Thursday, October 05, 2006

postal scrotum: Jubu cognitive dissonance

GK Davis writes regarding Jubus (Jews who practice Buddhism; also spelled "JuBu"):

On JuBu, it's an idea that seems to me a recipe for cognitive dissonance. I have a friend with a Masters in Divinity from Yale whose idea of God is so abstracted, that to me, it is not God or even god.

My very cursory understanding of JuBu is that it requires a similar conception of God. I do understand the Spinosan idea of God, but then again, to me, it requires too much cognitive dissonance. The agreement of names is something that burrowed its way into the very foundations of my thought. It seems to me that if you abstract out God to concepts or organizing precepts then you no longer have God.

It's kind of like Hindus saying that they're not polytheistic because there is a unity beneath their gods (see the Upanishads). I just don't buy it. The names just don't match what you're ascribing to them. To me, at its purest, Buddhism says that the idea of God/Creator is not important, while Judaism is all about God.

Even if you accept the abstracted God, then how do you have covenants with abstractions? Jews mutilate their penises because of a covenant with God -- if your God is just a concept than why are you doing physical things for it? There is the idea of taking Buddhist method and applying it to other religions, but that just seems like eating a pie crust without the filling.

Anyway, my head hurts now, so I'm going to stop and watch the squirrels hump in my backyard. I feed my dog too much; he should be killing and eating them.

I call myself a "nontheist" on this blog (and in real life) to try to indicate my own stand regarding God's existence: mu. I agree that, when God becomes more of an abstract concept and less of a living reality, he's no longer God in the classical theistic sense. This abstract God, however, appears often in theistic literature and is definitely part of the overall theistic tradition, whether we're talking nirguna brahman, Meister Eckhart's "Nothing," or the ineffable God of a Sufi mystic. As to whether such a god can serve adequately as an object of worship... I'd submit that that's an assessment only the worshipper can make.

At the same time, I don't doubt that at least some Jubus must suffer a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, especially if they're tackling both Judaism and Buddhism in a primarily intellectual manner. From an intellectual standpoint, there are plenty of things that don't match up between those two traditions-- perhaps the most fundamental problem being how to deal with the nature of self. To most theists, God is not merely What, but Who: a Person in the grandiose sense of personhood-- a Great Self/Soul (maha + atman = mahatma). But a Buddhist contends there is no fundamental self. Can two contradictory ideas be held in equipoise inside the same brain? Of course they can, but there's a cost, and that cost may manifest itself as cognitive dissonance.

You ask: "Even if you accept the abstracted God, then how do you have covenants with abstractions?"

I'm sure you're aware of John Hick's pluralistic hypothesis. He would deal with your question by saying that there is an ineffable ultimate reality, which he calls the Real, that is approached and mediated by culture and tradition. Hick thus divides the Real into Real-as-experienced (phenomenal Real) and the Real an sich (noumenal Real). The distinction parallels the Hindu nirguna brahman (ultimate reality without qualities) versus saguna brahman (ultimate reality with qualities) paradigm.

People generally approach the Real in a non-abstract way: it's an object of worship, or that-which-must-be-attained, etc. The phenomenal Real is generally viewed (if I may borrow Catholic language) as "source and summit" for the faithful. This has practical implications for how worshippers will behave. You mentioned circumcision; that's a good example of what I mean. Consider how many Jews who have no serious belief in God nevertheless put their children through the ritual. Even a God abstracted to the point of nonexistence-- a God that is merely a concept-- retains force.

Where I and other critics part ways with Hick is in the idea that we can take the noumenon/phenomenon distinction seriously. As I've noted on the blog before, Zen Buddhists would say that seeing with the Dharma Eye is an unmediated seeing (not even "seeing," properly speaking, as that implies subject and object)-- a direct penetration to the core of reality. Hick's paradigm doesn't allow for this, and that's going to alienate many (if not most) of the people to whom he wants it to apply.

Hick aside, I think it's plausible to be a JuBu, just as it's plausible to be a Hindu who has no trouble entertaining contradictory ideas about God and the gods. But I also think your point about cognitive dissonance is well taken, as it probably applies to people who have trouble wrestling with paradox.


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