Comments from around the Internet

15 06 2009

buddha

I am feeling lazy this week, so here are some comments of mine from around the Internet. They touch on themes that I am beating the war drum about right now, but some of these things might be said in mildly interesting ways, so I reproduce them here:

First, a comment of mine on Tim Enloe’s site:

I think the ironic thing about all of these posts is how any type of “convert boom” for the Catholic Church is vastly outweighed by the number of people leaving the Church by the thousands. While overly educated white suburban Evangelicals trickle in and are featured on EWTN, thousands more Latinos and even just run-of-the-mill Joe Catholics in the pew start going to the Four Square Gospel Church down the street, with “powerful preaching” and all kinds of fun activities for the kids. In a lot of ways, the “convert boom” on a cultural level is merely status symbol of being “more cultured and educated” than the rest, reading your issue of First Things after your copy of the New Yorker, and having a bunch of medieval religious art that you don’t treat like the average Catholic treats her home shrines in Guatemala or Poland. In a word, it is all OVERBLOWN. 60% of the time, I don’t even know what it means to be Catholic in 2009. Maybe we need to solve that question before we go on the warpath against Evangelicalism, and using the tools of the virtual altar call as a propaganda tool.

My own follow up note on this is that I have no problem with anyone converting to Catholicism, on the contrary. But if people spew rhetoric that converting to Catholicism constitutes a “higher form of whiteness”, a more effective way of being bourgeois, or a better way to defend “Western civilization”, then I begin to worry. When people convert or “re-discover” their Catholicism, and then proceed to start re-arranging things according to their “cultured” whims, then I think it becomes delusional. The Church doesn’t look like that, nor should it.

The second is from the fides quaerens intellectum blog:

“Development” assumes a continuity of theory that I don’t think is there. And from the texts and the paltry scholarship that we have as to the praxis of the early Church, I don’t know what we can’t and can assume about how early Christians would think of the issue. Modern day Jews pray at the tombs of rabbis, and Muslims pray at the tombs of Sufi saints. There are people in those traditions who object to this; the entire Wahabi movement in Islam (think the radical fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia) was based on the idea that all of these things are “shirk” or pagan. People pray at these places for very concrete reasons: miracles happen there. I presume that is why Christians began to pray more and more at the tombs of the saints. It’s much more “shamanistic” than most would care to admit.

Let us do a thought exercise: let us enter the world of Buddhism, and see what relationship exists between popular religiosity and the “doctrine” and scriptures of the Buddhist sages. In theory, you have a religion with no salvation, no morality, and no god: only the idea of moksha or nirvana – the complete liberation from desire. You have Zen monks saying, “if you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” You have this very powerful impulse to knock down idols and illusions, and to resist any emergence of a tradition. This was the same human “awakening” that occured at the same time with the formulating of the Socratic method in Greece, the radical critique of cultic worship by the Prophets in the Hebrew Scripture, the emergence of Zoroastrianism and radical dualism in Persia, etc.

If you were to take all of these systems merely on their “doctrinal” levels of belief, a faith would emerge that would make Zwingli’s radical Protestantism look positively lush and hedonistic by comparison. But that is not what occured. Instead, you got golden fat Buddhas leering over you in a Chinese restaurant, Hebrew Kabbalah sefirot, kirtans to Krishna, and a panoply of plaster Catholic saints. That I believe is a dissonance that only we see, and the Wahabi fundamentalist, and the contemporary Western “spiritual but not religious” pseudo-Buddhist. Doctrine is the enemy of pious kitsch; if it is not written down, it is not worth paying attention to; if it doesn’t make sense to me, it’s wrong, etc.

It is no wonder that many Fathers of the Church fought against those who opposed the cult of the saints. Perhaps that miraculous world is something that no longer exists in our commercialized, pseudo-sophisticated and learned Christianity. Or maybe it is still there, we just don’t want to see it.

The last is a comment that I would make on an Athanasius Contra Mundum blog post that I will just post here out of sheer laziness:

I very much agree with Ryan’s traditionalist sensibilities, but I feel very ambivalent about the carpet condemnation of Catholic charismaticism, if only because many members of my family are charismatics. Indeed, each Pentecost, many in the Mexican community in Hollister dress in red and take over the Catholic school auditorium to have their own little “new Pentecost” and revival. I don’t think I have been since I was dragged to it as a child. But as Steven Wedgeworth made me realize recently, Pentecostalism was always the “faith of the poor” in the South, and it is no wonder that my family took to it so rapidly upon their arrival in this country.

This is the other side of popular religiosity that I have not yet addressed, and that is the “apocalyptic”, utopian side of it. The movements of the Shakers and other communes here in the Protestant United States reflect this trend quite well, but it goes all the way back into the time of Joachim of Fiore and the “Spiritual” Franciscans, Tertullian and the Montanists, and beyond. One of the seminal works of Brazilian literature, Os Sertões by Euclides da Cunha, was an epic narrative of the Brazilian army’s effort to crush a messianic movement in the northeastern part of the country centered around a charismatic leader. This longing for the immediacy of the divine ultimately becomes a challenge to power itself as a showing of its prophetic character. For the more tame Catholic charismatics, though, it may just be a way to “get closer to Jesus in the Spirit”.

It’s not my cup of tea, but I won’t rail against it either. I merely hesistate in equating religious experience with a “good feeling”, not for any supernatural reasons, but more for purely “naturalistic” reasons. It is so easy to get worked up and start mistaking things for what they are not.

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6 responses

16 06 2009
e.

“Would Jesus Christ be the head of a boring Church? I don’t think so.”

Yes, because Christianity is prominently based on the Nielsen Ratings and on popular, hip things — such as the “WWJD” fad bracelets that so-called teenage/adult Protestant Christians give to their girlfriends while engaging in pre-marital sex with them almost every other, if not, every single evening thence.

Christ is all about the hip-hop.

16 06 2009
e.

“It’s not my cup of tea, but I won’t rail against it either. I merely hesistate in equating religious experience with a “good feeling”, not for any supernatural reasons, but more for purely “naturalistic” reasons. It is so easy to get worked up and start mistaking things for what they are not.

Excellent summary, Arturo!

It seems to me that these folks tend to utilize this form of Christianity as much more a consumer product than anything else to relieve them of the reality of the world; that is, Christ, for them, has become nothing more than merely a consumer product.

All in all, Christianity shouldn’t be about “feelings”.

Certainly, the demons that are more often than not the source of such things should formally become our new god instead of the Triune One which does not depend on such fleeting things made up to be nothing more than the source of one’s emotional “pick-me up”.

15 06 2009
David

Modern westerners have a term for the supernatural stuff in Buddhism they don’t like- “cultural accretions.”

15 06 2009
David

Your portrayal of Buddhism is rather modernistic, I am afraid. Certainly there is no God in an ultimate sense in Buddhism, but the gods of the vedas, spirits and local divinities were present in the Buddhist worldview from the beginning, featured in both the Theravada and Mahayana sutras. While it was permissible to invoke these deities for worldly blessings, they could not lead a person to liberation- only the Buddhist teachings could do that. The realm of gods is one of the forms of rebirth- one of almost infinite lifespans and pleasure, but ultimately subject to impermanence. Morality is extremely important in Buddhism as well, based on the doctrines of karma and rebirth, and is a prerequisite for the attainment of any spiritual development. The Buddhist sutras are filled with miraculous events (including the Buddha’s virgin birth) and numerous supernatural happenings.

The whole notion of a totally rational, iconoclastic Buddhism devoid of the supernatural is an enlightenment era fantasy dreamed up by anti-christian writers who wanted to make Buddhism seem more modern and advanced than traditional Christianity. Later, folks like DT Suzuki and Alan Watts would came along and espouse a kind of free-wheeling “Zen” that has very little to do with the actual lived tradition in Asia and serious practice centers in the west.

So, I realize that this is not a Buddhist blog and no place to get into a serious discussion of Buddhist doctrine or historical development, but please take care when coming up with straw man portrayals of Buddhist tradition.

15 06 2009
Iohannes

What do you make of the Jerusalem Council as the earliest recorded example of doctrinal development? I am reminded of a learned Protestant who once referred to the same council as the ‘First General Assembly of the Apostolic Presbyterian Church’. Alas, of neither description am I persuaded.

15 06 2009
Adrian

“Low Church” charismatics, santeros, crypto-sedevacantist traditionalists, even Marxist priests — some of these things might be bad, but I take a malicious pleasure in anything that would make Mother Angelica’s skin crawl. Would Jesus Christ be the head of a boring Church? I don’t think so.

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