Saturday, September 26, 2015


 When Bernie Sanders spoke at Liberty University I ground my teeth at his predictable, condescending all-religions-teach-the-same-thing nonsense. It immediately put me in mind of Chesterton in Orthodoxy:
The things said most confidently by advanced persons to crowded audiences are generally those quite opposite to the fact; it is actually our truisms that are untrue.
The (excellent) chapter as a whole discusses the claim that Buddhism in particular has great overlap with Christianity, including another of my favorite quotes:
Students of popular science, like Mr. Blatchford, are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism.
There isn't much more one would expect of Sanders, of course, as his entire program is half-baked ideas popular among people who don't think things through, delivered in a tone of outrage by a white-haired guy. It is quite as buffoonish as anything Trump says*, but it's a brand that appeals to a different market.

A more interesting question is why the idea continues to appeal, a century after GKC wrote about it. It always flows in the same direction. Some Christians - or people who want to at least retain some Christianity in their journey - like mystical experience, and so get drawn into eastern practices to get some o' that. Mystical experiences are pretty much the same worldwide - either quiet meditative Oneness or ecstatic shared ceremonies. Buddhism gives a nice structure to the former, but there are plenty of westernised versions of contemplation that can give you the same feeling.  People seek that kind of experience to get away. They may return to the workaday world refreshed and ready, but it's the getting away part that attracts. Nothing automatically wrong with that.  There are Christian versions of it as well - hence the term retreat.

But to make the mystic experience primary, whether in its Buddhist, Native American, or Hindu version is to retreat in a deeper and ultimately worse way. I have seen it in Christian practices as well.  It is to increasingly remove oneself from the congregation, which is ultimately to leave the faith. It's getting away from people that draws folks to contemplations about their own personalities and development, and the meaning of everything. Because people are icky and stupid and irritating. They say mean things and act selfishly, even the ones that are fun sometimes. Having friends that you just pal with, plus having independent spiritual experiences is a lot cheaper, really. Easy to see why it attracts.

Except Christians aren't offered that choice.

*Donald and Bernie's platforms are actually pretty similar, just dressed in different clothes.


Grim said...

Mystical experiences are pretty much the same worldwide - either quiet meditative Oneness or ecstatic shared ceremonies.

According to a professor I know who studied them closely, and drew on some brain-wave evidence, there are two significant variations. The Zen mystical experience is of narrowing the experience such that the present moment is experienced and then abandoned, but it is experienced in a very wide array of sensations. The experience ends up being somewhat like personal annihilation (Taisen Deshimaru used to call it 'climbing into my coffin').

The experience more characteristic of Hindu meditation -- focus on a candle or a chant until it overwhelms everything -- eliminates most sensory experience, but gives a deep sense of membership with the whole of reality.

There are different kinds of brain waves characteristic of each form. It's an interesting field of study, if you're inclined to it. The philosophical question is what interests me. Are these illusions produced by altering brain function? Or, the brain being a product of the world, are these different ways of understanding the world beyond what we usually experience?

Earl Wajenberg said...

Interesting. I came to a similar "taxonomy" (if you can call two a taxonomy) from reading Evelyn Underhill's Mysticism and a couple of other mystically inclined authors like Loren Eisley. I tagged the "immanent" (Hindu) and "transcendent" (Zen) mysticism.

My own hunch is that these perceptions are what you get from "the soul's search for God," but not what you get when the initiative is on the other side.

Texan99 said...

Before I was a Christian, there was a particular sort of glazed-eye approach that used to put me off more than anything. I think of it as the "Praise the Lord" style: an all-purpose detachment, complete with a formulaic mantra.

Anonymous said...

It is merely another heresy. One that is allied with the destroyer of Buddhism, apparently, which would be Islamic Jihad.