Saturday, July 30, 2005

Christian Heresies and Buddhism...

One of my commenters in the 2nd post on Pai Chang referred me to this article in the Evangelical/Protestant First Things.

I believe my commenter was focusing on the relationship to Pelagianism and early Christianity. As I am always interested in history - and actually found the rancorous theological wonkery quite interesting (although, like Russell, I would assert that at the time the Empire is collapsing and barbarians were at the gates the attentions of the best and the brightest of the post-Constantine Empire were certainly misplaced).

The degree to which Buddhist ideas affected Christianity (or vice versa) in my opinion cannot be known. Which came first? Jesus and the man whose daugter as died versus the Buddha and the woman whose daughter died stories? Perhaps the one to which you ascribe more verisimilitude has to do with temprament, experience, and other factors regardless of whether Buddhism "stole" the story from Christianity or whether Christianity "stole" the story from Buddhism.

And the end it doesn't matter: we have to live our lives. But as I said, these historical things are interesting in their own right.

Anyway to the article; my comments:

  • I think, to be honest, that there were a confluences of reasons, some good, some bad, some just dumb luck that causes religious systems to evolve. I think Christianity is no different. I think Buddhism is no different in that regard. (Parenthetically, I would say that - I can imagine howls of protest fom any naturalist atheist/agnostics reading this- that if you look at the timeline of the appearance of great religious movements in the scope of history, the only 1 that would qualify based on the appearance of other religious movements and civilization was, in fact, an atheist/agnostic movement. How that would evolve ought to be interesting.

  • The representation by the author of the notion of "perfection" misses the point of practice from a Buddhist standpoint: we know we as bags of skin and water are not completely perfectable in terms of phenomena we create associated with us, yet by our nature we are perfect and complete, lacking nothing. That is the Buddhist standpoint; the Mahayana vow is: "The Buddha Way is unattainable, I vow to attain it." It may be completely unattainable, but ...Shunryu Suzuki would say that it is our nature to try ... but I say, we have no choice but to try to attain it(whether we conciously associate the effort with Buddhism or not): the alternative is misery, for either ourselves or others.

  • Augustine knew that we were created by God for fellowship with Him, and that our hearts would always be restless until they found true rest in Him. - Believe it or not, many of us do not have a "God shaped hole" in us. Many of us, in the time of stress, and loss, and pain, can actually feel happy and content that in this life we have lived it fully, despite the pain. God or not doesn't enter into it, or might, but it is not of significance. To me, this is one of the gravest weaknesses with Augustine, and much of the early Church: the idea that there might be people content as they are does not occur to them - and in other instances had to be actively supressed - as Gibbon notes painstakingly. It is a notion that non-Christians and Christians of good will must challenge thoughtfully, respectfully, and skillfully.

So in short I think both Pelagius and Augustine were in error.

I also think folks like Pagels, who try to forensically reconstruct theology, after so much of the written text of the ancient world was destroyed are not going to be very succesful.

And towards what point?

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