Sunday, September 11, 2011

dismantle beliefs ... how?

Watching a youtube clip of a man who appears to be named David A. Morse, I found myself struck by how lucky I felt.

Morse gives a pretty good Christian-oriented talk about the love of Christ and how, if anyone wants to attain such a state, the first order of business is to "dismantle the beliefs" that currently pass for Christianity. His delivery is the quasi-staccato, gasp-y-breathed offering of an evangelical, though his observations are pretty fresh and challenging. He even drops a few Buddhist references.

The biggest challenge comes right at the beginning of the clip with the encouragement to "dismantle the beliefs." I've never heard a Christian say that (perhaps because I am too ignorant) and it was a refreshing invitation. No matter what you believe, he says approximately, it is bound to cause discord if not outright harm in the long haul.

I found myself thinking that I couldn't agree more, but ...

But I wondered what audience he was addressing. I imagined it to be Christian-leaning (God, etc.) if not lifelong, Sunday-go-to-meetin' Christians. His parting words to those listening is, "I invite you all to your own reflections on awareness."

And at that point, I wondered what mechanism was available to Christians invited to "dismantle the beliefs" that are the underpinning of so much of both institutional Christianity and the Christians who credit it. Even if the courage and determination were available, what would a Christian do in order to drop the beliefs and actualize a love of Christ. There is prayer, of course, and "The Way of a Pilgrim" makes it clear that deep and repetitive prayer has some pretty good results. But so much of prayer is woven with belief that it is hard not to imagine it might be like pouring out gasoline in order to douse a fire. I'm not criticizing, just trying to see what mechanism might be available to those willing to shake off belief ... what is the literal, arms-and-legs method of training and, possibly, attaining.

My question to Morse was, "dismantle the beliefs" ... how?

It's no good simply telling someone to let go of their beliefs when they are in the midst of believing. That would be like lecturing a fish flopping on the dock about the life-giving properties of breathing air. If telling the truth is the best you can do, well, what good is that? To my mind, which, I suspect, lacks the full panorama of the suggestion, it sounds merely frightening.

But being free from belief is something everyone has done. They already know -- from sneezing or laughing or even running a good race -- that belief is a secondary matter, something that relies on and lives in the past. When a mortar shell explodes mere feet from a soldier's fox hole, there is no God, no heaven, no hell. There is only boom! Only later does God come into the mix. And every moment is a boom moment -- exceeding the grasp of any save the confused. People know this from their own experience ... but do not yet connect the dots of ungraspability. They believe and are partially consoled and then believe some more in order to patch over the places and times that go boom. And the beliefs are fierce -- truly, truly fierce.

Well, I haven't written this very well. The only thing I wanted to say was that I feel extremely fortunate to have taken up a Zen practice. Zen doesn't tell anyone to chuck or dismantle their beliefs. Zen is sneakier than that. Zen says, "Believe anything you like ... but practice." So Buddhists can believe in Buddhism if they like. But they practice ... they are given the tool box with which to dismantle the beliefs without even knowing that that is what they are doing.

In Zen, there is some emphasis on zazen, or seated meditation. Literally, sit down, erect the spine, shut up, sit still and focus the mind. On the surface it's a physical exercise. But that exercise brings thought, word and deed into accord. Body and mind are no longer imagined to be separate. This bringing together (so to speak ... how the hell could they be separate?) of the elements of anyone's life teaches, day by day, month by month, year by year ... well, boom! Belief falls away not because someone dismantled it, but because experience trumps belief.

I am happy to hear people like Morse pointing to a way that is more convincing than belief. But the fierce-fierce-fierce fierceness of belief make me grateful for a tradition that provides the this-really-works tools ... tools that stand a chance of realization and actualization. Perhaps there are other equally effective tools, but I do know that tools like intellect and emotion won't work.

I don't know...

But I do know I am grateful.


  1. I've read of some christians of yore that buddhist scholars thought large amounts of prayer brought them to understandings similar to those of buddhism. But generally I imagine a TV preacher wants folks to dismantle the belief that the church they attend is wrong and curry the belief that his is right. But then I believe I have a bad attitude.

  2. Charlie -- There is a cranny of my mind that shares your bad attitude. But I like to leave the door open ... who knows, maybe there really is a better mouse trap.

  3. I'm willing to be wrong, seem to have a talent for it. Sadly, I keep seeing things that suggest I might be right. But I'm also often surprised. Time will tell. Bill Moyers is a Southern Baptist who suggests that reason can find a healthy relationship there. I fear he is a one of a kind, but hope he isn't. Though I'm pretty sure he doesn't represent a trend.

  4. If Bill Moyers ran for president, I'd be willing to stuff the ballot box for him.