“…It is true, church membership today is higher than ever before, books on religion become best sellers, and more people speak of God than ever before. Yet this kind of religious profession only covers up a profoundly materialistic and irreligious attitude, and is to be understood as an ideological reaction – caused by insecurity and conformism – to the trend of the nineteenth century, which Nietzsche characterized by his famous “God is dead.” As a truly religious attitude, it has no reality.
The abandonment of theistic ideas in the nineteenth century was – seen from one angle – no small achievement. Man took a big plunge into objectivity. The earth ceased to be the center of the universe; man lost his central role of the creature destined by God to dominate all other creatures. Studying man’s hidden motivations with a new objectivity, Freud recognized that the faith in an all-powerful, omniscient God had its root in the helplessness of human existence and in man’s attempt to cope with his helplessness by means of a belief in a helping father and mother represented by God in heaven. He saw that man only can save himself; the teaching of the great teachers, the loving help of parents, friends, and loved ones can help him – but can help him only to dare to accept the challenge of existence and to react to it with all his might and all his heart.
Man gave up the illusion of a fatherly God as a parental helper-but he gave up also the true aims of all great humanisitic religions; overcoming the limitations of an egotistical self, achieving love, objectivity, and humility and respecting life so that the aim of life is living itself, and man becomes what he potentially is. These were the aims of the great Western religions, as they were the aims of the great Eastern religions. The East, however, was not burdened with the concept of a transcendent father-savior in which the monotheistic religions expressed their longings. Taoism and Buddhism had a rationality and realism superior to that of the Western religions. They could see man realistically and objectively, having nobody but the “awakened” ones to guide him, and being able to be guided because each man has within himself the capacity to awake and be enlightened. This is precisely the reason why Eastern religious thought, Taoism and Buddhism – and their blending in Zen Buddhism – assume such importance in the West today. Zen Buddhism helps man to find an answer to the question of his existence, an answer which is essentially the same as that given in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and yet which does not contradict the rationality, realism, and independence which are modern man’s precious achievements. Eastern religious thought turns out to be more congenial to Western rational thought than does Western religious thought itself.”
I have two short points to add. First, this reinforced what my brother told me about Jesus – that he did not begin preaching until he turned 30 and in the interim he was in the East, learning their religion. He returned to incorporate these thoughts with the notion of an omniscient omnipresent God, which does not contradict the Eastern schools at all.
His great contribution is to return to and insist upon what Fromm calls “the true aims of humanistic religions,” a simple goodness, a modest faith, ability to see beyond doctrine and groupthink. He also introduces to Holy Spirit, in John 14:15-18, mitigating the oftentimes paralyzing transcendence of God and tapping the spirits of majesty and power of eternity for all.