Do not dismiss the miraculous powers of olden gods; for such beings never existed, and yet those who believed in them were still transformed.
I just finished re-watching the third and conclusive episode of the Jason Bourne films last night. I was struck at the end by the ethical/religious positions the film takes.
In 2007, in Hollywood, fundamental Christian ethics still rules: Despite what we learn about all the evil that Jason Bourne had done during his career at the C.I.A. and despite the fact that we learn that he knowingly agreed to it, we forgive him because he repented.
It should however be noted that the repentance and forgiveness work very well without either a concept of sin or of god, let alone of someone dying on a cross. In this case a fundamental religious concept is very well translated into secular language. Habermas would be proud.
UPDATE 2008/1/10: Dave rightly points out in the comments that this post was VERY BAD and i apologize for that. I’ve now cut down the argument to what i had unknowingly already pointed to in my note (*), namely that tradition and a community are very good tools to effect radical moral change in a given individual. It is now patently obvious to me that the tradition and community need not be religious. Original, edited post follows.
Only religion can transform a person completely, because to do so requires both thanks to a deep tradition able to inform that transformation and also a strong community to effect and nurture it.
Religious transformation is a reshaping of someone’s moral, psychological and behavioral self that is both complete and permanent. It produces a new person, someone whose identity has been re-established and fundamentally improved.
Of course, there have been many great people who had little if anything to do with religion. But i would argue that though they were perhaps geniuses who contributed greatly to humanity, they had not been themselves transformed. To produce a Mother Theresa*, a Gandhi, or a Jesus and a Gautama Buddha requires religion and a lot of it. Furthermore, to produce those people able to help others strive towards this complete transformation also requires a strong religion tradition and community. The following text, taken from the last paragraph of Thich Nhat Hanh‘s book The Heart Of The Buddha’s Teaching, derives its power precisely because it is so thoroughly informed by a specific religious tradition and because its authors in completely immersed in a buddhist community:
The heart of the Buddha has been touched by our being wonderfully together. Please practice as an individual, a family, a city, a nation, and a worldwide community. Please take good care of the happiness of everyone around you. Enjoy your breathing, your smiling, your shining the light of mindfulness on each thing you do. Please practice transformation at the base through deep looking and deep touching. The teachings of the Buddha on transformation and healing are very deep. They are not theoretical. They can be practiced every day. Please practice them and realize them. Have courage. I am confident that you can do it.
And to successfully put such suggestions into practice also requires immersing oneself in this religious tradition and belonging to its community. Without that your good-will would quickly wane, i should think.
*I know that Mother Theresa didn’t believe in God, but my argument never refers to god, only to tradition and community.
there are a whole bunch of manga bibles out there! Amazon doesn’t have any “Search Inside” ones, but here is a YouTube ad:
Somehow this seems horribly wrong, but so inevitable. I guess it was predestined to happen…
What are some of the major defects of current religions?
Ossified metaphysics. In Christianity, for example, we have a trinity, a god-man, sin, creation ex nihilo, all of which are non-negotiable elements, which cannot be jettisoned or replaced no matter how unfit they have become to describe our current world (surprisingly enough it is perhaps only creation ex nihilo that still makes sense – in a quantum sort of way). If religions are to remain relevant and not require ever further sacrifices of the intellect, then they must regain some of their initial flexibility and start reworking from the ground up the entirety of their so-called worldviews.
Individual salvation. Be it Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam (this doesn’t apply to Judaism), all of these religions preach salvation, but they preach it first and foremost to the individual. You can be saved/save your soul without having to worry about anyone else, let alone your surrounding ecosystem. This is probably what killed the dinosaurs. And it is certainly not helping to prevent our new species’ impending doom.
Disregard for the body/world. Most major religions are “soul-religions” in the sense that what ultimately matters is not our current bodies, but some immaterial self that will survive beyond whatever happens to your body and this universe. This doesn’t mean all religious people are either too fat or overly emaciated; but it does probably contribute to a certain je-m’en-foutisme (i-don’t-careism), wether or not we go all the way to blowing our bodies, or the world, up.
Future Salvation. This is the counterpart to the “soulishness” of current religions and is just as damaging to our current health.
Exclusiveness. Though Buddhism often claims to embrace all other religions, it does so exclusively on its own terms. Christianity and Islam are notorious us-versus-them religions, with the belligerent consequences we know too well. Of course, this is in great part due to an ossified metaphysics.
Impractical. Religions just don’t seem able to help us solve our current problems. They were probably pretty good at solving whatever was wrong back when they sprung up, three to five half-centuries ago, but as far as current wars, pollutions, poverties and other bad stuff go, they have nothing to offer.
Ossified institutions. Who isn’t bored to death in church? What are monks still doing running around? Why can they still not marry? What is the deal with that big black thing in mecca?
Politically passive. Finally, the current crop of old, grey-haired, mostly decrepit religions is remarkably … inactive. Of course, telling people they need only worry about the future of their souls doesn’t help. But at least they could do a bit more than preach and set up a few orphanages. Today doesn’t need personal, but rather global, institutional salvation.
Chikumbutso Mponda of Ntchisi is behind bars after he fell down from a magic plane on his way to his home village.Mponda was Thursday sentenced to five years imprisonment with hard labour without option by Mponela Magistrate Court for practising witchcraft.
aside from questions about wether or not he was properly screened by magical TSA officers for magical liquids, i’d like one of those planes, witchcraft laws or no. link.
in other news, pope dismantles vatican observatory:
Science is to make way for diplomacy at the Pope’s summer residence, with the dismantling of the astronomical observatory that has been part of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, for more than 75 years. The Pope needs more room to receive diplomats so the telescopes have to go.
The eviction of the astronomers and their instruments, reported by the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, and their removal to a disused convent a mile away, marks the end of a period of intimacy between popes and priest-astronomers that has lasted well over a century.
Father Jose G Funes, the present director of the observatory, known as the Specola Vaticana, insisted that there was no sinister significance in the move. “It is not a downgrading of science in the Vatican,” he said.
Note that Benedict hasn’t gotten rid of the astronomers, only moved them, though with him also re-emphasising the latin mass, you wonder where he is heading…
In an attempt not to be forgotten by the media, Tony Blair, the erstwhile top guy in Britain, disses the Queen’s church and sides with the German pope (What Would Churchill Do?).
I would be interested to know exactly why Mr. Blair switched. What the Catholic church usually has going for it is its tradition (it goes all the way back to the beginning, a religious topos if there ever was one). In (updated) theological parlance: catholic ecclesiology pwnz teh protestant version.
Mr Blair was received into full communion with the Catholic Church by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, during Mass in the chapel at Archbishop’s House, Westminster, on Friday.
Mr Blair, formerly a member of the Church of England, has been receiving doctrinal and spiritual preparation from Mgr Mark O’Toole, the Cardinal’s private secretary.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: ‘I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church. For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a programme of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion. My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together.’
According to Yahoo News early Christmas aficionados called upon the PR abilities of pagan roman sites (actually THE roman site par excellence, ie where Romulus and Remus got nursed by a wolf (for current wolf nursing news see here)) to spread the word about Dec. 25th.
ROME – The church where the tradition of celebrating Christmas on Dec. 25 may have begun was built near a pagan shrine as part of an effort to spread Christianity, a leading Italian scholar says.
Italian archaeologists last month unveiled an underground grotto that they believe ancient Romans revered as the place where a wolf nursed Rome’s legendary founder Romulus and his twin brother Remus.
A few feet from the grotto, or “Lupercale,” the Emperor Constantine built the Basilica of St. Anastasia, where some believe Christmas was first celebrated on Dec. 25.