Saturday, June 16, 2012

Well, I suppose I'll have to talk about the NY Times & Buddhism in the West


Dr. Paul D. Numrich, a professor of world religions and interreligious relations, conjectured that there may be as many Buddhists as Muslims in the United States by now.Professor Numrich’s claim is startling, but statistics (some, anyway) support it: Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the United States. More Americans convert to Buddhism than to Mormonism. (Think about it, Mitt.)Many converts are what Thomas A. Tweed, in “The American Encounter With Buddhism,” refers to as “nightstand Buddhists” — mostly Catholics, Jews (yeah, I know, “Juddhists”) and refugees from other religions who keep a stack of Pema Chödrön books beside their beds.So who are these — dare I coin the term? — Newddhists? Burned-out BlackBerry addicts attracted to its emphasis on quieting the “monkey mind”? Casual acolytes rattled by the fiscal and identity crises of a nation that even Jeb Bush suggests is “in decline”? Placard-carrying doomsayers out of a New Yorker cartoon? Uncertain times make us susceptible to collective catastrophic thinking — the conditions in which religious movements flourish.Or perhaps Buddhism speaks to our current mind-body obsession...

Or it could could be that there's a heck of a lot of suffering and people have figured out that Buddhism helps.  Or it could be that Buddhism is one of the few major world religions (is there any other?) where skeptical brains aren't not only not checked at the door, but encouraged.

Mr. Atlas kind of gets to that latter point, but it's kind of buried in the studied trendiness of the article.


Eisel Mazard said...

Although Buddhism has high rates of conversion, it also has extremely high rates of attrition (i.e., "joiners" and "leavers" both need to be calculated carefully in making demographic projections). Many people underestimate this, as conversion to other religions is (no pun intended) not nearly so impermanent.

Petteri Sulonen said...

Also it's a good deal less clear in Buddhism what it means to 'convert.' I'm sure there are plenty of people who consider themselves Buddhists without ever having gone through a formal ceremony of taking refuge for example. Some traditions and teachers intentionally blur the distinction even more. The one I'm in seems particularly relaxed about it.

Barbara O'Brien said...

Ha. Jewish Buddhists are not "Juddhists." They are JuBus. Even Wikipedia says so.

Mumon said...

Yeah, it's in part due to Buddhism's not being exactly a Western religion on Western terms. "Being" a Buddhist can mean "being" in "multiple religions" at once, or - in Western terms - none at all.

And partly it's because there are people who don't find what they're looking for in Buddhism.


Yeah, I know. But the sort of positive take-away from that article is that at least there's some kind of acknowledgement that becoming a Buddhist appears more mainstream to more Americans than becoming a Mormon. And after growing up and living some 40 years in the NY area, with a dearth of Mormons, and then moving to the West coast, where they're a significant minority (but smaller than Buddhists in this area, I'd wager - we have a lot of Asians on the West coast alone), Buddhism being more mainstream than Mormonism seems to resonate with my experience.


I'm surprised some bean counter somewhere in that organization didn't say, "Hey we have a bunch of experts in things at Why don't we run it by them...?"