Last week I examined the theology of Marcion of Sinope, who believed – as did many other early Christians – that there existed two gods, one good and one evil. I argued that Marcion’s theology is an ingenious way for a Christian to make sense of the atrocities in the Hebrew Bible. But this week I want to argue that the appeal of such a theology goes well beyond the interpretation of scripture in the West. Rather, it is also a way to help us understand the world, if we are to take theism seriously. Continue reading
For Augustine, evil is nothing more than the absence of good, as we would say cold is no more than the absence of heat. Not every contemporary Christian follows this idea exactly, but the majority would surely agree that the goodness of God is supremely powerful, with evil (whether personified as Satan or not) significantly lesser.
It was not always this way. Many early Christian factions – most famously the Manicheans, but also the Marcionites and many Gnostics – believed that there were two warring gods, one good and one evil. Continue reading
A few months ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is particularly given to pithy epigrams. We were discussing the Stata Center: a brightly colourful building on the MIT campus, designed by architect Frank Gehry, which is designed deliberately to look chaotic, unfinished, random. It’s not a building that leaves many people feeling neutral. My friend disliked its artifice, disjoint from the things around it. I said I thought it would be terribly inappropriate in the middle of a historic neighbourhood, but that it’s just right for a school like MIT, so focused on progress and the future. She didn’t think it was appropriate anywhere, and added: “Frank Gehry hates the real world.”
I’ve been thinking about that quote while reading articles by Patrick Deneen and others at Front Porch Republic, who would probably agree with my friend about Gehry’s architecture (though not about much else). Continue reading
There’s been a lot of talk among Buddhism-related bloggers lately about an article in Tricycle, by Linda Heuman. Heuman recounts the discovery, in 1994, of some very old scrolls – known as the Kharoṣṭhī fragments – in the the old Buddhist land of Gandhara, in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. Richard Salomon of the University of Washington has spent a great deal of time poring over these manuscripts. And what might we get out of them now? What difference might they make to Buddhists today?
Salomon argues that the manuscripts disprove an earlier model of Buddhist history – according to which there was an original council of Buddhists which established the first Buddhist canon, transmitted to disciples more or less verbatim. Instead, they show us that very different Buddhist texts were transmitted in very different places from very early on; the evidence doesn’t give us a first text that we can come back to.
The question is: what does that point imply? Heuman quotes Salomon to the effect that “none of the existing Buddhist collections of early Indian scriptures—not the Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, nor even the Gandhari—’can be privileged as the most authentic or original words of the Buddha.’” (The first part of the quote, with the italics, is Heuman’s.) Heuman uses this claim to argue against Buddhist sectarian disputes: “Sectarian authority claims assume solid essentialist ground. That type of ground is just not there.” Let us assume for the purposes of this post that Salomon’s historical conclusions are correct. Does Heuman’s critique of sectarianism really follow? Continue reading
Advaita Vedānta, al-Hallāj, Arianism, Aristotle, Docetism, Emmanuel Lévinas, Four Noble Truths, James Doull, Jesus, mystical experience, natural environment, Nicene Creed, Nicholas Gier, Śaṅkara, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī, Stephen Prothero
I’ve been thinking some more about the idea of encounter, which I blogged about in these posts and which I take to be central to the philosophy of Emmanuel Lévinas: the idea that we can never encompass the wholeness of truth, it must remain irreducibly other to us. I’m wondering whether the basic idea animating encounter philosophies is the virtue of humility – a virtue, I think, in both epistemological and ethical contexts. Aristotle, on the other hand, saw pride as a virtue, modesty as its lack – and while I do think humility is a virtue myself, I would remain an Aristotelian in seeing humility, like justice, as a mean. It is far too easy to be too humble in action, to be servile and self-abnegating – an excess which, I’ve suggested before, hurts women’s struggle for equality. And with respect to knowledge, too little humility can lead us to an inappropriate feeling of certainty; but realizing that lack of certainty can spur us to too much humility, leading us into a self-contradictory denial of truth and knowledge.
The issue surrounding encounter, in that case, goes well beyond one’s relationship with God, even one’s relationship with other human beings. Continue reading
In my introductory religion class at Stonehill I was teaching about the Marcionite Christians, followers of the second-century Christian Marcion of Sinope, who wished to see a Christianity without any Jewish influence. This posed rather a tricky problem for Marcion, seeing as Jesus was born Jewish and seemed to claim the lineage of the Jewish prophets. That Jesus viewed himself as Jewish is not only the conclusion of modern biblical scholarship; it seems to have been the view present in the scriptures that Marcion himself encountered. Marcion, it seems, took the Gospel of Luke as known to him and edited out everything that looked Jewish.
Why did he do this? I suppose it could have been merely a cynical move to gain followers, but Marcionism had an appeal that lasted long after Marcion’s death; I don’t see much reason to believe that Marcion didn’t believe what he was writing. But this is still puzzling. To our eyes it seems like an awful sort of arrogance to edit historical writings according to one’s own theology. One might ask: how could he have believed any of this?
In trying to understand Marcion I can only think of the popular view expressed in the Mahāyāna Adhyāśayasaṃcodana Sūtra, that “whatever is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.” Continue reading