Friday, 24 March 2017


Let us consider three religious traditions:

Mahayana Buddhism and Jerusalem Catholicism in Poul Anderson's Technic History;

Wicca in SM Stirling's Change series.

Declares an interest: I was educated in Roman Catholicism, practise Zen within the Mahayana and am friendly with Wiccans. Buddhas and gods coexist. (I do not think that they literally "exist." We need a better verb.)

Adzel converts to the Mahayana because he encounters Terrestrial religions when he comes to Earth as a student;

Axor converts to Catholicism because missionaries of the Galilean Order teach on Woden;

a post-Change community becomes Wiccan because it is led by a Wiccan.

In each case, a tradition plays a central role. A guy in a multi-faith discussion on British radio disagreed with the emphasis that the others placed on their respective "traditions." What mattered about Christianity for him was that he believed it, not just that one of a number of traditions taught it. However, I would reply, he believed as he did either because he had been brought up in a particular tradition or because he had converted to a belief that had been transmitted to him by a tradition. Either way, he would not have been Christian without the tradition. Only a tradition can link his belief now to Christ then. Axor would not have believed that God had been incarnate on Earth if he had not encountered a tradition that taught him that - unless he received it in a vision in which case he would then found a new tradition.

In this respect, the Buddhist tradition, at least theoretically, is less necessary. Adzel, or anyone else, could do now what the Buddha did then:

reflect on life;
analyze experience;
criticize received ideas;
experiment with life styles and spiritual practices;
find value in "just sitting" meditation;
identify a psychological cause of suffering;
end that cause within himself;
teach others a way to the end of suffering;
found a monastic community.

But, in practice, how many people can do all that? Traditions save us from reinventing the wheel. A meditative tradition can come from the Buddha, Patanjali or Lao Tzu.

Wicca claims to be an ancient tradition and instead plagiarizes other traditions. Why accept its version of a "Summerland" where souls rest before reincarnation? The Buddha's analysis of mental processes made him reject the idea of a permanent soul. He taught that actions have consequences - I agree - but added that these consequences include the "rebirth" in some later organism of each present being's karmic processes. This seems to me to be an unnecessary hangover from reincarnation of souls. Platonic immortality of, originally reincarnating, souls and Biblical resurrection of the body were synthesized in Catholic doctrine: both an immediate hereafter and an eventual resurrection.

Meanwhile, let's pray if we are theists and meditate if not.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I basically agree with what you said about "traditions" shaping philosophies and religions. After all, we Catholics believe Sacred Tradition played a role in defining Catholic teachings. But many Protestants like the gentleman you mentioned have an incorrect view of "tradition." They think "tradition" means only the arid legalism of the Pharisees condemned by Christ.

Btw, I've wondered why you had not yet discussed the Benedictine monastery located at Mt. Angel. Because of the Change, those monks thought it necessary to take on military functions. They became a military branch of the Benedictines. Iow, they reminded me of the Knights Hospitallers we see in Poul Anderson's ROGUE SWORD.


Paul Shackley said...

I have not read much about Mt Angel yet.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Understood. Altho I thought we do see these monks in DIES THE FIRE and THE PROTECTOR'S WAR. These were Catholics who refused to accept the schism caused by Norman Arminger's puppet anti-pope, "Leo XIV."