Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

The Leap of Faith

October 15, 2012

Sunday I was reading the news and came upon a link to watch the live video feed of the skydive from 24 miles up by Felix Baumgartner. I’m generally negative toward this kind of event, seeing it as little more than kitschy spectacle. The silly “mission control” set reinforced my feeling. Nevertheless, I got pulled in and I stayed to watch. I realize that the man had put a lot into this effort and was risking his life. But if he’d died, I believe that it would have been for nothing. I respected him for admitting his fear afterward. I could hear it in his voice on the way up. He said that it was much more difficult than he’d expected.

The one moment that really grabbed me was the one in which he jumped. Later, I was thinking of the image: a man standing against the backdrop of the cosmos and taking a great leap. As I’ve come to understand it, it describes what the sage does when he seeks enlightenment: He climbs as high as he can with his reason until there comes the moment that his thought won’t take him any higher. Then he has to let go of everything and take a great leap into the unknown. This is what Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu, and all the other true sages accomplished. One big difference between Baumgartner’s leap and the leap of the sage is that the sage can’t get into position to make the leap unless he or she is willing to do it for all of humanity. It’s not a personal show or the act of a daredevil.

I think that ultimately we all have to take that same leap at the moment we die. Reading the spiritual books, it becomes apparent that, for some reason, it’s regarded as a noble thing to do before one’s actual death. Few ever consider attempting it, though—especially in this era of materialism.

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God and Mammon

November 12, 2010

I read in different places that the United States is a Christian nation, that Americans are a deeply religious people, and that as a religious people, we are naturally conservative, since religion is conservative. But not one of these statements is true. We are not a Christian nation, neither legally nor spiritually; we are not religious; and religious people are not conservative—at least not in the conventional, thoughtless sense of the word.

When writers and commentators say that we are a religious nation they’re simply taking at face value the assertions of the self-described “religious.” In this country, we have an easy definition of religious. Essentially, it means anybody who says they believe in God. Atheists are content with the definition since they prefer that religion appear shallow. And the “religious” are content with it because it lets them off the hook. They don’t have to take on some extraordinarily difficult teachings. One notable example:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

This is not a conservative idea; it’s a radical idea. It’s universal, unequivocal, and has many implications, few of which are ever addressed here in Western Civilization. One of its simpler meanings is that we shouldn’t desire “things.” And yet creating the desire for things is one of the basic tenets of our economics. Economists, businessmen, and politicians are deeply concerned with how we’re going to get people borrowing and spending again. We have to “grow the economy,” they say. And, as much as ever, the great majority of Americans believe that they should be enjoying an ever higher standard of living. When that doesn’t happen, somebody has to take the blame in the next election.

One of the problems with defining God as a being—the anthropomorphic idea of God—is that people can soften an idea like “you cannot love God and mammon,” by insisting that they do indeed love “the big guy” more than they love things. They can talk to Him and assure Him that they love Him more than money and then feel as though they’ve met the requirement. But if you consider God to be truth, the picture changes. Loving truth more than money means taking everything apart, examining it in detail, and living solely by principle. The deeper meaning of “You cannot serve God and mammon” actually means abandoning one’s materialist existence and following truth—never doing anything simply to make money. To those who would question this, I will point out that the lines immediately following “You cannot serve God and mammon” are, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, not about your body, what you shall put on.” (Jesus encouraged his disciples to leave their jobs and to become beggars.) Historically speaking, this idea is not at all strange. There are many people in many different cultures who have pursued it. It’s strange only to us here in the modern-day Western world, where power, comfort, and entertainment have become paramount. It’s not my point exactly to suggest that anybody renounce their livelihood and pursue this other way of life. But it might be helpful if people were to recognize that, as it currently stands, we are not really a religious people, that we are not really a Christian nation (we would have to follow the teachings of Christ to be that), and that religious ideas are not “conservative.” If we understood that much, it might be helpful in getting us to speak frankly with one another again.

Defining My Terms #2

November 3, 2010

There’s another term I want to clarify before I begin work on some posts that I want to put up here. The term is Christianity. I make a distinction between the teachings of Christ and Christianity. The only thing they have in common is that root word, Christ. I don’t believe that we know much of what Jesus actually taught. His time was short and his teachings began undergoing heavy distortion right after his death. This happens all the time. I see it happening now to Suzuki Roshi. What we call Christianity or Christendom begins not with Jesus, but with Paul. When I read the Epistles, which I find an onerous task, it is very clear to me that Paul knows very little about true religion. He is not a seeker, but a zealot, more interested in building a movement than in truth. From what I’ve read, Paul would not have had access to what became known as the Gospels. It was only after his time that different books purporting to be the true story of Jesus came into circulation. The four “official” choices all drew from other books that were available to scribes, and they quite obviously dressed the teachings up in myth. I’m convinced that all four books were chosen because they suited, or were more acceptable, to a particular political and cultural persuasion. Another early architect of Christianity was Augustine. Before he became a “Christian,” Augustine was a speculative intellectual. After his conversion, it became his aim to make his new religion acceptable to the Roman Empire. Accordingly, he came up with concepts that are not only absent in what Jesus is purported to have taught, but are even hostile to it. The distortions and obfuscations in Christianity built up over a long period of time and go on to this day. I don’t need to detail any more of them to make my point, which is simply that when I use the word “Christianity,” I mean the movement that descends from Paul, not the teachings of Christ.

Crisis Economics

May 26, 2010

I’m reading Crisis Economics by Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm. Roubini was the professor of economics who called the collapse of the economy several years before it happened. At the time he made his predictions, he was ridiculed. But it turned out that he was right on the money, so to speak. It’s an interesting book, even for someone who doesn’t really understand much of the time what Roubini is talking about. I’m with Henry Miller who asked, “But what makes money make money?” I just don’t understand.

As I read, one thing I notice is that Roubini’s underlying assumption is the same as the people he’s criticizing, namely that the most important human activity is economic. His issue with the businessmen who led the world into the abyss is simply that they were deluded about certain economic realities. I think that most Americans today—probably most people in the world today—would probably agree with the idea that economic activity, the creation of wealth, is our most important activity—which is to say that we live in a profoundly materialistic age. But it’s the road to ruin. The last crisis was a warning. We’re either going to let go of the chase gracefully or we’re going to be stopped, and in a most painful manner. “You cannot serve God and mammon.” It’s odd that they call this a Christian nation.

Today’s Religious Thought

July 14, 2009

There’s no difference between Buddha and Christ. Same mind, different bones. But there is a difference between Buddhism and Christianity.