Monday, February 23, 2015

A Science of Religions?

I'm reading this new translation of Schuon's In the Face of the Absolute. I've read all of his books, but these new editions -- which are reissued about one per year -- give me an excuse to reread them. Like MotT, it's always a new experience anyway.

In order to understand any thinker, you have to immerse yourself in his world. At least the first time around, you have to suspend criticism in order to sympathetically enter that world and check it out. It's like music or movies that way: surrender first, evaluate later.

One danger in doing this, of course, is that once inside, you may never get out. For example, think of the millions of people who "try on" liberalism as a worldview in college, and then never remove it. They accept it uncritically, often without even knowing they have done so. These idiotic journalists, for example, who want to know if Scott Walker "believes in evolution," have no idea that they are simply enforcing a dogma called scientism.

At PowerLine they have some examples of good responses to such clown questions. To the question of evolution:

"Evolution is a tremendously interesting subject. There are multiple theories of evolution, but none of them has been able to command a scientific consensus because they all have problems. It would be a full-time job to keep track of all of the scientific literature on evolution, and since I have been busy as Governor of Wisconsin [or whatever], I haven’t had time to do that. There are a lot of scientists who could give you better answers to such questions than I can, if you are really interested in the subject. Which I doubt."

Or, to the question of science more generally: "You just used the word 'science,' but I don’t think you know what it means. Science is a method, not a body of dogma. 'Science' doesn’t take positions on issues of public policy. So if there is a particular set of data that you want to ask me about, you need to be more specific."

Better yet, an all-purpose response: "you ask that question because you are a Democrat and you are trying to help your party. But your question contains an assumption that isn’t true."

To the debate about whether Obama is a Christian, I have a question for him: "Before Joe Biden opened his big mouth, you repeatedly lied about opposing the redefinition of marriage because of your so-called Christian beliefs. Does Christianity permit this kind of deception in order to advance an anti-Christian agenda? Or are you maybe thinking of taqiya?

Back to matters at hand. Although I still regard Schuon as one of the greatest religious thinkers of all time, now that there is some distance between us, I'd like to consider some of his ideas from a more critical perspective.

Let's begin with the foreword, in which he encapsulates a few of his key principles, most notably, that there is a distinction between "religion as such" and "such and such a religion."

What this means -- in my own words -- is that there is really only one religion, but that it is nonlocal, so to speak, and requires a local form, or a system of symbolic expression, in order to manifest to this or that cultural group. This is another way of saying that "all religions are the same," or at least have the same teaching beneath the outward multiplicity.

Is this true? Is there really a "transcendent unity of religions"? It's an appealing idea, especially in a modern world in which the diversity of religious belief is one of the main excuses for rejecting it. Can we really blame the village atheist who notices that religions posit seemingly contradictory beliefs that can't be verified anyway, so why believe any of them?

Schuon suggests that "religion as such" may be thought of as vertical, whereas such-and-such a religion is more horizontal. The former is the warp, or "fundamental doctrine," while the latter is the weft, which "consists in applications or in illustrations" of the doctrine. Therefore, every dude's area rug is going to look different because of the differing wefts.

In the past I have used the analogy of jazz improvisation, through which the soloist improvises over the chord changes. Many bebop compositions, for example, are based on the same chords as Gershwin's I Got Rhythm. Thus, each one is unique while sharing the same underlying structure.

For Schuon, the vertical component "possesses a crystalline homogeneity." It is absolute where the horizontal can only be "relatively absolute." Looked at one way, the latter is in the world of maya, or appearances. Even so, these ultimately contain the seeds of the absolute, or point to it.

More generally, Schuon says that "To speak of religion is to speak of a meeting place between the celestial and the terrestrial," or "between the divine and the human."

I can endorse this notion much more wholeheartedly, because I would agree that there is God -- or O -- and there is man -- or (•) -- and that "religion" is simply what takes place in the space between O and (•). This seems to me undeniably true, just as science is what takes place between man and world.

Therefore, "the two poles of a true 'science of religions'" must be "metaphysics and anthropology." Or, there is Truth at one end, man at the other. But a Raccoon takes seriously the principle that man is in the image of the Creator. This being the case, you can know a lot about the Creator by knowing what man truly is, and vice versa.

Schuon agrees that "In order to understand what religion is, it is necessary to know not only what the Message is but also what man is."

This is especially so because the Message is obviously tailored to man -- not to machines, or goats, or martians. In some sense, this message must be "prefigured" in man, otherwise we would have no way of recognizing it. It would be as irrelevant to us as, say, music to a dog.

If you've followed the argument thus far, it requires just one more leap to say that metaphysics -- which is on the divine side of the God-man divide -- "refers essentially to the mystery of the Intellect and thus to intellection." And our job is "to know the Absolute from the standpoint of the contingent, and to manifest the Absolute within the contingent."

Or in other words, there is knowing the truth, which is vertical; and then being, or embodying, or "doing," this truth in the world.

To be continued...


julie said...

To the debate about whether Obama is a Christian, I have a question for him:

Frankly, I seriously wonder if he would or has ever publicly and without reservation stated anything to the effect of, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."

You know, the most basic, elemental tenet of Christianity. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't know that he's ever said that. Lots of people claim "Christian beliefs" or "Christian morals" - i.e., they think the basic morality of Christianity is a pretty good set of rules to follow, but they don't know if they believe there was ever a guy named Jesus Christ who was anything but a community organizer with an inflated reputation and some nice ideas for how to live (ideas which don't necessarily stand up to evolving circumstances).

mushroom said...

I think the creed of Trinity United read: If you like your Savior, you can keep your Savior.

I have heard Obama make a statement that sounded like a confession of Christ. I have trouble believing him. It may be a case of his actions being so loud that I can't hear his words. Or that anyone who can lie so blatantly with such ease could not possibly know the Truth.

On the other hand, I do believe Jimmy Carter was a Christian, but he was just as big an idiot as Obama. A Christian has to have some line he won't cross, some shame when it comes to his corrupt nature. This leaves out, I think, Bill and Hillary, too.

Gagdad Bob said...

Know them by their fruits.

mushroom said...

What this means -- in my own words -- is that there is really only one religion, but that it is nonlocal, ...

Most religions turn on seeking right-standing with God. Buddhism is more about realization, but that's right-standing in a way, perhaps. We all have more or less the same goal.

Tony said...

and then being, or embodying, or "doing," this truth in the world

and not, in the process, confusing oneself with the sum total of the truth

we are hands, feet, etc, not the Whole

Gagdad Bob said...

I guess I don't have a big problem with Schuon's view, except insofar as he grounds it in Brahman as opposed to Trinity -- or in beyond-being as opposed to love.

mushroom said...

I just read that in MOTT last night about being versus good/love. I love it when a plan comes together.

EbonyRaptor said...

As a Christian, I reject Perennialism, but I do hope for inclusivity. My uncertainty is the line between inclusive and exclusive. I find it hard to believe a devout atheist is saved by Christ. Likewise a devout Muslim. Both seem antithetical to a loving God, but my knowledge is limited.

julie said...

This article by Spengler comparing the underlying concepts from Judaism, Christianity and Islam seems relevant here.

For the most part, I don't disagree with Schuon's view either, inasmuch as I think it's possible for anyone, with a little help from above, to find their way up the vertical ladder, no matter their religion as such... but it seems clear that some religions as such are better at connecting their members with divine grace than are others.

EbonyRaptor said...

Jesus answered "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

That seems pretty unambiguous to me. So unless there is more than one Father ... but I don't know what I don't know.

Gagdad Bob said...

The Catholic idea of the fullness of the faith comes to mind.

julie said...

I agree. However, while one may only reach the Father through the Son, there is (to my knowledge) no limit to the ways people may reach the Son.

The Way, the Truth, the Light - if anyone follows these, even if one does not know specifically the name of Christ, does one not follow Christ?

God knows His own, whatever outward faith they profess. Can He not reach us each where we are, in a form we will recognize?

Christians believe Christ is in the Old Testament; indeed, as I read it with Christian eyes, it's impossible not to see him there. For those who take the Torah to heart, are they not taking Christ to heart, even if they don't realize it?

julie said...


Gagdad Bob said...

There's also that statement by Jesus about having sheep who not of this fold, and Augustine's about Christianity always having existed by other names and in partial/garbled forms.

EbonyRaptor said...

There is much I don't know, can't know. I have faith that what I do know is right and that Jesus is the only way. I like the idea of inclusivity and it seems to harmonize with a loving God. But we have this life for a purpose and this website does a wonderful job of exploring what that purpose may be. If there is a purpose then there would seem to be consequences and it seems logical to me that purposeful rejection of God, as known through Jesus, results in severing the relationship with God/Love/Life. But in keeping with my hope for inclusivity, it is the purposeful rejection that is the key to being excluded.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Therefore, "the two poles of a true 'science of religions'" must be "metaphysics and anthropology." Or, there is Truth at one end, man at the other. But a Raccoon takes seriously the principle that man is in the image of the Creator. This being the case, you can know a lot about the Creator by knowing what man truly is, and vice versa."


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Gagdad Bob said...
"Know them by their fruits."

Not to be confused with becoming a fruit, like Joe Biden.
Well, actually he is a perverted fruit.