Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why Must We Hate Columbo?

I received a recent comment on my wall regarding this post:

Wow! Why don't people post anything about Islam or Buddhism or any other religion besides Christianity. Curious. I don't feel the need to walk on anyone else's beliefs but I am puzzled that others walk all over mine. It's just an observation.”

Most people who know me know that I'm an equal opportunity skeptic when it comes to organized credulity and unreason in general.  I posted this mainly because Christianity is the majority religion in Western culture and to make the general point that most beliefs systems seem strange to people outside their spectrum of influence.  I thought this quote (it’s from a T-Shirt) did a wonderful job of fundamentally putting it all on the table - there is nothing here that is not a core belief of the religion.  I recently posted a movie on my Wall regarding the Ramanaya of the Hindu faith (it was called Sita Sings The Blues).  It was basically a cartoon dialogue between three worshipers of Hindu faith discussing the myth and questioning various parts while basically, playfully “roasting” it (while still respecting it). 

I don’t understand why Christians in general seem to lack a sense of humor when it comes to the questioning some of their more outrageously held beliefs. No one is walking all over the religion here.  I highly respect the teachings of Jesus (whether he actually existed or was created by the Romans to unify and control people is not the point), who clearly tells us that love can transform human life (something I honestly, wholeheartedly believe).  But I don’t believe that we need to accept the fact that he was the son of god who was born of a virgin, ascended to heaven and will one day return to earth to incorporate these truths into our lives. I understand that such systems of beliefs generally help quell existential fears and give humanity a sense of control over the ambiguity of life, but as Richard Dawkins (author of  The God Delusion) has said, “the fact that a believer might be happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”  It is often said that there is a razors edge between enlightenment and despair.

I believe that we’re all adult enough to admit that one can respect another person’s faith and still question it.  I don’t know where the meme came from that suggests that ones belief is off limits from basic Socratic questioning.  I don’t know why credulous faith in this country is supposed to be accorded intellectual and cultural accommodations to the extent that it is generally seen as “rude” to question it.  Sam Harris (author of The End of Faith) puts things in perspective when he asks, “when was the last time that someone was criticized for not “respecting” another person’s unfounded beliefs about physics or history?  I believe the same rules should apply to ethical, spiritual, and religious beliefs as well,” (especially since so much human suffering can be directly attributed to credulous faith and religion throughout the centuries).  For me, this is what makes an honest criticism of religious faith a “moral and intellectual necessity.”

With that said, I would also like to add that, contrary to popular belief, Buddhism is not a religion. There are no dogmatic rules or codes of ethics written in stone to be obeyed without question as with other faiths.  It is a spiritual path that was originally founded upon an exploration of intuitive wisdom and does not require the blind acceptance of a god hypothesis.  It is said that only through a deeper level of understanding of human suffering can one truly feel compassion for another - therefore a sense of morality is believed to naturally arise from within.  It takes a great deal of practice to reach a state of non-judgmental awareness that can support such insights - therefore meditation becomes a core practice of Buddhism. 

Buddhism is fundamentally about rebirth, not reincarnation (and there’s a big difference there).  As any belief takes different forms as it migrates from where it began, some “sects” of Buddhism have come to incorporate supernatural beliefs, but that is something that has generally been “added” to the mix.  Buddhism at it's core is fundamentally a psychology that generally does not concern itself with unjustifiable beliefs - only with what is knowable.  With that in mind, it generally rejects unsubstantiated beliefs, such as the idea of original sin (that humanity was infected by a woman and is therefore wretched and evil) because the evidence does not support it (evil is seen more as a general byproduct of human ignorance obscuring our inherent wisdom and compassion for one another).  Personally, I can’t think of a more pessimistic outlook than the sin hypothesis, but that’s just me. 

Faith in Buddhism does not concern itself with something external, invisible and unknowable – it lies with humanity itself.   The basic thought regarding god is the fundamental idea that, in the words of Lama Govinda, “when men look up into the space of heaven and invoke a power that is supposed to reside there, they’re more likely invoking forces within themselves being projected outward.”