Thursday, August 09, 2007

Syncretism.



Meandering thoughts this Thursday morning.

One of the major reasons I ultimately left the Unitarian Church was because its defined search for truth was so unfocused that it didn't offer me much by way of spiritual nourishment.

That said, looking back at the changes in religion and religious organization over the last millennium, and then considering the present and future, I wonder what changes are ahead. Straightforward syncretism is rarely fruitful. There has to be tension involved (ie. a questing) involved in building any religion with cultural staying power. Religious progress always seems to happen in the context of a struggle to articulate something intangible and difficult, and to reconcile it with different classes, regions, and world views. Formulaic syncretism neither benefits from nor adequately confronts these complexities; it simply aligns correspondant tropes and concepts and equates them with each other. Since this does not force a spiritual reckoning, neither does it engender a fertile field of religious contemplation or inquiry.

I think, however, that religious syncretism has a role to play in the future. I've been struck recently by certain similarities and differences between Buddhism and Christianity as expansive "missionary" religions. By way of similarities, both sprang from ancient, ethnically defined religions, achieved dramatic success far from home, and proved as durable and elastic as their predecessors. Among interesting differences, and those which to me suggest the most fruitful syncretic possibilities, are not overlaps, but in fact points of difference in their resort to elaboration and austerity. For example, in theravada Buddhism, the Buddha abjures any claim to godhood or messianism, defining his precepts as a moral code and an approach to enlightenment. As against this, Christianity, which is epistemologically explicit, could possibly benefit from the very nuanced, and in some ways very different, Buddhist understanding of humility and obligation.

But this is all I can say about this without learning much much more.

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