OK, I'm finally getting around to posting an explanation I promised in the comments section of 'This Just Wasn't the Year for Jesus'. Long ago, in a conversation with a Hare Krishna, I was introduced to a basic division in spiritual paths that has stuck with me ever since, between 'personalist' paths and 'impersonalist' ones. (Although it just happened to be a Hare Krishna whom I heard about this from, the distinction is not original to that sect, but pre-dates them in Indian theology.) The gist of the idea is that 'personalists' are focused on seeing the divine as an individual similar, in important ways, to a human person, while the impersonalists are focused on the divine as 'cosmic law', 'the great light of the void', and so on.
When asked to declare my 'religious affiliation', my answer is 'Mahayana Buddhist', since the teachings of that school happen to be the ones that have hit home the hardest for me, and not because I think it is 'the best' or 'the one true' path. In any case, Mahayanists are very alert to the foremost danger of a personalist path, which is the temptation to turn one's conception of God into a giant version of one's ego, so that, instead of achieving transcendence, the devotee winds up fortifying his ego and inflating it into a world-filling monstrosity. (There is absolutely no assertion involved that this is the inevitable outcome of personalism!)
That gives some background on the perspective from which I criticized Zach Johnson for crediting Jesus with his win in the Master's golf tournament last year. It was not that his remarks were so objectionable in themselves, as much as that they represent a small step towards the theistic ego-inflation exhibited, for instance, by our current president, whom, I suspect, really believes that he is president not because he got lucky in the Florida fiasco but because God wanted him to be president, and can no doubt justify all of his killing and usurpation of power because he was 'chosen'. Perhaps Johnson thanks Jesus for everything that happens in his life, such as getting stung by a bee or catching the flu, and not just the things he likes, but his declarations certainly are open to the reading that faith in Jesus is a way to achieve worldly success. (And hey, it's not only Christians who fall prey to that spiritual trap: There is that awful Buddhist sect that promotes chanting as a way to get nice cars and better jobs!)
Of course, the impersonalist path has dangers, too. One need only consider the typical sorts of complaints lodged against various Eastern gurus by traditionalist Westerners to understand what those dangers are. Impersonalist, rather than trying to follow principles of conduct laid out in detail by a personal God, rely on more general dictums such as 'Don't cause fellow beings unnecessary suffering'. While I think that a genuine application of such a rule would result in conduct not remarkably different than that of someone following the Ten Commandments, it is all too easy for the impersonalist to fudge things and wind up justifying all sorts of chicanery because 'no one is really getting hurt'.
Nor are the two routes, as I see them, really in conflict. They are both partial views of the divine. As Roderick Long has pointed out, the greatest Christian theologians have always held that regarding God as a 'person' is only a metaphor, since the divine transcends the distinction of 'is/is not a person'. None other than C.S. Lewis warned that reducing the divine to a comfortable image of a well-understood person denies the reality of the living God whose nature is beyond any of our conceptions of Him.
Lastly, in no sense are these musings intended to 'convince' anyone that all religious paths are equal, or that their own religion does not offer some special insight. I am a great admirer of Christianity, and am quite open to the possibility that I have missed something that my Christian friends have seen, a possibility to which I regularly devote serious attention. These remarks, rather, are offered in a spirit of dialog, in the hope of prompting the recognition that, even if one religion is in some important sense superior to others, we still have things that we can learn from each other. For instance, even if you are convinced that I am making a fundamental mistake in not recognizing Christ as the unique appearance of the logos in human history, it could nevertheless be true that my perspective still might offer valuable insights. Furthermore, I would suggest to members of the other great world religions that we are natural allies, as individuals who are convinced that there is something sacred and holy at the heart of the universe, even if we conceive that center differently, in the fight against the sophists and nihilists who would try to reduce human existence to the meaningless and random play of brute, material forces.
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