Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spritual Hucksterism Part 3+: Rehabilitating Religion?

This whole tiny enterprise might help resuscitate religion. The monotheistic varieties have given religion a very bad name, and yet the New Atheists do not prescribe a method to cultivate good things, though many of them have their hearts in the right places. Many monotheists have their hearts in the right places, too, but lack any sort of moral authority; their branding has been destroyed by the usual suspects. John Shelby Spong is probably the exception that proves the rule here, and I'm sure there's others. But monotheism in at least the United States has largely marginalized itself from any kind of authenticity and moral authority.

But it is false anti-elitism not to notice that many people want to be led. I am shocked to experience this first hand (outside of my child, who, well, it goes without saying wants to be led, kicking and screaming). But there are adults who want to be led.

I don't want to lead or, perhaps more correctly, I don't want to control them; it's a waste of my time and theirs. On the other hand there are some people I have to lead (part of my, job, and part of my parent role), and I want to lead them to lead themselves. Because they're ultimately of greater value in the labor marketplace and to their employer if they can do this. And mutatis mutandis for me.

And I think it's largely true in the society we have that there are people who want to be led spiritually, at the very least where "spiritually" is defined as some moral and ethical goodness; appeal to the supernatural I'm sure is there for quite a few, but they want to be told on or by some authority how to, you know, live their lives.

Such people would benefit from a religion, and too often in the West and the United States this seeking behavior has been exploited. This exploitation - and the coincident theological, philosophical and other moral absurdity that goes with monotheism is what the New Atheists, largely correctly in my view, rail against. But I think that these people can and should be taught to be led to lead themselves.

I think Buddhists bring something to the table in this that the New Atheists don't, and certainly the monotheists can't. We practice a religion, that doesn't need authoritarian or supernatural baggage. Of course this finding the next Dalai Lama at the age of 2 thing, taken literally, can easily fall into the loony category. And these New Agey types, these Eckhart Tolle types. And of course it's easy to read into sutras and what-not a literalism that points to supernaturalism that the Buddha himself thought was best left alone.

If we can get past the looniness and insanity, there really is a crying need out there to craft by practice a religion in which all people can unabashedly practice, explain, and help others.

Serious business.

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