Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Christian Buddhism III


This error then had many forms; but especially, like nearly every error, it had two forms, a fiercer one which was outside the Church and attacking the Church, and a subtler one, which was inside the Church and corrupting the Church. There has never been a time when the Church was not torn between that invasion and that treason........... but in a wilder form outside and a milder form inside. So it was, again, in the seventeenth century, when there was Calvinism outside and Jansenism inside. And so it was in the thirteenth century, when the obvious danger outside was in the revolution of the Albigensians; but the potential danger inside was in the very traditionalism of the Augustinians. For the Augustinians derived only from Augustine, and Augustine derived partly from Plato, and Plato was right, but not quite right. It is a mathematical fact that if a line be not perfectly directed towards a point, it will actually go further away from it as it comes nearer to it. After a thousand years of extension, the miscalculation of Platonism had come very near to Manicheanism.


GK Chesterton St Thomas Aquinas.
A platonic interpretation of Christianity leads to a tendency to disparage the body at the expense of the spirit, and taken to its logical conclusions arrives at a position very similar to Buddhism, with its negative view of the "fleshy" appetites in all of their various forms. Chesterton recognised that what Aquinas's chief achievement was to emerge victorious in the fight against this interpretation of Christianity. He also recognised that despite Aquinas's victory it is an interpretation that still lingers in Christianity in temperament if not explicitly expressed doctrine. To illustrate just how powerful this temperament was/is it is interesting to see just how hard it was for marriage to be recognised as a sacrament which imparted Grace by early Christian theologians:
While St Augustine secured a stable scriptural and rational basis for recognising marriage as a sacrament, his successors raised a barrier which I call the Augustinian impasse. The Augustinian tradition could not move beyond a deeply felt difficulty: how could a sacrament involving sexual intercourse be a means of grace? This led to a paradox, marriage alone of all the sacraments did not impart grace. This is what Peter Lombard taught.

We can understand why theologians of that era had a problem with sexuality when we set Christian marriage in the context of the eight centuries between St Augustine and the scholastic theologians. The medieval era was marked by the flowering of the religious life for men and women in monasteries and convents, accompanied by a defensive emphasis on asceticism, chastity, virginity, purity. In the eleventh and twelth centuries the struggle to enforce the discipline of celibacy among diocesan clergy was a key element in the papal reform programs and in resisting feudal lay power based in families. St Augustine’s own struggle with purity in his earlier years obviously influenced his writings, but I believe the powerful monastic traditions had greater bearing in maintaining a negative attitude to sexuality in married life.

Marriage was seen as a second-best Christian way of life, a remedy for powerful sexual desire, as St Paul taught “better to marry than to burn” (1 Corinthians 7:9). The key word was concupiscentia, disordered desire. In practice concupiscence was, and is, understood as lustful desire, although Augustine understood it more broadly as all disordered desires and unruly appetites, effects of original sin. Theologians who followed Augustine thus came to the strange conclusion that because of concupiscence in sexual union, marriage is the only sacrament that does not give us grace.
People may say that that this attitude was present over a thousand years ago and has no relevance to today but it's important to recognise that the unitive nature of sexual intercourse was only recognised as legitimate in the 1930's, some 19 Centuries after the establishment of Christianity. Part of the reason why the sexual revolution struck with such force in the 1960's was as a reaction excessively repressive attitude toward sexuality which stemmed from an Augustinian understanding of it. But it needs to be understood that this Augustinian interpretation wasn't just limited to sex but extended to the Church's attitude to "fun" in general. Weber, in his magisterial Peasants to Frenchmen, cites how "average" Catholics were driven from the French Church through the efforts of zealous pseudo-Jansenist clergy who pushed the spiritual rigor too far.  Wanting everyone to be a saint ends up in making most people sinners.

My current understanding of secularisation sees it as a multifactoral problem primarily driven by:

A "tactical withdrawal" of Grace by God due to the corruption of Christian doctrine through two separate pathogens. An overt liberal "laxity" which is easily recognised but still toxic to the faith, and a far more dangerous and yet subtle "orthodox' Christian Buddhism/Manicheanism which corrupts Christianity on the inside under the guise of holiness.

13 comments:

Hoyos said...

Shooting from the hip, but I think this is what's behind the Gnostic/Manichaen tendency, which is an almost universal human tendency. The problem is it "makes sense", because, as moderns our bodies are more frequently a source of pleasure, it was more common in times past (and even to a lesser extent now) that our bodies were a source of pain and distraction. Way back when, the consequences for physical ailments were far more severe and the ailments themselves more common, and the treatments more grievous.

Gnosticism/Manichaenism satisfies three needs or desires: first, it has explanatory power for physical suffering of every kind, second, it satisfies the desire for "secret knowledge" and being part of the "inner group", and third, more subtly, it recognizes the power inherent in asceticism.


Bruce Charlton said...

I think this problem goes all the way down to the Classical metaphysics that Christianity adopted early on. in it, there is no fundamental role for marriage in terms of salvation, and both marriage and indeed sexuality are considered to end with death, and be absent from Heaven. They therefore reduce to earthly and mortal expediencies.

This is one major aspect in which I find Mormon metaphysics to be superior. I explain it on my blog, but it is part of a radically distinct pluralist and evolutionary metaphysics, underpinned by the husband wife dyad as the ultimate unit of highest salvation.

So far this seems to me the only formal Christian solution to finding a role for marriage that sustains intuitions that I think we both share.

In practice many RCs find a satisfactory and wholesome attitude and way of living; my point is that this conflicts with the theology, and this conflict has seriously weakened the RC response to the sexual revolution.

More tersely; either marriage or celibacy is superior as a form of life; and if celibacy, then marriage will be weakened.

Jason said...

A fine series of essays on an important topic, doctor. Still, I feel the need to demur a little, wondering if you're downplaying the role of suffering in Christianity. Taking up one's cross is not incidental to the religion but of it's very essence, something that's been baked into the cake from the beginning. From "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" to "Only the suffering God can help" (Bonhoeffer's words), Christians have always seen experiencing the results of our fallen nature as something indispensable to knowing God. "Life knocks the stuffing out of any decent person," says a priest in the late Malachi Martin's work "Hostage to the Devil." It seems to me that any Christian who doesn't relate to this statement to the marrow of his bones is missing something essential. The trick (and I'm sure you're well aware of this; don't mean to be didactic) is reconciling this obligation to also vehemently resisting evil as well as affirming the goodness of the world - a challenging and paradoxical endeavor that, unsurprisingly, many Christians may not be up to.

To expand, perhaps the heart of the matter is "active" versus "passive" suffering on the part of individuals. The former purposely seek justice and create and enjoy beauty (art, science, business, the flesh, etc.), knowing fully well that he or she will be stymied and checked by the evil of this world. The latter avoid this responsibility, feeling that they should just take whatever is dished out at them as "their cross."

Chent said...

Saint Thomas Aquinas said: "Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures". Of course, taking up one's cross is part of the deal, but this has to be complemented by spiritual joys that make life bearable. And spiritual joys are gifts from God and are not equally distributed. There are people like me that only get tiny spiritual joys, no matter how much you try.

As a Roman Catholic (your church's mileage may vary), you have two options: you follow the Gospel of Platitudes: you go to Mass, listen to a bland sermon telling you that you must be good or you must fight for peace and the poor (while boring to death) and then forget about God the rest of the week and live like a non-Christian, freely sinning without guilt. This is the Church of Vatican II.

But if this does not seem real Christianity to you, you can go with people that are more serious. Then, you start a path of self-renunciation and sheer masochism. Your faith becomes a duty. You have to give up any world pleasure but you don't get anything from it (at least in this life). You have a God-to-do list and you follow all the rules. It's hard work (besides your job). When you sin, you feel awful and go to confession. But when you do things right, you don't feel specially well: it's only your duty. You spend a big part of your mental energy to keep yourself away from sin and then you get anything that is perceivable.

But, when you read the New Testament, you find out that first Christians lived a live of joy. For example, "always be happy" (1 Thessalonians 5:16).Where is the abundant life that we were promised? (John 10:10). Is it only after death?

I am afraid most people don't have enough faith to live a life devoid of any happiness while waiting for the death to come and this is one of the causes of people leaving the Church or following the Gospel of Platitudes. Some of our ancestors lived a Christian life of self-renunciation and wrote wonderful books about that ("The Imitation of Christ" by Kempis) but they had more faith than us (not having had contact with worldviews different from Christianity). And they lived very hard lives. It is easy to renounce the world when you don't renounce anything because the world does not give you anything.

I stumbled upon a Christian book that deals with these issues. It is called "Journey of Desire" by John Eldredge. The author says that desire has been suppressed in our Christian life because it is deemed evil. But this is not a Christian message but a Buddhist message. The goal of Christianity is the satisfaction of desire and God uses desire in us to sanctify us. I cannot recommend this book yet, because I have not finished it so I don't know what its final message is. But their first chapters have moved me to tears and resonated very deeply in me.

Hoyos said...

@Chent YES! I’ve been telling people about journey of desire for years, it’s like it cleared the moss away from my thinking and made me less blind to many bible passages and passages from the works of great Christians. I had a similar reaction as have others I’ve introduced it to. Hopefully it will eventually become so clear that it seems obvious. Desire is part of the essence of real love real charity, without desire to the good, one can’t desire God and all good is only good so far as it reflects God.

The connection to faith as an active virtue I had to learn elsewhere, but that’s another story. The book is real. I may not agree with all of John Eldredge but the core concept is extraordinary. It’s a shame that Wild at Heart is what people read first of all they read of him, because you have to read JoD first to really have a handle on it.

If I recall correctly according to Aquinas the three faculties of the soul are the intellectual, the volitional, and the incensive. JoD is all about developing the incentive, which I believe is the heart of Charity, which is the thing that ties everything together I Cor. 13. Of course you need highly developed intellectual and volitional powers so you don’t go sideways on emotion. But it really is like waking the dead.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Hoyos

but I think this is what's behind the Gnostic/Manichaen tendency, which is an almost universal human tendency

Agree, thought I think it is rooted in human "cognitive miserliness" more than anything else. Platonic dualism is far more intuitive than Aristotolean hylomorphism and humans, even the religious types, being cognitive misers by default, are far more likely to drift towards the dualist conception. Hence Chesterton's great insight of the "feels" being a more important development in the persistence of this line of "thought".

@Bruce

I think that there is an element of truth in your comment with regard to Christian metaphysics. What we see with Aquinas however is an attempt to correct things, which largely succeeded until the Reformation. I think that the Protestant response to the corruption in the Church re-invigorated this dualism unintentionally and I'm also beginning to think that the Catholic response to Modernity may have fueled this as well.

Deeper spirituality may not be the solution to corruption and may in fact make things worse. Simple righteousness may be a far better path.

In practice many RCs find a satisfactory and wholesome attitude and way of living; my point is that this conflicts with the theology, and this conflict has seriously weakened the RC response to the sexual revolution.

In principle I agree with this.

@Chent

Very good comment.

Then, you start a path of self-renunciation and sheer masochism. Your faith becomes a duty. You have to give up any world pleasure but you don't get anything from it (at least in this life). You have a God-to-do list and you follow all the rules. It's hard work (besides your job). When you sin, you feel awful and go to confession. But when you do things right, you don't feel specially well: it's only your duty. You spend a big part of your mental energy to keep yourself away from sin and then you get anything that is perceivable.

This is a thing that struck me about the life of Mother Theresa. The spiritual dryness you speak off was ever present phenomenon in her life. I remember reading about it and thinking,... man, she may be a saint but her life was almost a little bit inhuman, almost repellent. Duty is important but it needs some "balance".

I am afraid most people don't have enough faith to live a life devoid of any happiness while waiting for the death to come and this is one of the causes of people leaving the Church or following the Gospel of Platitudes

Totally agree.

The author says that desire has been suppressed in our Christian life because it is deemed evil. But this is not a Christian message but a Buddhist message

Aquinas recognised that while our desires, left to their own, may lead us astray, it was the role of the intellect to regulate them for own own good. This is absolutely correct but it does provide a loophole trough which Manichaenism can reassert itself, by effectively regulating desire so much that it becomes suppressed entirely. De-facto Buddhism under the guise of Christianity.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Jason

Taking up one's cross is not incidental to the religion but of it's very essence, something that's been baked into the cake from the beginning.

I'm not sure I understood your comment properly Jason so excuse me if I've missed your point. I'm not sure that suffering is actually intrinsic to Christianity. Sure there is the inevitability of suffering due our mortal natures but I don't think that mainstream Christianity sees suffering as an actual good, though I admit that there certain temperamental elements that see suffering a good.

I think that suffering is sometimes necessary so that good can come about but here its important not to confuse the benefits of the struggle with the pain. I think that there are a lot of "correlative" thinkers who seem think that just because some good comes about after a period of suffering then suffering must be a good.

A lot is made of the suffering the Christ endured during the crucifixion but it's important to see that Christ did not see that suffering as a good. In that Garden in the night before he was crucified he did not pray for more suffering, in fact he asked for the burden to be lifted if God so permitted it. At least from this aspect he was perfectly normal guy. He wasn't a masochist.

I can't remember where I read it, but Aquinas was of the opinion that the crucifixion was not absolutely necessary for the salvation of man and that God, in His potentiality could of effected salvation through a different mechanism. I regard this as perfectly reasonable. So why put Christ though so much pain?

As I see it, Christ is more akin to a soldier who is prepared to do and suffer what he must in order to get the mission accomplished. Remember, he foresaw what was going to happen to him and yet still took on the task. The fact that he was prepared to go through so much pain to save man is more for mans benefit than his. The suffering did not do Christ any good at all rather, it's really a sign for us, who may sometimes despair, as to just how far God is prepared to go to save us.

In pre-Kumbayah days, God's justice and the reality of Hell were thoroughly emphasised and I could imagine that the believer could despair when faced with the litany of the their sins. Yet seeing what Christ was prepared to put up with to save him would of been of profound solace. It's very easy to paint God as a hanging judge and yet the actions of Christ prove that he is definitely not.

I think it is a perversion of Christianity to think that just because Christ suffered to free us of our sins then suffering is a good.

Jason said...

I think we're actually in fundamental agreement here doctor, that suffering - at least as a general principle - is not a good in itself and should be avoided whenever possible. And more important perhaps should be managed maturely: your point above about Mother Theresa is well taken. It seems to me that she didn't "serenely" bear her pain in a way that her namesake Therese of Lisieux would have suggested. This might appear scandalous to certain Catholics, for instance, but wouldn't she have benefited from some psychiatric treatment for her depression, which by all appearances was chronic and clinical? Especially now we know a lot about how to combat mental anguish, not merely through medication obviously but also through specific "happiness activities" (Sonya Lyubomirsky's description) that have been documented through extensive research to promote well-being.

My point simply was that suffering is something that cannot be avoided and must be dealt with actively and honestly. Christians (and agnostics like myself) should do all they can to make the "yoke light" as Christ put it. Yet you can't avoid a yoke if you live at all a virtuous life. Being courageous means confronting evil and sin, and needless to say others are going to hit back at you - hard. My impression though is that most people want to avoid this. The Catholic abuse scandal, for instance, resulted because both liberals and conservatives, in their different ways, didn't want to face painful truths, they didn't want to truly suffer. And you can see this also in the Christian manosphere, whose members generally don't want to acknowledge that if they seek to responsibly affect change in their churches, they're going to have to pay a price for it.

The Social Pathologist said...

@ Jason

Yes, we are in agreement.

This might appear scandalous to certain Catholics, for instance, but wouldn't she have benefited from some psychiatric treatment for her depression, which by all appearances was chronic and clinical?

I think what happens is that when you see suffering as a good or as a redemptive thing in itself you start seeking it, or at least not trying to rid yourself of it. There is a Tradition of deliberately offering your sufferings to God for some kind of noble purpose I can understand the limited practice of this behaviour but in the unbalanced it can produce a masochism.

John Rockwell said...

"A "tactical withdrawal" of Grace by God due to the corruption of Christian doctrine through two separate pathogens. An overt liberal "laxity" which is easily recognised but still toxic to the faith, and a far more dangerous and yet subtle "orthodox' Christian Buddhism/Manicheanism which corrupts Christianity on the inside under the guise of holiness."

Why do you think God waited at maximum of 1900 years to do this?

The Social Pathologist said...

@ John

It's a working diagnosis which I'm prepared to change should evidence compel me.

God doesn't directly speak to me so I can only at best hazard a guess as to why this is so. But if you wan't to know here goes:

Christianity had achieved a sort of equilibrium with pre-industrial societies and certain areas of doctrine were not really an issue due to the realities of life at the time. Take the role of women for instance. Nearly everyone was poor, and in a Agrarian society everyone works. The differentiation of sexes is easy when the actual physical motive force for nearly all human endevour is muscle and sinew. However, with industrialisation and modernisation, large numbers of women effectively became "unempolyed" and listless. The physical realities of life changed and Church doctrine did not take that into account. A society progressively modernised this equilibrium was lost and suddenly feminism becomes an issue.

Hence the wait for 1900 years.


Modernisation has been profoundly transformative of society in a way that many don't appreciate. The early Church converted pagans by co-opting some of their practices, the modern Church did not do this and is now paying the price.

John Rockwell said...

@The Social Pathologist

"The physical realities of life changed and Church doctrine did not take that into account. A society progressively modernised this equilibrium was lost and suddenly feminism becomes an issue."

Feminism has been a problem in the making since the 12th century:



"The Querelle des Femmes translates as the “quarrel about women” and amounts to what we might today call a gender-war. The querelle had its beginning in twelfth century Europe and finds its culmination in the feminist-driven ideology of today (though some authors claim, unconvincingly, that the querelle came to an end in the 1700s). The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women, and thus Querelle des Femmes serves as the originating title for gynocentric discourse."


The modern age it seems brought all those problems in the fore almost at once. Maybe those tumors had to come to fruition before its surgical removal.

https://gynocentrism.com/2013/07/14/about/

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