Thursday, May 26, 2005

Not Nihilism Not Gnossis

I often use Joe Carter's Evangelical Outpost as fodder for my blogging, mostly because of its accessibility. I suppose if some other leading lights in his worldview blogged and did a back and forth, I'd respond to them, as well, as I sometimes do with William Dembski.

Today's post by Carter on epistemology
merits a Buddhist response.

When we trust in our own reason we either become dogmatic or skeptical. But when we set aside our self-idolotry and seek true epistemic humility by listening to God we find that knowledge comes from outside us. Ontology precedes epistemology...

Christ is ontologically prior to all of Creation. We only know any truths because he exists. Christians can justifiably be skeptical about many things. But for us to ever question the existence of God is not epistemic humility but epistemic nihilism. For it to be conceivable that God does not exist would require that something exists ontologically prior to our ability to doubt. To think that God might not exist would mean that we are gods...

Now there's so much in here to question from a Buddhist perspective: Us...god(s) doubt..., but the real issue, I think is the juxtaposition of of nihilism to Carter's Christian alternative (by no means the only one, as he readily admits), and the denigration of dbout. Heck there's much to dispute from a Christian perspective, but I only have a small bit of time...


It's often said, "Great faith and great dobut lead to great enlightenment. Little faith and little doubt lead to little enlightenment. Having neither faith nor doubt leads to no enlightenment."

With a strong degree of faith and doubt, as well as a large degree of determination, eventually we will, through experienced mindful practice, see things as they are: that it is our lot to live moment to moment in a bag of skin one day closer to death, with minds that change from moment to moment.

This is therefore not nihilism- the doctrine that nothing can be known. It is not gnossis either, not in the sense that "we are one with the universe now and forever and will never change." When experienced it does indeed shake the heavens and move the earth, as well as provide the confidence for going on in this crazy, mixed-up world.

This- to this Buddhist at least- is one reason why I'm not a Christian: when the core of our existence is experienced - as emptiness (so "core" is a deliberately chosen misnomer)- the idea that one needs a deity to center everything and make everything true is simply not necessary.

We have what we need right here right now. We are no more gods than we have need of a god. Just this. It is hardy met with, even in hundreds of thousands of millions of eons. But we now can see this; listen to this; accept and hold this. By actively being and using this, we can realize this Tathagata's true meaning.

But that true meaning is "is-ed"; we don't become rocks.

So while folks with Carter's brand of Christianity try clinging for Christ, Buddhists "be" ("to be" is such a poor verb in English- in standard English there is no way to express an active, transitive form of existence that is not the same as a simple identity) Buddha nature. The fact that it is useful, that it can make positive results in terms of magnifying generosity, wisdom and compassion to me is far more important than any attempts by a few Christian theologians to superimpose a thought structure on the whole thing, because I've got things that need doing while I breathe.

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