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April 24, 2006 12:26 PM   Subscribe

"Killing the Buddha is about finding a way to be religious when we're all so self-conscious and self-absorbed. Knowing more than ever about ourselves and the way the world works, we gain nothing through nostalgia for a time when belief was simple, and even less from insisting that now is such a time. Killing the Buddha will ask, How can we be religious without leaving part of ourselves at the church or temple door? How can we love God when we know it doesn't matter if we do? Call it God for the godless. Call it the search for a God we can believe in: A God that will not be an embarrassment in twelve-thousand years. A God we can talk about without qualifications." I particularly enjoyed The Temptation of Belief, by a Buddhist exploring evangelical Christianity, and My Holy Ghost People, by an unbelieving daughter in a praying-in-tongues family.
posted by heatherann (21 comments total)

 
What a great site. I want to go back and read more, but I liked this piece on Jonathan Edwards (and why he doesn't get the attention of Ben Franklin) quite a bit. And the vibe in general. Thanks heatherann.
posted by bardic at 12:42 PM on April 24, 2006


Meh. Sharlet's taker on religion is very hit or miss, though I see why some people find him interesting. I found this somewhat savage review of Sharlet's book compelling when I read it. That said, there aren't many left-of-center journalists interested in examining religion as a part of the social fabric, so more power to him.
posted by Heminator at 1:02 PM on April 24, 2006


THat's terrific. Huge thanks, heatherann.

Here's Rowan Williams's take on killing the buddha (official site).
posted by gdav at 1:56 PM on April 24, 2006


gdav: your first link got screwed up by an extra "http//". Here is a corrected version of your link:
Here's Rowan Williams's take on killing the buddha
posted by NoMich at 2:08 PM on April 24, 2006


interesting . thanks.
posted by nola at 2:15 PM on April 24, 2006


We saw the Buddha in a bar down south
Talking politics and nuclear fission
We see him and he's all washed up -
Moving on into the body of a beetle
Getting ready for a long long crawl
He ain't nothing - he ain't nothing at all...


(via stavros link)

... and double
posted by mrgrimm at 2:48 PM on April 24, 2006


Killing the Buddha will ask, How can we be religious without leaving part of ourselves at the church or temple door?

Whereas Decani would ask, "Why on earth would you want to be religious in the first place?"
posted by Decani at 5:12 PM on April 24, 2006


I've been reading this for five years. Never boring.
posted by kozad at 6:31 PM on April 24, 2006


Whereas Decani would ask, "Why on earth would you want to be religious in the first place?"
Because my parents were religious, and the fact that they had me clearly means that they must have inherited correct knowledge of the true nature of the universe from their parents. After all, my grandfather worked a wheat farm for most of his life -- who's better qualified than him to know the ultimate origins of life on Earth? Luckily, his parents had already correctly figured it out for him, so he had no need to research any other religions or consider whether or not he needed one at all. That saved him a bunch of time and was all around easier to cope with. And of course, being my ancestors, there is absolutely no chance they were mistaken in the slightest; only other people's ancestors make mistakes.

Or: I can't bear to think that there's nothing after we die, and the universe is obligated to limit itself to my comprehension and need for comfort. Therefore there's something after we die, and therefore the specific interpretation of the particular book that happened to be popular in my community when I grew up is exactly right, and anyone who thinks differently will have to endure agony for all eternity.
posted by koreth at 6:57 PM on April 24, 2006


koreth: spot on. :-)
posted by Decani at 7:06 PM on April 24, 2006


Whereas Decani would ask, "Why on earth would you want to be religious in the first place?"

"What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe." -- Flannery O'Connor, 1959
posted by dw at 7:18 PM on April 24, 2006


For reference, Sharlet's been MetaFiltered before. The Harper's articles are quite good.
posted by gramschmidt at 7:38 PM on April 24, 2006


Well, I would say, religious customs are often the glue for a community. Being a part of said community could come from taking part in said rituals or faiths.

Or you might have been introduced to the world view. You might prefer it, even it it's wrong. It might make you happy, or make sense of things that are truly unknowable.

Or maybe your family belongs to a faith. Maybe your grandpa is that old farmer that never left the town. Maybe you admire the fact that although he may not know the orgins of life on earth, his faith gives him strength to get up each day. You may admire that strength and wish to emulate it.

There's a thousand reasons people take to religion. Not all are foolish, even if most may not make sense. Certainly, I actually enjoy going to church every so often, even if I'm not a believer as they are. It can be a fun experience to take part in.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:12 PM on April 24, 2006


Taking part in culturally significant rituals can provide a sense of identity and belonging. Joining a group of people who are doing something enjoyable is a basic human need. Emulating the admirable traits of your elders is a fine way to grow into the kind of person your own children can admire.

All of that makes perfect sense.

But none of it requires one to believe that the world is controlled or created or influenced by invisible gods, demons, or ghosts.
posted by koreth at 9:30 PM on April 24, 2006


Interesting site. And I've been reading Sharlet's stuff off and on for years now -- he seems to do good things.
posted by blacklite at 10:18 PM on April 24, 2006


A man met a lad weeping. "What do you weep for?" he asked.
"I am weeping for my sins," said the lad.
"You must have little to do," said the man.
The next day they met again. Once more the lad was weeping. "Why do you weep now?" asked the man.
"I am weeping because I have nothing to eat," said the lad.
"I thought it would come to that," said the man.
posted by moonbiter at 10:52 PM on April 24, 2006


“Whereas Decani would ask, "Why on earth would you want to be religious in the first place?"”

Why on earth would you want to be physically fit in the first place?

Why develop an aesthetic sense?

Why learn nuances in language through poetry?

Why clear your mind and listen instead of imposing your own beliefs and classifications on others’ words?

Why practice anything?

All depends on how one defines ‘religion’ really. Not all of it is about the invisible man in the clouds.
posted by Smedleyman at 8:55 AM on April 25, 2006


Not that invisible men in clouds are even bad things, ya know. At a certain time of day, in a certain light, I'll believe in St. Nick if you ask me. I'll believe in the Divine even if I made up. Like believing in things that could be false is so dire. Hell, I'll even believe in true love when I feel brave enough.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:37 PM on April 25, 2006


Yeah, Lord Chancellor, but they make it hard to pee when there's clouds. Feels like they're watchin' ya.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:14 PM on April 25, 2006


(via stavros link)

Heh. I was going to post lyrics from that song in this thread myself. Great song.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:23 PM on April 25, 2006


I would emend: 'We gain nothing through nostalgia for a [fictional] time when belief was simple, [that Norman Rockwell caricature of faith].' What, people never noticed pain or injustice before the twentieth century? Never, before you, did anyone think to ask, 'Why is God doing this to me?' I have to laugh at the naivete, and take a deep breath with furrowed brow at the arrogance and ignorance, whenever I hear someone proclaim that belief used to be simple. And so I think Killing the Buddha is right onto things.

Seriously. When could belief have been simple? Let's think about Abraham for a minute, slaying his son (whichever one it may have been). Moses, recanting his upbringing and then trying to bring an ungrateful nation into holiness. Akhenaton, reforming all the cults of the Two Kingdoms. Gautama, staring the fact of suffering in the face as squarely as any ordinary mortal ever has. Socrates, whose brand of piety got him in dutch with just over half the jury. Jesus and most of his apostles, who were declared enemies of the state, and who got what enemies of the state generally get. Mohammed and the early Muslims, going into exile. The Starovertsy, having to oppose Patriarch Nikon. Hus, Calvin, Luther; Wycliffe and Tyndale. The anonymous inventors of Voudou and Santeria, trying to be good Catholics and still be true to their experience. Campbell. Miller. Joseph Smith, Jr. The Ghost Dancers. The Native American Church, with their disputed and formerly prosecuted psychedelic sacrament. And all the other people, founders and disciples, who have ever taken seriously the existence of a world transcending selfishness (and yes, that includes some of the self-proclaimed irreligious); for going beyond 'self-conscious and self-absorbed' has always, always been precisely the point. That belief has persisted precludes its simplicity; were it of no account and little demand, it would long ago have blown away shamefaced, like so much of fashion and fad. Even the most unthinking, medieval adherent will, at some time, be forced to wrestle with the angel until dawn.

Decani and korath: As long as you keep insisting that that is what the religious experience is all about, you are going to miss out on an awful lot of amazement and wonder, and an awful lot of depth and fulness, both of the transcendent and the humane varieties. Smedleyman has got the right idea.

Great link, heatherann. Thank you.
posted by eritain at 10:51 PM on April 25, 2006 [1 favorite]


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