VII Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model...
The appeal to a static and undifferentiated tradition, whether in the transmission of religion or the conduct of academic theology, is a last-ditch appeal, an admission of poor stewardship, as opposed to the creative teaching and accurate transmission that turn on apophatic praxis. Such an appeal is, in addition, an implicit admission that issues of power have superseded even the desire for recovery and re-amplification of the dying religion’s multidimensionality, as ecumenical quarrels both within and among various Christian denominations attest.
The unwillingness to know, the refusal to pass through the pain of reality purged of self-consciousness for the sake of accurate transmission is the reductio ad absurdum of apostasy and is surely culpable. Recovery of multidimensionality requires re-entry through paradox. Paradox entails that status and power pursued in the service of the simulacrum, the idolatrous projection of a linear hierarchy, would have to give way to multidimensional relationality.[i]
Multidimensionality is the difference between looking at a picture or being able to step into it. For theologians to attempt theology without praxis is merely to look and to argue, confined to the echoing gallery, deprived of the criteria that would be available to them if they stepped forward to enter and explore the landscape within the picture at which they are gazing.
Religions and the theology and philosophy that issue from them vary in their ability to preserve their multidimensionality over time. While, strictly speaking, Buddhism cannot be called a religion, it has preserved its foundational philosophical psychology better than some others, particularly in its Tibetan form. And this philosophical psychology finds its most profound integration in a cluster with symbol, ritual and cultic worship, ranging from tanka meditation to dance, pilgrimage and the ten year retreat walled up in a cave. It is unthinkable that any one of these elements might be discussed in isolation without the resonances of the common internal concordance that is generated from intimate knowledge of the others.
The same Tibetan monastic who debates using ritual dance to establish his claim to the floor and to press the point home, also meditates using iconography of increasing complexity and dimensionality. In addition, the same person will spend time in cultic worship, as well as engaging with and learning from people ‘in the world’, laypeople who may, on the one hand have high knowledge from their own praxis or, on the other, who practise their Buddhism at the simplest cultic level. Ideally in any religion, cult in the best sense manipulates the worshipper in ways that open mind and heart to new universes of perception and distinction (as opposed to duality), and conversely, its philosophical aspects are symbolized in ways that make them accessible in some form to the most ordinary believer.
Christianity has not been as fortunate as Buddhism. Theology, for example, seems to have lost an awareness that every theological statement implies psychospiritual and sociological consequences. Beyond the internecine warfare of religious parties, academic theology looks with mild contempt at pastoral theology; pastoral theology’s vision is distorted by the lens of clericalism; clericalism determines doctrine that scorns empirical experience; spirituality so-called is regarded as not worthy of serious consideration at one end of the spectrum, and at the other is the latest consumer fashion to be discussed at vicarage tea-parties. And philosophy of religion talks only to itself. It is blind both to the futility of attempting to ‘prove’ multidimensional, non-objective ineffability with linear syllogisms, and to the regressive nature of the god which it seeks to prove. Philosophy of religion commits the same methodological errors as its cousin that seeks to find the core of so-called religious experience by examining the language of accounts of such experience. This is not to say that we do not need rigorous thinking in our discussions of either theology or experience, but rigour in method is confined neither to syllogism nor to linearity.
[i] This is not to advocate the total abolition of all hierarchies. Symbolic figures are needed in human religious society, but these figures need to take care what there words and actions communicate in fact, which can often be radically different from what they intend. See the Conclusion below. The so-called sacrifice of cultic figures is to take on this burden of self-consciousness and at the same time to efface themselves by creating effective ritual that enables people to deepen apophatic union. The same applies in the secular political realm, seeVáclav Havel, ‘Paradise Lost’, The New York Review , Vol XXXIX, No. 7, April 9, 1992, p. 6-8.