Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Father Cory Sticha posted a video of a mutual favorite professor of ours, Fr. Robert Barron, defending the remarks of Brit Hume regarding Christianity's superior tradition of redemption relative to Buddhism.
There are two issues involved, really. The first is the question: ought mainstream media figures to make such statements at all? (Here is where Fr. Barron's remarks are right on the dot). The second: does Brit Hume have a point as regards Christianity and Buddhism?
Some of the source of left-wing anger at Hume's comments might be that they interpreted his words to mean: "Christians are more forgiving than Buddhists." I seriously doubt it was his intention to say any such thing, but then, it is difficult to be accurately understood when one must shoehorn important words into brief moments.
One problem is that, if people do not know much about Buddhism, they might walk away from Brit Hume's words with a vision of the eastern philosophy in which people blame each other and are blamed for sins without any religious or metaphysical framework of overcoming it. I could think of no greater misery! But that is a gross distortion of the reality--and again, I contend, not what Brit Hume had in mind.
The difficulty is that neither forgiveness NOR blame are much on the radar of Buddhist philosophy. Seeking and granting redemption, while of course possible, are not ends in themselves.
The very concept of redemption entails a dialogue between the self and the other. In Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to eliminate that very distinction. When the "self", the "other" and the "all" are all One (and in some sense 'naught'), there is no redemption because there is no distinction between the redeemer and the redeemed.
Fellow Christians and I can interpret our entire faith-worldview as a dialogue of redemption. For Buddhists, that image would be far too "anthropomorphic" to serve as a model for their religious primary concern.
But that doesn't mean redemption is absent from Buddhist philosophy. Think of it this way. Christians might say, "forgive and forget"; I think Buddhists would focus mostly on the "forget" part. In other words, the only way for the sinner and the sinned-against to move closer to peace would be for each independently to "let go" of the drama that seizes their psyche. Neither person depends upon an action taken by the other to achieve this (no "Please forgive mes" or "I forgive yous" required).
Redemption can find itself in Buddhism in another way, via the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path is a means to an end--not an end in itself. But its dictates do involve more of what we would consider traditional "Christian" morality. To grant forgiveness, or to seek forgiveness, would fall under the dictates of "Right Speech"--but again, the overriding aim here is not to effect any objective state of "being redeemed", but to ensure that our words pave over the rocks and potholes of relationships. Words should extinguish passions, not enflame them. The word "nirvana" means, literally, to extinguish, as in the passions and attachments that anchor us to an illusory prison. That is the overriding concern in Buddhist philosophy.
If my understanding here is correct (and I hope people will check my thinking), there might be some truth in Brit Hume's comments--without implying that Bhuddists are in any way stingier with their forgiveness than Christians.
Tiger Woods' redemptive dillema is, I think, two-fold.
First, by being a celebrity, he is caught up in a firestorm of secular modernity's exaggerated condemnations. The media has a penchant for shrill, judgmental, despair-laced soul poison that makes Jonathan Edwards' famous "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" look like a pep talk by comparison. The reputational death-sentence, to be held up by the modern media for public scorn, is one of the ironies of our allegedly 'permissive' contemporary culture.
Regardless of religion or philosophy, any of us walking in Tiger's shoes (Nikes, presumably) could probably imagine wanting a finger dipped in water to cool our tormented tongues.
And yet it feels difficult, in such a situation, to glean satisfactory counsel from a tradition that does not recognize the reality of sin ('Original' or otherwise), or the objective spiritual damage caused by sin. Isn't that like the coach who tells his broken-legged quarterback to "walk it off"?
If I misunderstand, I hope to be corrected and educated about this issue.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Thus, it's not enough to focus simply on one's ultimate goals and how they are fulfilled--one must also see that for every "ultimate" goal there is an "immediate" correlate. To write that book (someday) I need to educate myself (now). To love my grandchildren (someday) I need to eat healthy (now). To go to heaven (someday) I need to go to Mass (now)*.
*-No, one does not earn Heaven by going to Mass. Mass is not the price of Heaven. Going to Mass is merely the prescribed way of saying "yes" to God's free gift. Mass and Heaven are virtually one and the same.
And so the ultimate concerns need to be counter-balanced with immediate needs. And those immediate needs are governed by balance.
Balance is a tricky concept and it's one that needs to be broken down into concrete concepts if it's going to serve a function in a computer application.
I believe the definition of balance in this case exists somewhere between two concerns: (1) That I make sufficient immediate daily progress towards the milestones on the way to my ultimate goals so that they can be achieved without undue strain, and (2) that I serve the health and capability of my body and mind by enriching daily activity and avoiding excess.
One may add, as an appendix, (3) that I permit as much flexibility as necessary to live life in its unpredictability.
I believe that a computer program can reasonably factor all three of these in to a more or less satisfactory daily agenda. In the case of #1, it would be up to the user to outline "ultimate goals" and "milestones", as well as to estimate how much time certain milestones would take to achieve. For example, how many hours will it take me to become ready to take the Network + certification exam? When should I have taken that exam?
Although people's planning processes are more or less systematic (in my case, much less), everybody has a complex interworking of values that, after some mental wrangling, spell out how they spend their time.
I think a goal for all of us is for our schedules to represent what we truly value, rather than our values be changed by our schedules.
The system I am toying with now, drafting as a simple database, takes the answers to simple questions and attempts to turn them into a balanced schedule that adapts to new input similar to the way we do. Normally, we have to do the high-level thinking ourselves; Apps like Microsoft Outlook take care of the low-level minutiae of recording our plans. Glorified sticky notes. I want an app that intelligently structures time according to the common sense which is not so common.
In principle this shouldn't be hard to implement. The only appointments that one would hard-schedule would be ones that were already set--work schedules, doctors' appointments, etc. Though the app itself could remind you when it was time to sit down and put these in!
And even the work schedule would not be inviolable. Tell the program you're sick, and it'll give you the contact information for work and your doctor, query your sick days, and adjust the schedule appropriately.
Something this program should respect is that life is not divided into atomistic "appointments". Life is a self-gift. The unexamined life is not worth living--and so far as I understand, the quintessential examination is to ask: To what, or to whom are you giving yourself?
Put differently, as Stephen Covey advises: how do you want to be remembered at your funeral?
These questions, a computer program can't answer for you. But if these are the what and the why, then at least a program can help with the how. Which, I imagine, most of us struggle with at least sometimes.
Thus, the various top priorities of life--say, "Family," "Dreams," "Faith," "Work," etc., are not separate, disembodied "values" competing with each other for our attention. They are absolutely linked to each other. I work so that I can support my family and fulfill my dreams, all in the service of my faith.
But this, by itself, is not enough. Forgive my referencing an Adam Sandler movie, but "Click" is a perfect example. Michael Newman ostensibly works to support his family, but in reality, work has devoured his connection to the family.
Friday, February 05, 2010
I have an idea which is both grandiose and simple.
Why couldn't a computer program take a lot of the legwork out of managing my time?
There are countless applications for scheduling, but these are scarcely more than planners wrought pixelated. I'm thinking of something more useful.
Think about the process that goes into our decisions about how we spend our time (if we're not run completely by impulse). The more perspicuous of us are skilled at striking a balance--ensuring that some minimum amount of time each day is spent in activities most beneficially performed as routines, while allotting the remainder of the day to work and rest so that duties are done and the self is not too taxed.