Monthly Archives: September 2011

Good Christians

I have become weary and sickened by the increasingly strident Christian-bashing that has become prevalent in modern society.

It is as if secularists and other non-Christians wish, consciously or unconsciously, to create “the new Jew”, a pilloried social leper upon whom it is considered healthy, wholesome, and even dutiful to heap scorn and ostracism. My sense of respect diminishes when people whom I might otherwise admire – and those whom I grudgingly respect even while wildly diverging from their thinking – when they play the “evil Christians” card. It is really so beneath them, but paradoxically, for these mostly bright folks, their prejudices seem to be reflexive and mostly unconscious. Seems that it’s time for some reflection and consciousness-raising.

Most of us have this tendency to revile “an Other”, in the process elevating ourselves, but danger flags should start flying when the media and other expectedly responsible, rational  sources typically and as a matter of course begin a program of social bashing .  A fishy stench is very much in the air when this kind of thing occurs, and sensitive, conscientious noses will scent it out.

So these are my feelings:

I was raised by Christians, fed, sheltered, educated and loved by Christians. – a huge number of us can say this, so it is the height of arrogance and selective amnesia to behave as if Christians are some foreign, exotic – and evil – species whom our daughters must never marry. I myself was a Christian for some 28 years. I therefore feel that this new wave of “anti-Christianism” is as mean and nasty as it it unjustified and disturbing.

A truism must be invoked here: Christians are people. As with most other people, they live in society with more or less success, with more or less helpfulness. They are people. They ought not to be vilified or ostracised – except for anti-social behavior that would result in anyone else being marginalized. Discernment in this area is crucial, as is recognizing the huge spectrum of belief in Christianity, for example, the unbridgeable gap that exists between emergent Christianity,  liturgical Christianity, “biblical”/evangelical Christianity on the one hand, and fundamentalist Christianity on the other. Only when these inter-religious differences are known and recognized can an observer make any claim to fairness and objectivity. It takes a little homework. But so does any worthwhile effort to keep a society aligned  with justice.

The following is a link to an article – a Buddhist appraisal of some local Christians, written by an ordained priest of the Jodo Shinshu (“Shin”) sect:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2005/01/14/the-christians-i-know/

It makes beneficial reading for those who wish to be socially apt, realistic, and compassionate – that is, for those whose conscience rebels at participating in the creation of any “new Jews”,  be they Christian or otherwise.

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My Socialism

A friend of mine recently noted that any government or social policy that is not for the common good partakes in sociopathology. This principle is supported by most religions and is found in Buddhism. I’d like to briefly cite an essay that treats exactly this issue. Written in wartime, it condemns Japan’s support of war with Russia (1904-1905), especially the misuse of religion in that effort. The author also condemns the ill-use that the “haves” direct toward the “have nots”. The specific religious context is that of Jodo Shinshu or Shin Buddhism, with its centrality of Amida Buddha and its belief in Amida’s “Pure Land”, where the faithful are posthumously transformed into bodhisattvas, or “helpful Buddhas”. Aptly, the essay is entitled, My Socialism.

I do not feel that socialism is a theory, but rather a kind of practice… I think we need to reform the social system rapidly and change the social structure completely from the ground up… I consider socialism to be related much more deeply to religion than to politics. In proceeding to reform society, we have to, first of all, begin from our own spirituality.

I consider [the Pure Land] to be the place in which socialism is truly practiced. If Amida is endowed with the thirty-two [holy distinguishing] marks, the novice bodhisattvas who gather [in the Pure Land] are also endowed with the thirty-two marks… [This is how] socialism is practiced in this Land of Bliss.

We have never heard that beings in the Land of Bliss have attacked other lands. Nor have we ever heard that they have started a great war for the sake of justice. Hence I am against war. I do not feel that a person of the Land of Bliss should take part in warfare.

The essayist’s words are certainly an example of “engaged Buddhism”, concerned for the welfare of all and willing to restructure society along principles of compassion rather than wealth-accumulation, greed, and war. In words that could have been written today, the author deplores the gap between rich and poor and its accompanying sociopathology:

We live in a country where the common people in general are sacrificed for the fame, peerage and medals of one small group of people. It is a society in which the common people in general must suffer for the sake of a small number of speculators. Are not the poor treated like animals at the hands of the wealthy? There are people who cry out in hunger; there are women who sell their honor out of poverty; there are children who are soaked by the rain. Rich people and government officials find pleasure in treating them like toys, oppressing them and engaging them in hard labor…

The external stimuli being like this, our subjective faculties are replete with ambition. This is truly the world of defilement, a world of suffering, a dark night. Human nature is being slaughtered by the devil.

Yet Amida Buddha continues his call to us, and this compassion itself should prompt us toward a spiritual socialism.

Our thoughts cannot but change completely: “I will do what the Buddha wishes me to do, practise what he wishes me to practise and make the Buddha’s will my own will, I will become what the Tathagata tells me to become.” This is the time of great determination!

The only thing I wish to accomplish through my great energy and human labour is progress and community life. We labour in order to produce and we cultivate our minds so that we can attain the Way. But look at what’s happening! We cannot help but lament when we hear that religious functionaries are praying to gods and buddhas for victory. Indeed, a feeling of pity arises in my heart and I am sorry for them.

we must proceed from the spiritual realm and completely change the social system from the ground up. I am firmly convinced that this is what socialism means.

So in Jodo Shinshu there is a blueprint for social equality based on spiritual principles of compassion and wisdom for a life (in Marcus Borg’s words) centered in Spirit rather than in culture, a challenge to beat swords into ploughshares, to make war no more, and to never again rejoice at an enemy’s destruction, principles also rooted in the bible and enjoined in such texts as:

Proverbs 22:22-23: Rob not the poor, because they are poor; neither oppress the afflicted at the city entrance: for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.

Proverbs 24:17-18: Rejoice not when thine enemy falls,, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it,, and it displease him…

[The My Socialism esssay written by Takagi Kenmyo, cited in Beyond Meditation: Expressions of Japanese Shin Buddhist Spirituality, ed. Michael Pye, Equinox Publishing, Oakville CT: 2011.]