Thursday, July 20, 2006

Individualism and Post-Ideological Thinking: A Response

Thank you to a couple of my readers who offered constructive criticism of my previous posts on post-ideological religion. I offered Killing the Buddha as a potential reference of this way of thinking. If I understand the criticisms correctly, they are saying that post-ideological religion runs the risk of collapsing into individualism. And, though this isn't stated, I assume (hopefully correctly!) that this would eventually lead to religious solipisism. In lay terms, I'll pick and choose what I want to believe, when I want to believe it, and what I believe is always subject to my personal whim.

I will admit that this is possible. But, that said, it is always possible in any religious "system." Let's face it: societities, churches, communities, religious groups, temples, etc. etc. are formed from individuals. Religion in its "purest" form is a group of believers who congregate as individuals-in-community. The essence of religion is experienced as individuals. We cannot get beyond these few simple statements : I don't "know" what you really believe because I'm not you. And, you don't really "know" what I believe because you are not me (though you might have an idea if you've been reading my blog ;). Thus, for me, the distinction I make between individualism and group orientation isn't necessarily a negative/positive shift. Rather, it's trying to see a group for what it is: a cohesive group of individuals. Solipisism is always a risk - but communal experience hopefully prevents such thinking.

When I speak of post-ideological religion, I don't draw a distinction between individuals and groups. Rather, I'm looking for authenticity, either as an individual or as a group. I can delude myself as an individual just as much as I can be apart of a group that's deluded. Or, I can be as authentic in my experience as part of a group as I can as an individual. So why go to Church? Well, besides the obvious (to worship, to partake in sacraments, etc.), I go more to the "man/woman is not an island" thinking. No matter how introverted you may be, you need other people at some point. Jesus knew this - frankly I think Jesus has some introverted tendencies, yet he flourished around other people. What's the point? We gain insight, renewed strength, and religious vigor from worshiping with other people. Though we may not all get along all of the time, we are called by God to act as a community.

So, what's my concise response? Well, I believe community is central - central to spiritual/religious growth, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it. However, we have to be realistic enough to admit that this is done as individuals. Though we can share experiences, we never existentially experience another. This is a careful distinction, I think. It preserves the integrity of the individual as well as the group. Each has their rightful place in life - and it's important to prevent blurring the two. We must function as groups but think as individuals (lest history show us what happens if we ignore this imperative).

What do you think?

Monday, July 17, 2006

Killing the Buddha and Post-Ideological Religion

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If you are serious about studying religion, you need to read this book. Granted it's not the most scholarly production in the world - no footnotes, et. al., but this book paints a new form of scholarship. If you thought you'd seen raw authenticity in religious thinking, 'you ain't seen nothin' yet.' I'm absolutely engrossed in this book - but I've surfaced long enough to post some connections with post-ideology.

Killing the Buddha, and its offshoot website, works on a simple premise. If you meet the Buddha and the road to enlightenment, kill him. Why? Because that's not the real Buddha. This applies to Judeo-Christian religions as well: if you think you've found "God," you probably haven't. In order to find the "real" God, we must do away with any preconceived notions of what God must be like. This smacks of Paul Tillich's "God beyond God" -type theology. But, that being said, it's crucial to post-ideological thinking. God's name has been used throughout history for many things good and many things evil. We humans try to encapsulate God into what we think God should be - and that's idolotry. God is beyond our small minds - and we must always keep that in mind.

Killing the Buddha advocates striking down this type of idolotry and seeking a more authentic religious experience. This experience is grounded on the belief that there is nothing wrong with being critical. For example - why do children die? There is no reason or justification for these tragedies. Should we let God 'off the hook' because God is God? Or, as God's children, are we not more authentic to go with our emotions and cry out in pain. Should we not "show" God ourselves in our pain? It is, at least, a more honest relationship with God. I think the moderation practiced by most Christians is faulty at best. What do I mean? If we're happy, we should pray prayers of thanksgiving and joy. If we feel pain, what is wrong with telling God in the most authentic way we know? Don't misread me: I'm not advocating cursing God. Far from it. Rather, I'm suggesting that we tap into our honesty and attempt to have a real and authentic relationship with our Creator.

Maybe these are the first steps toward thinking post-ideologically about religion (baby steps?). Anyway, if you've taken the time to read all of this post, spend another 30 seconds telling me what you think. Peace.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Post-Ideology and the Necessity of Cultural Freedom

As we are all (arguably) culture-conditioned, there are certain things that we do/think that are based on our cultural sensitivities. There are few, if any, things that are universally accepted as "true" and "right" throughout modern and historical cultures (for example, murder is generally accepted as wrong, though self-defense and war are necessary evils). For this reason, we must admit that we are, to some degree, culturally-conditioned. We are products of our environment. Let me give a short example. As Americans, my wife and I were subject to several major culture shocks while living in Scotland for a year. One of the major issues we had was body space. As Americans, there is an appropriate distance that people should keep from you (save that of family, spouses, etc.). Not so in Scotland. People don't think much of being in your 'personal' body space. It's quite unconfortable at first, but you seem to get used to it (I didn't really get used to it). Now, for as progressive as I consider myself, I realize that this is a cultural sensitivity that I cannot prevent (or treat for that matter). This model can be extended into many other things.

Now, in order to get closer to 'post-ideology,' we must try to set our minds free from cultural sensitivity (I've got to learn to let people into my personal space?). In all seriousness, we have to first recognize our place in our own culture, respect the differences of those in other cultures, and attempt to transcend these differences. This applies to culture, religion, sensitivities, social customs, and a concept of 'right' and 'wrong.' This said, what does it have to do with 'post-ideological' worldview? It means that people will no longer be conditioned to certain uniform ways of thinking, it means that people will not be manipulated by governments, politicians, etc., and it means that people will exercise the awesome freedom to think for themselves. This is closer to what it means to say 'post-ideological' - that you are, in some sense, condemned to freedom (to borrow the phrase from Sartre). Letting go of cultural ideology means learning to think outside of our own little box. If cultural identity defines who we are, we are nothing more than tools of the state - and that's no good. Better yet, religious identity proves a more slippery slope. That's what I hope to blog on tomorrow! Stay tuned!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Dealing with the Lovely Ignorance of this World

Great title, huh? That said, you might see a monograph in about 20 years with the same title - if you do, buy it, it'll be my book. Seriously, I think we should make fighting ignorance a theological specialty. There seems to be so much ignorance out there (read carefully: MOST, IF NOT ALL, TELEVANGELISTS).

I've had my hope in humanity severely tested this week (long story that I don't want to repeat here, but you know the feeling). Anyway, it got me thinking - is there a way to fight ignorance in this world? Knowledge isn't always power (so throw out the cliche) because people don't always listen, or think, or analyze. Let me be more specific. I've suggested on this blog before that we should strive to be post-ideological. Yes, I know, it's a philosophical enigma because saying one is 'post-ideological' is an ideology itself. Okay, we can dispense with that little enigma because it doesn't get us anywhere. Whereas the logic may be slightly flawed, I think the idea is important. We need to transcend the things in this world that bind us. I'm not talking about just propoganda, but the more subtle things: like things that we accept as "normal" or "good" are, in fact, okay and moral. When a preacher or televangelist says the words "God thinks" or "God will do this, or that," we should be instantly suspicious. How do we know what God thinks? Just because we have this book which we accept as holy scripture, we do not have the right to use it as a weapon against others. How dare we use something as beautiful as God's narrative of salvation to inspire fear, cause resentment, and condemn others. I think part of becoming "post-ideological" means suspecting anything that is not entirely part of God's narrative of salvation.

I'd like to do a series of posts on what I mean becoming "post-ideological." This post is small beginning, a foretaste of sorts. What do you think? A good idea? Something you'd like to see here? If it's a bad idea, what would you like to read about? As always, your comments are greatly appreciated.

Sorry for the Brief Hiatus

As life sometimes gets in the way, I've not been able to update my blog in recent days. Sorry! Hopefully now that things are a little more settled, I'll be able to resume daily/semi-daily blogging. Thanks to those who check back often!

Thank you for visiting. Please come back soon!