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 Holy Ignorance

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Posts : 1620
Join date : 2010-11-13
Age : 72
Location : New York, NY

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PostSubject: Holy Ignorance   Holy Ignorance Empty3/22/2011, 12:15 am

These paragraphs are from a review of the new book HOLY IGNORANCE by Olivier Roy --from the Wall Street Journal:

In "Holy Ignorance," the French social theorist Olivier Roy sets out
to modify this secularization theory and to overturn its triumphalist
message. He begins by noting that religion, though still obviously an
important part of modern society, has been relegated to the private
sphere, becoming mostly an "interior" search for spiritual well-being.
In such a world, "faith communities" of every stripe increasingly
withdraw from the broader culture, defending their doctrinal purity
against the onslaught of coarse secular trends, what Mr. Roy calls
"neo-paganism." This withdrawal, though understandable, is a danger in
itself. "Faith without culture," Mr. Roy says, "is an expression of

By fanaticism, Mr. Roy does not mean merely extreme fundamentalist
belief. He argues that all faith, in its isolated, separatist form,
gives rise to a disdain for "profane culture"—everything that is not
derived from religion—and to a preference for "pure religion," a form of
religious belief that is unmediated, unstructured and unconnected to
the larger society. Pure religion, in Mr. Roy's view, not only tends to
fanaticism but lacks any grounding in a common world. Such religion
loses touch, he says, with "religious knowledge itself." It fails to
acknowledge its dependence on a dynamic cultural tradition. He sees the
spread of Pentecostalism, the world's fastest growing religion, as
evidence of the rise of "holy ignorance." Its adherents "speak in
tongues," in a language that is understood only by those who have been
touched by the Holy Spirit.
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Join date : 2010-10-25

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PostSubject: Re: Holy Ignorance   Holy Ignorance Empty3/22/2011, 12:29 pm

I think the points made by Oliver Roy remind me of some of the difficulties I have with the OBC. Compared to other Buddhist groups the OBC appears disinterested in the affairs of the outside world. I cant recall any references in my time in the OBC of encouraging people to organise on issues such as poverty, racism or environmentalism. For me compassion means to stop harm being done to others and ease suffering but I worry that for the OBC this only extended as far as teaching people who presented themselves at Throssel. I do worry that Zen is a selfish religion and its a case of sorting out one's own problems and then pulling down shutters. I do hope I am wrong and the OBC has campaigned on social issues that I am not aware of.
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Posts : 21
Join date : 2010-08-06
Age : 50
Location : Scotland (Edinburgh/Inverness)

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PostSubject: Re: Holy Ignorance   Holy Ignorance Empty3/22/2011, 1:27 pm

Hi Kropotkin,

I sympathise regarding the sense of introvertedness, there are Zen Buddhist organisations that are active/engaged, Bernie Glassman's 'Zen Peacemakers' being an obvious and well respected example...I think the 'Order of Interbeing' is similar, there are no doubt others too.

Historically, Tetsugen Doko (17th Obaku zen master) is refreshingly 'engaged'....three times took a long time (and great pains) to raise the money to have copies of the sutras printed, but on the first two occasions gave away all the money to help the vitcims of natural disasters....lovely example. In the medieval period (in Japan) some temples and monasteries did run schools, perhaps there were other social ventures too. It's hard to know sometimes if there's a genuine lack in this respect, or simply a lack of research published in English to know for sure...

As far as I can see, Buddhism in general has been less 'engaged' than e.g. Christianity, though there are obvious changes now C.20th onwards...

But, on the other hand, I welcome the focus on sorting one's own problems out, as long as it isn't the only focus, then I feel it can easily become neurotic and introverted. Indeed, perhaps you can't truly sort your 'own' problems out in isolation from others anyway...


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PostSubject: Re: Holy Ignorance   Holy Ignorance Empty3/22/2011, 2:29 pm

As many may know, the Dalai Lama has been actively involved in inter-religious dialogue in a number of different forums, among them a Christian/Buddhist intermonastic dialogue that was begun as a collaboration with Thomas Merton before his untimely death, and has continued to the present. Many Christians will readily acknowledge that the contact with the East has re-awakened the Christian Contemplative Tradition, in particular for lay people. Forms of Christian contemplative retreats and meditation practice today resemble Zen Buddhist and Vipassana forms. And there are many Christian Contemplative communities and networks that have arisen in recent decades around the world. The Dalai Lama has remarked on more than one occasion that the gift of contact with Christianity and the West has sparked a consciousness of active works of social justice and compassionate and charitable service among Buddhists. Thich Nhat Hanh and Bernard Glassman also have pioneered forms of Buddhist practice that emphasize engagement in social justice and peace making.
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Join date : 2010-08-26
Location : Redding, CA

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PostSubject: Re: Holy Ignorance   Holy Ignorance Empty3/23/2011, 9:53 pm

Hi Josh and all--I wonder if the modern disengagement from "profane culture" that Mr. Roy notes is a part of fundamentalism isn't partly due to the myriad ways that scientific/technological modern culture clashes with the old bronze age models of the universe?

You can't have a discussion of the origins of life online (with a broad audience) without someone--usually a religious person who believes in the creation stories of Genesis--telling you that Evolution is "only a theory," as if that were some kind of derogatory remark, and that believing in evolution is somehow made optional for the modern serious person by this choice of words. You similarly don't have to scratch very far beneath the surface of the interwebs to find people who claim to believe that the moon landings were staged, and the sun revolves around the earth, and that the universe is just 6,000 years old.

(I say it was all created five minutes ago. Prove me wrong!)

In any case, all of the pre-19th Century stories were developed before we really knew anything about geologic processes, DNA, population genetics and natural selection, electronics, and a host of other major innovations. Taken separately and together, these breakthroughs have come at a "cost" of a sort, in that they can't be squared with traditional readings of the old texts.

So what does the average religious non-scientific person do (of those who don't have the sort of education that encourages intellectual exploration)? They have their social structure, their moral dependencies, their psychological comforts, and their experiences of the deep mysteries of life bound up in these stories. Their preacher is an educated man, and seems very reliable, and he tells them that faith requires for them to set aside the fruits of all this technology, all of this rough and inconvenient logic, and grab hold of their faith all the more tightly.

So the operating system that they've based their whole life and worldview upon divorces them ever more relentlessly from the facts about the world that keep encroaching upon their consciousness via TV, internet, and (OMG!) their childrens' homework. That is the path of faith, therefore, at least in part: to keep those old stories alive and viable as explanations of the world by keeping modern scientific knowledge at bay.

And even in very prominent scientific journals (Nature is one) you can still find people arguing in Op-Eds that science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria" as Steven Jay Gould put it. In other words, they say, we'll do science, and you'll do religion, and never the twain shall meet. I often wonder if they are just trying to fool the more religious minded in Congress so that the latter doesn't try to shut down the National Science Foundation.

Science and religion(s) each purport to describe true facts about the world, and of particular concern to both are origins and endings: of life, of Planet Earth, of the universe. So, how could they possibly *not* come into conflict? And if we have a repeatable and thoroughly well-understood experiment making a truth claim about these matters on the one hand, and a religious doctrine or story making a conflicting truth claim, which of them actually says something about the real world that we should agree upon in our public discourse? Galileo showed that the solar system was heliocentric. It only took the Catholic Church about three hundred years to concede the point. (That's a vast oversimplification of the story...) And apparently some people have yet to concede it.

I think that the movement from the middle ages to modernity has been just exactly this steady onward march of science taking over real estate to which religion used to lay claim. If a disease infects us, shall we forbid bathing, or administer antibiotics? The answer with the best outcome is clear, and it's equally clear that we didn't learn about penicillin from a holy book or a priest.

But that *still* doesn't tell people what to replace their old bronze age myths with, and until scientific, secular humanism comes up with a life-affirming system of stories and values, and organizations to rival modern religions, people are going to keep looking to the old systems to fulfill their innermost psychological needs.

And we'd better figure out something, fast. To me it seems pretty dangerous to have folks running around with 21st century weapons and 7th century (or far earlier) psychologies. This is why I hope that the mindfulness, kindness, and gratitude of Buddhism can be divorced from other Buddhist teachings that aren't helpful to us and can't be justified in light of our relatively vast modern knowledge.

That's more than I meant to post but I hope someone finds it thoughtful. I would be happy to read your feedback, anyone.

A friend of mine has a TED membership, and has promised an afternoon of downloaded highlights soon. I'm looking forward to it.
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Join date : 2010-08-06
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Location : Scotland (Edinburgh/Inverness)

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PostSubject: Re: Holy Ignorance   Holy Ignorance Empty3/24/2011, 5:52 am

Hi Dan,

Really interesting points you put there.

My reservations are with describing religion as if it were a unitary thing, a single phenomenon. I think it's many things, undoubtedly related. There are no doubt many religious believers (and clergy, scholars etc) who would agree with you, that religion and science offer two different factual accounts of e.g. the origin of life, human development etc. I would argue, though, that there are large numbers who don't believe this, who understand religious and scientific 'truths' as Gould does, as you've noted above, who have essentially no issue with what we know about evolution etc.

'Religious' thought ranges from the worst sort of superstition to complex philosophy, and many would argue that religious thinking, ritual, aesthetics etc are about meaning. There is a large body of scriptural hermeneutics - across faiths - that rejects literalist readings, that embraces the processes of interpretation, the necessity to situate scriptures within their cultural/historical context etc, the metaphor, allegory, poetry of scriptures, and the differnt meanings they can create, the different voices that emerge.

So, in my opinion, religious voices are plural (and are changing at an increasingly rapid pace).

I'd also argue that, just as many religious practitioners/believers would accept that religion and science, while sharing some things, essentially look at different questions and look at the world/universe in different ways, equally, science doesn't address, perhaps cannot address, fundamental questions regarding e.g. origins of the universe, in the way that religions have in the past sometimes sought (imperfectly) to address. Science can describe the mechanisms for the 'Big Bang', for evolution, and do so in the fullest and most effective way available to us. It can't answer why anything exists in the first place, why there is even the possibility for the 'laws' of physics, why it's even possible for there to be a stable universe that can support life.

Equally, I'm sceptical of the drift from science into e.g. 'philosophical' expressions of materialistic thinking, the practice of some contemporary science writers and some scientists to wander into territory which they're pretty ill equipped to deal with, and turning science into poor theology or poor philosophy.

Anyway, I agree very much that there are some traditions of thought in some religious traditions - some in Islam, some (not all) evangelicals in Christinianty, some ultra-orthodox Jews for example - who do argue that religious scriptures are basically books of 'fact', in a crude scientistic sort of way; but we don't have to take them as representative of 'religion' as a whole (as if that could be done anyway), as 'religion' is plural and multi-vocal.


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