Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why incorrect faiths have some merits

It's a provocative sounding title, but not meant to be, just terse in order to fit in the heading space. However, I know that many (though hopefully fewer than there used to be) will not like the implication that there are incorrect faiths. This is because people confuse tolerance with truth. Tolerance means you put up with people who may believe something totally wrong. Truth means it is correct and based on facts. It is not being intolerant to say that certain faiths and "beliefs" lack a truthful and/or factual foundation. It's being brave to say that, ha, but not being intolerant.

Rather than pursue this logic thread I'm going to leap ahead first to the core of what I want to explain, and then return to the first paragraph to further explore tolerance versus truth seeking.

You know the old sayings (usually said about love) regarding how can something so wrong "feel" "so right?" I am going to explain why faiths and "beliefs" that are factually incorrect 1) do have merits of validity and 2) "feel" so right.

No matter what culture one is from, what generation one was born into, raised and lived in, or whether one is young, old, rich, poor, believing or not, the fact is that the same God created the universe and all in it, created and raised humans from the animals by giving each person a soul at conception, and is present everywhere, All Knowing, even if no one is paying any attention to him in a particular place. So the same God is present and has always been present whether he is among believers or non-believers, whether God is overlooking a deserted island or the most crowded city. The same one God always has been and always will be. God's reality does not change at all whether people believe in him or not, or if people even exist.

We know this from the scripture. As God created all things, starting with heaven and the material universe, with the sky and earth, think about it... God's the same God even though people had not even been created yet. God's the same God before creation, on Day One of creation, on Day Two of creation and so forth, and he remains the same God as he creates human beings, as some believe in God and some don't, as many are faithful but some fall away, as many are unfaithful but some remain faithful: throughout all this God remains the same, as he does eternally. This is how to combine faith + logic to understand and draw the same conclusions as I have shown you how to do here, which is that by reading the scripture one learns the obvious that is not spelled out because it is obvious, which is that God's "reality" or "strength" did not grow (or diminish, or change in any way) whether he is overseeing the material things of the universe (rocks, plants, animals) or humans. The scriptures would have obviously pointed this out otherwise. God is understood with the very first words of scripture in the Bible (and the Qur'an) to have always been in existence, to be the source of everything, to be All Knowing, and to be constant and unchanging, regardless of one's vantage point in the universe or one's timeline. The same God created and watches some small piece of rock asteroid millions of miles away as he created and watches a large city of humans with all kinds of genuine faith or bogus "beliefs." The same God created and watches a tribe of indigenous people who may have had no contact with the Gospel, or the God of Abraham. So God is 1) the Creator 2) always aware and 3) always present, no matter what the place or circumstances.

How, then, is God present everywhere, regardless of the presence of people at all, or whether or not they are believers? God's Holy Spirit constantly moves and inspires in all places at all times throughout God's creation. So the Holy Spirit is as present over deserted landscapes as it is among populated areas, and the Holy Spirit is as present among believers as among non-believers, or of those who have genuine faith or those who have bogus beliefs. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the defacto status: it is not a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval. The Holy Spirit is "there," just as oxygen is always "there," whether people are doing the right thing or not.

So when prehistoric people first started to have self awareness and wonder about the forces of nature and their place within it, the Holy Spirit was there before they started wondering, as they wondered and drew some conclusions, and remains there even if they have drawn false, and even horrifying, conclusions. For example the Holy Spirit obviously was present when indigenous tribes of Central and South America performed bloody human sacrifice because obviously the Holy Spirit does not abandon areas that fall into even the gravest of error. One could argue that the Holy Spirit works even harder to try to bring genuine and not false enlightenment. Likewise in even the most dreadful of enforced atheist countries, such as the USSR under Stalin, it's not like the Holy Spirit was never there or fled, anymore than people's guardian angels take a hike even if their human doesn't believe in them or behaves badly. Even the worst murderers still have their guardian angel to the end of that person's life. (Who wants that job hey? That's one of the differences between angels and humans, which is another reason that people who try to proclaim themselves angels are so pathetic).

But not to get off track with discussing angels, returning then to what I was speaking of, God is present everywhere all the time, regardless if humans are there or not, or whether they have proper belief or not. God's presence is not a reward or a seal of approval, but his being there is the defacto state of all of being, whether heavenly or material realm. The Holy Spirit is, for lack of a better term, the "observable" or "interactive" manifestation of God on earth. God, of course, is always directly approachable by each and every human being through prayer. God, however, tends to carry about individual and group agenda (for lack of a better word) through the Holy Spirit. This is why the Holy Spirit has been compared to and actually seen as the wind, a creature of the wind (the dove), water and fire because this accurately reflects that God is the source of all (the source of wind, doves, water and fire) and his influence that dwells unasked for among people is the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes people read the scriptures and get a little self righteous thinking that they invoke or receive the Holy Spirit due to their faith and goodness. Remember that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, as he said he would, at Pentecost: the Apostles, Mary and the rest of the disciples did not "summon" the Holy Spirit or "earn" the Holy Spirit through deeds, birthright or other human conceptions of merit. The Holy Spirit is always everywhere on earth, whether it is asked for or not. It is another sign of the faithfulness of God even when humans are either oblivious to him or unfaithful to him in turn. Pentecost was the infusion of those present with the Holy Spirit. That does not mean the Holy Spirit was nowhere to be found in Jerusalem before Pentecost, ha. The Holy Spirit is always there, even where people do not exist, so most assuredly the Holy Spirit is there when people reach out to seek God, either incorrectly or correctly.

This, then, is my point about why even incredibly incorrect and unfactual "beliefs" can have some merits. By merits I mean points of validity and even virtues, but obviously those points of validity by no means guarantees or delivers salvation and eternal life. I am explaining this so that 1) those of you with faith in the one true God experience deepening of faith and understanding of God and 2) those of you with no or questionable beliefs can understand that a sprinkling of good things in a belief system does not salvation make.

The obvious example of what I am speaking about are the faiths and "beliefs" who value and seek peace. It is the influence of the Holy Spirit that draws even those people who do not believe in God, or who believe in false gods or worship principalities (such as natural forces or the supposed power of rites), to believe in peace. The Holy Spirit generates and maintains a yearning for good things-of truly good things-like peace among all humans. The danger is that without understanding the reality of God and the Holy Spirit, the objective and the framework for the structure of yearning, the motivations and the actions, and the desired outcome of the people yearning for peace can be all wrong and lead to the opposite, to destruction. Thus you have people who say things like "Buddhism is so peaceful and tolerant and so good, so it must be true." Well, there are two things true about Buddhism. One is that the Buddha existed and had an encounter with the Holy Spirit, but one that was without the context of belief in the one God. So the second true thing is that much of the goodness of behavior and philosophy advocated by genuine Buddhists is worthy and even inspired by contact with the Holy Spirit, but the objectives and the factual world view is off target due to the lack of recognition of the reality of the one God. Thus one can believe in a faith or a "belief" that has worthy and even inspired components while still faithfully following the wrong path because the facts are missing or incorrect.

While Pope Benedict XVI (writing as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) was not specifying Buddhism in this passage in his book "The Spirit of Liturgy" I include it here because it explains some of the problem that I am bringing to your attention in this blog posting.

"...then we can now define the intention of the account of creation as follows: creation exists to be a place for the covenant that God wants to make with man. The goal of creation is the covenant, the love story, of God and man...Only when man is in covenant with God does he become free. Only then are the equality and dignity of all men made manifest. If, then, everything is directed to the covenant, it is important to see that the covenant is a relationship: God's gift of himself to man, but also man's response to God...the fundamental process of salvation history, that is, the election and separation of pure from impure, and therefore the inauguration of the history of God's dealings with man. Thus begins the spiritual creation, the creation of the covenant, without which the created cosmos would be an empty shell...Now if worship, rightly understood, is the soul of the covenant, then it not only saves mankind but is also meant to draw the whole of reality into communion with God...True surrender to the union of man and creation with God. Belonging to God has nothing to do with destruction or non-being: it is rather a way of being" (p. 26-28).

Notice the part that I was thinking of when Pope Benedict writes that belonging to God (substitute "being spiritual" for those who deny God as he really is) consists of neither destruction nor non-being. In other words even peaceful detachment as a philosophy and a belief is damaging and erroneous, just as, obviously, destruction is an error. If one does not believe in God as he actually is one is not participating in creation the way God intended and as it factually is, which is the stage of an ongoing covenant with God, but one that does have a beginning and an end with each person's life and death:

"For Christian thinkers, the circle is seen as the great movement of the cosmos. The nature religions adn many non-Christian philosophies think of it as a movement of unceasing the Christian view of the world, the many small circles of the lives of individuals are inscribed within the one great circle of history as it moves from exitus [departure] to reditus [return]...In these circles, the mystery of beginning is repeated again and again, but they are also the scene of the end of time, of a final collapse, which may in its own way prepare the ground for a new beginning...Cult, then, has to do with the movement turning around. It is the sudden awareness that one has fallen, like the prodigal son's remorse, when he looks back to where he has come from...The fascination with such views is very great; they seem so easily identifiable with the Christian message...The religions of the Far East have teh same basic pattern. That is why the various kinds of teaching on redemption that they offer seem highly plausible. Exercises for relaxing the body and emptying the mind are seen as the path to redemption. They aim at liberation at finitude, indeed, they momentarily anticipate that liberation and so have salvific power...[in contrast] Christian thought distinguishes the two movements [exitus [departure] reditus [return]] from one another. Exitus is not a fall from the infinite, the rupture of being adn thus the cause of all sorrow in the world. No, exitus is first and foremost something thoroughly positive. It is the Creator's free act of creation. It is his positive will that the created order should exist as something good in relation to himself, from which a response of freedom and love can be given back to him...It accepts a creation from God as his offer of love, and thus ensues a dialogue of love, that wholly new kind of unity that love alone can create. The being of the other is not absorbed or abolished, but rather, in giving itself, it becomes full itself. Here is a unity that is higher than the unity of indivisible elementary particles..." (p. 31-33).

Here is an analogy to help you to understand, though I think that Pope Benedict is so remarkably brilliant in his explanation here that few will miss his point. His focus, though, is on explaining the history of the relationship between God and his people in order to comment on the development of the liturgy, thus he was not authoring a description of the problem of "good ideas" in factually insufficient faiths and beliefs, as I am writing here. Thus the analogy will help.

God created Creation, the cosmos and all in it, including human beings, in order to have a loving relationship in covenant with human beings as a whole, and individually. This relationship has a beginning (the birth of the person) and an end, which is initiated by the death of the person and then their judgment of where he or she will spend their eternal life, in heaven, or not. As a whole there is also going to be an ending to the entire covenant at the end of time, when the world passes away, the living and the dead are judged, and the heavenly Jerusalem is brought into being. So my analogy is that each person's life is like a single telephone conversation between two persons, in this case the human person and God. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The end is not really an end because at the end of the conversation the person gets up, leaves their home, walks to God's home and knocks on the door. The person will either be let in or not, and if not will be exiled for eternity in a godless and tormented place.

Now, the conversation can going in many directions and different people have different conversations. It may start out nice but develop into a quarrel. People might hang up the phone on God but then call him back. People might say unworthy things on the phone, or they may only say nice things. Think of it as a play where there may be many scenes and events, but ultimately the play, ie. the conversation, does come to an end.

Christians, Jews and Muslims have this worldview, this true understanding of God, that creation and life is the stage for this one conversation with God, one that has a beginning and an end, and the result of it will be that when one knocks on God's door in person, God will either bring him or her into eternal life in his presence and bliss, or due to their own rejection, sin, injustice or faithlessness, cast them eternally out of his presence.

Faiths and "beliefs" that do not understand this essential try to control the conversation's content for "goodness" or "peacefulness," without understanding that one is in a conversation with God and that this conversation will be followed up by a one-way encounter at death when one knocks at God's door. Thus practices like being peaceful, non-violent, not stepping on little bugs when one walks, detaching from interest in the material things of the world, working through a list of activities that presumably gives advantage in a theoretical, but bogus, future life and incarnation all sound "good" and their spirit may be wholesome in original intent, but they miss the entire point of life, miss the realization that it is all a one-on-one phone call with God, and miss that there is only one door out of life and it leads to God's reality and his front steps.

This is the futility of incorrect beliefs that have good merits. One can talk endlessly about peacefulness and love, but have no idea that God is on the other end of the line and thus waste the entire conversation. Instead of talking about peace in the abstract one should have been paying attention to God in the reality. It's like if you had a conversation with the President of the United States about the health care bill and all you talked about with him is what you saw on the soap opera yesterday. Good use of time? Practical pursuit of worthy goals? Not really. Again, I'm using simple analogies to help understand why something that may "feel" logical and "good" can be so misguided and futile.

Worse, when one is focused on detaching from the world and not believing in the one way street to God, that is like you are constantly trying to hang up the phone. As Pope Benedict explains so well, creation is not the result of the fall, or a futile recycling (my words there); creation is the place that God established in order to have a loving relationship based on a covenant with humankind. It has a purpose and an exit point, even though much of life overall feels iterative as each generation faces the same joys and sorrows, ease or difficulties, as previous ones, but here is the point: It feels iterative but it is not because it is one covenant between one God and all humans, and each human being has their own "phone conversation" with God, the end of which consists of going to God's door and being allowed in or cast down into the netherworld eternally.

I really don't know what to make of the recent generations fascination with tools and techniques that detach themselves from God and his goodness rather than as they believe genuinely increase their presumed "spirituality." One reason I have not criticized my ersatz supposed friends in the past who had these beliefs (including my own niece and others) is that I trust the Holy Spirit who constantly moves among people to bring them to the truth, painful as it may be when one has been so mislead and misleading others. But in private I have been sad to see many people hang up the phone to God or blather their own self focused rubbish on the line, knowing that in the end God will have to say to them "I did not know you."

Sadly, God has generations of experience at of course having to say that to people who believe they mouthed all the right words during life, they were "tolerant," they were "peaceful," they "gave to good causes," they "detached themselves from the evils of the material world..." and then, ooops, you see, that is the problem. The world is not evil, it is the loving home that God created for his loving relationship and covenant with humans. And further, they wasted their entire lives not once acknowledging God on the other end of the line.

So that is why incorrect faiths and "beliefs" can have some merits as in valid thinking, valid philosophies, and even inspired goodness, yet still be factually incorrect. The faith or belief fathers or mothers felt the presence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit but rather than taking it all the way to recognizing God and his covenant, they tried to imitate traits of what they perceived the Holy Spirit to be. At best it is well meaning people who totally miss the point of creation which is to be in loving covenant with a real and active God. At worst it becomes cult where ritual, tech and even abhorrent practices (human sacrifice, blood drinking, etc) are viewed as acceptable and even admirable means to some sort of "greater purpose," but that purpose and that play and that conversation are all made up and bogus self delusion.

You know how many people have dreams where they are back in school again but they have missed showing up for a school exam? It's a classic anxiety dream. Well, people who do not believe in God as he actually is, no matter how nice and "well meaning" they are have missed the entire conversation, the entire classroom, even showing up for school, say nothing of missing the school exam. The Holy Spirit worked to keep yearning for God alive in even the most soul deadening places such as Stalin's Soviet Union. How baffling is it that many faiths and "beliefs" try to deaden awareness of God and his covenant in places where there is absolutely no excuse for doing so.

That is why traditional faiths must be respected, such as Buddhism, because the Buddha and his followers did with good intention seek if not the face of God then the influence of the Holy Spirit, who was always present, even if they did not realize so. But modern variations on these faiths and synthesized "beliefs" are totally bogus and dangerous because they are not at all working within the piece, however small, of the valid Holy Spirit that the faith ancestors did but rather since they do not recognize God as he actually is, yet they have access to knowledge (it's not like they were raised under a rock and never heard of the Bible, Torah or the Qur'an), they create self serving delusion models of a mechanized cosmos, not matter how many loving, peaceful and tolerant, benevolent vocabulary they hide behind. They do not do credit to their faith ancestors who were either of the mainstream believing faiths or those who, like Buddhism, with good intentions, created worldviews based on legitimate input from the Holy Spirit, even though they lacked the context.

I hope this helps. I have to wrap it here because I'm a housekeeper and my boss is wondering where to best display on the living roomwall his blowgun while waving it around and telling me to bend over. *sigh* Kind a distraction from thinking about God and giving spiritual direction.