Just got released from an evening quiz on the virtue of prudence. Easy stuff, but it was worthwhile, if only because I came away with a new understanding of proportionalism. Proportionalism may seem to be the opposite of casuistry--it emphasises the uniqueness of every single situation, and subjectivizes moral judgement so much that no objective standard of action is acceptable, whereas casuistry makes past cases the absolute norm.
They're both basically the same, in that they ask this basic question: What is the minimum I can do, and still call myself a "good person." Doggon sinners... if only I didn't rationalize things the same way myself all of the time.
Today was very strange, emotionally. I began with a powerful--powerful--resignation to the failure of both my 'Special Moral' quiz and the 'Reformation' midterm, especially the latter. I hadn't studied for it at all the night before, because I had spent all the time studying the wrong section of our textbook for the 'Special Moral' quiz.
Thanks be to God on two counts: the quiz was a take-home, and beyond all explanation, I had crammed enough factual material in my head to be able to answer most of the questions on the midterm in a decent way, even if I can't remember hardly anything any more. This style of studying is really dangerous. I mean, not just to me--and certainly, apparently, not to my academic scores--but to the whole of seminary formation. Cramming isn't studying. It's the opposite. You forget things so quickly after cramming, it's almost as if you haven't been taking the class at all...
Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I can't help but feel like a fraud, doing well on an exam that I spent only the three hours before memorizing facts for.
See, here's what I've been preoccupied with today: last night, a friend suggested to me that I might be 'addicted' to academic success. Not to academics, per se, but to the sucess of it. Grades and scores. Now, on the surface of things I know that's not true. I don't cry over B's, though a C might make me sour for a day. But I began to think today: what if it all just came crashing down? What if I never got an 'A' again, ever, in any class? What if I lived with studies occupying a few hours of each day, and not whole nights and futile afternoons? What if my sense of the quality of my studies lied in way I lived my life outside of class, rather than the wash of relief at seeing a report card of straight A's? What if I could join friends in evening recreation, instead of being imprisoned by the cycle of catch-up/perfectionism?
The idea was so tantalizing, I zoned out in 'Special Moral' for a few minutes, just to write the following:
"I will be crucified by my own incompetence. My feeling of impending doom will be realized. I will not despair - I hope in God. He will make something of me, which will save me and bring others to salvation... but I will not be able to rescue this smooth path through the seminary from utter destruction. I will stand with the hope of God while I am immolated by the fact of unsustainable academic success. This giant will fall--it is too top-heavy. It will become helpless and unhelpable. My hope is that it will die quickly, so as not to feed upon the pity and help of others, and so continue to hinder my own union with God. Destroy me, God--strike me down. Break me, demolish me, starve me, kill me, rob me, only do not fail to act in me."
Blast from the Past - Oct. 11th, 2004
A Firey Polemic Against Religious Pluralism
Pluralist: "If all names lead to the same thing (Yaweh, Deo, Allah, Brahma, Buddha-Nature, Tao), does it matter which name we use?"
Me: "Those names you referred to do not refer to the same thing."
Pluralist: "That is a matter of opinion, much like anything to do with definitions or naming when discussing religion. And actually, if you were of Islam, you would believe "Allah is One", and to that person, all those names would refer to the same thing. Words may sound different, be in different languages and spoken by different people, but they still point toward the same meaning."
Me: "Opinion has nothing to do with what those words mean; those words have concrete historical origins and infinitely nuanced meanings which arise out of particular contexts, all of which you are ignoring for no other reason than it's convenient for you to do so. Your tolerance is a fake tolerance; your non-dogmatism is equally fake (it pretends to rule over ALL religions)--your religious philosophy is a common, shallow, postmodern, lazy response to the plurality of religions which lets you stroke your faux mystical ego like Dr. Evil's hairless cat. Allah cannot be collapsed into the Christian God; the Trinity has nothing to do with Buddah, and your theory unwittingly and wantonly mocks the religious faith of simple believers all over the world. Religious pluralism is ignorant, hegemonic, and dripping with greasy dishonesty about the fact that you're just another agnostic with a weak stomach for confrontation."
Pluralist: "1. I have been studying religions, its kinda a lifetime project of mine, comparative religion study, and it helps that I have access to a large University library. 2. As for opinion, how about the council of Nicea, where the idea of the trinity was settled with a vote, and a close one at that. 3. I am definatly not an agnostic, at least as far as Buddhism is usually not considered a religion based on doubt, if there is a such thing."
[Continued in another thread...]
Pluralist: "Excuse me, may I please interject something into your conversation?
Your arguments seem to be getting nowhere, not unlike arguements of the past which have taken up similar discussion. In fact, this disscussion is futher cementing the beliefs of the oposition. The more you argue, the more your mind closes to posibilities. You anger increases because others are trying to influence your beliefs, and their anger increases because you are trying to influence their beliefs. It is territoriality on a mental and spiritual scale. The results cannot be good. Therefore I will not joint the fray, I will only supply some information I have found to be helpful. You may criticise (nicely, please) and comment all you wish. These ideas have worked for me, and may be helpful to others, but will likely not apply to everyone.
In my spiritual "travels" somethings seem to stand out for me:
~How where ever I go, what ever I do, all things and events seem to be connected in some way, no matter how distant they may look from first glance.
~That, somehow, there are forces in the universe that are unseen, unheard and unfelt, and yet they somehow they guide the universe towards balance.
~That when you divide the smallest particle, you find that all matter is energy, plasmatic and dynamic.
~If all things are energy, then maybe all things are one.
~That consious beings tend to wonder about how the present moment came to be.
~These consious beings need answers to their wonderings.
~So religions is created to try to answer these questions, although they often fall short.
~Even though there are many, within each lies Truth, but you must search for it.
~The Truth that you find will lead you not away from, but towards, inner peace.
~Intolerance and hatred always move you away from inner peace.
~In bringing inner peace, you will become close to the "Base of all Things".
~That which I call the base of all things has many names, but they all refer to the same.
~All religions point to this Base.
and one more that I find particularly important to me...
~To heal the world, you must first heal yourself."
[Suffice to say, I wasn't going to have any of that. I had heard too much of this claptrap already. Time to bring out the big guns. I was pretty merciless, and although I later cooled off, I want to post here my more 'interesting' response.]
Me: "Saying that all religions have a little truth is tantamount to saying they're all equally wrong. If I had a dime for every self-styled mystic who "invented" this "great new idea" that solved the world's religious problems, I could probably bribe God to send people who annoy me to hell. Starting with the self-styled mystics."
Pluralist: "This term, Mystic, it seems to annoy you much! I have never considered myself a mystic up until this point. A Mystic would be someone who believes in mystery by definition, I guess. I have also heard of mystics from certain religions, like Sufi.
So, I guess I could consider myself a Mystic. Thanks for the push!"
Me: "I'm being sarcastic. I have profound respect for mystics, even of other traditions. I regard your philosophy of religion a counterfeit mysticism.
Pluralist: "BTW: Im a Buddhist. A Zen Buddhist, to be more precise."
Me: "You can be a Zen Buddhist then, and stop talking like the world religions are your spiritual smorgasbord. (Yes that makes me angry)."
Look, I apologize for my tone; it's late and I'm about to get some much needed sleep. But if you only understood how frequently I've had post-modern teenagers who knew nothing about religion get all gooey about how all the religions contribute to each other and all point to the same truth--you would understand why I have no tolerance of your philosophy. I'd rather discuss such things with a guy who believes, firmly, that my Church is the great abomination or the whore of Babylon, than a wishy washy hippie who has the audacity to make every ancient tradition a mere vanity bumper sticker on their imaginary spiritual vehicle.
You'll notice that this is the Hard Questions room [the name of the forum], and you know what? The question of religious truth is a hard question; your religious philosophy tries to shoehorn it into an easy question, but it only does so at the expense of taking seriously what every earnest believer understands about their faith: it is the truth. Religious pluralism tries to overcome disagreement, not by reason, but through vacuous sentimentalism. And to me that will always evoke images of flaming bags of..."