Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, June 17th, 2007.


Heresies

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Religion

This morning I heard a Buddhist teacher give a talk that referred to a teisho (something like a sermon) on the Beatitudes given by Taizan Maezumi Roshi. So when I got home I looked for the teisho on the Web; here it is. You probably know (because you are smarter than three-fourths of the nation’s population) that the Beatitudes are from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Maezumi was an old-school Japanese Zen master. So it’s interesting (to me, anyway) to see what Maezumi did with the Beatitudes. He treated them very respectfully, and (while acknowleding that Christians might understand them differently) compared them to nearly identical Buddhist teachings. They’d make good koans, the roshi said.

As a human being, what is the difference between you and me, or between Buddhist and Christian? Even among Buddhists and among Christians there are different ways of approaching it. But what we appreciate should not be different — however, we say it — being one with God, or saved by God, or liberated by God, or even condemned by God. If we can really selfless feel the existence of that, I am sure we will know the savior.

By “savior” Maezumi did not mean Jesus, although he also did not not mean Jesus. And there’s another koan for you.

In today’s Seattle Times, Janet I. Tu writes about an Episcopal priest who recently converted to Islam, although she is also still an Episcopal priest. This is causing a certain amount of consternation among some righties. Scott Johnson of Power Tools sniffs that the priest couldn’t have been “a believing Christian” before the conversion, even though she has been a priest for 20 years and the conversion happened just 15 months ago.

I used to be what Mr. Johnson calls “a believing Christian,” and now I’m not. It’s not an unusual phenomenon. Sometimes as people grow and mature they find they need to move on to other things. And yet I don’t say that Christians are wrong. We religious people are all thrashing around trying to comprehend the incomprehensible in our own imperfect way. Religion itself is just an interface.

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, the Muslim-Episcopalian priest, says,

Redding doesn’t feel she has to resolve all the contradictions. People within one religion can’t even agree on all the details, she said. “So why would I spend time to try to reconcile all of Christian belief with all of Islam?

“At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”

She says she felt an inexplicable call to become Muslim, and to surrender to God — the meaning of the word “Islam.”

“It wasn’t about intellect,” she said. “All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.

“I could not not be a Muslim.”

Zen generally takes a dim view of religion-as-identity and any sentence that includes the phrase “who I am supposed to be,” but even so I can relate to what she says. I’ve known people in a conversion process to keep a toe in both pools for a time. It’s common to meet people in formal Zen training who still considered themselves to be Christians or Jews and who practice a kind of fusion religion. Eventually some might experience an epiphany-kensho and choose to take just one seat or the other. Some might not. In any event, all such people I have known have been incredibly sincere, and they thought and worked deeply at their religious practices.

They didn’t just believe what they were supposed to believe out of tribal loyalty, in other words.

Yesterday I found a fascinating article at the Guardian Comment Is Free site. Chris Duggan writes,

In a world dominated by Middle East conflicts, it is more urgent than ever that words and creeds emerge from the trenches and dare to divest themselves of the armour that is designed to shore up a reassuring sense of identity, under the guise of religious faith. This process has always been a central concern of the mystical tradition of all the world religions: those who penetrate to the heart of their faith invite their coreligionists to go beyond words and concepts to a level of experience that escapes definition.

Exactly. And I recommend reading all of Chris Duggan’s article.

The Rev. Ms. Redding’s bishop is wise enough to give her space to follow her bliss and let whatever process she is going through play itself out. It’s true that there are some essential doctrinal conflicts between Christianity and Islam, and eventually she may choose one or the other. That’s something she needs to work out for herself. That kind of work is the essence of what religion actually is. Adopting a belief system dictated to you by a religious institution is something that passes for religion, but IMO that’s a tepid and watered-down imitation of the real thing.

I read in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Saint Anselm of Canterbury. Saint Anselm was “the outstanding Christian philosopher and theologian of the eleventh century,” it says.

Anselm’s motto is “faith seeking understanding” (fides quaerens intellectum). … Faith for Anselm is more a volitional state than an epistemic state: it is love for God and a drive to act as God wills. In fact, Anselm describes the sort of faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” as “dead.” … So “faith seeking understanding” means something like “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.”

I admit that the word epistemic gives me a headache, but it has to do with the validity of knowledge and belief. So Anselm’s approach to faith is not about trying to get his belief system validated. Beliefs by themselves have no purpose. Faith is not an end in itself. Rather, Anselm says, faith is a means for seeking a deeper knowledge of God (or the Dharmakaya, or the Great Absolute Whatever). A religion that isn’t looking past the dogmas to a deeper truth is a dead religion. And I say people with dead religions shouldn’t throw stones.

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Ways and Wills

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Bush Administration, Immigration, Republican Party

A commenter to the last post wrote “If there is a will to stop illegal immigration, then there is a way to do it. The trouble is that there is no will to do it.” For the record, I don’t buy into the “if there’s a will, there’s a way” notion. It may be that illegal immigration can be much reduced, but when you are dealing with human behaviors absolute control is never possible. As long as there’s a will to enter the U.S. illegally, someone will find a way.

Seems to me the key to reducing illegal immigration is to focus on the “will” part of the equation. As long as illegals can get jobs more easily here than they can at home, they’ll have the will. Ah, but that’s the rub. Money is being made on the backs of illegals, m’dears, and where money is involved all that homeland, mother, God and flag stuff flies out the window.

Illegal labor is not some rogue thing outside the system. Illegal labor is built into the system. “The System” has decided we need those people to pick fruit and watch the kids. “The System” turned a blind eye when federal contractors recruited illegal aliens to do the dirty work in New Orleans for slave wages.

Paul Krugman wrote in his March 27 column

…many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education than the average U.S. worker, they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans. The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration.

That’s why it’s intellectually dishonest to say, as President Bush does, that immigrants do ”jobs that Americans will not do.” The willingness of Americans to do a job depends on how much that job pays — and the reason some jobs pay too little to attract native-born Americans is competition from poorly paid immigrants.

And we’re all complicit in this, y’know. I remember a few months ago, during a crackdown on illegal aliens, there were news stories about fruit orchard owners watching their lovely crop rot, unpicked, because there were no illegal aliens to pick the fruit. I assume if they’d rounded up legal workers and paid them minimum wage, the orchard owners would have suffered a net loss. This is basic Wal Mart economics; you offer lower prices in exchange for lower wages.

Howard Fineman made an interesting observation last week. No, really. He wrote,

Though I’ve never heard him use the term, my guess is that George W. Bush sees himself as a hacendado, an estate owner in Old Mexico.

That would give him a sense of Southwestern noblesse, duty-bound not just to work “his” people, but to protect them as well.

His advisor, Carlo Rove, has explained that a system called “democracy” now gives peasants something called “the vote.” It would be shrewd, Rove said, for hacendados to grant their workers’ citizenship.

That’s the best explanation I have for why Bush is in the midst of what may be a suicide mission on immigration policy—embarrassing for him and ruinous for his party.

I suspect there’s something to that. For all his affected folksiness, Dubya is the child of privilege. He sees illegal immigrants as a resource to be exploited, not as competition for his wages. He probably doesn’t comprehend why the base is so up in arms about illegal immigration.

But for many, many years — going back at least to the 1960s and the revolt of white southern Democrats against the Civil Rights movement — the Republican Party has oh, so carefully nurtured its base by cultivating racism and xenophobia. And you can’t feed something for fifty years and then expect it to turn off like an electric lamp. Digby wrote,

All the gains that Bush made over the years to securing the Latino population with appeals to traditional values are being wiped out by the racist id of the Republican base.

But what did he expect? That they would sit still for his “compassionate” outreach to a bunch of brown people just because the corporations want cheap labor? Of course not. Live by racism, die by racism. But they had no choice, really. Karl Rove knows that without being able to carry at least a large minority of Latino votes, they cannot cobble together a majority. As Florida goes … well, let’s just say they have a problem. George Bush is not desperately pushing this bill just because of big agriculture or the restaurant lobby. He’s pushing it on behalf of all big business — his real base — because if the neanderthals in the GOP base are successful at seriously alienating the Latino vote, the ship is going down

And if the GOP loses the knee jerk loyalty of racists and xenophobes, the ship also is going down. In short, the GOP is wedging itself.

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