Brother Are You Saved?

P.S. Murray - one more thing.....

Jesus began his ministry proclaiming "think again! The Kingdom of God is as far away as your own hand!"

For many Christians the ground has got to shift before they could even begin to talk to a Buddhist. I started in the Evangelical/Pentecostal tradition as you know - you were there at the time, though you didn't stick around for as long as I did. So, here's a metaphor for the faith we once shared, you and I, though both of us have moved, in our own way, beyond it:

God gave the people of the world a beautiful luxury ship, but unfortunately they sank it. So now the people are adrift and alone in a vast ocean, treading water, and beyond any possibility of rescuing themselves or others. They are waiting for certain death. Fortunately God, being loving, has sent a lifeboat, paid for in some mysterious way, by his son. The way into the boat is simple. You just have to ask. There's a set way of asking. You've got to acknowledge that you're wet, admit that it's your own damn silly fault and promise to obey the captain and not to leave the boat once you're aboard. If you don't ask in the right way you can't get in but despite this oddity, many people clamber into the lifeboat and are safe. Once safe aboard, the survivors, in gratitude set about rescuing others. In fact, the main duty of being in the lifeboat is this rescue work and the survivors do it with enthusiasm, cheering themselves along with jolly songs and finding ingenious ways to make the boat visible and inviting - but never for a moment forgetting the entry rules. Unfortunately there are other purported lifeboats, also doing some "rescue" work, but anyone can see that these are leaky vessels, and offer no real hope to those foolish enough to accept their offers of false help. So the lifeboat works tirelessly on, getting very full at times, but never moving across the ocean very far from where it began.

Over the years, I have seen something apparent to you almost from the start: that the faith for which this little story is a metaphor proclaims a God who is greatly at variance with the central tenet of our faith: that Jesus of Nazareth presents a window or a picture of the great loving mind at the centre of all reality. Further, this type of faith is a digital faith. It's 0 or 1. You're in or you're out, and once in, that's it really. You're saved, so there's not a lot of incentive for much else, so there is a preoccupation with finding faith, and a not a lot of energy devoted to its continuation.

I have a similar metaphor which I believe is closer to what Jesus actually taught. It's certainly closer to what he lived.

The people of the world BELIEVE that they are adrift and alone in a vast ocean, treading water, and beyond any possibility of helping themselves or others. In fact they are not adrift, for God, being loving, has sent a lifeboat, paid for in some mysterious way, by his son, and the people are already warm, safe and dry inside it. They have, in fact, never been adrift. The job of those who know the true state of things is to tell the others. Unfortunately most of the others simply can't believe it: such good news is simply too good to be true. So, believing that they are adrift they continue to act as if they are: they tread imaginary water, they cough, they splutter, they feel cold and alone.Some, remarkably, even manage to drown. For those who know, the best course of action is to go quietly about the business God has set them: that, is, rowing for shore, which is still a good way off. Rowing takes some effort and knowledge but strangely, in the rowing, people are strengthened and made happier. They feel the breeze and see the sky. They watch fish and whales. Other people, seeing their new enjoyment of life, become interested, and soon their delusions begin to fade and, tentatively, they also begin an interest in rowing. Or, at first in oars, at least. There are of course other lifeboats. Whether they are going to the same shore, who can tell? What I know is that much can be learned about rowing by watching them, and talking with their friendly crews.

Think again. The Kingdom of God is as far away as your own hand.


Anonymous said…
I notice that you have provided a photo of a leaking boat for your first very well written metaphor. Where is the photo of a boat for your second very well written metaphor? I want to inspect the bilge.

Kia Kaha
Anonymous said…
I would like the second photo to have in it a handy little cutter snugged down, bowling downwind like smoke with a narly old bugger at the tiller please. Whether he's dressed in a saffron robe is optional. But the narly one must be happy because running downwind makes for happiness. Oh yes, the bilge must be tinder dry.

Kia Kaha
Guhyavajra said…
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Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
VenDr said…
I deleted posts not because I disapproved of them but because I was rearranging things - they have been shifted elsewhere on the blog.

I hope anybody can feel free to comment and you are welcome to say whatever you like. It would have to be fairly counter productive before I would take it off. Such as ads for prescription medicines or requests for help in distributing billions of accidentally arrived at money. Or rude comments about my waistline. Or my hair, which is as thick, lustrous and dark as ever it was. Yes, REALLY.
Anonymous said…
"In fact they are not adrift, for God, being loving, has sent a lifeboat, paid for in some mysterious way, by his son, and the people are already warm, safe and dry inside it. They have, in fact, never been adrift. The job of those who know the true state of things is to tell the others. Unfortunately most of the others simply can't believe it: such good news is simply too good to be true."

So, Kelvin, are you endorsing universalism? Why do you believe this is what Jesus actually taught? I can't think of any NT scholar or historian who believes this, on the evidence we have.
Quite the reverse, there is a great deal in his reported words about Gehenna.
What is the jeopardy facing mankind, then? Temporary ignorance that God (exists and) loves them? or something much worse? What is it?

Anonymous said…
And, I have to ask: was Pol Pot treading imaginary water or treading on real flesh and bone? What would those who 'know the true state of things' say to him? Is the notion of justice - divine justice, even - an illusion? I suppose they were Buddhists (of a sort) in Cambodia, but I can't second guess what they made of that nightmare.

Kelvin, I confess my knowledge of Buddhism is very elementary, but I don't know how you can marry a form of philosophical atheism with belief that the triune, infinite-personal God is Reality.
totaliter aliter, I would have thought. Apologies if I have distorted what Buddhism actually affirms.

Anonymous said…
Anyway, to finish on this line with the metaphor you have used (human existence as a boat journey), I recall enjoying this book by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias which imagines a boat ride with Jesus and Buddha on board with Priya, a Thai prostitute who is dying of Aids:

I think it brings out the profound differences between Christianity and Buddhism in a penetrating way.

VenDr said…
You have a number of posts, Brian, and enough questions to keep me going for a week or two. Thanks for the probing questions.

First things first. I'm not sure what a universalist is so I'm not sure if I am one. My view on salvation is based on passages such as 1 Corinthians 15;22,Colossians 1:20 and Romans 5:18. It is based on the accouint of Jesus' sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth in Luke 4, where he quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 (and also a portion of Isaiah 58) and where he breaks off his reading in the middle of a verse, and, contrary to accepted custom, rolls up the scroll himself and gives it back to the attendant. What does he leave off? The portion about God's vengeance.

What I believe about salvation is perfectly compatible with Paul's seminal definition in Ephesians 2:8. We have, all of us, been given this great gift of life(grace). This gift is of no use to use whatsoever unless we recognise it, trust it and start to live by it (faith).

In terms of precedent, I would of course garner support from Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, but not from Augustine who set the course of Christian orthodoxy for most of Christendom/s history. Since the 17th Century, views similar to mine have been increasingly popular - I think my views would be mainstream amongst Quakers for example, and then there's William Law, Schleiermacher, and into the 20th Century, MacQuarrie, Tillich, Robinson and Hick. Barth and Brunner both, while not espousing universal salvation accepted that it was a possibility.

The dilemma facing humankind? We are what we believe ourselves to be. If you believe you are alone and lost and drowning, that's how you will live. If you believe yourself a beloved child of God that's how you will live. There is nothing "mere" or "temporary" about ignorance.
VenDr said…
As for Pol Pot, Stalin, Hitler or the atrocious bastard who kept his daughter locked in an Austrian cellar for 24 years - all towering warnings to us of the dangers of ignorance, selfishness and wickedness. Could any of these human beings, created in the image of God have perpetrated their monstrous crimes if they had known and understood the truth - that they were created in God's image, that they were accepted and beloved?

As to what awaits them when they face God? I really don't know. What happens when darkness is exposed to perfect light? What happens when a soul consisting of a mass of twisted lies faces perfect truth?

My hope is that even these detestable wretches will be drawn to the divine love and redeemed. I suspect that the freedom given us by God is absolute and that these and others like them may continue to live in the lies thay have wrapped themselves in.
VenDr said…
And yes, I think you have distorted what Buddhism affirms. I think the possibility of dialogue is not as totally impossible as you think.

Thanks for the link. I'll check it out. A very good discussion on the differences between Buddhism and Christianity is contained in Kosuke Koyama's "Water Buffalo Theology". Certainly, most of the Buddhists I know would never parrot the dumb New Age line: "we all worship the same God really".

My interest at the moment is in ontology, and goes back to Heidegger by way of Levinas and the Christan existentialists. It is in this area that I think Christianity and Buddhism have something to say to each other.
Anonymous said…
Kelvin, I am not sure how I have 'distorted' Buddhism in saying that it is atheistic - or as good as atheistic, since 'God' in Buddhist thought is subject to transitoriness and decay like the rest of us. Evidently not the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus!
What's ultimately real - nirvana or Yahweh?
I may return to your other reamrks if time allows and your patience permits, but this is your blog and I won't monopolise your time and bandwith. Keep well.
VenDr said…
It's a distortion to pejoratively categorise a complex faith system - or rather a system of faith systems as atheistic. There is a great difference between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism in their concept of God, and within Mahayana Buddhism there is further diversity - the Pure Land stream for example has a conception of the ultimate and omnipresent Buddha which seems fairly similar to Abrahamic conceptions of God. Some schools of Tibetan Buddhism have a concept of the primordial Buddha - absolute eternal supreme knowingness which in it's descriptions seems very similar to the God of the Abrahamic faiths.

Ultimately though, the teaching of the Buddha may best be described as agnostic when it comes to a creator God, so I'm not sure how you can claim that the Dharma teaches a God who is subject to transitoriness and decay. The metaphysical question of an ultimate being is simply not significant. Buddhism is a belief system which begins with the human condition rather than with metaphysics. My interest in it, is how closely the analysis of the human condition resonates with the analysis of many of our Christian mystics. My question is, how does this analysis square with the metaphysics of our tradition?
Anonymous said…
Kelvin, it isn't 'pejorative' to state as a fact what a belief system actually holds. Pure Land Amida Buddhism seems to be fundamentally different at many points from majority Buddhism, or so I recall Garrett Green saying some years ago, and Harold Netlund, a missionary in Japan for many years and something of an expert on Buddhism, would concur.
"Ultimately though, the teaching of the Buddha may best be described as agnostic when it comes to a creator God, so I'm not sure how you can claim that the Dharma teaches a God who is subject to transitoriness and decay."
Isn't everything subject to samsara in Buddhist thought? This would include God (if he exists).
"The metaphysical question of an ultimate being is simply not significant." No, not for Buddhism (though would it say 'ultimate being'?) but it's the very core of Christianity. And surely *desire* (desiring God! as John Piper would say - desire for what never changes) is the core of Christian life.
Anonymous said…
Brian: "And, I have to ask: was Pol Pot treading imaginary water or treading on real flesh and bone? What would those who 'know the true state of things' say to him? Is the notion of justice - divine justice, even - an illusion? I suppose they were Buddhists (of a sort) in Cambodia, but I can't second guess what they made of that nightmare."

Brian - The question could also be asked as to what the old testament god would make of the situation considering he god sent the disobedient moses back out to slaughter something like 25,000 Hittite women and children.
If this is a metaphor rather than a history, what is it a metaphor about?

Genocide is not the exclusive preserve of civilisations with a Buddhist world view.
VenDr said…
Every THING is subject to samsara. But God is no - thing. God would not be subject to samsara.

We are in agreement on the point that although Buddhism is not greatly concerned with the existence of an ultimate being, this is central to Christianity. Given the agnosticism of Buddhism on this point, the theism of Christianity doesn't have to be a barrier on the those parts of the Dharma and the Gospel where there are concepts held in common.

Desire is an interesting concept, as is the related concept of grasping. The question is not just what do we desire but why? Grasping after God can be another form of selfishness and self delusion as any glimpse at the historic, or the contemporary, church will tell you. I am more interested in the Buddhist concept of self, groundlessness and the concept of co-dependent arising which at the moment I find compelling.
Anonymous said…
Anon (& I presume you mean Amalekites rather than Hittites, though I'd be hard pressed to tell the difference): OT theodicy is a thorny question, for which there have been some attempts to answer - John Wenham's 'The Enigma of Evil'; talk of 'rough justice in a rough age'; or the developmental view favored in the 19th century. Maybe you won't find any of this approaches satisfying. But it isn't exclusively a problem for the OT: the NT doctrine of hell and what Jesus has to say about it (more than anyone else in the Bible!) has always caused people to wince. The real solution to this problem - like the rest of theology - is eschatological in all senses. But in any case, my reference to Pol Pot was actually directed to Kelvin's metaphor of people in the sea and what jeopardy, if any, the huamn race faced. The picture looked altogether too bland in the face of human evil and the burning holiness of God. The problem is sinful sin, not ignorance.

Of course, a Christian knows that God is eternal and unchangeable (at least in classical Christian theism, not process thinking), not subject to samsara. But does a Buddhist know this? Isn't that the Achilles heel in the whole project? And the fulfillment of desire, not the extinction of it, is central to being a Christian. You may not care much for Augustine (surely the greatest theologian in history outside the Bible), but I can't resist the old tag: 'Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless 'til they find their rest in Thee'. Christian selfhood is fundamentally relational, through Christ (en christo) with the Father.

Anonymous said…
... and I add (perhaps unnecessarily) that it is a relationship of self-giving love, grounded on the inner nature of the Trinity. It is the absence of this fact, both in its understanding of God and his relationship with mankind, that makes Islam into a harsh parody of the Judeo-Christian faith from which it sprang. That, and the suppression of reason in faith (which is one of the outworkings of agape), as Benedict XVI notoriously noted at Regensburg a couple of years ago.
VenDr said…
A Buddhist who speculates about God, though probably calling God by some other term will know that God is no-thing and is not subject to the strictures of thinghood. But whether the Buddhist knows this or not is not really my concern. I am a Christian and have no intention of converting any time soon. I am interested in what Buddhism says about the human condition, and how this relates to what some of my elder brothers and sisters in the faith have said.

Jesus said "you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free". When given 30 seconds before Pontius Pilate to give an account of himself he said "for truth I have come into the world". Our faith is about truth - that is, the removal of ignorance. Behind most (all?) sin lies ignorance - ignorance of ourselves, ignorance of God and ignorance of the relationship between us. My guess is that anyone who completely understood these three things could not sin. I suppose this is why the enemy of souls is called 'the father of lies' - a liar is the enemy of truth and the spreader of ignorance. There is nothing bland about ignorance.

As for our faith being about the fulfillment of desire: well... Susan B Anthony said, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.” Why is it that in surveys of attitudes and values Christians in the West display no discernible difference from the general populace? Their desires are as self centred, materialistic and narrow as anybody elses. Is the fulfillment of these desires really what we have given our lives to? I had hoped for something better.
Anonymous said…
Kelvin, 'truth' in John's Gospel (& I'm glad you think it's historical!) is relational, personal - and Christocentric (John 14.6). There is ignorance and there is willful ignorance: 'The demons believe - and tremble!' The problems of men are not so much to do with their knowledge as their wills. So faith is not just about knowing the truth (cognition) but acting upon it - fiducia - 'the obedience of faith' (Rom. 1.5).
As I said, the problem is not desire but its focus, and 'Western (cultural) Christians' are only further up a path now being trod by the nouveaux riches of India and China. Gloomy old misogynist Schopenhauer said it well:
'Gier ist wie Seewasser - je mehr man trinkt, desto mehr man durstiger wird.'
Ah, but if only he'd drunk from the living water! (John 4.10)
Anonymous said…
Brian, Yes I did mean Amalikites. I haven’t read John Wenham, but the terms “rough justice in a rough age” and “the developmental view” seem to imply some sort of inter millennial moral relativity. My guess is that if you were to simultaneously thrust very sharp hat pins into the backsides of an Amalikite and an educated, sophisticated 21st century urbanite they would jump about the same height. They would also jump up and down in outrage at the thought of genocide or the prospect of someone trying to sleep with their wife or steal their Porsche or their donkey. W.H. Auden in his book “The Everlasting Man” argues strongly against this kind of relativity, in fact he explained that the word ‘evolution’ and ‘development’ can have both positive or negative trajectories. It is debatable as to whether we are actually on a higher level in any moral or spiritual sense at all. So we are left with some very difficult OT events to decipher.

The question of desire is interesting. The problem for too many is that the existential itch has not been satisfied by 2000 odd years of Christian thought, probably because of the emphasis on thought and not on practise. There is also an awareness now by the many, that ultimate things are beyond language. They can not be experienced through a set of intellectual beliefs and doctrines. The experience and practise of the mystics of all traditions provides a door by which we can enter. For myself the teachings, practises and experiences of these mystics (Jesus, Buddha) are a call for me to be personally responsible to practise love, compassion, mindfulness and meditation.
Anonymous said…
Brian: in regard to a former posting of yours..... "I recall enjoying this book by Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias which imagines a boat ride with Jesus and Buddha on board with Priya, a Thai prostitute who is dying of Aids:"
I have ordered this from Amazon and look forward to reading it.

VenDr said…
Brian, oddly, I agree with both you and the person who immediately responded to you. Truth is not a matter of thought and belief or of knowledge. It is something that is done. Like anything else, it only becomes real when it takes form. I suppose this is inherent in our doctrine of the incarnation: to reveal himself to humankind God lived a life.

I also agree with what was said about the existential itch. I began as an evangelical/charismatic but over the years have found it a perspective that is profoundly unsatisfying. In 30 years of parish ministry I have found it a perspective increasingly hard to sell to those outside the church. I know others do not find it so, and perhaps it's just me entering the age which Jung says is more concerned with being than doing.

There are questions which consume me, and for which our Christian heritage provides unsatisfactory, if any, answers: how did the universe begin? What is the nature of matter? What is the nature of consciousness? What is life? What is thought and how does it arise? What is the relationship of spirit and matter? and on and on....

All of these I suppose are variants of the one true central question - the one I've been working on for more than 50 years now: who am I and what am I doing here?

All of these questions can be studied from a Christian perspective but the answers are mostly found elsewhere than our mainstream Christian heritage.

Thank God there are people from the edges of our tradition who do give answers: the mystics who have been part of us for centuries, often reviled and usually ignored. Of course you are right, it's a matter of will and of practice but the mystics remove my ignorance enough to make the practice possible.
Anonymous said…
Anon: forgive my pedantry again, but do you mean Chesterton? Always a stimulating read. I don't find the gory parts of the OT at all easy to read, but I know I should try to explain and not explain away. The simplest thing in the world would be say 'This is not the Christian's Bible' but Marcionism is not an option for me. I do believe in progressive revelation (in a supplementary sense, not in the 19th century 'developmental' way I alluded to), so the best I can say for now is that God commanded or permitted some things once (like polygamy) for hardness of heart or ignorance, which cannot pertain in the time of the fullness of revelation in his Son (Heb. 1.2).
Kelvin, I have myself been in the evangelical/charismatic 'orbit' for over thirty years, sometimes with cringing embarrassment at what some charismatics or Pentecostalists may say or do, sometimes shamefaced at my own worldiness and weakness of faith. I do think Western culture has been largely 'hollowed out' in the last 50 years or so, probably much longer, and so I have felt the need to go deeper into classical orthodoxy, rather than the faddishness and trivia that often plague the evangelical/charismatic world. So I look to journals like 'Touchstones' and 'First Things' to give me a better grounding in the 'Great Tradition'. The questions you mention ('how did the universe begin? What is the nature of matter? What is the nature of consciousness? What is life? What is thought and how does it arise? What is the relationship of spirit and matter?') are scientific as well as metaphysical, and I'd have thought there has been a good deal of Christian reflection on these, not least in the Reformed philosophical tradition reflected by Platinga, Paul Helm, and even William Lane Craig, who will be in NZ next month. I'm only a dabbler in these things, but I can see that a biblical faith and a careful, analytical philosophy should be allies - 'fides et ratio'.
Many thanks for the genial and thought-provoking hospitality of your blog - I am praying for you as you approach your op.
Anonymous said…
Thankyou, I really don't know my Amalekites from my Chesterton do I!
Brian: In relation to "..the NT doctrine of hell and what Jesus has to say about it.." you wrote, "The real solution to this problem - like the rest of theology - is eschatological in all senses." I think I know what eschatological means but I don't quite understand what you mean by the second quote (above). In what sense is the real solution eschatological?
Anonymous said…
Anon: crudely speaking,
1. 'We'll know when we get there', when we no longer walk by faith but in the full light of God, and the questions that perplex us now as we look 'through a glass darkly' become clear, e.g. the problem of innocent suffering, the gory bits of the OT, the fate of the unevangelised etc - all questions in the life of faith that we can give only provisional answers to now, usually relying on speculative philosophy (not a bad thing, either, since reason is one of God's gifts, and an essential enterprise in apologetics) because the Bible doesn't give us definite answers to these questions;
2. the Beatific Vision of God in his incomparable Glory will cause our questions, griefs and failings to fall far way - so will we say with Job, 'yet in my flesh I will see God'?

VenDr said…
Brian, you have touched the very core of my dilemma. Remember that I am writing as a Christian. I can name the time, date and place where I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ and I have tried, as best I can, to follow him ever since. You are bang on the money when you say that our faith tradition has become "hollowed out". I agree that we have become dominated by cringe making temporary expressions of whizz-bang emotionalism: the giggle, twitch and gibber school of theology. I agree that the questions my 'satiable curtiosity has led me to poke my nose into have been variously addressed from within our tradition.

But this morning I read, dutifully,according to my set schedule, a chapter of Leviticus. It was, as you know, part of a document assembled out of constituent parts, during the exile or the Persian period shortly thereafter. So, when our spiritual ancestors were solemnly instructing us what sort of animal to kill and which earlobe to smear the blood on in the event that we get mildew or dry rot in our houses, Siddhartha Gautama was sitting under a Boddhi tree in India, addressing precisely the questions I am asking. Unsettlingly for the heirs of Leviticus, he gave answers that even after 2,500 years are robust and satisfying. His answers, further are completely compatible with contemporary thought in cognitive science and physics; compatible and satisfying and durable because they are true.

Now I know that for many Christians, for a man in my position to even suggest such a thing sets the anti - heresy panic alarms into whoop whoop danger ahead mode and there is a concerted effort to immediately prove me wrong and get me onto less threatening ground. The trouble is, I don't like giving up on problems and conundrums. Truth is one. There isn't scientific truth and spiritual truth and metaphysical truth - there is only truth. And if the Buddha is true I want to know how that fits with the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is also true, and therefore must ultimately be made of the same stuff. And another trouble is, we can't keep such observations secret. I already know many people, including some in my own parish, who struggle with the same dilemma. My avoidance of the problem or my attempts to hide it behind the sofa would be seen for precisely what they would be.
Anonymous said…
Brian: In your crude speaking (as you put it) you eloquently summarise what is at the heart of the problem of believing in a loving, caring creator to whom ‘if we ask anything in his name it will be given’ to whom ‘if we have enough faith we can move mountains’ and in receiving we can ‘count on bread and not stones.’ (I feel sure you can give me the relevant NT chapter and verses).
The problem for the church is that those looking for explanations, guidance, comfort or solace, ‘looking through a glass darkly’ doesn’t cut the mustard any more, especially when there are other more inclusiveness systems to choose from. The exclusiveness of the charismatic, Pentecostal movements is certainly their Achilles heel.
The word eschatological whilst being a useful form of shorthand for specialist discussion can also become a carpet under which to hide those hard problems for which we have no answers. Calling the problems eschatological doesn’t make the questions go away. The church is confronted by people who want to look under the carpet and crudely poke the problems with hat pins. Let me give you an example which occurs all the time.
In an article on palliative care I read recently (I think in the NZ Listener) it discussed the problem of a small number of people for whom no quantity of drugs will give pain relief. A brother who went to see his sister in hospital didn’t know her hospital room number, only the floor she was on. When he got out of the lift he found her room by following the sound of her screams. She took a week to die, there was no pain relief available for her. The cancer in her spine repeatedly kept breaking her back. I found the story harrowing. Surely people are entitled to ask where is the loving god in all of this? Now in this context talk about the “..Beatific Vision of God..” would probably be met with something cruder than “pie in the sky bye 'n bye.
It seems to me that the scriptural claims of the caring NT god are every bit as difficult as the picture of the vengeful OT god.
As the Dharma comes to the west, many see a new context where the partial answers are a little more believable. Perhaps the church needs a lot of hat pins and perhaps it needs to use them as lances.
I see the spiritual future for the planet not being "them and us" but more in the definition from C. S. Lewis of one of the four loves - the love of friendship where friends stand side by side and share a common interest and look towards a common horizon.
I note though that one outcome of the Vatican council of the 1960s was the statement that the Holy Roman Catholic Church officially recognises the contributions of all the great religious traditions in advancing human spirituality. Perhaps this is a beginning.
Anonymous said…
Kelvin, you are infinitely more acquainted with Buddhist writings than I will ever be, so be gentle on my ignorance. Whether Leviticus is 6th century is much less certain - the Wellhausen synthesis has largely fallen apart, though Alttesamentler don't know what to replace it with. My old acquaintance Gordon Wenham has written a substantial commentary in which he does see the core of it going back to Moses, and he interprets the kind of things you allude to using some of the anthropological ideas of Mary Douglas on purity and dirt. This seems to me to have some explanatory power, but in any case, if we look beyond the less than riveting regulations of the book, we will find a lot about conscience, guilt and devotion to the Lord - as Jewish writers like Jacob Neusner say. (Does Levinas consider these questions talmudically? I don't know his work either!) Priestly manuals are never very interesting, but what law code is? Try preaching on genealogies for a challenge!
I don't have any problem in thinking that philosophical ideas from ancient India, or anywhere else, should prove durable for hundreds of years. After all, Plato and Aristotle were thinking great thoughts in Athens while Nehemiah's compatriots were busy trying to stay alive, and we keep coming back to their ideas. Indeed, the more I reflect (or puzzle) about things like numbers (do they exist? where?), space, form, and why does the world follow elegant mathematical rules, the more I am struck that the Greeks were on to questions we will always return to. The OT is not a philosophical book (one of the reasons the young Augustine rejected it) but a narrative of God's involvement with his people - scandalous because it is particular, untidy and incomplete, but also looking forward to completion in the kingdom of God's Messiah, where even puzzling verses about mildew have their place (or so I believe: Matthew 5.17-20). Christian theology as it developed in the first centuries is basically a biblical-patristic synthesis in which Greek philosophy was critically (or maybe not critically enough) appropriated to essay answers to ontological questions implicit in the biblical text.
As for your pressing concern, what relation the Gospel of Christ may have to Buddhist teachings, well, the fool rushes in with these questions:
1. The center of Christian faith - and Christ's teaching - are the Shema and the Two Great Commandments; in other words, a life oriented in love to Yahweh and his world. How does this jive with Buddhism's apparent absence of interest in the question of God? While Gautama was sitting under his tree in 523 BC, the Jews were preoccupied in rebuilding the Temple.
2. Is dukkha really true? Does sorrow come from the transitoriness of thingss or from sin?
3. Is desire wrong? Doesn't Jesus teach us to desire the pearl of great price, the incorruptible treasure in heaven?
4. Is karma really true? 'Reincarnation'? Is the human predicament really bondage to samsara - or is it death, then judgment?
5. Do we have/are we enduring persons (in the sense of souls in the making) or do we dissolve at death?
6. What does 'salvation' mean for a Buddhist and for Jesus?

Anonymous said…
Hi, Anon (if you have a 'nom d'ordinateur' to affix to your posts, that would be nice) - you raise important questions that I'll try to come back to before long - now I have to do some paid work!

Anonymous said…
Thanks for your reply Brian, I am enjoying our discussions - and at your request I shall use the name 'Joshua S' after one of my heroes - me being a sailing man and him (Joshua Slocum) being the first single handed circumnavigator of the globe and: globes, circles, mandalas, wholeness, completeness, truth.

Joshua S
VenDr said…
Well, Brian you must be a patient man. It would take a year or so to reply to your many questions. And I'm not going to try today, other than to make some preliminary remarks.

I am very familiar with the Myer's Briggs Personality Inventory and quite familiar with the Enneagram. Both of these are systems which purport to describe the same thing: human personality. I believe both systems are true. Nevertheless the systems are so different that there is little, if any, correlation between them. It would be unhelpful for a Myers Briggs enthusiast to criticise the Enneagram because it didn't conform to proper Myer's Briggs orthodoxy. I think the parallel with the situation between Buddhism and Christianity is obvious.

Similarly, consider a street map of London, a topographic map of the Thames area and a diagram of the London tube system. All are maps of the same territory but have little in common. And none are the actual city of London.

All faiths are only maps of the territory. We might like to think of ours as the best or most accurate map but we are in big trouble once we start confusing our map of ultimate reality for ultimate reality itself. And why should the user of an aerial photograph sneer at the user of a street map because the street map doesn't properly show the colour of the houses?

In that light, I am not sure whether you are asking questions about the Dharma, or about the crude caricature of the Dharma which is current in popular thought and in much Christian apologetic. Would you trust an account of Christian doctrine presented by an apologist for Islam? In the same way we should distrust accounts of the Dharma presented by Christians (including, incidentally, me)

That being said, I will address in a preliminary way, your point

"5. Do we have/are we enduring persons (in the sense of souls in the making) or do we dissolve at death?"

because it seems to derive from key Buddhist concepts of selflessness (not the same as the Christian idea of selflessness) groundlessness and co-dependent arising. Now before I start to answer your questions, I want to ask some questions: the first, metaphorical:

Does music have an enduring reality or does it dissolve when the musician stops playing it?

The next questions, substantive because I am afraid I can't go further until I know what you mean:

What, exactly, is a soul?
What is death? And of course, to answer this there is one more:
What is life?