Saturday, May 20, 2006

Engaging the conservative Christian pitch..

Maybe I shouldn't single out Greg Laurie, but as a Buddhist, and before, I have long considered the proper way to engage fundamentalist, literalist Christians such as him.

I don't remember the last time I've posted such things on my blog, but it's likely been a long time.

Anyway, from the link:

It is said, "Are you saying Jesus Christ is the
only way, and that if someone doesn't believe in Him they're actually going to hell? That's so narrow! So insensitive! So intolerant!" By insisting that Jesus is the only way to approach God, I may sound to certain people like I'm implying I'm somehow better than they are, or that I look down on them in some way. But I want you to know that I have a very good reason for believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father. I believe it because He said so. It isn't my theory; it isn't my idea; it is His! It was Jesus who clearly stated, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6 NKJV). How plain is that?

The bottom line is that we're either going to believe everything Jesus said or nothing that He said. As for me, I choose to put my faith and trust in Him – for my years here on earth and for my eternity...

The great world religions do not all teach the same thing. And I say that with respect for all people to believe what they choose to believe. We don't need to vilify, threaten or attack one another. We need a civil discourse, and we need to agree to disagree. But on the other hand, let's not foolishly say every religion is teaching the same thing, because they are not. For instance, take these three truths into consideration:

1. Concerning the existence of a personal God. Buddhists deny it altogether. Hindus believe that God is formless and abstract, taking the form of a trinity as well as millions of lesser gods. In direct contrast, the Bible teaches that God is a personal deity, who created man in His own image, loves us and wants to have a relationship with us.

2. Concerning salvation. Buddhists believe salvation comes by self-effort alone – with no personal God to help or guide you. Hindus believe you achieve salvation by devotion, works and self-control. Muslims insist that man earns his own salvation, pays for his own sins, and that you can never be certain if you have achieved salvation or not. In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and if we will turn from our own way and follow Him, we can be forgiven and have the hope of heaven.

3. Concerning Jesus Christ. Buddhists believe Jesus was a good teacher, but less important than Buddha. Hindus believe Jesus was just one of many incarnations, or sons of God. They teach that Christ was not the one-and-only Son of God. He was no more divine than any other man, and He did not die for man's sins. Muslims will tell you that Jesus Christ was only a man, a prophet equal to Adam, Noah or Abraham, all of whom are below Muhammad in importance.

Do you see my point? It doesn't work to believe in all of the above. The tenets of these religions directly contradict one another. They cannot all be true. These belief systems are diverse and contradictory. In reality, they have little to nothing in common.

Laurie finishes up this standard pitch with the "trilemma fallacy," which has been dealt with by others.

Now first of all, I would agree that a civil discourse is needed. And I would also agree that the levels and types and objects of belief required of certain religions are indeed different.

But what is obviously troubling to me at the outset is the lack of emphasis by folks like Laurie on practice, and the emphasis on belief as a differentiator. I can easily make the case that it is a distortion of Christianity, and that practice is indeed of critical importance in Christianity, but as a Buddhist that is indeed not so important for me, except insofar as to point out that attitudes that marginalize the importance of practice will lead to horrendous results, and as we have seen with the recent behavior of government encouraged by the religious right evangelicals, this is not some abstract idea. I can say practices and attitudes towards practice have consequences. It's karma.

Then, Laurie of course gets things wrong when he describes other religions, and that bears out again my point: Laurie's practice is not creating good results. Muslims, for example have taken umbrage at the statement that " earns his own salvation, pays for his own sins, and that you can never be certain if you have achieved salvation or not," though as a non-expert in Islam, I can't go further than tell you I've seen criticism of that.

But as this is a Buddhist blog, let's stick to Laurie's statements there:

Buddhists deny [the existence of a personal god] altogether.

This is an odd generalization, especially given the number of syncretist Buddhists in the world, but suffice to say for this Buddhist, it's not a "denial," it's simply a lack of consideration. It's simply not important in the grand scheme of things if ending the suffering of all beings is on the agenda.

"Buddhists believe salvation comes by self-effort alone – with no personal God to help or guide you."

Buddhists have varying notions and levels of belief. We don't sign onto a creed; we take refuge, because we are aware of suffering, as though we are seeking shelter in a fierce storm.

That leads many, if not most Buddhists, my self included, to consider the self as a construct or as interdependent with the 10,000 things. There simply is no "alone." (There's no "all is one," either, because you live your life in your skin, to not even scratch the surface of the topic.)

Laurie of course is preaching to the choir, and I am of course addressing the few readers I have, but these things need to be said.

Buddhists believe Jesus was a good teacher, but less important than Buddha.

In a sense this is true; the sense being that one would have to kill both the Buddha and Jesus if either stood in the way of helping all sentient beings. That is to say, one's commitment to one's vows needs to be taken very seriously.

Regarding sincerity, Laurie writes:

Why is it wrong to lie, steal and murder? As much as we hate to admit it, it's because God said it is wrong in the Ten Commandments, among other places. This is why sincerity is never enough. We have to have a set of absolutes to live by. We can't simply make up the rules as we go along. You may want to believe that "all roads lead to God."

Of course you must "sign on the dotted line" and take responsibility for any action you take, whether it's falling in love, having a one-night stand, caring for a child, or working or fighting or feeding. Regardless of what one says about alleged supernatural beings and what they say, you must act, you must proceed further than the 100 foot pole, or just stay there, and still bear responsibility. It's not enough to appeal to a book or a belief for guidance.

And so, in contrast to what Laurie says, you can't but "make the rules" and reap their inevitable effects moment to moment. So wisdom is needed.

How then finally should one react to the pitch of such conservative Christians?

Sincerely and with all effort quench the flame, put out the candle, dwell beyond the controversy.

That's my best answer for now.

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