Saturday, September 5, 2015

Christianity is not cool

A friend of mine asked me why it seems people are open and friendly to religious traditions other than Christianity, for example Buddhism or Daoism or whatever. Eastern traditions especially seem fascinating and worthy of respect and admiration, whereas Christianity is looked upon with disdain. Why is that?

The truth is that Christianity is not very cool, for a number of reasons. In the first place, in the West it is already very familiar. Europe has been Christian for something like 1600 years; America has been Christian as long as it has been a country. The majority of people in the country identify as Christian of some sort or other, even if they don't go to church. On the other hand, advaita Vedanta and Buddhism are unfamiliar and exotic, and people out of curiosity look upon the strange and foreign as better than what is ordinary and familiar.

More than that, Christianity has a degrading ethical focus that other religions don't have. Advaita Vedanta teaches you that your sense of individuality and separation from everything else in the world is an illusion; it teaches that your suffering, too, is merely an illusion, and that at rock bottom, you are identical with Brahman, the immutable, immaterial, eternal pure consciousness which is beyond all suffering and evil. Buddhism teaches you that your suffering is a result of your attachment to things through desire, and even that your sense of having an identity and a self which persists through time is an illusion. All this stuff is strangely enticing and empowering. Christianity, on the other hand, tells you that you are wicked and evil and destined for utter ruin unless you admit fault and throw yourself upon God for mercy.  Not very cool!

Of course, there are always two sides to every story. Advaita Vedanta effectively dismisses all suffering as an illusion; no wonder that so many Brahmins and other high-caste Indians have no problems treating the lower castes and the untouchables with utter contempt! Buddhism says the only way to be saved from the suffering in the world is utter extinction -- salvation by damnation, in a sense. These are miserable messages that don't jive well with the Western sense that evil is a reality that has to be opposed, and that salvation must always be to life, since life is not intrinsically evil but rather good.

But most people on the street don't know about all this and don't think about it in very much detail. Hoi polloi are not the best philosophers or theologians; they follow what seems right, what seems appealing, what feels "cool." So many of them don't take Christianity seriously, and prefer to dabble in a little bit of this, a little bit of that.

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