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Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby cyranorox » 04 Jun 2010, 18:43

rus, thank you for the kind words.

I need to comment, though, on the sense you give of the OC ready and vigilant to toss members out for vagrant or variant opinions. In fact, this rarely happens, and it takes quite a bit of process to determine someone a heretic. A member who takes the sacraments, commits no flagrant crimes, recites the Creed with sincerity - or at least without intent of deceit - is a member for life, even if he acquires odd views or a taste for modern thinking. If he should teach, things get more serious, but even there, participation is the touchstone, not strictness of belief. Why, even such obvious errors as American exceptionalism, libertarianism, randroid views, etc are not actual grounds for expulsion.

As long as you can say "Christ is God, and I am not", and do not worship the popular idols [such as Invisible Hand, National Security, or Size 2 ]intentionally, you should be ok.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby postodave » 04 Jun 2010, 21:49

Hi Rus
The syncretic view is basically a pluralist view, which says in effect, "We all have great parts of the truth - let's share them!"
It's nice to have you tell me what my words must mean and therefore what Griffiths must have thought. There are degrees of syncretism and there is no doubt whatsoever that both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are syncretic to some extent. Look at the way the Greek Fathers integrate the best of Hellenic thought, usually via middle platonism, into their system. Look at the way Thomism integrates Aristotelian and Islamic thought.
You go on:
This conflicts with the monist view which says, I have found the source of all truth, and whatever parts of it others may have found, I have found 'the real tamale', which does not need truth from elsewhere." - which is basically what Lewis held.
No not even basically. Lewis strongly affirms the centrality of Christ but he integrates a great deal of paganism into his total system. He also admires the medieval Christian/pagan synthesis. I am not sure how Orthodoxy works on this but the Roman Catholic Church has always recognized that there are some matters on which the Church is not authoritative. As one wag put it: 'the Church cannot tell you which television set to buy; it can only tell you which programmes not to watch'
A syncretic Catholic is already breaking with the Catholic Church, which does claim to be that whole tamale, as does the Orthodox Church and others, and so it is actually oxymoronic to say that a person is both syncretic and an adherent of such a faith. The person does not understand or accept the teaching of the authoritative source of the faith that they claim - so they may think they are Catholic or whatever, but are contradicted by that Church.
For the reasons given above this is nonsense.
I get the impression you have not read any of Griffiths work and if you haven't we can't discuss him can we?
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 05 Jun 2010, 03:47

cyranorox wrote:rus, thank you for the kind words.

I need to comment, though, on the sense you give of the OC ready and vigilant to toss members out for vagrant or variant opinions. In fact, this rarely happens, and it takes quite a bit of process to determine someone a heretic. A member who takes the sacraments, commits no flagrant crimes, recites the Creed with sincerity - or at least without intent of deceit - is a member for life, even if he acquires odd views or a taste for modern thinking. If he should teach, things get more serious, but even there, participation is the touchstone, not strictness of belief. Why, even such obvious errors as American exceptionalism, libertarianism, randroid views, etc are not actual grounds for expulsion.

As long as you can say "Christ is God, and I am not", and do not worship the popular idols [such as Invisible Hand, National Security, or Size 2 ]intentionally, you should be ok.

Hi cr,
I think that a person who gets the sense you ascribe to me just gets it wrong. I thought I was pretty clear when I spoke of what the Church actually teaches - what is Church dogma - vs things that are not. On the things that are not, such as smoking, for instance, or toll houses, people are free to have opinions, even pious ones. But on the things that are, such as homosexual behavior or abortion, they can't. Tolstoy was very serious about faith and had good intentions. But what he believed contradicted Orthodox dogma. And that's what I'm talking about. You simply can't talk about syncretism in regard to dogma. The Orthodox Church (and the RCC, last I checked) states very definitely that it has the fullness of the faith. Yes, we can all learn from each other on all sorts of things not covered by its teachings. But that's not what is meant by syncretism, which is the idea that we all have parts of the truth (specifically regarding teachings), and nobody (no faith) has the whole tamale.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 05 Jun 2010, 04:05

postodave wrote:Hi Rus
The syncretic view is basically a pluralist view, which says in effect, "We all have great parts of the truth - let's share them!"
It's nice to have you tell me what my words must mean and therefore what Griffiths must have thought. There are degrees of syncretism and there is no doubt whatsoever that both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are syncretic to some extent. Look at the way the Greek Fathers integrate the best of Hellenic thought, usually via middle platonism, into their system. Look at the way Thomism integrates Aristotelian and Islamic thought.
You go on:
This conflicts with the monist view which says, I have found the source of all truth, and whatever parts of it others may have found, I have found 'the real tamale', which does not need truth from elsewhere." - which is basically what Lewis held.
No not even basically. Lewis strongly affirms the centrality of Christ but he integrates a great deal of paganism into his total system. He also admires the medieval Christian/pagan synthesis. I am not sure how Orthodoxy works on this but the Roman Catholic Church has always recognized that there are some matters on which the Church is not authoritative. As one wag put it: 'the Church cannot tell you which television set to buy; it can only tell you which programmes not to watch'
A syncretic Catholic is already breaking with the Catholic Church, which does claim to be that whole tamale, as does the Orthodox Church and others, and so it is actually oxymoronic to say that a person is both syncretic and an adherent of such a faith. The person does not understand or accept the teaching of the authoritative source of the faith that they claim - so they may think they are Catholic or whatever, but are contradicted by that Church.
For the reasons given above this is nonsense.
I get the impression you have not read any of Griffiths work and if you haven't we can't discuss him can we?


Hi, PoD,
First of all, I am talking about the ideas. What you may mean by the words may vary from what I understand by those words and we may have misunderstanding.
I expressed the idea of syncretism in its simplest form. You object to that. Maybe we need to define syncretism, so that we have a common definition. If one were not careful, the fact that one expresses faith in a certain language, with its particular linguistic assumptions, could be considered "syncretism". But then the word effectively ceases to have significant meaning.

It looks to me that the main confusion in our discourse is between your use of "syncretism" touching what you call "total system" and my use of "syncretism" in reference to dogma. (See my response to cr, above). For me, Griffiths is only an example, not the topic, and no, I haven't read enough to talk about him (anymore than you've read Alexander Men', for example - an imperfect analogy, but basically an Orthodox thinker who does come close to the line of what I call syncretism and is evidently definitely included in your definition). But if Griffiths challenges what the RCC actually teaches about Church authority (and it looks like he does), then he is syncretic in a sense that (again, last I checked) would be heretical to the Catholic Church (authoritative teaching) - the sense of what I mean by syncretism.

So the distinction between dogma (=teaching = doctrine) and what is NOT dogma needs to be kept clear.
"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby postodave » 05 Jun 2010, 21:39

Hi Rus
You said:
For me, Griffiths is only an example, not the topic, and no, I haven't read enough to talk about him (anymore than you've read Alexander Men', for example - an imperfect analogy, but basically an Orthodox thinker who does come close to the line of what I call syncretism and is evidently definitely included in your definition.

As it happens I have read Alexander Men. I have a copy of his Christianity for the Twenty First Century with me right now and was reading it today before I read this post. There are some similarities between his position and that of Griffiths, particularly the influence of Karl Jaspers concept of the axial era. However I think Griffiths goes further in the direction of syncretism than Men, and personally I think Men's vision of universal Christianity beyond syncretism and confrontation is a much more viable one that Griffiths position. None the less I do think Griffiths ideas are worth discussing and I think that initially you have to look at individuals in their concrete particularity rather than seeing them as examples of something. What I also discovered when I looked into this was that although Griffiths became a Hindu Sanyassi that was something that happened after his association with Lewis and in fact after Lewis's death so JRosemary's original objection to Lewis learning about Hinduism from a Catholic priest was more valid than I thought. I also reckon that if to be a Sanyassi is to pass beyond ideas and images in one's relation to the absolute then we have Sanyassi in the Christian tradition: in the west we have Eckhart and in the east you have Dyonisius.
As a definition of syncertism I would suggest the following:
syncretism - the union (or attempted fusion) of different systems of thought or belief (especially in religion or philosophy
that comes from worldnetweb at Princeton. It follows that you can have different ways of integration. If we want to discuss syncretism in relation to dogma we would need first to discuss different theories about the way language works. One important influence on Griffiths in this matter which came via Lewis was Owen Barfield. Barfield had pointed out that primitive thought is pre-rational and uses single words to cover vast ranges of intuitively grasped meaning. It as at this intuitive rather than the rational dogmatic level that Griffiths sees much of the unity of disparate religions. Men would locate similar ideas in Solovyev and Berdyayev. Indeed Berdyayev on Myth can sound very Lewisian. So although you say:
So the distinction between dogma (=teaching = doctrine) and what is NOT dogma needs to be kept clear.
the distinction can only be made from the side of dogma - because it is in the nature of dogma to make distinctions - yet the mythical intuitive faculty will always reach beyond those distinctions towards a greater whole. As Augustine says dogma is the fence around mystery.
By the way I'm meeting a new spiritual director on Tuesday. She is a Franciscan who has refused to study theology because she finds God in simplicity. Do pray that this will go well or if it is not right for me that I will discern that rapidly.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 06 Jun 2010, 03:23

I finally have a chance to respond! Yay!

rusmeister wrote:Actually, no, I wasn't fishing for your pedigree of religious education; my point was that the logic of insisting that one have in-depth knowledge of all religions leads to gnosticism - the idea that only an elite can be saved. But I think I've phrased my argument better below.


Ah , I think you better define what you mean by “saved.” Do you mean the Christian idea of salvation? Or do you just mean, “being right with G-d?”

If the former, I'll just mention that the Christian concept of salvation doesn’t play a part in my religion or my world view. If the latter, I follow the Jewish teaching that deed outweighs creed, and that G-d is concerned with our actions before all else. That doesn’t mean that what you believe is of no importance; it just means that what you believe is far less important than what you do. Ditto with your motives--it’s nice to have pure motives for your good deeds, but the deeds themselves matter more. As my rabbi said recently, don’t wait until you have an utterly pure heart before doing a good deed--you might be waiting a long time!

rusmeister wrote:A main idea that I would like to attack is the idea that because we have access to more information today, that we are better informed as a result. At first glance it seems that that must be so. But it is highly misleading. I would sum up my argument by saying that we do less with more than at any time in history. While we have access to more information, we do less clear thinking about it, and I attribute this to the general abandonment of philosophy as popular pursuit - the business of all - in our time. I think it a form of unintentional hubris to assume that because we can more easily find out what (for example) Hindu teachers have (arguably always) taught, that people of earlier times could not - especially concerning the heart of what a religion's teachings are.


I see a couple of issues here:

1. “While we have access to more information, we do less clear thinking about it, and I attribute this to the general abandonment of philosophy as popular pursuit - the business of all - in our time.” Can you back this up, please? What statistical evidence do you have to prove that “while we have access to more information, we do less clear thinking about it”?

I’d also be interested to see statistical comparisons between the number of people studying philosophy in, say, 1800 C.E., and the number studying now. For example, I took courses in ancient philosophy and general philosophy, plus a course specifically on Plato (by a wonderful professor who was a devout Platonist who has, unfortunately, passed on), a course specifically on Heidegger, a course specifically on Kierkegaard, a course that was heavy on Buber, and a course that was heavy on Nietzsche. I’ve never formally studied Maimonides, but of course we discuss him a good deal in various synagogue classes and I’ve done some studying on my own.

Yet in 1800, as a female my access to any philosophy course would have been extremely limited.

And that, of course, is only taking into account western philosophy. I wonder how many people study Shankara now as opposed to in 1800? How many people in the Western world even knew the name Shankara back in 1800? Yet anyone with an interest in Hinduism has access to his philosophy now.

2. The second issue concerns “the heart of a religion’s teachings.” About a generation before Jesus, there was a famous rabbi named Hillel. A Roman soldier told Hillel that if he could teach him the Torah in the space of time the soldier could stand on one foot, the soldier would convert. While the soldier stood on one foot, Hillel said, “Don’t do to someone else what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. That is the essence of the Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and study.”

Thanks to this story, in any synagogue you can say, “Rabbi, give me the standing on one foot version of Rashi’s commentary on . . .” Or, if someone’s in a rush, they might say to you, “How’s your grandfather? Give me the standing on one foot answer.”

Jesus had a “standing on one foot” version of the mitzvot [commandments] in Judaism: he said two mitzvot summed up all the rest: “Love HaShem your G-d with all your heart,” etc., from Deuteronomy, and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” from Leviticus. Ok, I’d call that a reasonable summation.

However, while Hillel’s summation of the Torah and Jesus’s summation of the mitzvot are both valuable, you still have to go and study.

To ask for the heart of a religion seems like asking for the “standing on one foot version.” While there’s value to that, you’ll find that many religions can describe themselves in similar terms when you get down to that “standing on one foot” summary. The major religions of the world, after all, tend to be in general agreement on moral issues. (I agree with Lewis--and Plato--that we need to be reminded of morals, not taught.)

However, if a non-Catholic goes to a Catholic priest and says, “Father, I agree with Jesus’s summary of the commandments: the most important are to love the Lord your G-d with all your heart, etc., and to love your neighbor as yourself,” the priest is not going to say, “Great! Let’s confirm you into the Church immediately!” Instead, the priest will sign him up for about a year of studying.

I suppose you could limit yourself to the “theological heart” of a religion, but that’s a complex matter even in a creedal religion like Christianity--and all but impossible in non-creedal religions like Hinduism and Judaism. Theologically speaking, practicing Hindus or Jews might be monotheists, pan-en-theists, monists or even atheists.

(I guess in Judaism you could talk about “repairing the world” and “peoplehood”--but, again, these concepts don’t boil down easily to a standing-on-one-foot answer.)

So I have to put my oar in with the present day--by and large, we have a better chance now of learning about world religions today than we have throughout most of history. Many of us have access to people of different faiths both on the internet and right in our home towns. All we have to do is introduce ourselves and start a dialogue. I ask people questions all the time: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, fellow Jews, Sikhs, Pagans--you name it. I have yet to encounter anyone who didn’t want to tell me about the religious tradition they came from, although I have met people who just want to kvetch about their religion!

rusmeister wrote: Another weak point in that assumption is that quantity translates to quality - that we can obtain many more details matters not if the base philosophical assumptions are found to be in error. And faith in trans-rational truth is something that no amount of reason and knowledge is likely to overcome. The base question of whether something is true or not cannot be erased by a mass of details. If they do not speak to one's heart via reason and experience, they will never establish themselves as truth - unless they really ARE the truth.


Personally, I think it’s unlikely that any religion can survive for thousands of years unless they speak to peoples’ heart via reason and experience. And since you can’t reduce any religion to a standing on one foot summary--however valuable such summaries may be--what’s the point of ignoring “a mass of details?” I mean, don’t you want to know the breadth of beliefs and practices encompassed by single words like “Hinduism,” “Buddhism,” “Judaism,” and, for that matter, “Christianity?”

Ok, maybe you don’t. If you’re head over heals in love with your own religion (and your branch of it), and if that religion satisfies your heart and your reason, and if studying world religions isn’t you’re thing, then you’re all set. Mazal tov. Just don’t dismiss other religions as unworthy of study, especially if you don't know them inside and out; in my view, that’s the mistake C. S. Lewis makes.

rusmeister wrote:I guess I would ask, not where errors of fact as such were made, but where you think people like Lewis and Chesterton completely misunderstood and miscast Buddhism (or Islam or Hinduism...) That would strike closer to the true heart of disagreement. And that leaving aside the case of Lewis's "Mere Christianity", which was not meant to be a work of great apologetic depth, although on the whole it is very true. As I said, I think Lewis was justified there.


Well, the problem I saw with Lewis I’ve talked about at length: he was entirely wrong to dismiss Judaism and Islam, and wrong to dismiss Buddhism as merely the greatest Hindu heresy, and entirely inconsistent. Adam Linton did very well in responding to that--especially as he agrees with me that Buddhism is to Hinduism precisely as Christianity is to Judaism. :wink: Here was his response:

Adam Linton wrote:As much as I admire Lewis in general--and as much as I value MC and SbJ, I've always thought that his comments therein on Buddhism (in relation to Hinduism) were very weak. Admittedly, MC is a popular offering and SbJ a highly personal narrative. But as one who engaged in substantial study and practice on Buddhism (mostly in what from my Christian perspective I might call my "in-between" and searching years--and as one who has maintained a respectful and affectionate interest in Buddhism as a practicing Christian--I have to say that labeling Buddhism as a "reform" or "heresy" of Hinduism just won't do. Of course, in very early stages of its development, Buddhism certainly drew on some reforming energy in relation to the Hindu matrix out of which it came. But also very early on, it developed in ways that set it at odds with Hinduism at deep structural levels--very critical areas of perspective and practice. The distiction only grew and heightened over time. It became, quickly, its own thing--specifically on the world scene, a "news".

So, in distiction from Lewis, I'd say that I can't see Buddhism as evaluatable as a sub-set of Hinduism--and in respectful disagreement with with cyronox, I'd say that the relationship of Hinduism to Buddhism is, in fact, more analogous to the relationship of Judaism to Christianity (or, for that matter, Christianity to Islam). The distiction between Hinduism and Buddism, if anything, is even greater that these. (So, then, my other view that the analogy of "Catholicism to Protestantism" is even less apt--really unsustainable.)


As to Chesterton, I think he talks of Buddhism at length in his book about Christian orthodoxy--but he sounds like he’s talking about Hinduism instead. Basically, he has a long argument against monism. I’m talking about theological monism here: the idea that not only G-d is one, but that everything is one. There are, of course, Buddhist monists out there, but it’s not by any means a hallmark of the religion.

In fact, as I remember, Chesterton seems to have no notion that the whole idea of the divine isn’t necessarily an important one in Buddhism. Lewis had a better grasp of it: he pointed out in Religion Without Dogma? that the Buddha didn’t decry the existence of G-d or gods, but they didn’t have much impact on his teachings either. Questions of monism versus monotheism vs pan-en-theism versus polytheism often don’t come up in Buddhism. (Although I’ll put lots of caveats on that, since some forms of Buddhism are very concerned with G-d or gods and with the divine in general. Blanket statements are very hard when dealing with non-creedal religions!)

Anyway, the monism that Chesterton was railing against is much more characteristic of Hinduism--although not all Hindus are monists. Many are, but there are also Hindu monotheists, pan-en-theists and atheists. There are many different schools of thought in the Hindu tradition.

Back to monism: Chesterton’s point, as I recall, is that monism makes relationship impossible. If everything is one, how can anything have a relationship with anything else? And does it make sense to say that G-d loves Himself, because that’s all that’s out there to love?

This is a common point of discussion among monists of all stripes--though you wouldn’t know that from Chesterton’s writings. Heck, I can only assume that he didn’t know it. In fact, this point is the impetus of much of the bhakti movement in Hinduism. The bhakti movement often stands in opposition to the idea of becoming (or re-becoming) one with G-d (and everything else.)

Someone who follows the bhakti path is in an intense love relationship with G-d and tries to serve G-d in everyone she meets. Such a person has no wish to be one with G-d, for that would mean there would be no relationship between herself and G-d. As Ramakrishna put it, the person on the bhakti path wants to enjoy the sweet taste of sugar--not become sugar!

So Ramakrishna’s solution was simple: if you’re on the bhakti path, don’t think about making union with G-d your goal. If you’re in love with G-d, that’s great! If you act out of your love for G-d, you’re not going to do any harm in the world. Quite the contrary. Enjoy the separateness between you and G-d and just put the whole idea of monism aside.

Ramakrishna had nothing against monism, by the way. As far as I can tell, he was a thorough-going monist. But he was also a strong proponent of the bhakti path, so I suppose he saw both sides of the issue.

At any event, lots of monists will admit that separation can be a good thing. And that makes sense to me. Judaism isn’t a monistic religion, but it allows for monism, and there are plenty of Jewish monists. And yet, in the context of Judaism, I’d say separateness is often a good thing. I think Hindu monists are right when they point out the problems of separation--if you see yourself as separate from everything, if you don’t see the connections between you and your fellow human beings or your environment--you may end up acting consistently selfish. But Ramakrishna is probably right in thinking that union with G-d (and by extension everything) is not the only solution.

If you read the opening of Genesis, much of G-d’s creating has to do with separating. (Separating the primal waters above and the primal waters below, for example, to make space for the land.) Judaism has a teaching that G-d’s presence so fills everything that the only way G-d could create at all was to recoil, so to speak, and make room for us. Since G-d declares His creation good, it seems to me that separation is good, especially in so far as it’s what makes relationships with G-d and with each other possible. I suppose we just need to remember how we’re all related and interconnected too.

Back to Chesterton. If he knows anything about the bhakti movement, he doesn’t show it. If he knows that monism is more a Hindu concern than a Buddhist concern, he doesn’t show it. Although I’ll reiterate that not all Hindus are theological monists, and some Buddhists are. Honestly, I suspect that Chesterton had only the vaguest notion of this stuff.

Note to Postodave:

It’s not impossible to learn about Hinduism from a knowledgeable Catholic priest--but it’s second-hand knowledge. If said Catholic priest is responsible, he’ll not only teach you what he knows, but send you to practicing Hindus to get first-hand knowledge.

One of the best teachers of Christianity I know is a Jew--but he brings his students to Christian churches to learn more, and introduces them to Christian clergy, etc. He understands the value and necessity of what Rus and I have been calling “the horse’s mouth.”

Now, if your Catholic priest is also a practicing Hindu, then he can give first-hand knowledge. Such a situation is possible from a Hindu point of view, though I’m not sure what the Catholic Church would think about it.

Good luck with your new spiritual director!
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby postodave » 06 Jun 2010, 09:15

Rose said:
Now, if your Catholic priest is also a practicing Hindu, then he can give first-hand knowledge. Such a situation is possible from a Hindu point of view, though I’m not sure what the Catholic Church would think about it.

This was my point about Griffiths. He was not only both Catholic and Hindu but was a Priest and a Sanyassi. However as I discovered in checking this out Griffiths did not travel to India in search of the other half of his soul until 1968 so at the time Lewis was learning about Hinduism from him his knowledge would have been more theoretical. The Catholic Church has been ambivalent about Griffiths. This is from an obituary in the National Catholic Reporter:
as late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.

Discussing the CDF's warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in NCR that "Jesus himself totally denies any such distance. I am the vine,' he says,'you are the branches.' How can the branches be distant' from the vine?"

We must "never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation," the CDF document insisted.

"Of course, we don't seek to place ourselves on the same level," Griffiths countered. "It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, I have not called you servants, but friends."

Speaking for myself some years ago I was greatly encouraged by Prabhu Guptara a Hindu disiciple of Christ and critic of Christianity who I met at the English L'Abri fellowship where he spoke on the theme of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of Indian religion. Guptara reckons there may be more disciples of Christ among the Hindus than among the Christians. So I am aware of this kind of possibility within Hinduism. I find these approaches helpful and encouraging
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 06 Jun 2010, 11:07

postodave wrote:Rose said:
Now, if your Catholic priest is also a practicing Hindu, then he can give first-hand knowledge. Such a situation is possible from a Hindu point of view, though I’m not sure what the Catholic Church would think about it.

This was my point about Griffiths. He was not only both Catholic and Hindu but was a Priest and a Sanyassi. However as I discovered in checking this out Griffiths did not travel to India in search of the other half of his soul until 1968 so at the time Lewis was learning about Hinduism from him his knowledge would have been more theoretical. The Catholic Church has been ambivalent about Griffiths. This is from an obituary in the National Catholic Reporter:
as late as 1990, Griffiths was forced to defend Eastern spirituality against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's December 1989 response to the challenge of Buddhist and Hindu spirituality.

Discussing the CDF's warning that certain forms of Eastern prayer tempt people to try to overcome the necessary distance between creator and creature, God and humankind, Griffiths wrote in NCR that "Jesus himself totally denies any such distance. I am the vine,' he says,'you are the branches.' How can the branches be distant' from the vine?"

We must "never in any way seek to place ourselves on the same level as the object of our contemplation," the CDF document insisted.

"Of course, we don't seek to place ourselves on the same level," Griffiths countered. "It is God who has already placed us there. Jesus says, I have not called you servants, but friends."

Speaking for myself some years ago I was greatly encouraged by Prabhu Guptara a Hindu disiciple of Christ and critic of Christianity who I met at the English L'Abri fellowship where he spoke on the theme of Jesus Cist as the fulfilment of Indian religion. Guptara reckons there may be more disciples of Christ among the Hindus than among the Christians. So I am aware of this kind of possibility within Hinduism. I find these approaches helpful and encouraging


Thanks for the info on Griffith, and where he was when he spoke with Lewis.

I like the openess of Hinduism too. When I was converting to Judaism, I told my rabbi that my understanding of G-d is heavily influenced by Hinduism, especially by Vedanta, the bhakti path and Vaishnavite tradtition. But becoming Hindu wouldn't work for me; I have too personal a connection to the Jewish Scripture and mythos thanks to my family history. He understood that and saw it as a good thing, not a block to converting. Likwise with the rabbis on my beit din.

I've also had some fascinating and positive convesrations about Hinduism with my new rabbi. One discussion was about the extent that Judaism and Hinduism could provide each other with constructive criticism. We pretty much agreed that with two non-missionary religions, respectful and mutual constructive criticism is possible, and both religions should remain open to it in true dialogue. (The only potential criticism he mentioned was questioning certain aspects of the caste system; not with Hindu concepts of G-d.)

As for Jesus being the "fulfillment" of Hinduism--well, that's for Hindus to decide, but personally, I think Jesus is the fulfillment only of Christianity: not of Judaism, not of Hinduism or anything else. That said, I see no reason why an individual Hindu shouldn't choose Jesus as his Ishta-Devata, or why individual Christians or Hindus shouldn't choose to practice both religions. (Although, as your post seems to prove, such dual practice is easier from the Hindu side than from the Christian side.)

Hmmm . . . I think we've strayed off topic. Maybe continue by PM?
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 06 Jun 2010, 13:52

postodave wrote:Hi Rus
You said:
For me, Griffiths is only an example, not the topic, and no, I haven't read enough to talk about him (anymore than you've read Alexander Men', for example - an imperfect analogy, but basically an Orthodox thinker who does come close to the line of what I call syncretism and is evidently definitely included in your definition.

As it happens I have read Alexander Men. I have a copy of his Christianity for the Twenty First Century with me right now and was reading it today before I read this post. There are some similarities between his position and that of Griffiths, particularly the influence of Karl Jaspers concept of the axial era. However I think Griffiths goes further in the direction of syncretism than Men, and personally I think Men's vision of universal Christianity beyond syncretism and confrontation is a much more viable one that Griffiths position. None the less I do think Griffiths ideas are worth discussing and I think that initially you have to look at individuals in their concrete particularity rather than seeing them as examples of something. What I also discovered when I looked into this was that although Griffiths became a Hindu Sanyassi that was something that happened after his association with Lewis and in fact after Lewis's death so JRosemary's original objection to Lewis learning about Hinduism from a Catholic priest was more valid than I thought. I also reckon that if to be a Sanyassi is to pass beyond ideas and images in one's relation to the absolute then we have Sanyassi in the Christian tradition: in the west we have Eckhart and in the east you have Dyonisius.
As a definition of syncertism I would suggest the following:
syncretism - the union (or attempted fusion) of different systems of thought or belief (especially in religion or philosophy
that comes from worldnetweb at Princeton. It follows that you can have different ways of integration. If we want to discuss syncretism in relation to dogma we would need first to discuss different theories about the way language works. One important influence on Griffiths in this matter which came via Lewis was Owen Barfield. Barfield had pointed out that primitive thought is pre-rational and uses single words to cover vast ranges of intuitively grasped meaning. It as at this intuitive rather than the rational dogmatic level that Griffiths sees much of the unity of disparate religions. Men would locate similar ideas in Solovyev and Berdyayev. Indeed Berdyayev on Myth can sound very Lewisian. So although you say:
So the distinction between dogma (=teaching = doctrine) and what is NOT dogma needs to be kept clear.
the distinction can only be made from the side of dogma - because it is in the nature of dogma to make distinctions - yet the mythical intuitive faculty will always reach beyond those distinctions towards a greater whole. As Augustine says dogma is the fence around mystery.
By the way I'm meeting a new spiritual director on Tuesday. She is a Franciscan who has refused to study theology because she finds God in simplicity. Do pray that this will go well or if it is not right for me that I will discern that rapidly.

Hey, PoD,
It seems that I can make a short response that covers the base(s) I think important.
I'd say that Men' does not cut across the boundaries ("fence") of Orthodox dogma, and so he is not syncretic in the sense I use the term in, whereas evidently Griffiths does in regards to the RCC.
Someone like me (and I think Lewis) would think that it is NOT essential to attempt to study and learn truth from various sources, although certainly knowing ("in-depth") what various religions teach can only be a plus. If your source does indeed contain the fullness of the Truth, then it has everything good that you might find elsewhere - again, referring strictly to dogma. That's how a "monist" will see it.

Obviously, I think Men' (or any intelligent Orthodox priest - or failing that, even a Franciscan priest who accepts the theology of his own Church) a much better call for you as a spiritual director. What you describe is the opposite of intelligent faith to me. It would be something like saying "I don't believe in studying because knowledge is found in simplicity." God can be found in a number of ways, perhaps, but how one knows that one has actually found God and not a delusion is another question. The Father of Lies is a reality I think we both accept.

But since you asked, I will say a prayer that God help you in discernment.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby postodave » 06 Jun 2010, 18:31

Hi Rus
I'd say that Men' does not cut across the boundaries ("fence") of Orthodox dogma, and so he is not syncretic in the sense I use the term in, whereas evidently Griffiths does in regards to the RCC.

I think the verdict is still out on Griffiths and the RC Church. The RC Church seemed to go through a very open stage in the wake of Vatican II and has been beating a retreat ever since. It's not clear where it will go in future but there will be plenty both clergy and lay within the RC Church who do empathise with Griffiths position and plenty who are wary of it. As the current Pope was behind some of the questioning of Griffiths in the nineties it doesn't look good for him at present but tides can turn.
Someone like me (and I think Lewis) would think that it is NOT essential to attempt to study and learn truth from various sources, although certainly knowing ("in-depth") what various religions teach can only be a plus. If your source does indeed contain the fullness of the Truth, then it has everything good that you might find elsewhere - again, referring strictly to dogma. That's how a "monist" will see it.

Yes but that was not really Griffiths point. As Rose keeps pointing out Hinduism is not a credal faith, if it is a single faith at all. So there was never really a question of an Griffiths getting his dogma from there. It is more a question of how things are interpreted within the framework of dogma and how dogma and myth stand in relation to each other - I think Griffiths is influenced by Jung at this point though he does not mention him. Griffiths saw the eastern approach as being more intuitive and mythical than the western approach with it's over emphasis on critical thinking - are you sure you have nothing to learn from the east! Well as you recognize you can learn about the limits of reason through Orthodoxy as much as from Hinduism.
Obviously, I think Men' (or any intelligent Orthodox priest - or failing that, even a Franciscan priest who accepts the theology of his own Church) a much better call for you as a spiritual director. What you describe is the opposite of intelligent faith to me. It would be something like saying "I don't believe in studying because knowledge is found in simplicity." God can be found in a number of ways, perhaps, but how one knows that one has actually found God and not a delusion is another question. The Father of Lies is a reality I think we both accept.

I don't think Men is a live option as a director for me in so far as he lived on a different continent and is currently with the saints! I agree with the importance of critical thought but I would see it more as a defence against what Lewis called the great goddess nonsense than against the evil one as such. I'm sure Satan could out reason me at every point. Martin Luther who was no mean theologian felt the best defences were laughter and direct physical assault with an ink pot! Among the defences Paul recommends critical thought is not included. Though of course Satan can use nonsense he can also use our reason against us. How can one know one has found God? It's a good question. Not by reason alone else all the great thinkers would agree, not by experience alone though this plays a bigger part than reason, not through authority alone for how can authority decide between authorities. Perhaps some subtle combination of all these different for each individual. In the end none of us stands beyond the possibility of error.

Rose I've nothing much to add. If you read Griffiths I think you would find him interesting. He published three books. The Golden String is the story of his journey to Catholicism. Return to the Centre and The Marriage of East and West were later works written after his Indian experiences. Prabhu Guptara who I mentioned has a website here:http://guptara.net/prabhu_new/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1 though he may not be quite your cup of tea. You might also find this interesting:http://members.shaw.ca/jgfriesen/Mainheadings/Abhi.html Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda) had followed a similar route to Griffiths a little earlier and Griffiths and his friends took over Abhishiktananda's Ashram after he left.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 07 Jun 2010, 02:57

postodave wrote:Hi Rus
I'd say that Men' does not cut across the boundaries ("fence") of Orthodox dogma, and so he is not syncretic in the sense I use the term in, whereas evidently Griffiths does in regards to the RCC.

I think the verdict is still out on Griffiths and the RC Church. The RC Church seemed to go through a very open stage in the wake of Vatican II and has been beating a retreat ever since. It's not clear where it will go in future but there will be plenty both clergy and lay within the RC Church who do empathise with Griffiths position and plenty who are wary of it. As the current Pope was behind some of the questioning of Griffiths in the nineties it doesn't look good for him at present but tides can turn.

Well, I don't really defend Catholicism - I think they went wrong well over a millennium ago, with the Pope serving de facto as emperor in the vacuum, and gradually asserting authority over all other Bishops, and Vatican 2 was just a case of going more wrong and then backpedaling. But if there is to be any consistency in the claim, what matters is what the RCC says now, as well as what it said then, on Griffith's teachings - and whether any mistakes were simply the mistakes of individual leaders or a result of actual conflict of dogma. And that's where you may be right about Catholicsm and one of the reasons I don't accept it - precisely because they do seem to be turning with the tides in our time (although far less than anyone else outside of Orthodoxy). If they're being led by the Spirit of the Age, then I can't buy it. That goes triple for the modern Anglican Church, which is even more so led than the RCC (which, by comparison, is a bastion of solidity and consistency of dogma over time). I only refer to the RCC because traditionally they have been consistent in their dogma (ie, they were more like the Orthodox Church). Where they are not, I already agree with you.


postodave wrote:
Someone like me (and I think Lewis) would think that it is NOT essential to attempt to study and learn truth from various sources, although certainly knowing ("in-depth") what various religions teach can only be a plus. If your source does indeed contain the fullness of the Truth, then it has everything good that you might find elsewhere - again, referring strictly to dogma. That's how a "monist" will see it.

Yes but that was not really Griffiths point. As Rose keeps pointing out Hinduism is not a credal faith, if it is a single faith at all. So there was never really a question of an Griffiths getting his dogma from there. It is more a question of how things are interpreted within the framework of dogma and how dogma and myth stand in relation to each other - I think Griffiths is influenced by Jung at this point though he does not mention him. Griffiths saw the eastern approach as being more intuitive and mythical than the western approach with it's over emphasis on critical thinking - are you sure you have nothing to learn from the east! Well as you recognize you can learn about the limits of reason through Orthodoxy as much as from Hinduism.

I can appreciate that, but (bearing in mind what I said above) it's not relevant to the view of a monist (which I use in the limited sense of being opposed to pluralism). On reason vs intuitive and East vs West, I agree- and see the Orthodox Church as having a true and balanced synthesis of both - I imagine Griffiths might have stopped with Orthodoxy if he had not immersed himself in Hinduism, likely because he undoubtedly WAS looking for what the RCC is missing.


postodave wrote:
Obviously, I think Men' (or any intelligent Orthodox priest - or failing that, even a Franciscan priest who accepts the theology of his own Church) a much better call for you as a spiritual director. What you describe is the opposite of intelligent faith to me. It would be something like saying "I don't believe in studying because knowledge is found in simplicity." God can be found in a number of ways, perhaps, but how one knows that one has actually found God and not a delusion is another question. The Father of Lies is a reality I think we both accept.

I don't think Men is a live option as a director for me in so far as he lived on a different continent and is currently with the saints! I agree with the importance of critical thought but I would see it more as a defence against what Lewis called the great goddess nonsense than against the evil one as such. I'm sure Satan could out reason me at every point. Martin Luther who was no mean theologian felt the best defences were laughter and direct physical assault with an ink pot! Among the defences Paul recommends critical thought is not included. Though of course Satan can use nonsense he can also use our reason against us. How can one know one has found God? It's a good question. Not by reason alone else all the great thinkers would agree, not by experience alone though this plays a bigger part than reason, not through authority alone for how can authority decide between authorities. Perhaps some subtle combination of all these different for each individual. In the end none of us stands beyond the possibility of error.

I totally agree with this. On the last sentence, though, I would add that it is possible that someone is completely right - (not that that makes them a better person). And if they are, then there is no error. IOW, the question is, "Is this the truth?" Holding that no one can ever claim to be right and have found the fullness of the truth is an essentially agnostic position - even if you are a Christian agnostic.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 07 Jun 2010, 13:02

rusmeister wrote:
postodave wrote:
rusmeister wrote:Someone like me (and I think Lewis) would think that it is NOT essential to attempt to study and learn truth from various sources, although certainly knowing ("in-depth") what various religions teach can only be a plus. If your source does indeed contain the fullness of the Truth, then it has everything good that you might find elsewhere - again, referring strictly to dogma. That's how a "monist" will see it.

Yes but that was not really Griffiths point. As Rose keeps pointing out Hinduism is not a credal faith, if it is a single faith at all. So there was never really a question of an Griffiths getting his dogma from there. It is more a question of how things are interpreted within the framework of dogma and how dogma and myth stand in relation to each other - I think Griffiths is influenced by Jung at this point though he does not mention him. Griffiths saw the eastern approach as being more intuitive and mythical than the western approach with it's over emphasis on critical thinking - are you sure you have nothing to learn from the east! Well as you recognize you can learn about the limits of reason through Orthodoxy as much as from Hinduism.

I can appreciate that, but (bearing in mind what I said above) it's not relevant to the view of a monist (which I use in the limited sense of being opposed to pluralism). On reason vs intuitive and East vs West, I agree- and see the Orthodox Church as having a true and balanced synthesis of both - I imagine Griffiths might have stopped with Orthodoxy if he had not immersed himself in Hinduism, likely because he undoubtedly WAS looking for what the RCC is missing.


Dave and Rus,

I don't buy the distinction you both seem to be making here: I don't agree that the east is more intuitive and mystical while the west is more reason-and-critical-thinking based. Just look at the philosophical systems of Hinduism. (And of China, for that matter.)

And I'm not sure if either of you are suggesting that a religion requires dogma for reason and critical thinking, but if so, I disagree. Neither Judaism nor Hinduism are dogmatic religions, and yet both are rigourously intellectual religions--although neither can be reduced to intellectualism, since they have equally strong mythic and intuitive elements as well that operate in balance and synthesis with the intellectual elements. In fact, I'd say that in order to survive the test of time, every religion has to have this balance and synthesis! No religion would last thousands of years if it cant touch both a person's reason and heart, and unite them both.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 07 Jun 2010, 15:51

JRosemary wrote:
Dave and Rus,

I don't buy the distinction you both seem to be making here: I don't agree that the east is more intuitive and mystical while the west is more reason-and-critical-thinking based. Just look at the philosophical systems of Hinduism. (And of China, for that matter.)

And I'm not sure if either of you are suggesting that a religion requires dogma for reason and critical thinking, but if so, I disagree. Neither Judaism nor Hinduism are dogmatic religions, and yet both are rigourously intellectual religions--although neither can be reduced to intellectualism, since they have equally strong mythic and intuitive elements as well that operate in balance and synthesis with the intellectual elements. In fact, I'd say that in order to survive the test of time, every religion has to have this balance and synthesis! No religion would last thousands of years if it cant touch both a person's reason and heart, and unite them both.

Hi, JR!
(Still want to think about and respond to your other post, but my time is extremely limited)
I'd say here (because I can do so shortly) is that I think we are both coming from the Christian worldview in speaking of intellect vs heart - that in the divisions of the Christian world this is indeed a dividing line, although Orthodoxy has plenty of intellectual challenge and Catholicism also touches the heart (so I totally agree with your comment on the longevity of religion).
For example, in reading the Catholic saint Thomas Aquinas (I'm thinking of his Summa Theologica here) an Orthodox person is struck by the extreme to which he goes to scientifically codify what to us are Mysteries that we are not fully able to grasp, whereas a Catholic person - esp. a Thomist - would insist on the importance of those aspects of thought.

PS - my caps key on my keyboard frequently fails me. I try to self-edit, but once in a while I miss something. No slight is intended to Catholics or anyone else if I fail to capitalize something. (Even as I typed this, it failed me.)
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby postodave » 08 Jun 2010, 20:58

Rus said:
Well, I don't really defend Catholicism - I think they went wrong well over a millennium ago, with the Pope serving de facto as emperor in the vacuum, and gradually asserting authority over all other Bishops, and Vatican 2 was just a case of going more wrong and then backpedaling. But if there is to be any consistency in the claim, what matters is what the RCC says now, as well as what it said then, on Griffith's teachings - and whether any mistakes were simply the mistakes of individual leaders or a result of actual conflict of dogma. And that's where you may be right about Catholicsm and one of the reasons I don't accept it - precisely because they do seem to be turning with the tides in our time (although far less than anyone else outside of Orthodoxy). If they're being led by the Spirit of the Age, then I can't buy it. That goes triple for the modern Anglican Church, which is even more so led than the RCC (which, by comparison, is a bastion of solidity and consistency of dogma over time). I only refer to the RCC because traditionally they have been consistent in their dogma (ie, they were more like the Orthodox Church). Where they are not, I already agree with you.

Well I just don't buy this modern is bad ancient is good ideology. I know people in the Orthodox Church like to pretend that the RC has imposed its views by force and the Orthodox Church never has but it simply isn't true. Do you really want to idealise a Church run by violence, subterfuge and abuse as the Church of the Fathers was or can we recognise the valuable in their achievements without picturing some imaginary golden age. Can you admit that there may be some good things about the modern world? The unity of the early Church was paid for in blood as you must know.
I can appreciate that, but (bearing in mind what I said above) it's not relevant to the view of a monist (which I use in the limited sense of being opposed to pluralism).

As I've said to Rose in the past I really don't think a pluralist view is a coherent one. But I don't see that as implying that I have nothing to learn from other religions.
On reason vs intuitive and East vs West, I agree- and see the Orthodox Church as having a true and balanced synthesis of both I imagine Griffiths might have stopped with Orthodoxy if he had not immersed himself in Hinduism, likely because he undoubtedly WAS looking for what the RCC is missing
.
Well that might be true but Griffiths diversity did take him into Orthodoxy though he tended to use the Malankara rite as being more ethnically suited to India.
I totally agree with this. On the last sentence, though, I would add that it is possible that someone is completely right - (not that that makes them a better person). And if they are, then there is no error. IOW, the question is, "Is this the truth?" Holding that no one can ever claim to be right and have found the fullness of the truth is an essentially agnostic position - even if you are a Christian agnostic.

All of us believe that what we believe is true; that is what the word believe means. But even when we know that we are right there is always the possibility we could be wrong. To deny that is to make oneself infallible; to put oneself in the place of God.
Rose said:
I don't buy the distinction you both seem to be making here: I don't agree that the east is more intuitive and mystical while the west is more reason-and-critical-thinking based. Just look at the philosophical systems of Hinduism. (And of China, for that matter.)

It was really me not Rus and I was presenting Griffiths views. I think Griffiths does say this and I think there is some truth in it taken as a generalisation. For example I have suggested that in Christianity we have our sanyassis, mystics who reach beyond word and symbol into the unspeakable reality of the absolute but they are much rarer in Christianity than in Hinduism or Buddhism; it's not really a recognized calling. And you also have your Hindu Fundamenatalists but like all Fundamenatalism I think that is a modern option, a reaction against modernity.
And I'm not sure if either of you are suggesting that a religion requires dogma for reason and critical thinking, but if so, I disagree. Neither Judaism nor Hinduism are dogmatic religions, and yet both are rigourously intellectual religions--although neither can be reduced to intellectualism, since they have equally strong mythic and intuitive elements as well that operate in balance and synthesis with the intellectual elements. In fact, I'd say that in order to survive the test of time, every religion has to have this balance and synthesis! No religion would last thousands of years if it cant touch both a person's reason and heart, and unite them both.

In some ways dogma and critical thinking are opposites. I guess you get these different elements in all religions. However where religions are divided at the level of dogma they may be united at the level of myth - for example Griffiths sees the myth of Christ and the myth of Krishna as having a lot in common although he does not think Krishna was a historical figure.
Rus said:
For example, in reading the Catholic saint Thomas Aquinas (I'm thinking of his Summa Theologica here) an Orthodox person is struck by the extreme to which he goes to scientifically codify what to us are Mysteries that we are not fully able to grasp, whereas a Catholic person - esp. a Thomist - would insist on the importance of those aspects of thought.

I would agree. Most Protestants feel the same way about Aquinas - you find this criticism a lot in Calvin and Luther. But you will find areas where Protestants want to push definition further than Orthodox do (if you ask a Protestant what the gospel is he will most probably describe a theory of atonement - as far as I can see the Orthodox Church manages without a specific atonement theory). The great moderates at the time of the Reformation were the humanists and in the long run it can be argued that it is Christian humanism rather than Protestantism that came to dominate the modern west.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby Nerd42 » 09 Jun 2010, 18:31

It was mentioned that Lewis admired the medieval Christian/pagan synthesis. I don't, because often (historically) the pagan ideas influenced the Christian ideas rather than the other way around. But I admire how Lewis is able to bring analogies out of man's mythology to explain Christian concepts.
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