Well, another blog post got me going this morning. Marcus, over at his new shared blog, has a quality commentary about a recent Buddhist-Christian dialogue in Korea. I firmly believe that more conversation and sharing across traditions, and beyond that, across all views, religious, spiritual, and secular, is a path towards peace. We need more shared experiences, and less boneheaded fighting, no doubt. But there are steps that must be taken to get to that shared place - it doesn't happen overnight, and it requires, among other things, deep listening to narratives that you don't want to hear.
A few comments Marcus made in his post brought forth some responses for me.
My point is that Buddhism stands on its own three feet, and while some western practitioners automatically and instinctively look for points of contrast with Christianity, focusing on areas of convergence is a much healthier approach.
Why not just see what the moment calls for instead? Sometimes, focusing on commonalities is exactly what's called for, and sometimes the differences need to be examined.
I agree with you that there are plenty of baseless and sometimes nasty comments made about Christianity in the English speaking, covert Buddhist blogosphere. I've probably made few myself.
In contrast, many of the English-language Buddhist blogs often express a surprising degree of hostility towards Christianity. But this mostly comes from young converts with little experience of life in Buddhist countries and often with uncomfortable experiences of the Church. Such people are naturally keen to draw boundaries between the Buddhism they’ve adopted and the faiths they’ve left behind.
Maybe, although "young" might not be all that accurate. There actually aren't that many teen and 20 somethings amongst the regular Buddhist bloggers I've come across.
Also, how about the fact that you are saying all this while living in a nation that is predominantly Buddhist? I and the others from the U.S., Canada, England, Finland, etc. live in nations where the predominant religion is a form of Christianity. It's default in the way Buddhism is default in Thailand and many other Asian nations.
Why does that matter? Well, we are surrounded by people who display all manners of the Christian faith so to speak, and their actions often directly impact us, for better or worse. Nearly every elected leader in the history of my nation has been Christian, and while some have been just fine at leading without trying to impose religious views on the public, others regularly have made impositions. Our mainstream media outlets have few Buddhist representatives, and even though the Tiger Woods and Brit Hume dramas were mostly drama, they did point out the serious lack of representation in the media of people who have any understanding of Buddhism. While you can easily find devout Christians in power positions of major U.S. corporations, I can't think of a single Buddhist leading a similarly placed company. In other words, when I as a Buddhist look around, I see almost no one in leadership positions that is "like me." It is challenging, in such circumstances, to maintain "the high road" of embodying peace and compassion.
I'm not providing excuses for bad behavior here. However, the context matters. Those Christians in Korea, Thailand, Japan, etc. are in the vast minority - so it benefits them to develop kind relationships with Buddhists. If things in the country turn bad, those relationships might mean the difference between freedom and oppression. Here in the U.S., in contrast, Christians need not reach out because they already are the vast majority, and hold most of the power positions. And yet, some do. And despite what you see online, some of us Buddhists reach out to develop relationships with Christians as well. Partly, I would guess, because it benefits us socially.
You know, I totally agree with you that there are similar desires for peace, joy, and awakening that play out in these two religions, and really in all of them. There are connection points, and it's worth the effort to make those connections explicitly in our daily lives.
However, whenever I see religious-based hostility, I want to understand the social context more because people aren't acting in a vacuum. If my recent discussions with a few people about the situation in Gaza taught me anything, it is that you can't get to those commonalities between groups until you understand the threat narratives, petty gripes, and disagreements between the groups. I could point out endless similarities between the Israelis and Palestinians to my Jewish friends, for example, but it wouldn't matter - they were stuck on defense of Israel mode. And these are people who live fairly privileged lives here in the U.S., thousands of miles away from the actual dangers. It isn't all that different for most of the convert Buddhists spewing stuff at Christians, or drawing distinctions in the sand. But in my view, it's way to easy to just say these people are ignorant and inexperienced, and call it a day.
All of these people are my friends, family, neighbors - if I just use their stories as examples of bad behavior (and I do this sometimes), I'm just objectifying them for my own benefit. I feel that the only way to truly develop peace, to get to those commonalities in a healthy way, is to do my best to understand where those on different sides are coming from. To listen to the narratives I find abusive, destructive, or just plain wrong. And then to be willing to present my own narratives as honestly as I can, in a spirit of sharing.
In the end, the only real commonality might just be that we are humans sharing our stories. Can I accept that? Can you?
This might be the true peace, I'm coming to see.