Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Dalai Lama Leads Us Down the Dangerous, Untrue Rabbit Hole of "Happiness"

In the philosophy of religion text I use in teaching my MCCC classes, the Dalai Lama has a piece called "Buddhism and Other Religions." In his attempt to syncretize the world's religions he puts forward a claim that is false and, it seems to me, disrespectful (perhaps out of ignorance). He writes:

"If we view the world's religions from the widest possible viewpoint, and examine their ultimate goal, we find that all of the major world religions, whether Christianity or Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, are directed to the achievement of permanent happiness. They are all directed toward that goal. All religions emphasize the fact that the true follower must be honest and gentle, in other words, that a truly religious person must always strive to be a better human being. To this end, the world's religions teach different doctrines which will help transform the person. In this regard, all religions are the same. This is something we must emphasize. We must consider the question of religious diversity from this viewpoint. And when we do, we can find no conflict." (Peterson et. al., Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Eighth edition, 578; from The Dalai Lama, Answers: Discussions with Western Buddhists )

In this quote the Dalai Lama is wrong on at least two counts.

1. The goal of Christianity is not "the achievement of permanent happiness." Rather, the stated goal of Christianity is the worship of God, who is our Creator. The DL denies, in this essay, that there is a Creator God, viewing it as but a "religious philosophy" or a "different doctrine" from other religions, such as non-theistic variations of Buddhism. Christianity, therefore, cannot be subsumed under some "broader," more inclusive category such as "achieving permanent happiness." The Christian goal is nothing less than: worship of God. Christians have always seen this as different from happiness. For example, C.S. Lewis was once asked if he became a Christian to make himself happy. Lewis replied: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” (Quoted from Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, 58) 
The Dalai Lama's idea makes Christianity something other than it is; therefore it cannot be subsumed under the "happiness" umbrella.

2.  DL says: "a truly religious person must always strive to be a better human being." I do think there are many Christians who would agree to this; indeed, who are "striving" to become better people. But this is not representative of the truly radical Jesus-and-Pauline-idea that all striving to be "better" must cease because it will not help us. Instead Jesus, in his Final Discourse, instructs his disciples that they are to abide rather than strive; viz., they are to connect themselves as a branch to Jesus, the True Vine. In a place of such connectness the idea of "striving" or "trying harder" is irrelevant when it comes to idea of Christ being formed in his followers, and living a fruit-bearing life. For me, the DL's statement actually takes me away from the heart of Christianity and, as such, is dangerous.

Behind all this lies the DL's a-theism (or non-theism; or non-committalism towards theism). He writes:

"Likewise, the variety of the different world religious philosophies is a very useful and beautiful thing. For certain people, the idea of God as creator and of everything depending on his will is beneficial and soothing, and so for that person such a doctrine is worthwhile. For someone else, the idea that there is no creator, that ultimately, one is oneself the creator - that everything depends upon oneself - is more appropriate... For such persons, this idea is better and for the other type of person, the other idea is more suitable. You see, there is no conflict, no problem. This is my belief." (Ib.)

Here the DL is guilty of commiting the subjectivist fallacy; viz., that truth is a function of what a person believes. The claim God exists is either true or false. If it's true, then it's true for all persons; and of it's false, it's false for all persons. Christians throughout history are wagering it is true. In this matter truth is more important than beneficiality.

Anyone interested in more should read Boston U's Stephen Prothero's God Is Not One. Here's a snippet:

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true... Like Gandhi, the Dalai Lama affirms that “the essential message of all religions is very much the same.” In his view, however, what the world’s religions share is not so much God as the Good—the sweet harmony of peace, love, and understanding that religion writer Karen Armstrong also finds at the heart of every religion... as Hindu teacher Swami Sivananda writes, “The fundamentals or essentials of all religions are the same. There is difference only in the non-essentials.” This is a lovely sentiment but it is dangerous, disrespectful, and untrue. For more than a generation we have followed scholars and sages down the rabbit hole into a fantasy world in which all gods are one." (Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, pp. 2-3)