Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meaning of Life, Part 51

Here is more good stuff from Stephen Batchelor's, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist.

I rebelled against the very idea of body-mind dualism. I could not accept that my experience was ontologically divided into two incommensurable spheres: one material, the other mental. Rationally, I found the idea incoherent. Yet this is what I was being asked (told) to believe. I could not accept that, in order to be a Buddhist, I had to take on trust a truth-claim about the nature of the empirical world, and, having adopted such a belief, that I had to hold on to it regardless of whatever further evidence came to light about the relation of the brain to the mind. Belief in the existence of a non-physical mental agent, I realized, was a Buddhist equivalent of belief in a transcendent God.

As soon as you split the world in two parts--one physical and one spiritual--you will likely privilege mind over matter. Since mind--even an impermanent Buddhist mind--survives bodily death and is the agent of moral choice, then it is not only more enduring and "real" than mere matter but also the arbiter of one's destiny. The more you valorize mind and spirit, the more you will be prone to denigrate matter. Before long, mind starts to become Mind with a capital M, while matter becomes the illusory sludge of the world. The next thing you know, Mind starts to play the role of God: it becomes the ground and origin of all things, the cosmic intelligence that animates all forms of life....[p. 38-9]

....I realized that what I found difficult to accept in Buddhism were precisely those ideas and doctrines that it shared with its Indian sister religion: Hinduism. Rebirth, the law of karma, gods, other realms of existence, freedom from the cycle of birth and death, unconditioned consciousness: these were all ideas that predated the Buddha. For many of his contemporaries, such notions would have been uncritically accepted as a description of how the world worked. They were not, therefore, intrinsic to what he taught, but simply a reflection of ancient Indian cosmology and soteriology. [p. 100]

Batchelor discovered that for the historical Gotama, the supernaturalism (rebirth, gods, karma, and "Mind") is not essential. Many are saying the same for Christianity. For the historical Jesus, the supernaturalism (the miracles, heaven, hell, salvation, and "God") is not essential.

More and more are beginning to articulate a Christianity (and a Buddhism) that is natural, not supernatural. May their tribe increase.


  1. Thanks for these posts. I always thought that there were sects within Buddhism that were atheist. Your post's sent me on a bit of net surfing that (Including descriptions of Batchelor's book) that have made me question this. If one believes in karma, reincarnation and the separation of mind/spirit and body one has some kind of belief in the supernatural.

  2. Exactly. Batchelor in his book describes himself as a Buddhist without a home. I do wonder how many self-identified Buddhists are like Batchelor, non-supernatural. I wonder how that compares with self-identified Christians who are non-supernatural.

  3. Or as Sallie McFague calls them, "super, natural" : )

  4. Thanks for the article -- a friend directed me to your site. I will have to read this book.

    My question for you:

    I am not familiar with Christians who don't believe in miracles, heaven, hell, salvation and "God". Am I missing something. Why would such Christians really need a Bible? Already too many questions, sorry. Maybe I will just read more of your blog.

    Oh yes, I am an apostate Christian and a lazy Buddhist (who does not buy into dualism, karma, reincarnation and the like).

  5. Some of us appreciate Christianity the way Batchelor (and perhaps you?) appreciate Buddhism. Maybe I am a "lazy" Christian! Although I work hard at being lazy. For an example of a lazy Christian, see Don Cupitt. Batchelor talks about him in his book. Christianity beyond beliefs.

  6. Great, add another book to my reading list. Do you have a book or two you strongly recommend of Cupitt's for this Atheist Lazy Buddhist?