Friday, April 10, 2015

One Nation Under Buddha

The Buddha. Click for photo credit.
I'll probably never convert to an organized religion. Or a disorganized one, for that matter, though that might suit me better. But in the unlikely event that I do get religion, I guess Buddhism would be the most likely candidate. I was really into Zen Buddhism once, and I still think there's a lot of wisdom in Buddhism. But if I ever do convert--to Buddhism or any other religion--I hope I'll remember that mine is one of many religions in this country, and that I shouldn't go around trying to impose it on anyone else. I hope I will remember the First Amendment, which forbids the establishment of any official religion, while protecting the free exercise of all religions.*

Just in case I ever do convert, I think I'll go ahead and make some promises, and put them in writing. If I forget them you can show me what I wrote here.

OK then. Be it known that if I ever become a Buddhist, I promise I'll never do any the following things:
  • I'll never try to keep members of another religion from building a church or temple simply because I don't like the religion.
  • I'll never try to get "In Buddha We Trust" onto our money, or insert "Under Buddha" into the Pledge of Allegiance."
  • I'll never campaign to put a monument to the Four Noble Truths or the Eightfold Path on government property. Unless people are putting up monuments to other religions, and then I might, just to make a point. But I'd rather avoid all that. Let's keep it all on private property, where it belongs.
  • I'll never insist that government officials (including public school officials) begin functions with a Buddhist prayer. Unless they begin them with prayers from other religions (see above).
  • I'll never have a bumper sticker that says, "America is a Buddhist country!" Because it's not--it's a country with many religions, and many people who aren't religious.
  • I'll never support Buddhist teachers proselytizing to students in the classroom, or leading them in Buddhist prayers. If they were (quite rightly) told not to, I wouldn't say call it an attack on freedom of speech. But I would support all kids being able to pray or meditate at school--as long as they weren't being disruptive or forcing it other kids, and as long as it was their idea.
  • I'll never insist that Buddhist creation stories be taught in science class.
  • I'll never try to get Buddhist scriptures encoded in the law. If I think something is harmful enough to be illegal, I won't point to the Dhammapada and say, "Because Buddha said so." Quoting the Dhammapada to a non-Buddhist would be like quoting the Bible to an atheist...who would do that? Instead, I'll try to explain--based on evidence and real world examples, not scriptures--what makes the behavior so harmful that it should be illegal.
  • I'll never discriminate against someone and call it "religious freedom."
  • I'll never assume everybody in a room with me is Buddhist. If people tell me they aren't, I'll never be shocked or tell them I feel sorry for them, and I'll certainly never tell them (in a "bless your heart" tone of voice) that I'll pray for them. I'll never try to make a non-Buddhist take Buddhist oaths. I'll never say non-Buddhist morals have no real foundation, or that a non-Buddhist can't be a real patriotic American. 
  • If an overbearing minority of Buddhists does do these things, I won't take see criticism of them as criticism of all Buddhists, or of me. And if people told that overbearing minority that they couldn't lead classrooms in Buddhist prayers, or teach Buddhist creation stories, generally try to boss the rest of the country around, I would support them. I certainly wouldn't say they were getting offended for no reason, and tell them to get over it.
  • Finally, if ever convert to Buddhism, and I'm told I can't do any of the things I just said I'll never do, I will never, ever declare that there's a War on Buddhism, or that Buddhists are being persecuted. Especially if Buddhism were the most powerful religion in the country. Because that would really be ridiculous.

* As long as such free exercise doesn't infringe on the rights of others, obviously. If someone decided to revive ancient Aztec religion and start offering human sacrifices to insure the sun kept coming up, I'm afraid the only thing to do is tell them no.