Defending eternal Hell with Vaisnava theology?

3 10 2020

I don’t know why I keep obsessing about the question of Hell in Catholic theology. I have already stated that it wasn’t a major consideration when I was an orthodox Catholic. I have never really had scruples or an overactive sense of guilt, or a fear of punishment for that matter. My religious concerns have always been about meaning and who I want to be at the end of the day. It has always been for me about transformation and an encounter with that which is outside of me. Meaning is out there, so I have come to think. The question of whether I will be personally saved or damned, and if others will, seems a bit self-absorbed.

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Yoga-maya and the Bible

27 09 2020
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I have wanted to write about the topic of Yoga-maya for some time. While I don’t feel adequate to the task, I’ve gotten to the point of needing to write my thoughts down now or not at all. The question at the center of this reflection is: What is the ultimate meaning of conscious action? And also: Does God need to stop “being God” to fully be God? And perhaps: Why does anything outside of God exist at all, and how?

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Notes on St. Bonaventure

5 09 2020
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As a Christian, my mind was Augustinian, though I am by no means a scholar of St. Augustine. As I have written elsewhere, I have always had a problem with Thomistic Scholasticism. This is not for lack of engagement, as I like reading Thomistic authors, and have even tackled the Angelic Doctor himself on occasion. Much of it still didn’t sit well with me. As stated previously, one of my difficulties was trying to reconcile faith and reason. Though my problematic dives into modern philosophy led me down disastrous paths, I think I have purged enough of their influence to soberly realize that the narrative of making sense of faith through purely rational premises still doesn’t appeal to me. In my opinion, trying to marry faith and reason too closely can only be done through “cooking the books,” or begging the question. If you value the “reasonableness” of faith that much, you are already beginning the inquiry with a foregone conclusion.

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On sectarianism

22 08 2020

I was listening to Hare Krishna content while doing things around the house (as I am wont to do these days) and I listened to first a talk and then an interview with devotees from two different parts of the world. The first was by an initiating guru and sannyasi with a reputation for conservatism and orthodoxy. But this time, his line was more that, if people were really doing proselytism, in this case distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books, there would be less inner tension within ISKCON itself. Internal strife according to this reasoning isn’t an impediment for preaching to others, but rather it’s a product of not preaching and focusing on internal problems. The interview was with another devotee who seems to be coming from a less controversial position. He helps run a temple in Utah, of all places, and has nothing but praise for the Mormons around him, stating that the Mormon church even helped build their temple.

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Notes on theological liberalism

20 08 2020

Some of you have been reading me for almost fifteen years, so you know that I am not some knee-jerk reactionary. On the other hand, I hate attempts to “update” and explain away various religious premises and doctrines. Here I am jotting down some ideas as to why:

  1. I find that, in a lot of revisionist / liberal projects, there is an overt switch in belief from submission to power. In other words, there is always an unspoken agenda to it, a fake deference to tradition all the while planning to stab it in the back. And if you try to call it out, gaslighting ensues. The liberal will never fess up to his or her bias or real agenda, but everyone knows they have one, and most everyone knows what it is, but it dare not speak its name lest one be called a “bigot,” “closed-minded,” fundamentalist,” etc.
  2. In that vein, the favorite tactic of the theological liberal is the mote and bailey: attack one premise under the guise of going deeper into the tradition, only to knock the whole edifice down gradually, and retreat back into the particular interpretation of tradition whenever attacked. This is actually a pretty effective tactic.
  3. Don’t cite, just assert. Don’t actually engage with particulars, stick to words like “hermeneutics,” “higher criticism,” etc. Claim that you have the mind of the authority but don’t actually cite anything the authority says. After all, almost every interpretation of the authority seems to be defective, except your own.
  4. Bad cases make good law, and exceptions are rules. Every system has to deal with difficult cases, and all of the past methods of dealing with them are defective except the one you are now proposing (fancy that!) In other words, all problems of the past were too complex for simple solutions, but all modern solutions are totally transparent and will totally work.
  5. This is about sex, isn’t it? Everybody must be as depraved and is having as difficult of a time of it as you are. Of course, people in the past were not more virtuous or at least didn’t have enough of a sense of shame to fake it. That’s crazy talk.
  6. Credentials are the new priesthood. Even though most humanities fields just regurgitate the same theories over and over again with more opaque language, somehow degrees somehow still mean something. When all else fails, argument from authority.





Deus sub ratione Deitatis

26 07 2020
I love the frolicking Krishna' - The Hindu

In summer, I sleep badly. I have come to expect this from the humid swampy nights. In the last decade or so, summer has been both a time of rest and exhaustion, of trying to keep up with the time clock and suffering through periods of languid repose. There are long days and short nights, fits of furious activity and weeks when less gets done than expected. In this subtropical heat, I have to catch up on a lot of neglected reading. Time for this slips through my fingers quite easily. It is in this heavy air, amidst the buzzing of insects and continuous discomfort due to the climate, that I have to contemplate the higher things. It’s not ideal.

In my express sightseeing tour through the Srimad Bhagavatam, it is precisely at this time that I have come to the most significant stop in the whole scripture, and that is the description of the rasa-lila: Krishna’s dancing with the cowherd maidens of Vraja in the luminous autumn nights. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the socially inappropriate dancing of Krishna with the wives and daughters of Vrindavan is the highest manifestation of the love of God, and of God’s nature itself. Though it may be inappropriate for a relative neophyte to comment on the mystery of the rasa-lila, I am a man in middle age so I don’t think it will be any more appropriate later in life. As I have said elsewhere, I am probably about as wise as I will get in this lifetime.

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A note on time

18 07 2020
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To say that Vedic time is “cyclical” is simplistic. It’s more an issue of wheels within millions of other wheels. For one thing, it simply isn’t the eternal return. Certain things do happen over and over again, and the yuga cycles do repeat with variations. However, there isn’t just *one universe*: there are literally numberless universes that come out of the body of Mahavishnu. So yes, someone may very well be typing this exact same thing somewhere out there in the material manifestation (probably not this universe), just as Krishna’s rasa-lila pastimes are occurring somewhere (but eternally in Goloka Vrindavan), Caesar may be crossing the Rubicon (not necessarily the same Caesar), and most problematically, Jesus is being crucified elsewhere…

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Hog of God

12 07 2020
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Gaura Purnima 2020

Part of me will never get used to the idea of mangala aarti. It’s not the idea of the service itself: getting up at 4 am to greet the Deities in the temple by singing and dancing before them. I am an early riser, and always have been. It’s the drums (mridangas), cymbals (kartals), and the loud noise that are strange to me. It’s a shock to the system to start banging these instruments in the darkness. I like my mornings calm, and this hour long service is the opposite of calm.

Eastern Orthodox monastic Matins is more what I am used to, and that service is mostly a dull and very hushed recitation of prayers, with some chants interspersed. It is quite a monotonous affair, day in and day out. In seminary, the only times we had Matins was for Christmas and Holy Week (Tenebrae), and the assigned time for these services isn’t four a.m. Most days, we had Prime at 6 am, followed by a a period of silent meditation and Low Mass most days. So my mornings were by and large quite quiet and contemplative.

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Again, on the Catholic 19th century

4 07 2020

It’s a bit strange that I continue to write on Catholic themes, considering my actual beliefs at this point. But I swim in a very Catholic milieu, and I still deal with the ghost of previous beliefs. So anything I state here should probably be taken with a grain of salt by actual believers, if not disregarded entirely. I don’t feel particularly bound by the rules of the contemporary Magisterial discourse for obvious reasons. I am merely commenting on the consistency and inner logic of various ideas from the perspective of a struggling God-conscious person. It’s an outsider-looking-in dynamic, but not so much from the the outside.

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On persecution

20 06 2020
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A reader left the following comment on my last post:

What would your approach to the problem of persecution be? At some point, even in Krishna consciousness, one would assume that persecution of the faithful would still be an issue (granted, this could be my ignorance of the matter showing). Recognizing that material “reality” is not the end-all-be-all, and that it’s rather an elaborate game, gets you so far; but in the end, wouldn’t you still counsel steadfastness and longsuffering in the face of worldly aggression. Is it a case of counselling the same action (as a Christian, that is) but with different motivations, or is there an entirely different principle at work?

The modern Krishna consciousness began in persecution, namely, under the Muslim occupation of Bengal in early modernity. The Golden Avatar of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, had to negotiate around Muslim rule to spread His movement to chant the Holy Names of Krishna. At one point, persecution broke out, and Lord Chaitanya led a movement of civil disobedience and dialogue with the Muslim rule of Bengal, the Kazi, convincing him that the sankirtan movement was not a threat to Muslim rule. Lord Chaitanya’s Kingdom, in other words, was not of this world. Instead of being crucified, Lord Chaitanya and His disciples were allowed continue their spreading of the the public chanting of the Holy Names.

In modern times in the West, Hare Krishnas have also faced persecution. In the Soviet bloc before the fall of the Iron Curtain, this persecution involved jail and other penalties. Krishna consciousness in the capitalist West was often perceived as a cult, and deprogrammers would kidnap devotees using the excuse that they were brainwashed. In some cases, devotees would feign being “cured,” even up to the point of dressing normally and eating meat, only to escape back to the Krishna consciousness movement. In sastra (the Scriptures), it is permissible to deceive if the end is beneficial to Krishna consciousness. So there isn’t really a conundrum similar to the trials of persecuted Christians in Endo’s novel.

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