Posts Tagged ‘Religion and Spirituality’

The Religion of the Samurai

May 5, 2013
Cover of "The Religion of the Samurai: A ...

Cover via Amazon

 

The Religion of the Samurai by Kaiten Nukariya is somewhat misnamed in that this book does not really deal with the religious beliefs or practices of Japan’s warrior class. Rather, this is a book about the Buddhist sect known as Zen that many of that class followed. There are many Buddhist sects or denominations practiced in Japan and the Zen Buddhism has had a wide following beyond the Samurai, yet somehow Zen has become especially associated with the Samurai and with Japan generally.

 

Zen Buddhism is part of that branch of Buddhism known as the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) or Northern school, as opposed to the Theravada (Teaching of the Elders) or Southern school of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is distinguished from other Buddhist sects by the belief in sudden, inspired enlightenment through meditation and personal instruction from a teacher. Zen Buddhist deemphasizes the study of scripture and doctrine, holding that enlightenment cannot be truly described by dead words in books. Even the instructor does not so much teach truths or beliefs as encourage the student to experience enlightenment on his own.

 

The Religion of the Samurai is a short book, only about 160 pages in print, but it covers the subject fairly well. The book was written a century ago, but the basic facts about Zen Buddhism haven’t changed and the book does not seem to be out of date, except for a few expressions here and there. The author begins with a quick and very general survey of both major schools of Buddhism before moving to the beginnings of Zen or Ch’an in China, placing the origins within the Mahayanist context. He goes on to tell of the transmission of Zen to Japan and the sect’s influence on Japanese history and culture.

 

The bulk of this short book is taken up with an attempt to explain the teachings of Zen. I say attempt not because the author is unsuccessful, but because by Zen’s own teachings, it is impossible to fully understand Zen without experiencing it. Still, Mr. Nukariya does an adequate job explaining Zen’s views on the nature of the universe, human nature, good and evil, and Enlightenment and its attainment. There are a few faults, though. The Kindle version of this book is not well formatted and the footnotes are interspersed in the main text. This problem may have been corrected in later versions of the ebook. I also noticed that the author tends to disparage other Buddhist sects; especially those of the Theravada school, which he, along with many other Mahayanists refer to as Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). This is not really a fault, but it should be noted that Mr. Nukariya was promoting Zen with this book, not providing an unbiased account.

 

 

 

I can recommend this book to anyone wishing for an introduction to this fascinating religion.

 

 

 

Stomping on Jesus

March 28, 2013

By now the story of the Mormon student who refused to stomp on a piece of paper with Jesus written on  it must be familiar to every one who has been paying any attention at all to the news. Personally, I am not much bothered by this bit of idiocy. Jesus has suffered worse insults than this and being the Son of God, I am sure he can take it without needing any help from me. I am intrigued, however, by the professor who gave this assignment. I would guess that he is the sort of Progressive who believes himself to be a brave, freethinker who speaks truth to power. The truth may be that if one of his students had written Allah or Mohammed on a piece of paper and stomped on it, he would probably wet himself with fear; fear of being murdered by an irate Muslim, or worse, fear of losing his progressive credentials by permitting a politically incorrect action in his classroom. Perhaps, he also believes himself to be open minded and tolerant, so tolerant that a student who disagrees with him must be ejected from the classroom.

Of course I do not know the man and it is more than likely I am doing him an injustice by describing him in these terms. It doesn’t matter because I am not really writing about that particular incident. It occurred to me when I read about it, that often the person we know least well is ourselves. We look at ourselves from the inside, so to speak, and that is not often the best perspective to look at things. I imagine, that if we could see ourselves and our actions from the outside, as we see everyone else, it is quite likely that we would not recognize ourselves. We might even be appalled to discover that we are not nearly so brave, or generous, or thoughtful as we believe ourselves to be. That professor, if my ideas about him are accurate, might well detest similar actions in another, a devout or bigoted Christian mocking the beliefs of Muslims or Atheists perhaps. He might not give that other Professor the same benefit of the doubt he would give himself.

Perhaps that is the true meaning of Jesus’s words on passing judgment

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Perhaps we should give others the same benefit of the doubt that we are apt to give our own actions and motivations. It wouldn’t hurt to subject ourselves to the same sort of critical scrutiny we often give to others.

This has been a rather more introspective post than most I have written. I’ll have to not do that too often.

 

Yom Kippur

September 26, 2012

 

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a...

English: High priest offering a sacrifice of a goat, as on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; from Henry Davenport Northrop, “Treasures of the Bible,” published 1894 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement began yesterday at sundown. This is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. I wrote about this last year. Yom Kippur is a solemn day in which the Jews ask God to forgive their sins.

 

 

 

Rosh Hashanah

September 17, 2012

 

 

I have been negligent in not mentioning that Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year, began at sundown yesterday. This year the holiday falls on September 16-18. I wrote about the origins of Rosh Hashanah last year here.

It is a little late but here is the shofar blowing.

 

Shana Tova everyone.

 

 

Segregated Churches

July 30, 2012

I wish I had seen this article from AP before writing my post What were they thinking? I would surely have added this story in.

A Mississippi couple says the church where they planned to get married turned them away because they are black.

Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson say they had set the date and mailed invitations, but the day before their wedding they say they got bad news from the pastor of predominantly white First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs: Some members of the church complained about the black couple having a wedding there.

The Wilsons, who live in nearby Jackson, said they attend the church regularly although they are not members.

Pastor Stan Weatherford told WLBT TV (http://bit.ly/QSNlf8 ) he was surprised when a small number of church members opposed holding the wedding at the church.

“This had never been done before here, so it was setting a new precedent, and there are those who reacted to that because of that,” said Weatherford.

Weatherford performed the July 21 ceremony at another church.

“I didn’t want to have a controversy within the church, and I didn’t want a controversy to affect the wedding of Charles and Te’Andrea. I wanted to make sure their wedding day was a special day,” said Weatherford.

WLBT reported that church officials now say they welcome any race. They plan to hold internal meetings on how to move forward.

It seems rather incredible that something like this could happen in this day and age. In fact, segregation in the church is one of the greatest scandals of American Christianity. In the past, almost every Protestant denomination split along racial lines with Black churches forming to avoid the discrimination suffered by Blacks who worshipped in predominantly white churches, especially in the South. This sort of segregation continues to this day, albeit on a voluntary basis, as I read in this report from CNN.

The Rev. Paul Earl Sheppard had recently become the senior pastor of a suburban church in California when a group of parishioners came to him with a disturbing personal question.

They were worried because the racial makeup of their small church was changing. They warned Sheppard that the church’s newest members would try to seize control because members of their race were inherently aggressive. What was he was going to do if more of “them” tried to join their church?

“One man asked me if I was prepared for a hostile takeover,” says Sheppard, pastor of Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California.

The nervous parishioners were African-American, and the church’s newcomers were white. Sheppard says the experience demonstrated why racially integrated churches are difficult to create and even harder to sustain. Some blacks as well as whites prefer segregated Sundays, religious scholars and members of interracial churches say.

Americans may be poised to nominate a black man to run for president, but it’s segregation as usual in U.S. churches, according to the scholars. Only about 5 percent of the nation’s churches are racially integrated, and half of them are in the process of becoming all-black or all-white, says Curtiss Paul DeYoung, co-author of “United by Faith,” a book that examines interracial churches in the United States.

DeYoung’s numbers are backed by other scholars who’ve done similar research. They say integrated churches are rare because attending one is like tiptoeing through a racial minefield. Just like in society, racial tensions in the church can erupt over everything from sharing power to interracial dating.

DeYoung, who is also an ordained minister, once led an interracial congregation in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that eventually went all-black. He defines an interracial church as one in which at least 20 percent its membership belongs to a racial group other than that church’s largest racial group.

“I left after five years,” DeYoung says. “I was worn out from the battles.”

The men and women who remain and lead interracial churches often operate like presidential candidates. They say they live with the constant anxiety of knowing that an innocuous comment or gesture can easily mushroom into a crisis that threatens their support.

There is much more, and although this was written back in 2008, I do not think things have changed much.

It is understandable that people tend to want to associate with those who look like them and think like them, but this is contrary to scripture. As Paul wrote.

27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:27-29)

and

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22)

It would seem then that the existence of segregated churches is contrary to the desire of Jesus Christ who wants all Christians to be united in one body.  I don’t honestly know how to make that happen. Maybe white churches could pair with black churches of the same denomination and worship together for one Sunday a month. Preachers and pastors could make an effort to reach out to the unchurched of different races, etc.

Invitation

May 17, 2012

Yesterday evening I had to do the invitation at our church. An invitation is a sort of mini sermon done after the Wednesday evening Bible study. It only lasts about five or six minutes and is done by one of the men of the congregation rather than our regular preacher. In a way, I suppose it is a way to train preachers. I have actually done one once before when I substituted for somebody else.

Anyway, I was asked last month if I would be willing to deliver an invitation and I, absent-mindedly said yes. Sure enough, I was schedule for May 16. I spent most of this week preparing what I wanted to say. Between that and long hours at work, I haven’t had much time or energy to write here.

I was really, really nervous when I started out, but I got better as I started talking. I did stumble once or twice and if I am ever asked to speak again I will have to have my notes printed out in a larger font. I lost my place once, but it didn’t matter much since I had gone over the invitation in my head so I knew what I wanted to say. I am not sure if I did a good job. People told me I did, but this was church and they were obliged to be nice. Maybe if I made some sort of speech in a more secular environment I would get a more honest appraisal. I wouldn’t want this to be generally known, since they might ask me to do it on a semi regular basis, but despite the nervousness, I rather enjoyed myself up there. I would like to think I am making some sort of contribution.

Dennis Prager Prefers Envangelicals

October 26, 2011

Dennis Prager prefers Evangelical Christians over Left-wing university professors, even though he is Jewish.I don’t blame him. Here is just a section of his column.

With regard to those evangelicals — and for that matter those ultra-orthodox Jews — who believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and either that there were no dinosaurs or that they lived alongside human beings, my reaction has always been: So what? I believe that the earth is many million years old, that “six days” is meant as six periods of time (the sun wasn’t even created until the Third Day, so how do you quantify a “day” before then?), and dinosaurs preexisted man by millions of years. But what real-life problem is caused by people who believe otherwise? Does it affect any of their important behaviors in life? Do they not take their children to doctors? Do they oppose medical research? Do they reject the discoveries of scientists that affect our lives? No. Not at all. Are there no evangelical or ultra-orthodox Jewish doctors? Of course there are, and apparently they are very comfortable learning and practicing science. Compared to the many irrational beliefs of secular-left intellectuals — good and evil exist even though there is no God, male and female are interchangeable, international institutions are the hope of mankind — evangelical irrational beliefs are utterly benign.

And as regards same-sex marriage, why is the normative Christian and Jewish belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman anti-science and anti-intellectual? What we have here is the usual left-wing tactic of smearing opponents. If you disagree with race-based affirmative action, you are a racist; disagree with the ever-expanding welfare state, you lack compassion; disagree with redefining marriage in the most radical way ever attempted in history, and you are a hater. No wonder the Left developed the foolish and destructive self-esteem movement — no one has anywhere near the self-esteem leftists have. They are certain that they are better human beings in every way than those who have the temerity to oppose them.

This Jew will take the evangelicals’ values and the evangelicals’ America over those of left-wing intellectuals any day of the year. If evangelicals come with some views I find irrational it is a tiny price to pay compared to the price humanity has paid for the Left’s consistently broken moral compass — about America; about Communism and Islamism; about the superiority of peace studies over waging war against evil; about America’s role in the world; about Israel; about the welfare state; about Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and all the other left-wing dictators the Left has celebrated; about the belief that men and women are basically the same; about the greater worth of any animal than of the unborn human; and about nearly every other major moral issue.

Believing the Earth is 6000 years old and dinosaurs were contemporary with human beings is silly, but harmless. Believing that the Earth is going to be destroyed by global warming unless we destroy the world’s economy, or believing that Socialism can actually work is a whole lot sillier and catastrophic.

 

 

 

On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision

October 1, 2011

In these skeptical times, in which books by the so-called New Atheists make the bestseller lists, it is more important than ever for Christians to be able to explain their faith clearly and reasonably. This is necessary to not only defend the faith from attacks from the New Atheists but also to, as Peter wrote,

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)

A Christian who goes out into the world without knowledge of apologetics is like a soldier going into battle unarmed.

Fortunately, William Lane Craig provides the tools you need with his book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision.

On Guard is no less than a training manual for the defender of the faith. Craig teaches the reader good reasons to believe in Christianity and how to argue these reasons convincingly.

After the first two chapters, in which he introduces the subject of and necessity for apologetics, Craig uses the next section to explore reasons to believe in the existence of God. He does not specify the Christian God in this section, nor does he rely on revelation. Instead, Craig uses the Cosmological and Moral arguments, asking why anything at all exists, why is the universe so fine-tuned, where do our ideas on morality originate. I think that this section could be used by the believers of any of the monotheistic religions, Jews, Muslims, even Deists, with very little modification.

Chapter seven deals with the questions of suffering and evil in the face of a good, omnipotent Deity. The final three chapters deal specifically with the Christian faith, giving evidence for the historical existence of Jesus and His resurrection. I think that this final section is slightly weaker since it seems to me that Craig did not spend enough time establishing the historical reliability of the Gospels but seemed to grant their accuracy for granted.  I also think that the book could have used a chapter defining what faith is and is not. Faith is not believing in things that you have no evidence.

Despite the two minor reservations I have mentioned, On Guard is a valuable resource for any Christian interested in apologetics, or who simply wants to explore why he believes what he believes.

Penn and the Bible

August 16, 2011

Wilhelm in her column I mentioned in the previous post, mentioned that Penn Jillette became an atheist after reading the Bible from cover to cover.

Which brings us back to Penn Jillette and his new book. To be fair, Jillette is an equal-opportunity religion basher — and don’t even get him started on agnostics. (Very short version: They’re cowards.) Christians like me, you’ll be pleased to know, are not the only peabrains/dangerous weirdos on the planet. But we do share a special place of dubious honor. According to God, No!, it was the cover-to-cover reading of our holy book that turned a young Jillette to the dark (or, as some prominent atheists would prefer, the “bright”) side.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair made a similar claim as have a number of other atheists. There are even websites showing the Bible to be ridiculous or evil. I have read the Bible all the way through a number of times and I do not find it to be either ridiculous or evil. I sometimes wonder if there are two editions of the Bible, the one that I have read and the one that these atheists read.

Campus Crusade for Christ Changes Name

August 1, 2011

From the Appealdemocrat. The Campus Crusade for Christ is changing its name to “Cru”. What is Cru supposed to mean?

After 60 years, officials announced Tuesday night that the international evangelical ministry is changing its name – to “Cru.”

“This is the right time to embrace a new name, and … this name meets our objective of achieving a greater level of effectiveness in ministry,” said Steve Douglass, the organization’s president. “This decision has been saturated with prayer. We only want what God wants for us … We believe this new name will position us to connect better with the next generation.”

Chosen from 1,600 suggestions, the name already has been used on a majority of the group’s U.S. campus ministries since the mid-1990s. Though some followers worried in online forums the name might be confused with a rowing club, the organization said change was due.

“Has the old name hurt the organization? We do believe so,” said Steve Sellers, vice president of the expansive Orlando-based organization. “The name alienation among the general population was significant.”

I can see that Christ might alienate some people. We wouldn’t want to think that Cru has anything to do with Christianity.

If the directors of Cru are concerned that having the name of Christ in their name might make them unpopular, perhaps they should refer to the words of Jesus, who warned his disciples they should not expect to be popular.

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’[b] If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. 24 If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. 25 But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’ (John 15:18-25)

And John writes,

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

24 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is what he promised us—eternal life.

26 I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. 27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:15-27)

And I will finish with this warning.

  8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God.        (Luke 12:8-9)

 


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