The bronze serpent

The bronze serpent

To heal the world once poison-kissed
through windowpane
bypass the lips.
Let vision take the curing balm
so light restores the former calm,
and the world become by what it sees,
then darkness scattered
quickly flees.

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Two tigers and a lamb (part 2)

In part one, I linked to this explanation of the two ways of resolving the dilemma presented in the classic wisdom story of the two tigers according to the two major traditions of the East, Hinduism and Buddhism. In summary (and I apologize for any inadequacies in my characterization of either belief system), according to Hinduism, the material and mental world, maya, are illusory, and only the underlying spiritual unity of Brahman is real. In the Buddhist understanding, maya is all that can be known, so it is the world of mind and spirit that are illusory and maya which is Brahman. At the end, the speaker, Osho, concludes that both schools of thought are correct: “Religion is nothing but a name of the synthesis of the opposites…Life is much vaster than the mind. Mind is very narrow. In it, only one of the opposites can be right. In life, both can be right. Intellect is very small.” He comes so close to stating the third resolution to the two tiger dilemma here that it seems tragic that he does not.

However, Osho is recognizing here the limits of human wisdom. If we apply this to the predicament of the man trapped on the vine, we could say that the predicament is a predicament of the smallness of the intellect, and its inadequacies to deliver us from the dilemmas of life (or death, for that matter). We will not save ourselves by ourselves, not by any of the means already ruled out, nor by the presence or lack of intellect, philosophy, meditation, or any other human means.

You may have noticed, there is no mention of love in either the explanation or the story, other than as one of the illusory virtues that the man may attempt to use as currency to leverage against the dilemma. The man on the vine sees no one else, thinks of no one else. He is absorbed in the small world of intellect, focused on his own problems.

In other words, this man is spiritually dead. He has no love inside – not for God, not for others. His physical death is but a formality.

When Osho says that “religion is…the synthesis of the opposites,” for a Christian this may invoke the Incarnation: the world of matter and spirit inseparably fusing in the person of the Son of God.

To the man on the vine, Christ said, “I am the Way.”  To the philosopher, Christ said, “I am the Truth.” To the intellect, trapped in the death of its own smallness, Christ said, “I am the Life.”  It would seem then that Christ announced His own candidacy for the position of resolution to this dilemma. Therefore, I would like to explore further this alleged synthesis in the person of Jesus Christ and see whether or not a closer examination diminishes or enhances His claims.

 

 

 

Two tigers and a lamb (part one): three great world religions seen as three options for resolving a classic dilemma

There is an ancient story about two tigers with ties to both Hindu and Buddhist traditions. In most versions of the story, two primary points are introduced: the fundamental problem of the inescapability of death and the fundamental question of what to do about it. There are important differences in the way the two traditions understand the story, and I highly recommend, WITH QUALIFICATION (see below), reading through this link in which the late guru and teacher Osho thoroughly explains both the story and the differences.

(THE QUALIFICATION: the story makes concrete a very real crisis that we face in life, and if one has not yet understood or answered it, it may be quite disturbing. For the Christian, it may remind of the book of Ecclesiastes, where it is written, “”Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” It should be noted that it is a crisis that was allowed to come into the world so that Jesus Christ, the very architect of the world, might be identified as the solution – a point Osho does not make in his lecture, and with which he probably would not have agreed. In any case, the Spirit has long been at work in the world in both the positive and permissive decrees of God, and even those philosophies which have been sowed in and by darkness may profit in the end by pointing us back toward the Way, the Truth, and the Light.)

This is in fact the very crisis that led me back to the Christian religion. When I began to read G.K. Chesterton, I suspected it was this same crisis that also led him to the Christian faith, a journey he so poignantly described as, “discovering England.”
I will not have time this morning to develop the impetus for this post, but I will simply close by asking a question: when faced with a question so profound as to be considered fundamental, should we not at least consider whether or not an answer equally profound should also be considered fundamental?

 

Roots of Christian theology: The power of perspective and the Fall of Mankind

(DISCLAIMER: On some days, I find myself lost in a state of exploratory or speculative theology that is based upon, but not firmly rooted in, my understanding of the teachings of the Church. The following is the fruit of one such state. I would add it is always necessary to crosscheck these thoughts with the heart and mind of the Church to make sure they are in agreement. Then, if we discover we have erred, we can steer back towards safer waters.)

If we were of the mind, we could distill much of the world’s collected spiritual wisdom into a simple axiom: you are what you think. Within most spiritual and religious systems, there seems to be a general consensus that the power of perspective is a fundamental truth.

This principle can also be found at the heart of the creation account in the book of Genesis, in the tale of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Mankind. We see there the transition of Man, as he was originally created, into a creature that can “know both good and evil.” Since evil is properly defined as ‘the absence of good,’ and God is goodness itself, it seems fair to characterize this newfound capacity as the power to see God as He is not. This capacity also characterizes the two great metaphysical dangers: either to perceive that God does not exist at all or that He is evil. Since God Himself is fundamental reality, not subject to change, we are in quite a predicament if we see Him as other than He is: good.

Perhaps this underpins the scriptural idea of the ‘unforgiveable sin,’ i.e., blaspheming the Holy Spirit, too. After all, what hope can there be if one persists in perceiving goodness and love as evil or absent?

 

Identifying the Church from Scripture: rough notes to draw from

The question posed to me: “What verse do you understand Christ’s promise to lead His Church into all truth to have been partially bestowed upon the authority of counsels and the pope?”

If we want to identify the Church in Scripture with the Church of today, or the post-apostolic Church for that matter, we will have to employ a little deductive reasoning.

(Regarding the question above, it might be a useful exercise to reverse it. Instead of asking why we would identify councils and popes with the promises to the Church, we might instead ask what verse indicates Christ’s promises to have been partially bestowed upon whoever happens to be reading?)

So who is the Church? How do I identify it? Can this identification be made from Scripture?

Scripture can tell me to obey my mother and father, but it does not identify my mother and father. To expect it to do so is to misuse Scripture. Likewise, Scripture can tell me how to identify the Church, but, due to the nature of a written text, it cannot make this identification for me.

Some verses helpful in identifying the true Church, each followed by my commentary.

Matthew 7:15-20 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

We are given a standard here by which to identify the true and false Church. Of course, we will have to take other verses into account in identifying ‘good and bad fruit.’

Hebrews 13:17  “17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.”

We see here that there are leaders, which we must identify and submit to.

John 15:1-17  “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed[b]by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants[d] any longer, because the servant[e] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Much in these verses can be brought to bear on this conversation. We see Jesus identify Himself as the vine and His apostles as the fruit-bearing branches of the vine (v. 5). In order for these fruit-bearing branches to remain viable, i.e. fruit-bearing, they must remain attached to the vine (v.6). We see also that these branches are not self-chosen, but appointed (v. 16). We see promises given to this appointment, mainly that “the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name” (v. 16).

Acts 1:15-26 “15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers[d] (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, 16 “Friends,[e] the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17 for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” 18 (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong,[f] he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. 19 This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms,

‘Let his homestead become desolate,
    and let there be no one to live in it’;

and

‘Let another take his position of overseer.’

21 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” 23 So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25 to take the place[g] in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” 26 And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”

We see here the principle of apostolic succession, whereas later on in Timothy (3:1-7) we see the establishment of Church hierarchy, including bishops and elders (or priests), and in Titus (1:5-9) we see directives to make these appointments according to apostolic precepts and authority, whereas in Matthew 16:18 we see Jesus’s promise that “the gates of hell” will not prevail against the Church that the apostles will build.

Because of these verses, among others, I am hard-pressed to conclude other than that there ought to be a church in the world today that can be identified with the Church of Scripture, and very hard-pressed, due to both Scripture, history, reason, and personal experience, to make a case for any church but the Roman Catholic Church. The final proof is in the pudding, as they say, and I have found life from within Church walls more than convincing.

  • I will add additional notes here, as the conversation unfolds.
  • Sir, I have had additional thoughts which I think will weigh heavily on this conversation, which can be summed up by the following: you are describing the transmission of knowledge, how knowledge is transmitted, in a way that is contrary to Scripture, nature, and reason. If you want specific scriptures, I would say all of them, because, while I am aware that you believe this individualist manner of study is what Scripture proscribes, I am not aware of anywhere in Scripture where what you are endorsing actually occurs. Instead, I see what is consistent with life and nature: we learn from the apostles because they are with us through the Church, and Christ through them, “even to the end of the age.” If I want you to be what I am, to follow me, I walk with you. I do not simply tell you how. This is the truth of the gospel as Christ walked with the apostles, the truth of parenthood as parents raiser children, the truth of nature, and the truth of Scripture.
  • It is not the living truth that changes, but challenges to the truth. The truth must be responsive, adaptive, and developmental in order to meet those challenges. We must not see this ability to adapt, develop, and respond as demerits against the truth, but as proof of its life.

 

In Reason We Trust? Loose thoughts on reasoned and revealed truths (Part One)

I’ve been having an enjoyable, albeit slow-paced, conversation with a fellow blogger about the relationship between tradition/Church authority and Scripture, in which I sense a latent side conversation about the relationship between reason and faith. Climbing in the shower this morning produced an avalanche of thoughts.

I should preface the following with the admission that I am neither a historian or philosopher. I don’t claim to have a firm grasp on any of the events or ideas I touch upon. My only intention is to state my own understanding and perhaps develop upon it. Whether or not these thoughts will prove interesting or beneficial to anyone else, I cannot know.

Over the course of the conversation mentioned above, I have been asked several questions, including both how I can know that the Church possesses the correct interpretation of any given scripture and how I can identify whether or not there are contradictions in Church teaching, that seem to intimate certain of my conclusions aren’t supported by reason.  These are fair questions, excellent ones, really, and I don’t mean to try to reproduce my answers to them here, but instead to identify and address certain inherited assumptions and attitudes that I believe are both behind much of our modern thinking, when it comes to matters philosophical and religious, and the seeming disconnect in our conversation.

To be direct: the attitude is that reason is king, and the assumption is that I share it. To be sure, reason is vital, authoritative even in all that it surveys, and an important help and support to even greater truths, but it is neither the only authority nor the greatest one. In saying that reason is not king, it is not because reason itself is faulty or insufficient, but because I know from experience that there are limitations to the human faculty for it.

I say all this because it is important to know whether or not we should leave off where reason does in our attempts to try to understand or if we should rather try and go beyond.

Unfortunately, or fortunately enough, real life is going to interrupt me at this point, so I will have to leave the rest for future development.

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year!

“As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love, the desire of the hearts of dwarves. Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pinetrees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick. He looked out of the window. The stars were out in a dark sky above the trees.”

– J.R.R Tolkien The Hobbit 

Happy New Year, my friends! May it bring grand adventure!