Friday, December 30, 2011

To George, Raised Catholic, Now Maybe Buddhist

Blogging is like sending radio waves into space in search of intelligent life: sometimes you provoke an alien invasion (those nasty, hurtful comments), sometimes you receive a visit from an angel. George is an angel, I think.

Through an on-line exchange, I have learned that my old friend, whom I have not seen in 40 years, now lives on the West Coast; and that he was raised Catholic, but has fallen away from the faith to a degree that is still unclear to me. He may also be Buddhist, although this seems unclear to him.

Two days ago, I wrote a post on spirituality and religion, and George wrote me a long e-mail response. Here’s my reply, after two days sleeping on it.

Dear George,

Eccchhhh. What confusion we live in!

You and I were raised in the Christian tradition, you Catholic, me Protestant. Sometime in our teens or twenties, we spiraled out into the spiritual realm, away from home, away from church, away from a tradition that could ground us. After dabbling in yoga, taoism, zen, Sufism, and a potpourri of New age philosophies, I found my way back four years ago as a new-fledged Catholic. You are still searching.

I honor your search. If there’s one thing I am proud of about my life it is that I have seldom settled, I have kept searching. When I did settle, the smell of my own resentment soon made me restless enough to get back in gear. That restlessness got me married (success!), started my own business when I was dissatisfied with someone else’s (moderate success!), and brought me to the Catholic Church (ahh! home!).

You write:

We all need a Mythos. No one can claim any sense of “cosmic overall meaning” without one. My experience is that [one’s] “net of meaning” must be chosen, not “discovered”… We seem to “pick” a system that makes sense to us... trapped by our 5 senses, limited experience, and by space and time. Most of us are just “winging it,” albeit with a sense of compassion and maybe humility.

Here’s what I think, old friend. Mankind has been winging it since before the dawn of history. We wing it because something in our hearts wants to fly. Something very deep in our hearts tells us that there is something, call it a mystery, beyond the earth. We have built idols to represent that something. Some ancient people built a tower they hoped would reach the sky. One crazy Greek even built wings to fly to the sun.

We built stairways to heaven. Then we stopped believing in heaven and kept building stairways—you know, all that modern philosophy they taught us in college. Those brilliant philosophers seem to agree with you. They all picked a system that makes sense to them. Some even did so with compassion and humility, I suppose, although Rousseau and Marx were jerks and Nietzsche ended up a madman.

But we’re still building the tower, the tall one in Babel, and telling ourselves, I suppose, that this is what we courageous, lonely human beings must do.

But what if heaven came down to us, as our old Christian tradition tells us? What if, once in history, God took the form of man and walked with us and left a path to follow—you know, “the way, the truth, the light”? Why were you and I so quick to abandon that path? Did we even realize how high the stakes are?

Further on, you write about the culture in California, where you live today.

It’s just occurred to me that ALL the therapists out here are closet “secular” Buddhists.  That’s the therapeutic model—I just grokked that a few months ago. So, what have I been getting as advice “to save my life?”
1. No self
2. No other.
No self, no soul, no future—just our personal reaction to our idiosyncratic assessment of ourselves in the haunting, aching, eternal NOW. That's the therapy, and I can tell you that after 60 years of the same issues that drive you—this ain't my cup of tea, trust me. Can I actively love myself and others most efficiently with this therapeutic/Buddhist cosmology and psychology?

God, keep me far from California, is my first reaction. Those closet secular Buddhist therapists have started to infiltrate the East, by the way. It’s the philosophy du jour, and I’ve already told you what happened to Nietzsche.

You write about saving your life, and I don’t think you are referring to anything supernatural, as in life after death. I imagine that you’ve given up on that one. You write about actively loving yourself and others… “efficiently”? Is this really all we have in store for us? Finding an efficient means of just getting along?  That sounds like settling to me.

I am here to tell you that I don’t think religion is enough. I have been in therapy, and it has given me many useful insights that the Catholic Church has not. I also have close friends who have found in twelve-step programs like AA the support or foundation they need to build a truly religious or moral life.

But I think the stakes are higher than this, that it’s not enough to build your house on rock instead of sand. You have to build the house itself, the place you live and move and have your being, and the beauty of Christianity—and especially of the Catholic Church in which you were raised—is that it provides the blueprint.

George, my friend, I’m going to end by suggesting a book. You and I, two tired old intellectuals, like books and I think you may like this one. It is not a work of theology or Catholic apologetics. It’s a book about 20th century literature. Nearly a year ago, I declared this book the “patron book” of my blog. Here’s the post in which I did so.

Read the title. Read it closely: The Life You Save May Be Your Own. Then read the book, about four modern, sophisticated, American intellectuals who chose (your word) Catholicism. Truth be told, they chose it in the way a child chooses the Christmas gift he has always wanted on Christmas morning. He opens his hands and receives it gratefully.

Life is a gift, faith is a gift. You and I were given a gift when we were baptised. We shouldn’t be so quick to throw it aside, like know-it-all children who want a bigger set of Legos.

Let’s keep talking, my friend.

In friendship, Webster


  1. Whats the difference? Budhist bow to a statue of Budha, catholics bow to a statue of Mary. The difference is, Budhas statue looks like him, Marys statue doesnt look like her.

  2. Wow. You, sir, are a great friend. I will pray your friend in California receives this awesome gift with an open heart.

  3. From Singapore: God bless! During a Scripture Studies promotion in church, I met a newly baptised young lady who kept frequently visiting our Lady's Grotto even at nights. I invited her and her friend to my home for healing prayer. After sometime, she confided that she had been searching the Buddhistic way of life and even started going to its college to study its beliefs. After 4 yrs of lost contact, I found her in Facebook with daily Buddhistic wisdom quotes.

  4. Thanks to all. A reply to "St. Bosco." Looking past your reductive treatment of Catholicism, I must admit that ten years ago, I might have agreed with your central point: that all religions are the same. In college years, I went to school on Joseph Campbell and Huxley’s “Perennial Philosophy” and was “washed clean” of any “bias” in favor of Christianity. Weren’t all religions saying the same thing? But here’s what happened since then. I, raised Christian, tried all the other “flavors” and I found them wanting. When I finally turned around again and faced home (or Rome) I realized that there is a difference. As I write above, we mortals have been “bowing” to idols from the dawn of time probably, but only once in history did God bow down to us. That is the meaning, and unique significance, of the birth of Christ through the blessed Virgin Mary.

  5. Dear St Bosco the difference is quite huge.

    Just because some actions might look similar (like bowing towards something) it does not mean that the action is the same nor that its meaning is the same.

    Asking 'what's the difference?' implies a very superficial (mis)understanding from the person who asks the question.

    Many want to draw parallels between Buddhism and Christianity and altough there are similarities there are also jarring differences that cannot be ignored, unless one desires to be ignorant.

    I urge you to understand Christianity and Buddhism better and ask a more insightful question.

  6. Brother Ismael, ill ask another more insightful question.This mans californian friend, is he better off a budhist or a catholic, or mormon or Jehova, or whatever? None of them make you saved.Despite the claims of one of them to be the only means to salvation, when its history is so horrid, it makes you cringe. I was what you call protestant, without knowing it. I got saved despite being a church goer.I asked jesus to show himself to me. You do not need a religion to do that. Religions keep you from that. They tell you that you are fine as long as you do the rituals and say this and do that. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. if anyone open the door, He will come in and sup with him. No men in costumes and no golden cups. Just you and Christ

  7. I've just posted something about freedom and religion, with a hint to my past experience with Buddhism. It's my first attempt to post about School of Community. Would you please take a look? You are a very good writer, whereas I struggle to write, expecially in English!I would appreciate your opinion.

  8. Antonella,
    Your post is very interesting, and I encourage readers to link to your blog by clicking on your name above. You are in the very challenging position of arguing freedom and religion with your son! Good luck!!! For me, the starting point, for you and me and your son, as for Bertrand Russell and Christoper Hitchens, whom you cite, is, Did we create ourselves? Or are our lives given by Another? The atheist believes neither: rather, he believes that we are the accidental result of chemistry. But he then acts as if he had created himself. Religion may end in freedom, as indeed it does for you and me and Fr. Giussani, but I think it begins in gratitude: for the gift that is our life, consciousness, spirit. How is my humanity possibly anything but the gift of Another? If this isn't the starting point, then one can argue whatever one wants, about freedom, punishment, slavery, will, etc. None of it will matter at all if there is no Other, nothing beyond, no Destiny.

  9. St Bosco, It is so sad that after all these years you still fail to understand the teaching of Holy Mother Church. She is not merely a system of religious rituals and observances. True, she offers us these. But they are ONLY in bringing us to RELATIONSHIP with God through His Son Jesus Christ. The religious(and yes the Bible itself condones and favors "true religion") practices that Christ has instituted through his Church are intended to unite us with Christ and bring us constantly closer to Him and thus to God. Jesus instituted a Church to bring us to Him. That is Salvation. Christ did not just us alone to find Him on our own or read about Him in a Book, even if it is the Bible. It is NOT just you and God. It is Us and God; it is the Church, you and I and
    God that lead to Salvation. We are to be in communion for Salvation. We cannot have salvation if we are not in communion with on another. The bible states that one who says he loves God but hates his brother is not a follower of Christ. To fail to be in communion is the same as hating your brother. You reject the family that God has intended us to be a member in. You put yourself outside that family, and thus you reject your own salvation. That you, as well as so many others, have failed to understand this saddens me greatly. This failing is not only due to bad catechesis, misinformation by anti catholics but also individual pride that they know better than Holy Mother Church and her 2000 years of guidance by the Holy Spirit. Please, StBosco, swallow some pride and reconsider some of what is being said here. The Church is not a set of rules, a religious system alone, but the living Body of Christ established to bring Christ into your life and thus bring eternal life into your soul - true Salvation. In addition, it means commuion with a family eagerly awaiting your return and so wanting you to great you as the father greated the Prodigal Son. We are all so eager to welcome you home but love you and pray for you until that time. Yours in Christ!

  10. People like StBosco usually have great difficulty understanding things beyond the surface. There are few religions that do not have and use rituals and observances for the FORMATION of the faithfuls' inner beings. That is what organized religion is geared at. The rituals and observances are not for themselves, they are rather for the faithful to be used in their formation. This is much like an athlete waking up every morning to jog, press up, engage in various exercises and you would say what on earth is he doing? How does this stuff make him any difference to me? Well, StBosco, I don't need to tell you but we all know that when you and him come to competition (assessment) you will certainly be at a loss. All this arrogance because you can dash from here to there, you can jump a meter or so then the bloody athlete is wasting his time and annoying your sensibilities. You would also agree that performance in sports has improved over the years as a result of 'organized' settings. In other words, the collaboration of humans both physically and intellectually provide improvement to man and his kind. Thinking that individual effort is superior to organized or communal effort is certainly fallacy. This is exactly what you claim and propose for mankind. Your deriding of organized religion with its 'rituals and observances' is just a narrow-minded abashment of what you haven't bothered to think about. I pray that you open your mind to the idea that those around you also think. Thank you.

  11. Bobby and Wonderer, good to see you. Bobby, i take it we crossed paths befor. I kinda remember a Bobby but forgot where.
    I have learned alot about catholicism, not because i wanted to join, but because the people i withness to wind up telling me things. Plus ive been to mass a few times with friends. My girlfriend was born and raised catholic, so is the guy i live with, my best friend.
    Does a well bring forth both bitter water and sweet?
    There are 2 kinds of people...saved and unsaved. The spirit guides you to other saved folks to have what you call communion, we call it fellowship.In short, i met Jesus and he pu a new spirit in my like he says he will do. Now, its unthinkable for me to fall back on a religion.I follow the Lamb....simple as that. Why would i go somewhere to have god dished out to me? Hes right in front of me and in me. Do you kinda understand my position? Why pay for a dating service when youre married.
    This religion of yours, are you 100% happy with it? I read an article in New Advent today about the Dutch catholic head guy is being asked to resign. Estimated 20,000 cases of abuse since 1945 till now , went on with no squable from the head men in charge. Heck, theres no reason why they didnt get in on it too. This fountain gives forth bitter water. According to Jesus, this fountain will not give sweet water. Plus, even if i didnt know Christ, it would be hard to talk me into joining a religion that has people bowing to graven images. Too much is wrong there. magic scapulars, indulgences , a Queen of heaven, by the way, god hates any notion of a queen of heaven. My friends, how do you go about these practices knowing they are forbidden by god? I heard the good reasons. But, they are still forbidden.
    Thanks for your honest response, and great to see you again Bobby...small world


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