Friday, December 30, 2011
To George, Raised Catholic, Now Maybe Buddhist
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.
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!).
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
Posted by Webster Bull at 6:00 AM