My Great Aunt the Nun Was Reincarnated as a Celibate and He Sent Me an Email...

Comments

1

At least follow your own advice and get clarification on those kinks before you meet for coffee.

But seriously, baked in here is the eternal assumption of the religious about atheists, that we feel like "we can't come back to god," or "we feel alienated from god," or "we're angry at god." They have a hard time with the obvious:

We don't belief in god.

2

@1 I've gotten letters from family in the church using all of those phrases. I'm truly curious what's going on inside their heads, but I'm sure they'd say the same about me.

"Or maybe you want to save me? ;)"

Oh, gross.

3

I’ll throw in: We got married in our dining room so I could get on my wife’s insurance (domestic partner benefits in Wisconsin are a fucking rip off) neither of us considered it a big deal. BUT we found it weirdly hot. We were lightly edging into sub/dom stuff like so many others but were egalitarian in our non sex lives. Now us being married was like a patriarchy role play in the bedroom. I’d talk about how she had to fuck me for legal reasons, or that I was the man of the house and was going to take my little housewife and we’d chuckle and have super hot sex. Trump has put some kaibosh on that, it we still have some good sex and at its best it is better than the decade we spent cohabitation. Coincidence? Maebs.

4

Joe, you cannot take our Sex Pope away from us.

The Church of Kink

5

Praise be to the Daddy, the boy, and the holy ghosting.

6

Religious people are fucking weird

7

Bitchy Dan is back!

Back HOME, that is.

Winky face?

8

That was creepy and unsettling... I was going to complain about the lack of a trigger warning for people with a buzz to preserve. But then... WHAM a whole bunch of happy stories. And someone said "slutty" without commenters losing their shit!

9

Do not need these fucking religious freaks everywhere you look.
Secular democracies are being taken over by religions, and you know why that is? Because they are patriarchal and men the whole world over are getting the message many many women in all their manifestations have had enough, so like this tool here writing to Dan, they try to seep further out.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, leave us alone.

10

@1 - the 'angry at god' was the line that my mother consistently trotted out. She never seemed to hear me when I said I couldn't be angry with something that doesn't exist. I'm angry with its looney followers.

11

The first letter was deeply creepy, but the other three were heart-warming. So now I just feel vaguely confused and unsettled.

12

Hello Joe,
The person you ought to invite on that coffee date is Giuliano Costalunga, an Italian parish priest, and his Spanish husband.

"Italian Priest Flaunts ‘Marriage’ to Male Partner, Remains a Priest" https://www.churchmilitant.com/news/article/italian-priest-flaunts-marriage-to-male-partner-remains-a-priest

13

I think you should interview him, Dan. I want to know more about the invalid partnership. Sounds like a good story. (Feel sorry for the other person, though.)

14

There's a big difference in believing that the universe was created by something(s) vs believing the Judao-Christian version of creation. Christians like to arrogantly call those who don't believe in Christian theory atheists, which says more about them than it does about the target of their ire.

15

@Dan "my kinks > your kinks"
How do you know your kinks are GREATER THAN Joe's?

Oh, and maybe hook Joe up with the LW who likes to kick people in the balls. If anyone needs that, it's Joe.

16

Wait why did you cut out the part of his letter about "wearing your skin"?

17

@11 exactly

@16 hahahaha. You are the honorary #69.

Creepy, creepy, creepy. I myself am a deist, I guess at this point. The more I think about religion, the less I can believe it.

But yeah to everyone else.

18

The final letter is classic FTWL.

As for the response to the first letter:

[But just as I don't assume the sex I'm having would make everyone happy, Joe, you shouldn't assume the sex you're not having would make everyone happy.]

shouldn't that be, "...you shouldn't assume NOT HAVING the sex you're not having would make everyone happy"?

19

Joe: "I love you."

Dan: "No, you don't."

Oh please, Dan. Who are we to say who Joe loves, however improbably.

20

Having an invisible friend who tells you to be more kind, compassionate, generous, and forgiving is not a bad thing. Most of us need all the help we can get in that department, whether the source is "real" or "imaginary." On the other hand, having an invisible friend who tells you to act like a jerk, to hate others or to see yourself as superior to them, and who gives you excuses for your bad behavior, is superfluous for most of us.

21

@20 NoHighway
"Having an invisible friend who tells you to be more kind, compassionate, generous, and forgiving is not a bad thing."

True. But it is bad to NEED one, though. And be clear, they do, people don't expend the effort to sustain belief in ridiculous things without a psychological NEED to.

As with any cult, if their belief were somehow removed/deprogrammed from them without any personal growth on their part, they'd need to (and quickly would) substitute something else to support them in the face of their need (fear, insecurity, etc) for it.

22

@21 curious2: If you query most people (religious or not), you'll find that they believe any number of ridiculous things, and many things that "everybody" knows to be true today will seem ridiculous in the future. I don't think takes as much effort to believe ridiculous things as you seem to think. Anyway, other people's beliefs don't affect me -- only their actions. If their beliefs lead them to positive actions, then I don't care how ridiculous their beliefs may be. If their beliefs lead them to actions that are harmful, then I don't care how "reasonable" their beliefs are.

23

@22 NoHighway
"I have sworn...eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man"
(Thomas Jefferson https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-32-02-0102)

The effort the subconsious exerts is of course not conscious.

Know someone who always is nearly wrong about everything? For example, about whether X will happen. A year later, ask them if they predicted X would happen or not; they'll invariably say they were correct even though they weren't. People edit their memories (when recalled, then re-written into memory) so that their story of themselves is a positive one, so a person who is always wrong about everything will not realize it (and will thus continue to trust their own terrible judgement).

I think believing bullcrap entails similar effort. Yes, effort: the subconscious must not be simply on vacation for such gymnastics to occur.

24

I was raised Catholic as well, and as someone who's a bit of a medievalist, I've immersed myself in Catholicism a fair bit more than your average worshipper in the pews on Sunday.

There's actually quite a lot to admire in Catholicism if you can get past the damage some people have had to endure from the Church (and that is pretty wide-ranging stuff, from sexual abuse to cooperation with fascist governments, especially in Italy, Spain, and Latin America, to the garden-variety inducement-to-guilt that many former Catholics may recall).

We could start with the easy stuff, the aesthetic stuff. IMO no other Church, no other organization or movement, ancient, modern, or in-between, has ever done the visual arts better. When it comes to music, the Church is right there at the foundations of Western music. That "Do, Re, Mi" we all know from elementary school? It comes from "Ut queant laxis," a hymn to John the Baptist.

And speaking of saints, what a marvelous, magical world the world of hagiography is! All tending towards the same theme, true, but in such a myriad of ways. A personal favorite: St. Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins, which sounds like it should be a band. And not just hagiography either, but so much poetry, theater too.

Once you get into the doctrine, there's a lot to like there too. The model taken from the Crucifixion, of course, is one of supreme self-sacrifice on behalf of others. What is not to admire and emulate in that?

There are some strong parallels with Buddhism as well, when it comes to discussions about desires and whether or not fulfilling them brings happiness (short answer, they don't; they just lead to more). This is a bit of an import from the classical philosophical tradition. But whether you are Buddhist, Catholic, or a pagan Epicurean, you will recognize that taming your desires (for wealth, for fame, for power, for love, for wine, women, and song; for sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll), overcoming them, and taking away their influence over you is the path to long-term happiness.

Finally, the one big thing that most people have a problem with, all of the guilt that Catholicism can induce, springs from a teaching that all of us have missed the mark when it comes to living a good life. Well, that's quite true. We're none of us perfect. And the basic Catholic formula for dealing with that is (1) admitting when you are wrong, (2) resolving to try to do better, and (3) making amends for what you have done. The insight is that doing immoral things harms the person doing them as much as it harms others, often more so; the point isn't to make you feel bad that you've done bad things, it's to give you a way of getting out from under that guilt.

Personally, I find quite a bit there that suits me. And while we might quibble here and there over what sort of behavior is right and what is wrong, I find the basic ethical structure of Catholicism reasonably sound. Certainly more so than much of the materialism that currently is in ascendance.

25

@24 The parallels between Buddhism here are pretty superficial. It's a nice story for the Joseph Campbells of the world to promote but it ain't necessarily so. Christianity is intensely dualist in all but a few of the most liberal denominations. Most Dharmic paths end up nondualist/advaitic and differ sharply from Abrahamic thought in their primary assertions. You're comparing daily advice for laity. That's like saying two countries are strongly alike because parents in both countries tell their kids to eat their vegetables.

26

Not to mention that "we're just trying to help you be better" line. You are barking up the wrong tree if you're here giving us a line about how everyone's just misunderstood the poor Catholic church. It doesn't want to abuse us but sometimes when we start mouthing off, it just has no choice! Boo hoo.

27

LW1 seems to be getting off on his own celibacy. Probably more so since Dan responded.

28

@23 curious2: Well, I guess the fact that Jefferson didn't pray the Rosary makes up for the way he treated his slaves, huh? Funny how his "eternal hostility to tyranny" didn't stop him from forcing nine-year olds to make iron nails for 16 hours a day and having them beaten if they didn't produce enough. But at least he didn't believe in virgin birth, so I guess he must have been a good guy.

29

A question for LOVE: It sounds like you've managed to build a good sex life despite your husband's premature ejaculation, which is good, but have you -- has he -- done anything to try to fix the premature ejaculation? There are thicker and orgasm-delaying condoms on the market; have you tried those? Or a cock ring? Or what about giving you the long penetrative sex you want using a sheath or strap-on? If you've been able to talk everything else out, you should be able to make these suggestions now without him shutting down. Good luck.

Corydon @24: As a raised-Baptist, I appreciate your post. Yes, the Catholic Church did architecture and music better than anyone else. Any city in Europe, there's a cathedral, which is one of the most beautiful buildings in town and a must-see for any tourist. Bach, among others, owes his career to the church. And yes, if you strip out all the church stuff and just read the supposed words of Jesus, you'll find a wonderful model for living a life of tolerance, humility and forgiveness. It's a shame so many so-called Christians remember veiled old-Testament references to homosexuality so much better than they remember "judge not, lest ye be judged."

30

@28 NoHighway
What does Jefferson have to do with anything? When someone uses a quote to speak for them that does not constitute an endorsement of the person being quoted, just that one thing they said. In other words, you appear to be a coocoo.

But since you bring him up, it appears you know little about the him. Yes, like other men of his day with the means he owned slaves. (Your cellphone was made by Chinese slaves, so you benefit from slave labor too.) But according to what I've read he also worked throughout his lifetime trying to abolish that heinous practice, unlike others did not treat slaves as you suggest but better than other men of his day, and provided for his slaves' freedom upon his passing.

Did stop his society from owning slaves? No. But he did what he could. Are you trying, or even voting for candidates who want, to stop slaves from making products you buy cheaper because they make them?

31

p.s. And not just cellphones. Many of the products we buy are made by imprisoned slaves in China (and the US too).

32

I agree with Lionface here regarding the apparent similarities between Buddhism and Catholicism. Also in addition to what Lionface brought up -that Abrahamic traditions are linear and have a cause-effect logic while Vedic traditions have more circular understandings with dependent arising logic- a natural outcome of those differences as it relates to tempering desire is that Catholicism tend to focus on personal sacrifice (you give to others, you deny yourself pleasure), Buddhism takes on a middle path. It's the difference between going on a diet vs changing your lifestyle. This is important because - at least in doctrines- the Buddhist approach to sexual appetites changes within the context of your life and your impact on others while the Catholic approach tends towards rules of what you can/cannot do and with whom regardless of those other things. All this personal focus on your own actions rather than focus on the context of them and all the forces in play.

But if we are looking at practice as an institution, then one thing Buddhism has in common with Catholicism is that they both have created giant bureaucracies that abuse and oppress people and pass down all sorts of harmful ways to control the masses. Let's not be starry eyed about religious institutions, despite the good we can glean from their philosophies.

And Catholic cathedrals are no more beautiful than Hindu and Buddhist temples or any of the stunning mosques around the world, and their pantheon of saints is no more colorful or rich than the characters in any religion- the intervening Bodhisattvas or Hindu mythologies etc.

33

@24 What institution, belief systems, etc. looms so large in history (as Westerners recollect it, at least) as the Roman Catholic Church? As such, it is not surprising that they can be said to have done the more harm than anything else in their respective categories in the history of the world.

As to whether any of them have done more good than ill is, I think, less interesting as an answer than as a discussion of how one would attempt to calculate the score.

Still, I would find those who say we'd be better off without such to be more interesting if I found their alternatives more probable.

34

Thank you for the excellent post, EmmaLiz! Certainly it would not be fair to claim that Dharmic institutions are magically protected from doing harm, that rose-colored myth only proliferates in the West because it's promoted as exotic and therefore right. Besides, there are bitter disagreements in all strains of Dharmic thought, going back a long time. It's also not always the case that Dharmic thought is nondualist, and in practice, the prescriptive schools tend to have just as much invested in guilt as Abrahamic religions. The upanishads might be worth their weight in gold in philosophical terms, but that doesn't suddenly end human error.

35

Interesting that the thread drifted from talking about God (Buddhism doesn't have one), to talking about religions.

36

Buddhism doesn't believe in a permanent creator god, but that doesn't mean it isn't chock full of all sorts of supernatural creatures including deities in various heavens and demons in hell as well as ghosts, and Buddhists do believe that various non human beings interfere and intervene in human life. Don't know if that changes your point as it seems normal to me that a conversation about god would drift into conversation about religion.

37

@35 @36 An ex-Buddhist once described Buddhism as being "functionally theistic" because of the idea of being judged.

38

@30 curious2: Jefferson most certainly did NOT "treat slaves better than most men of his day": https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/

39

@36 EmmaLiz
Truly interesting point. I would point out that for the great MASSES of 'buddhists', those supernatural creatures are not only real, they also believe in "God". But for an actual Buddhist with any understanding or sophistication, not only is there no "God", but the creatures, heavens, hell, interventions, etc. are not real. What are they? Psychologically useful metaphors to state it briefly. Buddhism is philosophy/psychology regardless of whether masses (as masses do everywhere always) need to make it a religion to themselves. But what they make is their creation, not Buddhism.

40

@37TwitterEgg
Judged by whom?

(Buddhism has no God to judge. Buddhism doesn't call upon the community to judge either. Nor does the practitioner 'judge' themself. Buddhism is about growth, and acceptance (not 'judgement') about where one is now. I wish I could ask the "ex-Buddhist" being cited what the heck they were talking about. Oh wait, maybe they mean 'by Karma'; without going off on that tangent, may I just suggest that is no more judgement than cause-and-effect is. [We don't say that a ball once hit by a bat has been 'judged' by the bat, it's a simple cause-and-effect.)

41

@38 NoHighway
Before thanking you for that superb link about Jefferson, I want to repeat that Jefferson has absolutely no relevance to this thread since (as I wrote @30) "When someone uses a quote to speak for them that does not constitute an endorsement of the person being quoted, just that one thing they said." You're not the first person to make this mistake to me; don't be distracted when you see a quote's attribution, into making the mistake of thinking that who said it becomes relevant to the discussion. In other words, my use of a Jefferson quote is in no way weakened by what sort of man he was. His words are not him. We can continue to use his words, whether they be that quote I used, or his Declaration of Independence for the United States of America.

While utterely irrelevant, I honestly can't begin to thank you enough for that great and damning article
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-dark-side-of-thomas-jefferson-35976004/?all
about Jefferson. I see that since I read about him, new information that was shamefully suppressed until 2005 has come to light. I see that you were basically correct when you wrote his practice was "forcing nine-year olds to make iron nails for 16 hours a day and having them beaten if they didn't produce enough". Actually the article says 10 not 9 ("Monticello’s young black boys, “the small ones,” age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work"), but I will not quible, both 9 and 10 are equally apalling. The article also cited the "beating" of slaves. The "16 hours a day" you claim wasn't specified in the article, but it does say "long hours in the hot, smoky workshop...forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn" (and even if it didn't I'm not surprised because I happen to have extensively studied labor history, and such horrific hours were also standard for supposedly "free" white adult and child workers well into the 1800s), so I expect "16 hours a day" is quite accurate.

42

Curious, you are using an interpretation of Buddhism created in modern times that is practiced by very few people in the actual Buddhist world and has no support in the doctrine unless you believe that everything in the doctrine is metaphorical. This is perfectly acceptable as religions change with the times, etc, but it's neither common in the Buddhist world nor a unique interpretation of Buddhism. You could say the same thing about Christianity, that it's all metaphor, that people who believe in Christianity don't really believe that heaven is actually a place or that Jesus is actually the son of god, etc- it's about philosophy, blah blah. And you wouldn't be wrong and I'm sure there are Christian sects that think this way, but for the most part, Christians do in fact believe in God in Heaven with Jesus as his son and the doctrines and centuries of religion state this as well.

Buddhism is the same. The Buddha stated very clearly that there are five ways you can be reborn- two in the earthly material realm: humans & animals, three in the supernatural realm: ghosts, demons, gods- none of these are permanent. This is not a metaphor but what he actually stated, at least as recorded 250 years after his death in the various sutras, and later in the additional abhidhammas (which are the philosophical treatises I assume you are referring to) scholars did interpret those sutras in various ways but none that I've ever seen claimed that these realms did not exist. There is really no basis for that until very recent times when certain Westerners started to say things like "Buddhism is really more a philosophy than a religion" etc because they find it easier to think about "oriental" religions as metaphors than their own. The Buddha in fact spent plenty of time outlining the various realms of heaven and hell and how different practices can get you through them- rebirth is not a metaphor, it's a core belief in how the world works. You can choose to interpret it as a metaphor (you could do this with any religion as I said) but you can't claim that centuries of Buddhist scholars have done the same nor that the Buddha (at least as he's recorded) said any such thing nor current leaders such as the Dalai Lama (the most well known though also the leader of one the most superstitious and esoteric and hierarchical and feudal sects of Buddhism) has ever claimed such a thing- his scholarly Buddhist work outlines this stuff very specifically. He believes in heavens and hells and ghosts and karma earnestly.

Karma is not necessarily about cause and effect- that's that pesky linear Western thinking again that I mentioned earlier. You live in a world in which everything in existences arises dependent on everything else. Karma is the active force- you can acquire karma through your action and inaction, but it's not only what you do and don't do. Judgement in practice in the Buddhist world tends to be more about if people do their duties - at least the southeast Asian version of it that I was raised with- as karma is longer than one human life and sometimes you are working through karma from previous births so it's not really about "you". Though this has its oppressive forms- as surely you can imagine. If you were a peasant in feudal Tibet? It's because of your bad karma before so accept your lot in life. As for rules, yes they exist and yes you are judged if you break them- the vinayas are almost entirely concerned with rules and consequences. Doctrinally, it's really only the five precepts that apply to lay people though Buddhism is diverse and each culture and society imposes its own on top of it. But even if you strip those things away, you are still left with the precepts- and yes it's bad karma if you break them but this isn't really what motivates people as I'm trying to explain. Karma is so complex and long-lasting (across thousands of lives, in every aspect of your existence now) that it's really more the social judgement/consequences from breaking the rules that is the motivator. Though it has not been my experience that everyday practicing Buddhists, again atleast on the subcontinent, bother to distinguish between the precepts and local traditions.

I like the religion rather a lot as far as religions go, but I do weary of people projecting what they like onto it. NOt that I think this projection is wrong- it does everyone good to find a spiritual path that makes sense and I'm no fundamentalist- pick and choose and interpret as you like. But don't pretend this is unique to Buddhism. You could do the same to Christianity. For some Westerners, it seems easier to do with Buddhism- but this is because of the Westerner's lack of emotional and historical and cultural attachment to Buddhism (so there is more distance) as compared to Christianity. It's not because Buddhism is in any way more philosophical or rational or whatever.

43

BTW the Buddha was raised in Vedic traditions the same way that Jesus was raised in Judeo traditions, then both reformed their tradition and created something new. So the concept of karma predates Buddhism- it is also the core belief in Hinduism. The main difference isn't about metaphors- it's that the Buddha rejected permanence, including the idea of a soul or a eternal god. The other aspects- the karma, rebirth, realms of existence, etc- the Buddha did not question this. In fact he delivered loads of lectures outlining this stuff in detail- a lot of it is pretty dry and about getting from one realm of heaven/hell to another etc- and centuries of scholars discussed this as well including interference and intervention of demons, gods, ghosts, etc. If people are now interpreting this metaphorically, it's because of OUR TIMES and culture, not Buddhism itself, and as I said that thinking can be applied to any religion.

But the reason I returned was to talk about the idea of judgement (which yes phrased that way seems to be something that comes more from a creator god oriented linear religion like Western ones) in eastern religions that believe in karma. The difference isn't that there's no judgement, it's that it's not linear and not from a central authority at the end of something. It's woven into the fabric of existence- each thing you do or don't do has its effect, but likewise other things that are being done or not done- and things that just happen without volition- all of this likewise has its effect. And its karma that is the volitional force throughout all of it. So yes there are consequences for your actions and rewards- Buddhists go on long pilgrimages to do things like walk around stupas to work through karma, there are daily pujas etc- in the Hindu understanding of karma this has consequences in terms of the caste you were born into as well. The Buddha rejected caste, but in practice of course this is still a cultural belief in some places. Then this shapes a society in the same way that Catholic guilt and Protestant work ethic and Puritan sexual mores etc shape socieites. So even if you want to take this all metaphorically, there's a strong thread of you being born into a role with duties to others- familial mostly (including ancestors) but throughout the hierarchy of society and also in different phases of your life- that all exists because of this understanding of karma even if you yourself are atheist. So it's just wrong to say there is no judgement in Buddhism just because there's not a final god at the end deciding if you go to heaven or hell. In that way, maybe the word "judgement" is wrong. The word "duty" is probably better- but in either case there are consequences and guilt and all that.

44

@42 EmmaLiz
I loved your @42 so much I just re-read it a bunch of times; I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to share so much. I bow to your having been "raised with...the southeast Asian version of" Buddhism (as you would expect I encountered Buddhism in adulthood). But of course as you would expect I don't know that that your upbringing informs us beyond what I spoke of as Buddhism-by-the-masses.

It is not just from reading others that I think I know 'Buddhism itself'; I've read the Sutras myself, and yes I suppose I basically would say "that everything in the doctrine is metaphorical". (And that could be defensible: if you wanted to explain something that others had to experience themselves to begin to understand, you could be excused not bothering to try to explain straightforwardly; and those that followed you perhaps might be tempted to obsess about your metaphors.)

In short I don't think you're correct that what I call 'Buddhism itself' is a modern invention. (But then since I'm a modern westerner, I suppose that's what one would expect.) But you honestly have made me wonder, particularly since you know stuff about the history of Buddhist scholars that I don't. For now perhaps we can just agree to disagree?

Oh, IIRC a few years back a Pope did overrule "that heaven is actually a place"!

45

@42 EmmaLiz
I do know that Hinduism is positively packed with non-metaphorical beliefs, which makes it as religious as they come. I embrace that (as I understand it) Buddhism dumps that all into 'emptiness' (what I'm calling metaphor).

Agreed, the Sutras are deathly dry.

"judgement, it's...woven into the fabric of existence"

Thank you very much EmmaLiz, that is an superb answer to my @40 question "Judged by whom?" after @37 TwitterEgg wrote of "Buddhism as being "functionally theistic" because of the idea of being judged".

On this I fully concede to you EmmaLiz that Buddhism has "judgement...woven into the fabric of existence". I'm not sure I concede to TwitterEgg though, since that doesn't make it "theistic". But maybe I do since if by "functionally theistic" TwitterEgg's "ex-Buddhist" meant operating as though there were a deity.

46

BTW I'm not saying you are wrong about your interpretation, Curious. I hope I didn't come across that way. I'm saying that your interpretation is not shared with the people who wrote the sutras and the abhidhammas nor with current leaders of traditional (not new agey and Western) sects. The realms are not metaphorical, nor are those inhabitants, nor is rebirth, nor is karma. These are earnest beliefs.

As for the masses, they are more superstitious even and their practice is interlaced with cultural traditions - centuries of them built upon one another- so mostly I'm talking about doctrine and schools. The monks and scholars and religious leaders are not teaching or writing that this is metaphorical. What they believe privately in their heart of hearts, we have no idea, but there is no one in the tradition saying something like "karma is a metaphor" or matrieya is a metaphor or anything like that. Modern minded folks do this- and it's fine, I'm not saying you are wrong. Religious interpretations change with time. What I'm pushing back against is that this modernizing metaphorical trend is somehow more relatable to Buddhism than other religions- you could do the same with Christianity- and the idea that this is a historical/traditional interpretation- it's not. The Buddhist that Westerners interact with the most is the Dalai Lama for example, and plenty of people ask him if he really believes in rebirth and he always says absolutely yes. Tibetan Buddhism is actually one of the most supernatural and fringe schools of Mahayana Buddhism- Westerners tend to really dig Mahayana traditions (Zen is also one) and my own background is with Theravada traditions- my mom's side were vaishnavites (Hindus that follow the avatars of Vishnu, including the Gautama Buddha) and they're from northern india where there are a lot of Nepali and Tibetan Buddhists who follow different schools of Buddhism- it all ends up bleeding together. Myself, I grew up in Houston so I only experienced this indirectly and during the summers & on holidays, etc, so I feel like I see both sides of it. My more detailed knowledge of Buddhism comes from studying at Theravada schools in Bodh Gaya as an adult- I don't think there are any people who are just born Buddhists doing their pujas etc who bother with the abhidhammas and all that anymore than it is common for regular practicing Christians to pore over St Augustine or Martin Luther.

As for TwitterEgg, I don't know what they mean by theistic, but again, Buddhism does indeed have deities. It rejects and eternal permanent creator god- that does not mean there are not gods. Likewise with Hinduism- though Hinduism believes in an eternal soul, the conception of god is that every thing in existence is part of this- it's split up into beings, both material and supernatural, and some of those beings are gods. The pantheon of Hindu gods are all aspects of the three main Hindu gods (Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma)- each of the gods you've probably heard of are associated with one of this three. For example, the avatars of Vishnu include Rama and Krishna as well as the Buddha as I stated earlier. (If you've ever heard the George Harrison song my sweet lord, he does the Hare song where he names each of these avatars.) But these three main gods (and among them it's Brahma who is the creator) are themselves just aspects of all of existence- an eternal WHOLE that encompasses everything is GOD in eternal terms.

In my opinion, where you are getting tripped up in trying to apply these labels is that they are Western in the first place. Westerners think about religion as being a separation between god as a creator and humans/animals/earth etc as a creation. There is not this duality in Easter religions- again, it's that linear thinking vs an understanding of dependent origination. That does not mean that there aren't gods and that practitioners do not relate to them in a similar way- praying for favors, forgiveness, punishment, duty, etc. They interfere and intervene, you can have a personal relationship, they really believe they exist in some form in some place, etc. These religions are theistic. They have gods. They simply don't have a creator god that is permanent and immortal who is separate from and presiding over his creation. That is the key difference, so where you are getting tripped up is trying to apply Western definitions of "god" to all religions.

I would argue also (but this is out of ignorance and speculation) that the majority of religions in the world throughout history are more similar to the Eastern idea of "god" than the Western. If you look at pagan traditions or mythologies or what I know of Native American traditions- they likewise don't have the same idea of one eternal creator god presiding over everything. But understanding a religion that portrays the universe and man's relationship to it different than being a part of a creator's creation doesn't mean it's all philosophical or metaphorical. It just means it's different.

47

Also if you want to dig deeper into this stuff, I recommend the works of Richard Gombrich for historical stuff as well as an overview of how the doctrines and schools evolved and Bhikkhu Bodhi for actual teachings- his works walk you through all three books of the tripitaka with excellent commentary, it's a good reading guide. In both cases, they are scholars from the West so I think it's accessible for folks like us who grew up here, but they reference works from around the world throughout history- and perusing their bibliography and references will open the door to actual Buddhist scholarship if you are interested. They are both far more focused on Theravada traditions - I know much less about the Mahayana traditions. They came later and added more supernatural elements and far more deities. Mahayana gives us the intervening Bodhisattvas and all that, and it's always seemed a little odd to me because it's SO MUCH MORE supernatural but these tend to be the traditions Westerners follow and yet they then likewise claim it's a "philosophy not a religion" which seems a contradiction to me to choose the most supernatural schools of a religion and then dismiss those aspects but that's how it happened. I think it's because the Dalai Lama is so popular, but who knows. Maybe the way they dismiss all that is by saying that cast of characters is all metaphorical, I don't know. But anyway, how did you get into this and what did you read? If you slogged your way through the sutras on your own, that's impressive. I'd have given up from boredom right off, especially all the repetitions, uggh.

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By the way, the Buddhist concept of emptiness is about the aggregates of existence- again the key you are missing here is an understanding of dependent origination. Nothing can exist independent of other things, you can't understand anything as an individual eternal permanent thing. If you start breaking it down into it's aggregates, you'll see that everything is dependent on everything else, and therefore nothing has a self. The analysis of the five aggregates explains how consciousness arises- how we relate to all these things and understand them and how we, also, have no permanent and eternal self that exists independent of other things. This is true of everything in existence. I'm sorry if I'm explaining something to you that you already know- but this is the core split between Buddhism and Hinduism which you jumped on right away so I think you get this. The Buddhist concept of no self (or emptiness as you say) also applies to soul and to god- it applies to everything. Hindus believe there is a soul.

But that doesn't mean that we aren't sitting around talking online in a time and place in the universe. It just means that we are not separate independent eternal beings. It's like trying to understand speed. If you go 50 mph, then you are really moving at a certain time. But if you try to define what speed is, it's dependent on the relationship between time and place- it's not a quality with an independent existence in and of itself. But that doesn't mean speed is a metaphor. It is a real thing.

Likewise with Buddhist gods and rebirth and demons etc. Just because they are no more permanent or individual than your own consciousness doesn't mean they are all metaphors for something else or that people don't truly believe that you can be reborn as a deity in heaven or as a hungry ghost or a slug or whatever. It just means that those states, like our own, are made up of the five aggregates and have no inherent permanent individual identity.

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@46 EmmaLiz
First, I'm finding this deeply fascinating. I hope no one is too bothered by the bandwidth we've taken up here.

"you could do the same with Christianity"
Are there really modern/'new agey'/western Christian sects that hold that there is not an actual supreme being (aka God)? If so, then indeed being Christian is as broad a definition as being Buddhist.

I do know indiduals who say they believe in God, but when questioned they say what they believe in is more like 'the fabric of the universe', but I suspect their professed belief in God is likely for the convenience of cultural acceptance.

Yes, it is Mahayana Buddhism that resonates for me. One of my favorite sects is a Zen one that says "Don't believe anything you don't experience yourself"; I have just zero willingness to believe anything because a tradition/dogma says so.

I kinda dig the shamanistic/magical bent of Tibetan Buddhism, but couldn't possibly do so if I thought of it as more than metaphor. Though I do admit that play-acting with metaphor can produce genuine results.

I think you're correct about Native American traditions. I love nothing more than that they refer not to God, but to "The Great Mystery". I think that about sums up what one can say to be true.

While I still agree with my original point, I can now say that I'm not sure I feel like there's any point in my making it to anyone again!

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I don't know that much about Christianity. I know that lots of the hippies got into new agey Christianity in the 70s and 80s so I assume they'd be that way. Also the Quaker church you know is split into two groups and the group that was not the one Nixon joined (I don't know what they call themselves) is full of activist minded Quakers so I meet them a lot in activist stuff, and they say that plenty of them understand the story of Christ metaphorically. This might be personal though and not an actual aspect of that religion- I have no idea. I'd have to let someone more knowledgeable answer that question. Also the Unitarians, while not Christian in belief, are Christian in just about every other practice as far as I can tell. They seem like modern Christianity wihtout any of the supernatural stuff, right? Like if you are culturally and metaphorically Christian but also an atheist.

As for your interpretation, that's all cool, yet again what I'm saying is that actual Tibetans and the writings of the leader of the Tibetan school disagree with you generally here. So it's totally cool for you to say it feels metaphorical, but it's a misinterpretation - both historically and culturally- to say that this is intended by Tibetan Buddhism. It's not an elaborate metaphor- it's a belief system. While individual differences will apply in every religion, people generally believe in all that shaman stuff that you are counting as a metaphor. I've never been to Tibet, but I've spent plenty of time in Dharamsala and in Nepal, and I've met loads of Tibetan refugees- you know they all live in India right? When they arrive in McLeod Ganj to see the Dalia Lama, they are not worshipping him metaphorically. When they do their pujas and follow auspicious calendars, it's not metaphorical. The monks there are not metaphorically studying metaphorical dhamma. They believe this stuff, literally. And this belief does not conflict with their understanding of no self or of spheres of existence, etc. It's not a contradiction- it's just a belief system different from the Western one.

That doesn't mean that YOU can't believe it metaphorically. By all means, take what you will and interpret it how you like, and if you find likeminded people who believe that as well, then be happy with your new religion! But don't apply this revisionistically to history or to other cultures. Because YOU see it all as metaphors doesn't mean they were ever widely interpreted that way or written that way. Nice chatting with you too but I'm hopping a flight now!

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@50 EmmaLiz
Oh right, Unitarians; as I understand it a Unitarian can believe anything they wish. Nice!

"I've met loads of Tibetan refugees- you know they all live in India right?"
Yes; I know personally a few who have relocated here from Dharamsala. And you're right, their feelings towards the Dalia Lama do support your position.

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Also Westerners love to point out the teachings of the Buddha that say that you should investigate the teachings for themselves- yes, Buddhism is a practice and requires such. But they interpret this again in that Western individualistic & skeptical way which means that you shouldn't believe anything you can't yourself verify which isn't exactly what was intended. One of the hindrances is failure to trust a teacher and teachings and therefore being hindered by skepticism- this is a major teaching as well. Investigating the dharma for yourself doesn't mean you don't accept teachings and a teacher and trust them, it means you actively practice. So "zero willingness" to trust a teaching for itself is a hindrance. Buddhism includes a graduated training, and the middle path is at the core of every aspect. So if you want to proceed through the graduated training, you have to trust that the dhamma is real and then practice it so that you can reveal the deeper levels. It's really the beautiful thing about the dhamma actually- when you read the four noble truths at various levels of your training, they become deeper and deeper, and you get to the point that you are stunned how much depth they managed to cram into what originally seemed like four pretty banal sentences.

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@40 Found the reference:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2003/02/buddhist_retreat.html

The article is in Slate and it's called "Why I Ditched Buddhism" in case that link doesn't work.

The quote:

"For many, a chief selling point of Buddhism is its supposed de-emphasis of supernatural notions such as immortal souls and God. Buddhism "rejects the theological impulse," the philosopher Owen Flanagan declares approvingly in The Problem of the Soul. Actually, Buddhism is functionally theistic, even if it avoids the "G" word. Like its parent religion Hinduism, Buddhism espouses reincarnation, which holds that after death our souls are re-instantiated in new bodies, and karma, the law of moral cause and effect. Together, these tenets imply the existence of some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with rebirth as a cockroach or as a saintly lama."