Is the Pope Catholic?
In considering the disparaging views on Buddhism in the Pope’s recent book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Donald Lopez identifies their source as “nineteenth-century missionary literature,” which reflects the assumptions of our “colonialist and Orientalist past.” While this is indeed the case, a more immediate source appears to have been much closer to hand. This was the Jesuit scholar Father (later Cardinal) Henri de Lubac, who is mentioned twice in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, (pp. 159 and 174) as an adviser to the Pope. Henri de Lubac is also the author of two books on Buddhism, one of which, La Rencontre du Bouddhisme et de l’Occident (The Meeting of Buddhism and the West) is something of a modern classic, although it has never been translated into English. As a promising young theologian, de Lubac ran afoul of the Vatican in the late 1940s and was unable to publish his theological work. For some years he turned his attention to Buddhism and, despite his scholarly knowledge of the subject, considered it much in the same negative way as his Jesuit predecessors. During the Second Vatican Council, de Lubac encouraged the Pope (then Archbishop of Krakow) “to persevere in the line of thought” that he had taken in the drafting of the document “Gaudium et Spes.” “From that moment on,” recalls the Pope, “I enjoyed a special friendship with Father de Lubac.” While it is possible that the two men never discussed Buddhism—de Lubac died in 1992, before the Pope began working on his book—it is probable that the Pope’s book was influenced by de Lubac’s views.
Barbara Roether’s article [“The Heartbeat Sutra: Chaos Theory, Karma, and other Fluctuations,” Summer 1995] is a disservice both to science and to Buddhism. It is part of a long tradition of forced connections between physics and religion.
Theosophists in turn-of-the-century America were inspired in part by the recent discovery of radio waves. They drew upon Maxwell’s old picture of electromagnetic waves traveling in a medium, the “aether” (now known as ether), to justify belief in extrasensory perception. In fact, they adopted the term medium to denote a person who facilitates supernatural phenomena. Clever experiments by Michelson and Morley demonstrated, however, that ether did not exist. And Einstein’s theory of special relativity showed that ether was neither needed nor desirable in the theory of electromagnetism. Unfortunately, these scientific discoveries did little to diminish belief in the occult.
Since the 1970s, much has been said about how quantum mechanics supposedly confirms various Eastern religions. Capra’s The Tao of Physics exemplifies this sort of thinking. Many different connections are made, but in general the idea seems to be that quantum mechanics liberates us from classical, deterministic (read “bad”) Newtonian mechanics. Suddenly all things are possible—at least, that is the popular conception. Vacuum fluctuations are seen as manifestations of Buddhist concepts of form and emptiness. Physical symmetries realize I Ching hexagrams. In reality, quantum mechanics is an incredibly precise mathematical theory that makes concrete predictions. There is nothing vague about it at all. The Schrödinger equation is just as deterministic as the equations of motion of Newtonian mechanics. For example, the different wavelengths at which hydrogen atoms emit and absorb light can be computed with great accuracy and agree with experiment. To see great mysteries in the statistical aspects of quantum theory is a delusion.
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