Sunday, September 09, 2007
  Earning "Merit"

Buddha image being covered with gold leaf

Of course I'd heard about the prevalence of the notion of earning "merit" in Buddhist countries like Thailand, but somehow I'd never realised how deep rooted such an idea would be. I'd imagined that, like the animist encrusting of much African religion, or the selling of indulgences in medieval Europe, it was the sort of overlay on a purer substrate that people would be half-believing, half-apologetic about.

Far from it, the attempt to earn, or more often even to buy, "merit" met us at every turn. Small sheets of gold leaf bought to cover the statues of the Lord Buddha were not primarily to enhance or beautify the image, or the prestige of the community, rather to "earn merit". Sometimes earning merit simply required ritual actions, like ringing the 108 bells at one Wat (teaching temple) often though money was needed, one coin for each of the 108 bronze collecting buckets at another. (Even using the smallest coin available 1 bhat or about 1/2 and NZ cent this would be more that a days wage for an unskilled labourer.)

Kings and princes could earn merit in richer and more magnificent ways, by building Wats or having gigantic Buddhas cast in bronze, or better still gold. Yet despite such a system of earnable merit, life is still uncertain, so every temple has its fortune teller, who for a fee will predict your future.

Put a coin in every bowl to earn "merit"

Of course, there is much that is good and to be admired in Thai Buddhism being in a place where even most of the people seek to follow the Eight Fold Path
  1. Right understanding
  2. Right aspirations
  3. Right speech
  4. Right behaviour
  5. Right living
  6. Right effort
  7. Right attentiveness
  8. Right concentration
has to be better in many ways that being in a Western City where most people follow advice like: "Look out for number one" or "god helps those who help themselves".

Yet watching people who really believe that merit can be bought, with cash or through ritual observance, makes me once again so glad to have been introduced to the God whose amazing grace is poured out precisely on people like me who don't deserve it, and cannot earn it!

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Thursday, July 26, 2007
  Media and Religious Authority
On Tuesday we held an exploratory semi-virtual mini-colloquium on "Media and Religious Authority".
  • Exploratory because the ideas we discussed are not yet written papers
  • Semi-virtual because we were in two places and talked via Skype and phone
  • and only mini because the meeting took under 2 hours (though the Auckland people enjoyed a lunch together as well ;-)
Heidi Campbell has already posted about people's ideas (in her "Media and Religious Authority Colloquium") so I'll only put names+ here. It came out of the 2005 colloquium Virtual Theology which produced the issue of Volume 37:2 November 2005 of the journal Colloquium (see the articles from that here).

On Tuesday the participants were:

  • Paul Teusner (Uniting Church) how Emerging Church bloggers respond to technorati or google blog ranking systems
  • Peter Horsfield (RMIT) new media and religious authority in Australia
  • Ann Hardy
    (University of Waikato) the Exclusive Brethren's attempts to impact the NZ general Election

  • Stephen Garner (ex-University of Auckland now employable) religious authority comic books & graphic novels
  • Tim Bulkeley (Carey Baptist College and University of Auckland) is interested in the role of textual authority in different religious environments
  • Heidi Campbell (Texas A & M) part of her major study of religious blogging
Where to from here?

The group plans to work on these ideas and to hold one or more other "meetings" (this time with a system for sharing things like PPT or pictures as we talk) to engage further with each other's ideas as we finalise the papers for publication. We need to fix a date (or dates if we do some short seminars instead of a day) for the next meeting(s), and we need to find out if others are interested as with half a dozen we are looking at an issue of some journal while if we had another four or so we would think of a book...

So, if you are inerested... drop me a line, who knows our next meeting might include your place as well as Auckland, RMIT and Texas A & M...

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Thursday, January 25, 2007
  Religion & Internet
Stephen pointed to the Religious Studies Review issue on Religion and the Internet (he also kindly emails me about such things which I greatly value, this time he gives a hat tip to When Religion Meets New Media a blog I don't [yet?] subscribe to...)

He also pointed to the 2005 Concilium on "Cyberspace – Cyberethics – Cybertheology". So, it is only fair to add the 2005 issue of Colloquium, to which he and I both contributed! It also has the advantage of putting all the articles online (and at least for now!) open access:

Back to the Future: Virtual Theologising as Recapitulation
Tim Bulkeley

Theology as Virtualising Enterprise
Peter Horsfield

New Zealand Christian Churches Online: Websites, and Models of Authority and Participation
Mary Griffiths and Ann Hardy

Metaphysics, Ontology and the Structural Design Process: Creating a Space for Virtual Converstational Christian Presence
Iain Doherty

Resident Evil: Horror Film and the Construction of Religious Identity in Contemporary Media Culture
Paul Teusner

Hacking with the Divine: A Metaphor Theology-Technology Engagement
Stephen Garner

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