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January 04, 2010


Mike Erickson

Well said, John.

chris corwin

ditto, mostly -- well said.

i don't agree with everything you said, of course, but you said it well.


one change i'd make is that with this phrase:

> a key theological distinction between Buddhism and Christianity

this is (of course) overly simplistic, but it assumes that there is *a* christian theology, and sort of ignores the fact that buddhism completely ignores theology: it is not a religious faith, but rather a rational philosophy.

one can't have a theological distinction between the two, as the former does not make theological points.

one can be both a buddhist *and* a christian in a way that one can not be both a christian and a muslim, or a christian and hindu.

again: this is painting with quite a wide brush, and is therefore overly simplistic.

but it is essentially true.

the problem (and it IS a problem) that you've pointed out is something many agnostics and atheists share: where do we turn for forgiveness/redemption?

even though i am unconvinced that there is a creator/god who is in a position to hand such forgiveness out (ie: i'm an atheist) i still have the very human need to feel restored after i come to the conclusion that i've wronged others.

i still feel a need to forgive and be forgiven.

some may say that need comes from it being built into our *souls* by a creator.

i think it is likely the side effect of being empathetic, and that itself is a side effect of us being a species that seems to have thrived in small groups --- IE: we evolved into beings that do better when we take care of one another, and one mechanism that's evolved to that effect is that we feel badly when we realize we've treated others in a way that we ourselves do not like to be treated.

(insert caveat about this being hugely simplistic again -- can't be said enough!)

make sense?

Resident Atheist

I think the interesting thing here is that Hume thinks that being forgiven by a diety is somehow more satisfying. I would argue that if he wants to be forgiven, perhaps he should try to make amends to his wife (who, by the way, can actually communicate forgiveness.)

John, in your statements about sin, are you actually suggesting that people who don't believe in the religious connotation of 'sin' are unable to identify immoral behavior? You seem to be implying that to Buddhists, no act can be deemed 'wrong'.


It's worth talking about how much semantics plays into a dialogue like this. Saying there's no Buddhist concept of 'sin' assumes too much. Buddhists stress 'right morals' and 'right attitudes'. I hear this on a regular basis from my Thai seniors. You might as well say that although Jesus suffered, but he didn't understand 'dukkha'.

Buddhism and Christianity both talk about 'sin' and 'suffering', but they use different terms and employ different levels of specificity. In any event, Buddhists believe you reap what you sow. They just don't quote the Bible when they say it.

Lest I be accused of traipsing off-topic: I do think it's fair to say Buddhists don't embrace capital-F 'forgiveness'. (Here comes my unfounded opinion:) That kind of talk is smoke-and mirrors to Buddhist devotees. Better than external forgiveness is internal change. If you remove the obstacles to 'right (or appropriate) thinking' then you can do one better than being forgiven -- you can stop hurting yourself and others. Exit suffering.

Christians balk at this because it circumvents forgiveness, but the end result is the same: transformation. I realize that it's not the same thing, semantically. But the process (acknowledgment/confession, followed by transformative power) is similar.

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