February 26, 2008

Gratuitous Lenten Observation

[Disclaimer: This is not necessarily a Catholic post, but, I think, an Orthodox Christian one. Stand down, everybody.]

The other day, one of the members of my RCIA class dialed into our Yahoo webgroup thingy with an observation about the Stations of the Cross. At the end of her post, she added:

PS. Random thought for the day, from the ancient wisdom conveyed by this tag on my little green tea teabag: "Recognize that you are the truth." WHAT for goodness sake does that MEAN? Ah, pop spirituality...

Our group leader, a bright spark if ever there was one, had this to say in reply:

See the stations as your way in to the sufferings of Christ. That you might rise with him! And see you tea bag as what it is - in opposition to Christ. I am not the truth for I did not create the world. Christ is the truth - we must look to him as the measure of our existence.

And by a delightful coincidence, I came across the following passage in my current readings just after I'd seen this exchange:

There are many abroad who talk of their own fantasies and lead men's minds astray. They assert that because they have observed that there are two wills at odds with each other when we try to reach a decision, we must therefore have two minds of different natures, one good, the other evil. Let them vanish at God's presence as the smoke vanishes. As long as they hold these evil beliefs they are evil themselves, but even they will be good if they see the truth and accept it, so that your apostle may say to them Once you were darkness; now, in the Lord you are all daylight. These people want to be light, not in the Lord, but in themselves, because they think that the nature of the soul is the same as God. In this way their darkness becomes denser still, because in their abominable arrogance they have separated themselves still further from you, who are the true Light which enlightens every soul born into the world. I say to them, 'Take care what you say, and blush for shame. Enter God's presence, and find there enlightenment; here is no room for downcast looks.

-St. Augustine, Confessions, Book VIII, Chpt. 10.

Now as it happens, Augustine was beating up on the Manicheans in that passage, but as I pointed out to the group (with whom I shared the passage), I think it is equally applicable to modern tea-bag pop psychology (and its many Humanistic cousins). I used to dismiss this sort of thing as just empty twaddle. Now, as I start swimming in far deeper waters than I have before, I begin to see much more clearly its genuinely corrosive effect on the spirit. (And I shudder to think how many people out there might read the same or similar stuff and think "Oh, wow, that's so true!")

As a famous local Evangelical-type likes to say in his radio ads, "not a sermon, just a thought".

BURN ME AT THE STAKE AND CALL ME "SUZY" YIPS from Steve-O: What gets my hackles though is the little paperclip animated-dude on Microsoft Word, and how he pops up and says things like "I am the way to understand WORD." I'll have to check my old copy of the Examens, but I have a gut feeling animated paper clip dude is the embodiment of the enemy, trying to lead us astray in our knowledge of the true path of the Word.

The voice of Satan? You be the judge....

Posted by Robert at February 26, 2008 11:28 AM | TrackBack

The problem with Aquinas is the problem with most "like thinkers" is that he is right (or so he assumes) and everyone else is wrong. He knows he is right because he believes, so anyone who disagrees with him is necessarily evil. (You have to get to Descartes before you have anyone trying to work form first principles not based on Genesis, and Descartes failed miserably. See Solipsism in the dictionary.... though you can make the case this was a driving idea behind The Matrix.)

The current incarnation of this argument - or one of them anyway - centers around whether or not sexual orientation is a choice (when did you DECIDE to be hetero, and were you influenced by friends or coaches in school?) or is it genetic or teratogenic? The religious have their answer based on Genesis. So any evidence to the contrary is dismissed. (The sexually dimorphic nucleus is unknown, as only one example among many.)

The big issue is evolution. It contradicts the basis of Genesis, so it must be wrong. No evidence will ever prove it right, no one will ever move the creationists one inch from their current understanding. And when you try to discuss it with them, they resort to the "No true Scotsman" version of ad homenem attacks. "No good person" or "No true Christian" holds with evolution.

So in the end, Aquinas is just another bat to hit people over the head with. Aquinas' position is that if you agree with him, and live your life according to the precepts he follows, you will be happy and society will be the just society. That is exactly the same position of Bin Laden, except that Bin Laden backs up his opinions with explosives and death for anyone who dares disagree. Now granted, that is a big difference, perhaps even a qualitative between the two positions, but the positions are akin.

Now Aquinas probably got a lot right - most "serious thinkers" do, even if they also get a lot wrong.

So for example - your little green teabag - is a bit a Eastern religion. In the East - India, China, and a few others, man is not separate from God, but a part of God. (That is a simplification, because to explain the difference between what the Levant sees as "God" and what the East sees and the union of the Uncreated/Uncreating principle and the Uncreated/Creating principle would take all day.) That and the fact that the West has lost all understanding of the true nature of polytheisms, and what is supposed to underlie them. (You don't have to believe in the Roman gods in order to study and understand Roman mythology.)

In the East, God didn't create the world "out there" or somewhere else, but the universe is a part of God. The universe is part Vishnu in India, for example. In those traditions you don't try to "have a relationship with God" as the Christians do, you try to understand your unity with the creator. To realize "You are Truth" is just a bit of Zen. (But of course Vishnu himself is only a metaphorical stand-in for things it is hard to describe. And of course there are 3 things in the Hindu creation story that all reference the same thing... the Uncreated/Uncreating principle of existence.)

So your "evil" little teabag, is just a bit of religion from different tradition. I think will find Zen - in all its wonderful forms - is a bit beyond "pop psychology." Though Pop Psychology no doubt draws on Zen ideas, it probably also draws on Western ideas as well.

If it doesn't fit in your world view (on in Aquinas' world view) it is evil, by definition.

Posted by: Zendo Deb at February 26, 2008 04:01 PM

Augustine, not Aquinas.

But forget it, you're on a roll. :-)

I subscribe to evolution, as far as it goes. I just don't think it explains everything, as I do not think it can account for the soul, or for the Fall, both of which I believe are very real, based on my experience. I've yet to meet the person who has not suffered from sin, and I've never met a person who did not deserve to be accorded better regard than merely an animal.

The reason I subscribe to Christianity is that at heart it understands that not all is ducky with the world, or with us.

Genesis is a myth, to be certain. But I do not hold "myth" and "falsehood" to be anything like synonymous terms.

Posted by: The Abbot at February 26, 2008 04:36 PM

As for Mr. Paperclip, I banish him as my first act after installation, and set cherubim with flaming swords to bar his return.

I tolerate none of his guff.

Posted by: The Abbot at February 26, 2008 04:39 PM

Hmmm... never read Augustine,

Actually I didn't think that post took - I got the usual mu.nu error message, so there is a longer version over at TFS Magnum.

One of the things I added was a bit on science. Science does not deal in absolute truth. All of science - even the bit we use in technology - is a collection of theories postulated to explain the experimental or observational data. When a better theory comes along, it will be adopted.

Religion is not science, creationism is not scientific for any number of reasons, but there is no way an observation will ever move a creationist away from his dogma - and it is dogma not theory.

Anyway, go read the even longer version over at my site, but I will leave you with this.

If the tag on the teabag had said, "Jesus Saves" would you have dismissed it as "pop spirituality?"

Posted by: Zendo Deb at February 27, 2008 09:38 AM