Friday, October 01, 2004

Buddhism (Christianity) Without Belief

Just beginning to read Stephen Batchelor turned me on in a big way:

With the first 3 pages of Buddhism Without Belief there came what seemed to me a significant gestalt- call it a vision:

Belief! Yes, that's what's wrong with Christianity, conventional Christianity, that is.

The gospels have Jesus constantly exhorting us to believe. But believe what? I infer that he meant believe in the power of love that he brought us from God.

But-- for the first 3 centuries we got layers and layers of theological overlay which was then sealed as orthodoxy by Constantine. He insisted that everyone believe the same thing. Possibly a good political policy, but definitely not good theology. It turned free followers of Jesus into lemmings.

For many years it has been painfully obvious that at this point we got a fallen church, a church tuned to worldly power, and nothing since has happened to 'raise' it. Nothing but the heretics like gnostics, bogomils... and quakers!

These groups stood for individuality-- everyone getting his own guidance from God. However even here strong forces pushed people toward conformity. Maybe they don't use quaker dress anymore, but they have a jargon! and a few other things; it sets them apart from other tribes.

There is one belief that seems to me essential- belief in life as Jesus pictured it for us. Not an intellectual proposition but something to test, and see what happens. That's my "enobling truth". That's the path, the way.

On page 5 Batchelor points out how Buddha's enobling truths were converted into [theological] propositions. From this I infer that the course of Buddhism was, then remarkably similar to Christianity as I've described it. How refreshing to be delivered from the need to open big books to learn "something about Buddhism".


Michael said...

Well said, Larry! Refreshing. I don't need to believe anything, yet I am given effective tools to be something. someone!

Anne Zelenka said...

I borrowed the Batchelor book from the library and thought it had some good ideas in it. My favorite was the distinction between being and having, between living vertically and horizontally.

Coming from a Christian background, it's harder for me get at the essence of Jesus than the essence of the Buddha, because the institutional church gets in the way. Certainly in countries where Buddhism is a dominant religion, history and theology and institutions probably get in the way of a pure understanding of what the Buddha was about.

You offer that we should test Jesus' way and see what happens. I have not found an experiential approach to Christianity yet but it's intriguing. Over the past few days as I've been dealing with some stressful personal events I've been wishing for a way to live as a pure light instead of a "feverish, selfish clod of ailments and grievances" to borrow a phrase from George Bernard Shaw.

Larry said...

Bless you, Barely...
Your interest in my blog has encouraged me a lot. It's quite clear to me that we have a lot in common, and maybe a lot to talk about. Before I was prompted to read BWB, my only experience with Buddhism had been Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace. I thought that was a thoroughly Christian book and recommended it to some of my Quaker peace activist friends who didn't seem to have much inner peace. Too many of us have (or do) so much more than we "be".

"The institutional church gets in the way" of everyone with a spark of critical intellect. One of my favorite verses is in Romans 2, where Paul admonishes the church of his day with the warning that "the name of God is blasphemed by the gentiles (or pagans) because of you." I meet more and more people (ex Christians, now Paul's 'gentiles') who fit into that category.

The institutional church certainly got in the way of the "essence of Jesus" for me for my first 30 years (brought up in a series of Methodist parsonages). But in a moment of desperation I prayed "Lord, send me something to read that will help me." (I had long since decided that no preacher was going to help me in that way.) But he/she did! and a lot more, too.

Long a deist, at that moment I came to believe that my "Loving Heavenly Father" loved me in a personal way. A big jump for a research chemist with long training in science. An awful lot happened to me in the next few months, and soon from being a graduate student in Physical Chemistry I found myself in a seminary. That was almost 50 years ago, and things have gone from good to better ever since. Now I love people (most of all my wife), and I get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction when I can help someone. This is the best year of my life, and I expect next year to be better.

Well there's my witness; I didn't mean to run on like that, but it just all came out.

I'm sure you noticed that Batchelor found the overlay of institutional religion in Buddhism just as oppressive as you and I have found a similar thing in our childhood faith. I suspect that we can all relate to Voltaire's description of professional religion: "the first priest was the first knave who met the first fool."

Living "as a pure light instead of a "feverish, selfish clod ...." Barely.., I'm a long way from achieving that wish. But let's just say that the first 50 years are the hardest. Seriously it did immediately start paying off in a big way when that enlightenment came to me. Incidentally the Quakers I know rarely say anything about God (except "there is that of God in everyone"). They are much more apt to speak of living in the light. Or "I will hold you in the light" instead of praying. And I mean to continue doing that for you, my dear friend.

Marjorie said...

An incredibly intriguing topic, one which I hope to discuss in a post on my own blog sometime (because I imagine it will involve extensive rambling...)

Belief -- thats the heart of the matter to me. You can't make anyone believe, not even yourself, and I don't know that there is any prescription to help another believe (and I've been looking for awhile!).

Believe! I think this is a painful exhortation to those who'd like to but can't. For those who don't want to, its annoying.

I feel that belief is a gift. I think one can search for answers to their questions, they can pursue a path that seems right to them, and maybe they will come to believe. I really don't know how belief works, but I agree that churches can really hinder belief -- especially when they treat it like a requirement instead of trying to help people seek by giving them encouragement and community and love.