Saturday, June 12, 2010

either/or either/or or both/and?

Spirituality adopts a "both-and" approach to life, allowing culture, context, and situation to be reflected in the beliefs and practices of the seeker. Whereas spirituality encourages tolerance and acceptance of difference as the foundation for postmodern ethics, religion tends to trade in binary oppositions. It is most comfortable with clear boundaries and "us and them" divides.
Burke and Taylor, A Heretic's Guide to Eternity, p 59

In his book Can Man Live Without God, on pp 126-129, Ravi Zacharias related a time when he had a debate of sorts with a professor of philosophy, concerning this concept of "both-and'. The professor tried to say that Hinduism was a "both-and" religion, "...when you see one Hindu affirming that God is personal and another insisting the God is not personal, just because it is contradictory you should not see it as a problem. The real problem is that you are seeing that contradiction as a Westerner when you should be approaching it as an Easterner. the both/and is the Eastern. The both/and is the Eastern way of viewing reality".

Zacharias, who was born in India and born among the Eastern mind, was having none of it. He points out the contradiction in the argument, than when one studied Hinduism "I either use the both/and system of logic or nothing else?", and ends with a more everyday example, "...even in India we look both ways before we cross the street--it is either the bus or me, not both of us".

In fact, this list that Burke and Taylor have created shows the contradiction in their statement. The claim the spirituality is "both-and", but have set up a list of "us and them" in the form of "spirituality and religion", or more accurately "spirituality vs religion", and it is obvious that they think that spirituality is much better than religion.

So, in order to say that spirituality is a "both-and", they must create a "binary opposite" between spirituality and religion. Or, as the professor who debated with Zacharian put it, "The either/or does seem to emerge, doesn't it?"

It does emerge. It cannot help but emerge. Either you are 'spiritual', or you are something else--athiest, religious, fundamentalist, whatever else may be out there. Either you believe in "both-and", or you don't, which kinds of puts paid to any sort of universal application of the notion of "both-and".

And as you may expect, there is no hint of a "both-and" in the teachings of Jesus; if anything, they are full of "us and them", even to Him saying that those not against Him are for Him. His parables are full of "binary opposites"--wise and foolish virgins, wheat and weeds, faithful and wicked servants, sheep and goats, lost and found sheep, those who walk by the wounded man and the Samaritan who helps him, the man in Abrahams bosom and the one in Hell.

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