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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Advantages of a Non-theistic Perspective

After a particularly absurd Facebook exchange last week regarding the current escalation of violence in the Middle East, I have come to the conclusion that one of the biggest weaknesses of any theistic religion (by which I mean any religion that posits an "embodied" God with whom one has a "personal" relationship) is, in fact, the very God they posit.

I don't believe that people of average intellectual functioning are able to do a very good job of distinguishing between how they interact with their human friends and their friends' needs and the profound lack of needs that any Divine being would have - especially when we factor in the absurd notion of a "personal relationship" with God. Again, to the average person it becomes difficult to distinguish between the relationship they have with their friends and the kind of relationship - if any - possible with a transcendent being. Try as you might to have God over for Cheerios and coffee in the morning, it isn't going to happen. Try as you might to invite God out for a beer after work on Friday, God isn't going to show up. In fact, it is absolutely impossible - and least in the way most people understand what a personal relationship is - to have a personal relationship with a non-human being. It doesn't matter how many times Jesus made it abundantly clear that God doesn't have a body and is in fact Spirit (cf. JN 10), people hear their pastor carry on about a "personal relationship with Jesus" and immediately they plan a party on Saturday night - a classic example of a concept meant to make people better understand Divinity in fact backfiring and leading to all kinds of deluded thought an action. You see, people feel compelled to defend their friends from attack and so they "defend" God from "attack" by those who understand God differently than they do - but what kind of a God could possibly need defending without ceasing to be God?

To me, one of the most appealing aspects of Buddhism is a complete lack of eschatology - talk about "the end times" - largely because to Buddhism the Universe never was born and will never die, it will just manifest differently as causes and conditions change. No Buddhist who understood the perspective of Buddhism could ever justify firing rockets on the Palestine to defend their homeland because (1) Buddhists recognize the interconnectedness of everything and everybody and so understand that to attack another is in fact to attack oneself, and (2) they also recognize that nations and their borders are human constructs that have absolutely no meaning beyond the egos of human beings. Anyone who has ever stepped across any kind of border, from city limits to national boundaries, knows that nothing changes when one crosses a border. The land on one side isn't any different than the land of the other - especially at the border! Similarly, the belief that a truly Diving being - embodied or not - would give a damn about where humans draw borders is absurd! Even more absurd is the unbelievably stupid idea that any Divine being would be less concerned about life than about boundaries, or would be dependent on human action in order to "allow" said Divine being to complete some sort of Divine plan. Such thinking is so dim witted that it is hard to believe anyone who engages in it could toilet themselves without assistance, primarily because they seem to believe the purpose of religion is to transform God by creating the causes and conditions necessary for God to be able to do whatever God wants to do. Could there be a bigger ego trip than that? It seems it doesn't matter how much Jesus spoke directly to our need to love one another and decrease suffering, apparently that is far too mundane for the average "Christian." It is most certainly a function of an ego run amok to believe that, rather than engage in spiritual practice to transform ourselves and  create peace in our time, we have been placed on this planet to be God's very special assistant.

Buddhism, on the other hand, speaks to self-transformation and the dismantling of the ego. In doing so it speaks directly to the seemingly forgotten Christian virtue of humility. Buddhism  points us within, to the task of uncovering our Buddha Nature which has been obscured by lifetimes of crud caked upon that very pristine nature. We become the change we want to see, we become agents of peace rather than conflict, and we come to see that everything changes and everything dies - even nations. We develop the insight to understand that in killing people to save countries we are only hastening the demise of people in an attempt to avoid the unavoidable - the death of our nation. Every nation whether great or small has died, or will die one day - and the same is true of every person. Attempting to interfere in that pattern will only increase suffering without changing outcomes. Awakening to that reality would go a long way to decreasing the violence in our world.


  1. "unbelievably stupid idea", "dim witted", "hard to believe anyone who engages in it could toilet themselves without assistance". While I couldn't agree with you more when it comes to the changes that need to be found in Christian culture and the need for a Buddhist perspective (very glad I found you guys!), I hear some language that indicates an intolerance of others' beliefs. Remember these are people's ideas and whether their ideas are bad or good, it's where they are at present. Anger is OK. Letting the anger influence me or you to speak in a potentially demeaning way about others may hurt us. Just be careful. Karma is very smart.

  2. Actually, I'm not angry at all. One of the disadvantages of the printed word is that it lacks non-verbals. I frequently use hyperbole in my writing, and confess that because I post less in this forum than in others it may take longer for that to be evident. In my opinion, it's difficult to overstate the depth of muddled thought that would lead one to believe that bringing on apocalyptic battles is a good idea.

  3. I think it's important to be able to separate the person, the I AM from the person's ideas. I often mistake the two and am usually sorry. But I'm learning it's also necessary to challenge ideas - from wherever they come - when those ideas are harmful and unloving and unjust.

    I'm all for tolerating other's *right* to belief. We each have a right to believe whatever we want. That right, in and of itself, doesn't make the belief correct or healthy.

    As to the post on the whole - for me, it speaks to why I get disgruntled when people want to accuse me of taking the easy way out by leaving Christianity as it currently exists to search for my own authentic spirituality. When I hear that I just want my ego stroked, there is not limit to the irony. My ego was constantly stroked while I embedded in the Christian culture. We were right because we knew The Truth and they were wrong if they didn't adhere to and believe Our Truth. We were safe and they were not. We were right and they were wrong. We were saved and they were not. We would see heaven and they would experience hell. And on and on and on.

    Where is the room for growth within that paradigm? I can't possibly explain to people how many times I've been humbled and broken within this new paradigm. Believe me, this isn't cupcakes and streamers.

  4. I believe that one of the weaknesses of progressives historically we have been afraid of prophetic voice for fear of being perceived as unkind. I also believe that has to stop, right now. I, too, am willing to allow people to believe what they will but when those beliefs actually endanger hundreds of thousands of people I cannot let them go unchallenged. I find the karmic argument is often used as an excuse to not act, which in cases such as these (according to karmic theory, anyway) actually would generate huge negative karma.

    It seems to me that within every religious and spiritual paradigm one can find reasons to become completely self absorbed and ignore the needs -of at times even the existence - of others. That's always a problem.