Faith

I posted this on a message board.  I know I've said stuff like this before, but I figured if I typed it up over there I might as well put it here too. 🙂

*****

Faith has nothing to do with knowledge. It has nothing to do with
reason. Faith is not about accepting propositions without evidence. A
leap of faith is not choosing to believe something that no one is sure
of or that contradicts evidence.

If it were, then this quote*
would be spot on. If it were, faith would indeed be inferior to
knowledge/reason. It's almost like an add-on. Where knowledge has gaps,
I have faith. Lame.

But this definition of faith is fairly
recent (think Enlightenment). It never used to mean that before. Faith is trust, loyalty, and imagination.

Trust
and loyalty together make up a certain way of living in the world
without fear and a constant need for control. If you basically trust
the world, then you will be loyal to it and let yourself go wherever
it takes you. As a counter, if you lacked this trust/loyalty, you would
always treat the world with suspicion, thinking it is out to get you,
and you would insulate yourself as much as possible to keep it out. You
would seek any sort of control you could find in order to keep the
world from really messing with your life.

By imagination, I'm
not talking about the dreams you have at night, or the fictional
stories you might write while waking. I'm talking about the way you see
the world. There is no doubt that our experience of the world changes
depending on how we see it. Example: if you have two people, one
depressed and the other ecstatic, watching a movie together, they will
probably come away from that movie with very different opinions about
whether the ending was good. The position you are in changes the way
you interpret the world.

If you are in a position of faith, the world looks
basically good. Even the bad things that happen to you look to have a
seed of hope in them (as long as you don't fail to acknowledge that
they *are* bad things). This imagination about the world gives you the
courage to live in that mode of trust and loyalty.

When
thought of this way, faith is a continuum. If you have absolutely no
faith, you're basically a nihilist. You see the world as completely
bad, devoid of meaning. You can't trust anything or anyone. You're
alone, completely, and there's no purpose. You might as well off
yourself.

If you have absolute faith, then you're probably a
wandering sage who makes no distinct effort to provide for yourself.
You trust that wherever you go, you'll be okay. You don't try to make
people do things for you, you just naturally go with the flow. You
don't long for anything fancy, you're happy with whatever comes your
way, and whatever comes your way feels like a gift.

Most of us
don't live on the edges of the continuum. We're all somewhere in the
middle. And that's okay. There's nothing that says you have to have
this sort of absolute faith, or else. For us, we're doing well when we
try to relax and look for what our lives want to do with us, rather
than wrestling with life to make it do our bidding. We're doing well
when we give up our need for control and certainty (not of knowledge,
but certainty of outcome/safety) and live our lives with a good amount
of trust and loyalty.

You
can say that it's faith in God, or faith in the world, or faith in
Jesus Christ, or faith in humanity. It's all faith, and it all implies
a willingness to let go.

Belief** on the other hand, that first
method of faith we talked about, is all about clinging tightly to
anything that makes you feel better. It's about preventing anything
upsetting from happening. It's about control.

In short: belief clings, and faith lets go***. It seems only those with little faith really rely on belief.

*****

* Quote posted:

"If we cannot understand the concept of God, we do not come closer to
understanding it through faith. If the doctrines of Christianity are
absurd, they do not lose their absurdity through faith. If there are no
reasons to believe in Christianity, we do not gain reasons through
faith. Faith does not erase contradictions and absurdities; it merely
allows one to believe in spite of contradictions and absurdities.

The appeal to faith solves nothing and explains nothing; it merely
diverts attention from the crucial issue of truth. In the final
analysis, not only is the concept of faith irreconcilably opposed to
reason, but it is evasive and quite useless as well.
"

** Yes, I know that belief has the same root meanings as faith, but it's useful to have something to compare and contrast with.

*** That's an Alan Watts quote

Another little gem from my post over there:

"If there are no reasons to believe in Christianity, we do not gain reasons through faith."

True.
If anything, we could hope to gain faith through Christianity, not the
other way around. Although the chances of that these days is slim. 😉

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  1. Not following how faith has nothing to do with knowledge. In fact, your words even imply to me further that it has a direct relationship to knowledge until you reach the level of complete enlightenment.
    Within the midranges of the continuum you describe, most people relate faith in some manner to knowledge. This is most apparent when looking at discrete moments in time. Either they trust that their lack of knowledge will not matter because of their faith in something else. Or they trust that their knowledge will continue to be true. Or they trust that their knowledge is constantly ready to adapt.
    One might also speculate that faith is nothing more than the existence of certain emotions/feelings, who oddly enough have "knowledge" that contradicts or supports the natural senses (and mind logic). Aka, the grand cosmic set of "gut feelings".

    Anyways.
    Oddly enough I have had a *huge* disconnect with someone I was dating because of our reaction to a movie that we watched together. (The movie was Babel). She *loved* it and couldnt understand why I didnt. I *hated* it, and coulndt understand why she would want to watch it.
    This led to very tense times and discussions. And it inevitably pointed out some *very* critical differences in our personalities.
    Her point was "Life is not always peachy. You have to accept and embrace that there wont always be happy endings". And my point was "No crap. But I get enough of that in real life, I dont need to be reminded of it so drastically in my entertainment."

  2. Sorry, it had to do with how the board I posted on was using the term knowledge. The main thing I was trying to prevent here is people associating faith with assenting to a certain set of universal, objective, time-independent propositions, such that if you agree you have faith, and if you disagree you don't.One might also speculate that faith is nothing more than the existence
    of certain emotions/feelings, who oddly enough have "knowledge" that
    contradicts or supports the natural senses (and mind logic). Aka, the
    grand cosmic set of "gut feelings".Perhaps, although I do thing that there is a certain "letting go" associated with faith. But perhaps trusting those gut feelings is part of faith? Unless gut feelings change depending on who is having them…are they determined by what the person is accustomed to (ie an heavy alcoholic's gut feeling that he should drink), or are they really determined by the deepest part of ourselves that wants to go with the flow? And how does a person in the moment make the distinction between the two very different voices? :)And yeah, different imaginations do cause huge disconnects. You say things to each other from your own point of view and they are interpreted in the other framework, and so you keep completely missing each other's points. Excellent example of that in Milan Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being.Thanks for the comment! 😉

  3. Faith is delicious, but it's not very filling.

  4. l&s, I like your train of thought quite a lot, and not to get semantic on you but I think the continuum you describe is all about trust, and not so much about faith, unless you are using these words to be interchangeable. Whatever the word choice, however, I think you've provided considerable food for thought about the degree to which we "let go and let god" or, more existentially "surrender to fate." If happiness is important (and I think it is) then we might do well to ponder the utility of increasing this kind of trust/pronoia, regardless of our opinion regarding external mystical beings.

  5. Yeah, I was using them as pretty similar…since I defined faith as trust, loyalty, and imagination. :)And yes, that was the exact point I wanted to make! That faith is something we should encourage in everyone regardless of their thoughts on metaphysics and cosmology.

  6. Belief is delicious but it's not very filling.Faith smells horrible, the taste is a little bitter…but it will sustain you through any famine.

    • a
    • September 17th, 2007

    I sometimes wonder if faith is one of those terms (like evil) we may eventually have to drop or at least allow to have a different meaning than what was originally intended for it. Even belief has a far deeper meaning than how we use it now, but nobody is going to try and salvage the term because it's been warped for far too many years, now. I like the idea of a continuum – although I agree with Curlysalmander that I tend to think in terms of trust rather than faith for that continuum. I tend to associate loyalty with duty so get a little lost in how this fits in with trust, however. I think it is through duty that faith turns into belief.You wrote: Most of us
    don't live on the edges of the continuum. We're all somewhere in the
    middle. And that's okay. There's nothing that says you have to have
    this sort of absolute faith, or else. For us, we're doing well when we
    try to relax and look for what our lives want to do with us, rather
    than wrestling with life to make it do our bidding. We're doing well
    when we give up our need for control and certainty (not of knowledge,
    but certainty of outcome/safety) and live our lives with a good amount
    of trust and loyaltyIs this what you meant in your comment abut The Way of Suffering that what he was saying is cyclical and ordinary? I've still been mulling that over in my head.

  7. I took the trust/loyalty thing from William F. Lynch. It basically is a double movement of trust. Trust that (whatever you're trusting) will take care of you, and you being loyal to that thing in return. Basically the loyalty half is where you live your life in that trust. It's being "faithful" to what you have faith in. So for instance…that creative fidelity thing. Being faithful to yourself and your past repetitions, but throwing something new into the mix that leads you in a positive direction out of the endless trap of bad repetitions.Nothing to do with duty, in my head. :)The cyclical/ordinary thing is more like Nietzsche's constant overcoming. It's like…you're on the continuum somewhere in the middle. Through the journey that Miller proposes, you get yourself closer to the faith side, but only so far…and then you have to start all over again. Hopefully with each iteration you get yourself closer and closer. If you're committed and don't get sidetracked, that is. ;)Just like how in Dillard's Holy the Firm the days repeat in our lives (I'm purposefully being cryptic so as not to spoil it). It's process that happens over and over again.

    • Six
    • September 17th, 2007

    It's all very pretty and all, but I don't see the need for anything like faith. What you are describing is simply knowledge of ones own ignorance and impotence and varying levels of acceptance of this. I think you also hint at different mechanisms of coping.You say you have to have faith in god/universe/whatever so you don't freak out and live in fear. I say you just have to know the odds of various things happening and the options of prevention. I know there are low odds when walking down the street of being struck by lightning, and that I have zero ability to prevent it, so the rational conclusion is to not fear it. The same principal can be applied to everything.The problem with the term faith, in my humble opinion, is that it connotes lack of knowledge. It purports to be useful regardless of the level of information available. I don't believe this is the case. Faith is a blanket application, a way of grouping the universe into a single simple understandable set with only one correct response. Any stimulus leads to response faith. This is fine. It, if applied appropriately, will make you happy, although you will live with a lower expected return on investment compared to someone actively assessing each situation based on information gathered in the past. Basically I think it's easy and inefficient.I've wandered into a rant. What I was originally trying to address is what I think you mean faith to mean. Your use of faith in this post to me sounds like what I call knowledge. Use information available, and information on what information is not available, to rationally estimate an appropriate response. And then you add a recommendation of a dash of optimism to brighten your day. What's wrong with saying it my way?

  8. There is absolutely nothing wrong with what you're saying, in fact it doesn't really matter to me what we call it, as long as we're talking about the same thing.Except I think you might be missing a crucial part of what I was trying to say. Granted it might be because I've spent a great deal of time studying in this area and have acquired specific definitions and phrases that mean things to me, but might not be the same for the rest of the general population.All of us, regardless of our ideas about metaphysics, have control issues. It comes with the whole human, part-physical, part-abstract thing. In short, it comes with self-consciousness. We tend to consider ourselves at odds with, or at least completely independent from, the world around us…even at the most subconscious level.This trust/faith I'm speaking of has to do with that…with letting go of ourselves and our need for control. With, to use more Eastern terminology, diminishing the ego.As such, this is much more that doing a quick risk management calculation…although that might be helpful. But thinking of life this way still doesn't quite get at it. It's an attempt (though granted, a much more subtle one) at trying to predict what will happen and/or having escape routes planned. There's still that aspect of you against the world. It's not quite trust, it doesn't have that aspect of letting go…which is what I think faith is (or should be) all about.And yes, you're absolutely right that people use the term faith to describe that easy access one size fits all solution to any problem. But I'm not using the term in this way. Although, maybe I should make up a new word, eh? This one carries so much baggage… 😉

  9. Faith has nothing to do with knowledge. It has nothing to do with
    reason.Surely if faith has anything to do with the content of divine revelation then it has something to do with knowledge. "Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ." Since faith—especially in a religious/spiritual sense—is a concept deriving primarily from Christianity, you do an injustice to the term by moving it so far away from its roots.If it were, faith would indeed be inferior to knowledge/reason. It's almost like an add-on. Where knowledge has gaps, I have faith. Lame.I disagree. Submitting our intellects to the infinite intellect of God is neither an add-on nor something inferior to naturally derived knowledge. "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed"; "Now faith is the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not."Faith is trust, loyalty, and imagination.Mixaphorically speaking, of course. :-)You
    can say that it's faith in God, or faith in the world, or faith in
    Jesus Christ, or faith in humanity. It's all faith, and it all implies
    a willingness to let go.You might as well add, "or faith in the Devil." How on earth can you compare faith in God with faith in the world or humanity? The only way I can make sense of "the world" is if you're considering it as the natural, physical world, and that you can have faith in it because it is a reasonable world with governing laws, created by a rational Being; but what reason could there ever be for placing one's trust in mankind?Belief** on the other hand, that first
    method of faith we talked about, is all about clinging tightly to
    anything that makes you feel better. It's about preventing anything
    upsetting from happening. It's about control. In short: belief clings, and faith lets go***. It seems only those with little faith really rely on belief.Despite the caveat in your footnote, that's a crude redefinition of "belief." What you're talking about is pride and distrust in God, rather than the proper result of believing in dogmatic truths. Assenting to the veracity of the Nicene Creed is a far throw from being a control freak.In any case, religion doesn't have as much to do with our psychological make-up (or hang-ups) as you seem to imply; God is far bigger than our petty psychoses.

  10. I know you and I always come to head on this particular point. :)Also, I wasn't trying to say that faith in God necessarily equals faith in the universe/world/humanity/what have you. That was not my point. I was trying to highlight the meaning of the word faith in *all* of those contexts. I'm sorry if that came across differently. :)I guess the bit about belief was a little rough…that's just my inner atheist coming to the surface. 🙂 Because often the stuff they say about belief You can say that it's faith in God, or faith in the world, or faith in Jesus Christ, or faith in humanity. It's all faith, and it all implies a willingness to let go.is spot on. But really what I have in my head more than anything else is the sort of fundamentalist belief regardless of counter-evidence. *That* is an attempt to cling, not to let go. The way you phrase believing in dogma does sound more like an attempt to let go and trust God…but even then I am fairly uneasy about whether I'm really submitting to God or to the Church. As much as we'd like to say there's no difference, I think there most definitely is. If that makes me unfit to be a Catholic, so be it.But then, we've been over this many times, and I doubt we'll make any more headway if we try again…but hey, I may be wrong. 😉

  11. I don't know how that got pasted right in the middle of my sentence. Vox is silly sometimes.

  12. The word "faith" seems to have two completely different meanings. One is "Trust" or "Trusting" which seems to be the main point of Lightandstorm's post. This faith is a state of security and peace and that seems to be a good thing.The other is "Blind Faith", believing in something without good cause and acting upon that belief. This seems to be a bad thing. It reminds me of the saying "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".So "faith" seems to be one of those "lighting rod" words that people interpret differently and about which they have strong opinions.

  13. I think that religion has an enormous amount to do with our psychological make-up. The "God" that is bigger than our psychoses is also bigger than our dogma. Religion is an impulse, in the face of profound uncertainty and awe, to find a way to live. There are lots of different answers to the questions of how to live, but there's no doubt in my mind that the Jesus that has been described to us would have made a pretty good Buddhist. L&S original point still stands — if we let our ego and need for control run us, it doesn't matter what you call yourself, you're in for hard landings. Surrender to that which is not known or knowable (such as what will happen tomorrow), is a better and more realistic key to constructive living.

  14. I wasn't trying to say that faith in God necessarily equals faith
    in the universe/world/humanity/what have you. That was not my point. I
    was trying to highlight the meaning of the word faith in *all* of those
    contexts. I'm sorry if that came across differently. :)Fair enough. I probably jumped the gun on that one.But really what I have in my head more than anything else is the sort
    of fundamentalist belief regardless of counter-evidence. *That* is an
    attempt to cling, not to let go.Actually, many self-professing fundamentalists are far more open to correction than you give them credit for. Many fundamentalists I know personally would almost certainly reject such things if they could be logically shown the error of their theology, though it might take some time.The way you phrase believing in dogma does sound more like an attempt
    to let go and trust God…but even then I am fairly uneasy about
    whether I'm really submitting to God or to the Church. As much as we'd
    like to say there's no difference, I think there most definitely is. If
    that makes me unfit to be a Catholic, so be it.It's certainly not up to me to decide whether or not you're "fit" to be a Catholic. (I don't believe that anyone is unfit to be Catholic except those who obstinately refuse to accept what the Church has to offer.) As to whether you'd be submitting to God or the Church, there paradoxically both is and is not a difference. Popes, bishops, priests and nuns are not simply the mouthpieces of God Almighty, but they still possess the apostolic ministry (of "being sent") which derives from God. The priest is alter Christus, but not in all things; even the pope falls short most of the time. I have met my share of bad priests and spiritual directors, almost to the point of wanting to leave the Church; the only thing that keeps me around is the grace of God, which I can only be certain of obtaining in and from the Church. The bishops who composed the Nicene Creed could have been lechers and drunkards for all I know, but that doesn't mean God let them ruin the Church he had built. Incarnational theology has much to offer here, delineating the "hypostasis" of Christ and the Church, the spirit and the flesh; the Church is the Body of Christ, but not yet perfectly so: it is like a vine with many withering branches, or a hand with frostbitten fingers. All of us in the Church live in some degree of lifelessness, stealing away some measure of vitality from the Body as a whole, and it would be wrong for any of us to place all the blame on the institutional element in the Church; we all have our share of responsibility, and our cross. Like Flannery O'Connor said, sometimes we suffer as much from the Church as for it, and I would add that we all contribute to this collective suffering in some way.But this digression has gone on long enough, and has lost the original thread of thought.

  15. It reminds me of the saying "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".As I recall, the original saying by St. John Chrysostom was, "The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops." This may or may not amount to the same thing.

  16. I think that religion has an enormous amount to do with our
    psychological make-up. The "God" that is bigger than our psychoses is
    also bigger than our dogma.The god in quotation marks is nothing more than a psychosis; the Christian God is identifiable, in a mystical sense, with the dogmas he reveals, because he is ontologically Truth. This is why the ancient Hebrews believed that the Torah was, in some way, the very essence of YHWH, the inner life of God. God is of course "bigger" than the words of the phrase, "God from God, Light from Light," but the phrase points to a reality which is the very essence of the Godhead, and so in that sense it is just as "big" as God.There are lots of different answers to the questions of how to live,
    but there's no doubt in my mind that the Jesus that has been described
    to us would have made a pretty good Buddhist.Here's something Buddha is reported to have said:I say it is by destroying, stilling, stopping, renouncing, and abandoning all imaginings, all supposings, all thoughts of "I am the doer…" all latent "I am," that a Truth-finder is freed…. Herein monks, the latent bias "I am" is got rid of by the monk, cut down to the roots, made as a palm-tree stump that can come to no future existence.And Jesus is reported to have said:Before Abraham was made, I am…. I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.Buddha wants us to be rid of our selves; Jesus wants us to find and expand our selves. Many Buddhists call the world an illusion; Christians call the world the good and beautiful creation of God, which will never be annihilated. So I don't think Jesus would have made a very good Buddhist. 🙂

    • Six
    • September 17th, 2007

    I like the general "chill out" idea of the message. I'm quite chill and often wish others were more like me. 😀 Still, I shy away from such ideas at any sort of religious level because I fear extreme fatalism.Congrats on the post. Got yourself a verbose conversation. I'm afraid Klaus's stuff is too long for me. 😛

  17. This faith is a state of security and peace and that seems to be a good thing. It's also a faith that is a state of security within insecurity, and peace within chaos. :)Good comment, thanks!

  18. I think we may have been over this too. :)You misunderstand Buddhism. Jesus is all about death and rebirth right? So is the Buddha. Die to your ego so that you can *expand* and reach Nirvana. The whole point is that our egos actually hold us back; they keep us small. The stronger the ego, the smaller our existence. If we want to grow ourselves and expand and have a more abundant life, we need to reduce the ego.

  19. I understand your wariness. It's definitely warranted. 😉

    • a
    • September 18th, 2007

    I didn't process the cyclical message in Miller at all, but that makes sense now. Thank you.

  20. It may not have been something he explicitly said, but it was definitely something our professor pointed out about his process. 🙂

  21. You misunderstand Buddhism. Jesus is all about death and rebirth right? So is the Buddha.Jesus's speeches about death and rebirth are metaphorical: "Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." Of course he talks elsewhere about the body's resurrection, but that is something entirely different from the Buddhist belief in rebirth. In fact, Jesus was at pains not to teach anything like a vulgar rebirth (John 3:4). He was not reborn on the third day after the Crucifixion, but resurrected.Die to your ego so that you can *expand* and reach Nirvana. The whole point is that our egos actually hold us back; they keep us small. The stronger the ego, the smaller our existence. If we want to grow ourselves and expand and have a more abundant life, we need to reduce the ego. Do we really want to use the Freudian term "ego" for this discussion? It's so crass and… psychological, in the worst way. Plus, it can mean anything from pride to the center of self-awareness, so it's rather ambiguous.

  22. I wasn't referring to material death and rebirth at all, actually. The second part is actually a description of how the metaphorical death and rebirth works in Buddhism.You said:Buddha wants us to be rid of our selves; Jesus wants us to find and expand our selves.I was trying to show how Buddha also wants us to find and expand ourselves…with some effort we could probably show how Jesus wants us to be rid of ourselves (although that phrasing is misleading).And no, we don't have to use the word "ego" if you don't want to, although people often use it for this purpose. When a Buddhist says "self" it's slightly different from when a Christian says "self." A Christian takes it as the deepest and most integral part of you…the soul. A Buddhist will take it as the "persona" or role you think you're playing when you're *not* really living out of the deepest part of you.Getting rid of the Buddhist "self" is the same thing as finding the Christian "self."

  23. After some quick research, ego is a word in latin that literally means "I." It's often used when talking about matters of spirituality. Freud's definition may be most popular, but that's not the context we're talking in.Here is the wiki article on the ego.

  24. If faith is trust and loyalty, then it is based upon knowledge, both abstract and experiential. To place your faith in someone, which is basically what Christian faith is, you have to have a good idea of who that person is and why one would place their trust in this person. There is no "blind leap" here, only a leap. Faith, love and hope are the first three words in the vocabulary of despair — it is not for the wise or the strong or the confident or the assured or the safe and secure of this world. It is for the catastrophically broken, for those who have been gut wrenchingly humbled and humiliated, faith is fs for the little, the last, the least, and the lost. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Just my two cent's worth…

  25. I wasn't referring to material death and rebirth at all, actually. The second part is actually a description of how the metaphorical death and rebirth works in Buddhism.

    My bad, then.I was trying to show how Buddha also wants us to find and expand ourselves…with some effort we could probably show how Jesus wants us to be rid of ourselves (although that phrasing is misleading)….When a Buddhist says "self" it's slightly different from when a
    Christian says "self." A Christian takes it as the deepest and most
    integral part of you…the soul. A Buddhist will take it as the
    "persona" or role you think you're playing when you're *not* really
    living out of the deepest part of you.Getting rid of the Buddhist "self" is the same thing as finding the Christian "self."Buddha must have had a very odd idea of the "self." Early Judaism and Christianity were not interested in the problem of playing "roles" or constructed personae, except in regard to the way that pride and sin can blind a man to his true nature as a creature in God's image. Does Buddhism have anything like the doctrine of the permanent soul of man? The article on Wikipedia implies that the "I" of a man changes from moment to moment, that "in reality he is always a different person." Of course there has to be something that survives throughout life to be reincarnated and experience karma, but if it is not personal, what is it? Is it my soul, or the soul of some future "I"?In what way is ridding oneself (?!) of the Buddhist "self" the same as finding the Christian "self"? Where, for that matter, does Christ have anything to do with ridding his disciples of their "personae" in order to find their "souls"? I don't think this is a frivolous point; the very essences of Buddhism and Christianity are tied into it. I'm well aware that some later Catholic theological schools (mostly monastic) taught something like the emptying or annihilation of self for the service of God, but these have rightly been restricted to insular communities (see The Cloud of Unknowing). The Catholic world rather has always been earthy, joyous, and even bawdy, all without apology. Could a Buddhist write these lines?–Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,There’s always laughter and good red wine.At least I’ve always found it so.Benedicamus Domino! –Hilaire BellocOf course Christ wasn't without some warning against an excessive love of the world: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?" Still, I think there is a difference between getting rid of the ego and denying oneself, the latter being a denial of selfishness. The mystic apostle St. John warns against "the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life," but still, "That which God hath cleansed, do not thou call common [unclean]."Every human person is created in God's image, and the human self insofar as it shows this image ought never to be scorned or done away with. God is not only an "I" but three "I"s; the multiplicity of "I"s in the created realm is a reflection of this divine tri-unity. Heaven in the eschatological sense includes "ten thousand times a hundred thousand" individual "I"s surrounding the throne of the Triune God, all still blissfully themselves. (Dante's Paradiso is an incredible examination of the self as it continues to exist even in the presence of the Beatific Vision.) Catholic saints, despite some sentimentalized art, are not forever relaxing their eyes and facial muscles while they place their palms together and roll their eyes upwards; they are rather full of life and vigor, staring intently upon the Face which they always yearned for.The following is a side note, but maybe an important one. From the summaries of Buddhism I find online, a great deal of emphasis is placed on avoiding or negating suffering and even pleasure. "Ignorance is the cause of Suffering. / The Cessation of Suffering which is the goal of life as it transcends pains and pleasure." Catholic spirituality has of course embraced suffering like a lover, drinking deep the cup that Jesus offered John and James; it also looks forward to infinite pleasures at the resurrection, with some small foretastes here on earth. How can there be any true communion between Rome and Tibet with such drastically divergent philosophies of life? Catholics are not called to flee their selves, their sufferings and their world, but to plunge into them and accept them as gifts from God.Perhaps I have leaned too heavily on the aesthetic contrast between the two religions, but I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian at heart. The differences between Buddhist and Catholic art convince me of deeper differences than any intellectual discourse could:No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The medieval saint's body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different than that. — G.K. Chesterton, OrthodoxyThis response is already too long, but I would like to end by making a request for a list of any books that contain Buddha's original writings/sayings. Most of what I've found online appears dubious, and I'd rather stop relying on such sources for information. For all I know, I've been arguing all this time against ideas from people who've terribly rewritten Buddha's original intentions.

  26. Man, I hope some of that makes sense. I shouldn't write when I'm tired…

    • a
    • September 19th, 2007

    There are no books that contain Buddha's original sayings just like there are no books that contain Jesus' original sayings. It's all second hand information from disciples. It seems Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus didn't feel particularly compelled to "write down" their understanding which I personally find significant. Once you put it in writing, you stagnate it and in a sense "kill" it.What is important is the living word, not the recorded word. Perhaps you need to tweak your understanding just slightly? Buddha didn't say "get rid of the self". That's a form of denial and a very western "either/or" understanding. (Either you have a self or you don't?)What Buddhism says is that we have the potential to transcend the self – to recognize our existence as a "non-self". But the only possible way to recognize our non-self is through an acceptance of reality. Thinking in terms of getting rid of the self in order to recognize the non-self is laughable because any violence imposed upon the self is denial, not acceptance. Denial exists within the realm of the "self". Reality is the non-self. (Loving your neighbor as yourself is an example of recognizing the "non-self".)

  27. There are no books that contain Buddha's original sayings just like
    there are no books that contain Jesus' original sayings. It's all
    second hand information from disciples.I consider this to be a dubious proposition. There is little doubt in my mind that we have (for the most part) the original sayings of Homer, Sophocles, Cicero, and a host of other ancients. What reason is there to assume the worst when it comes to religious figure like Jesus, especially when his sayings were written within a generation of his crucifixion?It seems Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus didn't feel particularly compelled
    to "write down" their understanding which I personally find
    significant. Once you put it in writing, you stagnate it and in a sense
    "kill" it. What is important is the living word, not the recorded word. This is why the Catholic Church emphasizes the need for a living Tradition as a companion to the written Scripture.Perhaps you need to tweak your understanding just slightly? Buddha
    didn't say "get rid of the self". That's a form of denial and a very
    western "either/or" understanding. (Either you have a self or you
    don't?) What Buddhism says is that we have the potential to transcend the self – to recognize our existence as a "non-self".There's nothing peculiarly "western" about an either/or distinction; it's simply a common line of thought made by all rational creatures. Either my cart is strong enough to carry this load, or it will collapse and fall apart. This is only common sense.Isn't ridding oneself of the self more or less the same thing as recognizing ourselves as "non-selves"? Whether we toss it away or "transcend" it, we're still ridding ourselves of it. Also, denial and acceptance are two sides of the same coin: one must deny a falsehood if he is to accept an incompatible truth.Loving your neighbor as yourself is an example of recognizing the "non-self".Not so. Loving my neighbor as myself requires loving myself first of all, otherwise how could this standard be expanded to others? If I do not love my self, ergo I cannot love my neighbor.

    • a
    • September 19th, 2007

    The extent to which we think in terms of either/or is distinctly western. It is a direct result of Aristotlean logic and is written into our language structure (subject/verb/object – cart/carries/load – I/have/self). It's linear, categorical, and abstract. We often forget that language is a technology and it has a direct affect on how we perceive reality. Other languages tend to be more circular, far less categorical, and concrete. Thinking in terms of possession is abstract and very western. "Either the cart will carry the load or it won't" is concrete and therefore universally understood. "Either I have a cart or I don't" is abstract and can only be understood within certain cultural contexts. It isn't universally understood. But honestly, "Either I have a self or I don't" doesn't even make sense in English! If you possess a self, then how can you simultaneously be a self? My self possesses my self? That makes no sense. I agree that you can't love another unless you love yourself, but does thinking in terms of loving the self make rational sense? That we even think in terms of our self possessing a self is just plain irrational if you think about it.

  28. Well, it all depends on how you define "self," and I think the Buddhist definition (as it has cropped up on this page, at least) is very fuzzy. The ancient Greek self died at death, and only a "shade" remained to moved on to the underworld; the later Greek self was a semi-divine spirit that had been "demoted" and trapped in a vulgar body; both of these ideas have a concreteness that I can't find in Buddhism, although neither were accepted by Christianity. The Christian idea of the self is developed from the ancient Hebraic belief that the self has a continuance from this life into death: "But I will sleep with my fathers… bury me in the burying place of my ancestors." There is also the deep conviction that, because God has made covenants with men, we are as much "I"s as God; otherwise the covenants would be legal fictions.But honestly, "Either I have a self or I don't" doesn't even make sense in English! That's precisely my point. Am I my self (or myself) or am I not? What does it mean to be a "non-self," as you put it? Is consciousness something we need to be rid of? You said earlier, "Loving your neighbor as yourself is an example of recognizing the 'non-self'," but how can you be both "yourself" and a "non-self"? It certainly doesn't make sense in English.If you possess a self, then how can you simultaneously be a self?If "self" is only a persona, something we tack on to our true being or essence, then it is something we possess, not something we are. The Buddhist claim, if I'm understanding it correctly, is that self is not something inherent or essential to people, but something we cobble together and that we need to be rid of in order to see ourselves truly as "non-selves." Like you said (or at least quoted), "Reality is the non-self." (Much like the medieval scholastic distinction between substance and accidents.) The Christian idea of self is of rather that we are essentially selves, that the "I" is a basic part of being created in the image of God; there is no such thing as "non-self" except among non-rational creatures.I agree that you can't love another unless you love yourself, but does thinking in terms of loving the self make rational sense?This is indeed a peculiar sentence. You accept that one must love himself, but then say that loving the self makes no rational sense. Let me ask you this: what is the difference between "myself" and "my self," or is there any? I suspect that coming to a decisive definition about this would clear up many of these problems.

    • a
    • September 20th, 2007

    If the Greek idea of self is concrete, then state it in a concrete sentence. If the idea relies on possession, it is not concrete. To say "Greek self" is to create an abstraction. That is not concrete. So changing your sentence just slightly – The self, according to the Greeks" died at death"…. The self died at death. OK, that's concrete and self-evident. But a shade of the self goes on to the underworld? How can the self both die and go on to the underworld?If we are going to hold to the idea of possession – either that the self possesses a body or the body possesses a self or the soul possesses a self or the self possesses a soul (which is all abstract reasoning), then why is the Buddhist notion of non-self so far-fetched? What could possibly possess (assuming possession is possible) a self but a non-self? That's at least logical.The Christian idea of self is primarily based on Greek philosophy and Persian mythology. Ancient Hebrew did not have our subject/verb/object understanding. It was entirely concrete. When someone died, they slept. (Sheol which had no association with Hades whatsoever until the Greeks translated Sheol as Hades in the Septuagint).In Ancient Hebrew, all nouns are understood as verbs. For instance, the terms gift and knee are the same word in Hebrew because they are defined by the action, not the "thing in itself". A knee is a knee because it bends a particular part of the body. A gift is a knee because it is delivered on bended knee. To say God made covenants with men is based on a linear thought process the Ancient Jews did not have. That covenant between God and man was not a one way deal. There is no subject doing something to a passive receiver because
    Hebrew language doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t’ separate the doer
    from the doing like Greek thought does. And, it doesn’t separate the
    receiver of the doing from the doing, either. Both are actively
    involved in the choosing. Neither God or man is an "I" based on this understanding. God and man are an active process.As soon as we categorize an "I" (noun) separate from God (noun), we cease to be in concrete territory and are in the land of the abstract.In a very real/concrete sense, there is no self. This is what the Buddhists understand and that we have corrupted through our abstractions. But the only way to recognize the no self is through the experience of an experiencer – which we call "the self". But the experiencer is not separate from the experience. We separate them because our language categorizes everything. We think there is an experiencer experiencing the experience. But this is not how it would have been understood in Ancient Hebrew. Experiencing could potentially imply an experiencer and the experience, but would not create separate categories for them. We can't even begin to understand the world in the way they understood it because we are trapped in the abstract notions of our language.Drop the categorical nouns (I and myself) and think in terms of Loving. Period. Then, I think, you can get a sense of the Buddhist "non-self". You won't understand it by trying to categorize it according to English grammar.

  29. ^^ Seconded. 🙂

  30. Sorry, no time to write a response right now. I'll send you a private message later, so as to stop filling up L&S's comboxes.

  31. It's all good, I quite enjoy watching (and perhaps participating) in this conversation. Feel free to comment away. 😉

  32. If the Greek idea of self is concrete, then state it in a concrete
    sentence. If the idea relies on possession, it is not concrete. To say
    "Greek self" is to create an abstraction. That is not concrete. So
    changing your sentence just slightly – The self, according to the
    Greeks" died at death"…. The self died at death. OK, that's concrete
    and self-evident. But a shade of the self goes on to the underworld?
    How can the self both die and go on to the underworld?

    I should have been more clear with my points; I was noting the earlier
    (Homeric) and later (Platonic) ideas of the self, or soul. As far as
    the Homeric idea goes, the "self," the "I" dies at death, and the shade
    that exists in Hades is only a phantom of the real person. This is seen
    most clearly when Odysseus sees the phantom of Hercules, who has
    (unlike most mortals) been raised to Olympus at the time of his death,
    "After him I saw mighty Hercules, but it was his phantom only, for he
    is feasting ever with the immortal gods" (Bk. 12). Even the mighty
    Achilles is scarcely a personality: "I would rather be a paid servant
    in a poor man's house and be above ground than king of kings among the
    dead." They are only shades, or shadows, of their dead selves.

    The Platonic idea of self is tied into reincarnation, and depends on
    the preexistence of the soul before birth in a divine place to which it
    hopes one day to return. Socrates' dialogue before his death shows that
    he believed in a continuance of personality and "I-Thou" relationships
    in the afterlife, at least for philosophers.

    If we are going to hold to the idea of possession – either that the
    self possesses a body or the body possesses a self or the soul
    possesses a self or the self possesses a soul (which is all abstract
    reasoning), then why is the Buddhist notion of non-self so far-fetched?
    What could possibly possess (assuming possession is possible) a self
    but a non-self? That's at least logical.

    You're right that saying, "I possess a self," cannot be anything but a
    figure of speech. Better to say, "I am a self." After all, the word "I"
    presupposes some idea of selfhood. ("Me, myself, and I.")

    The Christian idea of self is primarily based on Greek philosophy and
    Persian mythology. Ancient Hebrew did not have our subject/verb/object
    understanding. It was entirely concrete. When someone died, they slept.
    (Sheol which had no association with Hades whatsoever until the Greeks
    translated Sheol as Hades in the Septuagint).

    I'm afraid the only ancient language about which I have any knowledge
    is Latin, but I'm not sure what you mean when you say that the Hebrews
    had a different S/V/O understanding. When it says in a translation of
    Genesis that "the Lord God formed man," do we have anything basically
    different from the Hebrew original? It's Subject-Verb-Object, after
    all. In what way does the Hebrew understanding of this differ, and how
    could it be more concrete than the English translation? (I'm
    also unsure about the Hebrew understanding of verbs and nouns, which is
    something I've never heard before.)

    Concerning the conflation of Sheol and Hades, I don't see anything
    necessarily bad about it. As far as I can tell, it is just an instance
    of the Jews encountering an alien culture and realizing that this other
    culture has a belief that matches up well with their own. (While we're
    at it, don't forget that the book of Jude in the New Testament has a
    reference to Tartarus.)

    To say God made covenants with men is based on a linear thought process
    the Ancient Jews did not have. That covenant between God and man was
    not a one way deal. There is no subject doing something to a passive
    receiver because
    Hebrew language doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t’ separate the doer
    from the doing like Greek thought does. And, it doesn’t separate the
    receiver of the doing from the doing, either. Both are actively
    involved in the choosing. Neither God or man is an "I" based on this
    understanding. God and man are an active process.

    What is the difficulty here? Why can't an "I" be an active agent? Of
    course God made covenants with man; they're all over the Old Testament.
    Here's a sampling just from Genesis:

    And I will establish my covenant with thee, and thou shalt
    enter into the ark, thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and the wives of
    thy sons with thee. (Gen. 6:18)

    I… shall remember the everlasting covenant, that was made between God
    and every living soul of all flesh which is upon the earth. (Gen. 9:16)

    That day God made a covenant with Abram, saying: To thy seed will I
    give this land, from the river of Egypt even to the great river
    Euphrates. (Gen. 15:18)

    And God said to him: I AM, and my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. (Gen. 17:4)

    This is my covenant which you shall observe, between me and you. (Gen. 17:10)

    But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sara shall bring forth to thee at this time in the next year. (Gen. 17:21)

    Are you telling me that all of our English translations horribly misunderstand what the original Hebrew meant by these?

    As soon as we categorize an "I" (noun) separate from God (noun), we
    cease to be in concrete territory and are in the land of the abstract.

    One of the most important distinctions in Catholic theology is between
    essence and person, between what and who. The doctrine of the Trinity
    cannot exist without it. Still, this doctrine doesn't teach that any of
    the three "I"s in God are separate from the being of God, and it is a
    matter of faith that God is ontologically one and simple, not complex.

    In a very real/concrete sense, there is no self. This is what the
    Buddhists understand and that we have corrupted through our
    abstractions. But the only way to recognize the no self is through the
    experience of an experiencer – which we call "the self". But the
    experiencer is not separate from the experience. We separate them
    because our language categorizes everything. We think there is an
    experiencer experiencing the experience.

    I experience driving a car, but "the experience of driving a car" is
    not a useless or meaningless concept for someone not presently driving.
    It is no corruption to speak abstractly about "driving a car" quite
    apart from the individual experiences thereof. Otherwise it would be
    impossible to enforce traffic laws, which require an abstract
    understanding of many individual experiences. There is a sense in which
    every act of driving a car is unique and unabstractable, an experience
    unlike any that has come before; but I can still say "driving a car"
    and everyone immediately knows what I mean. I can tell you about this
    time last week when I was driving down the highway and this idiot cut
    me off, and in this way the experiencer is separate from the
    experience, because I'm talking about it. To be entirely enmeshed in an
    experience without any mental reflection is to be an animal, for which
    there is no "I."

    But this is not how it would have been understood in Ancient Hebrew.
    Experiencing could potentially imply an experiencer and the experience,
    but would not create separate categories for them. We can't even begin
    to understand the world in the way they understood it because we are
    trapped in the abstract notions of our language.

    I'm going to need some examples of how this supposedly worked for the Hebrews. This description is too abstract. 🙂

    Drop the categorical nouns (I and myself) and think in terms of Loving.
    Period. Then, I think, you can get a sense of the Buddhist "non-self".
    You won't understand it by trying to categorize it according to English
    grammar.

    Love can only be exercised by actions, and what is or is not a loving
    action can only be known through rational examination. It is impossible
    to simply "love" without reflection on the nature of love, which
    necessarily implies an "I" who is thinking about loving actions before,
    during and after they are performed.

    • a
    • September 22nd, 2007

    Hi Klaus,It's not that a Greek philosophical understanding is "bad" or wrong or anything like that. It's simply a different way of understanding. The idea of the self in the Judeo-Christian tradition evolved. The Jews had been held captive in Babylonia in 6 BCE and that's when they acquired the idea of angels – through the myths of the area. When the Persians conquered, they released the Jews and then the Greeks gained control of the area and the Jews became Hellenized. That's when they started considering the Torah a book of wisdom. The Hebrew texts weren't even canonized by the Jews until 90 ACE. The language structure had already changed by then and it changed within Hebrew, too. But, go back to the Ancient Hebrew understand before Babylonian exile and Hellnization, and the language is very different. It's fascinating.As far as the differences between abstract and concrete thought, here is an excellent link: Hebrew ThoughtBuddhist thought is probably more closely related to Greek philosophy than it is to Ancient Hebrew thought. But it is very difficult to understand through our western perspective. I'm not expert on Eastern languages, but I understand that most are not as categorical as are Western languages.
    Love can only be exercised by actions, and what is or is not a loving
    action can only be known through rational examination. It is impossible
    to simply "love" without reflection on the nature of love, which
    necessarily implies an "I" who is thinking about loving actions before,
    during and after they are performedThat is a very western notion. The arly split in church history between the Greek Catholics and the Roman Catholics had to do with this very idea. The Greeks had lived with rationalism for centuries, but it was
    relatively new to the Romans. So while the Greeks were very familiar
    with the pitfalls of rationalism having lived with it all of their
    lives, the Romans were just beginning to adjust to it and were
    enthusiastically adopting it into their belief systems.

  33. FAITH IS AMBIGUOUS.
    Discussions about this term run in meandering and epistemologically worthless circles until it is recognized that the term means two entirely different things which have been conflated because they usually occur together.
    FAITH1 is probability judgment.
    FAITH2 is trust.
    Probability judgment is an involuntary act that occurs in minds without any conscious decision. If anything looks more than 50% likely, you think it's probable – less than 50% likely = improbable.
    Trust is the willful decision to act as though a particular proposition is true. We generally act in accordance with what appears probable, but not always. e.g. Winning the lottery appears improbable, but we may buy a ticket anyway.

    • a
    • November 2nd, 2007

    I'm not sure I understand – what particicular proposition is true when you buy the lottery ticket and what does that have to do with faith as trust? Here's a parable. Maybe it fits with what you are saying, maybe it doesn't. I'm not sure…A bird was making his way back to his nest in the forest to find the forest consumed by a fire. Not knowing what to do, he went to the lake and started bringing beakfuls of water and dropping it on the fire. His actions were based on faith. Did he do this because he had weighed the probabilities and decided that his action would put out the fire? No. He was well aware that it wouldn't. But he had faith that this action would make a difference. In a culture that bases everything on end results (winning the lottery, putting out the fire, making things be the way we want them to be), faith as trust can be a very difficult thing to understand. It's an intrinsic knowing, not

    • a
    • November 2nd, 2007

    My touch pad is so dang glitchy…Trust is an intrinsic knowing, not hope for a desired outcome based on an attachment to end results

  34. ArubaTrue proposition: "I will probably not win the lottery even if I but a ticket."I can choose to trust that proposition and not buy a ticket, or distrust that proposition and buy a ticket.
    >Trust is an intrinsic knowing.Wrong. What you choose to trust may not be trustworthy.
    >not hope for a desired outcome based on an attachment to end results.Wrong. The only reason to trust anything is a hope for a desired outcome based on an attachment to end results.

    • a
    • November 3rd, 2007

    The attachment to an end is based on a need to control. The need to control negates trust. Trust is a process of surrender – not a process of control.

    • a
    • November 3rd, 2007

    In other words, putting your trust in some thing (desired outcome, person you want to be trustworthy, system you want to be trustworthy, heaven, ideas of God, the way you want something to be, etc.) is not trust.

  35. Faith and hope are the first and second most important words in the vocabulary of despair. Only the powerless use these words and mean them.

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