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Marriage of East and West Religious Traditions

Marriage of East and West Religious Traditions

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Published by John Sobert Sylvest
eastern religions,implicit faith,religious indifferentism,syncretism, unitive religion, unitary being, orthopathy, orthopraxy, orthodoxy, ignosticism, heresy, heresy hunting, proselytize, radical apophaticism, kataphatic, religious rationalism, pietism, quietism, encratism, ontotheology, religious myth, mystical, Thomas Merton's prayer
eastern religions,implicit faith,religious indifferentism,syncretism, unitive religion, unitary being, orthopathy, orthopraxy, orthodoxy, ignosticism, heresy, heresy hunting, proselytize, radical apophaticism, kataphatic, religious rationalism, pietism, quietism, encratism, ontotheology, religious myth, mystical, Thomas Merton's prayer

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Published by: John Sobert Sylvest on Mar 22, 2012
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03/22/2012

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In the West, theologically, we mostly engage a
unitive
interpretation of anintersubjective reality (a reference to our interrelating to others and Godas personal subjects), while, in the East, a
unitary 
interpretation of anintraobjective reality (as the Absolute Oneness) predominates. Perhaps theformer best refers to the essential nature or
HOW 
(intimacy) of ourrelationships, while the latter best refers to the degree or
HOW MUCH 
(infinite)?While the Gospel message clearly conveyed the degree of intimacy withGod to which we might all aspire via Jesus' reference to God as Daddy(Abba) and our tradition offers no too few examples of even a spousalbrand of mysticism, a great deal of onto-theological over-thinking andrationalism has degenerated into various dispensationalisms and deisms(
 back 
then
but not 
now 
) or eschatologicalisms (
 in the
future
but not 
now 
).So, perhaps there is something we can harvest from an inter-faithexploration?Now, at every mention of inter-faith or inter-religious initiatives, someone will quickly offer admonishments to avoid any
facile syncretism
(easyblending of religions),
false irenicism
(easy peace between religions) or
 insidious indifferentism
(pick any religion, it doesn't matter). Sometimes,though, I have found such admonishments, themselves, to be facile, falseand insidious. Often, this is because the admonishers engage caricatures of faith, itself, either because they do not fully understand its essential natureor because they variously over- and under-emphasize its speculative vsaffective or kataphatic vs apophatic approaches. (
 see note below 
)Truly, only an insidious indifferentism would suggest that
ad majorem Dei  gloriam
(the greater glory of God) would not be at stake in getting ourapproaches as true, as good and as beautiful as practicable! However, Idon't think we risk that vice even as we offer the observation that that thepractical consequences of choosing between some paths are often wayoverstated. Take, for example, the unitary vs unitive conceptions of the journey of the East and West; is it not notable that, among billions of practitioners of each approach over thousands of years, so many from bothpaths, especially those who travel far or go deeply, will inevitably shareboth a profound sense of 
solidarity 
and a compelling response of 
compassion
?Shouldn't the clear
conceptual 
implications of our different approaches alsotranslate into obvious
practical 
implications for our relationships to self,others, the world and God? Of course they will but those implications willpresent in varying degrees, more versus less consequential.We do, after all, have metrics to guage intellectual, emotional, moral, socialand faith developments (thanks to Piaget, Maslow, Kohlberg, Fowler andothers) and to guide our conversions (also intellectual, affective, moral,
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sociopolitical and religious, thanks to Lonergan and Gelpi)?It is one thing, however, to have our Lonerganian
metrics 
but quite anotherto imagine that we also have the sociologic
methods 
to adequately guagetheir realization among and across populations and religious cohorts (notignoring that Stanley Jaki and others haven't made reasonable but stillcontroversial general cases for one hermeneutic versus another).Let's return to the essential nature of faith, itself, for more insights into thesequestions. Here we might better clarify why it seems to be that
conceptual  implications 
don't always translate into
practical consequences 
. The primaryreason, in my view, is right here before our eyes in the distinction betweenthe conceptual and practical!Different faiths will far more engage what we might call
practicalexistential hermeneutics
and far less have anything at all to do with
speculative evidential metaphysics
, which involve, instead, what areessentially philosophical preambles. In the practice of faith, as a
live
(notunreasonable),
vital 
(existentially significant) and
forced 
(not to choose isto choose)
option
, one will far more engage the
participatory, imaginal and existential 
and far less rely on the
conceptual, propositional and evidential 
, which is to recognize that theology is much more so a
practical 
, much lessso a
theoretical 
, science.The efficacies of faith present in terms of right relationship to
self, other,world and God 
; these efficacies are not primarily measured narrowly interms of 
conceptual coherence
but more broadly in those of 
value- realization
, with an emphasis on those related to
love
. Developmentally,more often
orthocommunio
(right relationship in community) will resultmoreso from
orthopathy
(right desires) and
orthopraxy
(right behavior)and less so from
orthodoxy
(right beliefs). Put another way, most often,
community, cult and code
will be robustly practiced even as
creed 
typically will be only vaguely sketched and poorly understood. In ourreality, which is radically incarnational and profusely pneumatological,quite often such value-realizations will be much more
implicit 
than
explicit,
reflecting, then, a degree of 
unconscious competence
. Even when explicit,quite often those conceptualizations will represent caricatures andmisconstructions, a degree of 
conscious incompetence
, but with littlepractical consequence due to the otherwise proper forming of desires andof behaving in community via practices, liturgy, ritual and spiritualformation.This is all to suggest, perhaps, that, all gnosticism and agnosticism aside, agreat deal of 
practical ignosticism
nevertheless prevails even amongbelievers. (Ignosticism suggests that, when it comes to God-concepts,people aren't even employing coherent definitions or that they are toooften assuming too much or employing different definitions even whenotherwise coherent). Also, while much has been made of 
radical apophaticism
in recent years, few have seriously critiqued what hasbecome a predominant radical
kataphaticism
, which presents both as
 pietism
(an over-emphasis on the affective and kataphatic) and
rationalism
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(an over-emphasis on the speculative and kataphatic); where faithelements that are primarily
interpretive, metaphorical and mythical 
aremisconstrued as being mostly
descriptive, metaphysical and literal 
; wherethe
participatory imagination
fancies itself as doing
conceptual map-making 
; where what is essentially a
theology of nature
(or theo-ontology), a
poetic 
 venture, is received as a
natural theology 
(or onto-theology), a
philosophic 
 venture; where the
exoteric and mythical 
crowds out the
esoteric and  mystical 
; where
believing and behavin
take formative precedence over
 belonging and desiring 
; where
implicit 
and existential approaches aredenigrated and
explicit 
approaches are fundamentalistic; where theunconsciously competent is not appreciated and the conscious ismanifestly incompetent. Such rationalists might acknowledge that oneneedn't understand the metaphysics and theology of the Eucharist or othersacraments in order for their celebration to be efficacious but not as quickto agree that the same could be true for energy healing or with themanifold and multiform goings on during one's 20 minute sitting (thosepsychological imbalances, which have often associated with spiritualmispractice, generally require the therapy of 
prudential norms 
- e.g.moderation, not the ministration of 
theological gnosis 
- e.g. proselytization).Of course, not all therapies for practice will involve normative andprudential remedies; some may well involve interpretive corrections. Still, when interpretive, those remedies will require metaphorical, imaginal andmythical reformulations and not metaphysical, conceptual and literalcorrections. In this vein, Westerners can acknowledge that
reality IS likethe unitary interpretation
but that, as with the unitive interpretation, what we have, perhaps and at most, is a successful
reference
, not a successful
description
. Furthermore, we can acknowledge that
there IS more to besaid literally through apophatic predication
and negation even whilethere is no limit on what can be metaphorically affirmed through kataphaticaffirmation. The western dualistic mindset often gets caught up in a zenconundrum regarding
then there is no mountain
because it doesn't finish thetrialectic with
then there is 
, which returns one to the practical plane where we live and move and have our being, hopefully, in solidarity andcompassion. The unitary interpretation, as with the unitive interpretation, isbut part of the truth; both interpretations refer to a LARGE reality and thusconvey enormous existential impetus. As mentioned earlier,
the unitivewithout the unitary has often led to
deism
, while
the unitary without theunitive has often tended toward
quietism
; held in creative tension,though, they affirm us as
created co-creators 
.While it is neither
ideal 
nor
optimal 
when folks enjoy poor catechesis ademploy impoverished theological conceptions, to the extent they haveotherwise been suitably evangelized and have enjoyed a lovingcommunity that has formed their desires and shaped their behaviorsthrough liturgy, sacrament and practice (even if implicitly, whether viaunitary
or 
unitive pathways), for all practical purposes, their formation willhave been
more than adequate.
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