| Chapter 1
Summary of Essays
The Elijah Interfaith Institute
1.1 The Crisis of the Holy - An Overview
The opening piece in this collection of essays is an attempt to describe what we mean by the Crisis of the Holy and to set parameters and expectations for the entire project. Even though I am the author of this piece, the key ideas presented in it are the fruit of a weeklong meeting that took place in Barcelona, in the summer of 2004. The meeting was devoted to getting an initial sense of what “Holy” might mean to our religions and what are the dimensions of the crisis, as we address them.
Some important insights emerged from those conversations. First, the Holy is not understood in the same way, nor does it necessarily have the same prominence in the overall economy of the different traditions. Moreover, within each of our traditions we recognize significant divergence in different attitudes to and positions regarding the Holy. Thus, to take two extreme positions, while many mystically informed stands of Judaism place a heavy premium on notions of holiness as defining the essence of religion, and see holiness as an inherent and essential quality, many schools of early Buddhism, as well as the teachings of Zen Buddhism offer an outright rejection of the notion of holiness, and its attendant divisions, hierarchies, constructs and categories.
TEST For Buddhist tradition see page 19
Offering a common definition of the Crisis of the Holy therefore runs the risk of flattening significant differences and nuances between the tradition.In attempting to deal with this risk, there are two senses in which our topic could be understood. The first, and weaker, sense of the “crisis of the Holy” is simply to consider it as a catchy phrase, whose true intention is simply to address the crisis of religion in the present world. The stronger sense suggests that the composite situation, addressed by reference to “the crisis of the Holy” touches upon core issues that are deeper than the concern for continuity and transformation in religious communities. The perspectives that are brought to bear upon this project are both external and observation based, as in the observations of sociologists, and internal and reflection based, as in the efforts of theologians. The present project seeks to combine the perspectives of the outsider with those of the insider. This insider perspective leads to a different approach to the subject, because it is concerned with issues of ultimacy and transcendence, with the ultimate meaning of religion and the fulfillment of its spiritual purpose, in the context of the broader crisis. Thus, even if crisis and holiness are variously understood in the different traditions, the common rubric of the title suggests concerns with spiritual significance that make this project different than the purely descriptive project carried out by the unengaged outsider.
To speak of crisis has negative connotations. The implied understanding is that the old is good, and that it is in some way threatened. Indeed, this may be the case and many religions may feel themselves precisely in such a position. Nevertheless, the crisis contains within it also seeds of growth, potentiality for transformation. Threat may be the starting point of the crisis. Yet, along with threat come challenges and opportunities as well. Religions are challenged to address new situations and with that comes the opportunity for growth, for transformation, for purification, for discovering new forms and new meanings within religion.
While it would seem patently absurd to argue that the Holy itself is in crisis, if by Holy, we refer to the divine or ultimate reality, there is nevertheless more to the crisis than concern for the well-being of human religious institutions and the organizational expression of religion. If religions are understood as vehicles for education, transformation and the guiding of society to the ultimate good, the crisis may be located not simply within the human dimension of religion, but at the interface of the human and the divine. Especially when we consider the dimension of potentiality and possibility implied in the crisis, we may recognize metaphysical significance in the present crisis, that calls for theological reflection and understanding.
In this sense, the crisis of the Holy is first and foremost a crisis of purpose. The concern is to what extent the series of factors that make up the crisis and the accumulated pressures they exert upon the forms of religion impede the spiritual functioning of religion. The crisis may thus exert overall a paralyzing effect upon our religions’ ability to conduct their believers to their stated spiritual goals. This may be experienced as loss of transcendence, as a consequence of over-identification with the forms of religion, in an effort to safeguard them from unwanted change. Common configurations of religions as culture further undermine the ultimate purpose of religions. As will be seen in the analysis of Islam’s crisis by Vincent Cornell, the cultural reconfiguration of religion is carried out not only by outsiders but by the representative or visible expressions of Islam. Loss of ultimate purpose can affect not only the quest for transcendence but also the social vision and broader commitment of a religion to the world at large, beyond the upholding of its own norms and practices.
Both the loss of transcendence and the loss of social vision may be considered expressions of a broader phenomenon. Religions are comprehensive systems of providing meaning to life. Religion addresses both the ultimate, usually the hereafter, and the here and now in all its concrete manifestations. Ideally, religion provides meaning to all individual, family, social, national, universal - and one may go on in naming the relevant aspects - expressions of life. Whether it actively and directly controls all aspects of life or not, it nevertheless ideally has the task of charging them with meaning. One important way of characterizing the crisis of the Holy is precisely that such comprehensiveness is lost. Political forces, market forces, science and technology, psychology and any number of additional forces have each carved out slices of life and provided them with an interpretive framework through which meaning is provided. To recognize this breakdown of the holistic and integrated function of religion and the resultant tensions, competitions and mechanisms through which religions address the breakdown is perhaps to gain the broadest perspective upon the crisis of the Holy.
Crises have been present in different forms in all religions’ histories. Nevertheless, there is something unique about the present point in time, when considering religions, in their plurality, and crisis. When the various factors discussed at greater length in this paper are taken in their totality, they amount to unprecedented pressure upon religion. The variety of factors and their intensity suggest this situation is unique in history. What is certainly unique is the fact that the various factors are not affecting one single religious tradition, or even several. Rather, what we refer to as the crisis of the Holy is affecting all our religions collectively. Despite differences in emphasis, particular to one religion over and against another, there are broad commonalities that affect all religious traditions, thereby making the crisis a global phenomenon. Thus, to the extent that the crisis of the Holy consists of opportunities, as much as threats, these broad phenomena, common to all of our religions, are in fact possibilities for growth.
More detailed discussion of the following factors that contribute to the crisis of the Holy is found in the body of the paper. These factors include: globalization and its various influences in the fields of ideas, economics and lifestyle; media and mass communication; technology; secularization; democracy; consumerism; feminism; scientism and more. These factors among others and their various permutations lead to changes in the forms and structures of religions, in the habits of minds of believers and ultimately lead to new forms that religions are taking. One response to the accumulated pressures is what is often referred to broadly as fundamentalism - a kind of retreat and religious regrouping of forces in response to these challenges, itself constituting a new form that religion takes. The other extreme is the individualistic consumerist configuration of religion, treating it as a supermarket commodity, leading to a pick and choose mentality, in which components from a single or multiple religions are combined, according to the inclination of the individual spiritual consumer.
This latter tendency is itself an expression of a major axis along which the crisis of the Holy is experienced - the relationship of individual and community. By this is intended more than simply the tension between individual will and autonomy and the collective mandates of tradition. Phenomena such as the quest for spirituality, the role of women, syncretism and new religious forms, alternative sources of authority and more all hinge on some relationship of individual and collective. Individualism is thus recognized as occupying a central and formative position in relation to the crisis of the Holy.
This has led us to identify it as one of eight moments of the crisis, or critical issues, that are addressed by the present collection of essays. The other issues are:
Integrity and Change of Religious Traditions
Youth and Education
Secularism and modernity
Media and image
The essays explore how these different critical moments in the crisis are played out in each of the traditions, the ways in which they challenge religions and the opportunities that these challenges present. Considering these eight topics as they are configured in the different traditions allows us to understand the uniqueness of each of our traditions as it struggles with its particular expressions of the crisis and the ways in which our traditions share in common processes of growth and transformation. It is hoped that by opening up this comparative perspective ways will be found for deeper understanding between the traditions that will allow them to move from parallel experiences to collaborative initiatives. By recognizing the deeper commonalities in the contemporary experiences and challenges of our diverse traditions we may be moved to learn from the other how to cope with challenges, to find ways of sharing in the struggle and possibly to forge a collaborative and common front in reflection and in action in relation to key issues that confront all of our religions as part of the crisis of the Holy.
1.2 The Crisis in Buddhism
Maria Reis Habito and Michael von Brück continue in the footsteps of David Chappell, the original Buddhist member of our Think Tank, who passed away following the Barcelona meeting. Accordingly, the first part of the paper is devoted to the meaning of the Holy in Buddhism, a religion that developed in large part in response to existing notions of holiness and in rejection of those notions and of the concept as a whole. Nevertheless, in various expressions of Buddhism we find notions, attitudes and practices of holiness in relation to the three formative principles of the Buddha himself, the Teaching and the community, and in particular the venerable character of monks. Recognition of these three foci also points to how the crisis impacts Buddhism. As is seen from the paper, the major expressions of the crisis are in relation to the Teaching and the community. The appropriateness of the teaching and its ways of adapting to the challenges of contemporary life are one important focus of the crisis in Buddhism. The relationships between the different levels of community and in particular between the lay and monastic structures are the second major expression of the crisis. These will be seen in relation to some of the eight moments of crisis identified above.
Central to the analysis is the relation of individual and community. Buddhism grew in societies shaped by value systems in which the individual was subordinated to communal values. The Buddhist teaching of No-Self lent further support to these social patterns. Today, due to Western influences and changes that result from modernization, urbanization and globalization, societies and their behavioral patterns are changing dramatically. This causes tension, which finds different expressions in the various Buddhist countries.
One of the important developments in several Buddhist contexts is a shifting balance between monastic and lay groups. For a variety of historical, political and contemporary reasons, lay groups in various parts of the Buddhist world are growing in prominence and importance, thereby altering leadership and authority structures. Perhaps no less important is the Buddhist experience according to which the axis of individual-collective leads to the creation of new communities. Thus, an intermediate level exists, that allows individuals to regroup in smaller communities. These provide a new face for Buddhism as it develops in different countries.
The pressures of individualism also lead to greater demands for participation of individuals in the religious life. This in turn leads to a shift from earlier emphases of the religion of the masses, such as support of the monks, merit earning and caring for the deceased to greater involvement in spiritual matters. A potential spiritual revival may be recognized, for example, in the Thai example of increasing retreats and periods spent in monastic settings. However, this is also accompanied by the danger of spiritual consumerism, itself a factor that accompanies individualism as part of the broader crisis of the Holy. In Japan, the lay movements have in many instances fully taken over the responsibilities earlier associated with monastics.
Social activism and environmental concern are another expression of new forms that Buddhism is taking. Criticizing the lack of sufficient broader social awareness and the ensuing response have been important factors in shaping the movement of engaged Buddhists, who broaden the classical concerns of Buddhism into new arenas. These new emphases also make more room for meaningful integration of the individual.
The relationship between individualism and spirituality is perhaps best seen in the adaptation of Buddhism in the West. Buddhism seems able to tap into the desire for spirituality more than any of the other established religions, because it is able to present itself as a spiritual resource that is not tied to a particular institutions, community, dogma or ritual. It therefore attracts many people who have become alienated from their own Christian or Jewish religious institutions. Here too, we note the danger of the quest for spirituality being too closely involved with market forces and hence the danger of the development of a set of spiritual practices that ultimately serve the opposite goal from that intended by these practices in their original context. Thus, the teaching of No-Self and selflessness is in danger of serving a mentality that is egoistic, seeking to fulfill the consumerist desires of the self, as these find expression in the spiritual arena. Thus, a reliable path which is based on proven experience and authority often is lost to many expressions of western Buddhism.
Issues of consumerism are relevant to Buddhism in a further sense. The consumerist and materialist drive are influencing large portions of Asian society, in which Buddhism is a shaping religious force. The same is true for Technology, that has a strong grip upon those societies. Yet, while in the West there is also a critical perspective upon the advancement of technology, in Asia the myth of progress is still relevant. Buddhism hardly relates to the problem in consumerism in modern societies on the basis of its own analysis of egoism, greed and hatred. Most Buddhist institutions refrain from entering a serious discussion of the meaning of their teachings in these fundamental domains, that shape the lives of their own constituencies. There is thus a destructive potential in the situation according to which young Buddhists are serving, without adequate direction, two conflicting principles - the spiritual principle of selflessness and the principles of secular materialism. The movement of youth away from religion may be explained as a consequence of the inherent lure of materialism. But it also owes to the inadequate attention of religious thinkers to the balancing of the competing systems and to the ways that Buddhism should address these broader contemporary trends.
Issues of individual and society as well as the influences of western culture converge in relation to women and their position in Buddhist society. Buddhism’ adaptation to prevailing social structures is responsible for the strong patriarchal sense and to the secondary role that women play in most Buddhist societies. This finds specific expression in relation to the formation of nuns’ orders. While these do exist in some countries, the travails of recognition of legitimate women monastic ordination in others is a sign of the strong patriarchal resistance on the one hand, and of the contemporary pressures, from within and from without, for the broadening of women’s position in religion. One direction the issue has taken is the increasing involvement of women in lay Buddhist organizations, but this is primarily true of Taiwan.
Buddhism is particularly well suited to dealing with change as a phenomenon in religion. In its deep analysis of reality, Buddhism shows that everything is change. Humans, however, want to cling to what they desire because they expect stability and unchanging security, which is impossible. This gap is experienced as suffering or better: frustration. Therefore, to realize that all is impermanent is the first insight of wisdom. Change, therefore, is nothing unwanted but a proper assessment of how things are. Consequently, tradition cannot aim at a changeless repetition of past structures and events. Integrity depends on the essentials that make Buddhism what it is: to present the teaching in such a way that it can be grasped as the proper means to overcome ignorance, greed and hatred, in order to attain to wisdom accompanied by compassion. In this, Buddhism may have a teaching to offer other traditions.
Change is something Buddhism takes for granted, because nothing that is composite is permanent. Therefore change needs neither to be welcomed nor condemned. It is the most fundamental fact of life. The Buddhist teaching of the reality of impermanence implies that one should not fear change and the dissolution of certain forms of knowledge, practice or institution. Buddhism is highly adaptable; thus, today, laity and especially women play a greater part than in the past. It is important to see this development not as a loss and decay but as chance and opportunity for growth.
Buddhism can flourish under very different circumstances and has adapted itself to many different situations in the past. It can take any crisis as an opportunity to bring out more clearly its message of training the mind for more clarity and compassion so as to contribute to the peace of mind of sentient beings, and finally to overcome all suffering by insight or wisdom and compassion. The Buddhist emphasis on insight and compassion over dogma and institutional concerns is a much needed resource in a world that is increasingly torn apart by religious fundamentalism.
Sidney Griffith points out that from the historical perspective, it seems that in every era of their two millennia of church life Christians have been in a crisis of one kind or another about their institutions, their theological formulae, their sources of divine revelation or the exact contour their moral lives should describe. But the idea of a distinctive ‘crisis of the Holy’ as such seems to have arisen in the minds of modern Christians and non-Christians alike as a result of the perceived rarity on the part of many people in the modern era of an active sense of the ubiquitous power and presence of ‘the holy’ or even of the Holy One, in modern consciousness. Due to many modern thinkers turning away from a metaphysical awareness to a more materialist philosophy of human consciousness, the intellectual and technological successes of the modern era seem to many observers to have sprung from a psychological divorce by many modern people from the sense of the sacred in human life. This divorce was initiated in the time of the Enlightenment in the West, but it built on the ancient distinction between nature and super-nature. As a result of the success of the Reformation, the ‘feel’ for “The Holy”, increasingly became a private concern and not a communal or ecclesial one. As a consequence of this development, in the view of many commentators, religion in Western Europe and America was destined to have only an individual or personal relevance, with nothing pertinent to proclaim in the public sector of human society, while in the private sphere a plurality of religious voices may be expected to be heard. In other words, one result of the perceived ‘crisis of the Holy’ has been the progressive marginalization of religion, not only in the formation of public policy in the Western democracies but also its disappearance as a serious intellectual concern among the well educated elite.
From a Roman Catholic perspective, the danger in these developments is the prominence of an attitude of individualism which they promote. In the context of Christian religious life, especially among the Catholics and the Orthodox, for whom the sacraments and the liturgical life, especially the Eucharist, are the privileged moments of the sense of the Holy among them, individualism threatens communion, which is at the heart of the life of the church. The problem is acutely felt in the North American context, where individualism in one form or another, along with an encouragement to escape from older traditions represented as oppressive, has been a driving force in the evolving religious consciousness.
The separation of church and state is the political principle that eventually emerged from the course of Enlightenment thinking just described. Although Christianity has always recognized at least a theoretical separation between secular and religious authority, the church also long taught that civil rulers and states are subject to God’s law as interpreted by the church. Consequently, the Catholic Church historically approved of the establishment of the church as the religion of the state in places where Catholics made up the majority of the population. But in dialogue with the modern democracies, especially in the United States, Catholics have made the doctrine of the separation of church and state their own, reserving the right of freedom of religious witness and expression. While the freedom of the individual conscience has long been church teaching, the affirmation of the freedom of choice in religion as a God-given human right of every person in every polity was articulated as such by the Catholic Church most emphatically in the decrees of Vatican II. The Catholic Church expects her faithful members to uphold that what the church teaches is true and good in faith and morals and to work for the acceptance of her moral principles as integral parts of the public policy in the countries where they live. Crises have arisen for Catholics in this connection, as they struggle to reconcile the affirmation of the truth as they see it and proclaim it with the protection of the rights of others as accorded to them by the constitutions of modern, democratic, nation states. Inevitably, in regard to certain issues, this situation of bearing witness to the truth of unpopular or counter-cultural social or moral values also produces a measure of dissension and disagreement, even crisis, within the church’s own ranks about the best ways to achieve the goal of meeting challenges to religious values in the post-modern world. Currently there is a considerable amount of unrest, even polarization among Catholics, over a whole host of issues extending from models of church government to rules of morality, the boundaries of marriage, the importance of the nuclear family, gender ‘inclusivism’, and relations with other religious groups, including the problem of double belonging, individuals claiming to adhere to two different, sometimes seemingly incompatible religious confessions. What is more, because of the unprecedented emigration and immigration of peoples in the twentieth century, Catholics often experience an inner tension between various ethnic groups of Catholics in the same location. There is also a tension between Catholics in America and Western Europe, where there is a sense of loss of direction and diminishment, and Catholics in Asia, Africa and South America, where there is often a sense of confidence, growth and increasing demographic significance for the universal church.
Globalization in the Catholic community has also brought about a number of crises in church life. One obvious instance of this phenomenon is the challenge facing the church to inculturate Catholic Christianity into languages and societies outside of the western world, where ecclesiastical thought and practice was first articulated in Greek and Latin and built on the classical heritage of ancient Greece and Rome. A number of modern theologians in the West have also been called to task by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith precisely because in a number of important instances it is difficult to see how their efforts to articulate the Catholic faith in the idiom of modern philosophies can be squared with the traditional understandings.
In the context of the globalization of Christianity and the associated problems of inculturation, the issues of missionary activity and proselytism arise in connection with the crisis of the Holy in our day, in this instance perhaps a perceived crisis in one’s readiness, or not, to recognize the holiness of the other. It is undeniable that Christian missionary activity has sometimes not been conducted in a spirit of hospitality and invitation but threateningly, under the protection of colonialist or imperialist enterprises undertaken from a position of political or military power over others. It is in this context that missionary activity becomes part of the crisis of the Holy. And it is for this reason that in recent years Catholic theologians have been wrestling with the degree to which they might not only repent of the sins of the past, but also at the same time acknowledge in their own terms the truths of other religious cultures, without adopting an unacceptable relativism or indifferentism which would exclude the Gospel imperative to “make disciples of all nations.”
Multiple issues of power and authority within the Roman Catholic community have the potential to provoke crises of the holy in the experience of church life. They have to do principally with what we call collegiality and subsidiary in the governance of the church. They include the relations between the bishops and the Holy See, bishops and local pastors and their congregations, and the role of theologians in the teaching ministry of the church. On the local level, especially in Western Europe and the Americas, the dwindling numbers of priests and professed religious has become the occasion for the alternative growth and development of large international lay movements. These have become very powerful, and they range from the very conservative, like Opus Dei, to the relatively liberal, like the Catholic Worker movement in the USA or Pax Christi international. These groups are in many ways taking the place of the once powerful religious orders and congregations in the life of the church and in the process, they are sociologically reshaping the profile of modern Catholicism.
Another sociological development in the wake of the decreased number of clergy and religious is the growing laicization of church administration in many places and the lancination of Catholic education, from the grammar school level all the way up to the universities, and even in theological and seminary education.
Gender equality has obviously become a major issue in Catholic Church life in most countries, extending all the way from concerns for equal access for women and men to all levels of ecclesiastical service, including the clergy, to the use of inclusive language in translations of the scriptures and in the official books of the liturgy. This on-going concern is still very much a developing issue. There is no Catholic teaching about the inferiority of women, quite the contrary, but there are various ideas about the appropriate roles of men and women in church life.
One may speak of a crisis of the Holy in the context of a crisis in education in the sense that the dysfunction in the educational process obviously negatively affects the transmission of the sense of the holy to the young. And this aspect of the matter has become a moment of crisis in the larger society in the west, especially in the USA, where there is no established religion and where virtually every religious tradition in the world is present. Since by law there may not be any instruction in religion in the public school system, save in the most generally descriptive terms, and yet the majority of Americans are in some sense religious, the situation yields a measure of frustration. This frustration emerges into public view in the context of controversies over educational policy. The current spate of arguments between ‘creationists’, supporters of an ‘intelligent design’ theory, and ‘evolutionists’ in the USA about how biologists should teach the history of the forms of life on earth, including human life, is a case in point.
A more deeply rooted crisis in the area of education in religion involves the emergence of relativism in the realm of epistemology and the discernment of the criteria for the perception and transmission of religious truth, indeed of the sense of truth itself. This crisis is a philosophical one, and it seems to be a characteristic of modernity and post-modernity. The source of knowledge in religion, in the Christian scheme of things, is twofold, reason and the deposit of revelation, the latter being enshrined in scripture and tradition. There are crises in connection with the discernment of the truth in both of these sources. In the exercise of reason, modern epistemologies and modes of discourse render the expression of truths problematic; in the study of the deposit of revelation, modern historical critical methods and the predominance of critical theory in exegesis have brought relativism into the interpretation of the foundational texts to the extent that the appeal to them for doctrinal or moral teaching has become difficult.
The challenges of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue confront Catholics and other Christians at every turn of modern life, beginning within the community itself and extending outward. There is a strong sense that the church should be in communion with other Christian denominations and this calls for ecumenical dialogue. However, there is a measure of resistance to ecumenical or inter-religious dialogue within the ranks of Catholics and other Christians and it is often not promoted on the local level nearly as much as it is promoted in the Catholic Church by the Vatican on an international level, or on a national level by national and regional bishops’ conferences. Consequently there is a need for intra-church education not only for the sake of promoting an understanding of the practical value of dialogue for the sake of harmonious inter-faith, human relations, but even for the sake of the pursuit of the fullness of the truth. The fact of the matter is that religious communities bear a large share of the responsibility for promoting justice and peace in the world, maybe even more than political or military leaders, because so many of the fault lines along which war and mayhem between peoples occur, lie along the religious divisions among them, allowing religious divisions to be exploited in the service of other interests. For all practical purposes, one might say that the best antidote to the threat of a looming ‘clash of civilizations’ is to work to forestall the effects of a clash of theologies by promoting ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.
Griffith’s paper offers us a catalogue of some of the key issues facing the Catholic Church and the ways in which they express the broader crisis of all religions. In considering this broad survey, I am moved to thinking of it in terms of two key terms - Identity and mission. By identity I refer to a series of questions concerning the identity of the Church and the makeup of its institutions. These are inextricably linked with the question of the purpose and mission of the Church in the world. Thus, the key question would seem to be how broad, or how narrow, is the reach of the Church. Complicated antinomies have to be negotiated here. An all encompassing message of a life along with respect for the privacy of individual processes and the autonomy of governmental structures; a profound respect for the other and a vision of sharing the perceived truth with others; A history of articulating tradition in given terms and the desire to find the suitable means of acculturating these teachings, seeking to find the balance between authenticity and adaptation; A respect for all members of a community, whose self understanding is communal and hence inclusive and the attempt to safeguard various means of privileging the historical forms of tradition, as it privileges religious leadership and in this context is also implicated in significant gender distinctions. In other words, what emerges from this catalogue is nothing less than a question regarding the path the Church must chart in this world, as it constitutes itself and its identity in relation to others and in response to a variety of global forces. More is at stake than simply the preservation of the Church’s institutions, even though membership is of concern, at least in the West. Through all these changes and challenges one notices a struggle for articulating the broadest vision of the Church’s purpose and for negotiating this vision in terms of contemporary reality.
One notices in Griffith paper two major forces that shape Catholic Christianity, or his view of it. On the one hand, the rise of individualism, as this finds expression in relation to issues of authority, gender, education, affiliation and more. On the other hand, “the other,” be it the Catholic other, the Christian other or the non-Christian other, poses interesting challenges to those navigating the course of the Catholic tradition. Those challenges are both theoretical and philosophical, relating to questions of philosophy, relativism, accommodation and more and practical, relating to issues of how to engage in missionary testimony, celebrate liturgies and more. Recognition of this dual emphasis could also point to where further reflection is needed as well as to where Catholic tradition might benefit from an exchange with other traditions.
Barry Levy conveniently breaks his own description of the “Challenges and Opportunities facing Contemporary Judaism” into a catalogue of individual crises, each of which he treats independently. He does, however, point to two overarching concerns from a Jewish perspective. The first is the rise of individualism, the second is the fragmentation of the Jewish community.
The crisis of individualism manifests in the personal interpretation of religion. Many Jews end up being the ultimate arbiter of the standards of religious practice. Given the choice of varieties of Judaism and differing levels of commitment to it, the individual is ultimately placed in a situation of choosing between the different options and the different degrees of faithful adherence to them. The crisis of individualism is refracted in interesting ways in the crisis of the family. The crisis of this core institution causes a shift in the performance and celebration of religious life from the family to individuals. Thus, greater pressure is brought to bear on individuals, while they themselves are not capable of carrying the load of maintaining Jewish observance on their own. Group and community end up, consequently, playing a more prominent role in facilitating Jewish life. New forms and practices are thereby created. The situation is in some ways similar to that described above in relation to Buddhism, where an intermediate level of community ends up negotiating the broader tension between individual and community at large, producing thereby new forms of the tradition.
The second core crisis, identified by Levy, concerns fragmentation. Levy points to the lack of respect and acceptance between the different stands of Judaism. The issue here is, in a sense, the opposite of individualism. Here corporate politics, between the different competing groups seeking to control individual lives, encourage antagonism and divide an already small and fragmented group. Levy challenges us to consider how it is that we are able to dialogue across different religious traditions, but are unable to dialogue with our own co-religionists. Fragmentation also has geographic expressions. Different forms of religion are evolving in great centers of learning and in the periphery, where knowledge and observance are weaker. But perhaps the greatest divide is that found in the state of Israel between religious and secular. This constitutes a profound breach within the Jewish people, and ends up shaping the Jewish people, as well as their religion. The fragmentation of the Jewish people leads to great hostility towards religion. Failure to develop a strong middle ground prevents many from recognizing their own tradition. Consequently, few people ever have the option to experience the richness of Judaism in any theoretical or practical way. Thus, the crisis of the Jews has become a crisis of their Judaism, and ultimately of the Holy, inasmuch as the tradition seeks to convey it from one generation to the next and from the people beyond itself. Rather than unite the people, the Holy is enlisted to force them further apart. This, suggests Levy, is the greatest crisis for the Holy itself.
It seems to me that in some sense both crises discussed thus far point to an underlying crisis of identity, a crisis that is treated independently by Levy. Fragmentation is a function of lack of clarity of who we are and what our goal is - a question that is rendering the Jewish people asunder. The ability to determine the boundaries of practice and belief in such privatized ways further points to a crisis of identity and the mechanisms for its establishment. The crisis of identity is itself a consequence of the complex ways in which Jewish identity is constructed. Religious, spiritual, ethnic and local-geographic components all constitute identity and also suggest the fault lines along which various identities are to be distinguished from one another and along which competing and conflicting identities are constructed. While Levy’s discussion focuses upon the ethnic, cultural and practical dimensions of the crisis of identity, his broader discussion provides us with additional issues that are perhaps best seen as expressions of the crisis of identity. The role of the state of Israel, both for those living in it and for those outside it, is constitutive of identity. And both the crisis of Jewish education and the crisis of the alienation of women relate directly to the crisis of identity.
But they also relate to the area of spirituality, or what Levy calls the crisis of Religion without Spirituality. The flip side of the struggle for constituting identity seems to be its relationship to spirituality. Part of the problem to which Levy points is the entrenchment of religious forms that emphasize practice at the expense of meaning and understanding and that highlight form over its spiritual significance. The ongoing concern for identity, overcoming disunity and in general the overarching concern for the survival of the people take their toll on the spiritual dimension of Judaism. While this is one important ways of creating the crisis, it is also one of the possibilities it contains. The case of Judaism points to how growing individualism is not only a means of shirking full commitment. It is also a means of entering a quest for the deeper spiritual significance of Judaism. Thus, the situation described by Levy contains in it also the seeds for regeneration. The very issues that constitute one face of the crisis might contain in them the seeds, the opportunities, for overcoming other aspects of the crisis. Indeed, it is not inconceivable that even issues of divisiveness and disunity could ultimately be overcome through the discovery of the deeper spiritual significance of the tradition. If reaffirmation of form and boundaries have led to disunity, the spiritual vision and purpose of Judaism might contain the key to desired unity.
1.5 The Crisis in Hinduism
Many of the issues raised in Levy_s paper have close echoes in the papers on Hinduism and Islam. The defining issue here is one of identity. Identity is an issue both within and without. It arises as a key issue due to a variety of external circumstances. In the case of Hinduism, as we learn from Deepak Sarma, these have colonial roots. The view of Hinduism by outsiders has led to a history of reconfigurations of the tradition, and raised the issue of reform as an important issue. But perhaps even more pressing are some of the recent changes. The relations between homeland and Diaspora play a critical role, as well as the convergence of national, political, economic and global forces. The confluence of all these forces creates a profound identity crisis. What does it mean to be Hindu? Who speaks for Hinduism? Is there such a thing as Hinduism? All these questions are raised by Sarma.
Sarma points to ways in which Hindu identity has been constructed legally, and to its intricate relationship with the establishment of the modern state of India and of legal issues that had to be resolved in this context, for example in the context of the marriage act. Decisions concerning who is a Hindu are thus reached by a state body, with significant disregard for the complexity of the past. Accordingly, paradoxes arise, such as the legal definition of Jains and Buddhists as Hindus. Such flattening of differences is further exacerbated by the rise of Hindu nationalism in the 90s. This decade witnesses the attempt to create a Hindu identity, culturally, linguistically and historically.
What all these attempts have in common is the attempt to speak of Hinduism, to some extent or another, in monolithic terms. This leads to what may be called syndicated Hinduism. We find here a corporate identity that is constructed for national or group purposes. Along the axis of individual-collective, the crisis is here located in the overemphasis upon the collective dimension. This overemphasis may come at the expense of the individual - Sarma himself does not discuss the matter. But it certainly does come at the expense of the individual tradition. Thus, individual traditions and their differences are flattened and disregarded in the process of the construction of group identity. This is, suggests Sarma, the greatest crisis for Hinduism, because in the process of attempting to create Hinduism, the very traditions upon which it draws are destroyed. This is not simply a matter of the physical survival of the traditions. Rather, it is a matter of the spiritual constitution of the conglomerate of religious traditions known as Hinduism. The individual traditions are threatened and put under a variety of pressures to change and to adapt.
One arena in which particular pressure has been exerted on individual traditions is the pressure to reform. Sarma points to the case of Madhava Vedanta, one of India’s religious communities, that has upheld for centuries a method of teaching that limits access to knowledge. Legal reforms insist on the opening of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus. What this means for this particular tradition is that its classical modes of teaching and dissemination of knowledge are called into question. Now, is a tradition that has been forced, due to such outside pressures, to forego a fundamental defining feature of its history and teaching the same as the earlier tradition? What changes and reforms touch upon the heart of a tradition so as to alter it? Such questions are being confronted by many of India’s traditions on an ongoing basis.
Just as Levy paper pointed to the problems around unity and its relationship to identity, so too Sarma connects the quest for unity with the problem of religious authenticity and the definition of what it means to be Hindu. Interestingly, just as in the case of Judaism a fragmented homeland is charged with providing direction, meaning and a unifying vision to its Diaspora, so too is the case in India. Consequently, the pressure for establishment of identity is a strong Diaspora need that is radiated back to the homeland, creating an interesting symbiosis with an existing national and political agenda. The need for unity within the community creates new forms of worship in the Diaspora, bringing traditions and means of worship alongside one another in ways never previously imagined. But the quest for unity, as an expression of the quest for identity also has significant educational challenges. How to educate? How to present Hinduism alongside other traditions? These are ongoing concerns. They, in turn, point to a deeper crisis of education and leadership, inasmuch as the local community is not able to meet these needs, due to issues related to classical forms of leadership and education.
Relations between homeland and Diaspora are further complicated by the advent of technology. With modern technology distances are bridged, which in one sense is a good thing. Yet, with this bridging comes futher potential transformation of tradition. Thus, pilgrimage is changed through technology. Spatial distances are bridged and what used to be an arduous pilgrimage is now, potentially, accessible within a click of a mouse. How is one to assess the meaning of such change in tradition?
Going beyond Sarma’s own paper, one may point here to the other side of the issue, not raised by him, namely - the role of the individual, as it relates to the collective. If the historical and political movements are pressuring in the direction of group identity, at the expense of the intermediate level community, technology also permits the individual to take a central role in the shaping of religious experience. Technology functions as a means of empowering the individual. Levy papers discussed the explosion of knowledge and the variety of books that are suddenly available to every individual through technological means. Similarly, Sarma points to how through technology teaching that has been hitherto esoteric reaches all who are interested in it. So do the remote Temples of India. Thus, the individual is once again thrown into the process of creating, defining and expanding the religion. If Sarma’s own thesis focused upon the relationship between the individual Hindu community and the broader construction of Hinduism, his own discussion of technology allows us to bring in, once again, the tension between the individual person and the community at large. The tensions between the individual spiritual life and the pressures of broader collective identity are even greater in the framework of a religious tradition that is seeking to define itself in a corporate way. This is made explicit in the final paper on Islam.
Vincent Cornell analysis of the present crisis of Islam pits against each other in the most explicit way two factors that we have encountered throughout the other papers - identity and spirituality. The crisis of identity in the case of Islam is not the same as in the cases of Judaism and Hinduism. The issue dos not seem to be that there is extensive argument within concerning the definition of Islam. One almost wishes more argument took place. Rather, it seems that large sections of the Muslim world have bought into a particular way of constructing Muslim identity. And this construction, argues Cornell, comes at great cost to the tradition, and ultimately falsifies it. The crisis is thus a deep crisis within, a crisis of identity and of what it means to be Muslim.
Cornell refers to this crisis as an epistemological crisis. Following Alistair MacIntyre, Cornell uses the term to describe what happens when a tradition of enquiry - such as the theological or philosophical tradition of a religion - fails to make progress by its own standards of rationality. Dissolution of historically fonded certitudes is the hallmark of an epistemological crisis and if it is to be resolved, new concepts and frameworks must be developed. The opportunity posed by an epistemological crisis lies in the prospect of coming up with new approaches to tradition that provide innovative solutions through a critical engagement with the past.
The crisis addressed by Cornell is that of Islam dealing with modernity, or with the West. How most contemporary Muslims deal with this crisis is not by engaging directly with God or with the Holy. Instead of calling for a re-enagement with the transcendedent, most Muslim responses are cultural. Accordingly, submission to Islam is primarily a submission to tradition (rather than God), where religion and culture are woven together seamlessly. The epistemological aspect of this cultural model of Islam lies in the fact that Islam is not viewed as simply one tradition, but it is seen as the only tradition that contains normative truth. Little or no hinterst is shown in the history that Islam shares with other civilizations or with the problems that it shares with other traditions in facing modernity. Rather, it is viewed as a self-contained community that exists concurrently with but in separation from other communities.
In this context, opposition to the West plays a defining role in relation to Islam. Identity is here constructed over and against the West. To this end, the West is constructed as secular and godless. Islam is defined in corporate terms, using a reified concept of culture. This is a modern creation based on the 19th century view of social science. Strikingly absent from the corporate dichotomy of a reified Islam versus a reified West is any mention of personal salvation or the individual spiritual relationship between the human person and God. Thus, Islam is really Islamism, defined through such identity politics that raises the question of whether there is any authenticity to this form of Islam.
Along with attacks on the West are found attacks on modernity, though what modernity really is rarely if ever discussed. The view of the West as secular and worldly persists among Muslims today, despite strong evidence to the contrary in many parts of the world.
One of the expressions of corporate Islam is the almost exclusive emphasis upon Shari’a, Muslim law. Today corporate Islam has little to do with theology, philosophy, Sufism or the other Islamic disciplines of the past. Such emphasis and the accompanying attempt to seal Islam off from the rest of the world are symptoms of the said epistemological crisis. What Muslim anti-modernists fail to understand is that the transcendence of the Modern can only be accomplished through Modernity itself, by using modern concepts and methodologies.
Epistemologically, the greatest threat posed to Islam by Modernity is the valuation of empiricism above both revelation and theoretical inquiry. Similarly, Muslims have a diifficult time dealing with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which has become an obsession for many Muslim traditionalists. Consequently, Muslim professional in the technological fields live in two separate worlds. Their professional world is governed by an empirical epistemology while the world of the local mosque is governed by traditional views of truth that have little or no relation to what lies beyond the mosque.
For Muslims, Post-Modernity can create a profound crisis of the Holy because nothing can be thought of in absolute terms. A world where knowledge and truth are both contested and relativized makes it nearly impossible for the individual to make the right choices, to successfully thread his way through the moral labyrinth of the human condition. All this underlies what may be called the mal du present that characterizes much of contemporary Muslim mindset. It is a mindst that leads them, as well as members of other religions, to find solace in a nostalgia for a time when the world was simpler and the choices easier. In Islam, this nostalgia has led to the development of a corporate religion. Believers seek refuge in a traditionalistic yet fully modern utopia that falsely offers Muslims protection from the storms of change. This is, according to Popper, a tribal response to the stresses created by modern open societies, that are criticized as individualistic, while the tribal ideal is collectivistic, traditionalistic and conservative.
Corporate Islam conceives of God less as a theological construct than as a cultural and ideological icon. Islam, a word that originally meant individual submission to the will of God has been redefined as a system that unites culture and creed in the context of a divinely guided virtuous society. That this is modern is proven by the absence of theology and metaphysics in contemporary Islam. Personal belief has been reduced to creed and practice to the lowest common denominator. What is most important today is the engineering of society, not the spiritual development of the human being.
The individual tends to be forgotten in the sociological perspective of corporate Islam. This is a major problem of “The Crisis of the Holy,” because the original purpose of Islam, like that of salvation religions in general, was to prepare individual souls to meet God. When those who stress the importance of individual salvation are routinely criticized for being socially irresponsible, one must ask whether the world has taken over Islam in the name of Islam itself. The Qumran states: “Thusly has Allah shown you the signs so that you may reflect upon them” (2:266). The rise of corporate Islam is one of the signs of these times.
The Egyptian Sufi Ibn ‘Ata’illah of Alexandria (d. 1309) wrote a remarkable treatise on the spiritual practice of trusting in God (tawakkul) entitled, al-Tanwir fi Isqat al-Tadbir (Illumination in the Abdication of Personal Agency). In this work, Ibn ‘Ata’illah counseled his readers to avoid trying to be masters of their own destiny. Instead, he said, they should accept the age in which they live and see its consequences as a manifestation of the divine will. To be true servants of God they should adapt themselves to present circumstances, “go with the flow,” and trust that God will see them through their travails. Ibn ‘Ata’illah summarized the essence of this spiritual attitude in a way that is profoundly relevant to the situation of Muslims today:
When I saw destiny flowing,
And there was no doubt or hesitation about it,
I entrusted all of my rights to my Creator
And threw myself into the current.
The practice of complete trust in God should be seen not as an obstacle to progress but as an essential Islamic attitude, the practical application on the level of the personal ego of the God-consciousness that all Muslims profess to have. Ibn ‘Ata’illah’s wisdom might allow us to chart a course through Modernity without abdicating authentic Islamic tradition. Perhaps the root cause of the crisis is not Modernity or Post-Modernity after all. Perhaps it is the loss of a sense of the sacred, a loss of that spirituality that makes Islam not just a tradition or an identity, but a true submission to the will of God.