Archive for June, 2009

Perennialism and the “Christian Right”

Friday, June 26th, 2009

I generally don’t comment on the comments that appear on this weblog, but the opinion recently expressed in connection with “A Balancing Act” by someone calling himself “Faust”—I’ll resist speculating as to the implications, intended or not, of that name—calls for some response.

“Faust”, who says he is a perennialist, claims that “traditional condemnations of homosexuality may well fall into the category of the ‘human margin'”. But surely this is an abuse of perennialist, or at least Schuonian, terminology. After all it is Schuon himself who gave us this phrase—in a chapter by that name in his book Form and Substance in the Religions (also printed in In the Face of the Absolute). A quick glance at this chapter should be enough to make clear my concern.

“The divine influence,” Schuon writes, “is total only for Scripture … and it allows for a ‘human margin’ where it exerts itself only in an indirect fashion” (Form and Substance [World Wisdom, 2002], p. 201). But of course it is Scripture precisely which forbids the practice of sodomy: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination” (Lev. 20:13); “Men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:27). Other such Biblical texts could obviously be cited.

A critic might quibble, I suppose, that the second passage—coming as it does from one of Saint Paul’s Epistles—is a matter of smriti, not shruti, and that while “divinely inspired”, it is so only “to the second degree” (p. 224). Schuon, however, would be quick to counter such a move in this case, for as he rightly points out the Apostle is very careful to distinguish between the counsel he offers when “not under the influence of the Paraclete” (p. 225) and the commands he gives in the Name of the Lord. In the text from Romans, there is no indication whatsoever that Saint Paul is speaking in his own voice alone; and as for the passage from Leviticus, Schuon leaves no room for doubt: “The Mosaic Law has been given for all of time, right until the end of the world; nothing can be added to it, nothing taken away. This is the thesis of Judaism, and it is irrefutable” (p. 227).

“Faust” worries about “siding with the conservative Christian right”. But as far as I can tell there is nothing especially “right-wing” about Christians and Jews—or Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists for that matter—who insist upon remaining faithful to these and other such Scriptural precepts, unless one wishes to argue that all traditionalists are ipso facto “right-wing”, which “Faust” seems at some pains to insist is not the case.

On Being a Good Calvinist-Pelagian

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Any number of posts on this weblog have been connected in one way or another with the dilemma you describe. As I’ve said before—though perhaps not quite in these terms—there’s simply no verbal formula that will provide a final resolution to the “problem” of faith vs. works. It’s rather a question of solvitur ambulando (the title in fact of a previous post).

About all I can do is repeat what I counseled in my last message to you: believe everything depends on God, like a good Calvinist, but act as though everything depends on you, like a good Pelagian; and rejoice in the meantime in the resulting paradox or koan as you anticipate its existential, or rather essential, resolution at that level of Reality where all questions are answered before being posed, a level fully accessible even now through our contemplative repose in the Name.

I really can’t say more, and probably shouldn’t even if I could!

Spiritual Seriousness

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

After receiving your earlier message, my first thought was to recommend that you persist within the Islamic form, practicing it from the perspective of the religio perennis and exercising as much love as you wish for Christ and Christianity. Several of my closest Sufi friends, though fully Muslim in every respect, nonetheless have the highest regard for Christianity, and this includes a deep love for Christ and a respect for all the Christian saints. They are in this respect like Ibn Arabi, whose “heart had opened unto every form; it is … a cloister for Christian monks … and the Kaaba of the pilgrim”. Indeed every true esoterist would say the same, in principle if not in fact, given the metaphysical transparency of all orthodox forms.

But now I see from your most recent communication that in fact you’ve not been practicing Islam for some time—nor are you following any traditional Path. Though your family is Muslim, you “fell away”, you say, and “left the religion completely” some time ago. It’s not clear to me exactly how long this has been, but I take it that the rapid religious “oscillations” you describe have occurred within a period of just two or three years. This being so, my main concern is that you not compound the problem by acting once again in a precipitous or impetuous way.

“Haste is of the devil,” and the best advice I can give you is not to do anything right away—except of course to pray. Until you’ve weighed the alternatives and made a carefully considered decision, it would obviously be inappropriate to recite the canonical prayers of either Islam or Christianity, but you can—and clearly should—engage in personal prayer, opening your heart to God as fully and candidly as possible, requesting His guidance as you gather strength for renewed spiritual effort.

You need of course have no “fears” either way, either as a Muslim or as a Christian. The only thing you should fear is a further lack of spiritual seriousness. Perennialists say, of course, that there is more than one saving Path back to God, but they’re equally adamant that a man must follow only one of those Paths. Metaphysically, we’re universalists, but practically—or operatively—we must be “exclusivists”. Jumping back and forth between religions is not merely inefficacious; it is dangerous.

A Balancing Act

Friday, June 12th, 2009

You’re very right to observe that the Jewish and Christian traditions proscribe homosexual acts, as do the other major religions, including Islam, Hinduism (at least for the “twice-born”), Buddhism, and Taoism. It’s important of course to specify “acts”—that is, sodomy in one form or another—since the orientation or tendency per se is morally neutral, though nonetheless one sign (among many) of the Fall. It’s also important to remember that from a traditional Christian point of view these acts as such are no worse in principle than fornication or adultery between heterosexuals.

And let’s not forget Christ’s words on the subject of sexual sin in general, namely, that a lustful thought is essentially—inwardly—the same thing as an adulterous act (Matt. 5:28). Given this precision, it’s surely worth asking how many people are truly guiltless in this domain. Who has not sought, and perhaps been consumed by, a few fleeting seconds of pleasurable sensation while forgetting the God-given beauty, sanctity, and sacramentality of the sexual act? How many otherwise virtuous spouses engage in intercourse in a true spirit of reverence—reverence for the God who made sex and reverence for the “image of God” who lies beside them—and without treating their husband or wife merely as a physical apparatus and occasional means?

It doesn’t follow, however—as you come close to suggesting—that the traditionalist, whether Christian or otherwise, is therefore best advised to “stop throwing stones” since his own house is “made of glass”. As long as we’re prepared to admit that we’re sinners ourselves, there’s nothing amiss in calling a sin a sin. “Do as I say, not as I do” is the refrain of everyone but the saint. No doubt it would be much easier, given the loud and often belligerent advocacy of homosexual conduct in our culture today, just to keep our mouths shut! Not to do so, especially in the academic environment that you and I share, is certainly an invitation to be labeled a “homophobe”. If and when you are, my suggestion is that you should calmly but forcefully explain (as I’ve had occasion to do) that you’re not afraid of but for all people who parade their vices—sexual or otherwise—as if they were virtues.

In any case we mustn’t end up “loving the sin” because of our rightful, indeed obligatory, efforts to “love the sinner”. I’m thinking, of course, of Saint Augustine, who tells us that we shouldn’t hate the sinner on account of his sin (as defenders of traditional precepts have too often done), nor should we love the sin on account of the sinner (as the political correctness of our times demands). On the contrary, we should love the sinner and hate the sin. As in so many areas of the spiritual life, the correct approach is a balancing act.