Sunday, 18 January 2015

The appalling reputation of religion

Ecrasez l'infâme!

In recent weeks we have seen the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the kosher deli massacre, the Quran-inspired atrocities of the Islamic State and the blogger being slowly and sadistically flogged to death for the crime of insulting Islam.  So is it any wonder that young people are becoming increasingly hostile to religion,  and many children have come to  regard religious people as dangerous and threatening?

Obviously the main culprit nowadays is Islam , but you don't need to look too far back into the history of most religions, with the exceptions of Buddhism, Jainism and Anglican Latitudinarianism (with its spin-offs such as Quakerism and Methodism) to find doctrinally mandated intolerance and incitement to genocide, homophobia, anti-intellectualism discrimination etc.   Even the supposedly liberal Pope Francis has recently endorsed physical attacks on blasphemers.  It seems that old habits die hard.

Guilt by association?
So should Buddhism continue to market itself primarily as a religion? Might this attract guilt by association and collateral damage?    Should Buddhism concentrate on its spiritual rather than religious aspects in order to appeal to modern youth?  

The term  'spirituality' is more acceptable among the young than religion (hence the rise of the 'spiritual but not religious' demographic).  In addition, Buddhism could market itself as a psychotherapy and philosophy.


Is philosophy more acceptable than religion?
If Buddhism is referred to as a religion, it needs to emphasise that it is a uniquely special kind of religion - one founded on philosophy.  All other religions are based upon unreproducible instances of 'divine revelation', where unverifiable 'truths' are revealed to one person or a small group of people and claimed to be the word of God, valid for all time.  Critical thinking and doubt are not encouraged.

Hence the sunstroke-induced hallucinatory ramblings, ravings and rantings of a seventh-century psychopathic pedophile are still producing rape, pillage and genocide wherever they are taken literally 1400 years later.  'As dangerous in a man as rabies in dog', to quote Churchill.

The Kalama people of India had many similar charlatans and madmen trying to convert them by claiming their own divinely inspired doctrines were correct, and everybody else was wrong.

One day the Buddha turned up, and the Kalamas asked him why they should believe his teachings rather than all the cult leaders, conmen and false prophets whom they had already seen off.

The Buddha replied:

"It is natural that doubt should arise in your minds.

I tell you not to believe merely because it has been handed down by tradition, or because it had been said by some great personage in the past, or because it is commonly believed, or because others have told it to you, or even because I myself have said it.

But whatever you are asked to believe, ask yourself whether it is true in the light of your experience, whether it is in conformity with reason and good principles and whether it is conducive to the highest good and welfare of all beings, and only if it passes this test, should you accept it and act in accordance with it." 

So the Buddha is making a statement which is found in no other religion. Unlike all other religious leaders he is not claiming a hotline to God, a personal, non-reproducible revelation which appears to him and no-one else.

He was saying:

(1) Do not believe anything on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.


(2) Test the methodology against your own experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.

So maybe Buddhism needs to be marketed to an increasingly skeptical and anti-religious public as...

(1) An empirically testable psychotherapy.
(2) An ethical and humane spirituality'
(3) A belief system built upon a solid philosophical foundation.

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

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