Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
Heretical musings on varied religions
What does it mean that Islam walked back the whole 'son of God' storyline?
Buddhism is interesting but honestly I buy the idea that it’s particularly suited for population control. I’m well aware there are ruthless Buddhists, and good for them, but most of the time it seems to advocate a mere distance. Here it seems quite similar to Stoicism, and we may thus note the comparison also during the dying days of Rome—our situation, as many have noted, and better than I, is much alike.
There is in Soloviev a comparison betweeen Buddhist and Christianity in terms of their basic metaphysics. For the Buddhist, it is a negative metaphysics; in this it is incredibly accurate, they are broadly correct even if it is exceedingly difficult to put into practice—and as we shall see, questionable whether we ought desire this. They are correct to note that that all things are ultimately empty. They are correct also that all life contains death, even our own; hence that all is ephemeral.
Buddhism, says Soloviev, points to This World and says it is to be rejected because it is false. Christianity, in contrast, claims rather that This World is false because there is one higher: the Kingdom of Heaven. This is the difference which constitutes theism. Buddhism can at best be considered ~polytheistic, and I am inclined to think the same of those like Jainism that revere a set of sainted individuals. Islam seems here similar, of course, in its treatment of the prophets—but there is always something above this, that which unites and impels them.1
Christianity, for Soloviev, further differs for the figure of Christ; it is, in his eyes, a fundamental metaphysical difference between Christianity and the classical monotheistic religions. Here we have God as embodied presence—as manifest and, moreover, humanly so. The paradox inherent here is natural enough for religious faith, perhaps a little stranger than others; and the Trinity is something very strange indeed. I cannot claim to understand this.
There seem to me three paths here: Buddhism, Islam, and then Christianity. I am convinced that at their mystical cores all these are more or less as one, but superficially at least—and in a way which is not without implications—they can divided thus. Buddhism (and Stoicism) encourage a detachment from the world, a resignation in which one tends first to themselves alone. Islam seem instead to direct one simultaneously to the world and themselves, but they seem to do so in a way that differs from Christianity. What is the peculiarity of Christ?
All of these can be defined according to purpose they attribute to self-denial. There is the bare negation of self, as in Buddhism; then the self is negated so as to be given positive form. We ‘die before we die’ so as to deliver ourselves up—that is, to hand over our freedom—to God, “like a corpse in the hands of a washer of the dead.” There is the question of where this leads, what is the form to which we are thus delivered?
The difference in Christianity seems to be the investment of this figure with a peculiar palpability. Christ makes meaningful the maxim: what would Jesus do? We can thus know God because God is like us; and for this reason, we can emulate him. Islam has the ḥadīth, but this is law. Christ is God; it is not told through the word but as and by embodiment.2 There is something here that seems to differ.
Here the relation can be considered akin to that of the moon, which merely reflects the sun; it is that we posit a solar eternal behind the lunar temporal.
Christ represents the logos as dance, not as prophet spoken but as the embodied instantiation of the divine reality. This expresses a character which goes beyond the dead form of words and is the possibility of knowing Christ inwardly. Here we find the path pointed out by Kierkegaard: imitation unto a contemporaneity with Christ—i.e., to participate in such rites as entail the return of the eternal. We may note, moreover, that—in terms of this basic movement—the path of Nietzsche is equivalent to that of Kierkegaard. Each points to the need for a new relation between particular and universal. They direct the individual inwardly in a way which accentuates subjectivity and embodiment. The difference between the two is the tone or polarity of this relation: Christ or Antichrist. Yet know this, the names mean nothing and we cannot be sure. The only path is to follow one’s own subjectivity and taste. This requires foremost a humility, an honesty with oneself. For this perhaps we need the sledgehammer of nihilism, but we clear this rubble to build on rock.