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View Diary: Atheist Digest '10, The believers' path to Atheism (212 comments)

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  •  I dunno. (4+ / 0-)
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    WIds, bigjacbigjacbigjac, crose, XNeeOhCon

    "Religion" is a European word for a concept created in Europe. It shouldn't be surprising that it's a more questionable fit for non-European belief systems.

    I wouldn't call Buddhism a science, either, but given that it does not necessarily include supernaturalist beliefs, it's at least not self-evidently a religion.


    Academics in religion departments, meanwhile, have a vested interest in making the category "religion" as overwhelmingly broad as they possibly can. I find such definitions are often utterly useless, as all too often they drag in massive proportions of human endeavor within the category "religion." That dilutes the meaning of "religion" entirely.

    The belief systems that clearly fit within the category "religion," as that word is commonly understood—e.g., Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism—have important things in common that other belief systems—e.g., rationalism, agnosticism, Keynesian economic theory—do not. It is simply useful, when discussing and debating things like Christianity and Islam, to have a word that applies to the category of belief systems that share those important characteristics. Pretending that rationalism or Keynesianism are "religions" makes it at the very least harder to have those discussions. From a standpoint of skepticism toward the value of religion, that makes "religion" harder to fight. And it's hard to avoid wondering if that isn't precisely the point of defining it broadly: to paralyze criticism.

    •  What? (0+ / 0-)

      given that it does not necessarily include supernaturalist beliefs, it's at least not self-evidently a religion.

      Buddhism is about liberation from the cycle of rebirth, that can be attained by enlightenment.  How is that not a supernatural idea?

      The belief systems that clearly fit within the category "religion," as that word is commonly understood—e.g., Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism—have important things in common that other belief systems—e.g., rationalism, agnosticism, Keynesian economic theory—do not.

      1.  "Belief" is a key category of how Americans conceive of religion.  It is a Christian and particularly Protestant conception.  It is not necessarily the primary characteristic of Asian religions, including Hinduism.
      1.  Buddhism shares key things with those other religions: it has supernatural revelation.  It has scriptures.  It has a foundation story/myth.  It describes how the world works.  It has a monastic class.  It has rituals.

      The idea that Buddhism is a philosophy is part of how it is sold to Americans: you don't have to convert!  It's not a religion, it's a philosophy!  Many American Buddhists think this.  If you actually study Buddhism -- sutras and writings not written for Americans or Western audiences -- you learn that one precept of Buddhism is "skillful means".  This essentially says that bringing people to the path of Buddhism is so important and useful to them, that you can lie to them.  

      Thus, you give people the form of Buddhism they can use: if they're not up for the best form (always defined by the sect as that sect's form), you give them a form they can follow.  The logic is, it's better than nothing, and perhaps in a later life, they will be capable of higher attainment.

      So Buddhism is sold to Americans as philosophy.  I defy you to show me any other philosophy that has monks, nuns, temples, and chanting.

      My comments may not be used for any purpose without explicit permission.

      by cai on Mon Aug 23, 2010 at 01:00:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What? indeed. (0+ / 0-)

        Buddhism is about liberation from the cycle of rebirth, that can be attained by enlightenment.  How is that not a supernatural idea?

        That is one synopsis of Buddhism. It is not unanimously held, and it is entirely possible to interpret Buddhism in a wholly naturalistic manner.


        What is Buddhism?
        Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development leading to Insight into the true nature of life. Buddhist practices such as meditation are means of changing oneself in order to develop the qualities of awareness, kindness, and wisdom. The experience developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years has created an incomparable resource for all those who wish to follow a path — a path which ultimately culminates in Enlightenment or Buddhahood.

        Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshipping a creator god, some people do not see it as a religion in the normal, Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical: nothing is fixed or permanent; actions have consequences; change is possible. Thus Buddhism addresses itself to all people irrespective of race, nationality, or gender. It teaches practical methods (such as meditation) which enable people to realise and utilise its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives and to develop the qualities of Wisdom and Compassion.

        There are around 350 million Buddhists and a growing number of them are Westerners. They follow many different forms of Buddhism, but all traditions are characterised by non-violence, lack of dogma, tolerance of differences, and, usually, by the practice of meditation.

        - Friends of the Western Buddhist Order


        It is unquestionably true that an overwhelming proportion of real-world Buddhists believe things that are unavoidably supernatural. (Millions of Mahāyāna Buddhists also believe in entities that are not meaningfully distinguishable from gods, too.) So there is plenty to real-world, as opposed to theoretical, Buddhism that is clearly religious. But my assertion was that it isn't self-evidently so. And it isn't.


        "Belief" is a key category of how Americans conceive of religion.  It is a Christian and particularly Protestant conception.

        Indeed. And in light of the fact that the word and concept "religion" was invented in Europe, by (possibly pre-Christian pagans and) Christians, that makes a whole lot of sense.

        The ivory-tower notion that "religion" applies to belief systems that aren't supernaturalist is (1) directly at odds with the manner in which the word is actually used (check that dictionary definition again) and (2) a notably effective way to protect religion from criticism.


        The idea that Buddhism is a philosophy is part of how it is sold to Americans: you don't have to convert!  It's not a religion, it's a philosophy!  Many American Buddhists think this.

        Indeed. Which rather proves my point. If Buddhism is, contra me, self-evidently supernaturalist, how do you explain how that's not evident to them?


        This essentially says that bringing people to the path of Buddhism is so important and useful to them, that you can lie to them.

        C'mon, now. Haven't we had enough about Taqiyya in the Park51 threads?

        Buddhism is practiced and understood in different ways in different places. That you consider the Buddhism of "skillful means" wielders real Buddhism, as opposed to the "fake" Buddhism practiced by Westerners, does not make it so. It is simply not self-evident that one school is more authentic than another.


        I defy you to show me any other philosophy that has monks, nuns, temples, and chanting.

        Uh... Catholicism? ("Temples" is a slight stretch, but not a huge one.)

        I'm not sure where you get the notion that "philosophy" and "religion" are mutually exclusive categories. I didn't even assert that Buddhism was a philosophy, because it seems to me irrelevant.


        My religion professor did not consider rationalism, agnosticism, or Keynesian economic theory religions.

        Uh, okay. Meanwhile, plenty of academic defitions of "religion" do precisely that. So... one vote to the contrary, I guess.

      •  misrepresentation (0+ / 0-)

        "skillful means".  This essentially says that ... you can lie to them.  Thus, you give people the form of Buddhism they can use

        Bullshit. Is it lying to 3rd graders to teach them arithmetic instead of calculus?  Is it lying to children to teach them ethics instead of Tantra?

    •  P.S. -- My religion professor (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      WIds

      did not consider rationalism, agnosticism, or Keynesian economic theory religions.  They're not.  Buddhism is.  If you think otherwise, you do not know enough about Buddhism.

      My comments may not be used for any purpose without explicit permission.

      by cai on Mon Aug 23, 2010 at 01:04:58 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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