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5.4: Generic Virtues and Vices of Each Way

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    It is now time to become more specific. To what extent is it possible to identify traits of religious practice within each of the six ways of being religious that characterize that way at its best and traits that characterize that way at its worst? What follows is my attempt to answer this question, making use of the three parameters identified above: competence/incompetence, balance of finitude and infinitude, and selflessness/egoism. I list as well a characteristic weakness in the competent practice of each way-the shadow side of its strength, as it werefrom which develop its characteristic vices. It is important to keep in mind that these are virtues and vices in the practice of generic ways of being religious; hence they are generic, commonsense virtues and vices of religious practice that are not specifically formulated in terms of any one religious tradition. In addition to them there may be, specific to each religious tradition, further virtues and vices or further nuances of these generic virtues and vices. It is also important to keep in mind that they are not meant to cover the field of religious ethics, nor even the field of commonsense generic religious ethics (so far as there is such a thing). Here they pertain strictly to qualitative variation in the practice of different ways of being religious.

    THE WAY OF SACRED RITE

    Basic description: Participation in the sacred archetypal patternso through which ultimate realityo is manifest, by means of symbolic ritual enactments or presentations that enable participants repeatedly to enter their presence, attain at-onement for the moment with them, and thereby establish and renew their sense of meaningful order, identity, and propriety. It is typically communal rather than individual.

    CHARACTERISTIC VIRTUES OR EXCELLENCES OF PRACTICE

    CHARACTERISTIC VICES OR DEGENERATIONS OF PRACTICE

    1. Competence: Sensible to archetypal form; possesses a developed aesthetic sense; graceful and decorous; keenly sensible to timing; master of the art of participating in sacred ritual; master of ritual detail and the art of choreographing ritual action; thoroughly acquainted with and possesses a lively sense of and an ability to enter into and interpret the basic stories and symbols of the tradition.
    2. Balance of finitude and infinitude: Possessed of profound awe and reverence in the presence of the sacred' as archetypal form while realistically appreciating the fmite conditions of its lively mediation; freshly sensible to archetypal patternS' as transcendent to, though disclosed through, finite and familiar symbolic forms; reappropriates timeworn forms with freshness and creative imagination; sensible to what is important and what is not; composed in the face of small crises that occasionally occur in the midst of sacred ritual.
    3. Selflessness: Sincerely involved in sacred worship for its own sake; ready to enter fully into collective ritual activity for the sake of the group; open to being challenged and changed by participation in sacred ritual; humbly regards ritual status as service and as meriting no special recognition or advantage over others; ready to help the least participant enter fully into sacred worship.
    1. Shadow side of competence: Ready to treat all problems as calling for resolution through participation in sacred ritual; tends to overstructure activities and events; overly conservative.
    2. Incompetence: Insensible to archetypal form; lacking a developed aesthetic sense; uncognizant of religious kitsch (religious art that manifests no genuine aesthetic sensibility); ignorant of basic stories and symbols of the tradition, lacking a lively sense of them, or unable to enter into and interpret them to others; ignorant of ritual proprieties; awkward, uncertain, or fumbling in ritual performance; prone to ritual mistakes and improprieties.
    3. Imbalance: Loss of finitude: Idolatrous toward ritual form and symbol, where secondary symbols and ritual details are identified with sacred meaning as opposed to being its vehicle and mediator; absolutely closedminded to consideration of creative variations or alternative ritual forms.
    4. Imbalance: Loss of infinitude: Merely perfunctory or wooden in the execution of ritual; preoccupied with ritual detail, or variation of ritual form, at expense of enabling participants' access to the sacred archetypeso; uncreative in repeating time-worn symbolic forms; insensible to the sacred' in and through the symbols; lacking awe and reverence for the transcendent dimension of the sacred archetypal patternso; discomposed in the face of small crises of ritual detail.
    5. Egoism: Making use of sacred rite, sacred symbols, or the prerogatives of ritual status to promote profane mundane interests, material advantage, or other egoistic interests whether at the individual or community level; unwilling to enter fully and sincerely into the collective ritual activity of the group and be challenged and changed by it.

    THE WAY OF RIGHT ACTION

    Basic description: The concerted effort to bring all of life, individual and communal, into conformity with the way things are ultimately supposed to beo (however understood)-that is, to realize and fulfill the sacred intendedness of lifeo-that promises individual fulfillment, social justice, and the embodiment of divine idealityo in the midst of mundane, this-worldly life.

    CHARACTERISTIC VIRTUES OR EXCELLENCES OF PRACTICE

    CHARACTERISTIC VICES OR DEGENERATIONS OF PRACTICE

    1. Competence: Master of the art of implementing and living out the ideal divine pattern of lifeo; decisive; courageous; steadfast; a clear sense of what is right and fitting; undeterred by social opposition; proactive versus reactive; realistically in touch with concrete obstacles and opportunities; effectively critical of the status quo; master of the arts of teaching morality and exercising moral leadership.
    2. Balance of finitude and infinitude: Passionately committed to the implementation of the divine ideal" but not overly serious (maintains a sense of humor); ready to recognize and admit mistakes but confident of the possibility to change and start anew; committed to justice but with a generosity of spirit that can show mercy and forgive; courageous and composed in doing what is appropriate and sensing what is important in the face of major obstacles and otherwise discouraging prospects.
    3. Selflessness: Selfless action; identified with the welfare of all; sincere in doing what is right for its own sake and free of ulterior motivation (especially egoistic motivation); committed to ongoing moral growth and improvement; never treats others as mere means to one's ends; free from resentment and not (overly) defensive about oneself or one's reputation; open to criticism of oneself and one's project (and group openness to criticism of itself and its projects); concerned to help others see for themselves what is right.
    1. Shadow side of competence: Ready to treat all problems as solvable by bringing individual and communal life into conformity with the divine ideal"; frenetic activity, doing things with little or no inward centering or reflection.
    2. Incompetence: Indecisive; lacking courage; of wavering or mixed motivation; ignorant or unclear as to what is right and fitting; overly concerned about what others will think; reactive versus proactive; insufficiently realistic as to the circumstances in which one must act; uncognizant of the moral shortcomings of the status quo; unable to convey to others a sense for what is right and fitting.
    3. Imbalance: Loss of finitude: Perfectionist; over serious; radically utopian with little or no sense of the concrete obstacles to implementation; failing to distinguish one's finite will and plan (or that of one's group) from divine idealityo itself; unready to recognize one's own mistakes, to change, or to start anew; uncognizant of what lies outside one's frame of reference.
    4. Imbalance: Loss of infinitude: Legalistic; preoccupied with detail at expense of moral substance; obsessed with the letter of obligation at the expense of the right spirit; uncritically repetitious of the precepts of the tradition without thought or fresh reappropriation.
    5. Egoism: Morally hypocritical or pretentious; doing what on the surface is right and appropriate but primarily (or strictly) for the sake of some ulterior egoistic motive or material advantage; identified with the welfare of some at the expense of others; ready to treat others as mere means for one's ends; overly defensive about oneself or one's reputation; nursing of resentment or of desire for revenge; unconcern for others' need to see for themselves what is right.

    THE WAY OF DEVOTION

    Basic description: Cultivation of a personal relationship to ultimate realityo of wholehearted adoration, devotional surrender to itso transforming grace, and trust in itso rovidential care, anticipating in return an influx of sustaining energy, hope; and a sense of affirming presence or at-onement. It typically involves a conversion experience and emotional purgation.

    CHARACTERISTIC VIRTUES OR EXCELLENCES OF PRACTICE

    CHARACTERISTIC VICES OR DEGENERATIONS OF PRACTICE

    1. Competence: In touch with deeper feelings (one's own as well as others'); discerning of feelings; fully acquainted with the processes of personal conversion and devotional surrender, what occasions them, and how they should be guided; master of the art of pastoral counseling;
    2. Balance of finitude and infinitude: Love of ultimate realityo coupled with appropriate, penultimate care for finite realities and finite duties; simply trustful of providence (readiness to "Let go and let God") coupled with a readiness to do what one is in one's power; inwardly devotionally surrendered coupled with outward autonomy; at ease with the whole range of feelings and able to help others be at ease with feelings, yet not wholly subject to the sway of feelings; sensible to what is important and what is not, what is deep and what is only on the surface.
    3. Selflessness: Sincere of heart; committed to ongoing personal transformation through surrender to the providential grace of ultimate realit)f; possessed of a "generosity of soul" that includes and welcomes others within its circle of friendship; compassionate and sympathetic toward others; appropriately responsive to others' feelings; a good listener; able to let others have their own feelings.
    1. Shadow side of competence: Ready to treat all problems as solvable through devotional surrender to the providential grace of ultimate realityo; unreflectively trustful of feeling; passive.
    2. Incompetence: Out of touch with one's own feelings (or "having no feelings"); fickle (inconstant, changeable, capricious); caught up with superficial feelings of devotion but not yet given over to deep surrender; distrustful of feeling or of devotional surrender; of the supposition that one can pursue this way on one's own or in one's own strength; pastorally responsible for others but insensitive to others' feelings (unempathetic); lacking understanding of the processes of personal conversion and devotional surrender.
    3. Imbalance: Loss of finitude: Passionate in an intense, otherworldly way that eclipses into insignificance or disvalues all mundane concerns and the importance of others' feelings; failing to distinguish powerful feelings of ultimate realityo from ultimate realityo itself; wholly subject to the sway of powerful religious emotions.
    4. Imbalance: Loss of infinitude: Overly sentimental and emotional; enamored with cultivating feelings for their own sake (at the expense of theological depth or breadth), with little or no connection with ultimate realityo; imitating secondhand feelings and the appearance of devotional surrender, without genuineness or substance.
    5. Egoism: Insincere of heart; self-centered; insensitive to the feelings and emotional struggles of others; manipulative of religious affections (whether one's own or others') to promote egoistic motives or material advantage.

    THE WAY OF SHAMANIC MEDIATION

    Basic description: Entry into altered states of consciousness in which persons become mediators or channels for the intervention of spiritual realityo, in the expectation that "supernatural" (trans-mundane) resources' of imagination, power, and guidance will be released for solving or dealing with otherwise intractable problems of life. Expressed through phenomena such as "possession trance," "oracular utterance," "ecstatic vision," and/or "spirit journeying," it seeks at-onement with ultimate realityo in what is taken to be itso readiness to bring about healing, well-being, and fulfillment for the world.

    CHARACTERISTIC VIRTUES OR EXCELLENCES OF PRACTICE

    CHARACTERISTIC VICES OR DEGENERATIONS OF PRACTICE

    1. Competence: Mastery of the spirit realm mastery over oneself vis-a-vis the spirit realm; discernment of spirits (distinguishing good from bad or evil spirits); highly developed imagination; direct, sustained acquaintance with the spirit realm and not just secondhand knowledge that has been acquired from others; acquired charisma that evokes and keeps other persons' trust; developed trust in the processes of shamanic mediation.
    2. Balance of finitude and infinitude: Awesome sense of the mysteries of the spirit worldo coupled with deep appreciation for the fragile beauty and good of the mundane world; openness to and trust in the deep imagination but not indiscriminate trust; composure and confidence with respect to spiritual powerso (yet not overconfident), coupled with appreciation of the arts and crafts of mundane practice (e.g. mundane healing arts); knowledge of one's own limitations coupled with a sense of a shaman's high calling.
    3. Selflessness: Sincerity of commitment to spiritual guidance, healing, and empowerment for the sake of the greater good of the person, the group, and the larger living community (i.e., commitment to so-called "white magic" spiritual power for good); radical honesty and sincerity (freedom from duplicitous motivation); open commitment to spiritual growth and transformation; always treating other persons as spiritual ends in themselves, never as mere means.
    1. Shadow side of competence: Readiness to treat all problems as solvable through shamanic mediation; spiritual impulsiveness and lack of structure.
    2. Incompetence: Lack of basic, sustained acquaintance with the spirit worldo; lack of spiritual discernment; uncognizance of danger, recklessness and foolhardiness (flirting with danger) in relation to the spirit world'; overconfidence in one's mastery of the spirit worldo and of oneself; distrust and skepticism toward the spirit worldo and the processes of shamanic mediation.
    3. Imbalance: Loss of finitude: Inordinate preoccupation with the spirit worldo and shamanic mediation in a way that eclipses mundane concerns and appreciation of mundane practice (e.g. mundane healing arts and technology) and ordinary common sense; indiscriminate trust in "supernatural" powers and spirit guidance (occultism).
    4. Imbalance: Loss of infinitude: Charlatanism and fakery; spiritual adventurism and "power tripping"; shamanic dilettantism; preoccupation with the outer forms and rituals of shamanism with no genuine involvement or personal transformation; loss (or lack) of the sense of the awesome mystery of the the spirit realmo
    5. Egoism: So-called "black magic" or "black sorcery," where supernatural and occult forces, or the appearance thereof, are employed to promote egoistic motives, material advantage, or the detriment of some person or group.

    THE WAY OF MYSTICAL QUEST

    Basic description: Employment of ascetic and meditative disciplines in a deliberate quest to interrupt, slow down, or otherwise break through and become free of,the obscuring limitations of distracting compulsions of ordinary life in order to attain a direct awareness of ultimate realityo, come to be wholly at-one with if, and have life and one's relations with all things become transparently grounded in ito.

    CHARACTERISTIC VIRTIJES OR EXCELLENCES OF PRACTICE

    CHARACTERISTIC VICES OR DEGENERATIONS OF PRACTICE

    1. Competence: Inwardly self-mastered, atone with oneself; profoundly acquainted with the deeper truths of which one's tradition testifies on the basis of personal contemplative experience; master of a path that leads to their personal realization; skillful in the practice of its ascetic and meditative disciplines; master in guiding others along the path.
    2. Balance of finitude and infinitude: Passionately in pursuit of enlightenmento (a direct seeing into, and union with, ultimate realityo that will enable all things to be seen for what they really are and related to in their integrity) by way of practices that anticipate it; diligent in the practice of the relevant disciplines but never confusing the means with the goal; possessed of quiet centeredness and inner simplicity coupled with practical realism; attentive to what is going on both within and without; dispassionate and detached (i.e., free from this-worldly passions and attachments) while still appreciating finite goods in their place; living a life centered upon what is essential, with all else held lightly.
    3. Selflessness: Free of self-preoccupation, pretentiousness, and the distortions of consciousness that arise from the unenlightened self; committed to ongoing spiritual transformation and willing to take on spiritual discipline for its sake when appropriate (i.e., freedom from the presumption to "having arrived"); boundless and compassionate in hospitality of spirit; affirming of each person's need to find and follow his own path at his own pace.
    1. Shadow side ofcompetence: Ready to treat all problems as solvable through mystical spiritual disciplines; quietistic; apathetic toward what lies beyond or outside the mystical quest.
    2. Incompetence: Not inwardly in touch with oneself; inexperienced; reckless and naively venturesome in tackling ascetic disciplines and meditative practices that are inappropriate for·one's present stage of development; offering spiritual advice at second or third hand; lacking in empathy toward others' spiritual growth and ignorant of what is appropriate for them.
    3. Imbalance: Loss of finitude: Wholly other-worldly in outlook; disposed to extreme self-mortification; disdainful of mundane concerns and the welfare of others; tending to confuse the means, or a certain stage of development, with the goal; overserious (possessing no sense of humor); impatient with things beyond one's control.
    4. Imbalance: Loss of infinitude: Characterized by spiritual adventurism and mystical dilettantism-seeking "Mystical Experiences"-with little if any commitment to personal transformation or sincere pursuit of at-onement with ultimate realityo; preoccupied with correct method (the outer forms) of mystical quest at the expense of its substance; characterized by acedia (spiritual boredom, loss of passion for what is higher).
    5. Egoism: Spiritually elitist (disdain for persons who lack spiritual enlightenment); escapist (pursuit of mystical quest as a way of escape from outward problems); exploitative of mystical experiences, lore, or status in service of egoistic motives or material advantage.

    THE WAY OF REASONED INQUIRY

    Basic description: The rational, dialectical struggle to transcend conventional patterns of thinking in the effort to attain understanding of, and consciousness-transforming insight into, the ultimate what, how, and why of thingso-that is, to bring together and unite, so far as possible, mind with the ultimate Mindo and thereby acquire a portion of divine wisdomo. It typically involves systematic study of a tradition's scripture and previous attempts to articulate What is ultimately the caseo.

    CHARACTERISTIC VIRTUES OR EXCELLENCES OF PRACTICE

    CHARACTERISTIC VICES OR DEGENERATIONS OF PRACTICE

    1. Competence: Knowledgeable and learned; master of authoritative scripture and traditional commentaryo; accomplished in intellectual concentration and analysis; patient and skillful in reasoning; adroit in intellectual debate; able to explain things well and simply to others.
    2. Balance of finitude and infinitude: Wise; both theoretically and practically thoughtful; keenly sensitive to the larger picture (comprehensiveness of vision) coupled with appreciation for detailed structure; appreciative of depth, importance, and mystery as well as of breadth, detail, and rigor; sensitive to one's own limitations and ignorance coupled with a passion to seek out understanding of the greatest truthso; sensible that the deepest truthso may transcend straightforward articulation and call for personal transformation to be apprehended and understood rightly.
    3. Selflessness: Intellectually sincere; ready to change and develop one's own thinking further when reason indicates; committed to the pursuit of truth and to making it known for its own sake, even at risk and cost to oneself; self-critical and open to taking in the sound criticism of others; committed to thinking things through for oneself and respectful of the need of others to think things through for themselves; hospitable to others' ideas; patient with the pace of others' understanding.
    1. Shadow side of competence: Ready to treat all problems as calling for an intellectual resolution; intellectualizing without heart.
    2. Incompetence: Ignorant and ready to speak out of ignorance; reliant upon secondhand teachings (that have not been reasoned out and comprehended for oneself; possessed of unreasoned understandings Oacking in mental discipline, inconsistent, prone to logical mistakes, and sloppy in reasoning); inadequately acquainted with the authoritative sourceso and insufficiently learned in traditional commentaryo.
    3. Imbalance: Loss of finitude: Passionately preoccupied with the present focus of one's intellectual quest, one's own ideas, or one's own perspective in a way that eclipses all other concerns, ideas, and perspectives (e.g., in intense intellectual debate); unable to distinguish one's own ideas about ultimate realityo from ultimate realityo itself;unaware and out of touch with one's own limitations and ignorance.
    4. Imbalance: Loss of infinitude: Lacking in passion for ultimate trutho; unready for personal transformation in the quest for wisdom; unable to distinguish the heart of the matter from insignificant details; unable to distinguish genuine explanation from rationalization; intellectually heartless; pedantic; characterized by intellectual nit-picking and hair-splitting; tending to repeat and rehash existing ideas.
    5. Egoism: Intellectually pretentious, intellectually hypocritical, or intellectually dishonest -i.e., using intellectual talent and understanding, or the appearance thereof, to conceal egoistic motivation or pursuit of material advantage; unready to own up to one's own ignorance; overly defensive about one's own ideas and thinking (or those of one's group), or unnecessarily aggressive toward those of other persons or groups.

    This page titled 5.4: Generic Virtues and Vices of Each Way is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dale Cannon (Independent) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.