The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
    When love and hate are both absent everything becomes clear and undisguised.
    Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
    If you wish to see the truth then hold no opinions for or against anything.
    To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.
    When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail. — Sengtsan, 3rd Zen Patriarch

Humans have a proclivity for framing issues as dichotomies — this and that, right and wrong, black and white, us and them. Old Sengtsan would have called this “dualism.”

Dualism is actively at work distorting our ongoing political discussions. For example, few days ago Glenn Greenwald wrote about the Iraq Study Group:

But more notable than the supposed exclusion of neocons (something that should be believed only once it is seen) is this claim about Washington-style balance and “centrism”:

    The panel was deliberately skewed toward a centrist course for Iraq, participants said. Organizers avoided experts with extreme views on either side of the Iraq war debate.

I’d really like to know what the excluded anti-war “extreme view” is that is the equivalent of the neonconservative desire for endless warfare in Iraq and beyond. The only plausible possibility would be the view that the U.S. ought to withdraw from Iraq, and do so sooner rather than later. What else could it be? Nobody, to my knowledge, is proposing that we cede American territory to the Iraqi insurgents, so withdrawal essentially defines the far end of the anti-war spectrum.

Is withdrawal — whether incremental or total — considered to be an “extreme view” that the Washington “centrists” have not only rejected but have excluded in advance even from consideration?

Good question, and I fear the Baker panel does consider withdrawal to be an extreme view not under consideration. We’ll see.

But I’ve long believed news media screws up discussion of abortion the same way. We’re told there are two “extremist” views, pro- and anti. But what is the “pro” extreme view? I know of no reproductive rights organization that advocates elective third-trimester abortion, for example. Reproductive rights organizations have been fighting to maintain Roe v. Wade, which allows states to ban abortions after the 23rd week gestation (earliest possible viability; late second trimester) as long as exceptions are made for life and health of the mother. That’s extreme? Extremists on the other side not only want to eliminate the “health” exception. They’re not crazy about the “life,” “rape,” and “incest” exceptions, either. And don’t get them started on birth control.

I could be wrong, but I suspect the enormous majority of pro-choice people would accept some kind of legal gestational limit on elective abortion as long as it wasn’t set absurdly early and as long as physicians are allowed a decent amount of discretion for deciding what constitutes a legitimate medical reason for a non-elective abortion. In fact, I think a big whopping majority of the American electorate would accept that compromise. The Fetus People, on the other hand, will not rest until they achieve a total ban on abortions, no matter what voters want.

So who’s “extreme”? Seems to me the preponderance of the extremism is on one side.

I thought of dualities today when I read this column by Cathy Young:

Behind the political divide in America, there is also a religious divide.

The split is not just between people who believe and people who do not; it is between those who see religious faith as society’s foundation and those who see it as society’s bane.

I guess those of us who see it as neither society’s foundation nor society’s bane don’t count.

A look at recent best-selling books illustrates the divide. Ann Coulter’s “Godless: The Church of Liberalism” excoriates liberals for being, well, godless. Bill O’Reilly’s new tome, “Culture Warrior,” urges traditionalists to combat the evil influence of the “secular-progressives.” For the other side, there’s “Letter to a Christian Nation” by philosopher Sam Harris, who calls all religion “obscene” and “utterly repellent,” and “The God Delusion” by biologist Richard Dawkins, a tome whose title speaks for itself.

Both sides in the debate traffic in simplistic stereotypes.

Sort of like Cathy Young?

It doesn’t help that religion has become intertwined with politics. A recent column by film critic and pundit Michael Medved conflates attacks on religion with criticism of the political power of religious conservatives.

Such books as “”The Left Hand of God: Taking Our Country Back from the Religious Right” by Rabbi Michael Lerner, written from a religious point of view, are lumped together with Harris’ anti-religion screed. Meanwhile, conservative author Heather MacDonald, writing in USA Today, complains that “skeptical conservatives” feel marginalized in today’s discourse.

Over the past several weeks I’ve seen the “religious right” juxtaposed against the “unreligious left” dozens of times, and hardly anyone questions this. I don’t think it reflects reality, however. There are plenty of deeply religious lefties, and plenty of atheist and agnostic righties.

What’s more, if the “extremes” are pro-religion (as defined by Michael Medved) and anti-religion (ditto), then what the hell is the center? The “I don’t give a shit about religion (and/or Michael Medved)” faction?

What if we change the dichotomy? Let’s put everyone who thinks religion should be everyone’s bleeping personal business at one extreme, and people who want to coerce everyone else to think his way (a.k.a. God Nazis) at the other? This would put Richard Dawkins and Michael Medved together at the “God Nazi” end of the continuum, opposite from me.

I’m sure Dawkins and Medved would disagree with this model, but I care what they think about as much as they care what I think.

But I suppose I should try to take Sengtsan’s advice. Looking at religion dispassionately reveals a lot of people frantically grabbing for something to either soothe their existential fears or stoke their egos, or both. There are people looking for easy answers to difficult questions and finding difficult answers to easy questions. There are dogmatists and there are mystics; there are those who approach religion with fear, and those who approach it with love. There are those who find comfort in familiar liturgy and iconography and those who leave the familiar behind and wander off in search of something else. And there are those who don’t see any point to religion at all.

The problem is that people mistake whatever little bit of doctrinal or institutional jetsam they’re clinging to as the Complete and Total Absolute Truth and Wisdom of the Cosmos Forever and Ever Amen. This reminds me of an essay written by John McGowan and posted at Le Blogue Bérubé in June 2005. This is about politics, but it speaks to any issue (emphasis added) —

My point is that liberalism, first and foremost, is a set of expedients (mostly institutional and legal) for minimizing tyranny by setting limits to government power. It also tries to prevent the consolidation of power by fostering the multiplication of power. Democracy, in my view, is not worth a damn if it is not partnered with liberalism. Democracy and liberalism are a squabbling pair; they each locate power in a different place—democracy in the people, liberalism in the law—and they aim for different goods: democracy (in its most ideal form) for something like the “general will,” liberalism for a modus vivendi in a world characterized by intractable conflicts among people with different beliefs, goals, ambitions, and values. Neither one trumps the other; both, in my view, are essential ingredients of a legitimate polity.

Not only the Republicans, but the American nation as a whole, seem to have lost any sense whatsoever of what liberalism means and what it strives to insure. Even at the best of times, the liberal check upon power is a tenuous bulwark that fights against the odds. There is nothing that underwrites the rule of law except the continued practice of upholding it. The law must be reaffirmed anew each and every time it is enunciated and enforced. And the temptation to circumvent the law, to rewrite it to accommodate one’s current beliefs and practices, is also ever present. To pay the law heed is to accept that one’s own virtue is doubtful—or that one’s own beliefs are, in every sense of that word, “partial.” It is their assurance in their own virtue that renders the Republicans most dangerous, most prone to set the law aside when it gets in the way of doing when they know in their hearts is right. Impatience with the law is endemic—and it is the harbinger of extreme politics of either the right or the left. (It is here, of course, that the leftist will leap. But why should we think leftist self-righteousness any more attractive or less dangerous than the rightist variety?) …

… I just want to end by noting how “unnatural” liberalism seems. It involves self-abnegation, accepting the frustration of my will. It involves, as I will detail in my next post, compromise in almost every instance, and thus can seem akin to having no strong convictions, no principles. Yet its benefits are enormous; it provides, I am convinced, the only possible way humans can live in peace together in a pluralistic world. Given how distasteful liberal expedients are in experience, it is a miracle that they ever get established and maintained. But the benefits of that miracle are multiple—and we, as a nation, will sorely regret it if we trash our liberal edifice out of impatience, frustration, or, even worse, sheer forgetfulness of why that edifice was put in place, how it works, and what it accomplishes.

It frustrates Michael Medved’s will that filmmakers are allowed to express their own points of view in their films. Religion itself seems to frustrate Richard Dawkins’s will. But the contest shouldn’t be between opposing points of view on religion, but between those who support the First Amendment of the Constitution and those who would circumvent it.

Whatever your religious beliefs, as long as you’re with me on the Constitution’s side, we’re good.

36 thoughts on “Dichotomies

  1. Ironically (and don’t we all love that), in arguing against casting things in dualisitic terms, you have over simplified Dawkin’s point of view to force him into the “God/Nazi” camp. Did you actually read Richard Dawkin’s book? He does not want to force everybody to give up religion, or even agree to his point of view. Like any good scientist, he constructs an argument and puts it out there for people to accept or not. The fact that he thinks those who do not accept his argument are delusional does NOT mean he wants to force his beliefs on them.

  2. Well written post. I won’t inflict my views (for once) but if I may have permission I would like to quote an authority.

    Most are familiar with the quote from Jefferson:

    “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. —” 1800 A.D.

    It’s graven in stone at the Jefferson Memorial. If you look at the quote in context, as part of a letter to Dr. Rush, you discover the “tyrany” he spoke of was religion – as religious leaders were trying to impose on American society. Of course Jefferson was the soul of religous tolerance.

    “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” –Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782. ME 2:221

    We have been here before.

  3. zen_more: I probably am oversimplifying Dawkins’s view, but from what I have read his “argument” is not an honest one, but is based on a straw-man construction of religion.

  4. Duality is a frustrating construct, sort of like deciding which side of a dime is the real or ‘best’ side. The sides in a duality connect in totally intimacy and interdependence—always duality, like a flipped dime, posits one side up [actually supported by the down side] and one side down [hidden beneath the up side]. Truth is, neither side would exist without the other side.

    Sengstsan flips us, at least momentarily, out of that construct.

  5. One of the oddest moments in my college career was when I was in an advanced computer science class, when the professor mentioned that computers could work just as well in base 10, and probably better in base 3, but are designed to work in binary because it is easier for people (particularly chip designers) to think in binary.

  6. Well darn…

    Here we are same shit different day.

    I would like to know before I really speak my mind. It’s still America ain’t it? About the last taboo….

    Have you read Dawkin’s book The God Delusion? If not I submit that you, Maha, are guilty of what any Rightie loves to do.

    Make assumptions not based on the facts.

    If you have and you can still make the ‘straw man’ argument I stand corrected but do not agree with that.

  7. If you have and you can still make the ‘straw man’ argument I stand corrected but do not agree with that.

    You’ve made it clear in past comments (most of which I deleted) that you really, really hate religion. I’m not surprised you like Dawkins, but your endorsement just persuades me that my opinion is valid.

  8. A huge part of the problem is the increasing inability in this country to reason in shades of gray. The pace of life in this country and the shrinking attention spans that go with this create a public unable or unwilling to make the time to connect and understand viewpoints other than their own. As a result we get a nation of children who think in black and white, who want their opinions to rule, the hell with yours, and who can even elect and believe a leader who tells us we’re going to rid the world of evil.

    I’m reminded of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which I believe went on for hours at a time, and which apparently held people’s attention for much of that time.

    Any of the subjects you’ve mentioned in the diary have a spectrum of positions from one extreme to another, which by rights should be explored if we’re interested in finding a consensus view and moving on. So many in this country can no longer do this, or no longer have the interest in doing it, and so we get absolutisms, my way or the highway.

    I’d like to see a “chronology of complexity” in the public sphere – how discourse and problem solving has gone from the complex to the childlike state we have today. The Lincoln-Douglas debates could serve to anchor one end of that spectrum.

    Then of course, there are the powers that be, who are interested in keeping everyone dumb and riled and divided against one another. There is money in keeping us like child-like and at each others throats.

  9. the simplest, meaning requiring very little thought, thing to do when confronted with a choice is to just admit that you really do LOVE Big Brother. Problem solved. What gets a person into trouble is that pesky need to think, to analyze, to search the mind for answers to tough questions. Why bother, when any handy demagogue has the perfect solution, just have to pick your poison, then. Kneejerking is sooooo much fun, anyway. cdk

  10. How can Tao be obscured so that there should be a distinction of true and false? How can speech be so obscured that there should be a distinction of right and wrong? {10} Where can you go and find Tao not to exist? Where can you go and find that words cannot be proved? Tao is obscured by our inadequate understanding, and words are obscured by flowery expressions. Hence the affirmations and denials of the Confucian and Motsean schools, each denying what the other affirms and affirming what the other denies. Each denying what the other affirms and affirming what the other denies brings us only into confusion.
    -chuang tzu

    But, on another level, isn’t making a special distinction between dualism and non-dualism a form of dualism? Isn’t attachment to non-attachment a form of attachment?

    Then of course, there are the powers that be, who are interested in keeping everyone dumb and riled and divided against one another. There is money in keeping us like child-like and at each others throats.” – moonbat

    But why is it so damn easy? It’s too easy. They can only stoke these fires because they are already smoldering inside of us.

  11. So liberalism, by your account, is less a system of political beliefs than a method of harmonizing such systems. Not a thing but a way.

  12. But, on another level, isn’t making a special distinction between dualism and non-dualism a form of dualism? Isn’t attachment to non-attachment a form of attachment?

    Yes and yes. Very good; btw. This is a question that generation of Zen monks have struggled with. “It’s only when you’ve exhausted all learning—all of the combinations and permutations of logical thought—that you finally get to the place where the truth can be seen. It’s not seen with the mind, but with the whole body and mind, as the direct, immediate, intimate experience of reality.”

    This is something I’m still working on myself.

  13. So liberalism, by your account, is less a system of political beliefs than a method of harmonizing such systems. Not a thing but a way.

    Yeah, I like that. Nice succinct explanation. Essentially, liberalism is based on the premise that people are smart enough to govern themselves without a king or a dictator, and they can do so through the means of democratic, representative government. What matteers to a liberal is not (as righties think) whether taxes must always go up or down or whether government is big or small, but that government remains of the people, by the people, and for the people.

  14. I have really enjoyed this post and the comments, and get a sense of depth of communication and connection that touches me…. finely.

    One time decades ago I wrote a piece I called, “Thought Was Never Meant To Be Taken Seriously”. I described life as a river, and thoughts as samples dipped from the river, samples which were, of course, innaccurate/imperfect instantly for having been dipped up and held disconnected to the river waters which continued to flow and be altered subtly or strongly. I remember concluding something like, “What is present when thought is not present is truth, truth so big you can splash around in it forever and it cannot diminish.”

    This memory of my old writings was touched off by Maha’s zen quote in comment #15. Maybe I joined ‘zen’ back then without any formality or ‘thought’ that I had done so.

  15. I’ve been enjoying Maha’s political commentary ever since she appeared on CSPAN. However, I find her religious views disappointingly reactionary and intolerant. Religious/spiritual proselytizers inundate this land from store fronts, to highway clutter, to all forms of media. Can’t one guy, such as Richard Dawkins, make an argument opposing the vague* concept of “spirituality” without being painted as an extremist or who’s arguments are dismissed with reductionist labels such as “not honest” or “straw-man” or “(anti) god Nazi”. This is the second article in a week where Maha goes way out of her way to attack, denigrate, and summarily dismiss non-spiritual points-of-view in the comment section of her blog. Maha seems to interpret even the mildest form of “spiritual” opposition as a personal attack upon her brand of “spirituality”. I encourage Maha to lighten up.

    *Nailing water to a wall would be easier to do than defining “spirituality”. The term is overused, highly subjective, and essentially meaningless beyond the person using it.

  16. Pingback: The Heretik : Wrong

  17. She wasn’t going “way out of her way” … she was trying to use it as a point in an argument. If you don’t like it, if you don’t think Dawkins is trying to say the rest of us should be atheistss, just substitute in the argument any atheist who DOES say the rest of us should be atheists (and yes, there are a lot of them out there).


  18. Can’t one guy, such as Richard Dawkins, make an argument opposing the vague* concept of “spirituality” without being painted as an extremist or who’s arguments are dismissed with reductionist labels such as “not honest” or “straw-man” or “(anti) god Nazi”.

    Sure, but Dawkins’s arguments smear all religion with the same broad brush. The level of his arguments is no higher than that of the creationists. He’s a fundamentalist atheist.

  19. Ian – thanks for the review. I did read the first chapter that the reviewer praises, and I agree with the reviewer up to a point. I am very familiar with an essay of Einstein’s that Dawkins cites (I first read the essay in a Buddhist journal, btw). I would have had more respect for Dawkins had he more honestly investigated critical analyses of the same essay from the point of view of the religious. Yes, lots of religious people have quarrels with what Einstein said, and Dawkins quoted some of these people. But some religious people agree with Einstein, and Dawkins ignored them. These people have insights into Einstein that might have informed Dawkins that his views on religion are a tad, um, narrow. Dawkins pretends they don’t exist (straw man, anyone?).

    Further, had Dawkins ever studied Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza with the same degree of respect that Einstein gives these men, for example, I think he might have come away considerably humbled. But I see no indication he ever did. Dawkins actually brushes over the bits of the essay that reveal Einstein’s mystical streak, and that’s dishonest.

    The reviewer writes,

    The middle section of the book is a fiery and uncompromising polemic against religious belief. Dawkins displays a razor wit when it comes to incomprehensible and cruel religious ideas: he calls the God of the Old Testament a “megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”–along with about half a page of other epithets–and he calls the Catholic doctrine of saints “shamelessly invented,” among other things. However, he makes it clear that his opposition is to all religious belief, and remarks that the likely response along the lines of “The god Dawkins doesn’t believe in is an old man with a beard on a cloud, and I don’t believe in that god either,” is a deliberate tactic of distraction whose “very silliness is calculated to distract attention from the fact that what the speaker really believes is not a whole lot less silly.” I laughed out loud when I read that, as well as at several other points through the book where Dawkins delivers some particularly cutting remark against a ridiculous belief.

    The problem here is that when you reduce all religion to a belief in a supernatural god creature, you are ignoring a whole lot of religion. And not just the nontheistic or polytheistic religions; I’ve met Christians who think of “god” as something other than a supernatural person; check the works of the late Paul Tillich sometimes. Dawkins clearly has no clue that Christians like Tillich ever existed.

    If he were to have limited his criticism of religion to common religious beliefs, I would have less of a quarrel with him. The beliefs that he says are absurd ARE, in fact, absurd. But his writings reveal that he is less well aquainted with his subject matter than he thinks he is.

  20. I got into a totally bizarre internet debate maybe three weeks ago with someone who called intelligent design “science.” The same week, I argued to an atheist friend of mine — who thinks Dawkins is right on the money — that religion and science are not mutually exclusive. And it’s because the issues are shaded and not black and white that these arguments don’t conflict.

    But anyway. I think the larger point here is that you’ll never win a debate about religion or morals. I think what we should be debating is what government should be able to step in and regulate. I’ve met a lot of people who call themselves “pro-life” but when you start pushing them about whether or not the government should ban abortion, they hem and haw, because I’m guessing a lot of Americans feel squeamish about abortion, but asking someone how they feel about it generally and whether it should be banned are two separate questions.

    I think the problem is that righties tend to frame these debates about how you feel — do you like abortion? are you religious? — rather than what government should do — should government ban abortion? should government ban prayer in schools?

    I don’t know if I’d lump Dawkins together with Medved or, like, James Dobson or Bill “War on Christmas” O’Reilly — I don’t agree with Dawkins, I think his arguments against religion are shallow, but on the other hand, he’s not arguing for government regulations against religion — but I do think it’s useful to change the debate to “people who support freedom of religion” vs. “people who think government should enforce Christian values on the whole country” or what have you. Or, people who support the intent and text of the Constitution vs. people who don’t.

  21. I get this impression that I’m listening to a god-of-the-gaps defense of “spirituality”. Dawkins analizes one gap or religious absurdity and “spiritualists” immediately rush in claiming that he’s an idiot because he didn’t address the gap they reify, proselytize, and practice within. Accordingly, the “spiritualits” claim, Dawkins is therefore a fool, ignorant, and a dishonest broker. “Spirituality” has so many fragments that poor Dawkins could write books for eternity and still not address all the “spiritual” gaps. In general, Dawkins argues that god belief, or higher power belief, or mystical gained insight lack evidence beyond the feelings of the adherents of such systems. These beliefs should therefore, according to Dawkins, be held tentatively, not absolutely. Instead of providing such evidence, the “spiritual” gap-adherents attack Dawkins using any and every rhetorical device available.

    Why is “spiritual” criticism important? Because, as Napoleon stated, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.” And, if you haven’t noticed, Republicans have been taking Bonaparte’s advice to the extreme. Isn’t it time that we had an honest, rational, open discussion of these matters? Why are so many folks so eager to strangle this nascent and necessary conversation? I don’t understand the knee-jerk pot-shots bouncing around this comment section. I’m sorry that Dawkins has not yet discussed the alleged mysticism of Einstein or some interpretive article on the ecumenical, metaphorical-theology of Paul Tillich. Perhaps, one day he will.

  22. I get this impression that I’m listening to a god-of-the-gaps defense of “spirituality”.

    I’m sure you do, but you aren’t, and I don’t have the time and inclincation to give you private tutoring on modern theology.

    Dawkins analizes one gap or religious absurdity and “spiritualists” immediately rush in claiming that he’s an idiot because he didn’t address the gap they reify, proselytize, and practice within. Accordingly, the “spiritualits” claim, Dawkins is therefore a fool, ignorant, and a dishonest broker.

    Now you’re being dishonest. I’m saying that in criticizing an entity he calls “religion,” he cherry picks out the most primitize and stupid aspects of it to criticize and leaves out anything that doesn’t fit his criticism. Now, it’s true that the most primitive and stupid aspects of religion also tend (in the U.S. especially) to be the most common and popular aspects of religion. But there is a lot more to it than what is reflected in common and popular religion in the U.S.

    If he were to have written the exact same book, but everywhere he said “religion” he instead wrote something like “popular monotheism,” probably I’d have no problem with what he wrote. But by criticising “religion” I infer that he means to criticise, you know, ALL religion. The problem with this is that a lot of religion doesn’t fit the criticisms he makes. He leaves out the stuff that doesn’t fit. That’s dishonest.

    Put another way, if I were to write a book about how much I hate modern art without doing a through study of modern art first, that would be a real stupid book, wouldn’t it? That’s basically what Dawkins has done.

    Isn’t it time that we had an honest, rational, open discussion of these matters?

    As soon as you’re ready, let me know. You aren’t ready yet.

    Why are so many folks so eager to strangle this nascent and necessary conversation?

    Let me put it this way — I probably agree with you. I’ll repeat that — I PROBABLY AGREE WITH YOU. Everything you’ve ever heard or studied about religion that you think is stupid, I probably also think is stupid. Everything that Dawkins writes about religion that I have read is true of that part of religion he is discussing.

    However, what I keep trying to tell you AND YOU REFUSE TO EVEN ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND BECAUSE YOUR MIND IS CLOSED is that there is a lot about religion you and Dawkins don’t know, never heard, and are utterly ignorant of.

    Now, when you get to a point that you are willing to LISTEN TO WHAT I AM TELLING YOU and say, oh, I didn’t know that about religion. That’s news to me, then perhaps we could have a conversation. But as long as you’ve got your hands slapped over your ears and your eyes shut tight and are utterly unwilling to consider there might be something about religion YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW, there’s no point.

  23. I think you have to make distinction here between what people believe and what they are willing to do about that belief. Dawkins may believe that all religious beliefs are delusional; that in a certain sense is irrevelant, as are the strength or weaknesses of his argument. Dawkins (as far as I know) is not advocating laws to enforce atheism, or to punish religious believers. That is why lumping him in with the religious “Nazis” who DO advocate using law to enforce beliefs and punish nonbelievers is misleading and fallacious. Let’s not forget who is doing the oppressing here. Dawkins may influence some people with his blustering, but his influence is miniscule and benign compared to the malice preached and practiced by the Dobsons of this world.

  24. Dawkins (as far as I know) is not advocating laws to enforce atheism, or to punish religious believers.

    It’s clear he considers all religion to be the enemy of science, reason, and democracy, and he wants it to cease to exist. I agree he’s not as bad as those using government to coerce their religious beliefs and practices. But that doesn’t negate the fact that he aggressively attacks all religion order to destroy religion, somehow. His is not a live-and-let-live, you do your thing and I’ll do mine kind of attitude.

  25. 1) he’s not arguing for government regulations against religion

    I find his rhetoric regarding how parent “brainwash” their children with their religion to be treading close to this line. I agree with him on the substance of it – that most people have never even had a chance to think about this stuff because it was forced on them at such an early age – but his delivery makes me uneasy. “Protect the children” is a powerful argument that seems to make some people forget about the proper bounds of government.

    Frankly, he gives the appearance of a person who is toning down his message for public consumption. I would not be suprised if he actually DID believe that government should interefere to prevent religious “indoctrination” by parents but is simply not saying so because he knows it would be an unpopular viewpoint.

  26. Maha,
    As someone who shares your interest in the Buddhism (esp. Zen) and Early Taoism (esp Chuang-Tzu), I agree that many people in our society simply don’t “get” the possibility of a religious view that is so different from the kind of Monotheism they were either raised with or around.


    How familiar are you with the history of early Indo-Iranian religious development?

    Although the Rig-Veda is nowhere near as philosphically “advanced” as the later Indian works it does offer a window on the early Hinduism and the religious tradition that produced Buddhism and Zoroastrianism – plus it’s fun to read because of the very different mindset of the early indians.

    Furthermore I think you would REALLY enjoy learning (if you haven’t already) about the “lost religion” of Zoroastrianism – if for its impact later religions if nothing else. Zoroastrianism grew out of the same IndoIranian religious tradition that produced Hinduism and Buddism, and I found the Earliest Zoroastrian writings to be an interesting “bridge” between the “Dharmic” faiths of “the east” and the kind of “Monotheism” we know from our society.

    Furthermore, Zoroastrianism had A HUGE inpact on Judaism (from the Exile) and then Christianity and FUNDAMENTAL parts of JC philosphy can be traced directly back to Persia and the Zoroasterian tradition. For instance, before the exile “Satan” was just “the advocate” who acted like God’s prosecutor at your judgement and reminded God of all your sins – but worked FOR God. After the exile, and exposure to the Zoroastrian concept of the the struggle between the Good Ahura Mazda (Lord wisdom) and his evil opposite Angra Mainyu (the Angry Spirit), Satan became what we know him today – an independent “opposite” of God and the source of evil. The very concept of “Angels” was only introduced into Judaism during the exile – taken from the Persian concept of Yazatas.

    Don’t even get me started on the influence of Persian ideas on the development of Christianity …..

    If you’re interested you cant find lots of shit at SacredTexts.Com
    and Avesta.org but one suggestion:

    The writings were compiled over a LONG time and the religion changed substantially – even morphing into a “different” religion often called Zurvanism. Only a minority of the Zend Avesta (known as the Gathas) is credited with being written by Zoroaster himself and I suggest you start with those because they are the closest to the II tradition that links the faiths of easst and west – and also the closest to “pure” monotheism as well. The later stuff starts re-incorperating popular IndoIranian deities, like Mithra, who are credited with being Yazatas (angels) – late Zoroastrianism is a complicated mismash and very dualistic, but the early stuff is simple and pure.

  27. r4d20 — thanks for your comment. We share a lot of the same interests. I haven’t spent nearly as much time with the very early developments as I’d like. I am intrigued by the possibility that both middle eastern monotheism and early Hindu sprang from a single ur-religion.

    Don’t even get me started on the influence of Persian ideas on the development of Christianity …..

    LOL! I’ve come to think that “popular” Christianity is more like Zoroastrianism than anything else. That would be later, not earlier, Zoroastrianism.

    I’ve come to realize that pretty much everyone who is raised in our “western” culture is imprinted from an earlier age by the concept of God as it developed in the Big Three monotheistic religions, and this is true even of people who don’t have a religious upbringing. Then when we look at the polytheistic and pantheistic religions of Asia we tend to apply that same concept, only multiplied (or divided), as it were. But often that’s not accurate, and whatever Sanskrit or Chinese or whatever words get translated into English as “God” or “gods” don’t really mean “God” as we westerners understand the word. But English is way inadequate to explain the distinction.

    Some old Zen teacher (Philip Kapleau?) once said something like “After a while you realize there is a God, but God isn’t God.” I guess before you get to that point you have to meet God on the road and kill him, as they say.

    The very way we think about religion is limited by our language. That’s such a trip-up in Buddhism, because you actually can’t talk about Buddhism in English and get it right. Maybe that’s true of Sanskrit as well, but I’m willing to bet Sanskrit gets closer to it than English does.

    But then there are monotheists (Paul Tillich comes to mind; also Meister Eckart and a lot of the other medieval mystics) who come to an understanding of “God” that seems to me is more like the Dharmakaya than, you know, God. I could be wrong, but I don’t see any reason why monotheism couldn’t eventually head in that direction if folks would just leave it alone.

  28. I know this will sound a tad egotistical and a bit over the top ..But I have fleeting moments where I am God.

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