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« Being Religious Inter-religiously | Main

09 April 2008



I thought I'd post some interesting comments written about Karen Armstrong with regards to religious understanding of faith and practice by students on the Vow22 programme as it was felt that she has some blindspots and her talk had missed quite a few essential points but particularly the following:

St. Anselm (1033-1109] is famous for having driven home the point that Christian theology is "faith in search of understanding."

It is a life-long back-and-forth, a kind of raw-living dialectic. Faith comes first; one then engages in praxis (behavior perceived to grow out of that commitment; then one returns from that praxis/practice and reflects critically (rationally, conceptually) over the practice, and refines one's understanding of that original faith commitment and continues the cycle. Theology ONLY comes out of that dialectic.

The overall pattern in the Enlightenment took root in the West. Rational language (creeds and confessions and, in time, "systematic theologies") took priority and became the focus of all "faith." In post-modernism, we at last have come to realize that any ideology, philosophy, theology or meta-narrative of any sort ... disguises the very human interests behind it. Changes in how "faith" and "belief" became understood in the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition is most likely because the Enlightenment tended to prize, inordinately highly human reason and the practice of codifying reason in language.

The Enlightenment had little impact in the Eastern hemisphere, at least within the bounds of Christendom, and so that never was true (and still is not) of Eastern Orthodoxy. In Orthodoxy there still is a priority on experience, or more basically on the commitments that then give rise to life experience; and "theological reflection" only follows that. Interestingly, included in "experience" are one's own personal, spiritual intuitions. Those are valued very highly, since, in Eastern Orthodoxy, the primordial "image of God" still exists within all human beings; it is the source of spiritual intuition, and those intuitions can be trusted as part of the "process" that leads one to an ultimate confession of faith (and union with the Orthodox Church). To this, I would have to line up as parallel the sense that Amida's immeasure Light penetrates all worlds and all sentient beings, and is at work on them whether they are consciously aware of it (yet) or not.

In Orthodoxy, one almost invariably is encouraged to keep those early learnings and insights as part of the path. As one Orthodox teacher said, "To become Orthodox, you never have to give up anything." By which this teacher meant, it may be reframed in time (by those confessions) ... but not given up. This teacher, or one closely aligned, I no longer quite remember which, also said the Buddha "is one of our unofficial saints" ... which in itself makes my point!!


Here is a response to the above post:

In order to have a meaningful discussion and gain understanding one must put things into context.

What Karen Armstrong has achieved is nothing to frown upon since Religion and spirituality, when it does appear in this particular world of technology, entertainment and design, doesn't get a great press.

To this audience, she's trying to get across that religion and religious belief is not just about signing up to a set of propositions.

What she is saying is that religion is about what we place our hearts upon, what we trust. Its about faith. (but not "faith" as it is perhaps commonly understood by her audience, i.e. mere belief.

The next point she makes is about compassion. compassionate action is the basis of the three main monotheistic religions. Religion is about how we live together, how we live well, how we live meaningful lives. Her point is to stress the commonalities between the three and to challenge the barbarities that are done in religions' name.

This student's soundbite answer is "Faith and practice cannot be differentiated. Your religion don't amount to a hill of beans if you don't treat people how you would want to be treated yourselves."

Hal Jorden

Oh my

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