Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Why Western Buddhists Need God

[Bolton Abbey - Pixabay]

Take in that feeling that you are bringing from the title above. 

How does it feel? How do you feel? 

Consider this for a moment before reading on.

If you identify in some way with Buddhism and you are affiliated with the Western convert community, there is a decent chance you are having a negative reaction. Perhaps you are even looking to see what I am going to write in support of the premise in the title with a little hostility, ready to be especially critical of whatever comes next.

Maybe even you're feeling a little "Bodhier than thou".

Funny that. Whatever tradition, school, or sect of Buddhism you follow, I am betting that the teaching you have encountered discuss the attitudes and assumptions, the emotionally charged disposition, that one brings into each experience.

So for those rolling their eyes or scowling at the screen, what kind of unhealthy attachment is it that is generating such a reaction?

If you don't identify with Buddhism or if you are intrigued rather than bothered by the title, there is something here for you, too. Let's have a look.

The idea for what I am writing now occurred to me months ago, and the attention and reaction that recently published pieces on "McMindfulness" at HuffPo and Scientistic Buddhism at the Triycle Blog reminded me I hadn't actually written anything yet (even though I've addressed a similar topic before).

I've written quite a bit about God in this space, drawing upon many writers across human history. There are so many layers of emotional and social baggage attached to terms associated with religion in post-Enlightenment societies that it can be hard to find people open-minded and well-read enough to discuss topics surrounding concepts like God without having to clear a minefield of assumptions first.

Honestly, from what I've encountered, I would recommend that those who identify strongly as theists need a good period of "No God" and those who are adamantly "No God" need God. As semantic allergies towards Abrahamic traditions and theism in general appear to be fairly common among Western Buddhists, they are included in the "need God" group.

When I write that people need God/no God, what I mean is that they should be asking themselves what they are overlooking by rejecting a particular perspective on life, by dismissing a particular orientation to existence. What can't they see or feel or understand because the narrative of life, the universe, and everything that they have embraced and which is bound up in their sense of identity, is closed to certain points of view?

I myself have gravitated between God and no God, including "Who cares?" and "What does it have to do with me?" The same with religions such as Buddhism and Christianity and philosophical movements such as compassionate or engaged Humanism.

I used to be bothered by feeling like the Non-King of the Nones, where even "None" wasn't a label that remotely seemed to fit. The tension of being in a space between spiritual narratives, of feeling a little like I was spiritually homeless, was not exactly Disneyland.

Yet now I am combining my education, formal and informal, professional and amateur, in areas such as evolution, anthropology, sociology, consciousness, etc, into a view of human nature that includes an exciting way to think about spirituality that has the potential to bring together people of different positions on things like "God" and "religion".

Who knows, this even suggests I might be spiritual and have a place in the spiritual life after all. This view says we all have a place, even if we deny it or ignore it or call it something else.

And the thing is, I started off being really dismissive of and ignorant about religion. And even if after I got over that, I still had a beef with God and the Bible. Honestly, I am still kind of "meh" about God and still have some issues with the Bible, but I am in a much better place for having lowered my defenses and prejudices. For having given my childhood religion a fair hearing and sincere re-exploration rather than just politely ignoring or tolerating it.

So what blinders are you clinging to? Have you grown from getting rid of them? What do you think about your reactions to the title of this blog post now?

I'd love to read your comments on these questions or other things that I've provoked. And look, the comment section is right here...

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