Atheism: extreme view?

Discussion in 'Agnosticism and Atheism' started by mahasattva, May 13, 2004.

  1. mahasattva

    mahasattva Member

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    [As a preface let me say that I recognize this forum is not intended for learning how to serve as moderator within the context of open-ended dialog. It is nevertheless a forum, and as such can be observed to contain the opportunity or even sometimes the necessity for what is known in eclectic circles as the task of moderating. I would therefore like to take this naturally suggested function one step further and ask you, the participants in the dialog, to comment not merely on the topic at issue but also to give your advice as to whether certain tools for discussion seem adequate. In short, I am interested in learning whether we can begin to do the following: to assist in defining core themes of obvious disagreement, not to factionalize our membership but to empower objective recognition of each view and, as it were, know it when we see it.]

    To illustrate what seems helpful now, I want to play with the theme of atheism. It should be plain to most of you that my choice of this topic wasn’t arbitrarily made up, but has arisen after seeing the topic raised. Basically, I have noticed that when queries such as “whether a personal belief in God undermines authentic Buddhist practice” come up, for my own part it is difficult to provide an answer. It is a question filled with ambiguities that tie in very closely with specific personal experience and that, for this reason, may not be easy to communicate. A second point I have noticed is that newcomers or those who are merely curious about Buddhism sometimes ask whether it is “ok” to be a Buddhist and still believe in God, and so on. It concerns me that such visitors might experience misinformation, or even purposeful disinformation. This gave me the idea to examine not so much the topic of God’s existence, or of belief as experienced by Buddhists, but rather to focus on the themes of the debate as precisely that: debatable.

    So I want to isolate very simple, concise descriptions of what is involved in the problem of atheism as it pertains to an encounter with Buddhist teachings and practice. It would help me on a purely selfish level to hear whether this list has mistakes, or what I missed. Are there other topics we could be applying this to? Would anyone find it useful?

    Five core themes:

    1. Ambiguity. For some, the rejection of belief in God is very fundamentally clear, while for others it remains questionable and still others are in an active relationship with God. In each of these three cases, there is (a) variation with respect to ambiguity and (b) the concretely realized, lived, functioning capacity to practice Buddhadharma.

    2. Causality. Monotheism has been distinguished, particularly in Christian faith, by an emphasis upon creation as an act of God. Buddhist logic, however, rejects this idea as contradicting insight into “interdependent origination” since according to such insight cause-and-effect is seen as beginningless. Creation makes everything out of nothing.

    3. Selflessness. Obviously one of the necessary assumptions of monotheism is that God is a unique type of conscious being and is, at the same time, eternal. Buddhism rejects a logically implied “self” as anything distinct from the pervasive and illusory rise and fall known as impermanence. This also means there is no such thing as a soul per se.

    4. Blind belief. This is an important one. Buddhist teachings recognized, very early, the dangers of allowing another individual’s role as teacher, or as highly realized, to become a criterion for belief in any “truth” they might impart. To apply this to monotheism, one need only proclaim that religion has told us to believe in God and some have obeyed it.

    5. Ego-clinging. As a correlate to the warning against blind belief, there is the view that belief in God is sustained by its ability to bolster ego, that is, to give us a sense that we have some kind of solid ground upon which to stand, that we are saved from death, etc.

    Another category of debate is relevance. When asked whether God exists, the historical Buddha refrained from answering. This response was explained as a way to underscore the fact that theology and metaphysics are not directly pertinent to walking the path that will guide us to a cessation of suffering. I don’t include it in the numbered list because this question of relevance is precisely the choice to avoid discussing atheism. I mention it because it is another of those very core themes involved in the topic of how Buddhists look at God. Quite apart from this teaching, however, the problem of atheism can be relevant or can need to be resolved if you are invested in more than one world view (like I am). Paul Tillich called it “ultimate concern” by which is meant, basically, refuge.

    Part two of my experiment is to ask whether atheism is an extreme view. Buddhism has repeatedly emphasized the path between any two possible extremes as being intimately tied in with fully awakened nature. Thus in terms of causality, one could argue that God is in fact a cause and the universe is an effect of that cause. If that were true then it has no relevance whether the “logic” holds up or not. In terms of selflessness, the eternality of a supreme being, and the soul, it could be argued that there is more than one way of looking at such “terms” and that the possibility for agreement between two apparently incompatible world views has simply been overlooked for lack of nuance. In terms of blind belief, it seems that concealed behind the accusation of religious obedience is the glaring fallacy that the accuser has never seen anything to prove God’s non-existence (and yet insists upon it all the same). Atheism is as much a belief system as theism. And finally in terms of ego-clinging it can be said that, actually, devotion to the sacred is more geared around surrender than around bolstering the self. At least this is true for religious life at its healthiest and most optimally received. Surrender should not be confused with blind belief or blind obedience, particularly when there is an agenda behind the failure to distinguish them. You could look at these statements and notice they are unanswerable, but for me that is insufficient reason to stop questioning or stop being open-minded.

    Personally I see the question as coming down to an abstract level and an existential level as well. Abstractly, it seems to me that the whole argument becomes irrelevant chaff if it so happens that in fact there is a God. Existentially, my background is Christianity and I feel it to be enormously significant that the divine eternal was born or “descended into” the human finite, that the rift between spirit and nature is undone, and that a pattern of grace, or love, shattered one of judgment and condemnation. It is the abject tragedy of Christendom that judgment has, inevitably it seems, returned to dominate its more or less institutionalized cult of mainstream conventional awareness. To me this regression has very little to do with the personal actualization of belief, which is ecstatic and mystical, thereby accounting for my interest in Buddhism as a more direct pointing to reality.
  2. veinglory

    veinglory Member

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    To be frank I am not sure what your argument is and how it relates to either atheism or extremism. What question are you asking, what answer are you giving and what is your argument?
  3. honeyhannah

    honeyhannah herbuhslovuh

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    I think you came to the wrong place. What you're saying really has nothing to do with atheism and i don't know what it is that you want to know anyway.
  4. know1nozme

    know1nozme High Plains Drifter

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    I claim to be neither Atheist nor Buddhist, but it appears as if mahasattva is attempting to draw parallels between Atheism and Buddhism with the intention of pointing out that (generally speaking) the difference between the two is that Atheists categorically refuse the existence of any higher power, while Buddhists consider the argument a non-issue. Why this argument is being made is unclear except that it may be that 'e merely wishes to gain confirmation on this statement or, if that cannot be done, then to determine where the differences lie.

    Or it may be, unlikely as it seems, that 'e is proselytizing Buddhism as a spiritual path which Atheists could walk without compromising their own belief system.

    Or I could be completely misreading the entire thing.
  5. gdkumar

    gdkumar Member

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    Alas! What a complicated mess !

    May God grant all of us simplicity.

  6. Sebbi

    Sebbi Senior Member

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    With Buddhism/ist/a/ appearing on average 1.0909090909090909090909..... times per paragraph, I think you might be in the wrong subforum. The Buddism sub forum is just two links down, and maybe you should set up a Nicheran(sp?) forum on here.

    Yes I was bored.


  7. J_Lazarus

    J_Lazarus Member

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    Although I feel a lack of desire to respond to the Buddhists post in its entirety, I would like to address two points of interest that he made toward the end of his post concerning atheism.

    1) "Atheism is a belief just like Theism"

    Atheism, generally defined, is simply a "lack of belief in a God or Gods". Most atheists consider themselves "Weak Atheists" - and do not claim with certainty that "God" does not exist, only that sufficient proof has yet to be provided. Sagan noted, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" - and without such everyone, including those who make up the varieties of theistic belief, approach such matters with the presumption of atheism. Generally (and really not at all), atheism is not a faith or belief based view. Everything in the reality that the atheist argues for can be proven through the employment of reason and logical process. There is no need for something extra like faith.

    2) "There are no arguments for the non-existence of God"

    Nonsense. There are many arguments for the non-existence of "God" within the realm of semantic, memetic, and incoherency apologetics. One such piece of evidence being that the very term you are discussing, "God", is meaningless.

    Further, from my own strong atheist standpoint, the god-concept is internally contradictory and incoherent, and therefore cannot be logically said to exist.

    If you want me to go more in depth I'll be happy to - however, my point here is not to actually disprove God, but to simply show that there are arguments for its non-existence.

    - J Lazarus

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