The Question of Pluralism
As we have seen, nationalism, which, is a major expression of the quest for group identity, has proved so dominant that the ideologies themselves have come to be instruments of it. But nationalism though externally plural in its bent (for is it not the thesis ultimately that each nation should have its own land and State?), can impose a harsh internal solidarity. So we have the tension between outer plurality and inner conformity. Thus the person finds himself caught in this tension. In so far as he is a social being his substance is enlarged by national freedom and grandeur. But in so far as he is an individual, the demands of society can be inhibiting. For instance in Romania the cost of a limited external independence (the primary achievement of President Ceauşescu) is tight internal surveillance. The national hero is aglow when he looks outwards to the steppes, but is grey and inhibiting when he turns his gaze inward towards the printing presses and the mines. In some degree the tension is overcome in the liberal democracies. For if the ideology of freedom of the individual is the rationale for external policy, then national freedom, meaning freedom from outer control becomes easily compatible with personal freedom. Yet in fact the tensions remain, of various kinds.
For one thing the liberal democracies can become, have often become, externally oppressive. Thus Britain practised a kind of liberalism at home and an Empire abroad. The United States since World War II has often supported dictatorships and fierce military governments in the supposed struggle for freedom, chiefly because they are against the Soviet bloc. My enemy’s enemy becomes my friend: but at the cost of bringing the very ideology which justifies the anti-Soviet struggle into disrepute.
For another thing, liberal democracy has not been known to exist except within the context of capitalism — even if in the most advanced liberal democracies a strong injection of socialism is a common way of moderating some of the internal effects of capitalism — and capitalism can externally prove oppressive. Thus many of the experiences of the Third World turn upon the way in which plantations, tea gardens, bauxite mining, trading concessions and so forth have served the interests of the more successful capitalist countries and companies. Suspicion of multinationals partly reflects this experience. After all, economic domination is something which diminishes national pride, and poverty is something which inhibits good government. It is thus not at all surprising that Marxism should prove attractive to movements of national liberation in the Third World. Poverty itself can amplify the demands of group pride rather than individual dignity.
Third, liberal democracy, suffused too with capitalist consumerism, can tend towards a negation of pluralism, by a paradox. Because liberalism points to individual rights, because social identity is relatively irrelevant to consumer power, because in a technical and bureaucratic society individuals become moveable and standard units — for such reasons there is a tendency in many liberal democracies to overlook the pluralism of cultures present within them. The pressures on the minority is towards conformity with the majority. This itself creates tensions when social and cultural divisions are the substratum for the exercise of ‘one man one vote’. The tyranny of the majority can be oppressive.
Briefly, the problems of pluralism can be seen to be reflected in the tensions between insiders and outsiders, between group identity and individual identity and between openness and tradition. Implicitly too we have raised among these tensions the question of the relationship of science to the ideologies and to the traditions. For liberal democracy usually is seen as a matrix for scientific, artistic and technological creativity of a new order, transcending the great civilizations of the past. This is part of what its myth of modernity is all about.
But openness and scientific and artistic searching imply a kind of deep restlessness: the critical and innovative spirit. And that can produce tensions. People find security in older ways, older thoughts. Scientific and artistic experiment chimes in with social experimentation, and the latter is disturbing, even destructive. Questions of truth and happiness are thus intermingled. This is where it is necessary for us to evaluate that partial philosophic underpinning of liberal democracy and of modern economics: utilitarianism. Do we live in a utilitarian civilization, here in the northern West?
Utilitarianism and Beyond
The potency of utilitarianism as an underlying theory of modern life in the West arises partly because it blends a kind of calculus with the selection of the individual as the basic unit. It arises partly too of course from the fact that it appeals to an intelligible criterion — the maximizing of happiness, the minimizing of suffering — with which to judge policy. Its individualism brings with it a feeling of personal freedom. The calculus gives it a way of expressing technical economic imperatives, and an outlook geared towards profitable prosperity. If there have been dark tragedies in capitalism between Adam and Smith and Keynes, yet also there have been phenomenal successes — enough to stamp our Western civilization as utilitarian. Its stress on happiness gives it the style of measurable pragmatism. Human happiness should not be sacrificed to distant utopias nor to imposed dogmas.
But it has serious problems, the most severe of which is that it has been less than adequately reflective about the very concept of happiness which lies at its heart. As we shall see, once we question this concept and interrogate it, we find that utilitarianism has to be severely modified and has in a sense to be transcended. Moreover, its individualism can operate through an unreal social atomism. In fact the individual is herself a social product in great measure. We can quarrel over percentages of intelligence for instance — how much acquired, how much genetic? — and this is but a narrow instance of the more general observation that the person is a multiplication of a genetic body (and soul) by social experience. The human atoms have a genetic history and a social configuration. They are not discrete atoms any more. Sociology itself is a kind of reaction against such atomism.
Not only is happiness something which requires complex analysis, as suffering too, so that the hedonistic calculus of early utilitarianism is largely wide of the mark as an attempt to understand what it is to promote happiness; but also happiness and suffering are not ‘given’ but themselves capable of being criticized. There are questions thus of the structure of happiness as a concept and as a factor of human life; and there are questions too about the evaluation of models of happiness. I shall proceed to look at these two sides of the question separately.
Utilitarianism and Objects of Happiness
The analysis of the concepts of happiness and unhappiness has much to do with public policy. Too often utilitarianism has been seen primarily as an ethical theory. But it is more perspicuously understood as a theory of politics, a way of looking at public policy and social change. But let us begin with the limitations of hedonism, for through that path it may be possible to see the ‘public’ nature of utilitarianism.
The symbolic character of personal communication, proceeding by outer gesture, by the smile, the sneer, the flowers, the whip, the golden handshake, the prison slopping out, means that a utilitarianism, which looks just to pain and pleasure, in the most ordinary and literal meanings of these terms, is wide of the mark. For though it is true that I may eat lobster because I get pleasure from the taste, and make love because it is even more intensely pleasurable, these activities occur in context, and the tendency of the human being is to transform these activities to a higher symbolic level. Thus the love-making can express genuine love, a kind of mad and gentle prizing of the other person for her own sake, in her very particularities of eye and body, of colour and language, of style and mind. Eating lobster is not just sucking flesh in a corner: it is part of a dining occasion, which is another symbolic and gestural event — dining in the company of …, dining conspicuously …, dining in relation to the ocean and its fruits … Lobster not only tickles my palate: it increases, insouciantly, my substance.
This is not to deny the pure pleasures and pains. But though sometimes the symbolic aspects may be secondary, the fact is that pleasures and pains typically have a wider meaning and a symbolic transformation. Or to use other language: they have a spiritual significance too. All this constitutes a severe limitation upon the hedonistic way of interpreting utilitarianism. Moreover, much of happiness and unhappiness is not directly related to pleasure and pain in the literal sense. Joy at my child’s smile and sorrow at a friend’s misfortune are related to objects outside of me, and they are not sensations.
It is thus not possible to treat happiness and unhappiness in isolation from the rites and achievements, the symbols and institutions, the personal relationships and social circumstances, which are the foci and expressions of happiness and unhappiness. That is, to simplify, happiness is about something or because of something. Thus it is that the promotion of happiness and diminishing of unhappiness proceed by a kind of indirectness — creating the conditions which tend to produce the foci of happiness and to diminish the foci of unhappiness. Thus if a certain sort of marriage law tends to produce much suffering, the utilitarian seeks a new shape of marriage institution. For such reasons, utilitarianism necessarily entangles itself with public policy, since it is the latter which is the expression of human ways of trying to produce the circumstances of welfare. So utilitarianism has to do with conditions and contexts, in recognition of the fact that human life is drenched in the symbolic and the performative. Pleasures and pains themselves get taken up into that spiritual transformation which is typical of all the elements of our social and personal existence.
As a sign of all this, pleasures and pains are short-lived, though fortunately they can be repeated: but happiness is dispositional, at least in some of its central applications. To be a happy person is to be in a certain dispositional state: and you cannot be happily married for two minutes.
The fact that unhappiness and happiness are much bound up with the performative and symbolic aspects of existence means that public policy too has to be. Thus economics and politics concern the spiritual side of life, a point which is often alas neglected. (In this connection one should also note how spiritual or mental factors enter into economic development: resources often are secondary, or even in some cases largely irrelevant.) Let us see this through an instance.
In a modern welfare state the unemployed person does not starve. It is a fine thing that the workless are at least sheltered from destitution. But it does not follow that we can look at worklessness just in monetary or narrowly economic terms. For one thing, young people are taken elaborately through the school system by a society which sees education as fitting the young for what is called ‘life’ and in particular for work. Schools make citizens and citizens are expected to work. But when a young person after a childhood full of the sound of wages and comparisons come into the market and finds that there is no work for him, doors closing, heads shaking, notice boards deserted, is he not virtually bound to see this as sadly meaningful? Society somehow dumbly is saying to him: ‘You are not needed: you are not wanted’. What does this do to his self-esteem? Especially of course if the young fellow is black is the state of worklessness fraught with messages: ‘Predominantly white society does not need you, a black’. It is natural to boost substance with the symbolisms of revenge and violence. The destruction of property is itself a meaningful act, a way of showing power, of diminishing the system which diminishes me. The root of bitterness is the desire to harm those symbolically who harm us. Symbolically: of course this means ‘really’, ‘actually’. In the modern materialistic seeming world the destruction of actual pieces of matter, of things owned and prized by society, is what has a most powerful spiritual significance.
So utilitarianism has to be sensitive to context and meaning. We might for brevity’s sake call such a utilitarianism ‘symbolic utilitarianism’. One could do worse than say that public policy should be directed to diminishing indignities and promoting the dignity of human beings: a kind of (shall we say?) dignitarianism.
Utilitarianism and the Critique of Happiness
In addition to the symbolic contextual and dispositional aspects of happiness and unhappiness, there is a question of evaluation. Because of the spiritual transformation of our material pursuits and satisfactions, there is always in principle room for criticism: always space so to say for challenging the ideals of happiness and of personal dignity which exist in our society. Thus the question of wherein happiness lies is most typically a critical or evaluative question: Wherein is true happiness? Conversely there are differing ways of looking at suffering and pain.
A way of seeing this is to consider the foci of happiness or satisfaction. Thus a person is typically happy to achieve what he considers to be some important goal: happy, for instance, to be promoted, or at getting the proverbial dreamhouse, or at becoming a father. But the happiness is in principle proportional to the importance of the objects achieved. But the question of importance relates to a scale of values. And what at one phase of life or from one perspective may seem important may turn out to seem unimportant at another time or from another angle. New visions can destroy old perceptions. New glories can cause old charms to fade. And here rather explicitly we are in the realm of value and feeling.
It is of course typical of the transcendental traditions that they call ‘this world’ into question. They subject our happiness to a critique from on high. This is distinct from ethical criticism, which can also be a major feature of traditional religion, notably through the figure of the prophet, who imparts a special moral dynamism to belief in the divine. Calls for love and justice are important: but distinct from them are the glimpses of a new world — either this old world made new in the transfiguring vision of the seer, or a transcendental realm of supreme worth and bliss. Such new visions of the world are themselves the basis of another view of happiness: just as too we can see in artistic and musical creativity ways of directing the human spirit to fresh perceptions of life in and beyond the cosmos. Thus religion itself functions as a slant on welfare, a way of seeing the nature of true satisfaction. This is how religious experience creates an interface with the world of our more ordinary feelings of joy and sorrow. The practice of the presence of God, the perception of the great jewel net of Indra: already such ways of looking give an extra dimension to the symbolic transformation of existence which is part of the whole fabric of human life.
Thus though it is in accord with human dignity and with the general principles of utilitarianism that people should be free so far as possible to determine their own goals and so their own evaluations of happiness, it is bound to be the case that the question of happiness creates ultimate questions about reality. For most people, death stands as the great question mark against received notions of welfare. It is the symbol of our ultimate questions. And here religion in open societies such as those of the modern West serves as a perspective of criticism of the shallow and ordinary ideas of welfare. It is a transcendental angle of vision, often disturbing. In other words, religion no longer functions as a dogmatic delineation of the way reality must be viewed. It has moved over from its dogmatic to its critical phase. (It of course always contained this critical motif by the very fact that it produced people whose eyes were fixed upon the transcendental.)
Social Personalism and Tradition
Utilitarianism in one direction looks to questions of happiness. In another it looks to the individual and in some senses rests upon the sanctity of the person. But as we have noted, persons are in part precipitated out of society. Thus any realistic personalism has to recognize the social dimension of the individual. Let me spell this out further, in framing a point of view which can be dubbed social personalism.
First, there is the elementary fact that a person is a linguistic animal — that is it is through language above all that the human individual becomes capable of thinking and of refining his expressive and in general performative behaviour. Not only does this of course give the individual powers of foresight and calculation which give him a much greater freedom and range of behaviour; but it also precipitates in human society and in the person a novel kind of freedom. The deeper unpredictability of human action stems in part from the creative powers of human beings in science, the arts, in life-style. Consider the conceptual revolutions which were sparked by the light from Einstein, Cézanne and the Buddha, not to mention many more minor but still significant luminaries. What is not yet invented or discovered cannot be predicted: and theories cannot forsee the details of their own demise.
Thus a vital component of personal capacities for freedom is social in configuration. A person though scarcely imaginative himself can yet gain illumination from others. Think of the hundreds of thousands who now have an understanding of relativity — a growth outward like the seeding of a field with poppies from a first plant, or like the creative effect of a genetic mutation. Think too of how the extraordinary new ideas of the Buddha came to spread outwards into whole civilizations. So we may say that freedom is precipitated in the individual by society — first through the existence of language and second through the communication of discoveries and new slants on things.
But although this linguistic character of an individual is a commonplace, it is less often pointed out that a person is not only a linguistic animal: by the same token he typically has a primary particular language. His mind and thoughts are based in the nuances of a particular tongue. It is naive to be so Whorffian as to think that thereby the individual’s mind is squeezed into a kind of linguistic mold into which also a particular view of the world is necessarily squeezed. It is however vital to recognize the deep way feelings and outlooks are affected by the particularities of language. A person is not just comfortable in his own language, but finds his loyalties subtly determined by it. This is a main attraction of linguistic nationalism. For this and other reasons a person is not a bare individual: both his openness and his substance are precipitated in him by language, and by a particular social and linguistic inheritance.
Thus necessarily social personalism involves a recognition, though it need not be uncritical, of the tradition in which an individual finds himself. In showing reverence for the person we are within limits treating the social tradition out of which he comes with respect. This can be regarded as the positive side, in the modern world, of the whole phenomenon of nationalism.
A consequence of social personalism is cultural pluralism and the recognition within any given society of minority rights. The very concept of a minority recognizes a grouping and some kind of tradition. Individuals are already in this very recognition not considered purely as such, but as belonging to a definable collectivity. But it should be noted that social personalism involves a severe modification or any traditionally authoritative collectivism, since the way a cultural group has to express itself within a libertarian society is restricted by the demands of liberty itself. Thus there is bound to be a tension between some traditions and the ethos of utilitarianism. Consider, for instance, how women’s rights bring a modification of Islamic law in predominantly utilitarian societies (such as Britain).
Nevertheless respect for cultural pluralism implies that so far as possible society should be arranged on plural lines, that is through such arrangements as federalism, cantonalization, protective legislation for minorities and so forth. It is of the essence of the contemporary world especially outside the Marxist areas that migrations and travel produce nearly everywhere culturally and ethnically mingled populations. Perhaps we can look forward to cities with many quarters — not forced ghettos, but places of cultural centrality.
Social personalism then implies a kind of interactive pluralism. But in providing an individualistic dimension to plural societies, the personalistic outlook necessarily in some degree challenges, though it can also enrich, traditions. Thus traditions have to adapt, and this is the task, in each tradition, of a kind of hermeneutic, a method of self-interpretation in the light of a changed world. But this is only the kind of task this book itself is engaged in — for I am trying to frame a way of using the Christian and Buddhist heritages within the circumstances of modernity and of the global city.
Traditions in Interaction
Effectively, the creative use of tradition involves a kind of syncretism — the welding together of older values and the new forces released in modern society. Despite the fact that the coming together of differing cultural forces often presupposes ethnic and other collisions and hence violence and destruction, yet on the whole cultural encounters have proved extraordinarily creative. One variant is where by historical means a past is rediscovered which is brought into confrontation with the tradition as it has developed: for instance, the rediscovery of the European classical past at the time of the Reformation and the rediscovery of the biblical outlook at the time of the Reformation. The present planetary world from this point of view harbours unparelleled opportunities of mutual fecundation and challenge, since in principle all cultural traditions are in interaction with one another. But this, alas, is often counterbalanced by drives towards homogeneity and lack of receptivity. Men are naturally parochial, and parochialism is multiplied in intensity when it is given an ideological dimension, as in Marxism and as more mildly in liberalism (when the assumption is that every society should be ‘modern’ and ‘liberal’ like us — forgetting that the conditions for social democracy are complex, and that, too there may well need to be great variants upon our conceptions of modernity and liberalism in the differing conditions of other societies). Thus at the mental level one should do something parallel to what should be done at the level of nations and divergent cultural groups. It seems unavoidable that in a world which has contained within it so many forces driving in the direction of the ‘national assumption’ that also internal pluralism and federalism should be recognized wherever possible and appropriate: that is, where a pure territoriality (one land, one people) cannot be achieved, as often it cannot at least rights should be accorded to minority ethnic groups, and this will often most naturally occur through the application of federal arrangements. Such internal and external pluralism seems an important ideal for the modern world, though modified of course by some other conditions — the sanctity of the individual at one end, and the desirability of binding nations together in economic and other bonds on the other. In brief: modern nationalism should be the basis for ethnic pluralism. Such ethnic pluralism itself can be reflected at the mental level: as the willingness to enter into the mind of other groups, in an empathetic manner. In other words, the methods which we employ in the sensitive exploration of religions — the marrow of the true method of comparative religion — are part of a wider human demand. And in entering the minds of others we can learn from them. In a sense every other society can be, in some degree, an illuminating critique of our own life, and lead to greater and more creative self-understanding.
The stance of what may be called interactive pluralism thus both enhances group rights and the creative use of traditions in mutual illumination and criticism. This will work out, favourably, not just in terms of ideas but through new experiments in living, as is evidenced, for instance, in the growth of Buddhism in Western countries and notably California (a great laboratory of life-styles). Interactive pluralism also corresponds to a fact about humanity which I have been at pains to underline in my treatment of nationality and nationalism: that the individual finds part of his substance through participation in the group, and that in the modern world the most demanding and significant group, for most folk, is the nation.
Social Personalism and the Ego
Social personalism, as I have called it, recognizes, then, the interlocking relationship between the recognition of personal worth and the social context in which a person perceives himself. Yet is it not possible for an individual to attain a kind of stoical self-sufficiency? Buddhism has much to say here. For Buddhism, in its analysis of the individual — an analysis it must be recalled which has practical aims, for it helps to guide a self-vision and a self-training which will take a person along the road towards serenity and insight — stressed the emptiness within, the absence of an ego. The disintegration of the stream of consciousness into the fine droplets of mingled events and the vain search for anything permanent, save the non-dual consciousness of the Transcendent, of nirvana, are means of deflating substance. And the fact that Buddhism sees no depth in the sacramental process also implies a certain detachment from those gestures and performative acts through which good substance is conveyed. Is this not a rather desolate outlook? We, who love to be loved and esteemed, and who seek security among our fellows, have here no comfort. Precisely: classical Theravada is self-reliant, and the saint must be independent. In effect he abandons all that: the persona goes, society is at best a convenience, the substance of the inner man dissolves. The saint is free, because he no longer need depend upon others. He is trackless, like the hippo in the swamp or like the seagull in the roadless sky. This is symbolized in the main Indian ascetic tradition to which of course Buddhism belongs by the figure of the wanderer: the monk or swami who walks from place to place begging alms, dependent on no one in particular, and above all homeless. He is a strange challenge to all the politics of the symbolic utilitarian: a man needs shelter (hence public housing), food (hence if necessary welfare payments), a sense of dignity (hence legislations about work, women, exploitations and the like). But the wanderer does not have shelter beyond the skimpiest: his food is nearly nothing: he has no home, no security in the ordinary sense. If he has dignity it is because somehow to ordinary folk he seems to have risen above the human condition, so that he is mysteriously richer than the rich, mightier than the mighty, fuller of bliss than the pleasure-seekers. He is not of course literally any of these things (save possibly having the bliss). But he has gone somehow beyond. So there is a paradoxical kind of self-fulfilment in self-emptying. You have all you want if you want nothing, and have nothing. ‘I got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me,’ as the Gershwin song has it.
The shaven head of the monk, the staff of the wandering recluse, even the unkempt beard of the hobo — these represent a living critique of social personalism. They seem to point to a higher solitude, and a strange self-emptying. Also, as we have seen, the self-control of the Buddhist and more generally of the ascetic yogi is directed to the ultimate purification of consciousness. And perhaps we sympathize with this, even apart from the fact that mysticism has been the heart of certain religions in that the cosmos is only known (only self-known we might think looking at the world in a more metaphysical manner) because of conscious beings: and somehow in penetrating to pure consciousness the yogi may be finding the strange essence of living existence, that which makes possible the active life in which we are aware of others and of the world about us. We may also think that the quest for consciousness-purity is a way of humility, of training in selflessness, and thus excellent in generating a calm compassion and concern for others so frequently blocked by our egocentricity and concern with aggrandizing our own substance. The self-emptying of the Buddhist path may be most excellent as moral training in the humility which the West too prizes. Nevertheless, though the egolessness of the Buddhist path is rightly the source of much admiration, it does not by itself form an ideology which is apt at explicating the sanctity of the person. And this is where we return to the problem of contemporary personalism. What lies at the basis of the fundamental rights which the individual should possess? Why should we treat the person with respect and love? Is our modern individualism after all just a hangover from the old doctrine of the immortal soul? Or do we just baldly state that men are gods, to be worshipped through rights and humaneness?
A Transcendental Logic of Personalism
It is indeed open to us to make the individual the stopping point, so to speak, of our ethical system: there has to be a first principle, and why not make it the fundamental rights of man? That man is an end in himself, never merely to be treated as a means. But still we may seek a basis. Indeed the collectivist forces of the modern world, no less powerful than the shibboleths of ancient gods, devourers of human sacrifices, are so domineering today that a deeper basis of the sacredness of the individual would be a godsend. Perhaps, indeed, literally. It is not of course necessary or likely that the majority of modern men should accept the Christian myth, in order to justify belief in the sanctity of the individual; but yet this sanctity itself has arisen historically as an outcome of Christian civilization. There is an interesting way in which a Christian outlook has a special relevance to our problem. Let me sketch how this is.
There is something compelling about the Buddhist analysis, in the sense that we do not find anything other than shifting states of mind when we look inwards. It is not as if we can detect anything intrinsically immortal in the human spirit. If there is something ultimate in the individual, which commands our reverence, it is not anything which can be established on a natural basis — beyond the fact that we have feelings and so can enter into symbolic relationships. But in the theistic worldview, the ultimacy of the human being, as having inalienable rights, is itself actually penultimate: that is the sanctity of the individual derives from divine sanctity. It is not simply a natural property (how could it be?) but something rooted outside the natural world. Thus the notion of the Beyond, of a transcendental dimension of reality, is crucial to the ethic of reverence of humanity. One does not here especially need to believe in the special creation of mankind, or in a special superself, namely the soul; but rather in the notion of a special relationship between human beings and the Transcendent: that affinity through which human beings can have experience of the Other, which transcends the world and concentrates in itself supreme value and holiness. This affinity has of course traditionally been expressed through the idea that man is made in the image of God.
The doctrine has, from the angle of the ‘justification’ of the sanctity of the individual, two sides to it. Thus on the one hand the ultimacy of human rights is not something which is established on the basis of anything in this world. One cannot go from the facts of this world to the ought of the sanctity of human existence. How indeed could one? Nor are the rights of the individual something which flow from some further obligation within this world. Again, how could they? Even if it can be shown, which maybe it can, that you get a more efficient state, a greater creativity in science and the arts, by respecting human rights, this is too fragile a basis: for it is open to anyone to think more experimentally, and think that it is possible that even greater creativity could be yielded by certain kinds of despotism. So on the one hand the doctrine of men’s divine creatureliness does point up the transcendental nature of human rights. A human being is sacred because he or she has so to speak a foothold in the ultimate, in the supreme holy, in the eternal, and so beyond the vicissitudes of human argument.
Second, the doctrine ‘places’ belief in human rights in a wider picture, and this involves a sort of explanation. The placement sees human beings in relation to the whole of experience, as understood by the theist. It sees men in relationship to the whole of the cosmos, for men are created beings within the total fabric of a universe which derives its beauties, its terrors, its challenges, its dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish quality, from the Other, the mysterious Being who is both full of frightening power and massive love. This is a picture of the universe which arises in part from religious experience, as we have already argued: but it is also a picture which undergoes change in relation to the particular knowledge of the universe which is got through scientific enquiry. In other words, though it is a transcendental picture, and not itself a scientific theory or what not, it is modified by our present knowledge.
But it may be asked why this picture of the world, even if it does in some sense explain and give a basis to the sanctity of the individual should be taken seriously by those for whom the categories of theism are foreign or out of date. In order to answer this question I shall have to create a diversion. For part of the dynamic of freedom and creativity — and indeed of the evolutionary process too, if one chooses somewhat to romanticize it — comes from what in the broadest sense may be called criticism.
Criticism and Imagination
The thesis that the heart of science lies in criticism is, because of Popper, familiar. But more needs to be said about what the nature and conditions of criticism are. Moreover, though scientific enquiry may have its sources in criticism, there are ways in which the critical attitude itself is important, though in a differing style, or styles, outside science: in the arts, in politics, in the practical life. In a way, the term ‘criticism’ itself may be too narrow: for if one is testing out a theory for instance it is not just a matter of putting it up against various awkward experimental situations, but also quite possibly of trying to think up alternative theories. And as we know many of the great advances in science have occurrred through conceptual revolutions. Here the important thing is not so much testing as imagination. In a broad sense, or in various senses, it is imagination which can be considered to be the affirmative side of criticism: the attempt to disprove a position being the negative aspect. Thus we may develop Popper by saying: falsification plus imagination. Let me illustrate how imaginative changes have brought new perspectives in areas outside science. In the visual arts perhaps the point is obvious: for consider the revolution in perception wrought by the Impressionists. But consider also how modern sculpture has been affected by the discovery (that is, discovery by the West) of ‘primitive art’. The tribal eye has already been absorbed into the rounded visions of Brancusi and Moore. And as we have seen, a stimulus to imagination is the pluralism of cultures which the empathetic approach to the study of religions is one means of exploring. In ethics also imagination is a main instrument of change, and one may say advance: thus modern men for all their great cruelties are undoubtedly more aware of the suffering of animals and so are beginning to take animal rights more seriously in the West than has in the past been common. Moreover, the growth of anthropology and sociology has led to the placing of various resources at our imaginative disposal: part of a wider movement which is towards varied experiments in living. In brief, a main ingredient in creative criticism of traditions of thought or practice is, in the wide sense, imagination.
Thus one of the occasions of the liberation of the imagination is when cultures meet: when very different styles of living and thinking come into interplay with one another it can in principle provide members of each with new perspectives on the world, and a new kind of understanding of their own tradition. This is not comfortable: and is threatening sometimes. It is not surprising if for this and other reasons culture contact is often marred by misunderstanding and cruel conflict. A mixture of fear, arrogance and failure in imagination brings about fearful atrocities, as (for instance) the history of imperialism has too often shown. It can hardly be thought that the Crusades were a creative aspect of Christian-Islamic encounter, or that the sacking and burning of Buddhist centers of learning in India was an advance of any sort for the human spirit. We are left in a peculiar and uncomfortable position.
On the one hand, the pluralism of traditions is a good thing in that it provides differing ways in which the human spirit has come to terms with the world and with the social placement of the individual: on the other hand, the very pluralism which can fuel human imagination is also a combustible of mass murder and hatred. It is tempting to think it would be nice if all major differences of custom were ironed out, as though the whole world could sail past the Statue of Liberty and be processed into all-American, rational people. It is tempting to argue for a great global melting pot. But this is neither how things are (for men do not all sail past the Statue of Liberty) nor is it how they ought to be (for a homogeneous global society would lose many opportunities of the human spirit). So the question is: How can we attain to a creative rather than a destructive interplay between differing cultural forces and ideologies? There is no magical formula, of course. But this much can be said: That the inevitability of conflicts and tensions should be moderated by the demands of peace and compassion. The test is not whether tensions can be eliminated; but how they can be moderated. At the political level, the federal idea and the national idea are means of roughly assigning power to differing cultural traditions. At the social level, the attitudes of pluralism must be intensified and nourished. At the individual level, the multiplication of individualism by empathy is a major way: and it so happens that the approach and the techniques of the phenomenology of religion are vital, and a good example — which is one reason why I think that the study of religion has a noble and a central place in education. Culturally, then we have to live in the tension which are created by pluralism and change (which is a kind of pluralism in time, and which asks us not to despise the past absolutely when effecting our own, shortliving, new world); and to use those tensions creatively. This is part of what we called ‘interactive pluralism’. But when we probe further into the conditions of this we come up against another severe paradox, perhaps a fatal contradiction.
Security and Pluralism
A free and critical society rests on a great degree of security. Without security, paranoia simply views dissent as a threat, to be washed out by blood and prison. It requires a reasonably self-confident society before you can get relaxed attitudes to dissent, as being itself a source of strength rather than weakness. Consider even in such relatively confident and homogeneous societies how hysterically often the student dissent of the sixties and early seventies was viewed by many folk. Yet without a certain painful edge often dissent has not the power to prize open the imagination of those in power. It is a hard thing to achieve: the balance which enables a society to involve itself continuously in the exercise of the critical imagination. Now given this fact, that we need security for criticism, it is harder even than normal to achieve interactive pluralism in a society which is itself plural. For the existence of differing groups (Muslims and Hindus, Catholics and Protestants, Turks and Greeks, blacks and whites) is itself a potent engine of paronoia. Justifiably often, since it is the habit of groups to oppress one another. Consequently, it is important that the concept of the rights of communities as well as of individuals be nourished: for it is one of the fatal weakness of certain forms of Western-style democracy to endorse the principle of one-man-one-vote in a manner which opens the way to majority tyrannies, where communities are deeply divided. At any rate, there clearly is a tension between pluralism and criticism. Thus it is no good arguing in the abstract for the open society without recognizing that certain conditions may have to be fulfilled first: order, where necessary internal federalism, enough social and economic justice to diminish explosive bitterness between rich and poor, etc. It may thus historically be necessary for some countries to go through periods and revolutions in which there is scant regard for openness before the conditions of openness are realized. Thus as we have argued there was, historically, no real alternative for China, if it was to be plucked from the devastating waters of anarchy and economic dislocation, but to undergo the Maoist revolution. Of course there are might have beens: if Western powers had been less rapacious; if the 1911 revolution had come earlier; and so on. But by the thirties there seemed to be no alternative. And it is remarkable how roughly speaking two of the conditions for a more advanced society have been realized in so short a time. But the advocate of critical pluralism does not need because of such historical ‘inevitability’ (actually I overstate determinism here) to condone features of the present Chinese regime which are stupid and cruel: for instance the shocking treatment of Tibet, the continuing dogmatism and so on.
Creativity and Pluralism
So I have argued that criticism and creativity in society and in the mind rest upon imagination plus falsification: and apart from the fact that a sense of security is bound up with the dignity accorded to a group’s social identity, pluralism as the doctrine that differing traditions should be respected is a lively ingredient of the open world, since it fosters imagination. Thus so far as possible the meeting of cultural traditions should be turned into something creative (but it often as we note turns into bitterness). Incidentally, one may add that because of our powers of retrieving the past, within certain severe limits admittedly, the cultural debate should also take place with our planetary ancestors. Indeed, now that the frontiers of the global world have evaporated, and there is hardly anywhere left to explore, we shall not encounter new civilizations: but we can encounter dead ones, and find in them resources for the interpretation of life. (Perhaps too, following science fiction, we may have a new genre of culture fiction: CF, which brings to life in detail alternative civilizations, would thus be another way to expand the imagination.) Having said all this about the vital nature of critical pluralism in our search for greater insight into the nature of the world and of living, I can now turn back from my ‘diversion’ to the question of why theism should be taken seriously in the modern age.
Critical Theism and Divine Substance
We have seen ways in which the spirit of the Beyond can be in line with the critical temper of human creativity. But it is also critical in the sense that it is no longer magical. By this I mean that if we accept that belief in God does not add an extra potency to the cosmos, an extra factor so to speak to enter into cosmological calculations, then theism involves at its heart a kind of metaphysical emptiness (as we argued earlier in our delineations of the relationship between Christianity and Buddhist Emptiness). One can see this as a development, if we like, from Kant. The Divine Being has a noumenal character: lying so to speak locked for ever beyond phenomena. But there are it should be noted differing kinds of ‘beyond’.
There is a story about an Englishman in Belfast who was asked by an Irishman whether he were a Protestant or a Catholic. Wishing to avoid trouble he said he was an atheist. ‘Yes’, responded the native, ‘but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?’ So one might say that there are differing forms of the noumenal — three kinds. There is the numinous noumenal, the mystical noumenal and the scientific noumenal. To put it a different way: that which lies ‘beyond’ phenomena can lie there in three different styles of beyond. There are two forms of the transcendental beyond, and there is a form of the investigative beyond, or perhaps we should say the empirical beyond. The numinous and mystical styles are represented respectively and predominantly in theism and Buddhism: the investigative or empirical beyond might be said to be an ingredient in science.
We can look upon science itself as the product of a complex dialogue between nature and human enquiry. The scientist interrogates nature, who dumbly gives him answers, sometimes desperately disappointing, often baffling, sometimes amazingly consonant with human aesthetic judgement. But since nature herself is a construct, in that the nature of nature is delineated in a complex way by the various theories which have so far survived the processes of testing, we need the postulation of nature as ‘there’ to be described. This noumenal aspect of nature lies beyond the various representations of it.
Already our theories go beyond the early layers of representation which perception and ‘common sense’ bring to us: the fact that nature as discovered in modern physics is fluid, mathematical, impermanent in detail, relational — already such a picture of nature is suggestive of the Buddhist portraiture. Two motifs here, of interconnectedness and emptiness, are woven together out of inner experience and philosophical reflection. So we can see a kind of ‘mystical’ form of what is noumenal, in which there is a kind of emptiness beyond perceptions. This indeed is the goal of interior training in the Buddhist style — to attain a kind of transcendental experience of samsara and nirvana.
The theistic noumenon is somewhat different, for it lies Beyond (so to speak) nature, even that hidden unsayable aspect of nature which we postulate ‘out there’ beyond our representations. The Divine is figured as an Other. But that configuration of the Divine arises chiefly from the fact that numinous experience is dual, dynamic, personal: as I have remarked before, like a personalized H-bomb exploding. In experience and in sacrament it communicates personal power.
But it is, as noumenal, metaphysically empty. Its power lies in religion and in the experiences of creatures. It is thus not magical Power. If it has power, that is reflected in the phenomena. It is thus mythologically appropriate that the man-God should have emptied himself of the divine attributes, as if in any event he could import an extra dynamism from the metaphysically empty reaches of the cloud of unknowing.
But nothing I have said in any way diminishes from the actual power of the religious and prophetic spirit, from the sacramental efficacy and visionary dynamism, of actual theism. This is where we can say that the continuing relevance of theism lies. In brief, the theism which presents itself to the contemporary world is one which in principle can be critical in temper, both about its own transcendental emptiness and about human experience seen from the commanding heights of what lies Beyond, as reflected in the experience of the Divine.
Christian Theism and the Person
Theism, because it roots men in the Transcendent, and gives those who have faith a different kind of security (participation in the divine substance and a sense therefore of the overcoming of alienation), provides a strong base for the critical evaluation of worldly ideologies. This is part of the meaning of the prophetic vocation. It is perhaps not surprising that the old prophets had an encounter with the Other: for this gave them a new and a different point of view. To some extent all those inspired by the mad otherness, in the arts and in literature, belong to the prophetic tradition, even if often in a new and secular key. But theism has a special power, born paradoxically out of its weakness (and this is why it is specially luminous that Christ should have suffered on the Cross: luminous, that is to say, by hindsight). For in looking at the world from the perspective of the Beyond the theist is nourished by his faith, his experience, his sense that nothing in this world can, ultimately, touch him. This is the power of going beyond the world.
The weakness (which is a paradox) is that in practice it can only speak through human beings: as we have seen, it is not that in addition to the vision and dynamic which the believer may discover in his sense of encounter with the Other there is some further magic power which God exercizes and which constitutes a higher knowledge than men’s present knowledge -as though a new, spiritual, science can be added to the other sciences, transcending it. For transcendence as we may truly understand it means that indeed God is beyond (and secretly within) the material cosmos: not that he is an extra part of it. In other words, insofar as science deals with the material cosmos, God is beyond science: there is no science-beyond-science of him. It is like the case of the Buddha: he is called ‘god beyond gods’, but he is not a god, for he plays in quite a different league. So theism represents a dynamic point of departure for criticism of the secular order and for the secular ideologies. It gives a sense of the world in which men have in principle a transcendental umbilical, a point of contact with what lies beyond this world. Rooted thus in this timeless and divine nature, the human being has a sanctity which cannot be supplied (so to speak) merely by social conditioning. That conditioning is important in developing the li, the performative gestures which salute the dignity of human beings. But its logic lies in the Heaven of which Confucius spoke little.
Thus sacramental theism supplies a transcendental root of the sacred character of the human being. The reverence which we should feel for one another is a reflection of the awe before the Divine Being; while the dignity-bearing performative acts which we should aim at one another reflect the sacramental communication of divine substance.
This picture of the world gives a placement to the idea of the sanctity of the individual. But it is not in any way a proof of the reverential imperative. Whether we look to a post-Christian humanism to express human rights, or to the kind of theism I have sketched, the affirmation of human sanctity is yet a matter of commitment, and that reveals in still another way our essential fragility.
Faith and Uncertainty
It is not in the nature of religious or ideological truth to be absolutely perspicuous: it is in essence debatable, the tests are soft, the fruits difficult to evaluate. It is strange that ideologies and religions so often attract those of dogmatic temper: the uncertainty of faith is given a special and fanatic assurance in the strenuous repetition of credos, in the tread of the thought police, in the burning faggots of the auto-da-fé. The reason is, it seems, that because a world-view orients the individual and society to the cosmos, and to action here and now — so that issues become simultaneously cosmic and practical — it demands a kind of commitment which in turn demands a sense of assurance. The very fragility of higher truth means that it has to be asserted with almost violent conviction. To put it all in a nutshell: uncertainty perceived deep down explodes into certainty at the surface. So it is that those who criticize the main tradition of a society are often perceived as deeply menacing, subverting the very order of things. The Sorbonne riots seem to rock the whole universe; just as in old days the Christian ‘atheists’ made the whole Roman world unsafe (so throw them to the lions). Well, it may be that because of the structures of human nature we cannot do much about this deep disease — that passion has to be predicated on dogmatism, and commitment nourished in blinkers. But at least we can reflect that since the criteria of truth (or acceptance) of a worldview are so strange and difficult to apply, it is not reasonable to be vociferous in talk of proof or knowledge of the Transcendent.
Thus theism must share with other belief-system a certain epistemological modesty. But those who have faith in Christ should not because of this fail in passion: for it is a noble, strange, exciting vision of the cosmos which they have, and one which bids them seek in a particular direction, along a path which brings them to the conviction of the tragic dignity of men’s state, and to a kind of overcoming of evil and suffering. At any rate, from the angle of theism, the nature of men is in a sense transcendental: and it is because of this, and because of the central value of love as exhibited through Christ’s self-emptying, that the perspective of faith must be critical of those who treat men as social fodder. Thus theism, and in particular Christianity as I have been trying to interpret it, are not fashionable viewpoints somehow de rigueur. They are risky places from which to sally into the ideological marketplace. Theism is one of the many visions which have moved men and will live on in creative and one hopes peaceful combat and interplay with its rivals and friends.
The Question of Poverty
The arguments which I have deployed to suggest that there is a certain complementarity between Buddhism and Christianity, and to try to relate that perception to the critical evaluation of ideologies, point unmistakeably in a particular direction — namely a new synthesis between Western and Asian civilization. It seems to me that the ideals of social personalism, interactive pluralism, transcendental criticism and noumenal faith are congenial particularly to the Buddhist tradition, and are also a not unnatural outcome of modern liberal Christianity. Because there is here an emphasis upon tradition and the recasting of self-identity in the context of modern political and scientific change, this new synthesis escapes the flatness of ethical humanism. There is no reason why the resources of the past should not be brought to bear in forming a spiritual outlook which is critical, not dogmatic, self-emptying rather than magical, and which can appreciate both the need for identity and the demands of innovation.
But our new pluralism can easily slide into a kind of higher selfishness. The securities and the rights which can be preserved in the social democracies of the northern West are in part the outcome of prosperity and in part its cause. That prosperity has not been cleanly arrived at, however: for the economic miracles of the post-World War II period occurred in societies which continued some elements of colonial policy and the exploitation of resources among poorer nations. If problems of internal poverty in the northern world were for the most part, if not wholly, solved by new economic techniques and social policies, the problems of severe external poverty have continued in the so-called Third World.
Patterns of History
We can see the course of history as being a tangled affair of traditions and civilizations in interchange and collision. Often the exchange of ideas and of social values between cultures has flowed from war and conquest or other violences such as slavery. Greed, hatred and delusion have been woven closely into the fabric of events. But yet in other ways these interchanges and collisions have been creative: Hegel’s dialectical theory represents a crude and simplified way of expressing a certain truth. We can see how the revived classical culture of the Renaissance fertilized the Christian civilization which had resulted from among things the marriage of northern European culture to the Christian values of the late Roman period. We can see how Chinese and indigenous Japanese culture fused in medieval Japan. We can admire the Sikh solution to the problem of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation. We can see how Byzantine and Slav motifs came fruitfully together in the religious culture of old Russia. And so forth. The history of the world has been a rhythm of separate development and syntheses. It is a different mode of development, much shorter in time, than that which occurred through the immensely long process of evolution. But it is a kind of evolutionary analogue. Nature has moved into history; genes have been bathed in cultural traditions; mental superstructures have transformed material and economic realities. There is also something like the survival of the fittest, in the sense that new cultural ideas come for various reasons to have great, even overwhelming power: consider the magnetism of Christianity as an ideology for the Empire and then for the emerging peoples of Northern and Eastern Europe; consider the power of Indian ideologies of kingship, Hindu and Buddhist, in South-East Asia; consider the grip which the values of technocracy and modernity have on the contemporary mind, both North and South. Ideas, so to speak, have their times: cometh the hour, cometh the idea. For varying reasons some of the older systems can no longer live, though they may still be carried in the cultural chromosomes of their succeeding systems. We have seen something of this in the older worldviews and values of China: it is even more clearly seen in the way smaller ethnic groups’ beliefs have to succumb or at least transform themselves under the impact of modern values.
The Creative Struggle of Ideas
But it is not that ideas die or live by jugulars and hunting. The processes are more obscure, in intellect and heart, in the mobilization of energies, in the acceptability of insights. It is thus partly a rational struggle, partly a symbolic one, partly a moral one — this combat of ideologies: it is also very frequently a bloody one, in which ideas mobilize not just energies but armies. In this messy rhythm of development, synthesis, genocide, war, the worldviews of the world have struggled onwards: what they currently leave is that dynamic deposit of contemporary faiths. Who knows how the future may turn out, in the febrile atmosphere of the global city? But it is part of the thesis of critical pluralism which I have been advocating that creative and peaceful struggle is what should be looked for, so far as possible. This is not just a placid ‘dialogue’ (a world now much tinged with the sensation of kindness between religions, and praying together, and seeing, no doubt admirably, the goodness in one another’s lifestyles); but a genuine struggle. For in my view (for instance) the way in which human rights have been trampled in nationalism and under Marxism is appalling, as also the horrors of the Third World slum and the starving bones of unfortunate peoples: in all this, there is contempt for human dignity, and this contempt finds its corrective, I believe, in seeing the divine light which diffuses from the Beyond into the human person. The notion of the Beyond may also — and in a Buddhist way — contribute to this struggle within the bounds of critical pluralism. I shall come to that shortly. But in the meantime let us note that the condition which is mentioned above, namely that the struggle should be creative and so far as possible peaceful, itself points to certain political values, such as toleration and federalism. Despite phases of aggressiveness in Christian history, it is hard to believe that one can deduce from the New Testament or from the main structures of Christian belief anything other than a peaceful outlook: pointing if not to pacifism at least to the minimization of violence. Thus leaving aside institutional arrangements for the settling of conflicts, one may also use this as a criterion in attempting to judge the way nations live politically.
Empathy and Two Levels of Truth
The empathy which is both part of the method of the study of religions and more generally is the way in which we come to understand one another, means that we so to speak look at the world from the point of view of others whom we encounter, whether in friendship or rivalry. It is also the basis of the moral evaluation of values: for once I understand another’s values then to the degree that they are dear to him they should be respected by me. But if they are cruel, destructive values? In consistency of course I cannot prize them or respect them (though it can be that something relatively good hides behind the destructive feelings: Hitler’s hatred of the Jews was a catastrophe and an outrage, but it had behind it a love of the Germany for which he had fought for four terrible years on the Western Front — and that love of Germany was not altogether bad, and could conceivably have had a more creative outlet). Still, there is a prima facie value in what others value. But it is only a provisional stance, this. It is what underlies among other things the national assumption and the federal idea — the respect for nations derives from the fact that politically national sovereignty or at least some degree of autonomy is felt, deeply, by most of the relevant people to be vital to their sense of identity, their ‘being at home’ in the world. But just as I may stand outside other folk’s values, so the conception of God or the Ultimate stands outside both my and their values. It is a vantage point, so to speak, for criticism of worldly values, and a vantage point too for seeing them as non-ultimate. Thus though we should be in our worldly dealings committed, as I have suggested, to social personalism, it would be somehow absurd, at least from the angle of the Beyond, to shrink people into their social identities: to boil them down even to their own self-images. Thus the Buddhist conception of two levels of truth — that which is conventional, of this world, provisional, and that which is Beyond, is ineffable, is to be experienced — can be applied here: the individual is not to be lost in social relationships, however fulfilling and comforting they may be. The ethics of respect for such social values is itself provisional, since one can always point to something which lies beyond them and beyond existence in the cosmos.
The Public and the Individual Search
I may sum up the position I have outlined in this chapter. First, both Christian theism and Buddhism (for these are the major examples I have been working with) can be used as points of departure in the critique of secular ideologies — a critique that is itself part of a kind of interactive or critical pluralism in which cratively we can, in the global city, move towards a richer realization of human life: for not only science and the arts flourish through openness and imagination, but also the political and moral life. Second, however, we need to measure the conditions of openness: very often tensions of both social and political kinds need to be resolved, often in a harsh way: though the clearly preferable pattern is for pluralistic and federal ways of dealing with group identities; while social inequities too may make openness immediately hard or impossible. But the fact that a nation may have to pass through a revolutionary and dictatorial phase should not prevent us from thinking positively about future possibilities of openness. Third, part of the critique of the secular ideologies is that in the last resort social personalism — for all its recognition of the way people exist and feel their identities in a social way — makes individuals the ultimate atoms of the moral life: and the dignity of the individual is something expressed in li or performative action. Yet what is the basis of that li?
Theism assigns to the individual a transcendental worth not derived from nature but which flows, so to speak, from the Beyond. This transcendental aspect of the individual is approached in a differing and negative way in the twin Buddhist doctrines of non-self and the two level theory of truth. Fourth, we noted that the utilitarianism of modern Western political and economic thinking needs to be seen in the perspective that in fact most of men’s activities are liable to symbolic transformation: and so policy has to be indirectly concerned with happiness, but more with promoting those things which men find symbolically satisfying. But of course religions and ideologies can provide different ways of viewing the world, and so differing evaluations of what we may take in a given culture to be symbolically satisfying. This is a further way in which both Christian theism and Buddhism can provide a transcendental critique of the secular.
But here we can return to the individual search. For in the above discussion I have chiefly been involved in the evaluation of public, large scale belief systems: and the validation of such a social and moral value as the sanctity of the individual. But the spiritual path also begins from within the individual, in regard to his hopes and his fear, his pains and his loves, his worries and disasters, his hope for peace. Seeing the world from the perspective of the Beyond is to see it transformed. It is this excitement, joy and sadness in living in the shining, suffering jewel net of Indra, the glad creation of the one Logos, which causes other personal values to become changed too. Thus there is a deep way and a special way in which the Transcendent offers a critique of the world, for it changes it: giving it that strange emptiness of which Buddhism speaks or that mysteriousness and echoing power of which Christian theism speaks. In the end we are indeed alone, as centres of consciousness which help to constitute separate worlds: each individual’s cosmos is in a way all that there is, and yet each person knows that there are worlds which lie beyond his world. To these he reaches out in hope and love. Such hope and love can transform his world: and that ultimately is what religion is about — transforming the world.
East and West in Complementary Existence
I have been advocating a certain outlook, based on the complementarity of Buddhism and Christianity. They are different ways of going towards the Beyond: and by dreaming of that destination — a dream stimulated by the experiences of the numinous Other and the mystical Emptiness — we find ways of providing a support for and yet also a critique of the personalism and pluralism which should govern our global world. They both indicate the provisional character of secular identities, whether framed in regard to the nation or the economic class. They provide a different perspective on the question of human identity: they can affirm a pluralistic acceptance of the social dimension of personal identity, and yet see beyond that to the emptiness of the atoms of consciousness which spray like droplets through our streaming life, and to the self-emptying power which transcends the cosmos and material identity. The one is a way that takes us through history and sacrament: the other takes us through analysis and yoga.
I believe, as I have argued, that they are complementary; and that in the long run there can be a fruitful living together of the two traditions, so formative of East and West. From this perspective, it is possible to look anew on human history, as it has converged into a single whole in the contemporary world. We need to ask ourselves how our contemporary world is related to the complex religious past. Only a partial picture has emerged here: but I have suggested that there is a possible complementarity between Eastern and Western traditions; while the notion of a creative critical pluralism helps to make sense of the relationship between the traditional theistic and secular ideologies born out of the Western world. Also, the present interpretation of both theism and Buddhism is in line with science, in the sense that what they offer does not conflict, in principle, with the scientific outlook: and provided that they remain critical, their affinity to the open imagination which is so crucial to both the sciences and the arts is a vital factor in relating ancient traditions to the modern world. Indeed, that critical outlook is partly a consequence of the way they offer visions of the world which go beyond everyday perception, and partly stems from the manner in which they view the world from the perspective of the Beyond.
The Critique of Collectivism
It may have been a necessary part of the rebellion against Victorian capitalism which was called forth by the grim effects of the first Industrial Revolution, but the doctrinaire atheism which Marxism has embraced is part of the tragedy of the new social order of the socialist part of the planet. But since it is a simple truth that men do not live by bread alone; and since too it is a simple truth that a modern society demands ultimately a degree of scientific freedom to be effective in the creation of wealth: it is easy enough to be optimistic that in the global city a greater amount of openness and a greater sensitivity to the spiritual dimension of life will spread into the social tyrannies which Marxism has helped to produce. Yet it is wise also to temper optimism with the thought of what is unknown. New instabilities in the global city, new earthquakes in the South, new storms in the Middle East, new and more terrible national clashes are possible: and nationalism itself, national sovereignty, remains the dominating ideology, nurturing paranoia often, and driving leaders greedily to new forms of armament, not least nuclear weapons. Can we say with confidence that they will not be used? Madness and machismo are not infrequent among leaders: and international relationships are often pursued with a customary but still surprising crudity of motivation. What dreadful storms has our planet still to live through?
Here the critique from the Beyond remains vital. The secular ideologies which have proved most powerful, nationalism and Marxism in particular, have fed upon the thirst for identity and social justice. They have made great claims on the allegiance of men and have elicited such splendid heroisms, such sacrifices, such rivers of nobly spilled blood. But they have also encouraged violence and hatred. We have a deep need to take collectivism with a certain scepticism: to use skilful means to tame the beasts of collective pride and economic revenge. The love which Christ self-emptyingly symbolizes, the compassion and non-violence which the Buddha expresses — these values are of even greater importance now than they were before such terrible means of destruction reposed in the hands of hard and confused men.
Beyond Flat Secularism
But I have also tried to show that the study of religion itself has illumination in it too. It is in some ways the most crucial of the social sciences, for it casts a strong light upon the essentially symbolic character of so many human activities: not least upon the symbolisms and ritual elements in which our ‘secular’ existence is drenched. And in making the demand of empathy the study of religion tells us of an important method in all our dealings. We should not act towards others without making a move into their minds. It is the mutual interpenetration of cultures through empathy that the comparative study of religion offers as a major ingredient in the formation of a peaceful global city.
This exploration, then, of the complementary worlds of Buddhism and Christianity, and of religious and secular ideologies, is part of a wider quest to make sense of our new world, in which traditions are having to find themselves anew and in which the modern ideologies are beginning to look careworn. As we have emphasized, one of the many fruits born of European civilization has been the modern study of religion and politics, to which I here make a modest contribution: that study is itself part of the open heritage which is Europe and America’s most astounding achievement, and which is in a sense the most eminent saving grace of Christian civilization. That civilization now has the opportunity of transcending itself, and through an interactive pluralism to form a critical basis for a global culture. If Europe is looking for its destiny, it must surely lie in a new appraisal of the connections between liberalism and the Christian past; and if America is searching for a new frontier once again, it may find it in the new meeting of East and West which the broad waters of the Pacific cannot prevent. A new sense of Atlantic and Pacific civilizations may well be part of our future, in the West. But without finding means to stimulate hope and prosperity for the impoverished South and the teeming tropic belt, there can be no stability. Social justice is one of the conditions of those dreams of a new pluralism of which I have written. Compassion thus turns out to be common sense: without dignity for the poor, and hope, the rich rot.
The Pacific Mind
We are only at the beginning of the life of the global city. What I have here tried to write about, the complementarity of Buddhism and Christianity and their relationship to the ideologies, is only one among many kinds of reflections which must arise as the cultures of the planet mingle. What vast changes will a hundred years of global travel, of television, of radio satellites, of trade, of electronic translators, of new exchanges of people bring about?
Since nationalism has been the most powerful force in modern politics, ultimately any global civilization must be pluralistic. This is a weakness of the theocratic ideologies of Islam and Marxism (not of course literally theocratic, but having the same properties as a theocracy, amplified by the techniques and institutions of the totalitarian state, to which Islam is itself inimical). The values of Hinduism and Buddhism and the modern West are more favourable to pluralism, and for this reason a new Pacific culture can find room for the pluralisms of ethnic liberation throughout the ‘Third World’. Thus this new transcendental ideology, incorporating the open spirit and a sense of social personalism, seems to me to be the one best suited to the humane development of the global city. Thus can the resources of the past be used to give a sense of vision and dignity to the inhabitants of our beautiful planet. As we look across the cold North Sea we remember the cruelties of collectivism and wild nationalism. As we scan the Pacific we can remember cruelties too but the sun shines upon new waves of thought and culture. There may be born that Pacific mind which balances dynamism with non-violence, and this may prove to be the starting point for new relations between East and West and North and South. We look to a transcendental humanism, no longer magical, but both critical and enchanting.