[Summary: mining through religions for something of value – when Christmas has meaning. Splitting religion not into creeds, but blind-believers and the practising mystics]
One of my (ashamedly) favourite authors, archetypal New Zealander Barry Crump, spent several years of his life as a gold prospector in New Zealand, in the early 80’s I think. Hard to imagine, but it really is possible to scratch a living sifting through the sands of rivers for nuggets of gold. In case you don’t know, Gold is the only natural metal that does not oxidize (rust). All other metals will combine with oxygen and form oxides or other molecules, but gold remains as gold – which is why it is found in rivers, is important to industry and is good for making teeth. In good quality phone connectors the connecting surfaces are made from gold, so they do not form insulating oxides.
These nuggets are what prospectors sift and sieve out of the sands and muck of the river – much like it is our job to sift through the religions that we have available, and try to find what is of real importance. All religions have a lot of muck – stories and miracles added, changed, adapted and stretched, sometimes beyond recognition. Buddhism has its own fair share too. It is each person’s job to find the essence – that part that does not erode or get lost that is revealed when you take the stories and take them inside and make a real practise out of them. It is not always obvious. New Atheist Christopher Hitchens writes:
Ever since the nineteenth century, scholarly theologians have made an overwhelming case that the gospels are not reliable accounts of what happened in the history of the real world.
the sciences of textual criticism, archaeology, physics, and molecular biology have shown religious myths to be false and man-made.
And yet, wonders Buddhist/Atheist Sam Harris,
nearly 230 million Americans believe that a book showing neither unity of style nor internal consistency was authored by an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent deity.
Thus instead of my planned blog on the activities of Christian Missionaries in Thailand comments from Marcus and from Will’s latest blog have served as reminders to keep focused on the heart of the matter. That we are prospectors searching for gold. Writes Dr Will from Shantivanam, the Christian Ashram of the late Father Bede Griffiths in South India:
[Father] Martin has told us that the central message of Jesus is to transcend the “God of history” and the “collective mind.” Even to focus on the resurrection as a real event is a misrepresentation of that message. The birth, death and resurrection of Christ, according to Martin, must be understood internally rather than externally. Although it is easy to fall into a pit of despair over the literalization, commercialization and trivialization of Christmas, here at Shantivanam there is a marriage not only of the east and west but of old and new traditions, religious and secular, which give the holiday new depth.
It must be admitted that much of the Buddhist scriptures too make little sense as stories. Only internalizing them as Father Martin suggests, and as a real prospector would, do they come alive, thereby exposing the negative views of Hitchens et al for what they are – naïve literal readings that miss the point. Then religion is seen not so much one creed against another, not ‘East’ or ‘West’, but the common belief systems as distinct from the mystic path. There are lots of Buddhists, Christians and others who are locked in their religion as a system of beliefs, and a smaller few, with but little dust in their eyes, who are more interested in being the mystery. Those who worship the sands because they might contain a spec of Gold, and the real prospectors.