marriage of east and west religious traditions


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eastern religions,implicit faith,religious indifferentism,syncretism, unitive religion, unitary being, orthopathy, orthopraxy, orthodoxy, ignosticism, heresy, heresy hunting, proselytize, radical apophaticism, kataphatic, religious rationalism, pietism, quietism, encratism, ontotheology, religious myth, mystical, Thomas Merton's prayer

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marriage of east and west religious traditions

  1. 1. In the West, theologically, we mostly engage a unitive interpretation of anintersubjective reality (a reference to our interrelating to others and Godas personal subjects), while, in the East, a unitary interpretation of anintraobjective reality (as the Absolute Oneness) predominates. Perhaps theformer best refers to the essential nature or HOW (intimacy) of ourrelationships, while the latter best refers to the degree or HOW MUCH(infinite)?While the Gospel message clearly conveyed the degree of intimacy withGod to which we might all aspire via Jesus reference to God as Daddy(Abba) and our tradition offers no too few examples of even a spousalbrand of mysticism, a great deal of onto-theological over-thinking andrationalism has degenerated into various dispensationalisms and deisms(back then but not now) or eschatologicalisms (in the future but not now).So, perhaps there is something we can harvest from an inter-faithexploration?Now, at every mention of inter-faith or inter-religious initiatives, someonewill quickly offer admonishments to avoid any facile syncretism (easyblending of religions), false irenicism (easy peace between religions) orinsidious indifferentism (pick any religion, it doesnt matter). Sometimes,though, I have found such admonishments, themselves, to be facile, falseand insidious. Often, this is because the admonishers engage caricatures offaith, itself, either because they do not fully understand its essential natureor because they variously over- and under-emphasize its speculative vsaffective or kataphatic vs apophatic approaches. (see note below)Truly, only an insidious indifferentism would suggest that ad majorem Deigloriam (the greater glory of God) would not be at stake in getting ourapproaches as true, as good and as beautiful as practicable! However, Idont think we risk that vice even as we offer the observation that that thepractical consequences of choosing between some paths are often wayoverstated. Take, for example, the unitary vs unitive conceptions of thejourney of the East and West; is it not notable that, among billions ofpractitioners of each approach over thousands of years, so many from bothpaths, especially those who travel far or go deeply, will inevitably shareboth a profound sense of solidarity and a compelling response ofcompassion?Shouldnt the clear conceptual implications of our different approaches alsotranslate into obvious practical implications for our relationships to self,others, the world and God? Of course they will but those implications willpresent in varying degrees, more versus less consequential.We do, after all, have metrics to guage intellectual, emotional, moral, socialand faith developments (thanks to Piaget, Maslow, Kohlberg, Fowler andothers) and to guide our conversions (also intellectual, affective, moral, 1
  2. 2. sociopolitical and religious, thanks to Lonergan and Gelpi)?It is one thing, however, to have our Lonerganian metrics but quite anotherto imagine that we also have the sociologic methods to adequately guagetheir realization among and across populations and religious cohorts (notignoring that Stanley Jaki and others havent made reasonable but stillcontroversial general cases for one hermeneutic versus another).Lets return to the essential nature of faith, itself, for more insights into thesequestions. Here we might better clarify why it seems to be that conceptualimplications dont always translate into practical consequences. The primaryreason, in my view, is right here before our eyes in the distinction betweenthe conceptual and practical!Different faiths will far more engage what we might call practicalexistential hermeneutics and far less have anything at all to do withspeculative evidential metaphysics, which involve, instead, what areessentially philosophical preambles. In the practice of faith, as a live (notunreasonable), vital (existentially significant) and forced (not to choose isto choose) option, one will far more engage the participatory, imaginal andexistential and far less rely on the conceptual, propositional and evidential,which is to recognize that theology is much more so a practical, much lessso a theoretical, science.The efficacies of faith present in terms of right relationship to self, other,world and God; these efficacies are not primarily measured narrowly interms of conceptual coherence but more broadly in those of value-realization, with an emphasis on those related to love. Developmentally,more often orthocommunio (right relationship in community) will resultmoreso from orthopathy (right desires) and orthopraxy (right behavior)and less so from orthodoxy (right beliefs). Put another way, most often,community, cult and code will be robustly practiced even as creedtypically will be only vaguely sketched and poorly understood. In ourreality, which is radically incarnational and profusely pneumatological,quite often such value-realizations will be much more implicit than explicit,reflecting, then, a degree of unconscious competence. Even when explicit,quite often those conceptualizations will represent caricatures andmisconstructions, a degree of conscious incompetence, but with littlepractical consequence due to the otherwise proper forming of desires andof behaving in community via practices, liturgy, ritual and spiritualformation.This is all to suggest, perhaps, that, all gnosticism and agnosticism aside, agreat deal of practical ignosticism nevertheless prevails even amongbelievers. (Ignosticism suggests that, when it comes to God-concepts,people arent even employing coherent definitions or that they are toooften assuming too much or employing different definitions even whenotherwise coherent). Also, while much has been made of radicalapophaticism in recent years, few have seriously critiqued what hasbecome a predominant radical kataphaticism, which presents both aspietism (an over-emphasis on the affective and kataphatic) and rationalism 2
  3. 3. (an over-emphasis on the speculative and kataphatic); where faithelements that are primarily interpretive, metaphorical and mythical aremisconstrued as being mostly descriptive, metaphysical and literal; wherethe participatory imagination fancies itself as doing conceptual map-making;where what is essentially a theology of nature (or theo-ontology), a poeticventure, is received as a natural theology (or onto-theology), a philosophicventure; where the exoteric and mythical crowds out the esoteric andmystical; where believing and behaving take formative precedence overbelonging and desiring; where implicit and existential approaches aredenigrated and explicit approaches are fundamentalistic; where theunconsciously competent is not appreciated and the conscious ismanifestly incompetent. Such rationalists might acknowledge that oneneednt understand the metaphysics and theology of the Eucharist or othersacraments in order for their celebration to be efficacious but not as quickto agree that the same could be true for energy healing or with themanifold and multiform goings on during ones 20 minute sitting (thosepsychological imbalances, which have often associated with spiritualmispractice, generally require the therapy of prudential norms - e.g.moderation, not the ministration of theological gnosis - e.g. proselytization).Of course, not all therapies for practice will involve normative andprudential remedies; some may well involve interpretive corrections. Still,when interpretive, those remedies will require metaphorical, imaginal andmythical reformulations and not metaphysical, conceptual and literalcorrections. In this vein, Westerners can acknowledge that reality IS likethe unitary interpretation but that, as with the unitive interpretation, whatwe have, perhaps and at most, is a successful reference, not a successfuldescription. Furthermore, we can acknowledge that there IS more to besaid literally through apophatic predication and negation even whilethere is no limit on what can be metaphorically affirmed through kataphaticaffirmation. The western dualistic mindset often gets caught up in a zenconundrum regarding then there is no mountain because it doesnt finish thetrialectic with then there is, which returns one to the practical plane wherewe live and move and have our being, hopefully, in solidarity andcompassion. The unitary interpretation, as with the unitive interpretation, isbut part of the truth; both interpretations refer to a LARGE reality and thusconvey enormous existential impetus. As mentioned earlier, the unitivewithout the unitary has often led to deism, while the unitary without theunitive has often tended toward quietism; held in creative tension,though, they affirm us as created co-creators.While it is neither ideal nor optimal when folks enjoy poor catechesis ademploy impoverished theological conceptions, to the extent they haveotherwise been suitably evangelized and have enjoyed a lovingcommunity that has formed their desires and shaped their behaviorsthrough liturgy, sacrament and practice (even if implicitly, whether viaunitary or unitive pathways), for all practical purposes, their formation willhave been more than adequate. 3
  4. 4. None of this is to suggest that we should not otherwise all aspire to the mostnearly perfect 1) articulation of truth 2) celebration of beauty 3)preservation of good and 4) enjoyment of community in order to giveGod the greatest possible glory (AMDG: ad majorem Dei gloriam). It is tosay, however, that we should acknowledge that there is no a prioritheoretical argument that can demonstrate which path would take us toAMDG and that, furthermore, beyond a certain measure of epistemicvirtue, any a posteriori demonstration of the practical superiority of onereligious stance versus another remains too highly problematical for allsorts of reasons. Thats why both proselytizing and heresy-hunting soquickly reach a point of diminishing returns and becomecounterproductive, even to the point of offending charity. As it is, heresy-hunting does not engage theological method per se; rather, its essentially asimple exercise in semantics (more akin, really, to mathematical settheory) and only reveals which stance corresponds to which other stance(s); it cannot reveal which stance corresponds to reality. At the sametime,via philosophical method, we can measure the epistemic virtue ofcompeting faith stances (but we still cant prove which stance is true).So, in the same way that we affirm a governments role to maintain thepublicorder but not to enforce all moral virtue (because diminishing returnsquicklyensue), perhaps we should thus temper our coercive attempts to convertothers to our stance, instead evangelizing them by modeling thebelonging, desiring, behaving and believing that we would to share with all.Thus we distinguish between what would be an insidious religiousindifferentism(imagining that ones choice of stance makes no difference or that there arenocriteria for choosing) and a humble and contrite religious tolerance(warranted by our human fallibility).Let us thus pray with Thomas Merton:O Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead ofme. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myselfand the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I amactually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in factplease You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that Iwill never do anything apart from that desire to please You. And I know that ifI do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing aboutit. Therefore I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in theshadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me and You will neverleave me to make my journey alone.Note regarding the various -ISMs: 4
  5. 5. An overemphasis of the kataphatic and cognitive = rationalism.An overemphasis of the kataphatic and the affective = pietism.An overemphasis of the apophatic and the cognitive = encratism.An overemphasis of the apophatic and affective = quietism.Various overemphases of the positivistic, descriptive and/or of science = positivism, empiricismand scientism.Various overemphases of the paradigmatic, interpretive and/or of theology (or even atheology) =fideism, on one hand, Enlightenment fundamentalism, on the other, or dogmatism.An overemphasis of the prescriptive and normative, or on the law and code = legalism.An overemphasis on the evaluative = moral relativism and an embrace of the so-called fact-valuedichotomy. And when combined with the rubrics of religion = ritualism. 5