Category Archives: Religion

Cosmic Laughter

In 1494, just before the onslaught of the Reformation, Sebastian Brandt, a conservative Roman Catholic scholar living in Basel, looked at the reeking vice and folly of the church of his day and wrote Das Narrenschiff, a Ship of Fools. As the prologue tells us, “One vessel would be far too small / To carry all the fools I know.” Brandt’s veritable floating tub of dolts and sinners heads for an unknown destination, a land of Fools, and functions as a harbinger of an imminent schism. Eulogized as divina satira, divine satire, Ship of Fools catapulted Brandt into the ranks of Dante, at least among the Germans. (Lindvall 2015, 1)

— Terry Lindvall (2015, 1) God Mocks. NYU Press.

If the rich could hire other people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living.

Yiddish Proverb. Cited in Lindvall (2015, 3) God Mocks.

The Jesus movement very early on exchanged the vision for the visionary. Those first enthusiastic followers were enthralled by the world Jesus encapsulated in the parables and aphorisms, but, since they were unable to hold on to the vision embodied in those verbal vehicles, they turned from the story to the storyteller. They didn’t know how else to celebrate the revelation. They turned the iconoclast into an icon. (Funk 1996: 10-11)

(….) The quest for the historical Jesus is an effort to emancipate the Galilean sage from the tangle of Christian overlay that obscures, to some extent, who Jesus was and what he said, to distinguish the religion of Jesus from the religion about Jesus. That quest has been under way since the eighteenth century, when the first critical scholars asserted their independence from ecclesiastical control. It has continued unabated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Funk 1996: 31)

(….) Jesus was a comic savant. He mixed humor with subversive and troubling knowledge born of direct insight. That was also the technique of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, who might also be described as comic savants. A comic savant is an intellectualbetter, poetwho is redefining what it means to be wise. That is the real role of the court jester: tell the king the truth but tell it as a joke. Jesters consequently enjoyed a limited immunity for their jokes. New truth is easier to embrace if it comes wrapped in humor. (Funk 1996: 158)

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When someone slaps you on the right cheek,
turn the other as well.

If someone sues you for your coat,
Give him the shirt off your back to go with it.

When anyone conscripts you for one mile,
go along for two.

These admonitions give the appearance of being a series of particular cases that call for corresponding legal precedents. But, in fact, they parody case law and legal reasoning.

A blow to the right cheek would require a left-handed slap, which would be intended not to injure but to humiliate. The left hand was not used publicly in Jesus’ society, since it was used for unclean tasks. At Qumran to gesture with the left hand was punishable by ten days of penance. So a backhand slap to the right cheek was an insult delivered from a superior to an inferior, as Walter Wink has so brilliantly shown: master to slave, husband to wife, parent to child, Roman to Jew. Its message: Get back in your place. Don’t put on airs.

To turn the other cheek under the circumstances was an act of defiance. The left cheek invited a right-hand blow that might injure. The master, husband, or parent, or Roman would hesitate. The humiliation of the initial blow was answered with a nonviolent, very subtle, but quite effective challenge. The act of defiance entailed risk; it was symbolic, to be sure, but for that reason appealed to those who were regarded as subservient inferiors in Jesus’ world.

A coat was often given as surety for a loan or debt. The poor could lose their coats under such circumstances, but only during the daylight hours; at night, according to Deuteronimic law, the coat had to be returned since the truly destitute might have nothing else for warmth. Jesus’ injunction was to give up both coat and shirt. In a two-garment society, that meant going naked. Nakedness was frowned upon, to say the least. Again, according to the Manual of Discipline, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, accidentally exposing one’s nakedness when taking one’s hand out of one’s robe called for thirty days of penance. Exposing oneself to a companion needlessly drew a penalty of six months. Jesus combined humor with a call for a serious infraction of the social code.

Roman soldiers were allowed to commandeer Judeans for a mile’s march to assist with gear. More than that was forbidden. To comply with a conscriptive order meant subservience; to refuse meant rebellion. Imagine the consternation of the Roman soldier when confronted with a Judean offer to carry the pack a second mile.

These examples all refer to real problems, real circumstances. The responses, however, are not prescriptive; they are suggestive of a behavior that undermines the intent of the initial act.

Casting Off Body-Mind

The Understanding of One’s Personality

Unlike a thing, that is usually regarded as existence that is a means, a person is regarded as existence with the self as its own end. This is especially clear in Kantian ethics, which has given a philosophical foundation to the modern notions of personality, freedom, and responsibility. Kant distinguishes things and human personality, and insists that while things can only have value as existence that is a means, human personality has dignity and grace as existence with self-purpose. Although a human being can be used as a means, at the same time he or she must always be treated as an end. In the Kantian framework, this superiority of people over things, and end over means, should not be overcome. Thus Kant talks about the “Kingdom of ends” as the community of personality. Viewed in the light of Dōgen, this Kantian notion of personality not only is limited by anthropocentrism but also is not completely free from reification of the human self. In Dōgen, people are not essentially distinguished from other beings, but are grasped as a part of the realm of beings. People and other beings are equally subject to impermanence, or transiency. Although only people who have self-consciousness can realize the impermanency common to all beings as impermanency, they can overcome the problem of life and death only when they can overcome the transiency common to all beings. In Dōgen both suffering and emancipation from it are grasped on this transanthropocentric dimension. Hence Dōgen’s emphasis on the simultaneous attainment of Buddha-nature for self and others, and for humans and nature. In this simultaneous attainment, each person becomes an occasion or means for the others’ attainment just as each person realizes his or her own attainment. Here self-awakening and others’ awakening take place at the same time. While maintaining one’s individuality in terms of self-awakening, one serves as the means for the awakening of others. This dynamic mutuality takes place not only between the self and others, but also between humans and nature. This is the reason Dōgen emphasizes, in the “Bendōwa” fascicle, that

trees and grasses, wall and fence, expound and exalt the Dharma for the sake of ordinary people, sages, and all living beings. Ordinary people, sages, and all living beings in turn preach and exalt the Dharma for the sake of trees, grasses, wall, and fence. The dimension of self-enlightenment-qua-enlightening-others basically is fully replete with the characteristics of realization, and causes the principle of realization to function unceasingly.20

This mutual help for enlightenment between humans and nature, however, cannot take place insofar as humans take only themselves as the end. As Dōgen maintains:

To practice and confirm all things by conveying one’s self to them, is illusion; for all things to advance forward and practice and confirm the self, is enlightenment.21 (Abe 1992, 32)

The self must be emptied, for all things to advance and confirm the self. Accordingly, “to forget one’s self” is crucial. To forget one’s self is nothing other than body-mind casting off. And when body-mind are cast off, the world and history are also cast off. If body-mind are cast off without the world and history being cast off, it is not an authentic “body-mind casting off.” Further, “body-mind casting off” is not something negative. It is immediately the cast-off body-mind, that is, the awakened body-mind that is freed from self-attachment and ready to save others. In the same way, the casting off of the world and history, which takes place at the same time as the casting off of body-mind, is not something negative. It is directly the cast-off world and history, that is, the awakened world and awakened history, that “advance forward and practice and confirm the self.” (Abe 1992, 33)

Such are the implications of the notion of the oneness of means and end when the notion is applied to the understanding of one’s personality and its relationship to other persons and other things. Here we can see Dōgen’s challenge to the contemporary issues of ecology and history. The crucial point of this dynamic mutuality between the self and others, and humans and the world, is to forget one’s self, and one’s body-mind are cast off, is self-awakening-qua-awakening-others fully realized. This is not the “Kingdom of ends,” but the “Kingdom of dependent origination.” (Abe 1992, 33)

20 Shōbōgenzō “Bendōwa” The Eastern Buddhist, 136.
21 Shōbōgenzō “Bendōwa” The Eastern Buddhist, 133.

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Suppression of the Nembutsu

Despite Hōnen’s circumspection, his teachings soon evoked a harsh reaction from Japan’s Buddhist establishment. In 1204 Tendai monks at the Enryakuji appealed to Shinshō (1167-1230), the head priest there and an acquaintance of Hōnen’s, to prohibit the practice of the exclusive nembutsu and to expel its adherents from their religious precincts. Hōnen’s response to this attack was his Shichikajô kishomon (“Seven Article Pledge”), rules of conduct that his followers were sworn to obey. One year later the Kōfukuji, one of the most influential temples in Nara, petitioned the retired emperor Gotoba (1180-1239) to take measures against Hōnen, and it leveled nine specific charges against him:

  1. Establishing a new school without imperial recognition and without proper lineage.
  2. Devising a new graphic representation of Amida Buddha called the Sesshu Fusha Mandara (“Mandala of Those Embraced and Never Forsaken”), in which followers of the exclusive nembutsu are bathed in Amida’s light but priests adhering to traditional practices are not.
  3. Slighting the Buddha Sakyamuni by worshipping no Buddha other than Amida.
  4. Precluding Buddhism’s myriad ways of cultivating the good, outside of the nembutsu.
  5. Refusng to revere the illustrious kami, the native deities of the Shinto tradition.
  6. Misrepresenting Pure Land by denying that diverse religious practices lead to birth there.
  7. Misunderstanding the nembutsu by claiming that uttering it is superior to using it in meditation.
  8. Inflicting harm upon the Buddhist order by maintaining that violation of the clerical precepts is not an obstacle to birth in the Pure Land.
  9. Throwing the country into disorder by undermining the teachings of the eight schools which uphold it. (Dobbins 2002, 14-15)

These nine accusations indicate irreconcilable differences between Hōnen and the traditional schools over the meaning of the nembutsu, the clerical precepts, the Pure Land movement, and Amida Buddha. They also suggest that Hōnen’s followers were involved in disruptive activities that were a threat to the established religious order not only doctrinally but also socially and politically. (Dobbins 2002, 15)

The outcries against Hōnen and his band of disciples reached a crescendo in 1207, and resulted in the suppression of the exclusive nembutsu, the exile of Hōnen, and the execution of a number of his followers. This was the first in a long series of suppressions which stretched over the next century, extending into the formative years of the Shinshū as well. The following account of the 1207 incident appears in the Gukanshō (“Notes of My Foolish Views”), a history of Japan written in 1219 by Jien (1155-1225), the older brother of Kujō Kanezane and head priest of Mt. Hiei in the early thirteenth century: (Dobbins 2002, 15)

Also during the Ken’ei years (1206-1207) there was a religious man named Hōnen. Close to this time, while living in Kyoto, he established the nembutsu school and called his teachings the exclusive nembutsu. “You should do nothing more than utter [the name of] Amida Buddha. Do not undertake the esoteric or exoteric practices of the eight schools,” he would say. Ignorant or unenlightened lay priests and nuns (ama nyūdō) of questionable circumstance delighted in this teaching, and it began to flourish beyond expectation and to gather strength. Among them there was a monk named Anrakubō who had been a retainer under [Takashina] Yasutsune (d. 1201), a lay priest. Upon ordination Anrakubō became an adherent of the exclusive nembutsu, and in association with Jūren (d. 1207) he advocated singing the praises [of Pure Land] six times a day (rokuji raisan), which is said to have been the practice of the master Shan-tao. There were numerous people, among them nuns, who turned to this teaching and placed their trust in it. They were given to believe that, once they became followers, then even if they indulged in sexual relations or ate meat or fish, Amida Buddha would not regard it as a wrongdoing in the least, and that, once they entered the single-hearted and exclusive way and had faith in nothing but the nembutsu, then at the end of their life Amida would come without fail to usher them into the Pure Land. As people in both the capital and the countryside turned to this, a lady-in-waiting at the detached palace of the retired emperor, along with the mother of the imperial priest at the Ninnaji temple, also placed their faith in it. Secretly they summoned Anrakubō and the others to have them share their teachings with them, and so he proceeded there, together with his companions, and even spent the night there. Such a thing is unspeakable, so in the end Anrakubō and Jūren were beheaded. Also, Hōnen was exiled, driven from residency in Kyoto. (Dobbins 2002, 15-16)

This affair was dealt with in such a way that it seemed for a short time that things were under control. Hōnen, however, had not been an ally in the plot, so he was pardoned, and he eventually died at Ōtani in the Higashiyama section of Kyoto. On that occasion people were gathered around, and there was constant talk of his birth in Pure Land, but there is no reason to think that it actually came to pass. His deathbed ceremony was nothing like that of the religious figure Zōga (917-1003). Because all this occurred, to this day we are pressed from behind. The exclusive nembutsu, with its fish, meat, and sexual indulgences, remains largely unchecked, and the monks of Mt. Hiei have risen up saying that they are going to drive out the nembutsu priest Kūamidabutsu (1156-1228), who apparently has been put to flight. (…) In the end Hōnen’s disciples have been the ones committing all these deeds. In perceiving this, I realize that, of the two types of obstacles to enlightenment—those from within oneself (junma) and those from outside (gyakuma)—these unfortunate teachings of his are of the former type, an obstacle from within. (….) But at this time the mantra of Shingon and the meditations of Tendai are at their height, and there is still no one who can achieve enlightenment by following teachings which are an obstacle from within. It is a deplorable situation. (Dobbins 2002, 16)

Jien’s account of Hōnen’s activities bespeaks clearly the alarm with which traditional Buddhist adherents looked upon the Pure Land movement. Jien was supremely qualified to speak for both the religious and the political community, since he was not only a head priest at Mt. Hiei but also a scion of the powerful Fujiwara family. As a priest, he considered the exclusive nembustu corrosive of the clerical precepts and a detraction from the teachings of the eight schools. As a leader in society, he feared that it would seduce the ignorant and lowly and would erode social values and civil order. In short, he viewed the Pure Land movement as one characteristic of mappo, the age of decline, when society would lapse in chaos and the Buddhist teachings would pass into extinction. (Dobbins 2002, 16)

(….) The banishment of Hōnen temporarily pacified Kyoto of the commotion that the Pure Land movement had generated, but it did not extinguish the movement altogether. Rather, by dispatching Hōnen’s followers to different provinces, the authorities unwittingly disseminated his teachings throughout the country, and in 1211, when Hōnen was allowed to return to Kyoto, the movement reappeared in the capital with renewed vitality. The resilience of the Pure Land movement confounded the Buddhist establishment and prompted further suppressions in subsequent decades. (Dobbins 2002, 18)

Yin-Yang and Three Obediences

The ancient Chinese philosophers believed that the ultimate reality, which underlies and unifies the multiple phenomena we observe, is intrinsically dynamic. They called it Tao the way, or process, of the universe. For the Taoist sages all things, whether animate or inanimate, were embedded in the continuous flow and change of the Tao. The belief that everything in the universe is imbued with life has also been characteristic of indigenous spiritual traditions throughout the ages. In monotheistic religions, by contrast, the origin of life is associated with a divine creator.

(….) The association of manhood with the accumulation of possessions fits well with other values that are favored and rewarded in patriarchal culture expansion, competition, and an “object-centered” consciousness. In traditional Chinese culture, these were called yang values and were associated with the masculine side of human nature. They were not seen as being intrinsically good or bad. However, according to Chinese wisdom, the yang values need to be balanced by their yin, or feminine, counterparts expansion by conservation, competition by cooperation, and the focus on objects by a focus on relationships. As one of us (F.C.) has long argued, the movement toward such a balance is very consistent with the shift from mechanistic to systemic and ecological thinking that is characteristic of our time (Capra 1982, 1996).

Capra, Fritjof (2016) The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (p. 1). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

(….) There are striking parallels between complex systems and the old wisdom of Taoism, which arose from close observation of nature and of human affairs. The Taoist world view is probably best known for its concepts of yin and yang. Yin and yang are often characterised as the female and male principles, but the Tao view is that all things in life have opposites, or polarities, that are also manifestations of yin and yang. Other examples are dark and light, yielding and resistance, intuition and rationality, contemplation and action. In the Tao view there are times for contemplation and times for action. When the world is stable it may not be a good use of energy to try to force change, but if the world is changing, particularly if it is in crisis, then small actions may have large consequences. (….) Taoism counsels that a life lived only at one polarity will be a restricted life. For a full realisation of potential we should not become stuck in an extreme, but should balance yin with yang. Taoism seems to have distilled an essence from the living world: healthy living systems do not depend on competition alone, nor on cooperation alone, but balance both in varying degrees. (Davies, Geoff. Economy, Society, Nature: An introduction to the new systems-based, life-friendly economics.World Economics Association Books Book 3. Kindle Locations 2109-2118).

(….) We can leave the question of what ‘reality’ is ‘behind’ our observations to the metaphysicians and theologians. Unfortunately many scientists became enamoured of the idea that science is in the business of ‘reading the mind of God’. It’s another distraction, unless God’s mind is very changeable and context-dependent. So too can we leave the question of ‘truth’ to others. It is apparently a shocking claim to many people that science is not in the business of revealing Truth. Rather, science is, to emphasise the difference, in the business of inventing useful stories, stories that may be rather loose or may be very precise. (Davies, Geoff. Economy, Society, Nature: An introduction to the new systems-based, life-friendly economics. World Economics Association Books Book 3. Kindle Locations 2402-2408).

— Geoff Davies (2019) Economy, Society, Nature.

[T]he external ki of women is rooted in yin, and so by their ki women are apt to be excitable, petty, narrow, and temperamental. As they live confined to their homes day in and day out, theirs is a very private life and their vision is limited. Therefore, among women compassionate and honest minds-and-hearts are rare indeed. That is why Buddhism says that women are profoundly sinful and have difficulty in achieving {buddhahood}.

Nakae Tōju (573) Learning.

My family tried to raise me as an obedient girl [according to the Three Obediences]: [my mother told me] obey your father, obey your husband, obey your son. And I asked her; if I keep obeying everyone, when does my life start?

A Young Courageous Women Breaking With Tradition

Let it be made clear that Japan has come a long way towards equality of the sexes since Fukuzawa Yukichi’s comments that follow. Progress still needs to be made. Women are too frequently relegated to subservient roles within Japanese corporate culture (e.g., serving tea, being secretaries, or both). Nevertheless, the popular Western appropriation of Eastern philosophy and religion frequently distorts it to such an extent it no longer resembles its factual meaning in historical context and is hardly recognizable. One would never recognize the original message of Lao Tzu or the meaning of the Tao by the sanitized and popularized misappropriation above as Sung-Hae Kim makes obvious:

The Taoists exchanged the metaphoric term “Heaven” (though they still used it occasionally) for a fuller term Tao 道 (literally, the way), and developed the most systematic metaphysics in ancient China. Tao is defined as the indescribable and unnameable origin of all things and the constant principle present in the phenomenal world. Because of their preoccupation with Tao and its ultimate standard that transcends all human relative values, the Taoists were the most radical critics in ancient China. What characterized them was their that man is only a tiny part of the whole transformation of Tao and man has to learn Tao from the phenomenal world. (Kim 1985, 13) (….) Traditionally Lao Tzu has been thought of as the first of the Taoists and senior contemporary of Confucius. The historicity of the person Lao Tzu is still controversial and can probably never be solved. What we have is the text of the 81 short chapters of the book Lao Tzu—now generally accepted to have been written in the fourth or third century B.C.E. (Kim 1985, 101) According to the traditional version, the first chapter of Lao Tzu begins with the indescribability of the Way (Tao 道) and the concluding chapter sums up the way of the sage (sheng-jen 聖人) who embodies the Way concretely in the world. (Kim 1985, 102) The most important term for the Ultimate in Lao Tzu is Tao. The clear definition of Tao as the indescribable ultimate source and origin of all that exists and the constant nurturing principle at the phenomenal level is the most important contribution of Lao Tzu made to the metaphysical thought of ancient China. The famous chapter 1 describes both the transcendent and the immanent character of this ultimate reality. (Kim 1985, 106) As the origin of all things, it is nameless because it is transcendent, but as the immanent principle principle of the phenomenal world, it is called the mother of the world. The concept of Tao that both transcends the phenomenal world as its source and also is present within it as the constant principle, is in fact the metaphysical elaboration of the traditional concept of Heaven. For Lao Tzu, the Tao was both the supreme principle and the absolute reality; it was the reality behind the origin of the universe. (Kim 1985, 107) Heaven (the Tao) is the ultimate reference at the beginning and the end. With its characteristically anthropocentric outlook, the Confucian sage ultimately stands before Heaven for the final judgment of his innocence and success. (Sung-Hae Kim 1985, 138)

— Sung-Hae Kim 1985, 138, The Righteous and the Sage: A Comparative Study on the Ideal Images of Man in Biblical Israel and Classical China. Sogang University.

Taoism was a religion, a metaphysics, and a philosophy that was no less concerned with “reading the mind of God” the Ultimate and Transcendent Reality which they defined as the Tao which the “sage” (sheng-jen 聖人) or “perfect man” (chih-jen) sought to live and rule according to the principles of the Way. Davies is projecting a distorted, shallow, and false Westernized view of Taoism apparently copying Capra and contrasting it with his stereotyped view of early Western ideas as exemplified in the ideas of Newton and others who saw themselves as discovering the laws of God in their scientific discoveries. When so-called scientists engage in facile story telling on topics they know little about and thereby misrepresent an entire religion or philosophy or history for mere rhetorical purposes they are unwittingly demeaning science by reducing it to scientismmyth making. In reality the Torah’s ideal of the righteous man and the Taoist ideal of the perfect man have more in common than Davies’s scientism does with real, sober, and careful science.

Historical context counts; Taoism (along with Confucianism) was a religion and moral philosophy (metaphysical theory of the universe) that was more about maintaining harmony between heaven and earth, which translated into social context meant harmony between the ruling upper class and the ruled lower-classes aimed at maintaining social harmony and civil and political stability. The real interesting aspect of Taoism was its moral precepts that were meant to guide social and economic behavior so-as to maintain social harmony. The ethical precepts have more relevance to economics than some recent Western reinterpretation of what it means to modern science. The idea that the ruler’s behavior must accord to a moral code of conduct embodied in the Way provided a basis upon which the mandate of heaven could be either considered in operation (i.e., they ruled fairly, justly, and upheld moral standards)  or not in operation (i.e., they ruled unjustly, unethically, and for selfish gain and not for the benevolence of the people). These considerations were the ancient Chinese method of determining if the ruler needed to be removed or remain in place; at least that was the theory.

When scientists spoof religion they are doing no better than when creationists spoof science. Spotting the Spoof is a critical skill required for both religionists and scientists and is best served by a sound philosophy (which means ‘the love of wisdom’) that wisely discerns the difference between facts, meanings, and values. Science and religion can only be self-critical of their facts. The moment departure is made from the stage of facts, reason abdicates or else rapidly degenerates into a consort of false logic. Science as sober science is careful; science as story telling is not. Being able to spot the spoof allows one to “distinguish between good, sober, and restrained science on the one hand, and non-empirical metaphysics, fantasy, myth and ideology on the other.” When scientists engage in story telling with little or no regard for fact or truth they are espousing an ideology “transcending the category of provisional scientific theories … [and] constituting a world-view.'” (Alexander and Numbers 2010, Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins, Kindle Locations 4215)

For serious, historically accurate, and relevant studies of economics and religion one can look to Michael Hudson (2018) … and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year or Robert H. Nelson (2001) Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond. Or another classic is Tomas Sedlacek (2011) Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street. From a Buddhist perspective one can look to Clair Brown (2017) Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science. From a Muslim perspective one could look to Ismael Hossein-zadeh (2014) Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis: Parasitic Finance Capital. For a good analysis of the failures of so-called Compassionate Conservatism see Lew Daly (2009) God’s Economy: Faith-Based Initiatives & the Caring State. No doubt there are many more.

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The equality of men and women Fukuzawa Yukichi 1885, 9–10, 45– 6 (11– 13, 39– 40)

Confucius said, “Whenever there is work to be done, the young will take on its burden; whenever there is wine and food, the old will be the first to enjoy it” [Analects ii. 8]. Borrowing this saying to describe men and women in Japan, “Whenever there is work to be done, women will take on its burden; whenever there is wine and food, men will be the first to enjoy it.”

Women of our country have no responsibility either inside or outside their homes, and their position is very low. Consequently, their sufferings and pleasures are very small in scale. It has been the custom for hundreds and even thousands of years to make them as feeble as they are, and it is not an easy matter now to lead both their minds and bodies to activity and to vigorous health. There are animated discussions on the education of women. No doubt education will be effective. When taught, women will acquire knowledge and the arts.

(….) I once compared the present efforts in schools for the education of women in Japan to caring for a dwarf pine in a pot and hoping it will grow into a big tree. Without doubt, fertilizer is important in a tree’s growth. When it is administered in proper measures and moisture and temperature are controlled, the pine will put out branches and leaves in profusion and their green luster will be beautiful. However, that beauty will be limited to the beauty of a potted plant. One can never hope for its growth into the sublimity of a hundred-foot giant. To rectify the sad state of women’s ignorance, the use of school instruction and such means will not be in vain. A woman may become well versed in science or in literature, even well informed in law. Such a woman may well compete with men in the classroom, but when she returns home from school, in what position does she find herself? (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (p. 601). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition.)

At home, she owns no property of her own, and in society she cannot hope for a position of any consequence. The house she lives in is a man’s house and the children she brings up are her husband’s children. Where would such a person, without property, without authority of any sort, and with no claim on the children she bears, and herself a parasite in a man’s house, make use of the knowledge and learning she acquired? Science and literature will be of no use. Even less would her knowledge in law serve her. The normal reaction of the general public is to regard a woman who discusses law and economics as liable to bring misery upon herself. (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (pp. 601-602). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition.)

(….) On top of all this, suppose that school education were Confucian or Buddhist, and taught such sayings to the effect that women and tools are irredeemable, or that it is a virtue for women to lack wisdom, or that the five faults that women are liable to and the three obediences[8] they must observe are proof that women are sinful by birth. Such education is less than useful, for it serves only to oppress women and to beat into them a kind of “modesty” and “reticence,” resulting in the deformation of even their physical organs—ears, eyes, nose, and tongue. Yet some educators never realize the results of their training. They have veritably been doing nothing but hindering the healthy development of women’s minds and bodies.

(….) Confucianism characterizes men as yang (positive) and women as yin (negative); that is, men are like the heavens and the sun, and women are like the earth and the moon. In other words, one is high and the other is humble. There are many men who take this idea as the absolute rule of nature, but this yin-yang theory is the fantasy of the Confucians and has no proof or logic. Its origins go back several thousand years to dark and illiterate ages when men looked around and whenever they thought they recognized pairs of something, one of which seemed to be stronger or more remarkable than the other, they called one yang and the other yin. For instance, the heavens and the earth looked very much like the ceiling and the floor of a room. One of them was low and trampled on with feet, but the other was high and beyond reach. One was classed yang and the other yin. The sun and the moon are both round and shining; one is very bright, even hot, while the other is less bright. Therefore, the sun is yang and the moon is yin. This is the level of the logic behind this theory and we today should regard it as no more than childish nonsense. (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (pp. 602-603). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition. Bold Added.)

This theory simply attached itself to people’s minds with not much of a basis. On seeing a pair of similar objects, one somewhat superior to the other, they classified the first in the yang category and the other in the yin category. Then they would think up ideas to embellish their theories. That was all. Therefore, between men and women, there never existed any such distinctions as yin and yang. The idea itself being fictional to begin with, there could not have been any actual features to suggest such a theory. But some scholars of the Confucian trend must have felt like belittling women, and for no other reason than their own prejudice, classed women as yin. It was a great nuisance on the part of women to have been thus involved in an empty theory which extended to the sun and the moon and heavens and earth, and which had nothing to do with women’s relations to men. It was truly a misfortune for women to be thus made victims of the Confucian scholars’ ignorance of science. (Heisig, James W.; Kasulis, Thomas P.; Maraldo, John C.. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Nanzan Library of Asian Religion and Culture) (p. 603). University of Hawaii Press. Kindle Edition. Bold Added.)

8. [The five faults are indocility, discontent, slander, jealousy, and silliness. The three obediences are obedience to one’s father while in his care, obedience to one’s husband when married, and obedience to one’s son after one’s husband’s death. Emphasis added.]

Gosse’s Dilemma and Adam’s Navel

‘Tis a dangerous thing to ingage the authority of Scripture in disputes about the Natural World, in opposition to Reason, lest Time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be false which we had made Scripture to assert.

Thomas Burnet, Archaelogiae Philosophicae, 1692

In the late nineteenth century intellectuals assumed that truth had spiritual, moral, and cognitive dimensions. By 1930, however, intellectuals had abandoned this broad conception of truth. They embraced, instead, a view of knowledge that drew a sharp distinction between “facts” and “values.” They associated cognitive truth with empirically verified knowledge and maintained that by this standard, moral values could not be validated as “true.” In the nomenclature of the twentieth century, only “science” constituted true knowledge. Moral and spiritual values could be “true” in an emotional or nonliteral sense, but not in terms of cognitively verifiable knowledge. The term truth no longer comfortably encompassed factual knowledge and moral values.

Julie A. A. Reuben (1996) The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality

Truth

Certain people have different standards for recognizing “truth.” Given access to the same facts, two individuals can look at an issued and reach utterly different conclusions, to the point where they believe those with a different opinion belong somewhere on a spectrum from stupid to perverse…. (Asher 2012: xiv)

(….) The creationist has something at stake, some worldview or allegiance, that makes a fair, honest view of the data behind Darwinian evolutionary biology impossible. Why?

(….) [T]here is an obvious explanation for antipathy toward Charles Darwin among various anti-evolutionist groups of the last 150 years, groups that are often connected to one kind of intense religious creed or another: they think Darwin threatens their worldview. Contributing to this conviction are those biologists who portray evolution as tied to atheism, who help convince the devout that a natural connection of humanity with other organisms is incompatible with their religion. Compounding things further is the fact that adherence to many religious worldviews is not flexible, and any scientific theory or philosophy that seems to threaten certain beliefs must be wrong, whatever some scientist may say about evidence. (Asher 2012: xvi)

Coyne says there is one way to be rational, and any of this stuff about alternative “truth” is relativist nonsense not worth the flatscreen monitor on which it is written:

What, then, is the nature of “religious truth” that supposedly complements “scientific truth”?… Anything touted as a “truth” must come with a method for being disproved—a method that does not depend on personal revelation. … It would appear, then, that one cannot be coherently religious and scientific at the same time. That alleged synthesis requires that with one part of your brain you accept only those things that are tested and supported by agreed-upon evidence, logic, and reason, while with the other part of your brain you accept things that are unsupportable or even falsified.

I disagree, and would argue that there are many things in life that deserve the descriptor “truth” but are not amenable to rational disproof. Coyne is absolutely correct to say that coddling the irrational—those for whom “religious truth” means stoning adulterers or drinking poisoned Kool-Aid—is incompatible with science and, more generally, civil society. However, while science is a-religious, it is not anti-religious, at least in the important sense that it does not (indeed, cannot) concern itself with phenomena beyond what we rationally perceive. It is not only possible to portray science as lacking fatal consequences for those religious tenets that concern things we cannot empirically observe (such as purpose or agency in life), but it is precisely what scientists have got to do to make a compelling case to the public. Coyne tosses “religion” into the same dumpster as any passing superstition, and actively encourages the perception that science is corrosive to any religious sentiment. Yes, there are religious claims that are demonstrably wrong in an empirical sense. … However, such specific claims do not do justice to the religion integrally tied into the identity of many lay-people and scientists alike, an identity that by any meaningful definition is worthy of the name “truth.” (Asher 2012: xvii-xviii)

Asher, Robert J. Evolution and Belief [Confessions of a Religious Paleontologist]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2012; p. xiv.

When we reflect on scienceits aims, its values, its limitswe are doing philosophy, not science. This may be bad news for the high priests of scientism, who reject philosophy, but there is no escaping it.

(….) There is a general agreement that science concentrates on aspects of the world that can be studied through theories that can be tested by doing experiments. Those aspects relate to spatiotemporal patterns in nature, for this is what makes experiments possible. If other dimensions of reality exist, they simply cannot be studied using the methods of the empirical sciences.

(….) Modern science is an enormously wonderful and powerful achievement of our species, a culturally transcendent, universal method for studying the natural world. It should never be used as an ideological weapon. Scientific progress demands a respect for truth, rigor, and objectivity, three ethical values implied in the ethos of science. We can nevertheless draw different conclusions from our analyses of science, but we should always present them carefully, distinguishing what can be said in the name of science from personal interpretations that must be supported by independent reasons, or acknowledged simply as personal opinions. Our analysis shows that the Oracles differ in important points and are not consistently fighting for a common cause. When they go beyond their science, they use different arguments and arrive at different conclusions.

We conclude with one final insight. Science is compatible with a broad cross section of very different views on the deepest human problems. Weinberg, an agnostic Jew from New York, shared his Nobel Prize with Abdus Salam, a devout Muslim from Pakistan. They spoke different languages and had very different views on many important topics. But these differences were of no consequence when they came together to do science. Modern science can be embraced by any religion, any culture, any tribe, and brought to bear on whatever problems are considered most urgent, whether it be tracing their origins, curing their diseases, or cleaning up their water. Science should never be fashioned into a weapon for the promotion of an ideological agenda. Nevertheless, as history has shown, science is all too frequently enlisted in the service of propaganda; and, as we have argued in this book, we must be on guard against intellectual nonsense masquerading as science.

Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas (2007) in Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion.

Darwinism as an ideology

One of the most interesting developments of the twentieth century has been the growing trend to regard Darwinian theory as transcending the category of provisional scientific theories, and constituting a “world- view.” Darwinism is here regarded as establishing a coherent worldview through its evolutionary narrative, which embraces such issues as the fundamental nature of reality, the physical universe, human origins, human nature, society, psychology, values, and destinies. While being welcomed by some, others have expressed alarm at this apparent failure to distinguish between good, sober, and restrained science on the one hand, and non-empirical metaphysics, fantasy, myth and ideology on the other. In the view of some, this transition has led to Darwinism becoming a religion or atheist faith tradition in its own right.

Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers (2010) in Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of Darwinian thinking to American economic reform in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Evolutionary thought was American economic reform’s scientific touchstone and a vital source of ideas and conceptual support. The Wharton School’s Simon Nelson Patten, writing in 1894, observed that the century was closing with a bias for biological reasoning and analogy, just as the prior century had closed with a bias for the methods of physics and astronomy. The great scientific victories of the nineteenth century, Patten believed, were “in the field of biology.”

SOMETHING IN DARWIN FOR EVERYONE

To understand the influence of evolutionary thought on American economic reform, we must first appreciate that evolutionary thought in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era in no way dictated a conservative, pessimistic, Social Darwinist politics. On the contrary, evolutionary thought was protean, plural, and contested.

It could license, of course, arguments that explained and justified the economic status quo as survival of the fittest, so-called Social Darwinism. But evolutionary thought was no less useful to economic reformers, who found in it justification for optimism rather than pessimism, for intervention rather than fatalism, for vigorous rather than weak government, and for progress rather than drift. Evolution, as Irving Fisher insisted in National Vitality, did not teach a “fatalistic creed.” Evolution, rather, awakened the world to “the fact of its own improvability.”

In the thirty years bracketing 1900, there seems to have been something in Darwin for everyone. Karl Pearson, English eugenicist and founding father of modern statistical theory, found a case for socialism in Darwin, as did the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace. Herbert Spencer, in contrast, famously used natural selection, which he called “survival of the fittest,” to defend limited government.

Warmongers borrowed the notion of survival of the fittest to justify imperial conquest, as when Josiah Strong asserted that the Anglo-Saxon race was “divinely commissioned” to conquer the backward races abroad. Opponents of war also found sustenance in evolutionary thought. Pyotr Kropotkin argued that the struggle for existence need not involve conflict, much less violence. Cooperation could well be the fittest strategy. David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford from 1891 to 1913 and a leader of the American Peace Movement during World War I, opposed war because it selected for the unfit. The fittest men died in battle, while the weaklings stayed home to reproduce.

Darwin seems to have been pro-natalist, on the grounds that more births increased the variation available for natural selection. Margaret Sanger argued that restricting births was the best way to select the fittest. Darwin’s self-appointed “bulldog,” T. H. Huxley, thought natural selection justified agnosticism, whereas devout American interpreters, such as botanist Asa Gray, found room in Darwinism for a deity.

It is a tribute to the influence of Darwinism that Darwin inspired exegetes of nearly every ideology: capitalist and socialist, individualist and collectivist, pacifist and militarist, pro-natalist and birth-controlling, as well as agnostic and devout.

Darwinism was itself plural, and Progressive Era evolutionary thought was more plural still. The ideas of other prominent evolutionists (notably, Herbert Spencer and Alfred Russel Wallace) were also influential in the Progressive Era, both when they accorded with Darwin and when they didn’t.

— Thomas C. Leonard (2016) in Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics, and American Economics in the Progressive Era.

[L]iberal theology reconceptualizes the meaning of Christianity in the light of modern knowledge and ethical values. It is reformist in spirit and substance, not revolutionary. Specifically it is defined by its openness to the verdicts of modern intellectual inquiry, especially historical criticism and the natural sciences; its commitment to the authority of individual reason and experience; its conception of Christianity as an ethical way of life; its advocacy of moral concepts of atonement or reconciliation; and its commitments to make Christianity credible and socially relevant to contemporary people. In the nineteenth century, liberal theologians denied that God created the world in six days, commanded the genocidal extermination of Israel’s ancient enemies, demanded the literal sacrifice of his Son as a substitutionary legal payment for sin [see Laughing Buddha], and verbally inspired the Bible. Most importantly, they denied that religious arguments should be settled by appeals to an infallible text or ecclesial authority. Putting it positively, nineteenth-century liberals accepted Darwinian evolution, biblical criticism, a moral influence view of the cross, an idea of God as the personal and eternal Spirit of love, and a view of Scripture as authoritative only within Christian experience. Nineteenth- teenth- and early-twentieth-century liberals expected these views to prevail in Christianity as a whole, but in the twenty-first century they remain contested beliefs.

Gary Dorrien. The Making of American Liberal Theology: Crisis, Irony, and Postmodernity: 1950-2005 (Kindle Locations 155-157). Kindle Edition.

Unless the moral insight and the spiritual attainment of mankind are proportionately augmented, the unlimited advancement of a purely materialistic culture may eventually become a menace to civilization. A purely materialistic science harbors within itself the potential seed of the destruction of all scientific striving, for this very attitude presages the ultimate collapse of a civilization which has abandoned its sense of moral values and has repudiated its spiritual goal of attainment.

The materialistic scientist and the extreme idealist are destined always to be at loggerheads. This is not true of those scientists and idealists who are in possession of a common standard of high moral values and spiritual test levels. In every age scientists and religionists must recognize that they are on trial before the bar of human need. They must eschew all warfare between themselves while they strive valiantly to justify their continued survival by enhanced devotion to the service of human progress. If the so-called science or religion of any age is false, then must it either purify its activities or pass away before the emergence of a material science or spiritual religion of a truer and more worthy order.

What both developing science and religion need is more searching and fearless self-criticism, a greater awareness of incompleteness in evolutionary status. The teachers of both science and religion are often altogether too self-confident and dogmatic. Science and religion can only be self-critical of their facts. The moment departure is made from the stage of facts, reason abdicates or else rapidly degenerates into a consort of false logic.

~ ~ ~

By the mid-nineteenth century, there were really only three ways in which natural theologians could deal with the growing evidence that the earth was very old, that it was recycling inexorably beneath their feet, and that life on earth had constantly changed over millions of years. They could ignore it, they could accommodate it to the biblical accounts of history by more or less denying the literal truth of Genesis, or they could explain it all away. The later natural theologians largely ignored it. The sacred theorists tried unsuccessfully to reconcile geology with the Bible. And one man above all others tried to explain it away. He was Philip Henry Gosse (1810-1888), a writer on natural history whose books caught the imagination of generations of Victorians and whose life became a tortured tale of religion contesting with science…. (Thomson 2007: 223)

Gosse’s dilemma was that of all natural theologians, especially after the publication in 1844 of an anonymously authored, thrillingly dangerous, and wildly successful book on evolution…. The book’s title, with an allusion to James Hutton that nobody could miss, was Vestiges of Creation. Chambers’ theory was largely derived from Lamarck’s which, like Erasmus Darwin’s, depended upon organisms being subject to change as a direct result of environmental pressures and exigencies [which today is know to be possible via epigentics]. Chambers probably set Charles Darwin back fifteen years — much to the benefit of all. In many ways he blazed the trail that Darwin could more cautiously follow with an even more convincing theory in hand. Darwin must have realized, with the example of Chambers in front of him (and approval of the political left and censure from both the religious and scientific right) that he would have to ensure his theory would have a better reception. (Thomson 2007: 224)

Gosse knew that various versions of what we now call evolution had been around for more than a hundred years. By the mid-1850s, most scientists in Britain knew which way the wind was blowing. Darwin had been hard at work in private since 1842, preparing the ground for his idea of natural selection, and knowing how popular a scientist Gosse was, he tried to enlist him to support his theory. Darwin’s self-designated ‘bull dogs’, including Thomas Huxley, were steadily persuading the sceptics Huxley had been lecturing formally on an evolutionary relationship between men and apes as early as 1858. This growing movement evolutionary movement offered a new way of explaining the evidence of organic changes, but only at the expense of much accepted religious belief. It threatened to change radically the whole frame of intellectual reference and to produce a new explanation of cause. For a huge number of theologians, clerics, philosophers and ordinary people, evolution was changing the metaphysical balance of power. Among those who felt this most keenly was Gosse. (Thomson 2007: 224)

One’s heart has to ache for Gosse, one of the most sympathetic characters of the evolutionary saga, a man weighed down by the burdens of fundamentalist Christianity and at the same time a brilliant naturalist…. He was the first to introduce to a popular audience the life of the seashore, the fragile world of exquisite beauty and strength that lies just a few inches beneath the surface of the sea and in the rocky pools of the coast. Before Gosse, all this was largely unseen. Gosse single-handedly created marine biology and home aquaria, and became one of the great chroniclers of the intricate worlds revealed by the microscope. (Thomson 2007: 225)

(….) Once Lamarck and Chambers had made it possible (even necessary) to take evolution seriously, and after his meeting with Charles Darwin had shown how powerful was the extent of the challenge to his fundamentalist beliefs, Gosse felt called to respond; as a Plymouth Brother and as a scientist, it was his responsibility, just as it had been Paley’s and before Paley John Ray’s or Thomas Burnet’s. Gosse’s dilemma was to try to find a way to reconcile his science and his faith. He chose to challenge the rapidly growing support for evolutionists from the geological record. (Thomson 2007: 226)

(….) Huxley had a favourite lecture a “Lay Sermon’ entitled Essay on a Piece of Chalk. He would stand before an eager crowd and take a piece of common chalk from his pocket, asking the audience what it could possibly tell them about the history of the cosmos and of life on earth. The answer is that chalk (in those days, before blackboard chalk was an artificial, hypo-allergenic substance) represents the accumulation on an ancient sea bottom of the skeletons of countless billions of microscopic planktonic organisms that once inhabited vast tropical oceans that extended across the earth, from Europe and the Middle East to Australia and North America. (Thomson 2007: 227)

(….) Philip Gosse knew only too well what a piece of chalk looked like under a microscope and that the earth’s crust consisted of thousands of feet of different rocks, some bearing fossils, others the remains of ancient lava flows, dust storms, water-borne sediments, and even ancient coral reefs just like those he had seen in Jamaica…. How could Gosse explain away this all-too-solid evidence of the ancient history of the earth and its denizens? What did it have to say about the biblical account of creation in six days? (Thomson 2007: 228)

(….) Gosse’s answer cost him dearly. The dilemma figuratively tore him scientist and fundamentalist Christian in half. In a classic example of ad hoc reasoning, he explained away all this appearance of change in a book entitled Omphalos, the Greek for ‘navel’, and in that one word is contained the core of Gosse’s argument. It is the old conundrum: did Adam have a navel? If God created Adam as the first man out of nothing, Adam would have no need for a navel, since he had never been connected by an umbilical cord to a mother. Nor indeed had Eve, of whose origin Genesis gives two accounts. Nor indeed (remembering that the Bible tells us that God made man in his own image) would God physiologically have needed navel. (Thomson 2007: 229)

Gosse simply asserted that at the moment of creation, just as God made Adam with a navel, he also made the earth with all its complex layers, its faults, every one of its fossils, volcanoes in mid-eruption and rivers in full spate carrying a load of sediment that had never been eroded from mountains that had never been uplifted. Similarly, at that instant, every tree that had never grown nevertheless had internal growth rings; every mammal already had partially worn teeth. He created rotting logs on the forest floor, the rain in mid-fall, the light from distant stars in mid-stream, the planets part-way around their orbits … the whole universe up and running at the moment of creation no further assembly required. (Thomson 2007: 229)

Such an argument, of course, can never be beaten. It says that God has created all the evidence that supports his existence and (shades of Hume) all the evidence that appears to cast doubt on it. Equally, of course, a theory that explains everything explains nothing. Omphalos is untestable and therefore one cannot concur rationally with its argument; you must simply close your eyes and believe. Or smile. (Thomson 2007: 229-230)

Over the years, Gosse’s argument has been bowdlerised to the slightly unworthy proposition that God set out the geological record, with all its evidence of change, in order to test man’s faith. It was, therefore, the ultimate celestial jest and cruel hoax. This was about as far from Gosse’s pious intention as Darwin’s impious theory. As for what Paley would have made of Omphalos I like to think he would have rejected it, but kindly, for he was a kind man. Victorian England not only rejected it, they laughed at it cruelly. Gosse became overnight a broken man, his reputation as a scientist in shatters. (Thomson 2007: 230)

But nothing is as simple as it ought to be. A community that mocked Omphalos and had no problem in coming to terms with the even more difficult issue of cosmology, still could not come to terms with geology. In fact, whether in Paley’s time or in Darwin’s, or indeed our own, one of the oddities in the history of interplay between science and religion is that cosmology never seems to have become as serious a threat to revealed religion as natural science. When pressed, people often revert to believing two things at once. The evidence that the universe is huge and ancient can be assimilated seemingly without shaking the conviction that the earth itself is 6,000 years old and that all living creatures were created over a two-day period. For example: ‘The school books of the present day, while they teach the child that the earth moves, yet assure him that that it is a little less than six thousand years old, and that it was made in six days. On the other hand, geologists of all religious creeds are agreed that the earth has existed for an immense series of years.’ These last words were written in 1860 and appear in a work that arguably presented a greater threat to the Established Church than the evolutionism of Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, Robert Chambers or even Charles Darwin. Essays and Reviews was an example of the enemy within, a compilation of extremely liberal theological views by noted churchman and academics. Among their targets was the unnecessary and outmoded belief in miracles and the biblical account of the days of creation. The battle is still being fought. (Thomson 2007: 230-231)

Value Crisis of Modernity

There are many examples in the modern world showing how this doctrine of the free market—the pursuit of self-interest—has worked out to the disadvantage of society.

— CAMBRIDGE PROFESSOR JOAN ROBINSON, 1977, cited in Buddhist Economics.

The approach used here concentrates on a factual basis that differentiates it from more traditional practical ethics and economic policy analysis, such as the “economic” concentration on the primacy of income and wealth (rather than on the characteristics of human lives and substantive freedoms).

— NOBEL LAUREATE AMARTYA SEN, DEVELOPMENT AS FREEDOM, cited in Buddhist Economics

In Buddhist economics, people are interdependent with one another and with Nature, so each person’s well-being is measured by how well everyone and the environment are functioning with the goal of minimizing suffering for people and the planet. Everyone is assumed to have the right to a comfortable life with access to basic nutrition, health care, education, and the assurance of safety and human rights. A country’s well-being is measured by the aggregation of the well-being of all residents and the health of the ecosystem.

Brown (2017, 2), in Buddhist Economics

~ ~ ~

In the most dramatic moments of Italy’s debt crisis, the newly installed “technical” government, led by Mario Monti, appealed to trade unions to accept salary cuts in the name of national solidarity. Monti urged them to participate in a collective effort to increase the competitiveness of the Italian economy (or at least to show that efforts were being made in that direction) in order to calm international investors and “the market” and, hopefully, reduce the spread between the interest rates of Italian and German bonds (at the time around 500 points, meaning that the Italian government had to refinance its ten-year debt at the excruciating rate of 7.3 percent). Commenting on this appeal in an editorial in the left-leaning journal Il Manifesto, the journalist Loris Campetti wondered how it could be at all possible to demand solidarity from a Fiat worker when the CEO of his company earned about 500 times what the worker did.1 And such figures are not unique to Italy. In the United States, the average CEO earned about 30 times what the average worker earned in the mid-1970s (1973 being the year in which income inequality in the United States was at its historically lowest point). Today the multiplier lies around 400. Similarly, the income of the top 1 percent (or even more striking, the top 0.1 percent) of the U.S. population has skyrocketed in relation to that of the remaining 99 percent, bringing income inequality back to levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 1-2)

The problem is not, or at least not only, that such income discrepancies exist, but that there is no way to legitimate them. At present there is no way to rationally explain why a corporate CEO (or a top-level investment banker or any other member of the 1 percent) should be worth 400 times as much as the rest of us. And consequently there is no way to legitimately appeal to solidarity or to rationally argue that a factory worker (or any of us in the 99 percent) should take a pay cut in the name of a system that permits such discrepancies in wealth. What we have is a value crisis. There are huge differentials in the monetary rewards that individuals receive, but there is no way in which those differentials can be explained and legitimated in terms of any common understanding of how such monetary rewards should be determined. There is no common understanding of value to back up the prices that markets assign, to put it in simple terms. (We will discuss the thorny relation between the concepts of “value” and “price” along with the role of markets farther on in this chapter.) (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 2)

This value crisis concerns more than the distribution of income and private wealth. It is also difficult to rationalize how asset prices are set. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis a steady stream of books, articles, and documentaries has highlighted the irrational practices, sometimes bordering on the fraudulent, by means of which mortgage-backed securities were revalued from junk to investment grade, credit default swaps were emitted without adequate underlying assets, and the big actors of Wall Street colluded with each other and with political actors to protect against transparency and rational scrutiny and in the end to have the taxpayers foot the bill. Neither was this irrationality just a temporary expression of a period of exceptional “irrational exuberance”; rather, irrationality has become a systemic feature of the financial system. As Amar Bidhé argues, the reliance on mathematical formulas embodied in computerized calculating devices at all levels of the financial system has meant that the setting of values on financial markets has been rendered ever more disconnected from judgments that can be rationally reconstructed and argued through.5 Instead, decisions that range from whether to grant a mortgage to an individual, to how to make split-second investment decisions on stock and currency markets, to how to grade or rate the performance of a company or even a nation have been automated, relegated to the discretion of computers and algorithms. While there is nothing wrong with computers and algorithms per se, the problem is that the complexity of these devices has rendered the underlying methods of calculation and their assumptions incomprehensible and opaque even to the people who use them on a daily basis (and imagine the rest of us!). To cite Richard Sennett’s interviews with the back-office Wall Street technicians who actually develop such algorithms: (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 2-3)

“I asked him to outline the algo [algorithm] for me,” one junior accountant remarked about her derivatives-trading Porsche driving superior, “and he couldn’t, he just took it on faith.” “Most kids have computer skills in their genes … but just up to a point … when you try to show them how to generate the numbers they see on screen, they get impatient, they just want the numbers and leave where these came from to the main-frame.” (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 3)

The problem here is not ignorance alone, but that the makeup of the algorithms and automated trading devices that execute the majority of trades on financial markets today (about 70 percent are executed by “bots,” or automatic trading agents), is considered a purely technical question, beyond rational discussion, judgment, and scrutiny. Actors tend to take the numbers on faith without knowing, or perhaps even bothering about, where they came from. Consequently these devices can often contain flawed assumptions that, never scrutinized, remain accepted as almost natural “facts.” During the dot-com boom, for example, Internet analysts valued dot-coms by looking at a multiplier of visitors to the dot-com’s Web site without considering how these numbers translated into monetary revenues; during the pre-2008 boom investors assigned the same default risks to subprime mortgages, or mortgages taken out by people who were highly likely to default, as they did to ordinary mortgages.8 And there are few ways in which the nature of such assumptions, flawed or not, can be discussed, scrutinized, or even questioned. Worse, there are few ways of even knowing what those assumptions are. The assumptions that stand behind the important practice of brand valuation are generally secret. Consequently, there is no way of explaining how or discussing why valuations of the same brand by different brand-valuation companies can differ as much as 450 percent. A similar argument can be applied to Fitch, Moody’s, Standard & Poor, and other ratings agencies that are acquiring political importance in determining the economic prospects of nations like Italy and France. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 3)

This irrationality goes even deeper than financial markets. Investments in corporate social responsibility are increasing massively, both in the West and in Asia, as companies claim to want to go beyond profits to make a genuine contribution to society. But even though there is a growing body of academic literature indicating that a good reputation for social responsibility is beneficial for corporate performance in a wide variety of ways—from financial outcomes to ease in generating customer loyalty and attracting talented employees—there is no way of determining exactly how beneficial these investments are and, consequently, how many resources should be allocated to them. Indeed, perhaps it would be better to simply tax corporations and let the state or some other actor distribute the resources to some “responsible” causes. The fact that we have no way of knowing leads to a number of irrationalities. Sometimes companies invest more money in communicating their efforts at “being good” than they do in actually promoting socially responsible causes. (In 2001, for example, the tobacco company Philip Morris spent $75 million on what it defined as “good deeds” and then spent $100 million telling the public about those good deeds.) At other times such efforts can be downright contradictory, for example when tobacco companies sponsor antismoking campaigns aimed at young people in countries like Malaysia while at the same time targeting most of their ad spending to the very same segment. Other companies make genuine efforts to behave responsibly, but those efforts reflect poorly on their reputation. Apple, for example, has done close to nothing in promoting corporate responsibility, and has a consistently poor record when it comes to labor conditions among its Chinese subcontractors (like Foxconn). Yet the company benefits from a powerful brand that is to no small degree premised on the fact that consumers perceive it to be somehow more benign than Microsoft, which actually does devote considerable resources to good causes (or at least the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does so). (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 3-4)

Similar irrationalities exist throughout the contemporary economy, ranging from how to measure productivity and determine rewards for knowledge workers to how to arrive at a realistic estimate of value for a number of “intangible” assets, from creativity and capacity for innovation to brand. (We will come back to these questions below as well as in the chapters that follow.) Throughout the contemporary economy, from the heights of finance down to the concrete realities of everyday work, particularly in knowledge work, great insecurities arise with regard to what things are actually worth and the extent to which the prices assigned to them actually reflect their value. (Indeed, in academic managerial thought, the very concept of “value” is presently without any clear definition; it means widely different things in different contexts.) (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 4)

But this is not merely an accounting problem. The very question of how you determine worth, and consequently what value is, has been rendered problematic by the proliferation of a number of value criteria (or “orders of worth,” to use sociologist David Stark’s term) that are poorly reflected in established economic models. A growing number of people value the ethical impact of consumer goods. But there are no clear ways of determining the relative value of different forms of “ethical impact,” nor even a clear definition of what “ethical impact” means. Therefore there is no way of determining whether it is actually more socially useful or desirable for a company to invest in these pursuits than to concentrate on getting basic goods to consumers as cheaply and conveniently as possible. Consequently, ethical consumerism, while a growing reality, tends to be more efficient at addressing the existential concerns of wealthy consumers than at systematically addressing issues like poverty or empowerment. Similarly, more and more people understand the necessity for more sustainable forms of development. And while the definition of “sustainability” is clearer than that of “ethics,” there are no coherent ways of making concerns for sustainability count in practices of asset valuation (although some efforts have been made in that direction, which we will discuss) or of rationally determining the trade-off between efforts toward sustainability and standard economic pursuits. Thus the new values that are acquiring a stronger presence in our society—popular demand for a more sustainable economy and a more just and equal global society—have only very weak and unreliable ways of influencing the actual conduct of corporations and other important economic actors, and can affect economic decisions in only a tenuous way. More generally, we have no way of arriving at what orders of worth “count” in general and how much, and even if we were able to make such decisions, we have no channels by means of which to effect the setting of economic values. So the value crisis is not only economic; it is also ethical and political. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 4-5, emphasis added)

It is ethical in the sense that the relative value of the different orders of worth that are emerging in contemporary society (economic prosperity, “ethical conduct,” “social responsibility,” sustainability, global justice and empowerment) is simply indeterminable. As a consequence, ethics becomes a matter of personal choice and “standpoint” and the ethical perspectives of different individuals become incommensurate with one another. Ethics degenerates into “postmodern” relativism. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 5, emphasis added)

It is political because since we have no way of rationally arriving at what orders of worth we should privilege and how much, we have no common cause in the name of which we could legitimately appeal to people or companies (or force them) to do what they otherwise might not want to do. (The emphasis here is on legitimately; of course people are asked and forced to do things all the time, but if they inquire as to why, it becomes very difficult to say what should motivate them.) In the absence of legitimacy, politics is reduced to either more or less corrupt bargaining between particular interest groups or the naked exercise of raw power. In either case there can be no raison d’état. In such a context, appeals to solidarity, like that of the Monti government in Italy, remain impossible. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 5-6)

There have of course always been debates and conflicts, often violent, around what the common good should be. The point is that today we do not even have a language, or less metaphorically, a method for conducting such debates. (Modern ethical debates are interminable, as philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre wrote in the late 1970s.) This is what we mean by a value crisis. Not that there might be disagreement on how to value social responsibility or sustainability in relation to economic growth, or how much a CEO should be paid in relation to a worker, but that there is no common method to resolve such issues, or even to define specifically what they are about. We have no common “value regime,” no common understanding of what the values are and how to make evaluative decisions, even contested and conflict-ridden ones. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 6)

This has not always been the case. Industrial society—that old model that we still remember as the textbook example of how economics and social systems are supposed to work—was built around a common way of connecting economic value creation to overall social values, an imaginary social contract. In this arrangement, business would generate economic growth, which would be distributed by the welfare state in such a way that it contributed to the well-being of everyone. And even though there were intense conflicts about how this contract should apply, everyone agreed on its basic values. More importantly, these basic values were institutionalized in a wide range of practices and devices, from accounting methods to procedures of policy decisions to methods for calculating the financial value of companies and assets. Again, this did not mean that there was no conflict or discussion, but it did mean that there was a common ground on which such conflict and discussion could be acted out. There was a common value regime. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 6)

We are not arguing for a comeback of the value regime of industrial society. That would be impossible, and probably undesirable even if it were possible. However, neither do we accept the “postmodernist” argument (less popular now, perhaps, than it was two decades go) that the end of values (and of ethics or even politics) would be somehow liberating and emancipatory. Instead we argue that the foundations for a different kind of value regime—an ethical economy—are actually emerging as we speak. (Arvidsson et. al. 2013, 6)

Laughing Buddha: Jesus as Messiah

The Jesus movement very early on exchanged the vision for the visionary. Those first enthusiastic followers were enthralled by the world Jesus encapsulated in the parables and aphorisms, but, since they were unable to hold on to the vision embodied in those verbal vehicles, they turned from the story to the storyteller. They didn’t know how else to celebrate the revelation. They turned the iconoclast into an icon. (Funk 1996: 10-11)

One of my most memorable adventures as a cultural intermediary occurred about twelve years ago when I translated for a Christian colleague who was visiting the monastery in southern India where I was living. He was there working on a translation of a Buddhist text, and I volunteered my services as interpreter. One day, in the course of his conversations with one of the senior scholars of the monestary, it came up that he was a Christian, and my teacher asked him to share some of his beliefs. My friend chose to focus on Jesus’ identity as messiah. As I finished translating the words of my colleague, my teacher broke out in a fit of laughter, much to my embarrassment. He then proceeded to question his interlocutor in a kind of pointed and unabashedly adversarial way that is typical of the Tibetan monastic debate courtyard. There ensued a lively exchange, but when all was said and done, my teacher’s basic question was this: How can the death of one individual act as the direct and substantive cause for the salvation of others?

Behind this interreligious impasse there are of course operative several Buddhist doctrinal presuppositions that are in marked contrast (at times even in opposition) to those of traditional Christianity, not the least of which is the Buddhist vision of what constitutes liberation.

Several corollaries to the Buddhist view of liberation are especially relevant as responses to the Christian confession of Jesus as messiah. (1) Each of us is responsible for our own lot in life. We each cause our own suffering, and each of us is ultimately responsible for our own liberation. (2) Our salvation is not dependent on any one historical event. Specifically, our salvation is not dependent upon the appearance of any one personage in history. True, the actions of others can help us or hinder us on the way, but no action (or lack of action) on the part of another individual—whether human or divine—can seal our fate, either as regards salvation or damnation. (3) Soteriologically, there is no end to time, no time after which sentient beings will suffer, and thus long will there be the possibility of their liberation. (4) No being has the capacity to decide whether or not we will be saved. Salvation is not granted to us, or withheld from us, by some external force. It is self-earned. (5) No single action on our part can instantaneously cause our liberation. What brings about salvation is not mere belief or faith, even a faith that is sustained throughout en entire life. Certainly, it is not the instantaneous belief in something (e.g., the belief that Jesus is Lord) that brings about salvation, but the long and arduous process of radical mental transformation, which requires more than simply belief.22

Together these various tenants make it impossible for Buddhists to accept a messianic creed of the traditional Christian sort. Jesus may have been an extraordinary human being, a sage, an effective and charismatic teacher, and even the manifestation of a deity, but he cannot have been the messiah that most Christians believe him to have been.23 (Gross et. al. 2000, 27-28, José Ignacio Cabezón, A God, but Not a Savior, Iliff School of Theology.)

22 I am not unaware of the fact that in the history of Buddhism there have been movements that challenge this notion of the nature and path to salvation. Especially important to mention in this regard are certain schools of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. But again, I remind my readers that I am speaking here principally from an Indo-Tibetan Buddhist doctrinal perspective.

23 Of course, if the Jesus Seminar is right, than Jesus did not make this claim of himself. See Funk et. al, The Five Gospels, pp. 32-34.

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It is well known within the comparative religious studies field that there exists a phenomena whereby a founder reveals a teaching of experience and after passing another teaching about the founder develops in the minds of those who are tasked with creating the social institutions that perpetuate the founder’s teachings. It is the teachings of the founder distinct from the teachings about the founder that are important and often lost in historical time until recovered through critical religious scholarship. This of vs. about distinction is important. The teachings of Jesus are distinct and separate from the teachings about Jesus that developed after his death. The atonement doctrine which in light of modernity is nothing more than divine child abuse was a doctrine developed after Jesus lived, taught, and died and is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus as he revealed them through his life and teachings as exemplified in his many parables. The same can is found in the life experience of Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit/Devanagari: सिद्धार्थ गौतम Siddhārtha Gautama, c. 563/480 – c. 483/400 BCE) and many other religious teachers. Similarly the teaching of Honen Shonin were modified by Shinran Shonin’s teachings which were adapted by Rennyo Shonin’s teachings and so on it goes.

It may well seem to you that the gospel of Jesus did not include all that is high and holy in the Christian gospel as we know it. All those magnificent, transcendent, Christian beliefs seem absent from the original gospel of Jesus his “gospel” may seem minimal by comparison with the gospel! Missing from his gospel are not only where he came from (“conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary”), but also what he came to do. Where, after all, is “the saving work of Christ”: dying for out sins, rising on the third day, appearing to the apostles resurrected from the dead? These are, after all, the gospel about Jesus, which you, understandably enough, believe and cherish. But if you really are committed to Jesus, then you should be committed to the gospel of Jesus, which is what I have written this book to try to help you see and understand: the “good news” Jesus offered people during his public ministry. (Robinson 2005: 225)

Robinson, James M. The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of the Original Good News. New York: HarperCollins; 2005; p. 225.