There is so much being written lately about conflicting religious beliefs.
One of the battlegrounds is the war of words and ideas surrounding God and atheism.
Atheists assault the age-old beliefs of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, especially the belief in an omniscient father-figure-like God, who rules and watches over the world. Instead, they worship science and reason. Modern proponents of this movement are writers like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.
Certainly, religious beliefs, and the rallying around the different tribal gods of our mainline religions – whether Christian, Muslim, or Jewish – have been, and continue to be, perhaps the most divisive forces and causes of hatred and war and murder than any other factor on the face of the planet.
There is much to ridicule in religion. We need to take stock and throw out antiquated, authoritarian ideas – the collective weight of dogma and ritual that many people, especially young people, find so repellent today.
At the same time, reason has left us with some shortcomings. Can reason alone make sense of this world, and at the same time provide a moral basis for decency and humanity?
Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is Dead”, and it may be that our concepts of God are indeed dead and defunct; but this leaves us with the moral dilemma of a world without any basis to regulate our behavior and passions. If God is dead, is anything allowed?
People yearn for a meaning to their lives. Are we just insignificant blips in a cold and heartless and overwhelmingly expansive universe, or is there something that ties our lives to the very meaning and direction of the cosmos itself?
Buddhism has been called an atheistic religion, because it has no fatherly God figure in its makeup. Yet Buddhism expounds an extraordinary connection between the individual and the cosmos.
Buddhism is also based on reason. Buddhism sees a foundation for the ultimate morality in the concept of karma, which is expressed in the laws of science, but also in the workings of our own individual destinies.
The concept of karma rests on the law of cause and effect. You make a cause, you get an effect. Nothing arises by itself. We are constantly making causes, through our thoughts, words and actions, that determine the effects we get in our lives. We are the creators of our lives.
In the deepest sense, our religions are unaware of this law operating in our lives. They may agree with this law on a superficial level, but how about on the deepest level – death, for instance.
Christians, Muslims and Jews all see this life we are in as marked off by two boundaries – birth and death. Whatever happens within those markers is it. Then, according to your behavior, or your belief and faith in God, you are assigned to heaven or hell.
Buddhism takes an infinitely broader perspective. Why are some people born into this world rich and healthy, while others suffer poverty and illness. Why is our fate parceled out in these divergent ways? Why is a person like Mozart playing great music almost from day one? Where did that ability or talent come from?
From the perspective of our major religions, there is no answer. There is no justice. There is no answer to the question of Job. It is merely chance. But from the perspective of Buddhism, which posits the eternity of life, there is no lucky or unlucky toss of the dice involved. Everything is based on the law of cause and effect – science, the universe, and our individual lives. If Mozart is born with such talents, it is because there have been extraordinary efforts made – who knows where, or over how long a period of time – that led to his birth as a musical genius. We create our own lives, lifetime after lifetime, always grounded upon the eternity of our own lives. We are responsible for everything in our lives. There is no escaping that responsibility, and Buddhism provides the insights and a road map for taking on that responsibility in order to create a more meaningful and happy life.
We need a new religion – one that ties us to the cosmos, yet helps us down in the trenches, in our everyday lives.
We can get beyond God or atheism and still be happy.
James Hilgendorf is the author of nine non-fiction books, including “Maybe We Need A New Religion”. His other titles include “Forever Here”; “Handbook for Youth in a Muddied Age”; “The Buddha and the Dream of America”; “The Great New Emerging Civilization”; “Life & Death: A Buddhist Perspective”; “A New Myth for America”; “Poems of Death: Time for Eternity”, and “The New Superpower”. His books are available in paperback or e-book format through bookstores, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, Scribd, Oyster, and other online booksellers.
Contact the author directly to arrange talks.