Transcendence and Violence: The Encounter of Buddhist, Christian, and Primal Traditions

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Topics: Interfaith Issues & Dialogue. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “Transcendence and Violence: The Encounter of Buddhist, Christian, and Primal Traditions

  1. Review

    It became obvious while reading Transcendence and Violence by John D’Arcy May for review that I could not do full justice to May. His publications are many and his knowledge of Christianity in its Theological, Missiological and Intellectual aspects so far exceeds mine, let alone his knowledge of Buddhism, that it makes him so “Other” to me. Yet Otherness and its value is in some sense the essence of this book. It is possible to read it with both hate and exhilaration, for it is a demanding book but one can, through it, glimpse the possibility of broader perspectives in the global religious realm.

    His thesis is that the Religions, both Universal and Primal, are very viable vehicles for creating a world of peaceful co-existence and mutual benefit, precisely because of their appreciation of Transcendence, i.e. their appreciation and respect for the Other, provided that the Religions concerned are not absolutized into a superiority. TCPC Points 1 and 2 nestle into this idea.

    There is resonance too, in this book to other TCPC Points, albeit in a wider context, e.g. TCPC Point 5: With respect to interreligious encounters he says “the understanding that transcends diff erences and precludes violence becomes possible … to the extent that the ethical has precedent over the cognitive, justice over truth.” And again, “The spirituality of a religion may be measured by the ethical quality of its relation with other religions.” But he states that the Religion’s attitude towards human suff ering must compliment this: “To be indifferent to the suff ering of the poor is to be atheistic.” (TCPC Point 7)

    The book contains interesting material on Primal Religions especially Australian Aboriginal religion, (May was born in Australia but is now at the Irish School of Ecumenics in Dublin) and Melanesian Cargo Cults. We can all relate to Primal Religions with their emphasis on local sacred places of signifi cant past event. Much of our religious life is strengthened by “Primal Sympathy” (Wordsworth Ode to Immortality) and inspirational places and people, see for instance Elizabeth Sifton’s recent book about her father Reinhold Niebuhr and their summers in Heath, Massachusetts. May states: “primal religion (which) is after all in some sense our religion; the way in which the vast majority of humankind is religious.”

    I am writing this at a time when a Tsunami has taken many lives in South East Asia. Belief in the Transcendence —“in Other beyond Sameness and unavailable for assimilation to ones own identity with ones self ”—as a saving relationship rather than one that does violence, is affirmed in hope by this book.

    David Holt is a retired Episcopal cleric living in New Zealand.

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