Sunday, November 20, 2005

Contra "One World Religion"

In class last week, we were discussing a dissertation proposal by an African-American pastor who is trying to develop a project on the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity so he can better minister to his Cambodian congregants.

As he was agonizing through the concept of the project with the group, and trying to respect his religious call to convert his people to the gospel faith, and the class was feeling uncomfortable with his seeming ambivalence about the difference between assimilation and conversion, a Korean student said, quite vehemently and in his short, eloquent way,

"I don't know why you're trying to find the ways that Buddhism and Christianity are the same. I was raised a Buddhist. I became a Christian because it is not Buddhism. In Buddhism, I learn that I am the one who can make my own salvation. But I do not think I can make my own salvation, and that is why I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. I choose Christianity because it is different. If I want to have the similarities between Buddhism and Christianity, I would stay a Buddhist."

Boy, did that shut everyone up for a good minute.

This is at the heart of why I have always been leery of the whole "one-world-religion" brand of universalism that became so popular in the 1950's.
(As opposed to classical Christian Universalism, about which Boy In the Bands speaks here:
There's no way to really do one-world-religion with integrity unless the whole world embraces the idea, and Lord knows everyone in the world doesn't think this is a good, worthy or legitimate idea. What ends up happening in "one world religion" stuff is that its adherents create another religious entity of their own, which usually smells something like "White European Liberal Feminist Psuedo-Version of Your Exotic Religion We Don't Know Much About, Taken Out of a Cultural Context We Also Don't Know Much About."

I don't have the energy tonight to discuss this in any more detail, I just wanted to share that moment in class with you. I am still thinking about it.


Blogger Kim said...

I think it may turn out that the similarities that matter are not the theology -- in that area we want difference as the young man said-- but in form. Does the service feel familiar? Am i comfortable in it? Is it too foreign to me?
I think in real life the feel is more important than the content to most people.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

The first minister could have saved himself alot of time and trouble by just buying one of the many books about the subject (even Marcus Borg did one). Any book store with a religious section should have at least one of those books -- a library should have some too...
As for the second minister, sure, and he sounds like most converted Unitarian Universalists doesnt he? - "If my old religion had had anything good in it, I would have stayed that - keep that trash outta here" (hopefully i am vastly exagerating for comic effect).
Not only does this explain the reason there will never be a one world religion, it also explains why there will never be a one world Christianity (another popular idea of the idealistic 1950s).

if the attempt of the one-world-religion idea is to make just one world religion, then not only is it doomed -it is about as close to impossible as anything can be. If, on the other hand, the attempt of the one-world-religion idea was to show what common ground that the world religions share, then that (imho) remains a credible goal , and ties in nicely with historic Univeralism. (ie: God loves us all, and what are our common ground).

but yeah, sometimes it seems Modern UUs just wants to be "lets do exotic stuff that looks cool", but let's not blame that completely on 50s Universalists.

Blogger Jaume said...

Apparently that student had not much idea about diversity within Buddhism. The devotional path, aka "Pure Land" Buddhism, is precisely based on the idea that very likely you will not be able to achieve enlightenment trust your own efforts only, and therefore you put your trust in Buddha Amitabha (Amida) so that He takes you to the Pure Land after you die, thus decisively helping you to achieve nirvana once you are reborn there. Pure Land is probably the most popular version of Mahayana and it is quite widespread in Japan and South-East Asia. Therefore it sounds to me rather as lack of information or just an excuse to justify his conversion to Christianity.


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