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Thursday, July 14, 2016


Recent stories in the New York Times tell a sad story about human rights violations in the Asian country of Myanmar; the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, have suffered greatly under a government whose discrimination towards them has been compared to the infamous Apartheid regime of South Africa.  Even worse, religious leader Ashin Wirathu has spread hatred of the Rohingya, calling them “the enemy”, and saying “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog.”  This kind of hateful rhetoric has lead to lynch mobs killing hundreds of innocent people, and forcing thousands more from their homes.  All of this is terrible enough, but the thing I find the most upsetting is that Ashin Wirathu is a Buddhist monk, and Myanmar is around ninety percent Buddhist.
Buddhism is, to my, eyes the most open minded and easy going of all the major world religions.  In many ways, it resembles more of a philosophy than a religion, with some members of the faith actually calling themselves atheists(!). This is because Buddha himself is perceived in most sects of the faith as just a spiritual leader and not a  god or the child of one.  Although there are stories of him performing miracles like walking on air, there are practicing members of the faith who dismiss these tales as myths.  Compare that to Christianity, which requires complete belief in the miracles of Christ.
Instead of prayer, Buddhism promotes the far more self reflective practice of meditation, instead of the ten commandments, Buddhism has five precepts that are far less commanding.  They are: 1. Don't Kill.  2.  Don't Steal.  3.  No Sexual Misconduct.  4.  Don't Lie  5.  Don't Drink.  (Many Buddhists ignore that last  one).  Instead of a pope Buddhism has the Dali Lama, who is not seen as infallible, and whose speeches are more about general goodness and kindness than faith.
So while Buddhism is seemingly the least puritanical of religions, the terrible situation in Myanmar would show that any religion, taken to an extreme, can lead to hatred and bigotry.  Sadly, it's seems that part of human nature is that any large number of people having a strongly held belief system can lead to despising other people who do not hold that same belief.  And while I don't believe in God personally, I also realize that even Atheists can practice the same kind of bigotry as the faithful when they hold the power to do so, like in Communist Russia.  Really, the best that I think that humans can do on matters of faith is for us all to basically be agnostics who don't dwell on spiritual matters much.  Many European countries (and Japan) are leading the way on this, and the fact that the number of  non religious affiliated Americans is growing indicates that a global movement to move away from religion as a driving force in society may be underway.  To my reckoning, this is a good thing, and downright evolutionary when you think about it.  Science knows so much about the world around us now that religious answers are becoming less and less necessary.


  1. Any religion, taken to an extreme, can lead to hatred and bigotry- hard to refute, but, as you rightly observe, communism is atheistic at its core, and still managed to begat Stalin, Mao's great leap forward, and Pol Pot's killing fields. Not that religious oppression is fine and dandy, but if you blame Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot on communism, and accept atheism as fundamental to communism, doesn't all religion, when pitted against atheism, take the prize for the 20th century for fewer people massacred?
    And of course, as I argue this, some guy drove a truckful of bombs into a crowd in France...and Tim Tebow is on his way to Cleveland to talk about what a great guy Donald Trump is...
    Anyway, I thought I'd plug religion, despite its tendency to correlate with atrocity...

  2. ...and isn't 5am a little early to be wrapping up a big, heavy, nuanced blog entry on religious oppression by Buddhists?

  3. You're right about Stalin and Mao, but why stop at the 20th. century? The bible has been around for centuries, why not look at its influence in total, including the holy wars and the Inquisition? Its only fair...