Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Syncretism, Truth, and Catholic Faith

Matt Whyndham posted a question in my combox that I think needs more attention than I can give it in a combox response. I had noted my current struggle with martial arts practice in two posts, particularly when the practice seems to delve into quasi-spiritual disciplines or even simple meditation techniques.

Perhaps it's because I'm not a Christian, nor a very experienced Qi Gong-ist, but I don't understand the source of your conflict? That you obtain metaphysical sensation outside of your religion? Is that so bad?


I mentioned in my second post on Christianity and the Martial Arts the idea of syncretism. Many people these days find no problem with cobbling together together their own belief system from bits an pieces of other traditions. When I was agnostic, I felt pretty comfortable doing the same thing. The belief implicit in syncretism as it plays out in the modern world is that there is no single path to truth, that all belief systems are equally valid, and that religious belief is all about finding what "feels right to me." It's closely tied to relativism (truth as a relative reality only) and indifferentism (all belief systems are equally valid and lead to truth).

Syncretism is like taking puzzle pieces out of several boxes, each of which has its own distinct picture of reality, and trying to put them together to come up with an individualistic picture of reality. No matter how beautiful each of those separate pictures are, the syncretized picture is going to be distorted.

Metaphysics is geared toward understanding first principles, God, and Being. (I addressed this question back in September in the study questions for a class I was taking, "Philosophy for Theologians.") To pick and choose among various metaphysics is to accept contradictory and incompatible means to a single end.

If one also considers the differing ends toward which Buddhism and Taoism on the one hand lead and the one toward which Christian faith leads, one can see that they're incompatible. In the case of Buddhism, the aim is to free oneself of personal attachments in an effort to release oneself from the endless cycle of birth and death (Samsara) and to attain Nirvana. There is no God in the sense of a transcendent being to which Buddhists turn for this release. It's a personal path traversed at one's own will.

For Catholics and Christians, this is not the case. The aim in life is to know, love, and serve God. To do this, we cannot rely on our own abilities and strivings but must allow God's grace to work upon us. We must accept this gift of God's grace offered to us through the sacrifice of His Son. We must make our will subservient to His will. And while this life of existence to Buddhists is an illusion that ends with the attainment of Nirvana, for Catholics, this life is not only quite real (although material and transient), it is also our only chance to make a choice, to live for God or not. So anything that distracts us from our goal is an impediment.

Here's where a lot of non-Christians (at least the non-montheistic ones) get tripped up—the concept of God. If He were simply one of many gods immanent in the natural world (as is the belief with the gods of paganism) or simply one divine being of many amid this worldly allusion (as in Hinduism and Buddhism), it wouldn't matter so much. One god would have no more claim to us than another. But we see God as the transcendent Truth, the Creator, One whose very essence is Being itself. To Him we owe everything.

[Technorati tags: Karate, kung fu, martial arts, Christianity, Catholicism]
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