Monday, August 29, 2011

beyond faith

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What good is a faith that does not take its adherents beyond the borders of that faith? Not much is my thought, though I wouldn't begrudge others their deep and abiding faith.

Last night, I watched the 1991 movie, "Black Robe," the tale of a 17th century Jesuit priest sent into the wilds of Quebec to convince and convert the Indians. The movie is gritty and contains some of the on-the-ground questions that seldom get addressed in similar religion-oriented tales. I loved the scenery and the make-up and the marvel of a man so full of conviction that he would put his life on the line. But putting his life on the line in order to convince others? What a small-town and juvenile effort that struck me as being.

The good thing about the movie was that it challenged some of faith's bright convictions. But it did not challenge or address the bedrock assumptions that men and women might set out on such quests in the first place ... I cannot be content unless everyone agrees with me; there are credible reasons why such an imperative exists; 'God' says so and I have a book to prove it. How is it not a betrayal of the very 'God' anyone might credit if the religion that espouses him/her/it cannot make peace with the variety and wonder of a world that is obviously capable of leading a life without that 'God?'

I marveled at the notion that a religious man might think he was right. I marveled at the notion that other men might agree. But most of all I marveled that the chosen path led nowhere but back to the chosen path, like some dog in pursuit of its tail.

How fortunate I feel to have gotten involved with a spiritual endeavor, if it can be called that, that asks nothing but that I open my eyes. Sure, I have tried to convince others as a means of convincing myself and finding some company. Sure, I have thought I was right. Sure I have been an asshole ... that's what spiritual endeavor is -- investigating the asshole, not naming or improving him.

When I asked my Zen teacher what efforts he made to get more people to come to the zendo or practice hall, he was adamant: "No!" he said. "They come here if they want to. I encourage them to do zazen [meditation practice]." Put another way, he did not encourage anyone to see things his way or the "Buddhist" way. He encouraged them to see things their way in their own lives ... really. This approach strikes me as the only way that makes much sense when it comes to leading a peaceful life. This is the way that encourages faith to move with assured feet into a realm beyond a faith that is based on agreement or holiness. It doesn't happen overnight, perhaps, and it's not always easy, but it's the only thing that makes much sense in terms of reality and any possible kindness.

On the peace picket line last Saturday, a woman came down the line carrying a small camera. She asked each participant to give their names and say a bit about why they were there. And when it came my turn, I found myself saying, "I'm here not in order to convince anyone of anything. I would like to think that people would think what they think ... and then think about it."

Honestly, I just cannot think of another option that stands a chance of success.
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7 comments:

  1. A Liberal Muslin Lost in MassachusettsAugust 29, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    WOW! EXPECTING PEOPLE TO THINK ABOUT THEIR OWN THOUGHTS!

    YOU ARE SOOOOO... META, AND SOOOOOO...RIGHT.


    BUT YOU ASSUME SOOOO...MUCH. LIKE INTELLIGENCE, KNOWLEDGE, CLEAR, LOGICAL THINKING, AND THAT EVERYONE WANTS PEACE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.


    I SEE THAT DICK CHENEY STILL WANTS TO USE TORTURE. HIS HEART IS NOT DIFFERENT THAN THAT OF THE TALIBAN. TALK ABOUT AN UGLY AMERICAN.

    ALSO WITH ALL THOSE WALL STREET CRIMINALS WALKING FREE TO EXPLOIT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, AND DO AWAY WITH SOCIAL SECURITY AND HEALTH CARE, I PREDICT THE WORLD WILL SOON BE SAYING "FREE AMERICA!!"

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  2. Why did Zen come to the west? Because it is an evangelical religion. They've got the Dharma (truth) and they want to spread it. Sounds a lot like the boogie man evangelical Christians have become to you liberals out in the western part of the state. Plying ourselves with the notion that we are different and better because we don't think we are different and better is irony at its best.

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  3. Chris -- Your observation is entirely warranted in one sense: Everyone is always advertising to everyone else. But in another sense, I never have heard of any righteous imperative in Buddhism ... the my-way-or-the-highway, ours-is-the-one-true-way, we're-going-to-heaven-you're-going-to-hell aspect and the organizational directive to go out and tell the poor bastards. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it is part of the Christian playbook.

    My view could be twisted, but as I see it, Buddhism invites as a no-threat option ... you want some peace? You might give this a try. The 'one true way' is entirely your responsibility.

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  4. Ever have a Buddhist knock on your door with a fist full of pamphlets?

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  5. You honestly astound me in your willful ignorance of the tradition you critique. Even the conservative Catholic church says that atheists, buddhists, hindus, etc...can go to heaven---its about what you do not what you believe (Matthew 25, this doctrine has been around about 50 years) I go out on a limb and say that at least 3/4 of christians don't espouse the beliefs you've read about (you clearly don't communicate with any Christians or you wouldn't have such ill informed beliefs about their faith). Go read Dostoyevsky or any number of apologists from a hundred years ago....their faith isn't the caricature you've created in your mind. Hell, go pick up a Cornel West book or listen to his podcast, his faith isn't anything like the flinstonian version you've conjured up. It is the same critique over and over and over. You're too old for this.

    @Charlie The people I hang out with that practice a religion are evangelical in their zeal to tell me about how great it is....they happen to be mostly Unitarians and Buddhists (Zen). As to people knocking on my door with pamphlets, I live up in Leverett and those people are young and dreadlocked and evangelical in their zeal to tell me to support clean air/water/non nuclear/, etc.....with my money. No Christians have ever pounded on my door in the 20+ years I've lived here. There was that fellow wanting money for the peace pagoda....

    No such thing as Buddhist soup kitchens, seems to be more of a navel gazing thing. I know, I know, we're all one so what happens to the guy down the street or across the ocean does impact me greatly as I go on my thirty day retreat. I can scream at my teacher to show how much I care and that our pain is one. What a bunch of BS.

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  6. Chris -- You're probably right -- I am too old for this. And more particularly, you are probably right that (implicitly) I do not express myself well.

    The caritas on which Christianity rests does not bother me at all. It goes for the throat of things. And I am not saying all Christians are fools or worse, though, like the rest of us, they sometimes are.

    But, as always, it is the fine print that makes me wary. Fine print as in the instruction to go out and convert others. I believe, but don't know, that that's an explicit tenet of Christianity. Fine print as in the willingness to separate man and God or even attempt to unite them (as if they were separate). Fine print as in the descriptions and arguments and invocations that invariably bring the follower back to the front door of the church -- the church which stands as intermediary between man and God. Fine print as in the unwillingness to nurture and nourish its adherents and then, plainly stated, show them the much needed exit from what is called "Christianity." My experience suggests that belief, while a good starting point and a good initial inspiration, is suicidal in the long run. Why? Belief implies (of itself) doubt and continued belief nourishes continuing doubt. And a (wo)man in doubt is not a (wo)man at peace.

    I know lots of nice Christians. But that does not mean I cannot notice the trip-stones in the road.

    PS. Be careful alluding to Unitarians as anything resembling Christians. I have a feeling they might cut out your tongue and eat it for breakfast. :)

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