I came across a quote by the Dalai Lama the other day which struck me as very sensible. I have not always been sure about his ability to see through the illusions of fashionable worldly wisdom and realise that proper spirituality requires the comprehensive rejection of the constantly expanding liberal agenda which, almost by definition, prioritises earthly man over the soul, but on this occasion he was making an excellent point. He had been asked about the suitability of Buddhism for Westerners, and replied as follows: "In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you? Homeless inside yourself."
Homeless is a good word to use in this connection. If you are to give yourself fully to a religion it must be a natural fit, a bit like a home. A religion that arose in a totally different environment, as all Eastern regions did, and has developed a very particular mythology, as all Eastern religions have, will never be a real home. At least, in 99 cases out of a hundred it won't be. There will always be a sense of artificiality, and that does not bode well for its effectiveness as a means of spiritual transformation. You can read and learn from the philosophical tradition, and perhaps even employ some of the meditation techniques, but if you try to embrace the religion completely, you will remain on the outside looking in. Far better to resist the lure of the exotic, which will always be transient and so will, as the Dalai Lama said, wear off in time, and focus your attention on what is part of your own heritage which for the great majority of people in the West is Christianity. And if this is true for Buddhism, it is even more the case for Hinduism which is more indelibly soaked in the spirit of a land and a culture.
One might argue against this by saying that Christianity spread through conversion and was alien to many of the people who eventually embraced it. But I don't think this argument is valid. Christianity was a new religion with a tradition and culture that could be developed by its recent converts, and was. The Eastern religions are old and established. They have grown up to cater for a completely different mindset to that which now prevails in the West. For most people in Europe and America they can never be a home and, more to the point, they are not meant to be. The West has a different path to tread, one in line with its own consciousness, and if you are born here that is the path you should be treading. This path is not concerned with enlightenment or self-realisation in the Eastern sense, which is largely a question of forsaking matter for spirit, but of marrying matter and spirit which means uniting the whole of creation within oneself, rejecting nothing except that which rejects God.
There are always exceptions that prove the rule but that does not alter the basic fact of the rule. When the excitement of novelty wears off, where will you be? Homeless inside yourself.
I agree with this and I think it goes beyond this even.
Buddhism itself changed in each new land it went to and adapted itself to local conditions. Tibetan Buddhism is quite different than Zen, although there is of course an underlying unity.
So Buddhism itself never remained the same but adapted to local conditions and mentalities. For westerners en masse to take up Tibetan Buddhism would not make any sense.
If Buddhism were to establish itself in the West it would have to adapt to the local mentality and be quite distinct. But then, it would have Western imagery and for the mentalities of Westerners - to some extent we have this already with the Christian mystics.
I know Bruce Charlton says one must choose a religion but in my view the age of religions is past - it is to imprison the infinite in a structure.
I was reading the other day D.T Suzuki on Zen and enjoying his accounts of the behavior and sayings of the Zen masters and while I was highly sympathetic to their methods and thought I understood their paradoxical point I was struck by how inappropriate this would be for the West.
I read the Eastern traditions with profit and likewise I read about Jesus - and in the end true religion is to be free of these thought structures and approach the divine directly.
Buddhism itself likens itself to a raft - it is not meant to be a religion that you settle down in but to be used to liberate oneself. Once the other shore is reached you discard the raft.
Religion goes beyond itself if it is successful.
The demise of modern man is that we think we can construct ourselves from outside in - similar to downloading free apps into your phone. This is metaphysical error caused by hubris and consumerism. Since our culture operates on Christianity, we don't have the luxury of plainly rejecting it in favor of spiritual tourism. Some individuals might be able to but we can't as a group. I strongly disagree with the New Atheist notion of saving humanity from religion when it is the other way around - namely saving religion from human ideology.
We should conduct spiritual tourism in order to understand ourselves better, not to flee from God. That being said, there are also modern Christians who fear the East and hold on to their formalist dogma which IMO is equally counterproductive. It's a healthy mark to explore the eastern traditions because surely, the spiritual architects of our time must find a new synthesis to reinvigorate Christianity. Certainly I owe almost all my spiritual understanding to the East, but as soon as I was done with that I came back home. And yes, Christ is our home. I find the pagan argument of Christiaity being foreign as ridiculous. Certainly, Christianity is no more foreign to Europe than Hinduism is to India (the Vedic tradition was actually brought into India from far away lands).
What is vital is ultimately to understand that all of humanity shares the same spiritual tree. This was actually the great accomplishment of Carl Jung. He discovered the shared objective psyche and laid the basis for a perennial integration of all human traditions into God. But his work is yet to be finished.
Buddhism is based on abnegation, but what is abnegated by Westerners is Christian concepts like moral accountability and individual freedom, compared to Asians who are abnegating the materialist despair arising from extremes of injustice in their dominant social context.
Western Christianity never really came anywhere near the degree of structural injustice common in Asian nations, it is only with the loss of Christianity that such has begun to make inroads. So Westerners are generally simply not capable of understanding the degree of despair which historically pervaded Asia (which remains a problem, globalism has succeeded in dechristianizing the West more than in Christianizing Asia).
Buddhism is an escape from socially imposed norms of behavior, but the Western norm of behavior is Christian, while the Asian norm is abject subjugation to gross wickedness and injustice. Thus Western Buddhism increases the wickedness and injustice of society. I think that any Asian Buddhist would be sensitive to this, though, not being Christian, they don't really understand why it happens.
This is not to say that theocratic impulses in Western Christianity are not also spiritually dangerous. If you had Western Buddhists standing against a genuine theocracy (on the level of putting people to death for belonging to the 'wrong' religion, as was always more common and on a larger scale in Asia and remains a problem today), I think that deciding whether the Western Buddhists or nominally Christian theocrats were worse off (spiritually, that is) would be a difficult question. Theocracy should fundamentally be heretical to Christianity.
Unfortunately, "heresy" is typically defined by theocrats, since nobody else seems to really care as much about what constitutes heresy.
Fortunately, theocracy hasn't been a serious problem in Christendom for centuries, and was never close to the problem it was outside.
Unfortunately, the lack of interest in identifying heresy by non-theocrats isn't because heresy isn't a serious problem. It most certainly is, as Christ unambiguously teaches. Those who adopt incorrect beliefs in clear contradiction of sound doctrine available from authoritative sources will not be saved. There is no more serious problem than that.
William, would you agree with the implied corollary that, say, a Chinese person should probably not become a Christian?
@CCL - That is my understanding too. Esepcially the Zen tradition seems to be a way of dealing with an almost overwhelming despair - as you say, induced by the rigid, imposed, impersonal social system; by training oneself to indifference.
When I fairly seriously tried to practise Zen (unsupervised; in my mid twenties; perhaps in response to despair at entering the modern workplace) - I soon discovered that progress in indifference to suffering also entails loss of hope; and deliberate destruction of all that was most important to me in my memories and loves. So I pretty soon backed-off.
One thought that rose inconsidering this post, is that there is no problem when people are honest and rigorous in their thinking; but the modern world has a way of exposing and amplifying any slight self-dishonesty or evasion. If we are 'kidding ourselves', or posing, or when our metaphysics undercuts our expressed convictions - modernity has a way of forcing such contradictions into evil.
For example, the deep materialistic, meaning-less and purpose-less assumed-metaphysics of The West is visibly eroding all surface morality, over time; and eroding all hope and optimism too.
Or, within Christianity, the inconsistencies and conflicts of traditionalism are ruthlessly pitted against one another (eg. God's power and God's love; freedom and determinism; the church and the individual) - and people are compelled to take one side or another (even when they refuse to admit the need for choice, or the fact of having chosen).
This aspect of modernity is - overall - a Good Thing, a necessary challenge; even though the job is typically done by corrupt, selfish, or evil people and Beings. It is a way in which evil is turned-to Good.
Wm Jas, that's the implied corollary but I don't feel qualified to make a judgment. I would say though that Christianity is meant to be a universal religion so maybe the situation is not the same. The idea is that Christ came for all mankind but Buddha is the light of the East. So I don't think it's an exact parallel. On the other hand, I certainly don't see any likelihood of mass conversion, definitely not in somewhere like India. Nor do I think there should be.
There's a large premises in Manchester city centre which is simply called 'Modern Buddhism.' What that translates as is basically, 'If you read The Guardian you'll like it here.' I don't know how it's doing, but my sense is that it'll probably be less successful than it would have been say 10-15 years ago, in the era before the crash, austerity, populism, identity politics, etc. All this 'Buddhist-lite' stuff seems redolent to my mind of a former, more easy-going time - the 'long 1990s' as some people call it - that 'holiday from history' which lasted, as someone commented on this blog recently I think, from 1989 to about 2007. I think people - if only subconsciously at the moment - are craving something stricter, simpler and less self-indulgent.
There's been a lot made on the Twitter-sphere recently about Sinead O'Connor's conversion to Islam, in particular in relation to the novels of Michel Houellebecq, especially his 'Submission' (2015). Throughout his novels, Houellebecq's characters experience the vacuity of the modern world in a thousand different ways until submission to Islam seems like the only form of relief. I have to stress that there's absolutely nothing anti-Islamic in Houellebecq's writing's. His fictional 'Muslim Brotherhood' is actually quite sympathetically portrayed. All he's doing is describing the yawning spiritual and cultural chasm at the heart of the contemporary West and showing us how that gap could possibly be filled. Because it will be filled one way or the other. Make no mistake.
British Muslims, in my view, have not yet realised how successful they might be in converting liberal, hipster types. Ther's an unacknowledged craving for overarching meaning bubbling away in such circles, allied of course to a deep antipathy towards Chridtianity and the West. They really are ripe for the picking.
As for Christianity, well, I can't speak for other denominations but for Catholicism, the answer is so, so easy - open all the churches from 6 am to 6 pm at least, light all the candles, adorn the statues, imbue the church with silence, create an atmosphere where God and His Blessed Mother and the Saints are felt as real and active beings, who you can talk to and be with and bring all your joys and sorrows to, whether you stand or kneel or sit or walk about. No one will mither you. No one will 'welcome' you and bombard you with inane banter. It'll just be you and the Holy Ones, and believe me because I've seen it happen, people will flock to such a sacred space.
And yet the liberal, modernist cabal who (with one or two noble exceptions) dominate the ranks of the English and Welsh Bishops, seem dead set gainst such simple, restorative action.
Why? Whose side are the on? Who do they really serve?
interesting comments, John. I think you're quite right about creating a sacred space in church, using peace and beauty to give people a sense of something transcendent. I'm not a Catholic but I often go into a local Catholic church at lunchtime to pray. It's a Victorian church with good stained glass and the faint whiff of incense which I like. There's wooden statue of Christ which I gaze up at and, just as you say, talk to sometimes.
@WmJas - There isn't an implied corollary unless it is being assumed that Chinese are the same as Westerners, and Buddhism is the same as Christianity; neither of which is true.
And a more accurate way of stating it - as things are - would be 'Should Chinese people be *actively prevented* from becoming Christian?'
Because (from what I gather) it is likely that there are now considerably more active Christians in China than in Europe; and conversions are running like wildfire despite strong official restriction and discouragement. My family's evangelical Anglican church has far more Chinese converts (present in the city for higher education) than of any other group.
There seems to be a real spiritual hunger among Chinese that Christianity seems to satisfy. So, again no symmetry.
Bruce, it was implied that the inadvisability of Westerners becoming Buddhists was an instance of a more general "bloom where you're planted" rule of thumb. The larger question is: Is there a religion to which everyone ought to belong, or are different religions right for different people(s)?
I think there's a very strong case to be made for staying rooted in the religion you grew up with. This is one of the meanings of "Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" and of "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" Also Mark 4:5-6.
Of course, if important truths lie outside that tradition, they still have to be embraced. Languages furnish a partial analogy. Learning a second or third language greatly enriches one's mental life, but to stop thinking and speaking in one's own native language would be foolish in the extreme. Even within a monolingual context, it often happens that another language has a word for an important concept that one's own language lacks (as English formerly lacked such words as logic, karma, naive, schadenfreude, macho, enchilada etc.), and borrowing such words enriches the language.
@WmJas - " it was implied that the inadvisability of Westerners becoming Buddhists was an instance of a more general "bloom where you're planted" rule of thumb. "
I don't think WW meant that, or at least not as a strong generalisation - I think he meant specifically that these Eastern Religions are woven with their cultures; and therefore the religion cannot be extracted and exported to individuals (or initially small groups) in the way that has happened so often with Christianity and Islam. Presumably, one would have to transform the whole society.
"there's a very strong case to be made for staying rooted in the religion you grew up with."
I don't agree. It ought to be an individual matter. Indeed The individual matter.
But in practice, in reality, individuals cannot simply pick 'a religion' and live by it: the choice may or may not 'work'. Westerners who decide to practice Eastern religions may find that it does not work - and we can legitimately make our own judgments about this. Westerners who claim to have become Buddhists or Hindus can be observed, and we can make a judgment about whether their claims are valid.
In fact I don't think there is any very strong or useful definition of a 'religion' - it seems to be been a tendentious term created by Western anything-but-Christians; as with the academic field of 'religious studies'.
So, the way that this debate is commonly presented - that there are definable and detachable things called 'religions', for us to survey objectively and choose-between, or choose to reject - has already begged the most important question. It is, in fact, setting-up a secular/ post-religious - almost 'postmodern' - framework.
Let's explore some convenient parallels between Buddhism and our modern spiritual tourists:
* Buddhism emerged during a transition period in India's religious history? Check.
* It was a time of social unrest and dissolution? Check.
* People no longer could communicate with the gods and began to mistrust them? Check.
* The early buddhists were vegetarians? Check.
* The early buddhists rejected their social setting and had no permanent home? Check.
* They rejected family and kin as highest value? Check.
* They lived off of subsidies? Check.
* They were individualists from the cities who rejected vedic priesthood? Check.
Do you see a pattern?
I would say CCL and Bruce have a mistaken understanding of Buddhism, albeit one that is common in the West.
D.T Suzuki wrote some excellent books that would clear up these misconceptions, and Alan Watts wrote an accessible and really profound work on Zen.
I suppose it doesn't really matter at this point and you guys have found another path you're happy with, but I am just pointing that out.
"induced by the rigid, imposed, impersonal social system; by training oneself to indifference."
This also strikes me as a misconception of Japanese culture in its traditional aspect. While it has its rigid and formal side, it's actually a very warm and emotional culture that's accepting of human nature, favorable to humor and eccentricity, and very free in many ways.
Its amusing because the Japanese see themselves as a "wet" culture - warm and emotional and flexible - and the West as a "dry" culture - overly rational and rigid - yet the West sees it as exactly the opposite :)
East and West shall never meet I guess.
@U - Alan Watts (in his person and life) demonstrates exactly what is *wrong* with supposedly Western Zen;
but surely neither he nor Suzuki were Buddhists? Suzuki was a Theosophist.
D.T Suzuki was a Zen Buddhist who wrote almost exclusively on that topic (although frequently discussing Christianity in relation to Zen), although Watts was not a Buddhist and did not categorize himself.
I suppose opinions must differ - I regard Watts as one of the most profound philosophers of the last century. I ignored him for ages because everyone regards him as frivolous, and was shocked to discover the depth of his insight. Hiding in plain sight, as it were, and beneath a cloak of frivolity.
But he is too radical for mainstream society and I certainly understand why you don't wish to uphold him as an example.
As for his personal life, by the terms if his own philosophy, he did not do so bad.
For me it boils down to this. Buddhism, for all its many virtues, lacks the sense of God and one of the results of that is that it must therefore deny the integrity of the individual. Consequently, for all its quite sincere talk of compassion, it cannot know real love. The Buddhist goes beyond suffering by going beyond desire but the Christian, by accepting suffering through Christ, eventually finds the complete fulfilment of desire in the living God.
Christianity, when it is lived as it should be, really does take the spiritual quest to a higher place than Buddhism which is to be expected since it was a revelation from above whereas Buddhism represents the highest the unaided human being can go without the input of divine grace.
The "misunderstanding" of what a choice to be Buddhist instead of Christian is a matter of evidence and sound reason. The Dali Lama is merely noting what anyone who looks at Western Buddhists can clearly see, but which they would prefer not to admit themselves.
As a non-Christian, his theory of why Western Buddhists have the peculiar spiritual malaise they do is not deeply informed by any real spiritual experience as a devout Christian. So obviously it would differ from the view of those who have really engaged Christianity. But his observation of the effect is what it is.
This concept that somehow Christianity is a natural home for Westerners doesn't fit my experience nor the reality that vast numbers of people left that religion so quickly.
If one wants to have a religious home to match the people then it must come from the ethno-cultural group itself, not be an import.
Historically Christianity was given by Jews to Jews for conversion.
I think a lot of people are raised Christian and then try to fit it in to modern reality due to their early influences.
I grew up in the secular West, am of European descent, and despite years of exploring Mormonism and Catholicism have never felt it to be natural to the West or Westerners as your post claims. Most Westerners have left and are not coming back.
Becoming a Hindu may be a cultural stretch depending on what parts you get into.
Yet Yoga has grown massively in the West and is part of the European exploration into new states of being, a process that accelerated in the 60s and found minor fruition in the New Age.
Yoga is from a people who would be closer to modern Europeans than say, Middle Easterners, if you want to fit beliefs and culture to biology.
That depends on what you mean by Christianity and the West. I'd say modern Christianity, post reformation, is definitely a Western phenomenon, in so far as being a very literalist approach that resembles the Judeo-abrahamic mentality, in turn overlapping with western rationalism. The reason westerners are jumping of that train is actually that they are yearning to renew their pagan souls from the East. Indeed paganism and the Indo-Aryan traditions strike a chord in the European spirit, that modern Christianity lacks. That's why I'm fond of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which captures the ancient Greek in us all better than any of the newer branches.
There is a paradoxical phenomenon here meaning the East representing the Indo-European spirit more authentically than modern Western Civilization. So there are two Christianities - one is the Christian ideology and the other one is the way of Christ - which we have lost. And even if, as you imply, paganistic and even yogic traditions come more natural to us, our God-image rests upon Christ.
Christianity's Jewish backround doesn't bother me personally since humanity is interlinked, and Jews/levantines are a much older branch on the tree of humanity than modern Europeans which means we are a continuation of them - while they in turn have much influence from Old Europe and Indo-Iranians. So there is no "us" and "them" in the wider scheme of things. I think the task of serious spiritual westerners is capturing the sunlight rising from the East and renewing our calcified religion rather than abandoning it. We neither have time for spiritual tourism nor tribalism.
Not sure you're right Faculty X. Yoga comes from well before the Aryan invasion of India, and in the West it's not predominantly a spiritual path anyway.
Christ did not just come for the Jews but for all mankind. Christianity may not appeal to you but it is a religion that was evolved for and by Westerners who may not come back to Christianity in its most modern degenerate forms but who do need to come back to Christ.
Christians can learn something important from Buddhism. In fact there are some who say that without Buddha's teachings of the Noble Eightfold Path - that certain teachings of Christ could not have been understood 500 years later. Additionally, the primary doctrine of the East - Reincarnation - in my view, will play a fundamental role in the future of Christianity.
But the problem with many Buddhists in my experience - is their absolute certainty that there is nothing they can learn from Christianity.
Christianity isn't natural to anyone.
That's kinda the whole point.
Every race of man on the Earth, from the beginning, has by nature tended towards rebellion against God and consequent damnation. No race is "naturally Christian".
Christianity is about avoiding the natural fate of every human, of every race.
And not about much else, really.
I think that is an unfortunate way of putting it, although I get your point.
I feel one of the unfortunate things about Christianity is its separation between nature and God and even a sense of opposition between the two. I think this is really the precursor to modern alienation.
I think Bruce's Romantic Christianity is meant to overcome this error and reestablish mans harmony with nature and God within a Christian framework.
As to your point, there does seem a tendency in man to split himself off from the cosmos and rebel against it - but the desire to heal this split is just as 'natural", as evidenced by the existence of religion everywhere.
So perhaps we can envision it as two different natural states - one diseased, and one healthy. The split state is diseased and the state of unity - going along with and cooperating with nature - is healthy.
But disease is as natural as health and perhaps necessary viewed from the totality of the system - as God said to Job, and as the mystics have perceived it.
So in a sense Christianity is as natural to man as rejecting it - one is nature in its positive aspect and the other in its negative aspect, one is a natural symptom of balance and health and the other of the forces of decline that precede regeneration - perhaps necessarily.
After all, nature is Gods good and wonderful creation, and nature as bad and in opposition to God seems to me an unfortunate misunderstanding of the relationship.
@Unknown - Christianity must always be a positive choice - it is an opt-in religion.
But you don't seem to understand it except at a very superficial, pick and mix, kind of level where you notice it is similar to this or that other religion.
Since you are re/reading, but simply not getting, what Christianity is at root - it seems that something would first have to change in *you*: a willingness to probe at metaphysical aspects, to learn before evaluating.
Once you know what Christianity is, you will then need to decide whether it is true; and then whether you want-in.
But you haven't reached that point.
Man against nature/supernature, man against other man/men, or man against himself.
To be reconciled to anything is to be in conflict with something else. But the reverse does not follow.
There is no "healthy state" of not being in conflict, nor can be. The desire for such is merely another conflict, rejection of the existence of conflict, which is rejection of the universe (and of the true nature of the self).
You can't have it both ways, let alone the infinite number of ways necessary to avoid all conflicts...that just puts you at odds with logic and reason, as well as pragmatic effectiveness.
Instead, we simply have to sort out which conflicts we're willing to accept (or at least endure) and which we are under a necessity of reconciling.
"Those who adopt incorrect beliefs in clear contradiction of sound doctrine available from authoritative sources will not be saved. There is no more serious problem than that."
What do you regard as authoritative sources that one can get sound doctrine from? Bruce and WW clearly hold heretical beliefs from the viewpoint traditional doctrinal authorities. Indeed, it seems to me one of Bruce's theses is that there are no such authorities for modern man. Care to clarify? Thanks
"Authoritative" means "from the author", so of course the ultimate source is God, through direct revelation whether received while transfigured to endure the full glory of God or through the Holy Spirit of God.
Those with such revelation may teach or write, and the scripture thus recorded and passed down ought be the occasion for revelation confirming and expanding the meaning of the scripture.
The traditional doctrinal 'authorities' are heretical and damn themselves insofar as they claim to have authority of themselves rather than through revelation and as confirmed by the Holy Spirit. That is, any person who does not acknowledge that their own testimony is nothing without the confirming witness of the Holy Spirit is a false authority by denying the truth author of salvation.
There are few men in any age that have stood transfigured in the presence of the full glory and power of God Almighty, but the modern age is not particularly or specifically bereft. Nor has the Holy Spirit of God ceased to reveal truth to those who seek it with an earnest mind and a willing heart. Nor have all the scriptures been lost to history. Dr. Charlton does not, to my understanding, teach that God cannot reveal His divine truth to men in our day.
What he does seem to teach, and with which I often disagree, is that those who taught that they should be believed without the witness of the Holy Spirit were in time past adequate authorities for some benefit or other they offered to many prior to the present day. I think that he may mean merely that it was possible to live well enough without calling them out as false teachers...I'm not sure whether that is significant enough to disagree that it may be the case.
I'm still a bit confused on your viewpoint. So scripture and personal revelation as authority, in a way that makes sense. But I take "sound doctrine available from authoritative sources" to mean some external person/institution/entity that we could point your average seeker to and say "listen to him/it" regarding this or that doctrine, or more apropo, that we can test our beliefs/intuitions against.
You might respond that that simply scripture is such a thing, but looking at the history of Christian theology, clearly scripture is open to interpretation as far as doctrine is concerned, which really begs the question of authority with respect to interpreting scripture. The Catholic church has always claimed such authority and you can believe that or not, but if you don't (i.e. you are not Catholic), then you have to look elsewhere for authority on doctrine. Luther taught the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, which would suggest that the individual in a sense becomes an authority for himself. But in Protestantism there is still a reverence for tradition (e.g. the Nicene Creed), which suggests perhaps a weakened external authority. Where do you stand?
The authoritative source is God.
We (including the average reader) are not ourselves God, God is therefore external to us. We must be pointed to God and rely on God, at no further remove than the Holy Spirit, which is available to all who earnestly seek, be they average and literate or not.
By "Holy Spirit", I do not mean our own intuitions or feelings, I mean something that is recognizable as being distinct from our own thoughts and emotions, something that will of itself testify of that difference. Of course, there are other spirits that men may choose to heed, they differ qualitatively and people will heed those which they prefer.
If one prefers the evil spirit to the Holy Spirit, well then that is decisive, nothing much can be done about it.
Scripture alone is nothing without the witness of the Holy Spirit, for what the scriptures teach can only be understood properly through the instruction of the Holy Spirit. Human language cannot and thus does not properly express any saving doctrine, though it can be used to contradict and deny sound doctrine.
But sound doctrine is only understood by the witness of the Holy Spirit or in the direct glory and presence of God (which the mortal body cannot endure).
Anyone who claims to provide sound doctrine outside of the witness of the Holy Spirit is beginning with an utterly false claim of authority. Catholicism is not monolithic, nor Protestantism. Luther's phrase does not mean that the individual is an authority to themselves, but that they must submit to and believe on the authority of God.
Your questions seem to suppose that it is impossible that God really exists in any sense independent of the concepts of men, whether of humans generally or of some particular individuals expressed through human language. If this were the case then that should be the same as saying that God doesn't really exist, or rather, that whatever existence God has is purely within human imagination.
On such a presumption the entire project of religion must be abandoned.
"Your questions seem to suppose that it is impossible that God really exists in any sense independent of the concepts of men"
No I don't think this at all and I don't know how you gathered that. Perhaps we are talking passed each other. You claimed, echoing words of Jesus (and Western Christianity in general) that what one chooses to believe is of extreme import. This begs the question, how does one know what to believe? It seems you are saying now, that knowing what to believe is a matter of the leading of the Holy Spirit/God, which I understand and agree with.
However you imply earnest seeking as a requirement which then begs the question of where does one start looking assuming pure intentions? Surely men have been inspired in the past and God communicates to us through them, no? But which ones? Your original comment mentioned authoritative sources, which I didn't take to mean simply God, but sounds more like past inspired souls or existing traditions/institutions. However we run into a problem when looking at such institutions and looking back in the past for such souls in that there is a great deal of inconsistency regarding doctrine in Christianity and its history. So I'm more or less inquiring how do you make sense of that?
Also my understanding is that the Catholic Church is pretty monolithic regarding doctrine, but there are many things it has not determined doctrine on.
I already explained this. "Authoritative" means "from the author". Authoritative sources are those that proceed from God the Creator.
You start by looking for messengers from God. You discern that they are messengers from God by witness of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way to discern (or properly understand) them, except for being yourself in the direct presence and glory of God.
If your genuine intention is to seek God, then you will distinguish the witness of the Holy Spirit from any carnal or devilish feeling easily, even without knowing of such things.
If you are asking for a complete list of people of whose words the Holy Spirit will always bear witness (and enlighten your understanding), there isn't one and it would do you no good if there were, you would then be substituting a list for the witness of the Holy Spirit and the list can't tell you what the message from God really meant (making it rather pointless to 'know' that they were speaking truth from God). Anyone may speak truth by the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit will only testify of that truth to those ready to accept it. And no one has spoken solely truth that all were prepared to hear.
The Catholic Church is not monolithic on the importance of the witness of the Holy Spirit, some great teachers have insisted on it, the institution as a whole rejects it utterly. Protestantism is nominally based on the importance of the witness of the Holy Spirit, but many significant leaders deride it in practice. Because the witness of the Holy Spirit is the only means by which doctrine can be understood by men, this would make meaningful agreement on doctrine impossible even if there were no serious disputes about even the wording of rote assent, but given that such disputes are the main religious function of the hierarchy, it is hard to see how they could be so monolithic.
Makes sense, thanks for the clarification.
I'm feeling adrift with the changes in the Catholic church. Not just the problems with the current pontiff, the changes in the Apostle's Creed and the Mass bother me. I wanted to be a priest as a boy and was discouraged by that by an honest and perceptive priest. I was meant to be a father and grandfather and he saw that as much as I did. Now, I feel like an outsider just entering the church I was baptized in.
Don, I'm not a Catholic so I can't really comment on doctrines such as the infallibility of the Pope other than to say that anything human can err even if there is divine inspiration involved too. But it seems clear that the Catholic Church has recently been subject to sustained demonic attack which has worked out in various ways. I believe it had to evolve in some respects but evolution should not mean abandonment of core truths. On the one hand, Catholicism is one of the few branches of Christianity which has held firm to traditional teachings on sexuality and that in the face of massive provocation. It must be strongly commended for that. It also retains far more of a mystical sense than any of the Protestant forms of Christianity. However it has also, starting with Vatican 2, modernised itself in many ways that have caused it to lose touch with spiritual depth.
It's probably in an impossible position in the modern world but perhaps the changes you refer to can be used by people to go behind outer teachings and reliance on authority and start to follow an inner path in which dependence on the Church can be, I won't say replaced, but supplemented and deepened by internal contact with God or the Holy Spirit.
I would say you might try to see the Church existing in two forms. One, an ideal heavenly form and two, how it is on this Earth which is not ideal but generally struggles to be true to the original vision. Nothing is ever perfect in this world and everything nowadays is a long way from perfect. I think that if Catholics could really accept that they might be reconciled to the current problems in their Church. Not accepting them but seeing them as inevitable at the present time. The Church is going to be attacked, both from outside and from within, and some of its problems are of its own making but you have to decide what is more important to you, your church or your God? Sometimes, in this fallen world, a choice will have to be made. That doesn't have to mean leaving the church but it may mean becoming more firmly rooted in your own spiritual being and not depending on anything external, even the church.
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