A friend of mine has a great way of dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses who knock on his door, proselytizing pamphlets in hand. He tells them enthusiastically, "Great to see you! Come on in! I want to tell you about how wonderful my religion is. It'll just take a couple of hours."
I don't think he's gotten any takers.
It's funny how religious true believers are really eager to talk about the marvelousness of their own faith, yet usually shy away from learning about other points of view or philosophies of life.
So I think Ross Douhat made some good points in his New York Times opinion piece, "Let's Talk About Faith."
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
That’s the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one’s own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.
Douhat was stimulated to opine on this subject by Brit Hume's blasting of Tiger Wood's Buddhism. (Hume is a Fox News analyst.)
I didn't like how Hume said that Woods should ditch Buddhism and turn to Christianity if he wants redemption and forgiveness after engaging in multiple extra-marital affairs. But there's nothing wrong with debating the pros and cons of various religions.
Debating, though, involves a back-and-forth conversation where two or more people respectfully listen to each other and take turns expressing their opinions.
What bothered me is that Hume made his remarks in a preachy fashion. Fox News gave him a soapbox, whereas he should have had the guts to discuss the supposed superiority of Christianity with an expert on Buddhism.
One such expert responded to Hume in a Washington Post story:
"I think it's ridiculous to make those statements," said Robert Thurman, a professor of Tibetan studies at Columbia University. "It is insulting to Buddhism to indicate that Buddhism doesn't take care of its own believers and followers. But I think he will discover that Buddhists are very forgiving about his stupid statements."
Christians, being members of the majority religion in the United States, are comfortable criticizing other faiths. However, when the tables are turned they love to play the I'm offended game.
Jonathan Chait says it like it is, referring to some other commentators who defended Hume's outspoken praise of Christianity.
Why should we maintain an informal social etiquette that discourages people from openly disparaging other people's religions and touting their own as superior? Gee, that seems kind of obvious to me.
I strongly doubt that Wehner and Ponnuru would be happy to see, say, Muslims going on television to blame Mark Sanford's Christianity for his adultery and urge him to convert to Islam. Of course, I can't prove this, because no major television network would ever allow it.
But I'd at least like to hear them say that they'd be happy to see their rule applied to all religions. Otherwise, they need to admit that what they favor is not some wild theological free-for-all in our public discourse, with all religions touting their superiority and disparaging others, but rather a privileged place for Christianity.
I try to be an equal-opportunity ridiculer of religion. Whenever I feel the spirit to point out some irrational, nonsensical, or indefensible dogma, theology, or faith-based belief system, I blog on.
All religions share a common characteristic that makes them wonderful targets for skeptical arrows: they lack demonstrable evidence that their precepts are true.
There's no proof that if Woods became a Christian, he'd be redeemed or forgiven by some supernatural entity -- Jesus, God, whoever. And there's no evidence that the Buddhist belief in karmic consequences carried over via rebirth to another life is true.
So my churchless attitude is that religious debates are great, because they always point out the absurdity of blind faith. Skepticism, rationality, and the scientific method invariably turn out to be the winner.
Surely no other religion with so much blood on its hands then christianity and what's been done in its name. So Hume really has no room at all to speak.
We were speaking of Avatar the other day, well there's a movie out now called Agora, which traces the rise of christianity in Alexandria.
Tho there's poetic license in the destruction of the anicent library, its true that the rise of christianity had little tolerance for the older pagan beliefs of the hellenist scholars who were leaps ahead of everyone else. The film was about Hypatia (whom Brian might know as basing her teachings on plotinus).
The hellenistic culture was far more enlightened than the chritsian one, yet thinkers like Hypatia and the hellenistic insitutions were torn to shreds because of their pagan beliefs conflicted with the new age christian religion.
one wonders how RS for example see their God, is the RS God an abrahmic god or is their a whole hierachy of gods as in the pagan world? If the gods of the pagan universe are different from the gods of the RS universe, which gods are the true ones?
Posted by: George | January 12, 2010 at 05:56 AM
The desire to put down those who don't agree with a person seems to be a character trait of some people-- religions or not. People, who can actually wisely discuss their own thinking and listen to what others have to say, those people are the ones with whom I like to discuss any topic. New Agers and Spiritualists can also be very demanding that they know the only truth worth knowing. Like you said, talk and discuss, don't demand is the way it works best.
Posted by: Rain | January 12, 2010 at 08:43 AM
George, good questions. As I've noted before, I came to realize that while RS (Radha Soami Satsang Beas) appears to be an "Eastern" religion, actually it has a lot in common with monotheistic faiths such as Christianity.
It's no accident that the RS booklist has quite a few titles comparing Sant Mat philosophy with Christianity -- supposedly showing that the Radha Soami faith is the true teaching of Jesus. Thus there is a profound dualism in RS that is at odds with the much more monistic philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism, Vedanta, and such.
So I'd say that the Abrahamic god isn't far removed from the Radha Soami god, since both have personal attributes, sent their son (Jesus or the guru) down to Earth to save souls, and created the cosmos -- plus other similarities.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 12, 2010 at 10:41 AM
interesting Brian, i understood jesus was considered to be one of the saints of the SM tradition, the same goes for the budhha and Kabir and so on - apart from monotheism RS also seem to have several other gods or demi-gods that inhabit and govern each of their 7 other-worldly astral planes - which is almost akin to the pagan hierarcihical system of gods and demi-gods.
I thought what RS had in common with all the other mystic traditions was this belief of returning to the one (an unidivided eternal perfect ultimate reality), where the world as we see it in its multiplicity is a mere shadow of reality or this oneness - i.e. is the neoplatonic philosophy of plotinus?
Posted by: George | January 12, 2010 at 11:25 AM
I'm no expert on RSSB, however, never read anything on RSSB having several other gods or demi-gods that inhabit and govern each of their 7 other-worldly astral planes.
There would be a current GIHF, and then a tradition of such through history. Jesus, Buddha and others being past examples of GIHFs. I may be wrong.
Posted by: Roger | January 12, 2010 at 11:37 AM
George, you're correct. There is indeed a monistic side to the Sant Mat teachings. But the personal creator side tends to stand out. For example, Charan Singh (the guru who initiated me) said:
"All that we see is just His own projection...He is the only One -- always was, is and will be. He is everywhere, and everything is His own projection."
And Sawan Singh said:
"The One is considered superior to all because when the timeless One conceived the idea of creation, there emanated a sound from Him which resembled the sound of Om."
The Plotinian conception of the One doesn't have this sort of personal side to it. No conceiving, and then creating. The Greek One isn't personal, like the Radha Soami One is. It just "creates" (or emanates) because that is it's nature.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 12, 2010 at 11:37 AM
Yes i'm def no expert, and could be totally wrong, but i've been reading as much as i can find.
this link is very good for a discussion on all sorts of mystic traditions:
i understood RSSB had a cosmology with a number of different planes above the earthly plane, each believed to be inhabited and controlled by a governing lord or god. If anyone know if i;m wrong, please correct me.
Posted by: George | January 12, 2010 at 11:54 AM
Each person has their own understanding and mine is that the Abrahamic god is, in Sant Mat terms Kal, the ruler of the three lower regions, the physical, astral and causal planes. Kal is the ruler of this world and the two levels above and if a Param Sant Satguru takes birth here then his soul has emerged directly from Sach Khand, which is beyond Kal's realm. Kal also will incarnate into this world to confuse people and then the religions start from these leaders.
This is a quote from “The Dawn of Light” (Maharaj Sawan Singh) p.92:
“One important point I would like you to understand and that is as regards your relation with other teachers. Please note it carefully. When Sant Satguru (a perfect Master), seeing the poor helpless souls in trouble, comes from Sach Khand (the region of Truth) to save them from misery and give them the secret of the Holy Sound – to take them back home – Kal (Satan, the lord of this world) also comes in the human form upon this earth and begins the work of destruction. He opens a similar school, whose teachings resemble somewhat those of Sant Mat, and thus ensnares and misleads poor ignorant beings, preventing them from returning to their Home.”
The Sant Mat masters will quote from different saints, from the bible if they are talking to a mainly western audience and also from the Hindu scriptures and Persian saints. I suppose this is to equate a common thread that runs through the different teachings. I don’t think the current RS master does this as much as the previous masters. His approach seems to be more practical and down to earth funny enough, which I like and perceive an almost Zen like quality to his talks.
Sorry to keep on talking about Sant Mat but you people insist on bringing it up! lol
I think RS books can be purchased on line if you’re interested, check out the official RSSB website for details: www.rssb.org.
Posted by: Jen | January 12, 2010 at 03:11 PM
interesting jen, thanks, seems to be a helluva lot going on which i dont really get, i was actually thinking of ordering that big set of volumes off the RSSB website - they were also busy preparing a second edition.
Posted by: George | January 12, 2010 at 03:16 PM
Hi George, with regard to Kal (I've read somewhere that the word Kal can also be translated as Time), I just read through some of the essays on the RSSB site and I particularly like this one sentence from the essay called "A Spiritual Perspective":
"The life of each of us, mystics teach, is projected in its perfect whole from a single source beyond time".
Nice feeling of being connected...
Posted by: Jen | January 12, 2010 at 03:55 PM
whereas he [Hume] should have had the guts to discuss the supposed superiority of Christianity with an expert on Buddhism
No. What he should have had the guts to do was take it to Tiger himself. And then if Tiger should think it is all rubbish and closes his door, that's the end of it. How is it that anyone else need enter the discussion? And what's with this fixation about experts? "Ordinary" and "unschooled" is how early Christians are described at Acts 4:13. The message is not beyond the grasp of the ordinary joe, so that only experts ought feel they're qualified to speak.
Got something to say? Take it to Tiger himself, rather than grandstanding on FoxNews before all and sundry.
Posted by: tom sheepandgoats | January 12, 2010 at 07:26 PM
The RSSB has only been a hobby for me. Never developed into an expert, and really don't have an established understanding of such. Currently, my interest in RSSB is low. Not finding fault, I just have moved my mystic hobby to possibly something else.
I would agree with Jen, from readings,
"When Sant Satguru (a perfect Master), seeing the poor helpless souls in trouble, comes from Sach Khand (the region of Truth) to save them from misery and give them the secret of the Holy Sound – to take them back home – Kal"
"The Sant Mat masters will quote from different saints, from the bible if they are talking to a mainly western audience and also from the Hindu scriptures and Persian saints."
However, not sure I have read any RSSB information that would say,
"(Satan, the lord of this world) also comes in the human form upon this earth and begins the work of destruction. He opens a similar school, whose teachings resemble somewhat those of Sant Mat, and thus ensnares and misleads poor ignorant beings, preventing them from returning to their Home.”
--Don't see the RSSB belief in a Satan in human form. However, I may be wrong.
Posted by: Roger | January 13, 2010 at 07:34 AM
Roger, your dabbling in this mystic hobby of yours is interesting, I also have an enquiring mind and still have many questions.
Re: “Kal (Satan, the lord of this world) also comes in the human form upon this earth…”
When I read the Sant Mat books I mark passages I find interesting and this is a quote from one of the RSSB Masters. I think that mostly they speak in very general terms and basically its left up to us to be aware - we can be fooled by fake teachers and gurus if we are not discerning. After all we do learn from a whole range of people, from mystics and philosophers to modern day physicists and scientists.
I think of Kal as a power, a negative energy, and there are negative and positive (yin and yang) energies in this realm. So, to me, its not surprising that this negative power would incarnate with the intent of fooling seekers.
I don’t like the way some of the concepts about Kal generate fear, and I think it’s important to be aware and stay in balance with our own energies probably with more of a focus on the positive power. Anyway, just my thoughts, now - back to the freedom of "unknowingness" :)
Posted by: Jen | January 13, 2010 at 03:16 PM
A thought ran through my mind many years ago when I first was learning about Sant Mat. It occured to me, "What if this guru is some sort of cosmic parasite (or more realistically, a worldly parasite) who utilizes the energy of devotion from his followers to bolster his own power?"
I dismissed this as far fetched, but then is it any more far fetched to believe that God sends masters to this earth to free souls who are captives of a negative power "Kal" by administering their karma (stored results of previous actions) in the most efficacious manner, connecting them to a mystic omnipresent, omnicient sound current, installing an astral image of themselves "within" the captive soul and guiding them through vast and wonderous inner regions of light and sound to God itself and without whose help such a journey would be impossible?
Posted by: tucson | January 13, 2010 at 03:57 PM
I have very similar thoughts now, could be a huge trap, so I just don't really know. I remember thinking way back that it all seemed like a fairy story. Who can we rely on really!
I suppose I have been so grounded in RS from such a young age and I'm trying to give up my concepts.. not easy and I probably still have a hope that it all might be true but I just don't know anymore.
Maharaj Ji was such a very kind, patient and loving person, from my readings and listening to his talks on tape, trouble is I didn't have very close contact with him, strange considering that he is supposedly my guide. I do feel very distant from it all now though still have the same habitual way of thinking I suppose.
Posted by: Jen | January 13, 2010 at 04:32 PM
Also, tucson (forgot to put your name in above comment) you seem to have found your own understanding of who you are, I haven't achieved that, still feel like a lost soul.
Posted by: Jen | January 13, 2010 at 04:38 PM
I share your feelings about Charan Singh. I had personal contact with him a good number of times and he was always a calm, polite, and patient gentleman.
I think he was cast into a role he didn't want and grew to accept it and do it well. I have no idea about his "spiritual" status, but I doubt he possessed the powers attributed to a "Param Sant Sat Guru" as taught in RSSB teachings, imo.
Please do not feel lost. Rather, enjoy your growth and change in understanding and the unfoldment of life. Perhaps what you feel is lost is not something that can be found, because it is simply the living of life naturally, as it is, that we really are.
Posted by: tucson | January 13, 2010 at 05:34 PM
Thanks tucson for your sweet words.
Posted by: Jen | January 13, 2010 at 06:25 PM
I liked this,
"I think of Kal as a power, a negative energy, and there are negative and positive (yin and yang) energies in this realm. So, to me, its not surprising that this negative power would incarnate with the intent of fooling seekers."
--I think I understand what you were saying. Yes, there is power and energy. How such separates in positive and negative is where such becomes interesting. And, I can see how a human can come to represent negative energy and/or positive energy. That is, to symbolize such particular category of power or energy.
The GIHF or SIHF would be in a whole different category. That is, incarnating into human form.
You did say,
"So, to me, its not surprising that this negative power would incarnate with the intent of fooling seekers."
--Is it possible that a seeker could be fooled with positive power or energy? My negative may be someone's positive. Maybe, we need to seek a clear and balanced understanding of this power and enegry. Maybe, maybe not.
Posted by: Roger | January 14, 2010 at 07:28 AM
“Is it possible that a seeker could be fooled with positive power or energy?”
We can be fooled by anything that we choose to be fooled by, especially if our choice is made when something is lacking in ourselves. Maybe its like the question “is the glass half full or half empty”, in that it depends on what each person sees or feels, some may focus on the negativity and some more on the positive side. It must be according to each person’s perception because like you say “My negative may be someone's positive”.
Posted by: Jen | January 14, 2010 at 07:06 PM
Yes, if I am seeking something, that someone trained me into thinking is important, I can see how I could be fooled with the "glass being half full" concept.
Nothing wrong with seeking, training, and things being half full. I probably was a fool long before I got fooled.
Posted by: Roger | January 15, 2010 at 08:12 AM
Radha soami jee.
I want the 2010 satsang Program in delhi @ beas. So pls give me time table.
Posted by: Ranjeet Kumar | January 21, 2010 at 04:45 AM
Ranjeet, this web site doesn't have any connection with Radha Soami Satsang Beas. You'll need to contact RSSB directly.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | January 21, 2010 at 10:37 AM