Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Readings: Religion

One the things that kept Simone Weil, that most orthodox of non-Catholic Catholics, from being baptized and partaking of the Eucharist, was what she saw as the rejection by the Church of eternal Truths as expressed by other religions. A Christian Platonist, she learned Sanskrit in order to study the Hindu scriptures, particularly the Bhagavad Gita, in their original language.

I am currently reading, at the pace of about two pages per day, The Way of the Sufi by Idries Shah. The quote below expresses very well, I think, the dangers of orthodoxy and organized religion to the quest of the spiritual pilgrim:


All religions, as theologians – and their opponents – understand the word, is something other than what it is assumed to be.

Religion is a vehicle. Its expressions, rituals, moral and other teachings are designed to cause certain elevating effects, at a certain time, upon certain circumstances.

Because of the difficulty of maintaining the science of man, religion was instituted as a means of approaching truth. The means always became, for the shallow, the end, and the vehicle became the idol.

Only the man of wisdom, not the man of faith or intellect, can cause the vehicle to move again.

--Arif Yahya

It is my understanding that the "man of wisdom" referrred to in the final sentence is a teacher, or spiritual guide--a guru if we want to admit that much-abused word. I do not take it to mean that men of faith, or even intellectuals, are forever barred from the Kingdom.

Sufism, which is often understood to be the "mystical expression of Islam," is similar to Christianity in its emphasis on love. This would seem to position it well as a possible mediator in the current troubles between Islam and the West.


Civis said...

I can relate to what you say about the dangers of orthodoxy and organized religion to the quest of the spiritual pilgrim. There is a book called THE JEWISH PHENOMENON by Steven Silbiger which is an interesting read. He says, “At the core of the Christian faith is what is called the “Great Mystery” with regard to the Immaculate Conception, the birth of Jesus and the Resurrection. These events are accepted on faith, and in conservative Christian circles there is not a great deal of discussion or debate on the matter. As an old bumper sticker says, “God said it; I believe it: and that settles it!” There is also not much discussion about Jesus as a child or teen. This approach to accepting one’s religious foundations without a great deal of debate is a major cultural departure from the Jewish tradition. Jewish teachers encourage questions as a way to get closer to one’s faith.”
I tend to lean toward the Jewish approach on this one, though at the end of the day I tell myself “Know that you know not.” But anyway, questioning, for me, is the best way to come to a deeper understanding and to a deeper belief, and an even better way (for me) to correct my misconceptions.

There is another side of the coin however. The Jew is safe in doing this because a) he is in contact with good teachers who can direct and channel his journey and b) he knows what is orthodox and what is not; he comes from a tradition that has been contemplated, attacked, defended, supported and refined over the course of millennia. (There are other things that could be mentioned, especially education which must precede questioning—today most of us Americans are not taught how to gather, organize, and analyze data, not taught the rules of logic but are told our opinion is as good as anyone else’s).

Thus, there is an advantage to orthodoxy that enables the quest:

"Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of
Paganism. We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the
place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the center of the island; and their song had ceased."

If Simone would have lived another 20 years she would have been reassured by Nostra Aetate, The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions which, reiterating the constant view of the Church, says “From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense. Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4) The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.”

Rodak said...

Thanks for posting that.
Yes, Simone Weil would have agreed with all of that long, closing quote. She, in fact, said all of those things herself. She might well have been able to enter the Church, had she heard the Church say them in her lifetime. That said, the Church's historical rejection of non-Christian religions was not her only problem with Catholicism.
I must say that Steven Silbiger seems to have a very shallow knowledge of Christian history, if he thinks that Christians have just accepted what they were told by authority, unquestioned and unexamined. He apparently knows nothing of Scholasicism; or even of, say, of Reformation, or of 19th and 20th century, Protestant theology. He also seems to think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Jesus, when actually Mary IS the Immaculate Conception. (And this is not a "Christian" doctrine, but a specifically Catholic one.) Well, whatever. All religions are rich, rich, rich in contemplative writings by inspired men and women whose focus is on the troubled relationship between God and Man and the path to reconciliation.

Civis said...

How did he confuse the Immaculate conception with the birth of Christ?

RE what he said about the Christian appraoch, he was speaking collectively not divisively. Wouldn't you agree that he is right about conservative Christian circles?

Rodak said...

Many non-Catholics make the intuitively plausible assumption that the "Immaculate Conception" is the conception of Jesus. So far as I know, the doctrine is uniquely Roman Catholic. So, since he seemed to be attributing belief in the Immaculate Conception to "Christians", as a whole, I think it probable that he mistakenly believes it to refer to the cocenption of Jesus, rather than that of Mary.
I think that conservative Christians tend to take scripture absolutely literally. This doesn't mean, however, that they haven't worked long and hard, amidst great controversy, to decide exactly *what* that literal truth *is*.
One only needs to read Luther or Calvin's "Institutes" to realize this.
Most non-theologians have a simplistic, "Sunday School", understanding of religion, that is little more than some rather amorphous emotions, evoked by a series of stories. But that is probably true of the laity of any religion, Christianity no moreso than Judaism, Hinduism, or anything else.