Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Western Dialectics VS Eastern Dialectics

I read something the other day that got the 'ol noggin thinking again (imagine that!). Anyway, the discussion got me thinking about the difference between western dialectics and eastern dialectics. What is a dialectic? Simply put (and this probably oversimplified) a dialectic is a statement that contains a thesis and an antithesis. For example, "I am a genius" and its antithesis, "I am not a genius." Or, perhaps in a more relevent context, the thesis: "God is love," countered by an antithesis, "God is not love." Ok...perhaps too oversimplified, but you get the idea.

In western dialectics, there is a tendency to blend the thesis and antithesis into a synthesis. What does this mean? Let's go back to my God example: Thesis: "God is love." Antithesis: "God is not love." Synthesis: "Given certain conditions, God might be love." While this way of thinking was certainly popularized by Hegel (and his students), I see a common thread all the way back to Aristotle. We can find strains of this reasoning in T. Aquinas and even Augustine. Why a synthesis? In the western mind, perhaps it's difficult to leave an antithesis an antithesis. Or, even more acutely, maybe the thesis does not reflect reality, or even a truth. So we need an antithesis. But reason shows us that maybe the antithesis doesn't get us any closer to reality, or a truth. So we try to blend these together in a synthesis. We do this in every day conversation. We might call it compromise - if two parties disagree, we try to find a solution that reflects a given from both parties. Though the real-life example is arguably a little different than the philosophy, you can see how we use this form of reason in everyday living.

So what is the Eastern dialectic? Well let me be forthright and admit: I am not an Eastern thinker. I can appreciate Eastern thinking, but I was schooled, nurtured, and raised in Western dialectics. So this is an attempt to flesh out Eastern dialectics. The book I was reading was discussing Buddhist dialectics of life and death of God and no-God. Pretty deep stuff - as I understand it, the Eastern dialectic is formulated with a thesis and an antithesis; however, the difference arises in what is done with these two forms. Where the Western thinker is not comfortable with a thesis and antithesis, the Eastern thinker finds completion in the formulation. Without a synthesis, the Eastern thinker affirms the paradox (did someone say Kierkegaard???). What does this mean? Let me try to be a little more creative:

The Eastern thinker finds a peculiar beauty in paradoxical "conclusions" because they reflect the "true" nature of things. Where the Buddhist finds comfort in the one truth of the universe (that all things change - nothing is static), the Hindu finds comfort in all is Brahmin. Each is an internal paradox - internal because it explains the outside world. The Buddhist says that "all is nothing" and "nothing is all" because it reflects the ever-changing, ever-flux of the universe. The Hindu says that "all is Brahmin" and "Brahmin is all" because the cosmic matrix is ultimately the same, the one, the Brahmin. The thesis and antithesis are strangely not that different. Where Westerners think a thesis and antithesis have to polar in relationship, Eastern thinking exposes the flaw in such argumentation. Eastern thought reflects the beauty, the strange aesthetic, the ultimate one-ness and shatteredness in reality. Eastern thought shows us that we are not necessarily thinking clearly in polar opposites, where if we challenge such thinking (in that the thesis and antithesis are closer in relationship), we can begin to touch that strange aethetic.

Does this translate into Western conceptions of God? Let's do some language games to put it to the test: Thesis: God is an active redeemer. Antithesis: God is not necessarily an active redeemer. The Eastern thinker stops here to analyze. What are we really saying in these two statements? They appear polar, but let's challenget that. Are they really? What are we saying in the antithesis? We're saying that God doesn't have to be an active redeemer in order to be God. Does God retain God-ly characteristics if God doesn't redeem? Does God have to redeem to be God? The Eastern thinker is fine with this analysis (I hope!) because it reflects what might be God in a changing universe: God might be a redeemer, God might not be a redeemer. Perhaps, and this is a guess, this sort of gets at why Buddhism doesn't center on a God - what's the use? Let's go a bit further: is there a way of synthesizing such an argument? Let's attempt it: God can be a redeemer, if God chooses to be, but God does not have to be a redeemer in order to be God. Does this get us any closer to what we might think of "truth"? Maybe so, maybe not.

What do you think? Have I butchered Hegel? Or, have I committed an offense against the Buddha? Or Shiva, or Krishna? Haha...outta this group I only care what Kierkegaard thinks...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Dynamics of God's Self-Revelation: Static or On-going?


In religious discourse, the idea of God is either central (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc) or cursory (Buddhism, etc.). The Christian conception of "God" is of a personal agent who is actively involved in redeeming humanity through the work, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus. Christian doctrine, for the most part, attempts to flesh out what it means to say God's self-revelation, or Jesus. We can discuss Jesus in historical terms (a man from Galilee who was crucified by the Romans about 2,000 years ago). Or, we can discuss Jesus in theological terms (God's agent who worked/is working to redeem humanity). Or, we can discuss Jesus in a space/time continuum (Jesus turns human history on its head and gives it a new trajectory). These are hermeneutics to describe (albeit in a limited way) God's self-revelation.

The Enlightment project attempted to interpret Jesus and the Christian message in a rational, coherent, and complete way. The post-modern world shows us that there is a lot of insanity, a lot of irrationality, and a lot of fragmentation. Is there relevence for the Christian message? I affirm with my Christian brothers and sisters that there is, if in a way that is relevent like never before. What do I mean? I propose that God's self-revelation is dynamic, on-going, and meaningful. Is it "limited" by the work, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus 2,000 years ago? I don't know. The plurality of religious beliefs shows us that we cannot affirm an emphatic "yes" because that logically places limits on God. Can God show God's-self through other cultural ways? Perhaps, again, I don't know, and I know that I can never know that answer. It's God's business. However, I do affirm the message of Jesus as being relevent and meaningful to all people, bar none. So, while I do not discount the possibility of God's revealing God's-self to other peoples in other ways, I say that for me, it is through Jesus.

I read recently a great metaphor: in order for complete relevence, something must touch you where you bleed. Where do you bleed? Jesus touches me where I bleed. I don't mean this in some weirdly pietistic way, but in a completely worldly and other-worldly way. When I read a beautiful poem, when I see a beautiful piece of art, when I am moved to tears by music, I know that this man, Jesus, experienced a similar thing. In short, Jesus touches me where I bleed because he experienced the same pain, angst, and heartache that I experience. Jesus breathed the aesthetic of beautiful poetry (Psalms), perhaps created a beautiful piece of art, and certainly was moved to tears by music. That, for me, is the most relevent aspect of divine: solidarity with my human condition.

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