Saturday, May 04, 2013

Christian Apologetics and the need to turn it down a notch

Justin Whitaker points me in the direction of one Peter Kreeft, a Catholic apologist.   For as long as the World Wide Web existed - actually longer - heck, back into the days of Usenet groups, there have been Christian apologists and there have been people who spent many an hour making mincemeat out of their arguments.

You'd think they'd quit with that long ago.  But that's not how it works with some types of minds, and it takes a special kind of infidelity to reality (grounded, I would submit, in narcissism) to persist in a "faith" that requires one to keep bringing up this bilge.

Justin had very good arguments against Kreeft, and he's far more polite than I am, and certainly Justin's more polite in his response that Peter Kreeft and his fans actually deserve.  

Why am I acting like my Huggies are full, you might ask?  Consider this bit from Kreeft on Buddhism's notion of compassion:


Karuna and agape lead the disciple to do similar, strikingly selfless deeds—but in strikingly different spirits. Both points are shown by the Buddhist story of a saint who, like St. Martin of Tours, gave his cloak to a beggar. But the Buddhist's explanation was not "because I love you" or "because Christ loves you" but rather: "This is the enlightened thing to do. For if you were freezing and had two gloves on one hand and none on the other hand, would it not be the enlightened thing to do to give one of the gloves to the bare hand?" 
The Buddhist point is not the welfare of the recipient, but the liberation of the giver from the burden of self. The same end could be achieved without a recipient. For instance: A man, fleeing a man-eating tiger, came to the edge of a cliff. The only way was down. He found a vine and climbed down it; but there, at the foot of the cliff, was a second man-eating tiger. Then he saw two mice, one black and one white (yin and yang) eating the vine in two above him. Just before it broke, he saw a wild strawberry on the face of the cliff. He plucked it and ate it. It was delicious!


First, Kreeft is reading Buddhist texts in a manner that treats it the same way a Christian would treat the Bible. But what is really obscene about what Kreeft writes here is his defamation of the Buddhist notion of compassion, for indeed the point of Buddhist compassion is the welfare of the recipient, because that recipient encompasses and permeates existence just as much or as little as the "donor" of compassion. THAT'S WHY THE BODDHISATTVA OF COMPASSION BECAME ENLIGHTENED ON SEEING THE FUNDAMENTAL EMPTINESS OF ALL PHENOMENA!

I would say though that the reason Kreeft writes what he does is that he perhaps has never imagined a compassion so deep that an ordinary schmo can practice and achieve this compassion to the point where said ordinary schmo, without thought of gain for any reason, can enter into horrible hells to help those that would be truly desperate and hopeless and helpless simply  because there is no fundamental separation between the helper and the helped.  We are all truly desperate and hopeless and helpless beings, and the best thing to do is to help and comfort each other.

And what is Kreeft's point about including the tiger story? That it's silly to maintain equanimity in the face of death?  Really?  I'd rather have equanimity when I die rather than worry about whether there's a deity existing who may or may not judge me according to that deity's religious prejudices, frankly.  And if I were to meet such a deity, as has been written how many thousands of times, I'm sure said deity would understand my position, and if not, at least I would have the chance to help others in hell. 

I'll skip Kreeft's descent into untruths regarding nihilism. I have never, in fact, seen a Christian call something nihilism that was actually nihilism, come to think of it. 

Kreeft said the Buddha spent many years meditating on "life's deepest mystery: Why is man unhappy?"  AAAAuugghhhhh!  If he had ever READ any of the free Buddhist literature you can get at any temple (or hotel room in Japan) he'd know that "man" is unhappy in life for one simple reason: we suffer and die and experience loss and grief and pain and all kinds of nasty stuff.  The Buddha wasn't looking for a pitch for a motivational seminar, but rather the how to address the fundamental aspects of human existence.

Naturally I'm leaving out Kreeft's sales-pitch for Jesus, but hey, he lost the sale to me, and anyway, the point of apologetics is not about the obvious target of the apologists, but rather it's to those who are already believers.  "Follow the money," as Deep Throat said.

My last bit on Kreeft has to do with this:

On this crucial issue—the diagnosis of the human problem—Christianity and Buddhism seem about as far apart as possible. For where Buddha finds our desires too strong, Christ finds them too weak. He wants us to love more, not less: to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Buddha "solves" the problem of pain by a spiritual euthanasia: curing the disease of egotism and the suffering it brings by killing the patient, the ego, self, soul or I-image of God in man.


First, I love how Kreeft and others of his ilk speak for God; good thing we have him around otherwise "God" would be silent.  Of course it's Kreeft talking here, and don't worry Kreeft, we Buddhists do love you and have compassion for you.   But that's because  you are in need of dealing with what happens when you find out your "faith" won't save you, when your "faith" "leaves" "you," or when some other calamity strikes.  And we do that because at a deeper than fundamental level and beyond, you're not only one of us, you're us. We're you. We've got to deal with the narcissism that makes one want to shout from a rooftop, "I've got the answer!" 

But truth be known, that's not very effective anyway. Better to quietly make the world a better place, and work with the forces that would oppose you (or at least make them orthogonal to you and your purposes).   I try not to  write Buddhist apologetics post nowadays as a rule, because it's easy to get swayed in the argument and lose the fundamental point: compassion and love are executed (as in executing a plan of action) and done so without concern to theological correctness. 







2 comments:

genkaku said...

A friend of mine once taught an introductory philosophy class to a group of adults who had returned to school. She taught pretty basic stuff and told me that during the class before the final exam was to be given, she essentially wrote all the answers on the blackboard ... without, of course, revealing the questions.

When the exams came back, one woman, in response to a question I do not recall, wrote, "In the 16th century, the Christian philosopher Socrates...."

To get so much wrong in so little space is truly astounding. But it is also a good reminder that anyone can take pretty much anything and turn it into something else... something that suits them, perhaps, or dovetails with their understanding or just makes perfectly good sense to them.

It can be pretty irritating when such appreciations are then passed along as if they were writ in stone.

NY Yankees manager Casey Stengel was once quoted as saying, "If the fans won't come out to the ball park, you can't stop them." And in the same way, there simply is no dissuading those who choose not to be dissuaded. Christian argumentation can irritate me quite a lot (hope and belief passing for understanding, etc.) but it can't be helped ... idiocy is idiocy and the only lesson to be learned from that mistake is ... don't YOU do that.

Or anyway, that's my take.

Mumon K said...

Genkaku,

Indeed, in the mind of such an apologist, the cost/benefit trade-offs simply never favor fundamental questioning, and there's no point to try to get them past that point.

Have to help them however we can though. T