- Reply to Sandra Costen Kunz's "Respecting the Boundaries of Knowledge"
I am gratified by Sandra Costen Kunz's application of my thoughts on boundary constraints and my call for a Buddhist-Christian-science "trilogue" to her work in spiritual formation within the context of Protestant theological education. Over the past fifteen years I have witnessed numerous examples of what process theologians call "creative transformation" in contemporary science-religion dialogue. To this date, creative transformation has occurred mainly among Christian theologians involved in this particular dialogue. But Buddhists are now beginning to engage the natural sciences in serious conversation. Most of this conversation is with the neurosciences because of Buddhism's strong emphasis on meditation and the fact that the physical realities described in scientific theory imply that nature—from the level of quantum events to the larger-scale structures of the universe—is interdependent and "empty" of permanency. I have argued, as has Kunz, that the New Testament reflects this same view of existence. But it is also true that classical Christian theological tradition, which presupposes Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic substance categories, is in conflict with biblical anthropology and portrayals of God. Process theology, science-theology dialogue, and Buddhist-Christian dialogue have clarified the biblical foundations of Christian faith apart from classical theism, at least among Christian liberal theologians. In my view, it is now time to deepen the process of creative transformation occurring in Buddhist-Christian dialogue by including the natural sciences as a third dialogical partner.
Kunz's essay is an example of possibilities of creative transformation and dialogical engagement with the sciences; in her case, the cognitive sciences and Buddhism. She notes that in similarity with most theologians, most scientists are caught up in a Cartesian mind-body dualism. The result is that scientific accounts of mental processes tend to reduce subjective experience to the physical processes occurring in regions of the brain coupled with ignoring what meditators actually say they are experiencing, which scientists sometimes hold to be epiphenomenal. Kunz does not accept this dualism because it not only misrepresents reality, it undercuts the disciplines of spiritual discernment. She argues that combining third-person cognitive [End Page 187] scientific accounts of subjective experiences with Buddhist or Christian first-person descriptions of what is experienced in the disciplines of meditation or contemplative prayer offers a more comprehensive, more accurate account of meditative and contemplative experience. B. Alan Wallace draws a similar conclusion in regard to Buddhist meditation.1
Although acknowledging that Christians have much to learn from Buddhist "discernment practices," distinctively Christian forms of meditation are rooted in the conviction that God's nature as love proclaimed by the historical Jesus is active in any situation. Kunz notes that Christian processes of spiritual discernment engendered by centering and contemplative prayer can be described as "making decisions" that correspond to the sorts of decisions the historical Jesus is portrayed as making in the New Testament: unselfish decisions for the common good. This means that authentic Christian faith is experienced and lived at the boundaries of ordinary conventional concerns. Or, to paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), when God as Jesus experienced God calling a person, God calls that person to his or her death. Sometimes an actual death, but always to life lived at the boundaries beyond mere conventionality. As a Lutheran, I can only agree.
1. B. Alan Wallace, Hidden Dimensions: The Unification of Physics and Consciousness (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). [End Page 188]