Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Oh no, I've said too much

Recent versions of the Wikipedia entry on Buddhism began with the intro, "Buddhism, as traditionally conceived, is a path of liberation attained through insight into the ultimate nature of reality." This was enough to hook me, to tell me that this is a spiritual philosophy worth investigating further.

It struck me that different religions are based more on values than on beliefs. Beliefs are things we tend to form around those values. Buddhism is instantly appealing to me because it values understanding reality. It seems it would encourage questioning our beliefs in order to figure them out. This likely makes it popular among people seeking new faiths, especially if they are at odds with their former belief system due to questioning it. Some religions neither encourage nor deal well with questioning. Christianity for example values faith over figuring out reality. This isn't to say that one religion has a more accurate description of reality than another, but that a religion can for example be less concerned with accuracy in describing reality than another, and perhaps more concerned with things like trusting in reality, whatever it may be.

Religions can give us guidance and they can be a way of dealing with unknowns in our reality. Various religions appeal to various individuals depending on our individual values. If we feel a need to figure things out and have things make sense, we may be drawn to religions that focus on the nature of reality. If we value trusting in the unknown without needing to figure it out, we may be drawn to religions that focus on faith and deities that will take care of us. If we have a strong need for security, we may accept dogma over personal choice, and be drawn to religions with strict beliefs.

And so, if you find yourself debating religions with others, keep in mind that you're not just debating which specific beliefs are the "correct" ones, you are making judgments of others' values. Determining which beliefs are "correct" tends not to even matter -- if a person's beliefs line up well with their values, then those beliefs are likely correct for them.

If, however, one's beliefs are not working well for them, they might be considered incorrect in that case. Many religions tend to value loyalty, which discourages people from choosing a better-fitting option. Most tend to have human leaders, whose values become indoctrinated. But we each have varying values. These individual values combined with loyalty to a named religion lead to different flavors of religion that can seem strange to outsiders. If you value questioning your faith, you should do so, but if others do not value it, it may be best to just respect their choice. If you feel inclined to question your own faith, ask yourself these two questions: First, do my religious beliefs coincide with my personal beliefs? If not, then your religion may, for you, be a source of confusion and gloom, instead of understanding and hope. Second, do the values of my religion coincide with my personal values? If not, your religion may be like a prison, discouraging thoughts or behaviors that you might find more fulfilling.

It is unfortunate in my most humble of opinings, that religions tend to be evaluated more on beliefs than on values. Ironically, though I said I wanted to investigate Buddhism further, I didn't read much past the opening line, satisfied with the value and not wanting to hear about specific beliefs. Fittingly enough, that line was removed in recent edits to the Wikipedia page, due to it being a "point of view". So it looks like I might have to create my own religion, starting with the values and building on my own beliefs.

I wonder... is starting a religion still a good way to make a lot of money?

Stay tuned (but don't hold your breath) for Part II: On the Nature of God


bobisimo said...

You should start a good religion, one that doesn't challenge me at all or require me to change anything. It should include orgies and drug parties (like sweat lodges). When you do, remember how we've always been friends and make sure I get some extra special benefits out the deal.

Sometimes I hear Buddhism and I think dumb. But then I see Buddhists meditating on a tiny wooden bridge overlooking a gently rolling brook, with trees blowing softly in the wind. So tranquil. I want to be able to make everything around me look so tranquil.

Michael Devine said...

I was thinking of making a religion that is fairly flexible. I recalled some story of some dude who moved a temple or something, and forced everyone working on it to make sure they moved worms safely so none were hurt. This seems silly to me. It would be like thinking "All of my cells are living things, so I must not do anything that harms any of them", and then confining yourself to... i dunno, a dimly lit bed of warm jello... though that doesn't sound so bad.

I mean, religions seem to start with reasonable values that turn into weird beliefs and then into some bizarre practices. I'd prefer something flexible where some values are more important than others and various beliefs can all fit in the religion. It's like the "geek code" that people used to use... every person had a code that was completely personalized to their self, but everybody felt a kinship among others who used the code.

It'd be like that.

Tranquility is nice yes. Another thing I like about Buddhism is the idea of impermanence. It makes so much sense. Other religions go nuts over fear of their selves ending. They make up so many rules to get around it, but they'll never find true peace because immortality doesn't even make sense, so you can't really think about it, but you must cling to it because the alternative is too scary.

For sure though, you get special treatment in my religion! You can be a deity maybe (no flexibility allowed on that for others, punishable by an eternal damnation of your choice). Or maybe I'll let you be a Level 9 dual class Pope/Gorgon. Plus I'll give you a 50% discount on the membership fees!