Friday, July 10, 2009

Inside and outside: take a second look

"[...] if we are to understand a great religion it is always first of all necessary to that we should find out, not merely what its formularies are, but what it has meant in the experience of those who follow it. That is the only way in which we can pronounce judgement on it. The man who stands outside of a religion altogether, and merely criticises its theological formularies, is like a blind man attempting to pronounce judgement upon pictures from hearsay. If, for example, a man should repudiate the doctrine of the Trinity simply on the ground that it clashes with his own mathematical conceptions, without ever inquiring how it has come about that people quite as mathematical as himself have none the less felt driven by their experience to formulate their belief in this way, he is like a blind man who should deny the possibility of perspective on the ground that pictures are painted in two dimensions."

- William Temple, The Kingdom of God, 1-2.

Of course it is possible to know something of things from the outside, indeed, sometimes one must be outside to see the whole in a particular way. However, what Archbishop Temple is pointing out is that the converse is also true: sometimes one must be inside an experience to know what terms used to describe that experience mean. To use an example from C. S. Lewis (whose "Meditation in a Toolshed" makes much the same point), who has the more important perspective on romantic love: a young man in the first flush of new love, or the neurologist who studies the electrical patterns and chemical changes in the brain, but has never known what these feel like from the inside? Of course, both perspectives are important. But our tendency is to give precedence to the objective viewpoint that observes and does not participate (or rather, who participates primarily through observation). In some circumstances, this is an important stance. But it is a mistake to make this priority absolute and universal.

Indeed, even the observer who attempts an "objective" perspective is far from neutral, but brings her assumptions and categories to her experience of observation. But here I have begun to repeat contemporary platitudes. So I will finish with one more:
Never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Then, when you criticise him, you are a mile away - and you have his shoes.


Anonymous said...

To have walked a mile in the shoes of a Christian and never felt such judgement as from a group that suggests otherwise... it is easier to believe that to err is to be human and therefore where is the need for Jesus as a Saviour in the way it is shown for Christians? Why can it not be acknowledged that there is a God, He can do all things (including raising from the dead), that Jesus was here to remind us of God and to turn back to God and only that apart from being a good example? Why must there be the trinity?

To walk a mile as a Christian would be better experienced walking a mile as many Muslims.

Not sure if this is the response you were looking for but it is the response I found myself instantly wanting to give.

Anonymous said...

Sorry chaps the only way to find out what a "great" religion might be all about is to go to the lived demonstration, and the words/texts, and even (especially) art that the founder he/she created while alive.

Or the radiant saints, mystics or yogis who have appeared within the tradition.

And certainly NOT to the theologians or academic interpreters of religion such as
CS Lewis with their endless towers of babble/babel.


Because all Divine and Spiritual Revelations inevitably get reduced to the merely mundane. That is, they get emptied of their true esoteric content by the mere dreadfully sane believers. And most often very quickly too.

This was certainly the case with Christianity. There is NO esoteric content to be found in Protestant Christianity. And it is almost as rare as hen's teeth in the "Catholic" tradition.

ESPECIALLY if there is/was no lineage of Spiritually Realized practitioners created and left by the founder. And a Sangha or Spiritual Community left to incarnate and thus demonstrate bodily the truth of the way.

In every generation, the Spiritual Masters of the past are dead. Therefore, in every generation, those who have REALIZED what the Spiritual Masters taught in the past must come forward, alive, to teach the people.

Those who have not themselves Realized what the past Spiritual Masters taught must remain silent, and submit to the process of Realizing the Truth---but the Adept-Realizers and their Realized devotees must give their Self-Radiant Witness and Demonstration.

Only thus does the Truth survive, uncorrupted and alive, generation after generation.

And if any generation is without a living SPIRITUAL tradition (able to be continued, from generation to generation, by real and effective Spirit-Baptizing means),then its children are, likewise without the Liberating Light---even while the holy books are piled up, one upon the other, like a fortress in the night.

Do you perhaps then see how impoverished Christianity is altogether.

No Radiant Saints have appeared within Western Christianity, to demonstrate BODILY the truth for hundreds of years now.

And certainly not within the Protestant tradition---such being an impossibility.

Calvin, for instance was not a Spiritual Realizer, and certainly not a Radiant Saint!

byron smith said...

Anonymous #1 - Thanks for your thoughts. Do you think that Jesus himself thought of mission as being to remind people of God and to be a good example? What do you make of his teaching and symbolic actions concerning his own death?

Anonymous #2 - I'm curious, what has been your experience of Protestant Christianity?

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of Psalm 34 v 8