Monday, October 19, 2015

Of old testaments, and new

It’s an odd thing, but it seems to me that natural religion, not the kind of religious philosophy that evolves out of it as from a base, but pure, natural religion, that is, man’s immediate response to the natural world in which he lives, is much the same the world over.

This natural religion is a kind of ‘old testament’ for every nation, its body of traditions and ceremonies and native wisdom, passed down often orally but almost universally by copying the behaviors of the previous generation, with a minimum of critical thinking.

Into this world divided and united by natural religion, which is man-made but based on real relationships and events in nature, comes a man who is not a culmination of all that is best in natural religion and who transcends it, like the Buddha, but rather, One who appears ‘on the spot, ready made’.

Born into this natural religion, He embraces yet transcends it, as though He had two natures, accepting and affirming the natural religion and fulfilling its expectations, yet appearing and manifesting a Being emphatically beyond the natural religion.

Whereas all the natural religions can be studied in parallel and found to possess many similarities, thus demonstrating their equal validity as expressions of man’s interaction with and experience of the natural world, no individual can be compared to the Christ.

He does not merely reveal the truth in nature, nor does He convince by argument or exposition, nor does He refute the natural religion but comes, as He says, in a way to fulfill it, not to provide but instead to be the One about whom all natural religions and gods have enquired (cf. 1 Peter 1:12).

‘Truth. What is truth?’ ask again and again the world rulers (cf. John 18:38), not interested in the Truth but fearing Who it may be, that what they have created and called ‘truth’ must in the end cave in to the Reality that was hidden in the natural world all along, about Whom religions arose.

Reading about the beginnings of Japanese religion, 神道 Shinto, the way of the 神 kami, it became quite clear to me that Shinto is a natural religion, like that of Native Americans, like primitive European religion, like early Judaism, all of them ‘old testaments’ waiting for the New.

“In other words, farmers, hunters, artists, and those engaged in other occupations were regarded as instruments of the kami who worked through them, for they knew that without the invisible creative aid of the kami they could not perform anything. The meaning of human life was understood in terms of man’s relation to the kami who would ‘enable’ (yosasu) men to act in their behalf. Herein lies the early Shinto conception of correspondence between the realm of kami and that of man.”Religion in Japanese History, by Joseph M. Kitagawa, pp. 12-13.

The same recognition that it is only by the power underlying the natural world that human beings can act, let alone exist, is the summation of the essential religious knowledge of all nations, and yet here is a Man who comes and says, ‘Apart from Me, you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

It doesn’t matter whether the power underlying the natural world is conceived of as a God or gods, as One or as many, because until the One chooses to reveal Himself, all that can be known about it is that it seems to be a single power working through many, or many sharing a single power.

What cannot be known by natural religion arising out of man’s interaction with the natural world is that the power, be it spirits or kami or a divine substance, is One in essence but in Three persons, not a thing but a Person, not a projection of our nature, but ours being an ikon of His.

The Oneness of God is not a mathematical oneness, nor is His being a Triad a countable plurality, nor is our deification a polytheism, nor is the sanctity of nature a pantheism, nor our partaking of the Divine Nature an abandonment of our human nature, nor His becoming man a negation of His being God.

Brethren, let us be gentle towards those who approach Him who is the light that enlightens all (cf. John 1:9), as we awaken Him who sleeps in the boats of their souls (cf. Luke 8:23), for the sake of the new wine, ‘wine flowing straight to my Beloved, as it runs on the lips of those who sleep…’ (Song of Songs 7:10 Jerusalem Bible).

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