Ancient Tradition and Perspective

This post is somewhat tangential to my recent post on contentment. In the comments I mentioned that after Christianity, one of the religio-philosophical traditions that I respect the most is Taoism/Buddhism (acknowledging that there often is overlap). I was wondering why I find this is so for me and I think it largely has to do with the ancient foundations of both systems and the effect of those foundations on their long-term perspective. That is, contrary to our modern society, both systems encourage us to patience, self-reflection, self-denial, and some level of detachment.

Perhaps some people may be surprised by my respect for the Taoist/Buddhist tradition. Such people perhaps see religious claims as being entirely exclusive. That is, religion X is 100% right and true and thus religion Y is 100% false and wrong. But that’s not how it works. Yes, I believe that Christianity is the Truth. But CS Lewis once pointed out that when he was an atheist he had the burden of thinking that all religions are fundamentally wrong in some respect. When he became a Christian he no longer had to believe that. He could then believe that all religions have some truth to them because they are all a struggle for the mystery of God. It’s just that for Lewis (and me too) the final and complete Truth is found in Christianity. And I freely admit that this is quite a claim, and it is one open to debate depending on your perspective.

That brings me to Saint Paul.

Um, the person. Not the city.

Saint Paul has a rather famous sermon where he preaches to the Greek philosophers in the agora. He points out that they have an altar to the “Unknown God.” Saint Paul goes on to say that this “unknown” God is the same God who was in Jesus and who raised Jesus from the dead. This deity is no longer “unknown,” but revealed in the person of Jesus. It is important to note here, Paul did not tell the Greeks that their religion was completely false and that they needed to repent of demon-worship or something like that. No, Paul commended the Greeks on their religious life. But Paul went further and claimed that the revelation in Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of what the Greeks were searching for. Not a replacement, but a keystone causing everything to fit together the way it should.

Some Orthodox writers have pointed out how the Rastafari movement, without any leading from Orthodox leaders, has come so close to a complete Orthodox theology. They have pointed to this as a miracle of God continuing to move people through ordinary revelation. Bob Marley was baptized into the Orthodox Church months before he died. In this sense, the ideas of Rastafari are seeking the fulfillment of the revelation of Christianity. When I read Taoist wisdom I see the same efforts to seek out “the way,” which is how “Tao” is translated. Perhaps we should remember that Christianity was first called, simply “the way.” See the Didache on the “two ways” and perhaps compare it to the Tao Te Ching.

I want to make clear here. I am in no way advocating for any kind of religious imperialism, eclecticism, or sense of superiority. I am not advocating for the absorption of one system by another, leading to wholesale destruction. Given some of the historical sins of the Church, I realize that there is a danger of that interpretation to my words. Saint Paul translated his revelation into the paradigm of Greek philosophy, but he did not force anyone into a system they had no desire to join. Nor did he destroy the altar to the “unknown” deity.

If you feel like you are superior to a Buddhist by dint of being Christian, then I would suggest that you need to repent of pride. CS Lewis echoed the words of Jesus when he said that sins of the body seem to be less serious than the sins of the mind and intellect. That is, the sins of looking down on others, feeling superior to them, and being happy when they are humiliated. I think it is entirely likely that there are a great many Buddhists that are closer to salvation than I. (Especially since many Christian saints, thinkers and mystics have speculated that anyone who truly seeks out the Truth will not be denied in the end.) Many Buddhists have the greatest respect for the person of Jesus and even see him as a bodhisattva, or someone who attained enlightenment. See the works of Thich Nhat Thanh for some good reading in that avenue.

So my point here is not to say: “Buddhism is great, but we’re even better.” My point is to (hopefully) point out that we shouldn’t be relating to other religio-philosophical systems as if we inhabited a dualistic either/or reality. A more apt metaphor is perhaps that of a target. Some things strike closer to the center of the target (Truth) than others. I believe that Christianity is the Truth. However, I am an inherently limited and fallible person. I may very well be wrong. But I think that seeing Taoism/Buddhism as a close sibling rather than a strange foreigner can help us to relate to those we may not understand with love, compassion and especially with a desire for understanding rather than with fear and even hatred. I think Saint Paul shows us a way to understand one another, show compassion to one another but, most importantly, a way to not exercise the old paradigms of domination, exploitation and cultural subjugation.

So. That’s the fallible and limited perspective from a fallible and limited man. Start filing your criticisms below 😉


~ by crossingthebosporus on July 17, 2012.

2 Responses to “Ancient Tradition and Perspective”

  1. In our modern win at all cost society, much of what you write about has been pushed aside for the sake of victory. I think many would rather put down another religion for the sake of converts rather than bless what is bless able in that religion. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. I agree. This is the opposite of syncretism. It is recognising that if, as we hold. God is the Creator, then all humans in some way try to find a way to Him. Those without the benefit of the perfect revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ often have within them important elements of the fullness of the Faith. We certainly don’t enter into dialogue with them by being imperialistic. A lovely post, my friend. 🙂

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