On Cartoon Villains

Funky alerted me recently to an article by Annie Gottlieb, an accomplished and interesting author and friend of Ales Rarus, who advertises what purports to be a serious opposition to traditionalism in Towards a New Revelation (or, Why I Am Not a Traditionalist) over on AmbivaBlog. Since this site is frequented by a good many traditionalists, and owned by one (tho’ occasionally I’ve my doubts about that), he thought it might be edifying to here critically examine Ms. Gottlieb’s post. As you might expect, as a traditionalist I beg to differ with her.

Traditions of Straw

Ms. Gottlieb starts off:

When you live inside a tradition, and that includes scientific secularism, you agree to view life through its window — an outlook, a way of framing reality, carefully preserved through time. That frame has a fixed form, originally designed by and for a world long gone. It can allow embellishments or simplifications, but not ideas — not even self-evident truths — so new or foreign that they would pull it apart and make it unrecognizable.

If you can see right away a simplistic caricature heading straight at you, you’re not alone. Ms. Gottlieb is quite right to include “scientific secularism” among the various entrenched traditions she is preparing to parody. She is also not far off the mark to define a tradition as a way of framing reality, and that it is by and large carefully preserved through time. But the notion that a tradition has only a fixed form, allowing only for embellishments but for no new ideas, is simply not credible. I know of no traditions that are like this. Not that I’m acquainted with all of them mind you, but it is difficult to even understand what she means here, much less believe it. Without some offer of supporting evidence or example, it seems fair to suppose such traditions might be illusory.

The tradition of the Catholic Church has incorporated ideas from outside of itself for most of its history. Arising originally from ancient Judaism, much of the thought of Plato was adopted into Church teaching from the 4th century onward. In the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas, revolutionized Christian thought by a serious application of Aristotle. South Pacific islanders incorporated the inexplicable arrival of Western goodies from Western ships (and later airplanes) into their tradition by the creation of cargo cults. Most religions of the world have proved perfectly capable of integrating the ideas of modern science (as distinct from the modern philosophy of scientism, to which many are diametrically opposed) into their traditions, often forced to reinterpret creation myths, without substantial upheaval. There are to be sure notable exceptions to this last example, but the fact that they are exceptions merely suggests that many if not most traditions are quite open to new ideas, contra Ms. Gottlieb’s plenary indictment.

Given the fact that traditions do change, almost all the time, adapting to new and external ideas as inputs, the suggestion that they are “designed by and for a world long gone” is therefore a nonstarter. Though I certainly would add that it is far from clear that folks today are really so much different than 5 or 100 generations ago. Yes, tradition is framework for viewing reality, but it is only a viable tradition, i.e., one lasting long enough to be called a “tradition”, that has more or less stood up to rational scrutiny thus far. It is far from clear that most (much less all) traditions are pulled apart or made unrecognizable by most ideas and “self-evident truths”. That is, unless I fail to understand what Ms. Gottlieb means by “idea” or “self-evident truths”.

Perhaps she means to say that a tradition that defines itself by proposition A, cannot simultaneously hold firmly to the proposition Not A. This is certainly true, at least for those who rank above the average mollusk in intelliegence. But then the question in this case is not whether a tradition can survive uncorrupted, but which of these mutually exclusive propositions, if either, is correct. And if it is “self-evident” that one of the propositions, say Not A, is obviously true, then the tradition defined by A withers and dies and becomes a museum piece, or a National Geographic special. Surely some traditions have died in precisely this manner, but if they’re already in the museum, why does Ms. Gottlieb complain? She doesn’t accept those traditions any more than anyone else in the world, and they therefore should be no more problematic than a Black Velvet Elvis painting. One suspects she’s taking aim at traditions with reasonably large numbers of living adherents. But since they go unnamed, we cannot know for sure. The onus, however, should be on Ms. Gottlieb to help us understand: which currently widespread traditions reject self-evident truths, as a key part of their continued survival? Again, I cannot resist the impression that such traditions are little more than imagined whipping boys.

Ms. Gottlieb, goes on to suggest:

Every tradition demands that you accept its inherited ideas, even those that violate our evolving understanding — Jesus’ mother was a virgin! the universe is blind, mindless matter! — and reject or give second-class status to ideas from other sources, even those that might better illuminate reality.

We’re back to this supposed and, as far as the article goes, merely imagined chasm between our forebearers (however ancient) and ourselves. But ironically, her examples here suggest rather the opposite point. Evolved understanding? A Virgin Birth was just as incredible to first century skeptics as it is to those of the 20th. And atheism wasn’t invented in the 18th century. Does Ms. Gottlieb think that skeptics of Virgin Birth were not abundant in the first century? Does she believe the ancients so stupid as to not have understood how babies got made (at least most of the time), or so credulous as to believe every tall tale they heard? Perhaps the number of folks in the ancient world disposed to believe in miracles was higher than today. But how much higher? Say 99% in ancient Palestine and only the 2% that are today’s mouth-breathers? No. Folks are disposed to believe variously in Virgin Births or Universes of Mindless Matter for pretty much the same reasons today as they were 2000 years ago.

Moreover, this doesn’t as much go against tradition in general as it suggests that many moderns have simply traded in an older tradition for a newer one founded on materialism and positivism, skeptical or utterly incredulous of miracles of any kind. Yet neither tradition has died off or been deformed irreparably or utterly closed itself off from further information. One tradition says miracles are possible but rare. The other says miracles are impossible. One tradition says the universe is created by an intelligent (and perhaps caring) being? One says, no way. Who is right? Whose ideas better illuminate reality? Do they illuminate each other? Well, kinda… they’re just opposite propositions. But is reality better illuminated if one, standing somehow “above” tradition, holds to some “higher” philosophy that miracles are both simultaneously possible and not possible? This seems unlikely.

Reading further,

“Outsiders” have all the same human needs — for community, for a conceptual operating system, for metaphysical and not just physical shelter — but they find themselves unable to deny the central fact of our time: that all the old certainties are being destroyed by two great new transforming forces, science and globalization… To defend any crumbling fortress of certainty today is to go to war not only with the defenders of other certainties, but with reality itself.

Again we find what seems a giddy fascination with so much that is supposedly changing in recent times, often at a pace so rapid we are, if such hyperbole is to be believed, torn helplessly away from all intellectual and cultural moorings. Now aside from the very dubious and ultimately self-defeating proposition, nay the “central fact of our time”, that the only certainty in today’s terribly confusing world is uncertainty (and here I thought it was death and taxes), it is not at all obvious that such “old certainties” are in fact crumbling. Which ones? The certainty that the cosmos possesses some underlying order that might be discovered by the application of reason, observation, and experiment? The certainty that love of family and country is rightly praised? The certainty that heroes rise above hardship? The certainty that war is hell? The certainty that men, if given the chance, are likely to take what is not rightly theirs? Which timeless certainties are threatened to such an extent that traditions of any sort can no longer stand? One is inclined to suspect that Ms. Gottlieb has here something specific in mind, but that to name it might very well amount to a show of cards and an exposure of the bluff.

The article goes on to praise the twin virtues of fence-sitting and lack of commitment, for when “you swear exclusive allegiance to no one tradition, their multiplicity is no longer a threat but a vast resource”. But since we haven’t established the fact, by any means other than indistinct handwaving in a vague direction, that allegiance to any particular tradition necessarily equates to seeing other traditions as a “threat”, there is no reason to suppose that traditionalists of all stripes might not share equally in this “vast resource.” Of course, proponents of one tradition can certainly disagree with proponents of another. But since when is disagreement necessarily equal to a threat? In whose dictionary?

The virtue of tolerance (and I know that sounds strange coming from my ASCII-characters but it is a virtue, rightly understood) is only operative and meaningful if and when we disagree. Tolerance doesn’t mean spending your life in self-loathing doubt of everything you’ve ever held dear, nor is it the intellectual and moral suicide of thinking all opinions are equally valid, but rather the willingness to tolerate opinions that you actually believe are wrong. If you didn’t really think that certain opinions, e.g., the ones that conflict with yours, were wrong, you couldn’t very well have anything to tolerate, would you? Instead you’d find yourself in perfect agreement with opinions in direct opposition to your own… and the need for tolerance would be the least of your worries.

Comments 28

  1. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Very, very good!!! If not very tolerant of “opinions that you actually believe are wrong.”

    An excellent companion piece to mine, if disputation can be said to be a form of companionship.

    In some ways you’re making a straw woman of me. For instance, note that when I talked about Amish barn-raising, etc., I said the world needs the living tradition, as lived by actual people, not just books memorializing it.

    Also, what you can’t know is that I’m not as much of a moral relativist as you assume. Part of my book will be to criticize moral relativism as the fatal flaw of spiritual nomadics as it currently exists, and to make a case for . . . well, really natural law. I’ve also written against abortion, although I don’t favor making early abortion illegal. I do favor making second- and third-trimester abortion illegal with exceptions only for the mother’s life.

    Another problem is that my post was an excerpt, and some of your points are addressed by parts I did not print. I’ve just posted a bit more of it in response to a traditionalist blogfriend.

    You’re certainly right that traditions change, within limits (although, as James Ault wrote in SPIRIT AND FLESH, a book about a Baptist church, they tend to tell themselves that they haven’t changed and that what they believe now is what they’ve always believed). The Catholic church, as an old survivor of many cultural eras, is more adept and generous at incorporating new information than many younger traditions. If you look at my blog, you will actually find my admiration for the Catholic church in posts like this one and this one.

    You’re right that I choose not to believe in legendary miracles (although I would not dare to say that they didn’t happen: I just don’t know, and I am not cut out for the act of deciding I know something I don’t, which is called faith). The existence of the cosmos is a miracle more staggering to me than a virgin giving birth.

    Anyway, marvelous arguing. Bravo.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 6:22 am
  2. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Oh, and yes, I do know traditionalists. Part of the book intro I did not post is about my cousin who’s a baal teshuvah — raised secular, became Orthodox — and my close friend who’s a Pentecostal minister. I have Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and Catholic friends as well.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 6:25 am
  3. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Oh, one last response:

    various cultures and traditions have gotten along fine for most of human history

    To this I can only say: LOL.

    Or, more wryly: “Well . . . yes and no.”

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 6:29 am
  4. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Morning now and to continue the discussion:

    Here’s an example of an idea from our evolving understanding that the Catholic church rejects as if would pull apart the frame.

    Women priests. Celibate women priests, OK? Let’s say that celibacy, as an undivided commitment to God, is an essential and unique part of what’s special about Catholicism. The gender of priests is merely a survival of past practice. The great new insight of our time may be the spiritual equality of men and women. I would bet you that eventually the Catholic Church will change to incorporate this insight, but it will be stupidly resisted for as long as possible and neither of us will be around to collect.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 2:31 pm
  5. Funky Dung wrote:

    If female priests should be allowed, then it’ll happen eventually. One of the strongest assets of the Church is that she changes slowly. Slow change helps one to avoid snap judgements and being swayed by changing fads and every bad idea that comes along.

    On a side note, spiritual equality does not preclude sexual complementarity and different roles for each in the Church.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 2:55 pm
  6. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Well, Annie, I’m glad you took this in as positive a light as you did. Funky and I tried to make this as objective and UNmean as possible (especially after his recent post on charity!!!) but yet still convey disapproval and thorough disagreement. Yes, there is something of protesting too much in my essay (~3000 word fisk of ~800 word essay)… I think I’d hoped to establish a more comprehensive basis (social, biological, philosophical) for tradition, and more generally particularity, as a step toward a more complete apology.

    Now you must know that I did not directly accuse you of any particular stance on abortion or miracles. And yes, I read you correctly on Amish barn-raising, but I still think you’re trying to have it “both ways.” Amish barn-raising is good, hurrah! Let it be… but real heroes (or illuminati or prophets) step “above” (out of or ON) their tradition. The traditionalist/particularist has chosen or become convinced some transcendant truths that he will not negotiate away (at any price) because they mean more than life to him. To those on the outside that may look like intolerance, parochialism, or even insanity. But if you want to judge him from the outside (from the POV of your own “tradition” no less), you need to be willing to admit that if their tradition will not bend, it must be broken. No doubt, this is NOT how you feel about the Amish, but is it how you feel about the Catholic Church? or Fundamentalist Islam?

    Actually the women priests thing is interesting. Celibacy is the thing that has changed and will continue to change, and few will lose sleep over it. There is nothing so special about celibacy that it somehow defines Catholicism. The Church has married priests today. And not just in the Eastern Rite (wherein it is perfectly normal), but in the Western Rite as well (usually as Anglican or Lutheran converts). The male priesthood on the other hand is founded on much deeper principles, principles much less likely to change if ever. Primarily the Catholic Church holds that sex (vis-a-vis “gender”) is real, that it demarcates real differences, and that such differences are intended by God and therefore good (as in cosmically good). Because the priest stands for Christ (male) with respect to the Church (female), it has been seen as critical that priest be in fact male. Now one may disagree with this teaching, one may even find such doctrine baldly “stupid”, but one cannot simply accuse traditionalist Catholics of ignoring reason or “self-evident” truth. They have good reasons, based on THEIR foundational axioms, to do what they do. You don’t accept those axioms? Fine. You accept different ones? Great. But axioms are things that cannot be proved. Maybe we can get along and tolerate each other (in this case, I think yes), maybe we cannot (certain strains of Islamism), but we cannot say for sure who is right or wrong, smart or stupid.

    Could the teaching on the male-priesthood change? Well, I don’t see how any future pope could explain away JPII’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (which stopped about 2um short of infallible teaching), but it is possible, and really, I don’t think it would be the end of the world. But I’ll do what I can to work against such a change (the dissidents in the Catholic Church are really big on the voice of the people, so I’m happy to add mine :-)). The reason is that I understand the reasons behind tradition and how it is intricately woven into the larger picture. I’ll not yield ground to those who are simply ignorant of it, and I pray that the Bishops won’t either.

    Cheers!

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 4:27 pm
  7. Adam wrote:

    A few remarks. As a long-time reader of her blog, I want to vouch for Annie’s rejection of relativism and her strong moral sense. In that regard, Annie and Steve are on the same page. Given this, much of Steve’s criticism misses the mark.

    However, I think where the difference comes in is that while Annie believes in universal moral values and laments the anything-goes attitude increasingly attested, at the same time, she is equally leery of top-down imposition of moral codes, even those communally arrived at. IOW, she strives to find that golden point of balance between the individual’s right of self-definition and expression and the necessity of solid moral values for the functioning of society.

    To me, this debate seems like a clash of temperaments — with one temperament favoring the individual and the other the community. But in this particular case, Steve has mistakenly imagined Annie to be on the opposite side of the debate, whereas, in reality, she strides the divide. I know it is a constant temptation for warring sides to want to classify everyone as either “with-us” or “against-us,” but I think Annie defies classification. I know this POV is often classified as mealy-mouthed fence-sitting, and perhaps it is sometimes that, but much more frequently those in the “none of the above” category are able to see the virtues of both sides and they embrace, with conviction, a logically consistent synthesis of both sides.

    Is Aristotle a fence-sitter because he advocated the Golden Mean? Is Buddha a fence-sitter because he advocated the Middle Way?

    Again, in many ways, this middle category can represent a beautiful synthesis of the thesis and antithesis. Surely, we all agree that there are needs of the community and there are needs of the individual. It’s just that Steve preferences the community over the individual, liberals vice-versa, and Annie takes a more balanced approach. I think each of these viewpoints can be defended but I really wish those on one side of the spectrum or the other would recognize the legitamacy of those who aim to synthesize the insights of both sides. Sometimes this is mistakenly taken to be some sort of illogical P and not-P belief, but really it is usually a recognition that different circumstances call for different actions.

    Which do we want–mercy or justice? In the case of criminals, the left usually prefers mercy and the right judgment. But I think most will agree that some cases call for mercy and others judgment and others something in between.

    Though I agree that in many cases, we just have to take a stand, there are many other cases where it makes more sense to take an undecided position. When the facts are not clear, and the data is still coming in, there is certainly a virtue in not rushing to judgment in many cases.

    A major difficulty I have with traditionalists is their insistence on the choice of a finite
    number of options: i.e. you have a choice between Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism etc — there is no middle ground. But what if the whole truth is not to be found in any of one of those options?

    I think I speak for many nomads when I say that we generally believe that no one tradition captures the truth. This is often caricatured to say we believe in mutually exclusive beliefs. But this need not be so, and is often not the case. I mean usually we’re not so epistemically irresponsible as to believe that, say, Jesus is fully man and fully God, or that say, God loves us all (and even though he wrote the rules and is omnipotent), there’s a non-zero chance that we could end up in eternal dire straits if we believe the wrong thing 😉

    (please don’t overract at this, I’m just being naughty :))

    Surely, you must admit that even within Christianity there are many possible belief systems which no church in existence holds. Who’s to say that the truth may not be held by any person at this time, just as no one held the truth about space and time before Einstein.

    Furthermore, you can see in many disciplines that as they mature, separate warring schools become united in one overarching framework. In a similar way, nomads view each religion as having only part of the truth. We don’t usually believe that all are somehow simultaneously wholly true.

    But probably what chafes most against spiritual nomads’ sensibilities is the idea that someone else gets to dictate our beliefs for us. For instance, there are a certain number of things that a devout Catholic is required to believe in order to be Catholic. I can understand that we need a system of laws to regulate behavior, but a system to regulate belief seems a bit scary as witness 20th century totalitarian regimes as well as the inquisition.

    I believe in community and in shared belief, but I don’t believe that the church should require of its members that it believe certain things or else relinquish the church. I think it is fine for the church to condemn deviation from its beliefs but I don’t think it ought to require it of its members. Rather it ought to trumpet those beliefs, condemn heretical ones, and make a persuasive case for their beliefs. I just don’t think a belief is truly someone’s own if they feel they must accept it or leave the community.

    Frankly, this whole conversation seems to turn on our view of human nature, whether we think humans are good and capable of figuring out things for themselves, or not. Whether they need “mind-guards” or not.

    I for one cast my lot with those who view human nature as flawed, but fundamentally good rather than vice-versa.

    One final plea. I know my phrasing has not been perfect, but rather than viewing this as philosophical contest where we get to “demolish” each others arguments, try to interpret them in their most charitable light and try to deeply understand where we’re coming from, even if you may eventually disagree.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 4:35 pm
  8. Adam wrote:

    Steve,

    Looks like we may have cross-posted a bit. But I have to agree that there is a solid point of disagreement on the Amish farmer thing. It is (or at least imo) clear that Annie views the nomad in higher terms than she does the traditionalist, though she strains mightily to be charitable towards him. (she might say that the two are symbiotic because she is so friendly :))

    But I agree that there is clearly a tension between them. Over the long term, I view the insights of the existing traditions being incorporated into a new but continually evolving vision. This incorporation will naturally cause the withering of the existing traditions, but it is possible that new traditions might emerge anew. You on the other hand, likely believe that the church will eventually predominate in all lands.

    So here is another clash of temperaments. You look backwards to the pristine foundations of your faith, while Annie looks forwards to greater truth emerging. You want to preserve the ancient (and in your view inviolable truths), she wants to incorporate the ancient but looks to the future for the greater truth.
    She likely believes in universal truth but just doesn’t feel we have it yet.

    I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I hope we can recognize the merits of each other’s viewpoints.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 5:00 pm
  9. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    I haven’t read Adam’s rejoinder yet, but just want to respond to a bit of yours, Steve.

    You say I’m saying that “if their tradition will not bend, it must be broken.” I most certainly did not say that. On the contrary.

    If their tradition includes coming after me and threatening to kill me if I don’t live by its lights, however, I am most certainly going to defend myself. And if there’s going to be a war between those who hold that different truths can coexist (within limits — as I said, I’m NOT an utter moral relativist) and those who not only believe their angle on the truth is The One and Only, but are going on the warpath to enforce it (and let’s be clear, that’s always been about political power and material wealth, not just saving souls), then I know which side I’m on.
    Fundamentalist Islam in itself is no threat to me, but imperial and crusading (wrong word — crescending??) Islamism is.

    Ultimately I think The Truth is beyond human comprehension, and the more devoted attempts to comprehend it the better, provided some humility is built in.

    Christians’ conviction that the Christ story is the ultimate and final truth is no threat to me. You can come after me and try to convince and convert me, and I can listen and ponder and be convinced or not, but you can’t come after me and try to burn me at the stake. That is where tradition becomes malignant.

    What you say about women priests is very interesting. My own sense is that Spirit is one, Body is two, and Soul is in between them. Therefore the difference between men and women is real but is not located in Spirit.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 6:10 pm
  10. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Adam, I’m glad you joined in.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 6:18 pm
  11. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Annie, you’re correct, the difference between men and women is NOT in the spirit. Who said anything about that? The difference is in the body. Bodies are important to Christians. Christians believe in the Resurrection of the Body far more than in the Immortality of the Soul, which doctrine is only incidental to the former. To this I alluded, it is all bound up in a fine tapestry… and we pull at individual threads only at a grave risk of ruining the whole thing.

    Well, I’m glad to hear you’re ready to go the stake for something 😉 Me too!!!

    Matt, Annie, everyone, look… Everyone perceives their opinions, at least their best formed ones, to occupy that precious and unique space between equal and opposite errors. None of us has a corner on the market of Middle. So all this handwringing about “left” and “right” and competing orthodoxies is really just so much smoke. We have all, each one of us who cares to think about such things at least, certain transcendant truths of which we are convinced and from which we’ll not be easily shaken. The only qualitative difference that I see between the best kind of Traditionalist (perhaps not the one Annie drew) and the best kind of Spiritual Nomad (perhaps not the one I’ve drawn) is that the former has exorcised the Pope in his Belly. He’s accepted the fact that there are things more virtuous than being sole master of one’s own intellect (and story).

    No good Traditionalist believes he can propagate his tradition at gunpoint. But neither can the good traditionalist admit that every doctrine is subject to his own private veto. To rely on Al Kimel again, his Ninth Law states:

    If a Catholic cannot name at least one article of faith that he believes principally on the basis of the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium, he?s either a saint or a Protestant.

    The illustrious Fr. Jape (500 year-old Jesuit blogger at the New Pantagruel) very wisely notes:

    Tradition must become inheritable, or always-already inherited, to be wholly itself. It must become a gift of givenness, given to the point of being so formative it is ineradicable even from minds that turn against it. It must be so given that it is liable to be taken for granted, in need of rethinking and renewal–but without schism and interminable question-filled “conversations”.

    There is a great truth about tradition in the old joke about the two Irish guys. One asks the other, “So are you Catholic or Protestant.” The other replies, “I’m an Athiest.” The first says, “Sure. But are you a Catholic or Protestant Athiest?” That’s the kind of tradition I want to defend as an unmitigated virtue: formative, life-giving, communal, essential, and dispensed with only at risk of existential despair.

    I keep coming back to Dylan’s “You gotta serve somebody”. If Dylan’s wrong, then tell me why. If he’s not, then how do we construe this Spiritual Nomad in such a way that it isn’t obvious that that “somebody” is himself.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 7:13 pm
  12. Adam wrote:

    I guess I just don’t see truth as something that can be given from above (in a human hierarchy). It would be wonderful if there were a source of truth that could always be relied upon, but I don’t think it exists. I think there is a deep human longing for such a fount of truth, but I think that that fount of truth is not to be found in an external person, such as the Pope, but rather it is the divine within.

    Looking at history, I cannot believe that the Catholic Church is an infallible source of wisdom. And that is why I feel safer gaining insight from it, rather than submitting to it, given its past, and given that I doubt that it is 100% correct.

    I think it is part of the maturation process of humanity for it to realize the Buddha’s teaching (or semi-equivalently Kant’s essay “What is Enlightenment?”): “that each person is his own savior, and that no one can do it for another.” The Buddha also stressed that one should only accept a teaching that one has found in one’s own experience to be productive of benefit for all beings, and that included the Buddha’s own teaching.

    And this was half a millenium before Jesus.

    Even were the Catholic Church a fount of unerring guidance, I feel that in some sense it would be a crutch. I feel that God’s will for all beings is to be able to mature spiritually and to be able to know for themselves: to come into direct contact with the divine — unmediated.

    I do agree that one is always serving something, in the case of the spiritual nomad — she is serving the spark of the divine that is her true nature. People who are genuinely spiritual can distinguish, although not perfectly, between the sort of divine upwelling within the heart that urges one unto higher callings and moral actions, and their own base human motivations.

    A spiritual nomad would not say that they are serving themselves, but rather they are serving the divine as best they can by the divine light of reason that is every human’s birthright. Rather than relying on other’s descriptions or explanation of the divine, they strive to know the divine first-hand.

    So it’s really a question of whether you serve the description of the divine advanced by a particular tradition or whether you have enough faith in the goodness of humanity to trust one’s own understanding of what is right. It may not always be easy, but I think we are called to learn to distinguish better and better between our own selfish instincts and the divine within.

    I just think it is very dangerous to hand over one’s beliefs to an external organization. I can see an acceptance of a particular doctrine if there is no clear reason to reject it, but I feel morally obligated to reject certain Catholic teachings as wrong, and as made by the hands of men.

    I think history has very clearly demonstrated that the Catholic church did not handle power well when it was in charge. IOW, although I understand that individuals can get out of hand, I feel that it is the best of bad options to allow the individual to act as a circuit breaker on an organization.

    I recognize it is kind of scary to see people believing all sorts of crazy ideas, but the solution is not reimposing orthodoxy (or demanding it within an organization), it is advocating the correct ideas and allowing society to mature.

    To me, your way of doing things would keep humans in perpetual childhood and I think humanity is now in a tumultous adolescence. Seeing the horrors of adolescence, traditionalists say, “Why can’t we have the sweet child again? He was so well-behaved.” But the nomad is looking toward the future, toward the adulthood of humanity where “(paraphrasing) no one shall say, know the Lord . . . for His law will be written in their inward parts.”

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 8:01 pm
  13. Funky Dung wrote:

    “I think that that fount of truth is not to be found in an external person, such as the Pope, but rather it is the divine within.”

    That’s a very Quaker statement from someone who so often mentions Buddhism. 😉

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 8:18 pm
  14. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Adam, just to be clear the issue at hand is: Tradition vs. Non-Tradition, and not One Tradition vs. Another Tradition… Just so we’re clear. You keep throwing sophomoric stones at the Catholic Church and I keep ignoring them. You need to know I’m ignoring them for a reason: the relative merits of the Catholic tradition (or that of Buddhism for that matter) are not at issue in this particular discussion.

    But to the point at hand… so you ARE admitting that the hypothetical Spiritual Nomad serves first and foremost himself?

    And this,

    I just think it is very dangerous to hand over one’s beliefs to an external organization.

    WHO said anything about handing “over one’s beliefs to an external organization”? And more interestingly, who said danger was something that ought to be avoided?

    I recognize it is kind of scary to see people believing all sorts of crazy ideas, but the solution is not reimposing orthodoxy (or demanding it within an organization), it is advocating the correct ideas and allowing society to mature.

    Listen very carefully to yourself here, Adam. You’re saying we should not reimpose orthodoxy and advocate (a different) orthodoxy instead. Cannot we simply admit that we **ALL** HAVE ORTHODOXIES and DOGMAS, drop the pretense, and get over this needless and silly point?

    What I wanna know is this: If not a particular community, if not a particular tradition, who or what does the Spiritual Nomad serve? He’s been accused of treason, and is about to be hanged (metaphorically speaking of course). You cannot defend him by making the Catholic Church out to be unworthy of his devotion… so what! Where was he born? Why does he reject his parents? His classmates? His community? Why does he hate what he is, and pine for that which he can never become? What makes him so gol-blamm special? That’s what I wanna know…

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 8:40 pm
  15. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Zoinks… just saw this on the re-read… Annie said:

    I just don’t know, and I am not cut out for the act of deciding I know something I don’t, which is called faith

    I could not disagree more. Faith is not knowing something you don’t, but rather behaving as though a certain proposition is true, whether it is true or not. Faith is an act primarily of the will, not the intellect. That is where I think we fundamentally disagree.

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 8:46 pm
  16. Adam wrote:

    Adam, just to be clear the issue at hand is: Tradition vs. Non-Tradition, and not One Tradition vs. Another Tradition… Just so we’re clear. You keep throwing sophomoric stones at the Catholic Church and I keep ignoring them. You need to know I’m ignoring them for a reason: the relative merits of the Catholic tradition (or that of Buddhism for that matter) are not at issue in this particular discussion.

    I brought up Buddhism because it was directly relevant to tradition. Buddhism is a tradition that, at least in its origins, advocated anti-tradition. IOW, do not trust authority, believe something only because you yourself have found it to be true. In this way, it is similar to the Enlightenment “tradition.” Those statements of the Buddha, are what I take to be the core of spiritual nomadism, and thus relevant. You wrote a long exposition defending traditionalism so I wanted to give a clearer picture of spiritual nomadism.

    Furthermore, I keep referencing Catholicism because it is a tradition with strong top-down control of beliefs, or at least orthodoxy. Tradition vs. Anti-tradition is somewhat too abstact for me. Some traditions I’m all for. Like for instance, the tradition of free speech and free inquiry.

    Furthermore, your defense of tradition seemed to come from a Catholic perspective, so it seemed appropriate to use Catholicism as an example.

    Some traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism don’t really have orthodoxy, they have more of an orthopraxy. In other words, paradoxical though it may be, some traditions have a tradition of nomadism within them. But rather than focus on them, it seemed to make sense to deal with the Church because the Church is a paradigmatic case of tradition with a capital T. A nice clean case. (Don’t get crazy if my words aren’t exactly right, I think you know what I’m driving at.)

    But to the point at hand… so you ARE admitting that the hypothetical Spiritual Nomad serves first and foremost himself?

    No, the spiritual nomad serves the divine within, which is very different. I understand how this could be confusing. I am NOT saying that the spiritual nomad takes care of his/her spiritual needs first and foremost. I am saying that it trusts that the voice of God can more clearly speak through the heart, and that that “revelation” should be trusted over an outer revelation. Funky is right — it’s quite quaker.
    For instance, I would say that Gandhi followed the divine within when he embraced a universalistic approach to religion, or when Socrates lived out his mission.

    Following the divine within is likely to lead to a life of service and spiritual unfoldment. (If you’re doing it right, it should.) It is a gross misunderstanding to say that following the divine within is merely following one’s prejudices. We probably just disagree ontologically here. I believe that the divine can reveal itself within a person’s mind and heart and that that divine should take precedence over a tradition. Certainly one must be careful to distinguish between the human ego and the divine mind, but it can be done — it’s like sainthood 101, er something.

    And this,

    “I just think it is very dangerous to hand over one’s beliefs to an external organization.”

    WHO said anything about handing “over one’s beliefs to an external organization”?

    Isn’t that what one does when one joins the Catholic church, or at least what you argue we to do? Meaning when one becomes a Catholic there are certain basic things that you are required to believe. That seems like handing one’s beliefs over to an organization.

    And more interestingly, who said danger was something that ought to be avoided?

    Um, excuse me, and not to be rude, but I’d like to avoid another inquisition, thank you very much. (I’m sorry if you find this sophomoric. I’m, obviously, no learned doctor of the church, but while I’m sure you can come up with some learned explanations, don’t my stones, however crude they may be, contain some kernel of truth?) You may be driving at something kierkegaardian here, but I won’t touch any doctrine that believes in damnation with a 1000-foot pole, maybe annihilation, but not damnation. No matter how you spin it, it doesn’t seem to jive with a loving, all-powerful, and wise god. If a person is a hopeless case, just put them out of their misery, why make them suffer for all eternity?

    I recognize it is kind of scary to see people believing all sorts of crazy ideas, but the solution is not reimposing orthodoxy (or demanding it within an organization), it is advocating the correct ideas and allowing society to mature.

    Listen very carefully to yourself here, Adam. You’re saying we should not reimpose orthodoxy and advocate (a different) orthodoxy instead. Cannot we simply admit that we **ALL** HAVE ORTHODOXIES and DOGMAS, drop the pretense, and get over this needless and silly point?

    Steve, (somewhat exasperated), your point is like saying the person who hates hatred is the same as the hater himself. Certainly you see the difference between the Enlightenment dogma of free speech and free thought and medieval catholicism? It’s true that both have fundamental assumptions but I think that most people would agree that the Enlightenment is less doctrinaire than orthodox Catholicism. (or at least has fewer doctrines and allows for more personal freedom). I said earlier that we have a fundamental disagreement over where the community/individual emphasis goes.

    But let’s not get into the fight of whose ideology is more self-defeating than the other. I concede that my view does have some certain basic principles (of course).

    Whereas the Catholic Church holds that its followers must maintain certain tenets, I say religious ideas should be subjected to the marketplace of ideas just like any other idea. Rather than telling people what they ought believe, have confidence that if the truth is spoken, that the truth will eventually prevail. You may say that this is a new “orthodoxy” and in a sense you’re right. It’s the orthodoxy of unorthodoxy. But somehow I think most people will have the feeling that one “orthodoxy” is somehow less doctrinaire than the other.

    What I wanna know is this: If not a particular community, if not a particular tradition, who or what does the Spiritual Nomad serve? He’s been accused of treason, and is about to be hanged (metaphorically speaking of course). You cannot defend him by making the Catholic Church out to be unworthy of his devotion… so what! Where was he born? Why does he reject his parents? His classmates? His community? Why does he hate what he is, and pine for that which he can never become? What makes him so gol-blamm special? That’s what I wanna know…

    “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple?”

    IOW, God comes above all else. When push comes to shove, God trumps community, family, etc.

    And this divine is held to be within (from a nomad’s perspective). If you want to accuse Quakers of being selfish, materialistic relativists, who only do “what is right in their own eyes,” be my guest. But that would be a horrible caricature of the spiritual nomad (at his best). As I said before, we just disagree on the reliability, extent, and perhaps existence of the divine within. It is not easy to resolve such a disagreement.

    However, paradoxically, given that the divine seeks the benefit of all beings and is all love, the spiritual nomad — if he is truly following the divine within — will eventually benefit his community, his parents, etc by following his own path (call it the invisible hand [God’s hand!] of nomadic spirituality.

    See, I don’t identify a person with their worldly roots — that is not their essence. They may have to reject their earthly father for their spiritual one, but so be it, if necessary. “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”

    Now you have asked what makes the nomad so gol-blamm special? I would say that the divine has awoken within him, and is urging him to chart his own path, and chart his own course. The divine is calling him (or her) home, to their divine destiny. (I would say that all people have this divine spark but it is not fully awake in all people, or maybe they actually are called to a tradition (as opposed to nomadism)! I can allow that, but you’re treating every nomad as a potential traitor.)

    Finally, your use of words like treason, even metaphorically, scare me. No offense, but you sound like someone who has yet to bring their inner totalitarian under control.

    I remember one heretic, who disobeyed the prevailing norms of his day, challenged authority, and was crucified for treason. The gumption of that upstart!

    I think the greatest nomads sometimes leave great traditions in their wake. But the tradition I get from them is — challenge authority, break the sabbath, chill with the tax collectors, etc. I’m sorry that you will consider this sophomoric, but I have a deep convicition that people ought be able to determine their beliefs for themselves and that great benefit is garnered from this.

    For instance, look at how crappy medieval philosophy was compared to Greek philosophy. I think a lot of that had to do with the Greeks being able to challenge their tradition, and the medievals no. I know, an oversimplification.

    In the end, the difference between our beliefs can only be resolved empircially : “You will know them by their fruits.”

    As I said before, I know a belief free-for-all is not perfect, but I think it is much better than imposed orthodoxy. For the love of God, just look at history, and have some faith in your fellow human beings to arrive at truth “democratically”; have faith that Jesus really does live in our hearts.

    And finally, finally

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 10:36 pm
  17. Adam wrote:

    Oops I babbled on for two long. Here’s the end.

    And finally, finally, if you can’t resist calling it a new “orthodoxy,” fine I’ll go along. You support an orthodoxy where beliefs come top-down and I support one where beliefs are arrived
    at “democratically.”

    To quote Luther (who was a nasty madman), if you ask where I stand: “I stand under the sky.”

    Posted 20 Feb 2006 at 10:37 pm
  18. Steve Nicoloso wrote:

    Isn’t that what one does when one joins the Catholic church, or at least what you argue we to do? Meaning when one becomes a Catholic there are certain basic things that you are required to believe. That seems like handing one’s beliefs over to an organization.

    Everything… EVERYTHING you or I believe is based on either

    1) experience,
    2) reason, or
    3) authority

    Why do you (assuming you do) believe the earth is about 93,000,000 miles from the sun? My guess is that you haven’t measured the distance (experience), nor have you deduced it from other data (reason). You therefore take it on authority. Why? Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Academy of High School Science Teachers (AHSST) says so, and that’s why you believe it. You have no reason to doubt them. They have proven reliable in the past. On issues that you HAVE been able to experience and reason through, they have a perfect track record. Have you thereby “handed over” your beliefs to an institution? No. You are simply convinced that this institution is right (they make very compelling and satisfying arguments about the mean distance to the sun) and will remain so until you are convinced otherwise. As much as you are able, you live as though the earth is 93,000,000 miles from the sun… and it’s a pretty good life.

    Run this thought experiment on all the things you believe. How many things do you believe without relying in part or in total upon external authority? I’d also point out that reason and experience are not so infallible as the smarter of us might imagine. There are often cases where these faculties yet require the corrective of external authority (a teacher, a parent, a person more experienced, a person more reasonable).

    Now regarding Spiritual Nomadism, I don’t doubt that there is much ink and ASCII-characters spilt on the fine line between nihlistic self-absorbtion and following the Inner God (or whatever), and that’s all fine, but for me the whole thing just strains credulity. For every one man who truly follows his inner light, there are probably 10,000 who are just following their penises, or their wallets, or their lust for power and security. For the one, the inner light is great, but for the rest, they’re screwed, and end up screwing up the world even worse than it was. I guess it’s all an interesting story, but I just don’t see how it meshes or overlays with the weight of human experience. There is a need for human freedom (I’ve never denied that), but there is ALSO a need for the “lash”. It is only in community that man can be complete, and only in community that he can be moral. This just doesn’t seem to jive with the Red-Headed Stranger hypothesis.

    But to make the story all the more improbable, how do we get from A) one man, an island or homeless stranger, tirelessly following his inner light to truth, to B) truth being “democratically” determined? If one man truly follows his God inside, then let THAT man be true and every other man a liar. What, specifically, in history would give me the slightest inclination to trust in my fellow human beings to arrive at truth “democratically”. It’s absolutely never happened. I’m much more inclined to believe in special revelation to a small set of say… Apostles.

    On this:

    In the end, the difference between our beliefs can only be resolved empircially : “You will know them by their fruits.”

    We are agreed. (Oh, and the bit about Luther being a madman ;-))

    Cheers!

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 5:49 am
  19. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    ineradicable even from minds that turn against it.

    Well, the Jewish tradition is that in me. For one thing, I cannot be a polytheist even if I try. The idea that God is one just ain’t coming out.

    For another, the particular kind of nonobservancy I practice, and the reasons for it (e.g. eating is so important that if you can’t eat with your non-kosher friends, that basically means you can’t have non-Jewish friends) is inescapably Jewish.

    Another reason — that I refuse to be told I can’t have anything to do with Jesus — is probably not so quintessentially Jewish. . . .

    Steve: I know the rap on Spiritual Nomads is that we’re narcissists — self-willed, self-worshipping. That implies that a tradition is the only thing you can submit to.

    I submit that life is God’s rod and it will bring you to your knees whether you believe in doctrines of a faith or not.

    You are right that community is a need and the lack of it a problem for nomads. Something I need to deal with at length. We tend to form communities around practice, and often physical practice, like martial art or meditation, where there’s no divisive doctrine to fight over. (And of course we have schisms anyway, over corruption, and territory, and sex . . . all the universal human stuff.)

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 7:26 am
  20. Funky Dung wrote:

    Sicne Quakerism was mentioned, it’s worth noting that Quakers make a distinction between conscience and the Inner Light (i.e., the Holy Spirit indwelling). One of the main reasons Quakers get together is to share potential wisdom gained from the Inner Light and check it against the collective wisdom and experiences of the meeting. Private revelation isn’t entirely private and “going solo” is not (at least historically) encourged by the Society of Friends.

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 2:02 pm
  21. Adam wrote:

    On authority, while I find the arguments of science convincing, I do not find the arguments of the Church, or Christianity, at all convincing. You like to speak of axioms. But not all axioms are created equal. The axioms of logic, virtually everyone will agree, after critical examination, are valid. Not so with the axioms of faith.

    1 + 1 = 2 (of course!) Jesus is savior of all mankind (umm, really?)

    Again, we differ on the goodness of humanity. Furthermore, we are at a stage in our history where a large number of people have the ability and the information to make up their own minds. Not so when most everyone was illiterate, and even the monks knew very little of science or of other cultures.

    As for the tension between one nomad’s truth and democratic truth, I would liken it to science. Where many explorers and experimenters agree, there is greater reliablity. However, each person has a sacred right to determine his or her own beliefs — especially on theological and spiritual matters, which are so uncertain.

    The decay you speak of is really moral decay not decay of beliefs. I think virtually every society and every decent human being agrees on basic moral principles. Not that there are not serious areas of contention, but loving one’s neighbor is not highly controversial.

    To me the facts of ethics are like unto the facts of arithmetic, they seem more or less self-evident. Not so with the “facts” of faith.

    Again you conflate self-absorbtion with following the inner light : you somehow think it is difficult to distinguish between the two. But usually it is not. Usually it is as different as night and day.

    Furthermore, I seriously doubt that anyone who lives for money or sex claims that they are following the highest moral and spiritual principles, that they are following a divine light. It’s like confusing the local drunk with Gandhi. People who live thoroughly materialistic lives rarely invoke the divine at all. They’re not trying to follow the inner divine light; they’re just doing what they want. So unless you can find a large swath of materialists who claim to be mystics, your claim against nomads has little force because the overlap is quite small. Again, you’re lumping in nomads with your opposite, materialist secularists, while nomads really aim to embrace the best of both sides — and there are clear benefits to secularism, first amendment anyone?

    I think we have to very clearly separate theological beliefs from moral behavior. As Jefferson said (paraphrasing), it does me no harm if the person next door believes in 20 gods (so long as behaves himself).

    On the other hand, most nomads will recognize universal moral principles. While we may accord leeway on gray areas, in general a nomad isn’t going to say: “Do whatever you want, it doesn’t matter.” Why? Because the axioms of morality are much more self-evident than those of theology. If a man says, “I believe in the power of Athena to save me, well maybe he really does, and maybe Athena really does exist — who knows, the world is strange.

    But if a man claims that it is morally acceptable to torture his children, people will either think he is lying or, more likely, psychologically diseased.

    The problem in our culture is not that people no longer universally accept the Nicene Creed, it is that they have lost sight of higher purpose and higher realities. But really to be fully moral, you need only acknowledge higher purposes, and perhaps, as the ancient greek philosophers did, some trancendent source of goodness. The particular details of the theology do not matter so much.

    Besides, even if some tradition can keep the folks better in line, I believe that that will inhibit their spiritual maturation, where they know and experience things first hand. It’s keeping people locked up in a box. I say let them out to play! They may bang their shins and skin their knees, but they will the see the sun of the living one — first hand, not through the filter of musty and ancient writ.

    You’re afraid of the democratization of faith. I’m all for it. What’s the old saying: vox populi, vox dei.
    I don’t know if there much else to be said.

    [interesting point, funky: well I am for free-wheeling discussion among “friends” but that process is quite distinct, than the formation of church councils. In the former, you have a voice in the process and can always reject the group opinion, not so much in the latter. Besides, I have discussions with other nomads all the time. It’s a community, just more of a mini-constitutional democracy than a monarchy.]

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 4:21 pm
  22. Steve N wrote:

    Actually Adam, I’m not convinced that you know what an axiom is (your examples suggest not), but yes, they are all created equal, which is to say the are unprovable and therefore baldly accepted so we can keep going. The only difference is who or who doesn’t accede to them.

    The point about the drunk and Ghandi is a good one. And how many town drunks do we have? And how man Ghandis? Which is precisely why I object to this philosophy: it gives the immoral a cover for their wickedness. The hope is that it will produce Ghandi, and it may, but the reality is that it will produce at least 10,000 town drunks.

    And actually… you have no idea what, if anything, I’m afraid of.

    Cheers!

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 7:33 pm
  23. Adam wrote:

    Alright Steve, to show you that I do understand what an axiom is, back in the day before we knew about non-Euclidean geometry, we had axioms — that is, self-evident truths. We no longer properly speak about axioms but rather postulates because, well, we thought that it was self-evident that two parallel lines will never meet, but we were wrong. We don’t really think there is such a thing as a self-evident truth anymore.

    However, if you want to use axiom to mean assumption, which is more or less what a postulate is, it is totally not the case that every assumption is as good as any other –meaning not all axioms are created equal.

    If I assume that F=MA the whole glory of Newtonian Mechanics arises. If I assume that F=MV, like aristotle did, we don’t get off the ground.

    Surely, you are not saying that the axiom that God is a giant leprechaun that feasts on snickers bars, is as good as any other.

    Euclid didn’t just pull out any old ideas out of his hat — he chose ones that, while he could not prove them, seemed plausible.

    In modern times, we judge a postulate by whether it works or not. As I said earlier, some assumptions take you far, and some take you nowhere. There are billions of axioms to choose from, there has to be some motivation to select some over others.

    Now, if you want to get all Kuhnian on me and talk about incommensurability and really want to lean hard on this point, you pretty quickly take a dive into that which you claim to be against: namely relativism. If you say all axioms are created equal, well then, my own personal axioms are just as good as those of the Catholic Church. It’s a good defensive maneuver, but if you want to stick with it, you wind up conceding that the spiritual nomad’s way of doing things is just as good as the traditionalist Catholic’s.

    Jeez, Steve, you really do think a drunk and a prostitute believe that they are pursuing their higher calling and listening to their divine voice?

    You really think they got into their mess out of a desire to find truth for themselves?

    More likely, they got into their mess most likely due to unfortunate socioeconomic circumstances and/or a lack of good morals not beliefs. We nomads believe it is important to instill universal ethical principles into our children. But you don’t need religion for this. Just ask the ancient greek philosophers.

    But on metaphysical matters — on whether God is one or three, or three-in-one — I will let them make up their own minds.

    To continue the alcoholic example, I seriously doubt their alcoholism arose from the rejection of the Nicene creed! Surely there are many Catholic and Christian alcoholics. Surely there was vice during the Middle Ages. The wishy-washiness of nomads does not extend to behavior and ethics. I understand that this is a difficult point especially because there are many who DO couple anything goes in belief with anything goes in behavior. But nomads are not the people you’re after. In the fight for high standards of ethics, we’re on your side, we are your allies — gosh darn it.

    Nomads and Catholics agree on the importance of values, just not on the importance of universally accepted metaphysics.

    Oh and sorry about the usage of “afraid” — bad choice of words. But it can be said that you oppose the democratization of belief, can it not?

    In the end, whether nomadism or traditionalism leads to a healthier society will have to be played out in history. But I will say, that nomadism, at least of the variety that Annie and I support is really yet to become widespread. I know you would like to adduce examples of past occurrences of so-called nomadism gone astray. And we might agree with you. However, we would likely say that is not the type of nomadism we are espousing.

    We favor strong ethics but freedom of the believer. Until this particular flavor of nomadism is fully tried out, it is premature to condemn it. Seriously, can you think of any example where it was unorthodoxy of belief, rather than behavior that caused the problem. We nomads favor self-discipline too.

    You might say that traditionalism, however, is a better vehicle for instilling moral behavior. Perhaps, but traditionalism comes with a cost — and besides, the studies have yet to be written.

    Finally, you have to admit that democracy generally leads to a much greater flourishing and economic producitivity in society. As long as we behave ourselves, why are you so sure that similar innovation in the spiritual realm will not likewise bring great benefits. Perhaps this is even what God intends.

    If you trust a man to determine to his own government, you should trust him to form his own metaphysical opinions as well. If he loves his neighbor, who cares about his theological beliefs? As I said, I think this is the least worst of all options. But I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree and let history render its judgment.

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 8:55 pm
  24. Funky Dung wrote:

    “Finally, you have to admit that democracy generally leads to a much greater flourishing and economic producitivity in society. As long as we behave ourselves, why are you so sure that similar innovation in the spiritual realm will not likewise bring great benefits. Perhaps this is even what God intends.”

    “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.” – G.K. Chesterton

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 9:15 pm
  25. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death.”

    And Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead” . . .

    I actually understand Steve’s point about not trusting people to come up with their own version of spirituality. The town drunk and the prostitute are not the problem; they’re frank sinners, the kind of people who knew they were sinners, the kind of people Jesus hung out with and forgave and redeemed.

    The concern is with people who shape a convenient, enjoyable spirituality that doesn’t make any real demands on them (us), that’s “ego-syntonic,” that avoids the friction and pain that would knock the rough edges off them. They then think they’re spiritual, but may get away with avoiding the real work and transformation. They’re hypocrites, in a word.

    I just return to my statement that life is God’s rod and will knock the s**t out of you (and them) one way or another. Adam has described very well my sense that while nomads are willing to leave metaphysics a mystery, morality is not a mystery. He compares it to math, I think of it as “the laws of moral physics.” (Like the Law of Karma: “what goes around comes around.”) They’re objective and demonstrable: if you do x, you get y. The Buddha left God out of it, the New Testament says “God is not mocked; as ye sow so shall ye reap.” But it’s the same law.

    Posted 21 Feb 2006 at 11:55 pm
  26. Adam wrote:

    Good point, funky, but certainly each generation shapes anew what is bequeathed to them. As Annie wrote, she thinks we should learn from the past, use it as a reference library, not just toss out the wisdom of the ancients. If I consider myself a human first and foremost, then my ancestors have bequeathed to me many traditions — humanism, Buddhism, Christianity, hinduism.

    Furthermore, I really wish some of those Christians would have respected their pagan roots, and not have converted 😉 After all the first Christians were considered atheists and enemies of the state.

    Thank you, amba, for getting us off the prostitution and drunkeness thing. Your wit was more incisive than mine.

    All I would say is that while amba does have a strong point in discussing ego-syntonic spirituality, it cannot be denied that many Christians do the same thing — so-called Easter and Christmas Christians. Adherence to a tradition is no guarantee whatsoever that someone will not take the easy way out.

    In fact, one of my principal objections to Christianity is that it is not at all demanding; all you have to do is sincerely believe in Jesus and you’re saved (I realize Catholics have a more nuanced view of this). In my (admittedly simplified view) Christianity first scares the sh!t out of you with hell-fire, and then allows a mass murderer to go to heaven if that person accepts the salvation of Jesus.

    Whereas Buddhism enjoins continued striving until enlightenment is obtained, even over many lifetimes.

    I mean look at how violent Christianity has been vs. Buddhism or Hinduism. I think a fair amount of this can be attributed to the idea that salvation is something given and not earned. A Buddhist could never maintain the pretension that he will just become enlightened by the grace of Buddha (save for a late, and probably Christian-influened version, of East Asian Pure Land Buddhism).

    It’s not that I believe that the human ego is God or that humans are without sin — rather I believe the maturation of the divine within, a transformation from within out, leads to salvation/enlightenment. It
    is really a question of whether you believe the divine is principally external or internal.

    Posted 22 Feb 2006 at 1:37 am
  27. amba (Annie Gottlieb) wrote:

    Adherence to a tradition is no guarantee whatsoever that someone will not take the easy way out.

    Good point, Adam. Adherents of traditions also pick and choose. The more conservative can be at least as critical of the more liberal of their own tradition as they are of outsiders.

    In fact, one of my principal objections to Christianity is that it is not at all demanding; all you have to do is sincerely believe in Jesus and you’re saved (I realize Catholics have a more nuanced view of this).

    !!!

    Posted 22 Feb 2006 at 3:12 am
  28. Funky Dung wrote:

    “All I would say is that while amba does have a strong point in discussing ego-syntonic spirituality, it cannot be denied that many Christians do the same thing — so-called Easter and Christmas Christians. Adherence to a tradition is no guarantee whatsoever that someone will not take the easy way out.”

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

    Posted 22 Feb 2006 at 3:37 am

Trackbacks & Pingbacks 3

  1. From Wittingshire on 21 Mar 2006 at 4:35 pm

    we will forgive him,” the judge told the BBC on Monday. But if he refused to reconvert, then his mental state would be considered first before he was dealt with under Sharia law, the judge added. Interesting definition of tolerance, isn’t it? I preferthis one: The virtue of tolerance … is only operative and meaningful if and when we disagree. Tolerance doesnt mean spending your life in self-loathing doubt of everything youve ever held dear, nor is it the intellectual and moral suicide of thinking

  2. From Best of the God Blogs on 16 Mar 2006 at 6:52 am

    that the blog has since moved to a new address! But the importance of moving from doctrine to doxology has not gone out of date since January, nor will it ever! ??? How would you respond to an article on “Why I Am Not a Traditionalist”? Here’sAles Rarus taking on Annie Gottlieb. The tragic hero (or comedic, Im not quite sure) in all this is Ms. Gottliebs noble Outsider. This is one who bravely chooses not to belong, refusing to submit to an authoritative definition (dogma

  3. From under|progress: Talking tradition on 27 Oct 2007 at 5:57 am

    […] beyond religion’ (from Ambivablog, I found a detailed response to her post by a Catholic blogger, Ales Rarus). Eteraz also has a list of faults with ‘traditionalism’, in response to (yet another) story of […]

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