Doxology

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.

To him be the glory forever! Amen.

— Romans 11:33-36

A Necessary Death

“Through Jesus, we all have to face the embarrassing truth that we ourselves are our primary problem. It is we who must die, he teaches, not others! Our greatest temptation is to try to change other people instead of ourselves. Jesus allowed himself to be transformed and thus transformed others. That is the meaning of the necessary death of Jesus.”

— Richard Rohr, Things Hidden

Exoteric and Esoteric Religion, Part 1

I’m currently traveling in Australia have spent a lot of time with Brian McLaren’s newest book, A New Kind of Christianity. I’m really enjoying the book and I think many will look back on it as an important read for those interesting in the landscape of Christianity in the West. Whether or not you agree with McLaren’s direction, it is a very well written and accurate decleration of where many are headed and that might be useful information for anyone concerned with fading vital signs of Christianity in Europe and North America.

I’ll most likely blog more about the book but before I do, I’ve been interested in the response this book has received so far. After some online browsing, what I’ve found isn’t all that surprising. Obviously, those who are more devoted to the more conventional Christian perspective are not enthused by the book. This was not a surprise at all but it reminded me of a few religious distinctions that Ken Wilber makes in his book Grace and Grit. An interviewer asks Wilber about the different ways the world “religion” is used. Wilber responds that before a conversation about religion begins, we must identify what is meant by the word “religion.” He basically puts the various definitions of religion into two separate categories–exoteric and esoteric:

Ken Wilber: “We really can’t talk about science and religion or psychotherapy and religion or philosophy and religion until we decide just what it is we mean by the word religion. And for our purposes right now I think we must at least distinguish between what is known as exoteric religion and exoteric religion. Exoteric or “outer” religion is mythic religion, religion that is terribly concrete and literal, that really believes, for example, that Moses parted the Red Sea, that Christ was born from a virgin, that the world was created in six days, that manna once literally rained down from heaven, and so on. Exoteric religions the world over consist of those types of beliefs. The Hindus believe that the earth, since it needs to be supported, is sitting on an elephant which, since it needs to be supported, is sitting on a tortoise which in turn is sitting on a serpent. Lao Tzu was nine hundred years old when he was born, Krishna made love to four thousand cow maidens, Brahma was born from a crack in a cosmic egg, and so on. That’s exoteric religion, a series of belief structures that attempt to explain the mysteries of the world in mythic terms rather than direct experiential or evidential terms.

Interviewer: So exoteric or outer religion is basically a matter of belief, not evidence.

KW: Yes. If you believe all the myths, you are saved; if not, you go to Hell–no discussion. Now you find that type of religion the world over–fundamentalism. I have no quarrel with that; it’s just that that type of religion , exoteric religion, has little to do with mystical religion or spirituality that I’m most interested in.

Interviewer: Esoteric means what?

KW: Inner or hidden. The reason that exoteric or mystical relgion is hidden is not that is is secret or anything, but that it is a matter of direct experience and personal awareness. Esoteric religion asks you to believe nothing on faith or obediently swallow any dogma. Rather, esoteric religion is a set of personal experiments that you conduct scientifically in the laboratory of your own awareness. Like all good science, it is based on direct experience, no mere belief or wish, and it is publicly checked or validated by a peer group of those who have also performed the experiment. The experiment is meditation.”

I’ll be blogging more about this distinction between exoteric and esoteric religion as I believe it accurately depicts the main rift between traditional and emerging Christianity and sheds light on the tensions this book will bring to the surface between the two perspectives. These are two totally different modes of operating religiously and it’s important to recognize this if we are to build any understanding between the two perspectives.

Felled By The Weight of Absurdity

Deny’s spiritual exercise took the form of a dialectical process, consisting of three phases. First we must affirm what God is: God is a rock; God is One; God is good; God exists. But when we listen carefully to ourselves, we fall silent, felled by the weight of absurdity in such God talk. In the second phase, we deny each one of these attributes. But the “way of denial” is just as inaccurate as the “way of affirmation.” Because we do not know what God is, we cannot know what God is not, so we must then deny the denials: God is therefore not placeless, mindless, lifeless, or nonexistent. In the course of this exercise, we learn that God transcends the capability of human speech and “is beyond every assertion” and “beyond every denial.” It is as inaccurate to say that God is “darkeness” as to say that God is “light;” to say that God “exists” as to say that God does “not exist,” because what we call God falls “neither within the predicate of existence or non-existence.” But what can this mean? The exercise leads us to apophasis, the breakdown of speech, which cracks and disintegrates before the absolute unknowability of what we call God.

— Karen Armstrong in her book, The Case for God, writing about Denys the Areopagite.

The Conservative Shift on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

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This is a very surprising poll result, to say the least. You can read the full study here. I wonder if the shift among conservatives has less to do with their views on same-sex equality and more to do with their views on foreign policy. That would be one obvious explanation, right? After all, many correlate the size and strength of their military to their immediate well-being. The assertion that “They are over there fighting so we don’t have to fight them here at home,” comes to mind. When it’s a perceived matter of life and death, maybe for conservatives in this case, pragmatism seems to trump ideology.

If I’m wrong and this is not the case, than this is just another harbinger of things to come which is good news for those who support true equality for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Also worth mentioning is that every group polled in both studies grew in favor of gays openly serving in the military except for those with a high school education or less.