How much do our attitudes about religion have to do with social or political factors? – asks Greg Barker
Ever ask your friends what religion they find intriguing and would like to know more about?
The answer likely won’t be Christianity.
Christianity has not fared too well between the last two UK censuses with a whopping 12% decrease among those who say they belong to it – and a corresponding increase in the “no religion” category.
If your friends are like mine, the answer to the question is Buddhism.
But it wasn’t always so. A few decades ago, it used to be Hinduism.
We used to be mesmerized by Indian gurus who taught us about self-realization, meditation and the deep interrelationship between all living things.
What happened? How did we move from Hinduism to Buddhism as the exotic religion of choice?
How We Choose Religions To Hate and Love…
There were many factors: British interest shifted away from India in the post war period as our colonial presence dramatically declined.
Most Hindu leaders who came to teach in the United Kingdom were well meaning but a few flamboyant and greedy gurus found themselves on the wrong side of the media.
Then China invaded Tibet and a prominent Buddhist came to be known around the world: The Dalai Lama.
Culture wars between religion and science intensified and many British intellectuals promoted Buddhism as compatible with an atheistic stance.
It also doesn’t hurt that Richard Gere and other Hollywood stars have been attracted to this religion.
All of these reasons – and more – have conspired to make Buddhism the current exotic religion of choice.
It’s interesting that many Buddhists living in lands where it has long been the traditional religion wouldn’t recognize the Buddhism described by newcomers to it in the United Kingdom.
Ours is a Buddhism shaped by our own desires and prejudices.
The Big Question
Here’s a question I want to ask you:
Could it be that we find intriguing in religion may have more to do with political and social tides than we may usually think?
…and could it be that what we disdain in a religion has more to do with the fact that familiarity breeds contempt than with a reasoned assessment?
After all, just look at how unpopular Buddhism has been at times in China…and how “exotic” Christianity has appeared to some of those who have disliked traditional forms of Buddhism…
Gregory A Barker, PhD is a writer, educational consultant, coach and popular speaker at Schools across the United Kingdom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org His book, Jesus Beyond Christianity: The Classic Texts, has been published by Oxford University Press.