monday morning rant and other things

A few things.

First, while digging around my email, I found a notification of someone posting to my site back in December (as you know, I’ve been having problems with that, sorry) letting me know that they’re linking to my site. What do you know. You can find me and plenty of other stuff this-a-way.

While I was perusing the site, I found a link to this article about good old whats-his-name who was the nations first Muslim Congressman. The article points out that two Buddhists were also sworn in as a result of the most recent election. That’s right. There’s a couple of Buddhists in Congress. Sweet.

So I just wanted to let people know that in case they missed it.

And then I made the mistake of reading the article’s comments. The very first one was someone making the old tired claim (poorly, I’ll add) that Buddhism is not a religion. Which made me feel the urge reiterate the following long-winded statement:

Buddhism is a religion. It is a religion because the classificatory term “religion” is one that was coined in the West a couple hundred years ago to describe social phenomena that are more or less related. Most scholars of religion now-a-days consider all religions to be socially constructed institutions that have at the very least the following three characteristics: (1) a coherent cosmology which may or may not include a supernatural supreme being or god but does explain the basic structure of the universe and human kind’s place within it; (2) a system of morals or ethics directing adherents how to live their lives, and (3) well developed rituals and rites. Buddhism has these basic components.

Does this mean that there is some Buddhist philosophy which you can extract from the religion to put into practice in your own life without calling yourself a Buddhist? Of course. But just because there’s some philosophy which can be extracted from the religion does not stop Buddhism from being a religion. I can just as easily take some philosophy or ethical standards away from Christianity and still call Christianity a religion. Secular humanists do it all the time when they say things like “turn the other cheek” or “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” Where do you think those sentiments came from?

The important thing in all of this is at the beginning of that first paragraph up there: “a classificatory term.” Religion is not something that exists intrinsically in the world as some sort of idealized form hanging out in Plato’s cave. It’s a tool. Its a way people who study religion organize the world to make their lives easier. Just like the category “mammal.” There’s all kinds of “mammals” in the world and for the most part, they’re pretty similar. But what do scientist do with the platypus? It’s swimming around laying eggs, but it’s still classified as a mammal. Why? Because it’s easier to create some sub-category of mammals called monotremes than to create a whole new class of vertebrates.

So Buddhism is a religion. It’s in a class of religion we call “non-theisitc” in order to distinguish it from the theistic traditions. And the theistic traditions have a category called “Abrahamic” to refer to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam because they all trace their roots to Abraham. But these are just categories and labels and don’t have anything to do with anything other than as a means for people like me to ensure job security.

All right. I’m done.

Oh, and good luck with the morning commute.