[Buddha-l] Re: Can an Air Force cadet have Buddha nature?

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Tue May 17 13:41:11 MDT 2005

On Mon, 2005-05-16 at 13:11 -0400, curt wrote:

> One of the best ways of countering the Christian Right is to exercise
> the rights they would like to take away - in particular the right to not
> be a Christian.

Until about three years ago I never would have believed that any
American would dispute that a citizen of the USA has a right to follow
any religion, or none. While I was still living in Canada, however, I
had a long debate with some guy on the Christian Science Monitor
discussion forum about this very point. (Although the CSM is a good
newspaper, its on-line discussion forums are crawling with neo-
conservative troglodytes.) My interlocutor's claim was that the framers
of the Bill of Rights were all Christians and that when they spoke of
religious freedoms they meant that everyone has a right to be whatever
brand of Christian they wanted. Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, he
claimed, have NO RIGHT to religious freedom in America, and if they want
to practice their religion, they should go back where they came from. I
asked him if that statement applied to native Americans. To his credit,
he was consistent on this point. If native Americans wish to follow
their pagan ways, he said, they should cross the Bering strait and go
right back to Asia, where they came from, because God wants America to
be a Christian land. When I said that the Buddha wants America to be a
land of universal friendship and a promoter of international peace, he
said I was only betraying my liberal bias. This exchange was followed by
several letters from other discussants, congratulating this fellow for
putting another dogmatic über-leftist ex-patriot ideologue (by which I
think they meant me) in his place. (Even my pointing out that one cannot
be an über-leftist, since über and left are different directions, did
not seem to impress them.) Since that time I have been less inclined to
underestimate the intolerance of some of my countrymen. 

> Finding a local Sangha that one can support - or starting one of one's
> own - would be a way of helping to increase Buddhism's "visibility".

This is an issue on which my views have begun to change since the
beginning of the reign of President George III. In the 1980s and 1990s I
always argued with my fellow Buddhists that we should not strive to be
visible at all. My feeling then was that we should work for peace,
disarmament, banning the death penalty (or, in Canada, keeping it
banned), economic justice and other good causes just as citizens, not as
Buddhists. I saw no reason to have a Buddhist Peace Fellowship when
outfits like Project Plowshares and its Canadian counterpart, Project
Ploughshares, were doing far more effective peace work. My attitude was
that we should just pitch in and do good work and forget about being
seen as Buddhist. Now I'm not so sure. Now I'm more inclined to take the
position you have stated.

> Of course there are other things that can be done - like joining in
> coalitions with others to engage in political action to defend basic
> rights against Right-wing attacks. 

Agreed. I still think the best thing to do is to work in concert with
liberal Christians, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Hindus, Sikhs and secular
humanists, but I think all of us who do this kind of work should wear
our religions on our sleeves so that people can see that not all
Buddhists are quietists, not all Christians are fundamentalists, not all
Jews are Zionists, not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Jains are
self-starving nudists and so forth.

Something else that I have been thinking a lot about recently is whether
the time is coming when Buddhists should consider whether their words
are being used against them. For at least fifty years now the religious
right has carefully collected quotations from scientists who say that
science offers only hypotheses and that any hypothesis can be overturned
by evidence. These quotations are then used to show that science is
fallible and speculative and tentative, which makes it ever more feeble
that the Truth, which never changes. I can imagine that the tendency
that Buddhists have to question their own doctrines and assumptions and
teachings, which is one of the noblest and most effective of all
practices in Buddhism, could produce statements that anti-Buddhists
could use against us. So what should we do? Become more openly self-
effacing or become more secretive in our practices? I truly do not know.

In general, anything that is humble, reflective and cautious is prone to
being distorted or drowned out by those who prefer shrill and hysterical
stridency. In the first rounds of the battle, gentleness and love tend
to take a beating at the hands of fear-mongering and bullying. I believe
love eventually prevails, but not until a prodigious mound of once-
loving corpses has been piled up before the altar of narrow-mindedness.

> Immigrants are the a favorite scapegoat of the Right these days,

It's not quite that simple. Many liberals like Lou Dobbs rail against
our lax enforcement of immigration laws and actually oppose President
Bush's efforts to open up immigration. The Democratic platform (for
those of you who forgot that they also ran in the 2004 elections) had a
carefully worded paragraph criticizing the Republican policy of opening
up immigration. Their claim was that the principal motivation of the
Republicans was to bring in cheap labor. The Democrat's position was to
admit no new immigrants unless they be accepted as fully equal in every
respect to all other Americans; in other words, they stood strongly
against creating a new underclass of underpaid workers without health
benefits and all the benefits that normally go to American workers. 

> Or maybe we could buy thousands of copies of "The Bible According
> to Mark Twain" and Thomas Paine's "Age of Reason" and air-drop
> them over Colorado Springs?

It wouldn't hurt to include copies of Thomas Jefferson's edition of the
Bible, which cut out all the stories of miracles and all the hell-fire
and damnation rhetoric of Revelations, and the anti-Semitic ravings of
Paul. His was a rather thinner but much more inspiring version of the
Bible. It was republished a few years back, but I doubt many copies sold
in Colorado Springs.

By the way, if you have not yet heard or read the transcript of the
speech that Bill Moyers recently gave, treat yourself to it. You can get
a copy at www.freepress.net/news/8120 . The audio version takes just
over an hour to listen to. The transcript could be read in less time, of
course. It's powerful stuff. My favorite line goes something like this:
"There is only one thing this administration and its conservative
backers hate more than liberals, and that's the truth." 

So one thing we can do is just to keep on saying what he sincerely
believe to be the truth, and if we don't really believe much in the very
idea of the truth (some of us are, after all, relativists and ironists),
then we can at least continue pointing out what we know to be lies. And
these days there are so many bald-faced lies being put out everyday by
our fearful leaders, we never need fear running out of work.

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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