Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Friday the 13th – Origins, History, and Folklore

The sixth day of the week and the number 13 both have foreboding reputations said to date from ancient times, and their inevitable conjunction from one to three times a year (there happens to be only one such occurrence in 2010, in the month of August) portends more misfortune than some credulous minds can bear. According to some sources it’s the most widespread superstition in the United States today. Some people refuse to go to work on Friday the 13th; some won’t eat in restaurants; many wouldn’t think of setting a wedding on the date….

Friday the 13th – Origins, History, and Folklore


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The Value and Harm of Religion

People who believe that I am an Atheist sometimes seem nonplussed that I’m tolerant of religion in general.  There appears to be an idea amongst some non-believers that they must either be completely disinterested in religious ideas, or vehemently opposed and outspoken about it.  In either case, it seems, they must be prepared to pooh-pooh “superstition” and point out at the drop of a hat all the evils perpetrated in the names of various gods throughout history, and all of the ways that the shamans take advantage of the folks they’ve hoodwinked.  While I find the former positions distastefully closed-minded, I am indeed inclined to agree with the latter — at least when it involves the religious hierarchy.

My feeling is that those who are obtrusively dogmatic, pro or con, are just as bound up by the chains of their beliefs as any fanatic building bombs in the mountains of Pakistan.  To paraphrase John Bradshaw, a 180 degree turn leaves us in the same rut, only now we’re moving against the flow and annoying the other travelers.  If we want to change things, we need to get off the treadmill for a different perspective.

For the record, I am neither an Atheist nor an Agnostic. The latter claim that they are not convinced of the existence of a god or gods, the former that they are convinced that there are no such entities.  I am Ignostic, one who believes that no discussion about the question of gods’ existence can even be held, because it is not possible to come up with a coherent definition of a god.  To put it another way, I believe that when it comes to gods, no one really knows what they’re talking about, and no one ever will.

But I am not anti-religious.  I try to practice Buddhism which is, by most definitions, a religion.  While I accept that definition, I do not practice for religious reasons, but because Buddhist teachings give me a structure, based on pure logic, around which I can try to live my life and discipline my thinking.

That gets around to my position on religion in general.  I believe it is inevitable, for most people in most circumstances, and that generally-speaking it does far more good than harm.  It provides structure, guidance, community, hope — in short, a framework for living.  It matters not a whit to me whether the underlying beliefs are pure superstition or divine revelation, except when religious teachings are used for ill rather than good; to separate, rather than to draw people together.

The folks who administer religion are usually the problem in that regard.  They are the ones who teach, by their example, inflexibility, lack of compassion (although many of them give great lip service), and who perpetuate the tribal concepts of “us” and “other,” with their implied conclusions that “we are right” and “they are wrong.”  They are the ones who foster self-serving and self-congratulatory, complacent followers who seem unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

This tribal thinking is, perhaps, hard-wired into some people’s brains.  We are beginning to learn that the brains of liberals literally function  somewhat differently than those of conservatives.  There is every reason to believe that such dichotomies are necessary in primitive societies.  They are not, however, appropriate to situations such as those that exist on the Earth at present, with many people in need, and many who are unwilling to share.  This seems often to involve use of force on both sides, and in many circles it seems that two wrongs are presumed to make a right…or, at least, a lot of money for the people who profit from wars and strife in general.

Those are character defects that are engendered and supported by some shamans in the guise of the “will of God/Allah,” and in that respect religion is not a good thing at all.

The troubles in the world today cannot, it seems to me, be resolved by black and white thinking.  The True Believer in the hut is evidence of that, and those who attempt to hunt him down, without regard to the number of innocents killed in the process, are yet another.  People who seem to feel that they must contradict the beliefs of others, and put down the intelligence of those who believe other than they, are a third.  That ain’t how you build togetherness, folks.

Ben Franklin wrote at another critical point in history, “If we do not hang together, we shall certainly hang separately.”  As long as we continue to blame our problems on the other guy, we continue our trek to the gallows. To the extent that religion (or non-religion) supports that journey, it is most certainly at fault.


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Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar

Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar – Telegraph

“I do believe that the mentioned man is the son of God. My suggestion is not that Christians should reject or doubt the biblical text.

“My suggestion is that we should read the text as it is, not as we think it is. We should read on the lines, not between the lines. The text of the Bible is sufficient. We do not need to add anything.”

Of course, not adding anything would put a lot of shamans out of work.  I’m sure there will be a lot of screaming and condemnation about this matter.  I wonder if anyone will produce substantiated refutation.  I’m betting not.

And, on the other hand, what difference?  Religion is all about faith, not fact.


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Is God Irrelevant?

Is God Irrelevant? | (A)theologies | Religion Dispatches

While the media still milks the chattering and snarling between theists and atheists, most people are bored by this show, and many have quietly moved into a more productive position. Growing numbers of people don’t particularly care whether or not there are gods since, even if there are, they don’t seem able to do anything in our world. If they’re omnipotent, they appear to be indifferent to the small and large-scale wars, tragedies, and slaughters around us. If they’re impotent, who needs them?


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Celibacy, the Pope, and Sex Abuse

Many of the issues that troubled me decades ago have contributed to this decline. Some, like those related to contraception, homosexuality, and family life, are considered matters of divine or natural law—the will of God—and, therefore, are immutable. I disagree, and I’m not alone, but we have been unable to persuade the church to make changes. Other matters are considered a product of human law, which is alterable if the church thinks that doing so is in its best interest. The vow of priestly celibacy is one such statute: none, I believe, would be easier to change or, quite possibly, is more important to the short-term health of the church.

My
Turn: Celibacy, the Pope, and Sex Abuse – Newsweek

cekebacy


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Many Faiths, One Truth

by Tenzin Gyatso

When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior.  Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

Op-Ed Page, New York Times, 24 May, 2010


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A Conversation With Tariq Ramadan

A Conversation With Tariq Ramadan: Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity – Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Oxford’s St Antony’s College. He is also the president of a Brussels-based think tank, European Muslim Network, and the author of more than 20 books, including What I Believe, published in November 2009. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2009.

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Should We Be Cheering Religion’s Demise?

AlterNet: Religious Institutions Are Ruled By the Morally Bankrupt — But Should We Be Cheering Religion’s Demise?

…while the Protestant church and reformed Judaism have not replicated the perfidiousness of the Catholic bishops, who protect child-molesting priests, they have little to say in an age when we desperately need moral guidance.

God may not be dead, but She’s probably got a terrible pain in the butt.

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An Alcoholic’s Savior – Was It God, Belladonna or Both?

In October 1909, Dr. Alexander Lambert boldly announced to a New York Times reporter that he had found a surefire cure for alcoholism and drug addiction. Even more astounding, he stated that the treatment required less than five days. The therapy consisted of an odd mixture of belladonna (deadly nightshade), along with the fluid extracts of xanthoxylum (prickly ash) and hyoscyamus (henbane). The result is often so dramatic, Lambert said, that one hesitates to believe it possible.…

An Alcoholic’s Savior – Was It God, Belladonna or Both? – NYTimes.com


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Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-Saharan Africa

A new 19-country survey by the Pew Forum reveals that the vast majority of people in many sub-Saharan African nations are deeply committed to Christianity or Islam, and yet many continue to practice elements of traditional African religions. And while many Muslims and Christians describe members of the other faith as tolerant and honest, there are clear signs of tensions and divisions between the faiths. Additionally, an interactive online database allows users to explore public opinion in 19 sub-Saharan African nations on topics ranging from religious beliefs and practices to views on religious extremism and morality.

Pew Forum: Executive Summary

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A Letter To A Recovering Friend

Dear (unnamed friend),

(Unnamed website) looks interesting, and I’m glad that you are getting something out of it.

Please understand that my remarks are not specific toward (unnamed website).  I don’t know enough about it to judge.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever reviewed or recommended a commercial site.  Once that starts, everyone and his brother wants a review, and I’m not able to take the time (nor do I have the expertise) to read books, evaluate programs, analyze philosophies and so forth.   In any case, I’ve read too many explanations of karma already — some accurate, and some off the wall — and too many efforts at trying to take millennia-old ideas and wrap them in new paper for the sake of selling what is widely available for free.

But the main reason I avoid recommending programs of this kind is that they are not specifically about recovery, and do not focus people’s minds on the details that are necessary to recover from addiction.  Being told that the Universe is watching over us is of little use when we’re jonesing for a drink or a hit, or subtly convincing ourselves that “one or two won’t hurt.”  At that point we need people to talk to who will understand exactly where we are coming from, won’t shame us and call us “weak,” and who can share with us the intimate details of how they got through such tough spots themselves.  In other words, we need a 12-Step or similar support group of addicts and alcoholics working with other addicts and alcoholics, not spouting lofty philosophy.

Finally, I am convinced that if a person gets involved in AA, NA or the other groups, and really puts his or her mind to it, that it will take all the time and energy they can muster for at least several months.  There is no time for distractions.  This is a life and death issue. Personally, I almost distracted myself into a major relapse because I thought those folks had nothing to tell me.  I was different. I was better-educated.  I knew how the world worked. What could that bunch of people have to teach me?  Besides, they were too cheerful.  Didn’t they know the world was a serious place?  Et cetera, et ctera, et cetera…

All they had to give me was a proven way to save my life, that I almost missed.

I don’t push the 12 Steps because they’re a fad, or a religion, or anything like that.  I participate for the same reason I’m a Buddhist, because both are based on cold, hard reasoning.  They both provide guidelines for emotional, physical and spiritual improvement.  They are both specific to me and my life.

But your mileage may vary, and that’s OK.  As long as you do the next right thing, and don’t drink, and stay open to change and new ideas (not the strong suit of most alcoholics), you’ll be OK.  The key is change.  As I’ve said before, if you keep on doing the same old things, you keep on getting the same old results.  To quote another philosopher, “You can run, kid, but you can’t hide.”

Namasté


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What Pope Benedict Must Do

What Pope Benedict Must Do — Politics Daily

Ironically, for all the bad press he is getting, Benedict has done more to confront the abuse crisis than anyone else in the Vatican. But he must choose between governing and upholding his theological vision as a moral absolutist. As many a president and prime minister has learned, the shift from an ideological stance to a pragmatic one can be laden with risk.

The root crisis lies in the church’s view of apostolic succession. The pope and bishops consider themselves descendants in a spiritual lineage from Jesus’s apostles. Apostolic succession is as much a part of Catholicism as icons and stained glass windows. But Judas was also an apostle — a reminder that all humans, regardless of proximity to the Word, are capable of betraying the faith. Apostolic succession has fallen victim to hubris, the pride and entitlement of a religious elite who consider apology or penance a substitute for human justice….