A Traditionalist view of Personal Religion

Discussion in 'Comparative Studies' started by Thomas, Sep 29, 2016.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    It has always seemed axiomatic to me that any discussion of faith is underlined by something that has become almost the signature of Interfaith.Org — that the individual will, the freedom to choose, takes precedence over all dogma and doctrine.

    It was not until I read this that I realised just quite how ubiquitous that viewpoint is.

    +++ WARNING: THE BELOW IS BY DAVID BENTLEY HART WHO DOES NOT NECESSARILY PULL HIS PUNCHES, BUT SPEAKS AS HE FINDS, SO IF ONE DOESN’T LIKE ONE’S SACRED COWS CHALLENGED, DO NOT READ ON +++

    We live in an age whose chief moral value has been determined, by overwhelming consensus, to be the absolute liberty of personal volition, the power of each of us to choose what he or she believes, wants, needs, or must possess; our culturally most persuasive models of human freedom are unambiguously voluntarist and, in a rather debased and degraded way, Promethean; the will, we believe, is sovereign because unpremised, free because spontaneous, and this is the highest good.

    And a society that believes this must, at least implicitly, embrace and subtly advocate a very particular moral metaphysics: the unreality of any “value” higher than choice, or of any transcendent Good ordering desire towards a higher end.

    Desire is free to propose, seize, accept or reject, want or not want—but not to obey.

    Society must thus be secured against the intrusions of the Good, or of God, so that its citizens may determine their own lives by the choices they make from a universe of morally indifferent but variably desirable ends, unencumbered by any prior grammar of obligation or value (in America, we call this the “wall of separation”). Hence the liberties that permit one to purchase lavender bed clothes, to gaze fervently at pornography, to become a Unitarian, to market popular celebrations of brutal violence, or to destroy one’s unborn child are all equally intrinsically “good” because all are expressions of an inalienable freedom of choice.

    But, of course, if the will determines itself only in and through such choices, free from any prevenient natural order, then it too is in itself nothing.

    And so, at the end of modernity, each of us who is true to the times stands facing not God, or the gods, or the Good beyond beings, but an abyss, over which presides the empty, inviolable authority of the individual will, whose impulses and decisions are their own moral index.

    This is not to say that—sentimental barbarians that we are—we do not still invite moral and religious constraints upon our actions; none but the most demonic, demented, or adolescent among us genuinely desires to live in a world purged of visible boundaries and hospitable shelters.

    Thus this man may elect not to buy a particular vehicle because he considers himself an environmentalist; or this woman may choose not to have an abortion midway through her second trimester, because the fetus, at that point in its gestation, seems to her too fully formed, and she—personally—would feel wrong about terminating “it.”

    But this merely illustrates my point: we take as given the individual’s right not merely to obey or defy the moral law, but to choose which moral standards to adopt, which values to uphold, which fashion of piety to wear and with what accessories.

    Even our ethics are achievements of will.

    And the same is true of those custom-fitted spiritualities—“New Age,” occult, pantheist, “Wiccan,” or what have you—by which many of us now divert ourselves from the quotidien dreariness of our lives. These gods of the boutique can come from anywhere—native North American religion, the Indian subcontinent, some Pre-Raphaelite grove shrouded in Celtic twilight, cunning purveyors of otherwise worthless quartz, pages drawn at random from Robert Graves, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, or that redoubtable old Aryan, Joseph Campbell—but where such gods inevitably come to rest are not so much divine hierarchies as ornamental étagères, where their principal office is to provide symbolic representations of the dreamier sides of their votaries’ personalities.

    The triviality of this sort of devotion, its want of dogma or discipline, its tendency to find its divinities not in glades and grottoes but in gift shops make it obvious that this is no reversion to pre-Christian polytheism. It is, rather, a thoroughly modern religion, whose burlesque gods command neither reverence, nor dread, nor love, nor belief; they are no more than the masks worn by that same spontaneity of will that is the one unrivalled demiurge who rules this age and alone bids its spirits come and go.

    +++

    Bold my emphasis. Full text here
     
  2. Devils' Advocate

    Devils' Advocate Well-Known Member

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    Okay, got to say this did make me laugh.

    Other than that, this is an interesting piece and I find it fascinating in its own self interest.* Much of what the man says about the overabundance of decision making as individual choice, of course, I very much agree with.

    So where does that leave someone like me though? My spirituality does not include Gods, much less any specific variant on God. Hart is saying that my world view is out of line with theological doctrine. To which I don't how else to respond except with "Yep. What's your point!" Because there is no doubt that there were religions before Abrahamic religions. Animism is, according to most sources I have seen, the most ancient of all theological -isms. The foundation upon which all other religions arose.

    Now from my reading of the literature the religion of Animism can not, of course, be said to be represented today as it was at the dawn of mankind. The basic principles that defines it though? They seem essentially clear.

    So the first clarification I would be interested in is how and why does Hart choose the dividing line between 'good' religion and otherwise.

    *More about this later.
     
  3. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    Not many traditionalists around then... Each of us takes, what we are taught, read, experience, beat into us, and makes new decisions based on the old information (however true, beneficial or misguided) and whatever new input we receive and adjust our old notions based the new data point or points which were just obtained (however true, beneficial or misguided)

    Didn't every religion and every denomination start off with one mans opinion, experience, revelation, channelling aha moment or such?

    The very reason Saul became Paul... He responded to new information?
     
  4. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    I think he's pointing to what shapes contemporary world views of those who consider religion a matter of personal taste.

    Yes, and the conforming of the person according to the doctrine and dogmas of religion is common to the Traditions. I think the point Hart is making is the position has been reversed, we now conform religions according to the dogma of the priority of myself, the supremacy of my narrative over everything else, and pick or create a doctrine accordingly.
     
  5. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    No volubly, no. They tend not to blow their own trumpets.

    That's always been the case. The process is not the issue.

    Too nebulous. There's a world of difference between those terms.

    Again, the point is not the information, it's how he dealt with it.

    Saul was a hardcore Jew, a zealot. Something happened.

    Now he had a number of options, but to put two in the context of Hart's premise:
    One way: To take on board the content of the experience and shape himself according to it. This was such a profound metanoia that he was, in effect, a new and different person, so much so that he changed his name.
    Other way: To sort through the experience, and take from it what affirms him in himself, and carry on.

    The point is that consumerism must inculcate in its audience the idea of 'freedom of choice', and that choosing is not a one-time decision, but a continual process, so we attain our wants, but as soon as we do, new wants appear on the horizon, this year's model, the latest upgrade, etc. It cannot work any other way, else it has a very limited lifespan.

    The effect is, the choices one makes become almost secondary, the Holy Grail is the freedom to choose.

    And that freedom is an illusion.

    We see freedom to choose as an existential necessity for our well-being, what they forget is the mind is, to quote Matthieu Ricard, "like a captive monkey who, in his agitation, becomes more and more entangled in his bonds." These bonds are consumerism, which drives the West, our whole culture is aligned on consumerist principles.
     
  6. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    Further food for thought:

    The “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,” (Pew) documenting in great sociological detail the astonishing level of religious mobility that has come to characterize the American people ... a good number of folks simply eased over into the amorphous category “unaffiliated,” eschewing organized religion in favor of their own personal “spirituality.”

    Religious identity, it seems safe to say, is no longer so much a matter of inheritance as it is one of personal choice.

    Religious or denominational affiliation is now a moving target characterized by extreme fluidity, so much so that America has become, as an Associated Press headline put it, “a nation of religious drifters.” Change is the only constant in American religion, and the pace of change itself seems to be accelerating within a booming religious “marketplace.”

    With these facts in mind, we might well ask whether the very “freedom” we celebrate to move from one Christian church to another, or even from Christianity to another religion altogether, is itself simply another manifestation of the advance of the logic of consumer capitalism into the arena of religion. The Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, for example, has insightfully examined and criticized some of the reasons why “boutique religion” has become the order of the day.

    On Hart’s account, as the Pew survey would suggest, we moderns are not so much thoughtful religious choosers — dutiful and capable moral agents carefully examining the truth claims of one faith over against those of another — as we are religious drifters, that is, individuals afloat on a sea of religious kitsch, much of it accessible on the Internet, an electronic bazaar, if you will, where, as consumers, we exercise our sovereign freedom to choose willy-nilly from amongst the free-floating elements of “religion” available to us 24/7 through our now omnipresent media connections.

    (abbreviated from the same link)
     
  7. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    It seems connected to other social mobility, no? In the middle ages where class was set from birth and there was little choice in who you where or how you were treated. There has been a steady move from there to here where we are told that everyone is equal. Being born into a world with or without choices created very different creatures.
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    I think we'd have to look at the drivers of mobility: choice, pragmatism or necessity?

    I rather think we're in a world without choices of a different ilk. We're just deluded into thinking we have choices, but really we're not choosing, we haven't disciplined the mind sufficiently to be said to be making authentic choices. We're steeped in our culture and responding to stimuli.

    To paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan (The First Lord's Song from HMS Pinafore):

    I grew so rich that I was sent
    By a pocket borough into Parliament
    I always voted at my mind's beck and call
    And I never thought of thinking for myself at all
    No, he never thought of thinking for himself at all
    I thought so little, they rewarded me
    By making me the Ruler of my mind, believed he
    He thought so little, they rewarded he
    By making him the Ruler of his mind, believed he
     
  9. Devils' Advocate

    Devils' Advocate Well-Known Member

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    Now here is a comment that seems to be the real crux of the discussion. You've created an entirely new form of choice (or at least this is the first time I have heard this expression). That would make the non-authentic version, what. Artificial choices? Bogus? Fake? Pseudo?

    There is a lot of substance to this idea. As I look at the world, the number of disciplined minds does seem rather rare. There are a fair number of people with what I would call relatively disciplined minds. That is, people who have made some effort to work their brain. The vast hordes though, very little to none.

    This is interesting. I'm going to ponder on this a bit more.
     
  10. wil

    wil UNeyeR1

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    the result of a disciplined mind...knowing you have examined the angles, explored.the niches and found the path....bliss

    The undisciplined mind, ignorance, naivete, rolling thru the world like a rock rolling down a hill, not a care for what is trampled....bliss
     
  11. A Cup Of Tea

    A Cup Of Tea An ordinary cup of tea

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    No I agree completely, I spoke of what is governed by law, but it's hard to escape the social conventions that are invented and reinvented by every new generation.
     
  12. Devils' Advocate

    Devils' Advocate Well-Known Member

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    Motivational bliss. Positive reinforcement.

    Ignorant bliss. Negative reinforcement.
     
  13. EdgyDolmen

    EdgyDolmen Active Member

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    Maybe I miss the point or maybe I am over simplifying the subject, however: Free choice is an illusion. Free choice will always be punished outside the restrictions of man's law. Therefore there is only limited free choice and that free choice is much different than individual choice.

    As to boutique religion. Interpretation makes all religions "boutique".
     
    Namaste Jesus likes this.
  14. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    Well hart coined the phrase, in reference to the modern western zeitgeist, that's the definition I'm working with.
     
  15. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai

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    Just imagine if traditionalist views of religion were applied to other things. "Computers are computers and phones are phones. Each is sufficient on it's own merit. Trying to combine the two is nothing more than a whim of modern society. People who have deluded themselves into thinking they can make things better.":D
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2016
  16. EdgyDolmen

    EdgyDolmen Active Member

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    Re: #14
    Thomas - My remarks were not meant to be an affront to you or to your great thread post and certainly not meant to challenge Hart. My remarks are simply a personal observation/opinion that I hoped would invite additional remarks.
     
  17. Thomas

    Thomas Well-Known Member

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    Hi ED —
    No offence taken. Does my response sound a bit sniffy? All I was trying to do was keep the 'boutique' element within a given context, otherwise we're all over the place.

    I don't agree that all religions are boutique religions — 'boutique' was Hart's term for a process that others have terms 'pick-n-mix', 'cherry-picking' and 'smorgasbord' — basically you take the bits you like from a spectrum of religions, and leave the stuff you don't.

    Then again, Christ can be seen as a heretic from a Jewish perspective, and the Buddha a heretic from a Hindu perspective — that's certainly how Hindus presented the Buddha to René Guénon, and he accepted that until others trads (Marco Pallis, Martin Lings and another, i think) managed to talk him round.

    Then we have Judaism — Christianity — Islam — Baha'i —

    But, then again, the Traditionalist does not accept the modern concept of 'religious progression' because (exoterically) the idea of the evolutionary progression of linear time is largely modern construct, and (more importantly) because the element of 'revelation' (or 'remembrance' in some traditions) speaks of the immanent 'irruption' of the Absolute in the relative, symbolically indicated as the vertical perspective and the axis about which everything turns (the tree, the cross).

    Thus in the Traditional view, the 'end' towards which the religion is directed is attainable 'now' in a provisional sense, covered by such terms as 'beatification' or 'enlightenment'; no religion admits the need of another religion to provide for its own deficiencies, this is simply the statement of those who are deficient in their understanding of religions (or of metapysics or of the esoteric).

    A significant 'misreading' in that regard is one I have posited here more than once, that the contemporary idea of 'reincarnation' is flawed because it's often an expression of the same order of populist superstition that commentators will ridicule in western religious expression, again because it's founded on a linear time being progressive construct, but most significantly because the claimant fails to realise that nothing of 'he' or 'she' carries across into the next incarnation, so the idea of 'getting it right next time' is wrong on a number of counts.

    I don't disagree. But again, the aspsect under discussion does fall within the law.

    There is a sub-discussion here. Historically, America is founded on the idea of religious freedom and tolerance, which is certainly a paradigm shift from the idea of the Puritan settlers who went there not for freedom's sake!

    Subsequently however, it is clear that once religion was not fenced off, it became a commercial enterprise like any other. Two clear trends in the emergence of American denominations are sales and the superstitious. This is not a fault of 'Americans' as such, but rather of those caught up in the tides that swept across from Europe (spiritism, etc.)

    (In my own days as a cult member, the founder, once he started making money, set his sights on America, where he settled, became a citizen, and died, in some luxury, in his Florida mansion.)

    I'd be interested in your distinctions of the two choices.

    Whatever you think a religion is, there is a message that says 'you need to do this to attain that', whether it's believe in Jesus to attain eternal life, or whether it's embrace the Four Noble Truths to attain enlightenment. Or be nice to others if you want ... etc.

    All religion calls for a metanoia — a change of heart — a radically reorienting of the person towards a given end. I don't know the equivalent terms of the other traditions, but they are there. All religions say 'you can do better' (and here's a whole other discussion) because their aim is 'unlimited' ...

    Boutique religion says quite the opposite. Here, the person picks elements from the religious marketplace that bolster his or her a priori sense of self, they go some way to fulfil and externalise the sense of who I am and my own wellbeing. The syncretic choices are a reflection of the individual ego.

    So it's not reorienting self towards an end, it's orienting ends towards the self, in fact the self becomes its own end ... a self-affirming loop. The blind leading the blind.

    The saints and sages of the Christian tradition declare "God knows me better than I know myself" and "He is nearer to my heart than I am to myself" this is a statement of kenosis, of self-emptying or self-abandonment or self-denial that Buddhist would find no fault with, but in the boutique the emphasis is upon the 'me', and they will say 'the kingdom lies within' and 'seek within' but they forget/ignore they have to empty themselves first, and that's where the real hard work takes place ...
     
  18. Devils' Advocate

    Devils' Advocate Well-Known Member

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    Could you expand on this difference? I am not understanding what the difference is. And how one tells the one from the other.
     
  19. Devils' Advocate

    Devils' Advocate Well-Known Member

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    I am curious how you perceive this comment in regards to the American versus European versions of Catholicism. American Catholics very much see themselves of the Catholic faith; the Pope their spiritual leader. Americans have also accepted and rejected various portions of Catholic theism to conform with how our society differs from European society. American Catholics are more like to co-habitate with a member of the opposite sex (i.e. outside of marriage). They are much more likely to use contraception controls within a marriage rather than risk an unwanted pregnancy. Even more so to avoid the transmission of sexual diseases as American Catholics are much more likely to have sex outside of marriage. I am sure you can name a dozen other differences.

    Yet Americans do see themselves as Catholics and by inference, meaning they follow the tenants of Catholicism. In most other respects they follow the rules that the Vatican imposes. Are they a variant of Catholicism? A bastardization of Catholicism? Are they not Catholics at all because they have altered some of the rules of the faith to the realities of life in America? Thoughts?
     
  20. EdgyDolmen

    EdgyDolmen Active Member

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    Thomas & DA - Off shore fishing is the plan of the day. Will be back this evening. Will respond. Thanks - Ed
     

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