Monday, May 9, 2011

Entry 51 4.27.11

Entry 51, April 27th, 2011, 4:42 pm (ship time GMT -4)

Course: E, Speed: 16 knots

Light wind and swell from the E, intermittent showers

Today's post: Fingers Pointing at the Moon

I'm continuing my comparative analysis of “The Purpose Driven Life,” (and perhaps, by extension, Christianity itself). It continues to be logically inconsistent, but that's not really the point – it wouldn't be belief if it was provable. We knew this going in.

Today's chapter is titled, “The Heart of Worship.” Warren asserts that the heart of worship is surrender, or giving one's self to God's plan completely. This involves abandoning all personal desires, goals, and hopes – yielding total control to God. To quote Paul (from Romans, I think?):

So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us . . . offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.”

I'm reminded of something Dostoyevsky wrote near the beginning of “The Brothers Karamazov,” talking about Alyosha's decision to study at the monastery. I don't have the book here to quote it exactly, but essentially he says that while most young men are willing to march off to war and die for nothing, they are afraid to spend several years in dedicated study and service to something (like Alyosha does by joining the church). Living for God is much greater form of worship in my mind than dying for him.

Pastor Warren continues, showing several proofs of God's love for us (all biblical quotations, and so totally irrelevant from a factual point of view) before discussing the effects of surrender. He says:

You know you've surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don't have to always be “in charge.” . . . in stead of trying harder, you trust more.”

Compare Warren's passage to this:

tao te ching, ch. 10

Giving birth and nourishing,

having without possessing,

acting with no expectations,

leading and not trying to control;

this is the supreme virtue.”

or this:

ch. 74

Trying to control the future

is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.

When you handle the master carpenter's tools,

chances are that you'll cut yourself.”

I doubt that Lao Tzu is trying to say that there necessarily IS a master carpenter, but the point is the same. This next example may be the clearest:

ch. 40

Return is the movement of the Tao.

Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.

Being is born of not being.”

I think it's pretty clear that “surrender” is a concept that both Lao Tzu and Pastor Warren understand and value. The difference is in what they surrender to; Warren, to a loving, caring, conscious and glorious God, and Lao Tzu to . . . well, something. The Tao, yes, but he goes to great lengths to say (at the very beginning of the tao te ching) that by calling it the tao, it is not the tao, and that by its very nature it cannot be named.

Here is an interesting passage:

tao te ching, ch. 30

The Master . . . understands that the universe

is forever out of control,

and that trying to dominate events

goes against the current of the Tao.

Because he believes in himself,

he doesn't try to convince others.

Because he is content with himself,

he doesn't need others' approval.

Because he accepts himself,

the whole world accepts him.”

Compare this to the dedication of “The Purpose Driven Life.”

This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. God longs for you to discover the life he created you to live – here on Earth, and forever in eternity.”

This is followed by a page with a pledge where you commit the next forty days of your life to discovering God's plan (complete with signature line).

Now, maybe I'm just projecting my own preconceptions here, but it seems like Pastor Warren is trying pretty hard to convince me that his path is correct. In fact, Christianity as a whole has traditionally involved trying to convince people to join the church and be saved (“evangelism,” anyone?). This has never made any sense to me, because it seems to me that if there is any one sure way to keep someone from doing something it is to tell them to do it.

Perhaps Lao Tzu's insight can clarify the situation. He says, “Because he believes in himself, he doesn't try to convince others.” Maybe the church as a whole still contains some seed of doubt at its very core? That would certainly explain the drive to collect followers over the past two thousand-odd years.

Also, consider this. “Because he accepts himself, the world accepts him.” Perhaps this applies to the church as well? Christianity has certainly met with vigorous rejection here and there, most notably from the Islamic world but also from atheists throughout history and a growing segment of the population here in the United States. Could the concept of original sin keep Christians from accepting themselves, and consequently keep the world from accepting them? I will have to think about that.

One thing is certain. IF there is a universal truth, and the two different tellings of that truth that I am studying differ in their accounts of it, it logically follows that at least one of them must be wrong. I suspect that they are both incomplete, actually, and I am beginning to doubt that even all humanity's stories combined could tell the universal truth. As a zen master once told a student, “My teachings are merely a finger pointing at the moon. Don't look at the finger!”

If that's true, and all religions and philosophies are really just fingers pointing at the moon, then that means one cannot look up wisdom. Good to know, I suppose . . . this wisdom stuff is slippery business. I guess my question now becomes: if I can't look it up, where do I find it?


  1. Wouldn't the idea that you're not in control of anything and shouldn't strive to be make you wonder what the hell the point of living was? That's my immediate reaction.


  2. I think that there is a difference between surrendering the desire to control your surroundings and inaction. Just because we can't control anything doesn't mean that playing our own part in the world isn't something worth doing. In fact, I find it a particularly freeing concept -- it means that I can never screw anything up. It leaves me emotionally uninvested in the outcome of events, and so I can enjoy the results no matter if they were what I expected or not.