Tourists & Pilgrims

Instead of heading south for spring break this year, as most sensible people do, I went to South Dakota.  I didn’t go for the beaches, but instead to visit the Jesuit community on the Rosebud Reservation.  The cultural milieu of the “Rez” is fascinating, and the Jesuits who live there are fine hardworking men.

One conversation in particular got me thinking.  We were discussing the summer Sun Dances, native religious rituals in which men dance—sometimes for several days without sustenance—and pierce their skin as a way of offering sacrifice to the divine.  Someone remarked that at a Sun Dance he had visited the previous summer there were more German tourists than Lakota worshippers.

I found the incident disturbing in different ways.  Though obviously not a practitioner of non-Christian “traditional” religion myself, I couldn’t help but feel that the practices of those traditions had been somehow cheapened when reduced to a spectacle for tourists.

For me the more disturbing question, however, is what the phenomenon of the Teutonic Sun Dance says about the spiritual grounding of Westerners.  Is part of the reason so many German tourists find the Sun Dance so alluring the lack of spiritual sustenance in their own culture?

By coincidence, I was at the time reading Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge on the recommendation of a classmate.  The attractive main character of the novel, Larry Darrell, is what we might call in today’s vague parlance “a seeker.”  His modest inheritance allows him to move to Europe and devote himself to study; when he needs a break from study, he tries his hand at various forms of manual labor.  He spends a few months in a Benedictine monastery, but eventually he is drawn to India and its gurus, all the while asking himself big questions about God, evil, and the nature of existence.

There’s something decidedly appealing about Larry’s lifestyle.  Those big questions are important, and how fascinating, how exotic, to move from place to place, from experience to experience, drinking it all in—the libraries of Paris, the countryside of Bavaria, the ruins of Greece, Italy, Spain, the East.

Predictably, Larry ends up rejecting Christianity.  His grounds for doing so are a trifle juvenile, as the God he refuses to believe in resembles Jupiter more than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But more importantly, he chafes under the notion of moral judgment.  Indeed his attitude toward sexual morality seems to be “whatever.”

This latter objection, if it can be called an objection, is quite common among the “seekers” I have known, among those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.”  Among my “spiritual but not religious” friends, Buddhism holds special appeal, but this appeal often arises precisely out of its vagueness.  For my seeker friends, Buddhism—exotic, distant, abstract—comes without ethical baggage.  It allows one to talk about “love” and “God” without either of those concepts becoming real enough to make concrete demands.  I’ve always wondered, how many seekers are really running away?

This is not to say that all of the “seekers” I have known have been moral cowards.  One such friend once fasted for Ramadan to have the same experience as Muslims, and doing so certainly required some determination.  But I teased her about being a “spiritual tourist,” and something about the situation seemed off to me, like the Germans at the Sun Dance.

Another time, shortly after my Peace Corps years, I was traveling in India with another “seeker” friend.  We were visiting a Hindu temple in Madurai, and an elephant there was giving “blessings” for some nominal offering.  The friend I was with said, “Why not get a blessing?”

I looked at her skeptically, and she responded, “Everybody needs a blessing.  Can a blessing really hurt?”  A part of me even said, “Sure, why not?  Why not have the experience?”

Fortunately, another (louder, more authoritative) part of me answered, “The first commandment!  The first commandment!”

So the elephant and I exchanged only polite nods.

There is undeniably something appealing in spiritual novelty, just as there is in any new experience.  But I realized then, even if I couldn’t articulate it, that, though seeking after new experiences has its appeal, certain types of experiences require commitment, and commitment means forgoing other different experiences.  To have the experience of marriage, for example, one makes an exclusive commitment to one other person, and not to others.  One simply can’t have the experience of marriage without forgoing a whole range of other—potentially enriching—experiences.

So this is what, perhaps, disturbs me most about all the Germans at the Sun Dance, what Larry Darrell misses:  it is fine to seek new experiences, and even spiritual tourism has a positive side.  After all, who doesn’t want to grow spiritually?  But certain kinds of spiritual experiences—and I would be so bold as to say the most meaningful kind—require commitment.  Some experiences can only be had by going all in.  There are some destinations a tourist will never reach.

Christianity is one such experience that requires all of us.  If it’s a hobby, it’s not Christianity.  Kierkegaard speaks of a leap of faith, and he’s sometimes construed as pointing toward something irrational, but I think the important point he’s driving at is that when we jump, we let go and jump.  We don’t clutch onto a lifeline or try to shimmy down the face of the cliff.  We can’t be neutral or detached, just observers.  There are no tourists in heaven.  If one is observing heaven from a distance, then one is someplace else.

Probably, in the end, “seeking” is not so bad.  But there’s a difference between seeking and running away, just as there’s a difference between a tourist and a pilgrim.  And for some destinations, a tourist visa just won’t do.

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29 Responses to Tourists & Pilgrims

  1. crystal says:

    To have the experience of marriage, for example, one makes an exclusive commitment to one other person, and not to others. One simply can’t have the experience of marriage without forgoing a whole range of other—potentially enriching—experiences.

    Maybe seeking in the religious sense is like looking for a mate – you may get to know a lot of potential mates before you finally decide to commit to one.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      That’s a good point to keep in mind, Crystal. Of course, not everyone who’s dating is looking for a spouse…

  2. Matt A. says:

    “If it’s a hobby, it’s not Christianity.”

    I love this – and I agree fully. Being a disciple of Christ requires that we stop spectating and start participating. He asks us to keep His commandments, not just to know them.

  3. Virgil Kaulius says:

    Time allowing, would be instructive to have you
    do some below-the-surface digging as to the
    relevance, or not, of North American Native religions,
    contrasted to Xianity?!

    While acknowledging First Nation’s legitimacy to
    their history, I remain perplexed at the centuries
    long absence of constructive growth, say, contrasted
    to the Celts (now considered the ‘founders’ of
    Europe!) who predisposed their inner culture to
    plus for, the eventual arrival of Xianity…and
    maybe out in time, integrate core findings on
    African paganism’s’ contributions, if any, to the
    human plight?!

    I posit future DNA research will find other ways
    to also speak to such societal issues. Today it
    has matured to the stage of seeking better
    understanding of people’s migration paths in the
    joint both National Geographic and IBM
    “The Genographic Project.”

    A possible starting point might be where the Jesuit
    John de Brebeuf left off, with his work among the
    Hurons? His theology in “The Huron Carol” to me, remains mystical and unsurpassed!

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      These are questions that interest me quite a bit, but I don’t feel yet expert enough to say too much more about Native American spirituality without risking saying something foolish out of ignorance. I do think, however, that there are at least some characteristics in native spirituality which could be seen as a preparation for Christianity… after all there have been a number of very fine Lakota Catholics throughout the years, some famous (Black Elk), others known to their relatives, neighbors, and the Lord.

  4. Qualis Rex says:

    Tony – German tourists sustain tribal society. From Ethiopia to Borneo (and obviously in this case to the Lakota Rez) you will find fat pasty German tourists (often in “native” garb) who find the entire experience quaint and cannot wait to show their pictures and souvenirs to their friends back home. This feeling of “quaint” is what Christianity has been reduced to for the most part in Germany. Well, at best it is quaint, at worst it is dangerous. A very good German friend of mine is an avowed atheist and his way of dealing with the horrors of his country’s past is to lay the blame squarely on Christianity. I think this is definitely the trend behind Europe’s secularization.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      I’ve been working on a paper this afternoon about (among other things) “Mit Brennender Sorge”, Pius XI’s stirring encyclical on Nazism. Well worth a read and full of insights relevant today as well. Makes it hard to find much sympathy with the argument that Christianity is to blame for Germany’s recent history, however!

      (Pius XI might be the last century’s most under-appreciated pope; I’ve found his writing really quite compelling.)

  5. crystal says:

    not everyone who’s dating is looking for a spouse

    Oh, good point too.

  6. Qualis Rex says:

    Tony – anyone who studies the rise of the Nazi movement and its blatant anti-Christian (certainly anti-Catholic) origins with the fascination of Schoppenhaur, Wagner and Nietsche knows Christianity cannot possibly be to blame for the rise of Nazism any more than Judaism can be blamed. But Christianity is a cornerstone of Europe’s previous identity, and often tied to nationalist views (and churches). So, it’s a convenient scapegoat for those Germans seeking to distance themselves from the horrors of their grand-parents’ generation.

    When Merkel scolded the Pope for not being anti-Nazi enough, I had to restrain myself.

  7. Brandon says:

    Something I sense through all of this is a certain sense of Christian self-righteousness —or as if Christianity is at the pinnacle of some sort of spiritual hierarchy.

    A few examples:

    “Among my “spiritual but not religious” friends, Buddhism holds special appeal, but this appeal often arises precisely out of its vagueness. For my seeker friends, Buddhism—exotic, distant, abstract—comes without ethical baggage. It allows one to talk about “love” and “God” without either of those concepts becoming real enough to make concrete demands.”

    Buddhism, true Buddhism, couldn’t be further from this. Buddhism calls for a precise confrontation of ethical and moral issues and places a person immediately responsible for his actions. I know exactly what you mean by people who may cling to it because for them, in it’s abstract and skewed state, it comes without ethical and moral implications. However, One can’t confuse Buddhism with some peoples “ignorance of Buddhism.” I don’t think you did this, but a less aware reader won’t see the distinction and may get a false idea of Buddhism from your post.

    “I do think, however, that there are at least some characteristics in native spirituality which could be seen as a preparation for Christianity.”

    Who’s to say that Christianity isn’t a sort of preparation for a higher spiritual awareness expressed by some Native American spirituality? For example, I’ve read accounts of original Native American societies that resembled closely more conservative Abrahamic-religion based societies with regard to their moral structures than any modern christian society. And also, Marquette writes about some Native American men who take on the role of celibate priests, yet do this in a very natural, non-ceremonial way —as though it was just who they were and what they were meant to do.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Brandon,

      Thanks for writing. Your first point (Buddhism v. the uses of Buddhism) is a fair enough qualification. You might note in the post that I’m also none too thrilled with skewed versions of Christianity (Christianity as hobby v. Christianity as way, truth, and life).

      As for the charge of self-righteousness, I think you need to distinguish between self-righteousness and believing something is true.

      I believe Christianity is true. This means that other religions are true only insofar as they do not contradict Christianity. That’s what something being true means.

      So I’m perfectly willing to say that Christianity isn’t some sort of prelude to a “higher spirituality”. Anyone else who believes Christianity is true will have to say the same thing.

      As for the charge of self-righteousness, it’s one that’s impossible to defend oneself against (just like if someone accuses you of being a contrarian–what do you say? No, I’m not?). I will only say, instead, that though I believe Christianity is true, I myself am a rather poor Christian…

      Tony

      PS I posted a few thoughts on doubt and humility a few months back that may be relevant–I think it’s important not to confuse those two things.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      I’m sorry, Tony. As someone who has been raised around Buddhists of all stripes, I have to disagree here with Brandon and your acceptance of the validity of his “qualification”, which is in fact a strawman.

      Brandon states “Buddhism, true Buddhism, couldn’t be further from this.” First, there is no “true Buddhism”. There is Theravada, Mahayana, Vajrayana and even those are classifications at the highest levels. To take the teachings and/or practices of Zen Buddhism (the religion of choice for “spiritualists” and moral relativists PRECISELY because of its nebulous abstract nature) and contrast them with those of Tibetan tantric Buddhism would give you a sense of how disperate and in fact contradictory “Buddhism” is. While followers of Zen do not acknowledge the belief in any divine entity (i.e. God), Tibetans believe Buddha was himself an incarnation of God, as are subsequent Llamas. Point being, there is no “true Buddhism” just like there is no “true Hinduism”; both are regional versions, practices and interpretations of spirituality. So, Anthony was actually right on the money and did not misspeak there.

      As for the “self-righteous” comment, Anthony nailed it. Believing something

    • Brandon says:

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks. I see your point about accusing someone of self-righteousness, and I don’t mean any of this as a personal attack, although I will admit I grow eight inches and take on a more confident voice when safely guarded behind the Internet, haha. I see this self-righteous attitude not so much as a personal problem, but rather as a character flaw affecting the entire church, and I am just as guilty of it as anyone else.

      ———-
      I disagree with you Qualis. You are altering semantics to fit your bias. This is precisely my point: there are Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Oneness Pentecostals (who hold contradictory beliefs to the others), etc.. If you were to say there is no “true Buddhism” based on the fact that there are various sects, then it is just as valid to say there is no true Christianity. So I will stand by my statement that true Buddhism is not morally slack but rather it is only people’s lack of understanding that produces this leeway.

      And, Hinduism has no specific origin or central codex and constitutes a collection of various books, teachings, and regionally based deities. Buddhism does have a specific origin, i.e., the Buddha, Sidhattha Gotama, and this specific origin has been adapted by various groups in various ways. To assimilate the two is an error.
      ———

      Here is an important distinction, Tony: Is Christianity the Life, the Truth, and the Way, or is Christ the Life, the Truth, and the Way? As you say, “…v. Christianity as way, truth, and life”

      Also, you state, “I believe Christianity is true.” So I have to ask, whose version of Christianity? Jesus’s? Martin Luther King Jr’s? The Pope’s? Which Pope’s? Are you wholly and completely familiar with these versions? I think not. So the Christianity you believe is true is in fact your version of Christianity, even though you may not be wholly aware of this version either. That’s not to say others don’t closely share your version, as obviously, belonging to the largest male religious order, many do, but nonetheless, it’s still your version of Christianity that you believe is true. You may find Christ (the Life, the Truth, and the Way) within Christianity, but that doesn’t make your version of Christianity the life, the truth, and the way.

      So, my main point is, very few would argue that much of what has happened to the Native Americans over the past 300 years, at the hands of the Jesuits as well, constitutes a grave injustice. And I think the main cause of this injustice was a sense of self-righteousness. So, when the two great societies met, that of the Native Americans and that of the Europeans, the Christian concept of truth turned spiritual matters into a battle of wits instead of actual, mutual sharing to arrive at the truth. When this happened, a rhetorical contest took place and the absolute awesomeness of monotheism was reduced and adulterated into mono-culturalism or a sort of mono-egocentric-mentality in an effort to gain control through the spread of one way of thinking that was beneficial to one specific social group (Europeans), ….this then employed democratic processes to do the dirty work, in subtle ways and not so subtle ways. This is an intrinsic problem with organized religion. This is why I will say I believe Christianity is true, yet I also see it as merely an instrument pointing the way. It is not the way.

      It is misleading to portray all native spirituality as being slightly off the mark. Like I said, I have read of original Native American societies that had moral traditions much inline with conservative Abrahamic-religion based traditions, —so much so that their moral code appeared to me to be much more “true” and respective of monotheism than any modern Christian society that I have experienced or even heard of. (What are the full implications of monotheism? What does it imply for the variations in creation we experience?) And like I said about Marquette who writes that some young men in a Native American society took on the role of celibate priests, and they did this in a wholly natural and unspectacular way. Obviously Marquette wrote about this for a reason. It caught his eye. How could modern Christians apply this to better the church? Too often religious seem to be given unwarranted immunity or respect based on their “certification.”

      I completely agree, “…But certain kinds of spiritual experiences—and I would be so bold as to say the most meaningful kind—require commitment. Some experiences can only be had by going all in. There are some destinations a tourist will never reach.” But I see this as simply an issue of personal commitment, integrity, honesty, and resolve. —so the real question is, is religion ever the best means to accomplish these or are all religions just as capable as anything else of hindering these things? …it seems to me religion is always specially capable of hindering these things and religion always uniquely provides the opportunity to “run away” because certainly personal commitment, integrity, honesty, and resolve in worldly and spiritual matters alike can be had without adhering to a specific religion.

  8. Qualis Rex says:

    Brandon – if there is a “true Buddhism”, then which is it? Zen Buddhism, which places little emphasis on any scripture, allows for abortion, does not acknowledge (or deny) the belief in a supreme being and relies purely on lineage for authenticity leading to one’s personal revelations. Or is it Tantric Buddhism which relies on text written down 300+ years after the Buddha died (assuming he ever existed) and believes in a pantheon of gods and demigods which manifest themselves in human beings from time to time? It’s not the various sects that do not make a “true Buddhism”; it’s the fact that there simply is none. The beleifs and practices are simply too radically different to reconcile into one religion. You say I have a “bias” which couldn’t be further from the truth. I am sincerely UNbiased to Buddhism so I’m speaking as a learned observer.

    As for Christianity, there IS one true Christianity, and that is the Christianity of the councils with legitimate apostolic succession. The inherritors of this true Christianity are the Catholic and Orthodox churches. In Catholicism we believe we have the fullness of Christianity. But Orthodoxy is just as legitimate and “true Christianity” (there is little difference between the two). The existence of other sects is irrelevant. They are discardable.

    • Brandon says:

      Ok, I have a tendency to take these things off topic, so I’ll answer your questions but try to bring it back to the point as well.

      1. None of these “sects” ARE true Buddhism, and Buddhism has the ability to account for this. Buddhism is a different form of religion that doesn’t transfer well to typical western modes of classification.

      2. I am far from an expert, but I feel I have caught a glimpse of the truth the Buddha was trying to express. And this truth is in no way nebulous. It is the opposite of nebulous. It is clear headed, rational Awareness of all matters.

      3. To bring in the issue of abortion seems ridiculous. And to say that Zen Buddhism allows for abortion is even more ridiculous. This is a judgment propagated by a few Zen Buddhists with internet access. In the light of the Buddha’s teachings that I am aware of, under absolutely no circumstance may a fetus be aborted. Just because a distorted form of Buddhism has been hijacked by some liberals doesn’t mean anything.

      4. You really want to criticize their scriptures while your using the Bible as yours? Ok. Yes, it was written 300 years after Sidhattha died, but until then was memorized and chanted by large groups of monks. The main difference about Buddhist scriptures is that they don’t claim to be anything more than what they are, i.e., the teachings of Sidhattha, chanted by monks for 300 years and then written down in Pali—not even the same language as what Sidhattha spoke.

      5. Are these the same divinely inspired councils that ordered the crusades? Are these the same divinely inspired councils that failed to prevent successive child abuse scandals? Yes, they are. If “true” Christianity is responsible for this, count me out.

      6. Having married priests seems like a pretty big difference to me.

      My point is that this self-righteousness will get us nowhere. To say MY Christianity is the ONE true Christianity while another says no MY Christianity is the ONE true Christianity is such a ridiculous situation that one can only imagine it as being suitable for a Monty Python sketch.

      I say what the world needs is more tourism. A tourist can be just as committed to moral uprightness and integrity and in the long run will build a spiritual foundation void of any “leaps,” constructed on solid experience without any chance to “run away” or hide from the truth that he or she has come to know.

      “The times, they are a changin'” The fact is it’s going to be nearly impossible to indoctrinate the current generation of teenagers. The internet is going to make this too difficult. I think a new “religion” is going to result from this, and it’s going to closely resemble Buddhism. So instead of trying to claim ownership of the keys to spiritual progress or morality, why not focus your efforts on simply and concisely explaining the realities of one’s spiritual potential and the significance of morality.

  9. Qualis Rex says:

    Brandon – sorry, but you are the one being ridiculous and bordering on obtuse. Maybe it’s because you are too close to the subject, but you really come off as not making sense.
    1. you still haven’t said what this “true Buddhsim” is, other than the fact that you personally have been able to discern it. So, does that make the hundreds of millions of other Buddhists wrong?
    3. I mentioned abortion to illustrate how Zen Buddhism drastically differens from other sects. And no, it is not some liberals on the internet saying this. It is a fact that Japan has always allowed abortion and so has Zen Buddhism. What’s ridiculous is that you didn’t know this.
    4. I didn’t criticise any scriptures. I was stating a fact. You added a value statement on it. Learn the difference.
    5. No, these are NOT the same councils. You are severely misguided and uneducated on history. The last ecumenical council recognized by both Catholics and orthodox was the 2nd council of Nicea ending in the 8th century. The crusades came a few centuries after that. And I don’t need to “count you out”. but I can discount what you say as nonsense.
    6. The CATHOLIC church has married priests too. This “pretty big difference” to you is a non-issue. Once again, key word here for you is “education”.

    The fact that you can’t wrap your head around the concept of one religion being “true” simply validates Tony’s original point regarding Buddhism and moral relativism and subjectivism, and it is the hallmark of Buddhism. Whether you acknowledge something as true or not is irrelevant to the truth. It doesn’t make the reality less true. It is only relevant to you in that it can or cannot influence your life.

    • Brandon says:

      Hi Qualis,

      What I really have to learn is how to take on a more respectful tone. —Rightly so, what goes around comes around, hahaha. Truly, education is why I’m here, even though I do enjoy the sword play as well.

      So, I do still disagree with everything you’ve said.

      Again, these instances in Japan are not truly expressive of Buddhism, or perhaps I should say, not expressive of the teachings of Sidhattha Gotama. This is another intrinsic problem with organized religion, —often a particular instances is mistook for the truth their founders were trying to express, and thus that truth becomes even more obscured. So, I am going to tell you now, true Buddhism is the teaching of Sidhattha Gotama, not the various cultural instances or political manifestations of those teachings. And discerning the authenticity of these teachings is no easier or harder than discerning Jesus’ teachings.

      I took “councils” not to mean specific historical councils, but rather the meetings of church authorities in general. My point remains the same, these councils formed the laws that gave power to the successive authorities that were responsible for the bad things I mentioned. The crusades don’t mark any great separation from these historical councils, but rather were continuations of them. The hierarchy that controls the church today and is responsible for not preventing successive abuse scandals is also a continuation. So I think it’s wrong to say true Christianity or the teachings of Jesus are maintained by this institutional lineage, the dogma may be preserved, but that’s all.

      Pope John Paul II’s collection of sermons The Theology of the Body (which I have read) did not leave me with the feeling that the Catholic Church views having married vs. celibate priests as a non-issue. Personally I agree, it is a non-issue. However, about .2% of Catholic priests in America are married. (And typically, Catholic, in America, means Roman Catholic. So let’s not pick and choose elements from other traditions.) So to say there are married “Catholic” priests is like saying there is snow in Florida. It has happened, but it doesn’t accurately portray the climate of that state.

  10. Henry says:

    Hey Brandon,

    A couple of things. First, I hope you are well. Second, did you see the comments I wrote to you a few weeks ago. Third, Crystal, who posts comments here has listed a post titled “Why I’d ban the burqa” on her site – Perspective (http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/). I am playing devil’s advocate and I want to know if you want to come over and share your thoughts.

    Pax,

    Henry

  11. Henry says:

    Friends,

    Just some quick observations.

    Buddha was not interested in metaphysical questions and his goal was to eliminate suffering and so, for that reason, using Western ways of thinking, I believe it is a philosophy and not a religion. Being a former Zen Buddhist myself, some of the techniques I learned (e.g., mindfulness) have been very helpful and dovetail well with the Catholic Faith and so I continue to use it as a technique to this day (of course it’s been modified slightly).

    Brandon writes: “I say what the world needs is more tourism. A tourist can be just as committed to moral uprightness and integrity and in the long run will build a spiritual foundation void of any “leaps,” constructed on solid experience without any chance to “run away” or hide from the truth that he or she has come to know.”

    This is an interesting observation but it seems to overlook a few things, in my opinion. First, that faith is a method of knowledge. Second, it seems to me that we must keep in mind that the human being does not generate the Truth, but rather, discovers it. Third, the Christian claim is first and foremost the claim that God has overturned the “usual” method and that because of His method reality is now permeated by a Presence, a loving Presence that accompanies us and continually invites us to follow Him. That’s why Pope Benedict XVI wrote: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. Fourth, I occasionally work with young adults and I find that the reason they “reject” the Catholic Faith is because we normally tend to be dialectical when speaking about the Faith: if we speak of the heart, of the “I,” we seem to leave Christ aside; and if we speak of Christ, then we seem to exclude the heart.

    That’s it for now.

    Pax,

    Henry

    • Brandon says:

      Hi Henry,

      No, I hadn’t seen your post until now. But thanks, and yes I am doing well.

      I agree that Western ways of thinking really can’t accurately account for Buddhism. This is perhaps its greatest asset. It’s something very different. Whether to call it a philosophy or religion or whatever, I just don’t know. I think it depends on the context of the discussion. And I have noticed this too, that elements of Buddhism provide great insight into Catholic spiritual matters. A tourist can benefit from these, where as a more domiciled approach to spirituality won’t allow for this.

      Also, I agree with the theme of the original post. Tony, I think it’s a great point you make. You touch on key spiritual concerns, e.g., courage, commitment, and integrity. And with regard to Buddhism, I stayed as far away as possible from it myself for so long for precisely the reason highlighted in this post, i.e., I avoided Buddhism because all the Buddhists I met came off as morally “adrift” in the world. But now, after taking an open minded approach to the teachings of the Buddha, I see that this is not representative of Buddhism at all. And from now on, instead of merely being able to argue with Buddhists, I will be able to aid them, “speak their language,” and put them on a path leading ever closer to the truth, just as I hope they do for me.

      The issue I’m trying to raise is in regard to the self-righteous undertones (which I have explained I’m not proposing as a personal character flaw, but rather pointing out a weakness that affects the entire church). It just seems to me that these truths that we are dealing with here are so profound, universal, eternal, catholic, and TRUE, that there is no need to base their validity on the “seeming” invalidity of something else.

  12. therese says:

    Thanks, Henry, you summarized my thoughts re: the whole Buddhism business much more elegantly than I could’ve. My only additional thought includes Flannery’s comment about if the Eucharist isn’t what the Church says it is then the hell with it. I.e., when we leave out the “encounter with the Person” that B16 speaks of, we gut Christianity. Disputing theories of truth eventually masks Him.

    I have a cousin in Iowa City who was raised “Catholic”. Now she is insistent that she is not homeschooling her children but “unschooling” them from all the ancient baggage she inherited. I thought about this unfortunate situation when I read the last sentence in your post.

    • Brandon says:

      Hi Therese,

      I just finished reading Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” not too long ago. From an educational theory point of view, Illich, a former catholic priest, says that we need to “deschool” society for the sake of social justice. He believes that the institutionalization of “learning” prevents true learning altogether. If your cousin is familiar with this, which I’m not sure she is, her dedication to “unschooling” her children may have a much more altruistic motive than first appears.

      “Deschooling Society” is a bit on the radical side, but the points Illich makes are really interesting. Written in the early 70s, Illich essentially predicts the use of the internet when he talks of the need for self-organized learning “webs.” I highly recommend it.

  13. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Thank you all for a very interesting discussion thus far. I can’t respond in detail to all the points raised, but I’m mulling over a way to expand upon some of the issues brought up in next week’s post. But here’s a few points, for what they’re worth…

    As to Qualis’ original point, about whether there’s a “true” Buddhism, I do have to admit that I am in no position to act as a Buddhist Magisterium and determine what’s authentic and what’s not. However, I do think it fair to concede that not all Buddhists are guilty of the dilettantism I criticize in the original post.

    Brandon, I think part of the reason you raised Qualis’ ire in some of your earlier comments was that you seem to be using inconsistent standards to judge Christianity and Buddhism. So all the sects and distortions of Buddhism do not count against there being a “true” Buddhism, but the sects and distortions of Christianity make speaking of one of them as true an absurdity? You also don’t seem to allow that Christianity can contain any sort of internal diversity, when in fact the notion of communion holds together difference and unity… in fact, Trinity itself is communion.

    Also – to be blunt – cheap shots about the Crusades and child abuse rather undermine your authority for determining what’s self-righteous and what isn’t. Christians can and do commit sins, but the heinousness of those sins does not diminish the truth of Christian teaching, just as the failure of Tiger Woods’ Buddhist upbringing in no way diminishes the truth or falsity of Buddha’s teachings.

    Your last comments, however, make a point which is more productive and, perhaps, what you were driving at earlier, namely, that even if we are grounded in and deeply committed to a relationship with Jesus Christ, that doesn’t mean we can’t benefit from or learn from encounters with non-Christians. But benefiting from such encounters does not mean splitting the difference or trying to find some false compromise by reducing everything to abstract values or some vague new universal consciousness. As I think Henry and Therese are getting at, in Jesus, we Christians believe we have found something more than morality, more even than universal values…

  14. Qualis Rex says:

    Thanks, Anthony. And sorry if my post showed elevated levels of ire (is “irish” an applicable adjective there? hmmm…). And yes, you skillfully and artfully captured the reasons for it and effectively difused them as well. I really should take a step back before I roll up the sleeves. For that reason, although I am SO tempted at responding to the ill-conceived jab at organized religion (which is ironically responsible for bringing the teachings of Buddha to the modern day) I’ll refrain and leave you to do God’s work here.

    BTW, ever notice how YOUR posts are always the most popular, regardless of the topic??? You are going to be such a good priest.

  15. Virgil Kaulius says:

    If anyone seriously wants a mainstream intellectual
    look at any Eastern Religion vs. Christianity, they
    are forced to the doorstep of Thomas Merton:
    no scholar has attained his depth-experience with
    them all, loosely stated. And he was therefore in
    the process of writing an overview thereof except
    for his regrettable untimely birth to the Hereafter!

    Secondly, it is D.T. Suzuki who BROUGHT Zen and
    Buddhism TO THE WEST in his translations, subsequently
    followed by his own authored works. He and Merton
    became life friends….

    Buddhism is NOT a religion. Nor is it a complete
    philosophy: it lacks ANY ethical theology. Period!
    DT Suzuki: “ZEN is life itself. There is no salvation,
    no “way,” just life itself.”

    So, those are just some quick soundbites: this is
    not the forum to go deep into such deep subject
    matter UNLESS one backs up ONE’S MERE assertion(s)
    with authoritative source material. Opinion is
    cheap, found at all Bars, and this is not a Bar!!!

    And Merton takes a different tack on this subject
    matter: “Both Buddhist and Christian monasticism
    start from the PROBLEM inside man HIMSELF. Instead
    of dealing with the external structures of society,
    they start with MAN’S OWN consciousness.”

    Lastly, AS a 1st Nation’s Equivalent Person myself,
    Lithuanian (the oldest living language in Europe)
    I unequivocally assert I have yet to find any depth
    either Philosophy or Theology in ANY Native spiritualities: I challenge future scholarship to
    get off the couch of
    “Politically-Correct Accommodation”
    and get into serious research, if they can. On a par
    to that being currently conducted by Kathleen Deignan
    on Celtic Pagan religious theology plus practise!

    Let’s start walking the talk!!!

    PS: Two recent Archaeological excavations
    in British Columbia, Canada, unearthed cannibalism
    by the Natives, something they refuse to admit to
    in the desire to white-wash THEIR past abuses, etc.!
    We’ve still got a long way to go on this stuff!

  16. therese says:

    sorry, i have to ask: what in the heck is the last comment about?

  17. Brandon says:

    Hi everyone,

    Thank you for this discussion. I actually think we’re getting somewhere, however I have a few points to clarify regarding my stance.

    I think it is fair to hold Christianity and Buddhism to different standards based on what they claim for themselves.

    Virgil gives a great quote, “Zen is life itself. There is no salvation, no “way,” just life itself.”

    Does this give rise to relativism, moral obscurity, etc? Well, only if your life does. As I think we can, nay we must get a solid moral foundation from looking at life itself. Really, what could possibly give way to a more defeatist or relative morality than a narrow minded view of salvation?

    This is why I taught as a catechist for two years (I’m sure some of you are like, Lord save us, this guy was a catechist!? hahaha). But really, I was so hurt and frustrated by the fact that no one presented morality to me in a simple, honest, straight forward, scientific way, but instead shrouded it’s meaning behind Christian dogma and superstition that I wanted to try and help others avoid this. I still always invite anyone struggling with sexual immorality to take a scientific look at what happens to the body through the process of sexual desire and satisfaction; I guarantee that good science is much more capable of keeping an unmarried man chaste than any abstract spiritual dogma. Just look at the chemistry of it and you’ll see.

    My cheap shots, and I agree, these often are cheap shots, however, my statements about the crusades and abuse scandals aren’t broadly stated here but rather specifically stated to counter Qualis’ statement that true Christianity is “the councils with legitimate apostolic succession.” The fact is these councils have made grave errors, therefore when it comes to trusting in, without a doubt, a purely preserved, divine reality, I can’t stop at the church but must continue my search.

    Virgil, you make some great points about how to pursue study of these topics elsewhere. However, for as in love as I am with eastern philosophy, Merton has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve tried to avoid judging his writing based on what I know of his personal life, but I just can’t do it. I am too weak. I know I have no right to judge him, but for now I just can’t help it. Hopefully in the future I’ll be able to take advantage of his intellectual contributions.

    With regard to native religions and spirituality, no doubt many contain odd, off the mark, and otherwise horrible practices. However, what I wrote was “It is misleading to portray all native spirituality as being slightly off the mark.” As I HAVE encountered accounts of theologically deep and morally sound native traditions. The fact that some natives are guilty of trying to cover-up cannibalism in no way excuses any other group or organization from any past abuses. The major difference between the native traditions and the modern ones is that the native ones don’t claim to posses the keys to heaven.

    Any wise key maker makes a spare in case the original gets misplaced. Even if it just gets tucked under the welcome mat, it can be a comfort throughout the entire day to know it exists.

    P.S. These posts can almost be equated to posting a message on a billboard on a public street. The fact is, my generation spends more time joy riding through this virtual environment than they do in the real world. With regard to such exposure, we should carefully consider how we portray Catholic attitudes.

  18. I. Giardina says:

    The ontological category of tourist pilgrim suggests a person from another ethnographic zone, that’s adopted the tradition, however finds the experience of shifting scenes exciting over and above the destination. However the pilgrim tourist is just the opposite for the journey to is somewhat unimportant compared to the destination. So it’s a question of conceptualizing place in relation to faith that place will bring some transcendence from the platitudes of the everday.

  19. […] or the résumé.  I’ve expressed concerns before on these pages about the dangers of “spiritual tourism,” and there’s a danger in our culture of a kind of dilettantism, of using a few hours—or even […]

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