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Religion and Catholicism in The Razor's Edge

Saying that everyone is a success, as was done by Maugham, is like saying that the superman can do no wrong. Even though a member of the herd might lead a bad life as a whole by failing to see that there is no such thing as an evil act, the superman would never do so. The only way to make sense of such statements is to deny that there is any wrong to be done(see). Saying with Maugham that one is a success regardless of what he or she may have done with his or her life can only make sense on the assumption that there is no objective measure by which the value of an individual's life can be judged as being good, better, or best.

Without some objective standard we cannot even say that the person's life is <relatively> good, better, or best with respect to the life of another individual. As Maugham is at pains to point out, regardless of what anyone did or didn't do in the story, everyone led a life of equal value with respect to everyone else. Not only were all the characters successful, but they were all equally successful, regardless of how disrespectable some of the characters may appear to some more traditional religious believers.

Templeton, for example, one of the leading characters in the novel, is as ultimately deserving of respect as is Larry. And Sophie—poor, miserable Sophie—is as ultimately right and honorable as any of the other women in the story despite the fact that they ended up with husbands, money, and social position. What Maugham has given us is a kind of naturalistic morality play, reminiscent of the Medieval morality plays, but with a different world-view.

The question is, What can we say concerning the positive nature of such a world-view? Both Maugham and Nietzsche affirm the value of human life, while simultaneously denying the existence of any spiritual dimension to human life. I think it is proper to ask, Which part of this duality is truly special and distinctive to their <Weltanschauung?> The answer would seem to be the negative half. The main reason for saying this is that there have been, and continue to be, other <Weltanschauungen> which would affirm both parts of the statement simultaneously.

Imagine a situation in which we are encouraged to maintain a yes-saying, accepting attitude towards human life, love, and interrelationships on earth, while simultaneously being encouraged to think in terms of an eternal existence for each human being regardless of how well he or she lives his or her life in the ordinary material world of sense experience. An important part of this world-view would be the existence of a transcendent God who has both built into our natures and who has given us a direct revelation on how we must think and behave in order to be happy forever with God in a new dimension of human existence.

(NOTE FROM THE WANDERLING: for a possible clarification of an answer to the above last paragraph, please see: Good and Evil in Zen Enlightenment)

The logic of the situation does not demand that we take this as true. I am not saying that we must accept this world-view, but only that we at least entertain it as a possible alternative to the completely naturalistic world-view of Maugham and Nietzsche. If we do so we can see that what sounds positive and affirmative in their view is, from a broader perspective, really a negation. Their position is based upon the retention of what others would also affirm in conjunction with the denial of something else. What sounds like a universal affirmation is really a partial negation. What is presented in language as an open-minded, unlimited acceptance of anything and everything is really a rejection of something which is perhaps even more comprehensive and profound than that which is energetically and emotionally embraced.

This is the only point I wish to make. When we hear someone bending over backwards to sound positive, so much so that he or she goes out of his or her way to avoid saying anything which sounds restrictive or negative with respect to the individual acts we are allowed to perform, we should at least suspect that an attempt is being made to camouflage the real meaning of the statements. The promiscuous acceptance of all actions done by others without passing judgment or condemnation by the speaker, and the hurt feeling projected by the speaker when someone else does not affirm his or her actions, whatever they may be, with the same magnanimity, is in reality a denial of any objective foundation for personal guilt feelings.

In reality the proper intellectual setting and context for the positive statement is one of nonexistence rather than existence, namely, the nonexistence of an independent measure of correct behavior. But rather than speaking in this more accurate way, which can sound very unappealing from the rhetorical viewpoint, the advocates of this position often prefer to talk in a positive way, thereby covering over the true meaning of their words. As listeners, though, we should be aware of what is happening, with the consequence that the next time we hear someone saying "I accept all" we will know to translate the talk into "I indiscriminately accept all that's left after I've rejected much more."



ADDENDUM: the Wanderling adds two cents...

Many years ago I lived in a former British island colony in the Caribbean. When the British ran the island, in the capitol, there was a people's commons they called Parade. It was a huge grass area they kept immaculately preened for their parades and various pomp ceremonies. After the British relinquished colony status, island folk from the hinterlands and elsewhere began using Parade to set up and sell their wares, turning it into a giant outdoor bazaar they called Jubliee Market or in the songs of the islands, Solas Market. The outdoor bazaar atmosphere was exotic in it's own way...the sights, sounds, the colors and general milieu...all thrown together and crawling with pickpockets, higglers, vagrants and just plain folk trying to make a buck or garner a bargin. However the vendors would continue to haul in loads and loads of stuff, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, various animals to turn into meat, that sort of thing. The only thing is they never bothered to cart off any of the leftover residue and castoff garbage. It piled up and up into huge heaps, attracting flies, rats and other animals and insects, besides stinking to high heaven.

I lived high in the Blue Mountains in a jungle secluded cliff-side overlook pushing close to a mile above the capitol. Every morning I got up and cleaned my OWN room, but wouldn't go down into the city and clean Parade.

The Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Hui-neng, refers to the twofold process of letting go of past misdeeds and guarding against future ones, tasks to be performed by ourselves alone. Our Original Nature is NOT the source of our problems but rather of their solution. "Repentance" described by the Sixth Patriarch in his writings DOES NOT REQUIRE ANOTHER TO WHOM OUR APPEAL IS DIRECTED, NOR ANYONE FROM WHICH FORGIVENESS IS RECEIVED. Although it involves a vow for the deliverance of an infinite number of sentient beings, the vow is similarly explained as being self-directed:

"Learned Audience, all of us have now declared that we vow to deliver an infinite number of sentient beings; but what does that mean? It does not mean that I, Hui-neng, am going to deliver them. And who are these sentient beings within our mind? They are the delusive mind, the deceitful mind, the evil mind, and such like minds --- all these are sentient beings. Each of them has to deliver himself by means of his own essence of mind. Then the deliverance is genuine."

The ultimate refuge, then, lies not beyond us, but rather in our Original Nature; each should take refuge in the Buddha within. No reference is made to any other Buddhas: "hence if we do not take refuge in the Buddha of our own Mind-essence, there is nowhere else for us to go." In this respect Hui-neng is in perfect accord with the teachings of Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of Zen.

People can do and what they will, with Buddhism, Zen, or anything else...even clean their own rooms or let the garbage pile up.(source)

Their Role in the Awakening Experince








1. William Somerset Maugham

---THE RAZOR'S EDGE (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1944), p. 141.

2. <Ibid.>, p. 183.

3. <Ibid>., p. 184.

4. <Ibid.>, p. 275.

5. <Ibid.>, p. 323.

6. See <The Will to Power>, III, 646-647. For someone who largely talked to himself during his own life-time, Nietzsche has had an extraordinary readership in the twentieth century. I suspect that this is more because he expressed a deep feeling for the problem of maintaining morality without God than because he supplied any sort of well-balanced solution to the problem.

7. <The Twilight of the Idols: Or How to Philosophize with the Hammer>, X, 14.

8. <What Nietzsche Means> (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U. Press, 1941), p. 374. Can Nietzsche's views be used to justify dictatorships? Let's recall that neither Plato, nor Aristotle, nor Epicurus had any trouble justifying slavery, while the Hindus have taken the caste system for granted for thousands of years. We must also note that, insofar as Plato and Aristotle emphasized the singularity of intellect in setting apart superior people, Nietzsche was not entirely with them. In this regard he was closer to Epicurus who emphasized bodily pleasure and power.

9. <Beyond Good and Evil>, #260. Earlier, in section 257, at the beginning of chapter 9 on "What Is Noble?," Nietzsche gives us a concise summary of his whole view on his new religion: The truth is hard, and so must be the men who live by it. In recent years feminists have adopted a similar attitude.

10. <Ibid.>, #36-37. For Nietzsche the world in itself is completely meaningless. No meaning can be <found> in it, not even by science. In order to reinforce this position, and especially in opposition to Judaeo-Christianity, he insisted upon the cyclical nature of change, after the fashion of some of the Greeks, in order to prevent anyone's finding any meaning in the world because it had a beginning, middle, and some definite end. Everything must forever return to itself and repeat itself.

11. <The Joyful Wisdom>, Preface to the Second Edition of 1887.

12. On this see M. L. Cozens, <A Handbook of Heresies> (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1928). Since a heresy (a deviation) presupposes an orthodoxy (a positive position), and since those who follow the "accepting all" world-view deny that there can be any such thing as an objectively correct doctrine, the very idea of heresy would make no sense to them.

13. <Zen and Western Psychotherapy: Nirvanic Transcendence and Samsaric Fixation>
Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal
by Sandra A. Wawrytko
Vol.4 July, 1991

The above article, edited and presented for our purposes here by the Wanderling was written by: F. F. Centore, an Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome's College, University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. He received a Ph.D. in philosophy from St. John's University in New York.

This article was taken from the Fall 1990 issue of 13. Faith and Reason available from Christendom Press, 2101 Shenandoah Shores Road, Ft. Royal, VA 22630