Is belief in God/s dangerous?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby christopher::: » Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:24 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
christopher::: wrote: One doesn't need to believe in God to construct excuses for killing and conquering "enemies." I'd say the belief that one is right, that violence is fine and killing people is okay are the most dangerous ideas. Any belief system that gets mixed up with that stirs up terrible suffering.


Yes, but having a pipeline to the alimight whatzit is a good basis - likely none stronger - for the certitude that what one is doing it correct.


I think examples like Pol Pot, Stalin, the Chinese Communist crushing of Tibet, Adolf Hitler and others show the danger in certitude that what one believes and is doing is correct. Belief in God is one far too common variation on that theme, but absolute certainty in one's self, lack of compassion and massive delusion seem to be common factors related to what is "dangerous" in so many cases, across the board, from atheist communists to muslim monoists to christian industrialists and buddhist materialists, etc...

Samsara comes in a wide variety of flavors, wears many different masks. So does wisdom, kindness and compassion..

:juggling:
Last edited by christopher::: on Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 27, 2010 3:32 pm

Chris kindness and compassion, being conditioned, are as much samsaric as cruelty and hate. Its just that its much harder to see how the conditioned arises if under the influence of cruelty and hate. They are less skillful. Wisdom is something different.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Wed Jul 28, 2010 12:20 am

The posts in this thread from today are arguing about whether various atrocities are attributable to belief in god(s) vs. some other cause, which is not really on topic of whether belief in God/s is dangerous. What is the actual danger of belief in God?

In most all cases I can think of, God is believed to be eternal and unchanging, and either because of that or along with that, there is unquestioning acceptance of the idea of an eternal soul. According to Buddhism, a person can't escape suffering as long as they hold that delusion, so I would say Yes, belief in God is dangerous.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 28, 2010 1:49 am

christopher::: wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
christopher::: wrote: One doesn't need to believe in God to construct excuses for killing and conquering "enemies." I'd say the belief that one is right, that violence is fine and killing people is okay are the most dangerous ideas. Any belief system that gets mixed up with that stirs up terrible suffering.


Yes, but having a pipeline to the alimight whatzit is a good basis - likely none stronger - for the certitude that what one is doing it correct.


I think examples like Pol Pot, Stalin, the Chinese Communist crushing of Tibet, Adolf Hitler and others show the danger in certitude that what one believes and is doing is correct. Belief in God is one far too common variation on that theme, but absolute certainty in one's self, lack of compassion and massive delusion seem to be common factors related to what is "dangerous" in so many cases, across the board, from atheist communists to muslim monoists to christian industrialists and buddhist materialists, etc...
Not very many communists suicidally drove airplanes into buildings or strapped on bomb belts as a blood offering to the State.

The issue here is not comparison. As is said above: "The posts in this thread from today are arguing about whether various atrocities are attributable to belief in god(s) vs. some other cause, which is not really on topic of whether belief in God/s is dangerous."
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby Dhammakid » Wed Jul 28, 2010 4:18 am

I agree with Octathlon - from the Buddhist perspective, the danger in belief in an eternal, omnipotent creator god is that it is in direct contradiction to the three marks of anatta, annicca and dukkha.

But if I may speak outside of the Buddhist perspective: the danger of this type of belief can be in the fact that if one believes that this god has absolute power over the universe, and knows everything everyone does, then there isn't much room for free will, which makes any attempt to "change" as a person futile. Furthermore, if this god claims to justify the punishment of nonbelievers, then the person who believes in this god will find all manner of mental justifications to do harm to others in the name of this god.

In any case, there is a danger in believing that you are absolutely right in what you believe and everyone else is absolutely wrong. I know many "god-fearing Christians" who are quite tolerant of other beliefs and don't necessarily claim to be following the only true religion. However, I do believe that, based on experience and history, belief in the commonly worshipped Judeo-Christian god is dangerous because the texts attributed to this god is chock full of horrendous acts against humanity justified by religion. One can choose to ignore the bad parts of the texts, but then there is a sort of cognitive dissonance created, especially when pressed by others to give a good reason why they are still Christian even though they are rejecting a large portion of the "holy" text.

I think belief in a god predisposes one to fanaticism and intolerance because you're relying on an outside source as the definitive and final word on all aspects of life, instead of investigating for yourself these things to see if they are actually true or relevant to your everyday lived experience. This outside source can tell you anything and everything and you'll believe it because you've already convinced yourself that this outside source is the final word.

The last thing I'll say is that, in my experience, fundamentalist Christians believe that any wholesome action a "non-believer" does is incapable of producing the same so-called positive benefits of the Christian because it's not based in Christian behaviorism. So even if a person is the nicest, most caring, most giving, most compassionate person you can ever meet, they will still meet with a terrible afterlife simply because they don't believe in god. Monotheism predisposes one towards a monopoly on morality, which is often used as further justification for persecution of others.

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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby curiousgeorge » Fri Jul 30, 2010 7:19 am

The last thing I'll say is that, in my experience, fundamentalist Christians believe that any wholesome action a "non-believer" does is incapable of producing the same so-called positive benefits of the Christian because it's not based in Christian behaviorism. So even if a person is the nicest, most caring, most giving, most compassionate person you can ever meet, they will still meet with a terrible afterlife simply because they don't believe in god. Monotheism predisposes one towards a monopoly on morality, which is often used as further justification for persecution of others.


I have often used this rationale when I hear people say "Buddhism, Christianity, ... they are all the same thing in different packaging" to argue that they are not the same thing at all. To be a good Christian *requires* belief without understanding. This is totally counter to Buddhism.

However, a belief in God does not require the above example - its theoretically possible to believe in God and still question everything. IMHO, most Buddhists do just that! 'The Buddha nature in all of us' is easily understood as 'we are gods, we just have to figure out (via asking questions - how else!) how to fulfill our nature'

So, rather that the belief in God per se that is really dangerous - yes its dangerous, but a great many are equally dangerous - it is "belief without understanding" part that is the truly dangerous component. Granted, they go together. But correlation is not causation.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby Dhammakid » Sat Jul 31, 2010 5:06 pm

curiousgeorge wrote:
The last thing I'll say is that, in my experience, fundamentalist Christians believe that any wholesome action a "non-believer" does is incapable of producing the same so-called positive benefits of the Christian because it's not based in Christian behaviorism. So even if a person is the nicest, most caring, most giving, most compassionate person you can ever meet, they will still meet with a terrible afterlife simply because they don't believe in god. Monotheism predisposes one towards a monopoly on morality, which is often used as further justification for persecution of others.


I have often used this rationale when I hear people say "Buddhism, Christianity, ... they are all the same thing in different packaging" to argue that they are not the same thing at all. To be a good Christian *requires* belief without understanding. This is totally counter to Buddhism.

However, a belief in God does not require the above example - its theoretically possible to believe in God and still question everything. IMHO, most Buddhists do just that! 'The Buddha nature in all of us' is easily understood as 'we are gods, we just have to figure out (via asking questions - how else!) how to fulfill our nature'

So, rather that the belief in God per se that is really dangerous - yes its dangerous, but a great many are equally dangerous - it is "belief without understanding" part that is the truly dangerous component. Granted, they go together. But correlation is not causation.


I can say I agree with this, although I do believe Christianity (and monotheism in general) has a greater predisposition to belief without understanding. And I also think that when belief without understanding is held in Buddhism, it's much less dangerous.

I have a hard time seeing how a person who truly understands physics and matter, as well as has an objective view of the state of the world (i.e. the presence of evil in the world) can believe in a supreme creator god. But that's just me.

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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jul 31, 2010 11:07 pm

I'm not sure how relevant this is to the OP but it does bounce off a few recent posts:
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/7937954/US-church-to-burn-Koran-on-911-anniversary
:(
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Sat Jul 31, 2010 11:50 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:I'm not sure how relevant this is to the OP but it does bounce off a few recent posts:
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/world/7937954/US-church-to-burn-Koran-on-911-anniversary
:(
Kim

Wow. I felt a lot of strange conflicting emotions when I read that.
My first thought was it's a gag article, must from the Onion. But no, it's real!
The name of the church is the Dove Church?, OMG. The Hateful Dove.
I guiltily admit to a brief unskillful wish that it could develop into a back-and-forth burning of Bibles and Korans until they are all gone. :embarassed:

May all beings be well, happy, and free from suffering.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby Dhammakid » Sun Aug 01, 2010 12:07 am

That article demonstrates the extent to which ignorance and hate can be taken. Really really pathetic on the part of that church.

That's the kind of predisposition of which I speak, something rarely found in the worldwide Buddhist community. As a matter of fact, some of the most adamant proponents of interfaith dialogue are Buddhists.

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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby curiousgeorge » Mon Aug 02, 2010 9:01 pm

I have seen enough of this in the lay Buddhist community, for example, regarding the misplacement of Buddha images by Westerners often leads to contemptuous reactions. Other than the very common quick sneer, I've seen people get chewed out for minutes for not properly displaying a Buddha head in a display case.

Yes, theres more going on here than Buddhism - culture etc plays a pivotal role - but the same is true for the Koran burning church.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby christopher::: » Mon Aug 02, 2010 10:34 pm

The greatest dangers for humans are the three poisons - desire, hatred and ignorance, also referred to as clinging/attachment, aversions and lack of wisdom. I really don't see how belief in God on its own is the problem. Belief in God in a way that supports the poisons is dangerous, just as not believing in God in a way that feeds the poisons is dangerous.

Buddhist practice can help rid one of the poisons but there is no certainty. Look at Japan prior to and during WW Two. Now, we can say that Japanese Buddhist citizens, leaders and soldiers during that time were not really practicing Buddhism, and in a sense this is true. I would say that also for any Christian who supports war or goes off to kill people. They aren't really practicing Christianity, as Jesus taught. They are not seeing their enemies as brothers, not practicing forgiveness, ignoring the JudeoChristian "precept" of "Thou shalt not kill."

These are the greatest dangers, the three poisons, in whatever form they take. But if you think that somehow not believing in God or being a Buddhist automatically rids you of the poisons and makes your actions purer, delusion has risen its head right there. Nonbelievers and atheists can be just as ignorant and hateful in their actions as believers...

An example, one of many...

Japanese Buddhist leader accused of rape
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:06 pm

Hi christopher,
christopher::: wrote: I really don't see how belief in God on its own is the problem.

IMHO the simplest answer is: the danger of belief in God on its own, is that it is wrong view.
"Just as when a nimb-tree seed, a bitter creeper seed, or a bitter melon seed is placed in moist soil, whatever nutriment it takes from the soil & the water, all conduces to its bitterness, acridity, & distastefulness. Why is that? Because the seed is evil. In the same way, when a person has wrong view... wrong release, whatever bodily deeds he undertakes in line with that view, whatever verbal deeds... whatever mental deeds he undertakes in line with that view, whatever intentions, whatever determinations, whatever vows, whatever fabrications, all lead to what is disagreeable, unpleasing, unappealing, unprofitable, & stressful. Why is that? Because the view is evil.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


christopher::: wrote: But if you think that somehow not believing in God or being a Buddhist automatically rids you of the poisons and makes your actions purer, delusion has risen its head right there.

I haven't seen anyone say that. :smile:
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby christopher::: » Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:19 pm

In regards to wrong view I'm always skeptical of any translation of Buddha's teachings that uses the English word "evil"... Phrases and ideas like "the seed is evil" can propagate wrong view as well. Belief in God or gods is not evil. In fact Buddha talked highly of gods at times, and taught the 4 brahma viharas (Godlike qualities) as being helpful and wholesome for all people.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:35 pm

Hi Christopher,
Yes I totally agree with you about the translation to the word "evil", I winced at that choice but copied and pasted it as written-- I don't mean to make the claim that belief in God is actually evil in our current-day sense of that English word. But you get the general idea what is meant.

Not knowing the Pali word it was translated from, but looking at the corresponding verse for the seed of "right view", a better translation would probably be "inauspicious".
"Just as when a sugar cane seed, a rice grain, or a grape seed is placed in moist soil, whatever nutriment it takes from the soil & the water, all conduces to its sweetness, tastiness, & unalloyed delectability. Why is that? Because the seed is auspicious. In the same way, when a person has right view... right release, whatever bodily deeds he undertakes in line with that view, whatever verbal deeds... whatever mental deeds he undertakes in line with that view, whatever intentions, whatever vows, whatever determinations, whatever fabrications, all lead to what is agreeable, pleasing, charming, profitable, & easeful. Why is that? Because the view is auspicious."


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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Mon Aug 02, 2010 11:41 pm

Christopher,
Christopher wrote:I really don't see how belief in God on its own is the problem.

Thinking about it more, you have a good point and I should backtrack a little. My comments would apply better to the question "Is worship of God dangerous?" instead of just belief in God. you're right, it is possible to believe in God(s) and not worship them, or even respect them. Worshiping them seems to be what people who believe in them usually do, though, and that is a strong form of clinging/attachment.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby christopher::: » Tue Aug 03, 2010 3:03 am

Yes. Though, again, i have noticed this as much with Buddhists as nonBuddhists, and have also observed positive correlations with worship/devotion, which is why i hesitate to make definite judgements about any specific religion (or practice) being good or bad, in itself.

Some people who have strong devotion to their faith/beliefs use this as a raft of sorts, an anchor in life that provides positive behavioral guidance. There are Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in the world who refrain from stealing, sexual misconduct, drinking alcohol and engaging in violence because they believe that this runs counter to the teachings of their spiritual tradition. They pray, worship and engage in rituals as a way of maintaining their faith. I don't see this as a problem.

It's not just what you believe but how you employ those beliefs, what behaviors and attitudes they lead to, whether they create more clinging/attachments and aversions or help people to develop positive behaviors and mind states. Many examples have been given here of how belief in God can create problems but i have met Christians, Jews and Muslims who don't behave in destructive/unwholesome ways, who go to their faith as a way of cultivating kindness, compassion, serenity and joy.

It's a raft, the belief (from our perspective) is not "true" but it provides them with a reason (and model) for living in the world peacefully, happily and with compassion. Buddha talked about this in his lifetime, he lived in a society where most believed in Brahma (God) and godlike supernatural beings, and in fact spoke praise about the positive qualities that God believers should emulate.

At the same time, Buddha definitely saw the "danger" there, when these beliefs are held too tightly, especially when they lead to unethical conduct. This seems to be key, in my mind, applying to all of us (Buddhists and nonBuddhist). You can see by a person's attitudes and behavior which direction they are headed.

Some related thoughts from Bikkhu Bodhi's teacher Nyanaponika Thera...

The Four Sublime States Contemplations on Love, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity

Four sublime states of mind have been taught by the Buddha: Love or Loving-kindness (metta), Compassion (karuna), Sympathetic Joy (mudita), Equanimity (upekkha). In Pali, the language of the Buddhist scriptures, these four are known under the name of Brahma-vihara. This term may be rendered by: excellent, lofty or sublime states of mind; or alternatively, by: Brahma-like, god-like or divine abodes.

These four attitudes are said to be excellent or sublime because they are the right or ideal way of conduct towards living beings (sattesu samma patipatti). They provide, in fact, the answer to all situations arising from social contact. They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism.

The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind, and in that they are akin to Brahma, the divine but transient ruler of the higher heavens in the traditional Buddhist picture of the universe. In contrast to many other conceptions of deities, East and West, who by their own devotees are said to show anger, wrath, jealousy and "righteous indignation," Brahma is free from hate; and one who assiduously develops these four sublime states, by conduct and meditation, is said to become an equal of Brahma (brahma-samo). If they become the dominant influence in his mind, he will be reborn in congenial worlds, the realms of Brahma. Therefore, these states of mind are called God-like, Brahma-like.

They are called abodes (vihara) because they should become the mind's constant dwelling-places where we feel "at home"; they should not remain merely places of rare and short visits, soon forgotten. In other words, our minds should become thoroughly saturated by them. They should become our inseparable companions, and we should be mindful of them in all our common activities.

~Nyanaponika Thera



and..

Buddhism and the God-idea

In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. These views are said to be altogether pernicious, having definite bad results due to their effect on ethical conduct.

Theism, however, is regarded as a kind of kamma-teaching in so far as it upholds the moral efficacy of actions. Hence a theist who leads a moral life may, like anyone else doing so, expect a favorable rebirth. He may possibly even be reborn in a heavenly world that resembles his own conception of it, though it will not be of eternal duration as he may have expected. If, however, fanaticism induces him to persecute those who do not share his beliefs, this will have grave consequences for his future destiny. For fanatical attitudes, intolerance, and violence against others create unwholesome kamma leading to moral degeneration and to an unhappy rebirth.

~Nyanaponika Thera



So... belief in God is not a simple good/bad thing. There can be either positive or negative influences, depending primarily on the quality of the behaviors and mental attitudes cultivated by believers. Beliefs do not over-ride kamma and our responsibility for moral behavior, one reaps what they sow...

:anjali:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Tue Aug 03, 2010 4:03 am

Even when the God belief doesn't lead to fanaticism and persecution of others, I see people go through a lot of personal suffering because of their expectations/faith in God (specifically Christian, see my location :)). When they follow all the rules and terrible things happen to them, they wonder if God is punishing them or why he's not listening to their prayers. And of course I include myself when I was young, in that group. You have to either start making up things like "God works in mysterious ways", or belief you're a failure, or else wake up and smell the coffee. It's kind of like kids in a dysfunctional family keep trying to please the abusive father. I'm serious, not being flippant or dismissive. It's a difficult way to go through life, I think.
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby christopher::: » Tue Aug 03, 2010 4:17 am

You're right.

And where you live and what you have seen provides countless examples of this. I was born and raised on the East coast, grew up in a neighborhood where rather liberal minded Catholics, Protestants and Jews all interacted. My first encounter with a "fundamentalist" was Spissy Spacek's mom in the movie "Carrie"... lol... so that mindset seemed crazy immediately. I've met Catholics and Jews who have wrestled with guilt as you described, but also hedonistic nonbelievers who created a lot of suffering for themselves cause they would do whatever "feels good" without regard to consequences.

Those of us who have discovered Buddhism are quite fortunate, imo. I've also found though that my social interactions with nonBuddhists will often go quite well as long as i (and they) focus on the brahma viharas. As soon as we start discussing beliefs or criticizing each others religion, things frequently go downhill...

:tongue:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Is belief in God/s dangerous?

Postby octathlon » Tue Aug 03, 2010 4:33 am

There are plenty of liberal-minded Catholics and Protestants around here but a high percentage of fundamentalists and "conservative Christians", and my jaw has dropped more than a few times at what I have heard people say with a straight face. Needless to say, I don't go around advertising my non-Christian status, and although I have some (non-Buddhist) friends who are very accepting, I'm grateful to have the internet and this forum for the opportunity to associate with fellow Buddhists. :clap: :woohoo: :toast:
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