Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The One and the Many: Binary vs. Manifold

So I have this trouble: I can't seem to stop trying to debate Christians. Not just Christians, but Calvinists, which can make for some pretty heated argument, given that my primary experience with Christianity was through Catholicism, and that I'm now a vaguely pantheistic, gnostic Buddhist doing my best to understand and apply the still new (for me) concepts in the Lotus Sutra, and in Nichiren Daishonin's interpretation thereof. Kind as the Calvinists have been (and seriously, they've been awfully hospitable), it's pretty clear that I represent something insidious.

Anyway, through a series of meetings and digressions, I ended up in this side debate. While the principle I'm defending, in large measure, is pantheism, my relation of that to the doctrines of reincarnation, the ten worlds, and other Buddhist concepts make this argument relevant. Moreover, as Protestant Christianity has, as you can see from the argument, actually taken steps to ensure that the debate can be shut down by a seductive but specious assertion that only the existence of an anthropomorphic, triune deity can create the necessary preconditions for rationality--therefore operating on the assumption that our having the debate at all is proof that God is a scold and Christ is the Messiah--I think it's useful for us Buddhists to at least contemplate throwing a few rhetorical elbows to ensure that our theology is defensible on an intellectual, as well as spiritual, level (though the latter is obviously more urgent).

Some schools of Buddhism posit themselves as atheistic or agnostic; others do acknowledge some sort of deity; most place themselves as squarely pantheistic. Since Nichiren Buddhism holds forth no specific assertions on the matter of deity--or, I should say, since I've yet to encounter any such assertion--it seems to me that the question is fairly elastic, provided that principles like Ichinen Sanzen, mutual possession, kosen rofu and the Law are respected. Were you to quiz the three contributors to this blog on the matter of deity, I guarantee you'd get three different answers. But when we chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, those differences matter not at all.

My differences with Christianity are a little more difficult to navigate. There are many sects of Buddhism that hold that Christ was a boddhisatva; I'm more than willing to hold to that. On the other hand, Calvinists insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible; look at the clever-but-tortured reasoning by which they reconcile the idea of a young (less than 10,000-year-old) universe with the fact that we see the light from stars whose light couldn't possibly have reached us in that time. Now, at root, most of them will tell you that belief in a six-day creation isn't as important as belief in the singular divine status of Christ and the resurrection. Fair enough, but that "singular divine status" becomes something of a sticking point. If the important part to Christians is, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me", then there's clearly a point at which their truth, as expressed, specifically excludes all other paths to truth.

It's a tough puzzle, from this end, because I try--per JJisaFool's reasoned directive--to stick to what's truth, rather than focusing on what's not. But when trying to elucidate my truth, I often runs into opponents who will insist that their truth both excludes and rationally trumps mine. Inevitably, to assert my truth, I must reject at least some part of theirs, and become mired in a hermeneutic battle with those for whom the conclusion is what guides the process of reaching one.

Anyway, take a look at those links. Interesting stuff.


Blogger BugBlaster said...

Thanks for the link Lyam. I guess. ;)

You said:
If the important part to Christians is, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me", then there's clearly a point at which their truth, as expressed, specifically excludes all other paths to truth.

You are spot on, as far as you go with this. The overarching theme of the Bible is creation, fall (sin), and redemption. The Bible is explicit that sin blows an irreparable chasm between God and man. Irreparable that is, except for God himself. But even though God loves and wants to reconcile mankind, he is first and foremost holy and just. He will not offend his own holiness and requirement for justice by winking at the sin of man. A quote from the Bible (Romans 6:23) is that "the wages of sin is death". My sin results in death. Period. Full stop, no matter how much God wants to reconcile me to himself, there must be death.

So, enter the one and only way, Jesus Christ. This human who was also God in the flesh was the only human who ever led a sinless life.

The Bible, starting in Genesis and re-hitting upon the theme in book after book, tells us that there must be punishment for sin. There must be death. Jesus voluntarily died in our stead. He was sinless, but in 2 Corinthians 5:21 it says this: "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."

Jesus died as a sacrifice on our behalf, and in a real way that we cannot really grasp, he actually became our sin, and imputed his own righteousness to us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 is the meaning of the entire Bible boiled down to one sentence. If you're interested in reading some in-depth on this verse, you can read it here.

This is why Jesus is the only way and the only truth, and the only life, and the only way to God, because he is the only one who bridged the chasm.

We are exclusivist yes. Because our Holy Book tells us there is only one bridge across the void, and it is narrow.

6:22 PM  
Blogger BugBlaster said...

And you mangy hound, I agree that my reasoning was clever, but I certainly don't think it was tortured. :(

Actually, different rates of time passage strike me as an amazingly graceful and elegant story that fully exploits the wonders of the space-time universe that God created.

6:25 PM  
Blogger BugBlaster said...

And you know where you can really debate a Calvinist if the urge strikes you... :o)

see ya. Keep reading us, because I'm reading you!!!!!

6:26 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

Hey, Mr. Blaster . . .

Since I've tossed a lot of pantheism and Buddhism your way, it's only fair, of course, that you traipse onto the Buddhablog with a bit of the ol' Christ. Fair enough (the really funny part is that two of the three contributing Buddhists are former Catholics--that would be Beige and yours truly--and one former Mormon--my lovely wife, Stine).

That said, since I DO make an effort over in your neck of the woods to relate what I have to say to Christian doctrine, ask questions about Christianity, etc., I'd humbly request that if you post here, you at least try, now and again, to relate your comments and questions to Buddhism (since this is a Buddhist blog), even if only to play compare/contrast with the subject of the day.

I don't think there's anything in your first block of comment of which I wasn't already at least nominally aware. But thanks for making your case more clearly than I could. My only misgiving is that as well as you explain the ways in which the Bible asserts its exclusivity, there's still precious little there to indicate that the Bible itself is worth the exclusive attention and assumption of veracity which you give it. Alistair Crowley liked to (cheekily) assert that his way was THE way, but I'm sure we'd both be inclined to disagree.

Also--and this speaks to Gummby's little blurb against evolution--death is no problem for the Buddhist, the pantheist, even the gnostic (lest we forget, early gnostics felt that death and sin were already necessary functions of the flesh, i.e., essential components of life, for better and for worse).

So this . . .

We are exclusivist yes. Because our Holy Book tells us there is only one bridge across the void, and it is narrow.

. . . actually elucidates the differences between us more clearly than anything I've said: we've no fear of either the narrow path OR the void, and I, for one, see precious little reason to grant your Holy Book a status above and beyond other holy books.

And you mangy hound, I agree that my reasoning was clever, but I certainly don't think it was tortured. :(

Actually, different rates of time passage strike me as an amazingly graceful and elegant story that fully exploits the wonders of the space-time universe that God created.

Oh, don't pout. My calling you clever is actually a VERY high compliment (ask anyone around here). But while your postulate WAS graceful and elegant, it wasn't all that convincing, and doesn't account for the apparent age of the earth itself (a matter that generally begs misleading isolation of anomalous instances of misdating).

And you know where you can really debate a Calvinist if the urge strikes you... :o)

Centurion strikes me as a bit of a pit bull, first of all. Secondly, I'm not going to be able to conduct any debate from the library, so any line of debate that goes the way of, "The Bible says . . . " or "Noted archaeologist (insert name of hopeless, eternally virginal wonk) has shown . . . " is unlikely to get much more than a shrug.

The one question I've thought to ask is how finite sin can lead to infinite punishment, but I'm hard pressed to imagine how such a question could be answered without appealing to Biblical authority.

8:03 PM  
Blogger BugBlaster said...

Thanks Lyam, yes I will certainly ask you some buddhism questions. Believe it or don't, I've been trying to come with a couple, but I'm not sufficiently versed in the bare rudiments to ask anything comprehensible.

Sort of the flip side of you and the Protestant Christians, eh?

My wife is a former almost-mormon. As a teenager she got the flu or something and was unable to go to her initiation rite, and then decided not to go ahead with it.

A few years later, God drew her to him.

On the veracity and reliability of the Bible as THE book, as I mentioned on Simon's blog a couple weeks ago, it's reliability on both a lower and higher criticism basis, and on the integrity of its transmission through the ages is unassailable in my view. I will get to that stuff someday on my own blog, but little things like making a living may delay it a bit.


8:25 PM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

There's a lot I want to respond to in this thread, but unlike my houndy husband, have no desire to debate anything really. Any debate about Christianity is going to boil down to believing the veracity of the the bible, or not. I have no links, I have no citations to lay on the table, I only have my experience.

Will think more...must return.

6:18 PM  
Blogger the beige one said...

I feel as if I'm taking the red pill. We'll see how long it lasts.

Stine, I think you posted as your husband again.

Hello and welcome, bugblaster!

If you're interested in learning more about this Buddhism, I suggest investigating some of the entries in the links section. There is nearly, if not totally, complete access to The Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin. There's some great info in general. Feel free to ask about something. If the answer's not readily available, it's pretty close at hand.

I cannot claim to have as complete a grasp over everything to this Buddhism as you have over the Bible, but I've studied a bit.

If you go back and read the first entry of this blog, one of the things I say there is that I'm not interested in debating in whose faith is better than others, or whose is correct. What I am interested in is discourse.

Don't get me wrong. I may get heated, but I trust my co-horts to pull me back if I go too far.

(That includes you, JJ, if you're inclined. I'll let you introduce yourself in your inimitable fashion.)


My sin results in death.

If a:b, then Birth:Death. If you are born, you will die.

It's what makes life interesting. Because if there is a universal truth, it's that life continues moving forward.

And if things are really that simple, why should I complicate it?

What could be more rational, logical or more intellectual than that?

Lyam, the reason you've yet to encounter any assertions on the matter of deity, is because there isn't one. It's not important for this faith. (However, my friend, if you do find anything of the sort, make me the first you tell.) There is talk of gods, but by Nichiren Daishonin's time, it was understood that these were an attempt to describe some of the finer and most confusing elements of nature.

The language of the Lotus Sutra is filled with various Boddhisatvas and Buddhas real and ethereal, and in the end equates us with them all. This is so that there would be no need for dependence on an outside power. The Universal Law is something that is both malleable and not, it's something that we interact with.

The language is so dense and florid that it took over 2500 years, and countless interpretations for scholars to distill its meanings, through heated debate over the merits of all the various Sutras to the point that Nichiren Daishonin was able to study it and glean his understandings. Study of it all, including his understandings and how they relate to the Sutras and back, continues to this day.

Anyway, my nocturnal tendencies get the better of me.

Now I've cause to think. Thank you.

2:55 AM  
Blogger Stine said...

yes, that was me posting.

Having trouble distinguishing again.


10:58 AM  
Blogger JJisafool said...

Them's some blurry lines.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Jacob Israel said...

Hi Lyam,

As it you who chooses to introduce Christianity into the discussion to compare and contrast; certainly you wouldn't expect that Christian viewpoints wouldn't be heard?

NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO can be easily shared with Christians, without blaspheming their doctrine, could it not?

The concept of the "Christ" is central to both insights only spawned from different languages. Even as a pantheist, as you decalre yourself, you deeply assent to the oneness that exists in the deepest conscienceness of being.

Thank you for contacting me again, brother.

11:56 AM  
Blogger thelyamhound said...

Hey, Jacob.

Surely I wouldn't suggest that Christian viewpoints shouldn't be heard. But just as I try to at least address the tenets of Christianity when I'm on Christian sites (albeit from a Buddhist/pantheist/nihilist/existentialist's viewpoint), I would hope, perhaps expect, that a Christian visiting a Buddhist site would at least nominally address Buddhism (albeit from a Christian, Calvinist, anthropomorphic monotheistic viewpoint).

Calvinist doctrine is infinitely more blasphemable than other takes on Christianity, since they're one of the last holdouts of belief in the literal accuracy and infallibility of the Bible. To my mind, NAM-MYOHO-RENGE-KYO can be shared with a Christian without risking blasphemy; but then, I understand Christianity from a formerly Catholic, one time atheist, long time agnostic, and resolutely contemplative point of view. There are whole threads on some of these Calvinist sites dedicated to the proposition that contemplative sprituality is blasphemy, that Catholics are heretics because they believe in salvation by works. So what you and I, as spiritual mavericks--even within our own traditions--are inclined to consider reasonable points of consensus are as likely as not to appear as blasphemy to others.

Good to see you about.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Anxious MoFo said...

Hey thelyamhound, you say,
So I have this trouble: I can't seem to stop trying to debate Christians.

I have a similar problem. Maybe we should start a support group?

2:05 PM  

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