On the defects of current religions

What are some of the major defects of current religions?

Ossified metaphysics. In Christianity, for example, we have a trinity, a god-man, sin, creation ex nihilo, all of which are non-negotiable elements, which cannot be jettisoned or replaced no matter how unfit they have become to describe our current world (surprisingly enough it is perhaps only creation ex nihilo that still makes sense – in a quantum sort of way). If religions are to remain relevant and not require ever further sacrifices of the intellect, then they must regain some of their initial flexibility and start reworking from the ground up the entirety of their so-called worldviews.

Individual salvation. Be it Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism or Islam (this doesn’t apply to Judaism), all of these religions preach salvation, but they preach it first and foremost to the individual. You can be saved/save your soul without having to worry about anyone else, let alone your surrounding ecosystem. This is probably what killed the dinosaurs. And it is certainly not helping to prevent our new species’ impending doom.

Disregard for the body/world. Most major religions are “soul-religions” in the sense that what ultimately matters is not our current bodies, but some immaterial self that will survive beyond whatever happens to your body and this universe. This doesn’t mean all religious people are either too fat or overly emaciated; but it does probably contribute to a certain je-m’en-foutisme (i-don’t-careism), wether or not we go all the way to blowing our bodies, or the world, up.

Future Salvation. This is the counterpart to the “soulishness” of current religions and is just as damaging to our current health.

Exclusiveness. Though Buddhism often claims to embrace all other religions, it does so exclusively on its own terms. Christianity and Islam are notorious us-versus-them religions, with the belligerent consequences we know too well. Of course, this is in great part due to an ossified metaphysics.

Impractical. Religions just don’t seem able to help us solve our current problems. They were probably pretty good at solving whatever was wrong back when they sprung up, three to five half-centuries ago, but as far as current wars, pollutions, poverties and other bad stuff go, they have nothing to offer.

Ossified institutions. Who isn’t bored to death in church? What are monks still doing running around? Why can they still not marry? What is the deal with that big black thing in mecca?

Politically passive. Finally, the current crop of old, grey-haired, mostly decrepit religions is remarkably … inactive. Of course, telling people they need only worry about the future of their souls doesn’t help. But at least they could do a bit more than preach and set up a few orphanages. Today doesn’t need personal, but rather global, institutional salvation.

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8 Comments to “On the defects of current religions”

  1. You say that Buddhism, amongst others, preaches individual salvation at the expense of others , even the surrounding ecosystem.

    This isn’t really correct. I can’t speak for the others, and can only speak as to my understanding of Buddhism.

    Enlightenment – or salvation, if you must – is only a state wherein you realize that “you” are not different from others or the ecosystem. If fact “you” realize that “you” *are* others, and that “you” *are* the ecosystem, and that there is no “you” or “I” to even be different or apart from these things. The process of “I” is dukkha.

    When the Buddha did find Enlightenment he did not retreat into the woods, did not save only himself, but came back into this Samsara to teach this practice.

    The Bodhistava vow is taken to liberate all beings, to liberate all beings from this idea that we are separate.

    Further along, you say that Buddhism has some kind of exclusive acceptance of other religious ideas and practices. I don’t think so. I’d like to see what exactly you think these practices are. The Dalai Lama would likely disagree with you.

  2. I look at this and realize that the inverse of some of these statments are equally defective. For example

    1. If religions were as mutable as secular worldviews, then it becomes obvious that it’s public opinion and perception that create morals instead of the other way around. Without concrete points for evaluation, then there’s no guage on how far you’ve moved from them. You say that the precepts may have become ‘unfit for our current world’, but perhaps it’s more the current world that’s chosen to distance itself from anything absolute.

    2. ‘Salvation’ done any other way but individually, in the long run doesn’t work. If you legislate something that a person disagrees with, then at the best you’ll get them to agree, and at worst, they’ll obey out of fear of getting caught. True dedication to something is chosen by a person, not enforced from outside. Short response to this, You can make a group of people sit down, but if the person didn’t want to, in their mind, they’re still standing up.

    3. Time has repeatedly shown that the most fulfilling causes upon which to attach oneself are those which require more strength than can be mustered by one man. Ask anyone has come home from military service. A greater strength exists in the goal that you start that can only be finished by another. The “body” as you put it tends to be a limiter in these tasks, as focus on the body tends to lead to a shying away from anything that causes the body pain. No one voluntarily chooses to undergo a painful situation, however people become willing to go through with it if they see the result on the other side of the struggle.

    4. I can’t really speak on the concept of future salvation, because, as a Christian, if the only thing I had to look forward to is existance in heaven, then it’s really in my best interests to do whatever I can to die as fast as I can and hurry up and get there… if that’s the case, Jim Jones had it right in the first place (not).

    5. I totally disagree with this statement. The general focus on most religions is the transformation of the individual into something greater than what started. If every person on earth chose to put everyone elses desires before his own, the world by and large would be better, and every individual would be better off. You’d have the world’s population, minus one taking care of your needs as you are the only individual not focused on yourself. Of course, we DO live in a real world and human nature would still kick in. There’d still be that one person that decides to put a little less in and take a little more out, but no system devised by man is perfect, and if it was, any person that implements it would cause it to fail.

    6. Flipped question, who IS bored in church? The person that goes with the initial impression that there’s no benefit in going. I’m excited to go, as I expect to receive something from God when I go, be it encouragement, insight, or instruction. As for why Monks still can’t marry, beats me… I mean if the ‘first pope’ was married, I don’t see why any of the ‘underlings’ shouldn’t be allowed.

    7. If you’ve noticed, the attempt to have a “global, institutional salvation” is actively combatted. After all, the only way this works is if you allow each ‘individual’ to choose what they like. If that be the case, once again, it’s made by man, and it’s mutable dependant on the whims of society in that age.

  3. One small clarification. The Bodhistava vow is the vow of an enlightened being to save all beings before they themselves attain Nirvana.

    Hardly selfish.

  4. @dougrogers

    you are certainly right that Buddhism (and all the other religions too) strongly encourages its devotees to help others and help save them. my point was rather that it starts with the individual and then moves to the community, but doesnt absolutely have to. I prefer a more jewishy “either we are all saved or no one is saved”: at least there is no ambiguity.

    What you say also technically doesnt apply to Theravada Buddhism, from what i understand, but Mahayana is certainly the most widespread form.

    as for the “exclusive acceptance of other religious ideas and practices” you refer to: what i meant was that all buddhist sanghas to which ive been and many books ive read (say Thich Naht Hanh) say that you can stay a Christian etc. and still practice buddhism. though i might have misunderstood this claim; perhaps they were mainly thinking of meditation.

  5. “When the Buddha did find Enlightenment he did not retreat into the woods, did not save only himself, but came back into this Samsara to teach this practice.”

    “What you say also technically doesnt apply to Theravada Buddhism”

    The Buddha didn’t teach Mahayana. It wasn’t around. If anything, if it requires a label, he taught Theravada.

    “Though Buddhism often claims to embrace all other religions, it does so exclusively on its own terms”

    “all buddhist sanghas to which ive been and many books ive read (say Thich Naht Hanh) say that you can stay a Christian etc. and still practice buddhism.”

    There remains a contradiction unresolved. First, you seem to say that Buddhism embraces other ideas but on it’s own terms. Does this not seem to imply an exclusion or rejection of some things? That is what I take ” on it’s own terms” to mean.

    Then you say that in your experience with Buddhism, there is no rejection at all of other religious ideas, no qualification or filtering of such ideas to suit Buddhist modes, but an embracing. How is this “on it’s own terms”?

  6. @dougrogers

    i appreciate your comments. im only starting to learn about buddhism and welcome all “enlightenment”.

    for what i mean by “on it’s own terms”: buddhists seem willing to accept christianas, but christians, who might like meditation quite a bit, are usually wary of all the metaphysical extras that come with it (karma, a-theism) and there does not seem to be much room for a creator-god and divine forgiveness of sins. The problem is not that we couldn’t squeeze them in there somehow, but rather that both religions would look quite different after we did. Thus those who say that you can be a christian and a buddhist at the same time are, imho, either actually saying that you can do meditation and still be a staunch christian (which is certainly true) or they are forgetting about the entire buddhist worldview, which is *not* compatible with the christian one.

    Hence, a christian wanting to become buddhist would have to make some fundamental changes in his or her christianity, and, by most christians standards, would no longer be a christian. that is what i mean by buddhism accepting other religions but on its own terms.

  7. This thing with religion has gone way to far, I agree with you guys. It seems like people will believe anything for the sheer hell of it. The reason for this is that there is a prevailing cynicism behind the western world to accept any other beliefs except their own. We’re slowly learning to converge on this, I mean buddhism is pretty big now in the UK, i can’t really speak for anywhere else. But the whole point of religions is flawed because you can’t tell someone how to live their lives, we work it out for ourselves regardless of what beliefs religion imposes. For example, as Howard Bloom says, when you talk to me I learn about myself through you (I place myself in your shoes and see the world from your perspective), and when I talk to you, i teach you. But this means that ultimately, we can make something someone else says mean anything to us. We decide, we shape our own lives, everything else is just information gathering. (sorry for the ramble haha)

  8. Well, maybe the problem is with my understanding of what I think, “but, on it’s own terms”, means.

    I think that Buddhism doesn’t really care what practice makes a person more compassionate. It says that meditation under the guidance of a proven teacher is a path that works, what you use to explain the result is unimportant. Christians can go as far along this path as they want without losing their Christianity. That I agree.

    The difference is that Christians, it seems to me, require the explanation to be God.

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