The Trouble With Christian Evangelicalism
The other day I was reading a book review on Amazon.com, and the Christian author's hypothesis was that the rise of Christian evangelicalism with its stress on emotions and feelings as the religious pathway had resulted in the intellectual decline of Christianity compared to other religions.
His premise was that Christians, as a whole, tended to dwell on emotions and feelings to the detriment of critical analysis, and resultantly, the intellectual underpinnings of Christianity had become vastly weakened. This is a spin-off from just saying there is a problem with blind faith.
The author said that the lack of using critical thinking faculties was actually blunting people's spiritual life rather than elevating it, he proposed. Without more intellectual rigor, many Christians were succumbing to fantastical, whimsical ideas of what Christianity is, and what the future of the world entails -- adopting strange notions (an instance being ideas of the "Rapture" that didn't even exist for most of the last 2000 years) which have no basis in science or logic....including cultivation science. Cultivation science is what counts here, because it explains ALL the phenomena encountered or expected in religions that are to be true.
It never ceases to amuse me of the many grossly unbelievable things people will believe in, because of their religion or even because of beloved sci-fi TV shows or bemusings of futurists in journals, and yet those same people will time and again reject the commonly reported acts, achievements and abilities of saints and sages (gong-fu attainments or exhibitions commonly reported of cultivation masters across traditions) actually explained in cultivation schools, along with HOW TO CULTIVATE THEM. Here we have witnesses, across traditions, of the same common experiences, along with explanations -- AND THESE ARE THE THINGS PEOPLE IGNORE OR POO-POOH while accepting fantastical notions.
Amazing! Also, sad, funny and pitiable. Here's a sample of a dharma battle between the Bon tradition and Esoteric Tradition in Tibet where masters demonstrated various gong-fu abilities that people don't believe in:
Now don't get all excited about this because you can find similar feats amongst the samadhi and realized masters in Hinduism, Taoism, even Christianity. Wherever there is a samadhi master, such things are possible after sufficient cultivation. It's all a science, and even these feats can be explained via how to cultivate them, how you achieve them, and what's going on.
Continuing, most critics usually attack Christianity via the angle that Christian faith or belief isn't enough for spiritual progress. Why? Because you can prove things through self-cultivation, and if you don't make the effort, then "why not?" when that's the purpose of religion and the self-proof is readily available for sifting through all the nonsense so that you're not wasting your time. It's like running a shop and just hoping you're making a profit while refusing to do an easy profit-loss statement to see if you're making or losing money. It's easy to do the numbers of self-proof, and yet if you don't, what type of stupidity is that if you want to see if you'll survive?
Most of the Eastern spiritual schools are laid out in such a way that you can EXPERIENCE AND PROVE all the spiritual states and principles mentioned, which is the religious path. In fact these are the same states achieved by the Christian saints, but eastern schools have everyone trying to cultivate these states for liberation whereas Christians only have a few devoted people bumping into them anymore.
Why? Because the intellectual framework of cultivation principles is lacking in Christianity anymore (in preference to expoundings by reverends and priests with intellectual and speaking powers rather than samadhi attainments, i.e. spiritual accomplishments) so the common man doesn't even know how to cultivate correctly. Or, doesn't even know it exists, or that that's what they should be doing. Or a bunch of other reasons I'm sure you can think of.
Without this reliance on proof, that's why Christianity now has over 33,830 denominations or sub-groups or divisions (David B. Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia). Tell me, they can't all be right, can they? The truth is, with even the slightest cultivation attainments from regular meditation, you can start identifying the nonsense spin-offs immediately. IMMEDIATELY.
The problem for Christianity has grown even worse over time in that the common man is now clinging to emotions--because of this stress on emotions over reasons trumpeted by evangelicalism -- as the cultivate path wholly in itself. That's the problem in many Christian sects, divisions, groups, sub-groups or denominations.
This, of course, leads to nothing other than a strong bathing in transient feelings for awhile, and then tomorrow is another day. Translation: no cultivation progress.
People can claim this is the way to salvation, liberation, Heaven and so forth, but is it? There's not even any logic to it, other than belief. Well, you believe that one day a half-blood, uncircumcised baby killer whale will become King of England, but belief is belief. Beliefs are just claims with no means of possible proof and so anything goes with belief and all sects can abound, whereas on the Eastern side we have the fact you can prove spiritual states for yourself, along with robust intellectual explanations of the path, principles and stages.
You can call this a claim, but it becomes a fact with self-proof, or self-realization, and history shows plenty of people who do achieve something along these lines, just as it shows plenty of people who can lift more than their own weight in barbells. In fact, no Eastern tradition could survive WITHOUT the proof of people who could cultivate using its methods and tenets to some level of realization. Today we have the Western schools controlled by a central power or Orthodoxy which expounds a judgment on matters based solely on someone's opinion, rather than the truth or falsity of the matter. Hence we have Galileo's censure, and the censure of all sorts of scientific findings as perfect examples of belief over fact, dogma over truth. If THESE PROVABLE THINGS can be censured although they're correct, what about the things that CAN'T BE PROVEN but people are supposed to go on by "faith"?
When you think about it and compare those who ACHIEVE something spiritually with those who don't, it's because of cultivation, not simply because of belief and certainly not because of feelings or even "vague feeling states". To trumpet that idea is a disservice to people in the extreme; there is work to be done. Don't cut off people's wisdom life.
As Jeff Levin wrote,
"Spirituality," as the term traditionally has been used, refers to a state of being that is acquired through religious devotion, piety, and observance. Attaining spirituality-union or connection with God or the divine-is an ultimate goal of religion, and is a state not everyone reaches. According to this usage, spirituality is a subset of a larger phenomenon, religion, and by definition is sought through religious participation. Religious scholars, historians, clergy and mystics of all faiths, and lay people have always used the term in this way, almost without exception. [God, Faith, and Health, Jeff Levin, (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2001), pp. 9-10.]
So spirituality actually means SUCCESSFUL CULTIVATION PRACTICE, not simply membership in a group or the attendance of religious services. Remember that.
In most all genuine cultivation schools, you need both merit and wisdom to be able to achieve some degree of spiritual attainment. Those are the two wings that let you fly: (1) spiritual wisdom and (2) merit or virtue. Morality, ethics, the practice of virtue and cutting off of evil ways -- all these PLUS good works brings you merit....a BIG accumulation of merit....which you need to succeed on the cultivation path.
Christianity as a path excels in teaching the doing of good works and merit making. It excels on the merit side. Everywhere you look, Christians are sponsoring this or that to help other beings. Yes, other groups do, too, but Christianity is EXTROVERTED in the performance of merit making activities. It's proactive along these lines as a general characteristic of the tradition.
Excellent! Commendable beyond compare. Marvelous!
From a practical standpoint, Buddhism fails in this way and so do other traditions even though they also press people to do merit. It's not that Buddhists and others don't do acts of charity (don't be nonsensical), but that its expression does not come to the forefront of spiritual practice in many traditions despite the teachings to do it. In fact, when you have a lot of merit, you tend to be born in richer rather than poorer environments, and those tend to be Christian in this day and age...a self-reinforcing circle for as long as the karma lasts. One hundred years from now, who can say?
But what about wisdom? What about wisdom and Christianity? Where does wisdom go when emotion takes over?
The big question is, does Christianity make the "great sin" of cutting off one's wisdom life? My teacher always said that the charlatans, cheats and fakes who falsely posed as spiritual leaders promising to lead people to enlightenment or salvation, yet all for the power and money, were guilty of cutting off people's wisdom life, and thus would eventually merit a karmic rebirth in Hell. Rarely would he stress a consequence that severe.
When you steal money it can be repaid (and will be!), and even a life can be given in return, but he always warned us never to cut off people's wisdom life, because then they revolve around the web of reincarnation for aeons, cut off from the possibility of enlightenment because someone had blinded them with false notions they now cling to. The karmic consequence of misleading people spiritually for money, power, greed, sex or whatever? Hellish karma -- be forewarned.
Now back to our story and the cultivation of wisdom....
Where Christianity goes lacking, especially when compared to Eastern spiritual traditions, is in the cultivation of the wisdom for how to tread the spiritual path. This is one of the reasons that Christianity could never take a strong foothold in India, other than through heavy charitable work, and why many writers, intellectuals and even politicians who EXPERIENCE India also go so far as to mention its superiority in this realm. I've even watched TV documentaries where the commentator flat out says that scholars in other traditions marvel at the profundity and robustness of the intellectual frameworks in these traditions, and frankly admit they cannot compete except through excuses like "Just believe." It's like enrolling in the army where you're not supposed to ask questions, but just follow orders and march to your death.
Here is a list of some of the MAIN Christian groups which you can readily scan, and I don't and won't say anything because I know your mind will immediately evaluate them as to their "wisdom content" or approach to spirituality all by itself:
African Independent Churches (AICs), the Aglipayan Church, Amish, Anglicans, Armenian Apostolic, Assemblies of God; Baptists, Calvary Chapel, Catholics, Christadelphians, Christian Science, the Community of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("Mormons"), Coptic Christians, Eastern Orthodox churches, Ethiopian Orthodox, Evangelicals, Iglesia ni Cristo, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Local Church, Lutherans, Methodists, Monophysites, Nestorians, the New Apostolic Church, Pentecostals, Plymouth Brethren, Presbyterians, the Salvation Army, Seventh-Day Adventists, Shakers, Stone-Campbell churches (Disciples of Christ; Churches of Christ; the "Christian Church and Churches of Christ"; the International Church of Christ); Uniate churches, United Church of Christ/Congregationalists, the Unity Church, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Vineyard churches and others.
The big point to know or understand is to fathom this question: "What is spiritual wisdom then, namely the prajna wisdom or transcendental wisdom spoken of in the East which is the other crux for cultivating enlightenment?" What is the definition of wisdom necessary for spirituality?
"Prajna wisdom is not ordinary wisdom. ... Prajna wisdom indicates that which is able to understand Tao, realize Tao, cultivate the self, release one from the bondage of birth and death and leap over the mundane. This is not common intelligence. It is the wisdom which is the root and origin of the body of Tao. The "so-called" original, or primal, wisdom is merely a name. To use contemporary understanding, it's that which goes above and beyond average intelligence and common wisdom, that which can understand the essence and origin of life, the original nature. This cannot be the result of cognition. Rather, it's the great wisdom achieved through complete engagement in the cultivation of one's body and mind. It is this level of wisdom which is prajna. The word wisdom, which we commonly use, cannot express the full extent of the meaning of the word prajna. Therefore, it is not translated." [Commentary on the Diamond Sutra, Nan Huai-chin, trans. by Pia Giammasi, (private manuscript), pp. 1-8]
Let's say that again: "Prajna wisdom indicates that which is able to understand Tao, realize Tao, cultivate the self, release one from the bondage of birth and death and leap over the mundane. "
If you can find this in a tradition, FANTASTIC. What's left is to cultivate now that the path is made clear. That's all I care about for you. You will never turn a Hindu into a Jew, Moslem into a Taoist, Confucian into a Shintoist and so forth. (Yes there are exceptions, but you get the idea so don't nitpick, just get the point). So all I care about is that you recognize the pathway to enlightenment, and within your own tradition practice along these lines, achieve something and then help the others. You want to convert to something else, then convert. You don't want to, then don't -- but practice in the way that's effective.
That, my friend, is wisdom. Do you have it? Do you know the target of the path? Do you know how to get there via practice? Do you have a practice vehicle or method(s)? Are your practicing correctly? Do you know what to expect in terms of the gong-fu (kung-fu, kungfu, gongfu) or stages of the path? ...
Knowing the answers to these and similar questions is prajna wisdom, transcendental wisdom, the wisdom you need to succeed in cultivation.
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