I’ve been conversing through the comments on my blog with a man who rejects Christ and Christianity. I just wrote a two-thousand word reply to his comment in the comment section of my post entitled, Alistair Begg interviewed by Unbelievers. This post has generated the most thoughtful discussion on my blog (though the one on homosexuality and the T.V. Show “The Office” comes in a close second). Here is the meat of my reply to the commenter:
You said regarding Buddhism: “I do think so as I personal witness suffering all around me. I know of no one who denies this as far as it goes.”
My reply: I see from this the epistemological basis of personal witness and the fact that no one denies this. I don’t think that is a completely reliable basis, though I do agree that suffering exists.
You said regarding Christianity: “Christianity assumes that salvation exists. In other words it assumes the very object of contention, that very wonderful thing we all want. It then makes the issue, which is really another assumption, that humans can be saved. Is this a rational or legitimate way to approach a quest for the truth? I don’t think so, but let’s ask my Chrystal Ball (See any assumption here?)”
My reply: What do you think Christianity says we are saved from?
You said: The Buddha says: “Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man were wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and companions brought a surgeon to treat him. The man would say, ‘I will not let the surgeon pull out the arrow until I know the name and clan of the man who wounded me; whether the bow that wounded me was a long bow or a cross bow; whether the arrow that wounded me was hoof-tipped or curved or barbed.’ All this would still not be known to that man, and meanwhile he would die. So too, Malunkyaputta, if anyone should say, ‘I will not lead the noble life under the Buddha until the Buddha declares to me whether the world is eternal or not eternal; finite or infinite; whether the soul is the same as or different from the body; whether or not an awakened one continues or ceases to exist after death,’ that would still remain undeclared by the Buddha, and meanwhile that person would die.”
“Here Buddha is saying that all our concerns about an afterlife actually retard our attempts at attempting to achieve his mission statement.”
My reply: I think your conclusion is wrong. I think you’re making Buddha say more than he is saying. He’s saying that if you needed to know what would happen after death before you do good then you might end up wasting time/opportunity to good because you may die before finding out. Or he may be saying you can never know until after you die (which I, as a Christian, disagree with). But to say that “all concerns about an afterlife actually retard our attempts” is not true. I don’t feel retarded in my attempts of living a life that is good in the sight of the God and Father of Jesus Christ though I have a major concern and confidence in the afterlife. Actually, in Christianity, the reality of the afterlife and the hope of God making all wrong things right is the foundation for Christian love and sacrifice.
You said in part two of Buddha’s words: “Here the Buddha says be good for its own sake, without fear of hope of reward. Compare this with Pascal’s wager argument and the superiority of this sentiment is apparent.”
My reply: Buddha’s words to be good for its own sake and not to seek reward does not make sense because to Buddha, the reward is solace, freedom from hatred, malice, etc. I’m not saying those are bad things, I’m saying that it is inaccurate to say there is no reward. If I were a thief, I see having possessions I didn’t work for ethically as more rewarding than working hard, earning money, and getting a little bit. If someone told me to not steal because it was a reward to have the solace of not doing evil, I might say who’s to say that stealing is wrong/evil (I know that pushes back to the necessary question of the standard of right/wrong and good/evil)?
You said: “I believe there is an important distinction to be made between religion and spirituality. Religion I take to be concerned with belief in the claims to salvation of one faith tradition or another–an aspect of which is acceptance of some form of meta-physical or philosophical reality, including perhaps an idea of heaven or hell. Connected with this are religious teachings or dogma, ritual, prayers and so on. Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit–such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony, which bring happiness to both self and others.”
My reply: I think the concerns of spirituality you mentioned are concerns of Christianity also. I also think the things you say spirituality is concerned with must take place in reality and are always placed in a philosophical framework to be intelligible and orderly, it’s just that some admit they have a philosophical framework while others don’t (though they still have one since all of us do). In other words, the distinction you make between spirituality and religion is arbitrary and artificial. Maybe “religion” is more institutionalized, but it is not more philosophical and it is not less concerned with love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, etc.
You said in four: “The Buddha’s maps for the journey to wisdom and happiness are attractive to many people because they are so simple. Essentially, he taught that it doesn’t make sense to upset ourselves about what is beyond our control. We don’t get a choice about what hand we are dealt in this life. The only choice we have is our attitude about the cards we hold and the finesse with which we play our hand.”
My reply: The Bible also gives a proper sense of responsibility and what is beyond our responsibility. I like Buddha’s concept here.
You said in five: The Buddha replied: “Greater than the massacring of bullocks is the sacrifice of self. He who offers up his evil desires will see the uselessness of slaughtering animals at the altar. Blood has no power to cleanse, but the giving up of harmful actions will make the heart whole. Better than worshiping gods is following the ways of goodness.”
My reply: Offering up evil desires and sacrificing them in the way of goodness doesn’t fix the evil committed. If a child molester rapes a young girl for 3 years and damages her for life with his evil, him then sacrificing his evil and self does not bring healing, meaning, purpose, a sense of harmony, or happiness and peace to the molester or the victim. I think this shows a huge weakness with this way of thinking/living, these “ways of goodness.”
You said: “Buddhism is a philosophy of experience here and now. You see it, you feel it. You understand it now. Not dependent on a supernatural force with proof to be provide after you die.”
My reply: So your basis is experience here and now. What you feel and what you see and understand now. I don’t want to stake my life and decisions ultimately on my experience and sights and understanding now. I’m still learning so much. There is infinitely more I do not know compared to the infinitely small portion of reality that I do know or understand. I’m still under 30, but even if I was 90 and seen 3 times what I’ve seen to this day, I still wouldn’t have “seen,” “understood,” or “experienced” enough to dismiss the claims of Jesus Christ and Christianity. My sight would still have been so limited. My understanding will still be in many ways flawed and imperfect. My experience would have been so minute compared to the 6 billion plus experiences that are happening every moment as I type this sentence. Why stake my life/philosophy ultimately on what I’ve seen, understood, or experienced? Can I really believe that my experiences, sights, and understandings are worthy of my faith? I’m not saying Christianity is invisible, illogical, incomprehensible, or inexperiential, but I am saying that for those personal sights/understandings/experiences to be ultimate is unwise and presumptuous.
You said: I see no genocide here, no blood sacrifices, no slavery, hatred and threats. A man could live profitably and with nobility by the few words and ideas I have cobbled together her at your request. Need I quote where the bible approves, nay, mandates these things?
Here is just one. Read Mark 4:11-13
Peter, I say to you, you know these things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,’ abandon them.
My reply: Again, thank you for encouraging me to abandon Christianity based on your beliefs. I do really appreciate your care, though I still disagree with your philosophy and conclusions about Jesus Christ.
You point out another epistemological basis or standard here – no genocide, blood sacrifices, hatred, slavery, threats. I can’t comment on them all right here but I will say that if you (not necessarily you personally) do not hate what is truly worthy of hate then you are not good. If you do not hate evil then you are not good. If you do not hate murder then you are not good. If you do not hate injustice then you are not good. If you do not hate evil than you are not good. The hatred of evil and what goes along with that explain your hang-ups with Christianity in this most recent quote, but before you understand why Christianity and God reveals himself in these ways you have to see that to not hate evil is itself evil.
You said: “Compare that with a test that is tangible, here and now, not promised as pie in the sky in the great bye and bye. Lastly, it is done without regard to reward or punishment. How noble is that?”
My reply: There are tangible tests like the ones you’ve named that Christianity can be tested with. It is logically coherent (as I’ll discuss in response to your other comment #10), it is historically grounded, it is (to use your 3 earlier grounds for trusting Buddhism) experienced by Christians, it is understood by Christians, and sight does play a part in Christian faith.
Again, nothing is done without reward if you understand that the doing of the good is a reward to some. I pointed out where Buddha finds reward in “solace” earlier. That is a reward. And I don’t think that makes it lose its nobility to seek reward, granted the reward is not self-centered/self-exalting (unless you are God himself according to the Bible and the Christian faith).