BEYOND IDEOLOGY: Religion and the Future of Western Civilization by Ninian Smart

BEYOND IDEOLOGY: Religion and the Future of Western Civilization

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Scotland's gift to California (Univ. of Cal., Santa Barbara), the prolific and engaging Professor Smart, discourses here in his usual unbuttoned style. This is the text of the Gilford Lectures for 1980-81, which Smart delivered in Edinburgh, with the basic aim of fashioning ""a way of using the Christian and Buddhist heritages within the circumstances of modernity and of the global city."" Smart views these two religions as potential components of a ""transcendental pluralism,"" which can serve as a critique of, and complement to, Marxism and other secular ideologies. Smart finds Theravada Buddhism peculiarly appropriate to the contemporary scene because of its rationality and psychological orientation, its characteristically pragmatic and therapeutic slant. On the other hand, in its emphasis on disintegrating the self, Buddhism, he thinks, pays inadequate attention to the sanctity of the person. Biblical theism, by contrast, grounds the importance of humanity in the spectacular concern shown for man by the divine Other. But then Christianity suffers from its entanglement in primitive myths. At any rate, for all their ineffaceable differences, Smart persists in tracing suggestive analogies between the two faiths: bhakti and Protestant piety, the ""higher agnosticism"" of Nco-Platonic thought and the Buddhist refusal to see the ultimate reality in personal terms, Buddhist ""self-naughting"" and Christian kenosis, etc. Buddhism and Christianity both deal with the ""Beyond"" (even if we can't equate nirvana and God). The sticky question of whether the transcendental dimension actually exists can be bracketed, and the historian of religion--in the spirit of another Gifford lecturer, William James--can study its ""manifest powers"" exclusively. Smart writes with the expertise of the highly competent generalist, yet in a way that most laymen can readily follow (save for sporadic outbursts of Sanskrit). He is versatile, thought-provoking--and given to amusing lapses into Americanese. A lively performance.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row