Digital Dharma

The Middle Path, One Day At A Time


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Quote

Science does itself a disservice if it pretends to be capable of answering all meaningful questions. Religion likewise sabotages itself when it dismisses findings of science in favor of pretty myths. To be truly powerful, both science and religion need to change and grow, hand in hand. Truth is more nearly to be found in unity of intellect and emotion, or unity of self and non-self. It is in that elusive place of balance where we become aware that the essences of things are not one way or another.

White, David M (2010-11-26). Zen Birding (p. 9). O-Books. Kindle Edition.


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Should Debate About Religion Be Open And Without Restraint?

Religion should not enjoy a privileged status, especially when many religious people strive to influence politics and public policy based on their religious beliefs. Do I violate some rule of civil discourse if I draw or publish a cartoon lampooning the Catholic Church’s position on abortion when the Catholic Church is trying to influence public policy on abortion? If so, I fail to understand the reason for such a rule. Such self-censorship merely serves to perpetuate the taboo mentality that has protected religion for too long.

http://secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=fi&page=expressing_religion

While I agree with the writer in principle (and the article is well worth reading), I have to reiterate a point that I have made a number of times on this blog.

Religion is not just another subject for debate. It is the foundation of the world view and basis of hope for billions of people.  Its roots go far deeper than belief in quantum theory or evolution, because what are believed to be its effects are discernible by ordinary people without arcane training, if they choose to interpret their world uncritically.

As compassionate practitioners, we owe it to believers to treat them gently. While it is true, as the writer points out, that they attempt to influence policy and government in the direction of their own beliefs, that is also true of other special interest groups, including secularists.

I believe it is fine to debate religious ideas, within reason, but debate is always with the consent of both sides. It is not accomplished with bludgeons on unwilling participants. We need to understand that when people’s core beliefs are threatened, they become defensive and inflexible regardless of the content of those beliefs. To pound, willy-nilly, on issues they find threatening will only stifle debate, not extend it. Furthermore, to attempt to alter someone’s core beliefs without offering something that will adequately replace the framework of his life is to commit cruelty of the first order. Morally, it no different from the acts of those who attempt to force religion on others.

Very few secularists were born to their belief system.  Most of us came to it after many years of searching for a direction that made sense to us.  Furthermore, some of us were traumatized by religious people, and have yet to deal adequately with those issues (which may explain some of the vehemence in discourse). So, let us debate if we must.  But let us also remember that minds are unlikely to be changed, and — above all — that when it comes to religion, logic is never an issue.

And let’s be gentle, understanding that discussion is not battle and that, even if it were, this is not one that we are really equipped to win.  We need to remember that secularist fanatics are no more correct in their behavior than religious ones, regardless of the logic in their arguments, because reasoned discourse requires mutual respect.  How can we demand that of believers if we do not deliver it ourselves?


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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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Southern Baptist leader Richard Land backs citizenship for illegal immigrants

Baptist leader Richard Land backs citizenship for illegal immigrants | tennessean.com | The Tennessean

Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, admits it’s a message that will test some of the church’s mainstream membership, but it’s one that needs to be said.


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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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The Tibet film China loves to hate

“The Sun Behind the Clouds”: The Tibet film China loves to hate – Andrew O’Hehir, Movie Critic – Salon.com

It isn’t literally true that there’s a new documentary about Tibet every six weeks, but it does kind of feel that way. What sets apart “The Sun Behind the Clouds,” made by the Tibetan-Indian filmmaking duo Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, is both context and content. The film includes extensive interviews with the Dalai Lama, who is less circumspect than usual about the political and moral challenges facing his “Middle Way” strategy of arguing for greater Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule. Sarin and Sonam also lift the veil on potentially explosive divisions within the Tibetan exile community, which is torn between spiritual and cultural loyalty to the Dalai Lama and a widespread longing for true independence. (The filmmakers clearly belong to the pro-independence camp.)

This film also became the centerpiece of an altercation last year…

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China seeks to annihilate Tibet’s Buddhism – Dalai Lama

BBC News – China seeks to annihilate Tibet’s Buddhism – Dalai Lama

Tibet’s spiritual leader has said China is trying to “annihilate Buddhism”, as the region marks the anniversary of a failed revolt against China in 1959.

The Dalai Lama’s comments come as Tibetans also mark the anniversary of the bloody riots in 2008, which were crushed by Beijing.


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China elevates its chosen Tibetan spiritual leader

Religion News: China elevates its chosen Tibetan spiritual leader

Born as Gyaltsen Norbu, he was anointed the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, shortly after the Dalai Lama identified a different child as the reincarnation of the previous Panchen Lama. A few weeks later, that boy and his family vanished. The government has said that they are in “protective custody,” but their whereabouts have been an enduring mystery for 15 years. …


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France denies citizenship over veil

Al Jazeera English – Europe – France denies citizenship over veil

On Tuesday, Eric Besson, the immigration minister, said that during checks into the man’s application, he had explicitly stated that he would never allow his wife to leave the house without wearing a full veil and that he believed a woman is “an inferior being”.


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Vietnam’s dispute with Zen master turns violent


HANOI, Vietnam — Communist Vietnam’s sometimes edgy relationship with religious freedom is being tested in a dispute over a monastery inhabited by disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the world’s most famous Zen masters.ALeqM5hxU-KnzVurM5g8ezdHHPCP9fIIpA

For four years, the Buddhist monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery in central Vietnam have been quietly meditating and studying the teachings of the 82-year-old Vietnamese sage who is perhaps the world’s best-known living Buddhist after Tibet’s Dalai Lama.

But lately, they are in a standoff that could test the patience of even the most enlightened.

First, local authorities cut off their power, water and telephones.

Then, a mob descended on their compound with sledgehammers, smashing windows, damaging buildings and threatening occupants….

*Sigh* I wonder if they make gym shoes in Bhutan?

The Associated Press: Vietnam’s dispute with Zen master turns violent


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This just in: It is hugely unlikely that God cares about your sex life

Mark Morford

…once again and for the billionth time, a deeply sad and hypocritical conservative is now claiming that he will be turning to God not merely for forgiveness for his lusty irresponsibilities, but he is also claiming that, in order to set things right, God will now be actively stepping into his life to help put him back on track, fix his mangled moral compass, tell him the what’s-what and the don’t-stick-that-there. …


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10 Reasons Why a LGBT March on Washington is a Bad Idea

Bil Browning: 10 Reasons Why a LGBT March on Washington is a Bad Idea

An activist who worked alongside slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk announced plans yesterday for a march on Washington this fall to demand that Congress establish equality and marriage rights for the lesbian, gay, and transgender community.

Cleve Jones said the march planned for Oct. 11 will coincide with National Coming Out Day and launch a new chapter in the gay rights movement. He made the announcement during a rally at the annual Utah Pride Festival.

There are 10 major reasons why this a horrible idea….