Culture and Religion

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East vs West Religions

Even though the religious experience, or enlightenment, is based on a similar general concept for both the Eastern and Western religions, the context for that common experience is subject to abuse by the religious leaders in the West.

The ancient Chinese and other rural (Eastern) cultures could recognize the complexity and interdependencies of nature and of man within that complex environment. The religious philosophy of Tao, sometimes simplified as the flow of nature, developed a religious discipline that could lead to the student attaining a religious experience in that context, to be 'one' with the flow of nature, where one's life is felt to be an integrated part of the universe. The experience is difficult to describe but one way would be to say that the person feels part of something much larger than himself/herself - that something being the flow of the entire universe. The Zen philosophy experience is rather similar, since the two Eastern philosophies have common origins. In these religions there is no belief in a life after death because that belief is a contradiction to feeling part of this life.

The Calvinists and other strains of Christianity that confronted the belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing God lead to a conclusion of predestiny where one's life is preordained, where the events of one's life are part of God's master plan. The immersion in this belief can lead to a religious experience where one feels part of something larger than himself/herself - that something being God's master plan. The person is riding along according to a predetermined path. As part of that plan, this life as a person is preordained and upon death the person continues to live in a supernatural existence.

Even though the various religions of the world can enable a similar religious experience, to feel part of something much larger than oneself, the context for the experience can be very different. That difference is part of why there is such a debate on the mix of religion and politics here in America.

The religious discipline instilled into the students in the East is built on respect and tolerance for others. Perhaps at some point many quotes from Eastern teachings but I doubt this emphasis would be debated. Certainly every religion has many relevant quotes to any reader's perspective. However some Western religions offer a repository of stories of either tolerance and intolerance.

The religious context for the Western religions is the belief that there is this all-powerful, all-knowing supernatural God and we are all subject to his master plan for the universe. While it is one thing to feel a part of that plan, it is quite another to understand what that plan is. When reading the Old Testament, there are many passages that, at different moments of the Jewish history recorded in the Bible, direct the Jews of that time to wipe out neighboring people (men, women, children), including all their resources (like cattle and food). When reading the New Testament, there are many passages where Jesus suggests a more tolerant way (e.g., turn the other cheek) to deal with conflicts.

It is plainly evident from the ancient scriptures used by the Western religions that inconsistencies must be reconciled. The believers in these religions must rely on the integrity of their religious teachers and leaders. This can be a problem.

As Michael Lerner in his recent book The Left Hand of God has described, the Christian evangelicals have been emphasizing what he calls the Right Hand of God, the God that destroys the enemies of his chosen people. The book is suggesting that America needs a new political movement that emphasizes what he calls the Right Hand of God, the God that teaches compassion and tolerance for others.

In the Eastern religions, there is no such dichotomy to deal with. Certainly the Eastern peoples have been subject over the years to the same problem of nationalistic leaders that convince the populace of the need to conduct one war or another, either in attacking or when defending. Those wars were not based on religion. In every culture regardless of religion nationalism can be used to motivate a population or just a certain group.

With the prevalence of the Western religions, religion now intrudes on politics. There is unfortunately a choice for basing a war - either on religious grounds (where we are fighting for our God, as in God Bless America, in this battle of civilizations with Christians against non-Christians) or on political grounds (where the country to be attacked has a leader that is being compared to Hitler). The political debate also has that similar choice for the justification of any policy - either on religious grounds (consistent with God's teaching, either one of intolerance or tolerance) or on political grounds (where it might be for the good of all or for the good of a specific targeted group).

I can only hope that books like that by Mr Lerner can improve the political debate in this country, where Christianity (the Western religions preferred here in America) is not used to justify irrational and/or inhumane political actions. I found much resonance with his observations, leading to its own web page here (see The Left Hand of God).
created - July 2007
last change - 07/14/2007
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