Religion is under attack.

Religion is under attack from all sides.  Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hichens have written and lectured extensively against it.  A growing trend is towards being ‘spiritual but not religious,’ with its implicit rejection of religion, while technical gadgets, such as the smart phone, iPad with the accompanying flood of computer ‘games, ’now fill the time that once could have been devoted to questions that only religion can answer.  The epidemic of child abuse committed by priests and covered up by bishops has sapped people’s confidence in the Church as a moral compass, while extreme fundamentalists––Christian and Muslim––have persuaded us that religion is for the lunatic fringe.  All of this is against the background of a materialistic and secular worldview that claims that all that can be asked of religion can be answered by science. 

The beliefs that the Christian religion requires us to accept without question, such as the virgin birth of Jesus, his resurrection after being killed by crucifixion, and the various miracles he is purported to have performed, to say nothing about the Virgin Mary being taken up to heaven fully clothed or  Lazarus being hauled back from the dead, leave most of us shaking our heads wondering how to integrate them with our modern understanding.

So should we, as Dawkins demands, just throw it all out?  Should we dismiss religious teaching as improbable fairy tales told to fill the gap of ignorance, without sense or value, an opiate for the masses?  Should we just ‘do our own thing’ with a potpourri of mashed ideas from the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, that is to say Sufi, traditions, all served up with a good dose of yoga?  What would we lose as a consequence?  How could we answer such a question in our ‘postmodern world’ where my truth is as good as your truth, where there is no orienting center to act s beacon and guide?

 To answer such a question we should have some sense of what we are as human beings, what is our true or original nature.  We need to reconstruct from scratch an understanding of our human nature, its psychological as well as spiritual aspects.  One of the most distressing things about our age is that we have no psychological understanding at all, this having been usurped by neuro-science under the mistaken notion that the mind and brain are different names for the same phenomena. 

I should like to use this web-site to explore with you some thoughts about you and me, not you and me the bodies, but you and me as the miracles that we are.

 First I ought to announce my prejudices and biases.  In this way you can opt out of reading what I have to say if these are fundamentally and irrevocably different from your own.  I have had an intense interest in Zen Buddhism since 1955, have practice it consistently since 1964 and, as teacher and director of the Montreal Zen Center, have, since 1986, taught it to a vast variety of people from all walks of life.  I have studied widely Western  philosophy and science and am familiar in some depth with the Christian, Sufi, Hindu, and other ancient traditions.  I was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Queen’s University in Ontario.

 We all judge, theorize and evaluate within a network of assumptions, or beliefs, which together characterize our worldview.  It will be as well to pick out a few of the prevalent assumptions and beliefs based on which we have until now tried to come to terms with human nature.  I will then set out some alternative assumptions that will make possible an entirely different approach to understanding human nature.

 Possibly the most basic assumption held by people who think about life and its meaning is that the world is essentially and only matter.  This matter in some way, with the aide of accidental mutations refined by 
natural selection, becomes increasingly complex and gives rise to life and, eventually, to consciousness and thought.  Living beings, including of course human beings, are complicated matter, which can be studied using the same scientific approach that has been used in studying the physical universe.  Moreover, it is believed that everything in principle can be known, and that classical logic, along with the principle of cause and effect, is an adequate logical basis for gaining an understanding of life processes. Finally, life has no direction or purpose and the need to survive is the sole motivator in life.

 As long as we stay with these assumptions we shall not be able to break the logjam in thought that stymies any worthwhile attempt to understand human nature or to understand religion, which I shall suggest is a natural outcome of life’s drive.  Therefore, I suggest the following alternative assumptions.  The world and life forms are not simply complicated matter but are the outcome of three independent aspects:  intentionality, consciousness and matter. I will define these later and in the process I will refine this assumption.  Life is not a mechanical process and cannot be studied using the same assumptions as are used in the physical sciences: life is essentially creative. Classical logic is not adequate for gaining an understanding of life processes, instead we need a logic of creativity that includes classical logic, but goes beyond it. The knowable is an island within the unknowable. To understand human nature one must start with what is best and greatest in human beings 
and account for its evolution. Evolution goes in the direction of increasing intelligence.

 These then are some of my basic assumptions, or if one prefers, they are my basic beliefs. I shall hope to be able to post each month some elaboration, explanation or justification for having these beliefs, and with this perhaps we shall find a way by which we can rescue religion from the confusion of misunderstandings and ill-founded dogmas that characterize it at the moment.  In doing so we may discover a startling new and meaningful meaning for the word ‘religion.’

 

 

 

 

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22 Responses to Religion is under attack.

  1. Christian Lamontagne says:

    Dear Albert, I’ll follow your blog with great interest. I easily conceive of new meanings for the word “religion”, but is it possible to separate the real institutions (christian, islamic, hinduism, buddhism, etc.) and the meaning of the word? What seems obvious to me, is a different understanding of the “sacred” as civilisations evolve from magic, to mythic, to modern/logic, postmodern and “integral”. Integral is simply the realization that reality doesn’t exist as something “given” that can be conceived of without it’s immersion in the totality that we cannot think. For sure, I can say that I am “in the word”, but it is not less true that the “world is in me”. Two sides of the inseparable unity.

  2. Maria Romero says:

    When I try to name IT it escapes me and I can hardly get it back, impossible to retain and yet my need to share it is so great… I believe that’s one of the bigest challenges of religion today.

  3. anitalow says:

    hi Albert, i am looking forward to following your new ‘path’ … love, anita

  4. Monique Dumont says:

    There are questions that only religion can answer, you say. Could we say also there are questions that can be meaningfully asked only in a religious way? And what is a religious way is not of course something I can elaborate here. But let’s say that these are the questions like who am I or where is my true home.

    What is lost when there is not a living religious tradition to help nurture, articulate and give a direction to this questioning? A British philosopher wrote: “for most people, there is a dense nugget of meaning in the center of their lives, which weighs heavily when they find no way to express it in communal forms”. It weighs very heavily. The real questions are buried so deep, you once said, that one doesn’t even hear them anymore, not to mention that one doesn’t know how to ask them. What one hears is only a murmur of nagging discontent that one tries with every means possible to muffle. But we have just to listen to the media to hear how deafening this discontent is.

  5. Pierre Gilles Lebel says:

    Le problème avec la religion, c’est que les leaders religieux ont disparu des médias de masse. Ils ne participent pas, par exemple, aux forums de discussion sur les sujets d’actualité. C’est comme si les problèmes concrets, quotidiens, ne méritaient pas qu’on s’en préoccupe. Il serait peut-être intéressant qu’à chaque mois vous abordiez un sujet d’actualité du point de vue du bouddhisme zen, on trouve tant d’analyses et de commentaires superficiels – et c’est un euphémisme – dans les journaux.
    Supposons, M. Low, que vous rencontrez par hasard dans la rue un étudiant qui arbore un «carré rouge» et qu’il vous demande ce que le zen peut faire pour lui et pour sa cause, que lui répondriez-vous? Que suggéreriez-vous aux «Indignés» de Montréal, de New York ou de Madrid? Ou encore, est-ce la victoire d’Obama ou celle de Romney qui va apporter le bonheur aux Américains?…

  6. alain says:

    We now live almost exclusively within a world of words, this world of words is getting more and more incompatible and incoherent with the ‘ongoing and flowing natural world’. It is as if this world of words has taken a momentum of its own, kind of disconnected and isolated itself from the ‘flowing and ongoing natural world’. Within this world of words, there is a split; a structural duality and a unity of process or dynamism, for this world of words is simultaneously and alternatively that by which we look from (subjectivity, bias and prejudices) and that which we look at (objectivity). Within this world of words, there must be coherence; a stable orienting center to gather our subjectivity with our objectivity, the center I now feel is eroding at a very fast pace, and is being ‘replace’ by ephemeral, discontinuous and shifting centers or points of focus which are outside of ourselves.

  7. alain says:

    Most existential questions and problems are formulated, described or articulated within the framework of a seer, what we look from (or subject) and a seen, what we look at (or objective world). We basically look at in a ‘wrong’ way in order to ‘solve’ inexistent ‘problems’; many questions, impasses arises from within this framework. There are no seer within a seen, no I within context or situations, no viewpoint within view! Our viewpoint ‘is’ view, it is not within view. The seer is not within the seen, the seer ‘is’ the scene/seen, it is dynamism, and is dynamically created. Sightseeing is, centripetally a seer and is centrifugally a seen, it is not a seer within a seen .What then happens when we imagine a seer within a seen or scene? What then happens when we start looking for ourselves, because of the framework we make use of, we can only look for a seer within a seen; a lost soul within an alien world we do not understand!

  8. Marcel DesRosiers says:

    Writing articles from your own experience about life and make them accessible to anyone on internet is of interest for me and will be profitable to a lot of people. Articles to be for one who is questioning the miracles of life, for other to discover for the first time that life could be different from they have always taught it was in their mind and awake them to this new sense of miracles you have found.

  9. Hello Albert,
    Thank you for finding a new way to teach us and allow a greater number of people to participate, member of the Zen center or not. I’ll be a faithfull reader of comments and answers.

    Janine

  10. Last week we had a discussion about religion at the office.There were three people around my place and there were three different view points.
    • One of the guy consider himself as a Muslim but he could have been from any other religious system. According to him Religion is what sustain a kind of moral code by which one has to live within. If one respect the code then God is happy and one will live in heaven eternally. It is simple and there is nothing more to be asked.
    • Another one was a late Christian who consider himself as a beleiver but not a follower anymore. He seems like thousand of people nowadays to hesitate to throw the baby with the bath water (as we say in french). Religion seems for him a kind of personnel thing that one might need when life is threatening and one needs spiritual support. It is a kind of spiritual insurance and it doesn’t cost anything to keep it.
    • But I told them, what about life itself? What about those questions what am I, where do I come from, what do I really need, what I am looking for? If we look honestly just for a single moment won’t we see that there is always something unthinkable, a kind of profound mystery that is revealing itself in each and every experience we have? Isn’t what Religion should help people with? Shouldn’t it show the way and encourage one to stay connected with this ungraspable, this dissatisfaction?
    • The third one who consider himself an atheist was choked with what I just said. He react violently to what I had just said. He tell that there were absolutely no need to complicate our mind with those things. Science, is discovering everyday another piece of this mystery and one day maybe it will be solved.
    • I felt very sorry about the three versions but most of all I felt the third one extremely sad.

  11. Sandra Olney says:

    I believe the most important step anyone takes is to determine whether they can conceive of anything but the material. I don’t know how people do that, but I do remember that, after 25 years of being a reluctant atheist, this was my first breakthrough. It came about through the work of Jung’s explorations in Eastern religions, though I don’t recall exactly what was operative. It was essential in permitting me to proceed.

  12. Marcel DesRosiers says:

    There is no need for religions neither to attack them for one who is convinced to be able by himself to understand and conduct his own life. He is satisfied and happy with that. But for others who attack religion, that may become their only reason to live and leads them to ignore the main purpose of their attacks that should be to build a better world.

    And for those ones who rarely attack religions and are focused in those miracles of what they believe life is made of, one religion may be a necessary daily path to guide and help them in their search of understanding from where and how those miracles of life happen. They believe in another life living inside them witch is a spiritual one. They are also aware that religions have structures that have to be maintained by human beings with limits to deal with it in a day-a-day struggle to keep their bodies alive. I would say for myself that each human being is one among the greatest manifestations of those miracles of life.

  13. I often feel that I am in looking at the tour of Babel. The numerous spiritual practices in which people adhere often brings me into judging. Then I react to journalism and science that have become the new inquisition of our time. The centuries of witch burning was somewhat similar to our times, lost of spiritual value and domination of materialism, deep confusion with witchcraft and spiritual. Dear Albert, thank you for nourishing the sacred.

  14. Marie Lloyd says:

    I left the Catholic church in a teenaged rage when it prohibited inquiry and demanded a zombie’s faith in the Nicene Creed. For years I was an embittered atheist, then finally an apathetic, drained agnostic. After my first encounter with you, Albert, at a workshop in Kingston, I went home dazed and looked around my living room. Over many years, beginning a fairly short time after abandoning the church, I’d begun collecting a lot of sculpture which felt meaningful to me. I realized that day in some shock that it was – well, it was all Buddhist art.

    • Gervais Asselin says:

      That’s very funny. Something similar happened to me. I never turned my back on religion, but when I was young, around eleven, or twelve I would roan downtown Montreal with my friend. One day we came across a store that had a figurine in the window. This figurine grabbed me (sort of speak), and I could not turn away. I would easily spend twenty minutes or so, just staring at this thing, and wondering who is that, feeling that I really should know. I went back many times to just stare at this figurine.
      It turns out that it was a figurine of Bodhidharma, just like the one that is in the Mtl Zen Centre’s interview room.

  15. Marcel DesRosiers says:

    Born and educated in holy water, I found in the deep blurred waters of my religion these keywords to live with: ”love, humility, faith and gratitude”. And was my body, the essential part to stand alive, acting like a machine to assure material needs and social values. To link my body life to my spiritual one became the sense I gave to live with myself and everybody around me.

    In the attempt to restore the meaningful meaning of the word ”religion” that you propose here, people inside and outside their institutions first have to recover their own essential values and make them become realities in their day-a-day schedule. When disconnected, spiritual life remains virtual. So are religions, they look virtuals or non-sense when disconnected too far away from their basic values and intentions.

  16. Randy H. says:

    Billy Graham would have me cut off my head; Richard Dawkins would cut out my heart. Both, in their own way, are ‘religious’ men. I don’t know. There is this longing. And I’ve been fortunate enough to find a spiritual practice that gives expression and direction to that longing. Zen too has been called religion. But is it? Perhaps we need another word, another language…

  17. marc soucie says:

    If nothing can be added (improved) what is the value of awakening ?

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