Saturday, September 17, 2016

From Krishna to Christ

Basil Mitchell was a distinguished Christian philosopher who went in the opposite direction of Michael Sudduth. Mitchell was originally a Hindu adherent, via Sufi religious pluralism, but that changed:

In early 1940, still very uncertain of my attitude toward fighting, I was registered as a conscientious objector and waited to be called up for ambulance service…In May of that year, as the German tanks rolled through the Low Countries and then through France, the question became ever more insistent. In that crisis it would need a very sure conviction to justify my refraining from doing what I could toward stopping this palpable evil…I turned to the Gita and searched it earnestly for guidance…but found to my distress that it had no message for me–or rather than it had a message, but none that I could not accept…What, then, was Arjuna to do? How was he to find the duty appropriate to himself? The answer was that he was a Kshatriya, a member of the warrior caste, and the duty of such a man is to fight…I found that I just could not view the matter in these terms. Not only was the concept of duty deriving from one's social status totally irrelevant to my situation, but the underlying philosophy was one I could not accept. I felt profoundly that what was at stake in Europe was (when all the necessary qualification had been made) a fight of good against evil and that the outcome was of momentous importance.  
From that time on, although I did not clearly perceive it, the Sufi influence began to lose its hold on me. I had been compelled to deny, under the pressure of a practical decision, that the same truth was to be found in all religions. The Gita, impressive though it was, represented a view of the world and of our place in it that was not only different from but incompatible with any that I could bring myself to believe or live by. 
What had increasingly led me to be dissatisfied with the essentially monistic philosophy of my Sufi mentors was its failure, as I now saw it, to attach enduring importance to individual persons…My native cast of thought was idealistic, and left to myself, I was liable to rest satisfied with abstractions. But I had been compelled by circumstances to attend to particulars–in the Navy to the needs of particular individuals acting out a particle role in a particular historical situation through the involvement of a particular institution; and, in my personal life, in responding to the demands of a person of very acute observation who had a sharp sense of truth in respect of feelings and their expression. Hence what initially, in my Sufi days,  repelled me in Christianity–its insistence upon the embodiment of the divine in a particular figure who had entered the world at a particular time and place–now seemed to me congruous with what I had learned about the nature and development of human beings. Basil Mitchell, "War and Friendship," K. Clark, ed. Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of 11 Leading Thinkers (IVP, 1993), 29-30, 36-37.

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