Monday, July 24, 2006

A Minimum Working Hypothesis

This is a brief commentary on the first essay is the book "Huxley and God", which is a collection of essays by Aldous Huxley on religous experience.

This essay is an excellent opening for a book on religious experience. Huxley lays out the idea of religion as science, and the religious experience as scientific experimentation. As with all science a working hypothesis is called for. Huxley states that to have too little theory behind your faith will leave one ineffectual, but at the same time if one has too much theory behind their faith they will only “discover what they are initially taught to believe.” This second idea is leveled at what Huxley called “100 percent revealed religions” such as Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. Another comment on this second group provided by Huxley that I think is quite revealing is this: “[They] go about forcing things to become the signs of [their] word patterns, when [they] ought to be adapting [their] word patterns to become the signs of things.” Basically what Huxley seems to be getting at is the concept of balance. That in order to properly engage the religious experience one must be balanced between apathy and agenda. One cannot sit idle waiting for enlightenment, but at the same time one can’t possibly know what that enlightenment will look like, so there is mystery involved. Huxley lays out what he believes the minimum working hypothesis is, and for the most part I agree with it. I will relay it here, but change it a bit to fit what I would consider my own minimum working hypothesis. 1. There is a God, the un-manifested principle of all manifestations. 2. It is possible for human beings to love, know, and gain an intimate knowledge of God. 3. To achieve this unitive knowledge of God is the final end and purpose of human existence. 4. That there is a Law that must be obeyed, and a Way that must be followed, if men are to achieve their final end. 5. The more there is of self, the less there is of God; and that the path is therefore a way of humility and Love, the Law, a living law of self-transcending awareness.

There’s something basic here, but yet quite revealing. Huxley is saying it’s more important to get the basics right FIRST, before getting into the details. What the “Way” is, and what the “Law” is, are up for interpretation. But that these things exist means one has to hold to the concepts of Absolute Truth. Huxley, in no way, is advocating the concepts of Relativism in this essay. To me, he’s just showing how broad the path might be to God. And while it may be broad, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t very specific.

To Be Good

Several weeks ago I sat down to coffee with a trusted friend and we chatted about faith and stuff of that sort. Understand we have VERY different views about the means to Truth, but what we do agree on is what the ultimate end is. Needless to say, there have been many tense times throughout our friendship, but it endures; sometimes against many odds. He challenged an idea I had, and I am not so stupid as to blow off his challenge. It revolves around the idea of what “goodness” is. I was speaking to the concept that goodness has been overlooked amongst evangelical Christianity. That there is this focus on “depravity”, meaning we are nothing, absolutely nothing, without God; and this other focus on “greatness”, meaning doing amazing heart stopping things for God, that should be admired by a world that doesn’t live up to your standard. Yeah, there’s some sarcasm there, but the point remains; the extremes seem to get all the focus. Funny for a religion that is so against the Yin-Yang symbol of the Taoist faith, they seem to embrace the concept put forth from that very symbol. Right and Wrong, Good and Bad, Hot and Cold, Up and Down. These terms exemplify the idea of “opposites”. Joe Campbell, in his book “The Power of Myth”, speaks at some length about the “Philosophy of Opposites”; that our human minds can’t get past the opposites, but that Ultimate Truth is NOT found in the opposites. Contrary to Taoism, Truth is NOT found in the “balance” either. According to Campbell, the Truth can only be found once you have “transcended the realms of opposites”. But how is that possible? Campbell has his theories, but I’m going to speak briefly to mine, and hopefully address some of the questions that came up in the conversation this past week.

The beginnings to my theory are very simple; goodness. I assert that “goodness” is beyond the realms of opposites. Now, at the same time, I will admit that “the concepts of” goodness are also very much in the realms of opposites. And by that I mean, if you see “good” as the opposite of “bad”, that is in the realms of opposites. The “goodness” that I am referring to is NOT the opposite of “badness”, it is beyond such ideas. And thus it is a very hard concept for me to express clearly. Buddhism speaks to the concept of “good energy” and “bad energy”; the word “energy” is often replaced with the word “kharma”. I would probably say that this approach is still locked in the concepts of opposites, but there’s something here that’s worth exploring a bit. The Dali Lama is very clear, in his book “The Four Noble Truths”, that one cannot be a true Buddhist without fully embracing the concepts of Buddhism. The ceremony of conversion is called “Taking Refuge in the Three Jewels”, and it involves accepting, as your last hope of survival, the Buddha (the godhead), the Dharma (the holy scriptures), and the Sangha (the fellowship of believers). But, the Dali Lama says, participating in this ceremony DOES NOT make you a Buddhist; rather, what makes you a Buddhist is the manifestation of Boddhichita, which means compassion. If you claim to be a Buddhist, but have no compassion, it might be argued that you are not a Buddhist, just pretending to be one. And how does one know if they are manifesting Boddhichita? This is where Kharma comes in; or one aspect of Kharmaic Law, I should say. By putting good energy into the world, you manifest boddhichita. And how do you put good energy into the world? You must be “good”. I know, probably a little too simple; but there’s something there. If someone wrongs you, they have put bad energy into the world, but your response speaks to who you are. If you respond in similar fashion, you too will be guilty of putting bad energy into the world, being a bad person; but if you respond with compassion, with understanding, you will put an end to the bad energy of the moment and reverse the tide in favor of “goodness”.

Now how does this relate to my offense against Christianity? It seems that Evangelicals are either wallowing in their “unworthiness”, or exhaulting there “great deeds for the glory of God”. It might even be said that many “great” acts for God, are really just selfish acts of a selfish person who wants recognition for themselves. Perhaps such things could even be claimed of those “deprave” folk, who would rather be admired for their humility than their goodness. It’s almost like you can’t be in the middle; either it’s “I’m nothing” or “I’m amazing”. Buddhism asserts that the true path to God is the “Middle Way”. And while I don’t necessarily agree with the theology, I like the concept. The question could be asked, “Is goodness enough?” I can hear Christians I know disagreeing with that idea; and I can hear the scripture thrown at me to back it up. And I probably would agree with them that goodness is not enough. But is it important? I would say that it is more important than Christianity is making it. Does God really want you to live a sacrificial existence? By that I mean, does he want you to be “nothing”, or give up everything for His glory? Some are certainly called to that. But not everyone, I think. So what does God call those to; the majority of us, I’d assert?

Goodness is my answer. What really is “love your neighbor as yourself? It means, to me, be a good neighbor. Be courteous, be friendly, loan the milk or eggs when they ask, be in community with you neighbors, not hidden behind your fences and walls. You don’t need to “evangelize” them; just be good to them, and God will do the rest. Was the Christ focused on depravity or greatness? It doesn’t seem to me that he was. What he seemed focused on was goodness. He was good to all who met him. Even to those who ending up rejecting his offers and aid. Certainly many of the things he did were great; healing the sick and all that, but was greatness his concern? To me, he was just being good to people. And when called to “conform to the image of Christ” we are asked to do the same. To just be good, and see what happens. I think we are afraid nothing will happen if we aren’t “evangelizing” to the lost. But, if history has shown us anything, it’s through our lives that the testimony of God is seen by the world; not our theologies or philosophies.

So, when I say I try to be a good person, I do not mean I try not to be a bad person. It’s beyond the ideas of opposites. When I say I try to be a good person, I mean I am trying to be like Christ, the greatest of the good people. And, in this day and age, that is a hard enough goal to try for anything greater than that.