Friday, August 26, 2005

The Middle Way?

I’ve just concluded an unpleasant experience on a message board. I began posting with the hope that we might be able to dialogue about religion and spirituality there in a more respectful and meaningful way than is often the case in online forums. But the moderator accused me, falsely I believe, of relentlessly bashing Christianity and urged me to seek help for my “mental illness.” It’s interesting to observe within oneself the thoughts and emotions that can surface and swirl through consciousness at times like that. I didn’t feel hurt by what he said. But I did feel angry and determined to refute what I considered to be his groundless accusations of Christian-bashing. In fact, I became narrowly focused on this and almost only this for over a day. In retrospect, I think it was pretty much a waste of time and energy, especially when the moderator ended up snipping key parts of my explanations and attacking his expurgated and distorted representations of what remained of them. One of the lessons to be learned from this is, I suppose, to pick your forums quite carefully and to leave, before getting too emotionally involved, if things don’t look like they’re going to work out. I had warning signs of this rather early on, yet I stayed on, hoping that misunderstandings could be overcome and meaningful dialogue pursued. I was apparently wrong.

But toward the end of my brief participation there, an interesting theme was raised concerning my negative comments about Christianity. This is what the moderator wrote:

I tend to doubt that you have any real interest in the goodness and truth in all religions because you seem so consistently to go out of your way to overlook the good and see the bad.

I replied with the following:

Different people take different approaches to religion. Some, like Ibn `Arabi, may look from the outset for what they find true and beautiful in all religions. Others, like Nagarjuna, begin by trying to clear away false or dubious beliefs to make the heart and mind receptive to truth. Alan Watts likened conventional religion to covering a window with blue paint to represent the sky instead of cleaning the window to see the real sky directly. It seems to me that religion might work best for some of us, perhaps for many of us by being a spiritual window cleaner rather than the window painter that the religious traditions, some more than others, seem to be.

But I know that many would disagree with me on this and say that some window painting needs to be done, and, furthermore, that our ultimate fulfillment or purpose is best achieved via a mature and systematic tradition and supporting community. One of the themes I wish to explore is how true this is and how one EVER sees the sky through the
blue paint—i.e., God through the mental clutter of traditional scripture and dogma.

The moderator responded this way:

I worry you are so concerned with cleaning the window that all you can see are the specks, spots, smudges and fingerprints on the glass that you never actually get around to looking through the window. I am sorry if that seems rude, but that is the impression I have of you.

I think that he made a good point. It’s easy to go too far to the negative extreme, just as one can go too far to the other extreme and try to see God through a spiritual window too caked with old paint and smudges. The elusive secret may well be to find a point of harmonious balance between the via negativa and the via positiva. I’m looking for it. I hope that I can find it.

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