At the end of the discussion under “Theo-Anthropology and the Essence of Christianity,” we temporarily got caught up in a dire internecine struggle over the specifics of schools or sects of Buddhism in relation to the Hegelian critique of Christian theology. (Casualties were taken on all sides, but, for now, a ceasefire is in place, while a little blind lick-happy elderly toy poodle wanders across the battlefield seeking tasty treats.)
To discuss Buddhism (or any other great religion or philosophy) on the same level as we were discussing Christianity, we would need to be able to refer to a mythic essence of Buddhism, as opposed to the specifics of a particular practice or interpretation.
To review, I have discussed the assertion that there is a fundamental conceptual structure or central myth of Christianity whose implications become real in and as history – anthropology overcoming theology. From this perspective the essential Christianity would be something other than any display of piety, ritual observance, sectarian label, or statement of belief in the reality of a particular secondary myth (virgin birth, resurrection, Bible = inspired word of God, etc.). We do not need to insist on a religion-without-religion as the “real” religion: Anthropology overcoming theology implies the end of religion as well as the end of history. The apocalypse returns via atheism, which reveals Revelation as an intimation within religion of its own, religion’s, destruction. The “world” in religious prophecy turns out to be religion in the world. The End Times become the Last Gasp. Witnessing and Day of Judgment are conjoined and conceptually inverted as an Era of Impeachment.
In this context, so-called post-Christian Western and global civilization can be understood as still essentially Christian, epistemologically Christian, whether or not individuals identify in their own minds with the religion. The perspective further tends to imply that self-styled enemies of Christianity will remain essentially Christian or “Christianized.” Finally, it implies that Christianity – secretly to most Christians but made apparent in the history of Christian/Post-Christian civilization and for reasons explicated by Kojève – is the first modern atheist faith, a notion it’s taken a couple of thousand years to begin to get used to.
So in a discussion at this level of abstraction, it’s immaterial whether a democratical Protestantism or a hierarchical Catholicism presents a truer image of real, existing Christianity. All cats are black, Marxism is Christianity, theism is atheism, in this midnight. Each ideological position is informative in regard to an inevitable moment in the broad collective work of extenuation and expiation for the collective murder of God (a mass murder of gods, actually): His (their) never-having-existed is the chief argument for the defense, even if making that argument may satisfy a jury of our guilt.
One thousand years ago, the verdict could get you burned at the stake. Today, it hardly gets you attention on the internet, and sells books in decently large numbers if properly marketed. It seems, at least here, that anthropology is overcoming theology.
As for Buddhism and other non-Christianities, the question for this discussion is whether there is an essence of Buddhism or other non-Christian systems, whether that essence or its realization evolves or is Christianized under the broadly-Christian hegemony of this long phase of world history.
To me, the central myth of Buddhism, from which everything else derives, is that of the individual who leaves society, in a sense leaves common reality itself (performing a superhuman feat of meditation), attains enlightenment, then brings it back. The message is already contained within his departure and return, and would therefore be twofold, putting paradoxical demands on the Buddhist: To go all the way away, and fully arrive here. So some Buddhist practices seem to stress renunciation and result in quietism, while others seem to qualify renunciation in various ways – allowing or perhaps requiring the Buddhist to serve and minister to others, to live a full normal life, and even to get involved in politics, but without offering a full-fledged rationale for the social order (the culture-state) as an end in itself.
I’ve repeatedly mentioned Hegel’s critique of Eastern religion, so the question might be how history or essences unknown or unrecognizable to the philosopher impact upon his views, which I’ll summarize as follows: Eastern religion – including Buddhism by implication – is one-sidedly inward in its emphases: Since the inward experience is alone essential for it, the relationship to the outside (society, state, politics) becomes non-essential and arbitrary. Historically, therefore, the polities of the East built up in accordance with such a religious-philosophical outlook have tended to stagnate and degenerate, and eventually become vulnerable to outsiders. Put differently, the religion-philosophy contributes little to history and offers little defense against history because it does not care to be actualized in the world on the level of the state, which is the primary engine of history. Furthermore, according to Hegel, this form of belief leads to destruction when consequentially actualized (in the West), though he is referring in this respect to revolutionary fanaticism that can never find a real order that perfectly corresponds to its unreal abstractions, not to Buddhist priests doing good works or Hindu politicians running for office.
Two questions for believers in/practitioners of Eastern religions/disciplines: 1) What have CK and Hegel (or CK’s Hegel) missed – that is, what better defines an essence of Buddhism or other related non-Christian religion? 2) To whatever extent Hegel (or CK’s Hegel) has things essentially right, what must Buddhism/The East become in our time?