Contemporary Views of God (2): Paul Tillich on God and Other Faiths

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With this post we come to end of our exploration of Paul Tillich’s theology.  We have discussed his methodology, his overall view of God, his understanding of the proper use of language as it relates to “God-talk,” and his understanding of the relationship of immanence and transcendence.  This last post will touch on how Tillich’s view of other religions and his doctrine of God interact.

As Veli-Matte Karkkainen tells it, a few years before Tillich’s death, he visited Japan.  He had never interacted in such a real-life way with another faith (Buddhism) before, and it radically impacted him.  In fact, for Tillich he was so impacted by this experience that he quit believing that Christianity was the “absolute” religion (133). 

For Tillich, Buddhism and Christianity complemented each other.  They both complement each other in their most basic understanding of reality as something that has fallen from an earlier state of perfection and seek to be liberated from this state by the “Ground of Being (133).”  Even though Buddhist and Christian conceptions of how this state of affairs came to be and how it will be overcome are radically different, for Tillich, since the two systems share the same basic concerns, and both offer an answer to modern man regarding how to overcome the threat of “non-being,” then they are both valid faiths or belief systems. 

Let’s sum up Tillich.  We have seen that the strengths of Tillich’s approach is his intentionality of delivering an understanding of Christianity that is comprehendable to modern man.  This comes out of his sincere desire to understand the struggles that modern people face, which is a commendable goal.  His weaknesses have been at times letting that desire dominate his approach to Scripture.  This led to a lack of clarity regarding the relationship of immanence and transcendence in God, and a very limited scope of language to use regarding God.  In my view Tillich thwarted his main goal of trying to make Christianity palatable to modern sensibilities by allowing the concerns of the day overwhelm his understanding of God. 

Up Next: The Great Orthodox Theologian John Zizioulas!

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One response to “Contemporary Views of God (2): Paul Tillich on God and Other Faiths

  1. Dear fellow-pilgrim,

    I came across this page and its attendant blog via a Google search on Tillich and Buddhism. You may already know the Dalai Lama’s book “The Good Heart” (Rider. 1996.ISBN 0 7126 7275 3) This is a quote from it, nested in another which is taken from a paper I am giving on Buddhist/Christian dialogue as a paradigm for interfaith respectful encounter (although I sha’n’t call it that, you may be sure):
    “Geshe Thupten Jinpa is the Dalai Lama’s principal translator on philosophy, religion and science. From 1996 to 1999, he was a research fellow at Girton College, Cambridge. (“He is president of the Institute of Tibetan Classics in Montréal, Canada, and the editor-in-chief of the translation project The Library of Tibetan Classics, being developed by the Institute. He is on the advisory board of various educational and cultural organizations such as the Mind and Life Institute (USA), The Orient Foundation (UK & India), The Meridien Trust (UK), Global Ethics and Religion (USA), and Manjushri Buddhist Online Community. He lives in Montréal with his wife and two young daughters.” source: Snow Lion Publications)
    In The Good Heart, he writes “a few words on the general attitudes in Buddhism toward other religions…. Like any other major religion, Buddhism perceives its path to be universal in that it addresses the fundamental problems of human existence. In this sense, it does not see its message and normative doctrines as being limited to any specific historical or cultural context. Yet, right from an early stage of the evolution of the Mahayana (see Glossary) Buddhism has accepted the existence of other paths that may be better suited to the spiritual temperament of individuals. There is an acknowledgment of diversity at the most fundamental level of spiritual orientation. As one of the Mahayana classics puts it, “There exist diverse inclinations, diverse interests, and diverse spiritual paths.” This, I think, is the basis for the Dalai Lama’s often stated “supermarket of religions.” According to Buddhism, all these spiritual paths are valid in themselves for they answer the fundamental yearning of millions of individuals. The validity of a spiritual teaching should not be judged on the basis of its claim to metaphysical truth. Rather the criterion must relate to its efficacy in providing spiritual salvation, or freedom. The long history of both Buddhism and Christianity testifies to this efficacy. Given this, a genuine conversation between these two profound religious traditions can lead not only to the enrichment of each other’s teachings, but can also deepen the world’s appreciation of the spiritual dimension of human life. The famous religious historian Paul Tillich said that from the meeting of Christianity and Buddhism would come a spiritual revolution. Perhaps he was right.”
    Being somewhat out of the swim of contemporary theological reputation and standing, I am not sure how Tillich is viewed today. He remains a bright star among those that guide my own pilgrimage.

    Are you in dialogue with other faiths and, in particular, with Buddhism? If so, I should very much value any input you like to share. I would stress that I am as interested in differences as in commonalities, just so long as we return, each evening, to the ground we share so that the sun never sets on our disagreements. Seems to work!

    May many blessings be yours and to those whom you love.

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