consult others about "right" conduct.
I think you may be too fluid with interpreting that passage. It is in reference to a time of Spiritual revival when many people will indeed know the Lord in a personal and individual way, therefore making secondary and elementary teachings largely unnecessary. But to equate "knowing the Lord", (a relationship with the transcendent personal God), with being absorbed into Atman, is a mistake. Because it denies the antithesis between an eastern Pantheism, and Biblical Theism. Pantheism is actually a word that creates allusions and "feelings" of personality by way of connotation. It has the word "theism" in there. And because of the history of this word, the everything (Pan) is endowed with the overtones of personality, becoming more attractive. But a study of the eastern view reveals that what is meant is really "pan-everything-ism" (to coin Schaeffer again). There is no concept of an infinite personal God, separate but involved in his creation, who has emotions and communicates propositionally. Again, the Eastern Religions deny that personality is ultimately real, and that there is no distinction between God and his creatures. When the "I" is dissolved into the cosmic basin, the impersonal ALL is realized.
And so I'm not talking about consulting others about "right conduct", but about right belief about God. Sometimes this is necessary before someone can even begin to think about knowing God on a personal level.
I am with you one hundred percent when you say that there is an objective, moral effect for every action, but I believe that it's symptomatic of the larger spiritual question, and that is "To what extent have I involved God in my life?" Therefore, in my defense of Buddhist and Hindu beliefs ... I contend that they address this question directly, and that dogmatic contradictions are merely a problem of semantics, which is the angle I will now take.
Yes the larger spiritual question is "To what extent have I involved God in my life". But the question then follows, what does "God" mean? Who or what is "God"? The larger Hindu paradigm (apart from it's animistic and semi-theistic expressions) is in direct disagreement with the Christian answer to this even more fundamental question. So it's not that the Hindu approaches the question more "directly" than a Christian, but that he approaches it quite differently.
The Buddhists deny that Good and Evil are inherent elements of the universe, but use them as convenient concepts in showing the way to enlightenment. This is not in conflict with Buddhist metaphysical teachings.
We'll just have to disagree on this point. I think the concept of good versus evil is inextricable in their system .. though they doctrinally can't explain it. It's no mere "convenient concept" used to explain a different concept (enlightenment). It runs all the way through, since anyone could ask whether enlightenment is good, or better than unenlightenment. In one sense the very word enlightenment is inseperable from the concept of good, because it sets itself as superior to something else, namely ignorance and darkness (which makes no sense in a system where the individual and personality itself is abolished).
So, basically, the Buddhist code stems from "do this, and you get to this place", as a simple observation based on experience, not a question of values based on Good and Evil as forces unto themselves.
It still raises the question as to why one should consider one place "better" than another. If the answer is in experience alone ... then why did Siddhartha criticize the lifestyles of the rich and complacent ones whose "experience" led them to different conclusions?
It (Karma) is simply an observation about how the universe works.
It has elements that go beyond this however ... especially in it's determinancy to allow one to escape Samsara, or to enter into bliss. This is nowhere in the realm of observation. I honestly don't see the difference between such a force, and a moral judge. Though the arbitration of Karma in the Hindu/Buddhist framework, is divorced from personality and from good and evil ... it is irrationally done in my opinion. If Karma is merely what you say, then Buddhists attribute to it, way too much influence.
The Buddhists simply do not define a God, because any time you define something you place limitations on it. They understood that if they tried to ascribe any sort've particular qualities to God that they couldn't possibly ever get them all accurate, because of God's eternal and vast nature.
I already mentioned how I think the unwillingness to accept knoweable definition, leads to loss. This is true in actual life, it is also true spiritually.
However, when dealing with a subject like God that is beyond all language and description, a degree of ambiguity is to be expected, and may even be a good sign.
It is the Christian belief that God isn't beyond ALL language and description. And though such knowledge is not exhaustive, it can be both real and correct. I'm simply saying that "a degree of ambiguity" denies Hinduism its fullness of ambiguity. The Judeo-Christian scriptures have "a degree of ambiguity", more than some Christians like to admit. However, as Ravi Zacharias put it, the Hindu system is like a spiritual sponge or indiscriminate vacuum cleaner. Or to put it another way, It has opened it's arms so wide that it is now impossible to close them.
The contradiction inherent in this stance is that one of God's commandments is for us to have no other gods before Him. However, I feel that this is a gesture towards making things less complicated and to directing humanity's attention towards the essential oneness of all things. Therefore, any attempts to sort out The God from other gods can be very helpful, because it requires spiritual discrimination, an excellent thing to cultivate, but this process should not be based on attempting to define God.
You are right. It is a contradiction. The oneness of all things, and discrimination, are difficult bedfellows. Try that philosophy with your spouse, and you'll get a quick reminder of the necessity of "either/ or".
So why would such discrimination, as the Jew differentiating God from idols, be a good thing, if really any path would do? It must be based upon God's definition (or special revelation) of who he is, or the Jew couldn't even know who "ME" is, in that scripture. "You shall have no other gods before me". Without identification, and distinguishing features (not the featureless beinglessness of Hinduism) this commandment is impossible and irrational. Why not just say that you're an Eastern Pantheist, and that that view is right, rather than trying to force the antithetical statements of the Bible into that framework? I think I hear the vacuum cleaner again, as you would have to embrace some degree of antithesis about God, to even claim that you're right. Some things just don't belong in a vacuum cleaner.
believing in Christ is a phenomena which, although often catalyzed through intellectual processes, is something that takes place in the heart, whatever name one gives to it, and that the presence of the "fruits of spirituality" are sure signs that, whatever the ideas of the individual, Jesus is at work in their heart. Our consciences direct us towards it, and whatever ideas we have about it can only be evaluated by their capacity to bring us closer or further away from Christ within. I'd like to reiterate the importance of the fact that spiritual truths transcend rational thought and linear thinking. Such processes can be helpful, but whether or not you believe that Jesus was an actual person, (AND I MOST DEFINITELY DO!) is irrelevant to the greater question, which is: Do you answer him when he calls you from within?
So, in closing, I stick with my original congrats to JCP (would you rather be called Mike?) for having made friends with Jesus at the most important level of all.
"God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24
But who is Jesus? (smile). I'm still going to insist on a historical man, and a God who is not whatever you want him to be. But (hold your breath here) I actually agree with you here more than you think. the very fact that Mike is identifying "loving your neighbor as yourself" as a right piece in relating to God, tells me his is moving closer to 1) a historical Jesus (that's actually a quote of Jesus out of the gospels), and 2) a knoweable God who differentiates between love and non-love or hate. In that sense, yes, someone can be close to the spirit of Christ, while still stumbling at his exclusive claims. But this is often done, despite the stumbling point. What I was trying to show Mike, in a respectful way, was that to believe in a personal God, and one who delights in love, is actually at odds with his "my truth, your truth" philosophy. Because this is a particular kind of God. Indeed a very Judeo-Christian God. And I have no problem if someone, having been offended at whatever, discovers him in their own pace and way. The fact is ... him is still him. (That was quite a breach in grammar I know). Sometimes a divorce from tradition, or custom, is necessary to go and, as G.K. Chesterton described, discover England again:
"I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him; I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne. I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it. I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths. And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine.
(G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy)
I'm not trying to call Mike a fool, as Chesterton did himself. Actually Chesterton is one of the wisest I can think of. I'm just saying that I understand the need to distance oneself, from offense or misconception, and then to come to the same truths afresh. Originality may be lost, but a treasure is nonetheless gained.
quite an interesting talk,
later and Merry Christmas everyone!,