Christian chaos vs. Zen silence
October 23, 2011 by Bill
The distinguished historian Arnold Toynbee made a fascinating observation before he died. He wrote that when historians of the future look at our period, they are going to find that the single most important historical event was the penetration of Eastern religions into the orthodox Christianity of America.
We might ask, “Is such an infusion taking place?”
Fifty years ago, if you wanted to study a sacred Eastern text, it would have been almost impossible to find one outside of a University library. Today, every small corner bookstore in the country is crammed with all the material anyone could want on Taoism, Zen, Hinduism, Yoga, meditation, mysticism and related subjects.
Tour companies advertise: “Explore the beauty and mystery of Zen. Three weeks in Japan.”
In my classes at the University of Puget Sound, I always asked my students at the end of the semester to name the section that had meant the most to them. Invariably it was the section on Zen and Taoism. Specific courses in Eastern religions were always full to overflowing.
Many scholars and ministers within the Christian tradition are studying with Zen Masters. The noted Theologian, Paul Tillich of the University of Chicago and Harvard, wrote an excellent book presenting the thesis that Christianity is today being judged by the older religious traditions of the East. Many seminars are being held around the country bringing together Buddhists monks, Zen masters, Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis and professors of religion.
Contemporary Quantum Physics is saying that the perceptions of reality found in Eastern thought are far more in harmony with what is known today about the world we live in than are the archaic concepts and cosmologies of the bible.
No other religion in the entire 100,000-year history of religion has become so splintered, fragmented and unidentifiable as the one we call by the name of Christianity. Zen is Zen, period. Taoism is Taoism, period. But what is Christianity? Is it Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventists, Mormonism, Pentecostal, Unitarian, Jehovah’s Witness, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, television evangelism, mega fundamentalist churches… and I could continue for pages, taken right out of the yellow pages of your phone book, of the fragmented and splintered religion called Christianity? I call it “Christian chaos.” What is it? Who knows?
As for fragmentation… when I was teaching at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, I used to always do the following: for the last ten sessions of each semester, I would bring in ten representatives, each from ten different Christian traditions, and let them speak about their tradition and what they believed. I would start with a Christian Science practitioner, then a Seventh Day Adventist, then through Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Jehovah’s Witness, Pentacostal, Lutheran, Methodist, Unitarian, then Episcopalian and on through the ten. The students soon realized they were listening to TEN TOTALLY DIFFERENT RELIGIONS, all calling themselves Christian and all quoting from the bible.
The students were free to ask questions, as long as they remained courteous. Under questioning, some of the speakers were lost, and left just mumbling… the poor little Mormon missionaries… the Jehovah’s Witnesses and those types of mentalities. It was a wonderful way to illustrate to the students that no one really knows what Christianity is all about – as shown by the fragmented, splintered, chaotic presentation of it with so many absurd interpretations.
Among intelligent, questioning people today, there is an increasing disenchantment with dogmatic and ecclesiastical authoritarianism. If more and more people, young and old, are searching for inspiration and contemplative education and finding it in Eastern concepts, we might ask, WHY? Could it be because today’s Christianity has produced images of hay rides, bingo nights, skating parties and church building religion, combined with bigoted judgments as to who is going to be saved and who is the real 100-percent Good Housekeeping approved “Christian”?
So called “Christianity” is drowning in words, arguments, apologetics, talk, defenses, ranting and raving sermons, theological bickering and chatter.
Many people are finding blessed relief in the quiet of Eastern religions, which is phrased best in the thought of the Vedas of classical Hinduism:
“O Thou, Thou before Whom all words recoil, only Silence, Silence only, names Thee.”