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In his 2013 article “The Catholic Writer Today,” Dana Gioia argued that the term “Catholic writer” no longer applies only to card-carrying members of the Church. Among the “three degrees of literary Catholicism,” he wrote, are “cultural Catholics, writers who were raised in the faith and often educated in Catholic schools [and] gradually drifted away.” Though their worldview is markedly Catholic, “their religious beliefs, if they still have any, are often unorthodox.”
One such “cultural Catholic” is George Saunders, author of four collections of short stories and the novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which won the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Saunders, who left the Church in 1972 and became a proponent of Tibetan Buddhism, once said in an interview that he does not “see Christianity and Buddhism as separate; in fact, for me, one picked up where the other left off.” He is one of many former Catholics whose spiritual trajectory gives credence to Pope Benedict’s diagnosis that “the undoing of the Catholic church in the 20th century wouldn’t come from Marxism but from Buddhism.”
Harmony - Christianity - Buddhism - Saunders - Principles
Insofar as he espouses syncretic “harmony” between Christianity and Buddhism, Saunders smudges the fundamental principles that define each. He once said he “feel[s] that our purpose here on earth is to move from a position of strong belief in self (strong ego, anxiety, fear, a sense of permanence) to a Christ-or Buddha-like position of unconditional love and erasure of self and acceptance of the conditionality of all things.” At first, this sounds similar to St. John of the Cross’s depiction of “two ways of going after God: one consists of a departure from all things, effected through a contempt for them; the other, in going out from oneself through self-forgetfulness, which is achieved by the love of God.” But while we might detect hints of Christian mysticism...
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