Carne Levare

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Christianity, Scriptures, and the Future

Posted by Remy on June 13, 2009

“Judaism and Christianity have sustained a directional conception of history, culminating in the Millennium. However, the Jewish idea of history stresses not progress but only procession, while the idea of progress is profoundly manifest in Christianity.”

“Other major religions are strongly oriented to the past, and to the principle that, if anything, history is regressive and later generations are prone to error. Therefore, to say that the sages or saints in times past may have had an imperfect or limited understanding of religious truths is rejected out of hand by Buddhists, Confucianists, Hindus, and even by Muslims.”

-quotes from Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason

3 Responses to “Christianity, Scriptures, and the Future”

  1. I don’t know much about the other “religions”, but I don’t think that’s true of Mahayana Buddhism. And it surely wasn’t true of ancient paganism–to what generation and toward whom did Virgil think history was pointed? What did Virgil think his Christmas Eclogue was about?

  2. Remy said

    Mostly Virgil was kissing up to Caesar, but the pagan view as a whole is bleak. Even Buddhism. It’s not about changing the world, it’s about escape.

  3. I’m not sure that it’s worthwhile to speak of “Buddhism.” There are probably as many differences between this “Buddhism” and that as between Charismatics and Muslims.

    You are surely correct that early Buddhism was about escape. The Buddha read Ecclesiastes, and believed in reincarnation, so it wasn’t just “everything sucks, and then it’s over.” But “Everything sucks, and it never stops.” He then invented a method of escape from this endless cycle of reincarnation into nothingness by not caring.

    But Mahayana Buddhism is different. In early Buddhism there were two different concepts, first, the Buddha, who achieves enlightenment (which is perhaps almost suicide in a world which denies the possibility of suicide), and is the first in his world to do so. But then second, the Arhat who learns from a Buddha, and achieves enlightenment through the help of a Buddha.

    Somehow in crossing the Himalayas, Buddhism was radically changed, and one of those major changes was that they began to think of the Arhat as something less than the Buddha, and to be avoided. Better was the Bodhisattva, someone who could become a Buddha were he to chose to, but instead, motivated by compassion, remains around to help others become Buddhas.

    Thus, for instance, Pure Land Buddhists put their faith in the great Boddhisattva (now Buddha) Amitabha and his infinite merits which who will save any who call upon him to save.

    Amitabha, (at that time named Dharmakāra vowed to improve himself and to fashion a world which was all perfect.

    Similarly Zen Buddhism believes in no progress.

    The caterpillar said, “One side will make you grow bigger and the other side will make you grow smaller”
    “One side of what? The other side of what?” thought Alice to herself.
    “Of the mushroom,” said the caterpillar.
    Alice looked at the mushroom, trying to make out which were the two sides of it, as it was perfectly round.

    These are obviously perversions of the Christian truth, but they still contain the idea of progress. Amitabha in particular worked to create something better, and through him the universes are progressing to something better. Our problem with them isn’t over progression to better, but over what (or rather who) better really is.

    And likewise, version of progress that Stark is arguing for is a Christian heresy. It tries to bypass the Cross and skip straight to the resurrection. It says rightly that this world must and shall become good, but it forgets that the only way to life is death.

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