Sunday, August 29, 2010

I have a bone to pick with the Dalai Lama

I actually really like the guy. In fact, I'm his fan on Facebook, but his status last Sunday morning was in stark contrast to the experience I had that day. He said:

We can't say that all religions are the same, different religions have different views and fundamental differences. But it does not matter, as all religions are meant to help in bringing about a better world with better and happier human beings. On this level, I think that through different philosophical explanations and approaches, all religions have the same goal and the same potential.

You know how I was gonna go visit the Quakers? I found a website with a meeting time and place listed, a public building that used to be a school and is now available for use by various groups near downtown. There was a phone number listed and the Still Small Voice said I should call before heading down there, but I'm phone phobic. I ignored that voice at my own peril; there were no Friends to be found. Instead, some other service was taking place, and I figured, since I'm here, I may as well see what this is all about.

There are chairs set up in a gymnasium and I took a seat just as some songs were finishing up and discover that I've stumbled upon Calvary Chapel. Several junctures during the service required an effort to keep a straight face and not cry out, "Are you serious?!" For example, the pastor began by reminding us of how sinful we are and how we need to acknowledge that everything the Bible says is a sin really is a sin, then in the next paragraph reminds us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world. "Some people think that, don't they?" As though this is a ludicrous conclusion to draw based on the behaviors and beliefs of so many Christians. "Jesus didn't come to judge the world," said the pastor, and then I expected some trifle about love and forgiveness and mercy, but instead got, "He's gonna do that at his Second Comin'."

Phew! Off the hook till then! (And, yes, he did say "Comin'" and not "Coming.")

The pastor announced that we would break for twenty minutes of coffee and fellowship time and then have Bible study. I must have been the only unfamiliar face there, because I was immediately swarmed upon. "Do you live in Fargo? Oh, good! So many times we get visitors that are just passing through and we never see them again." The people were all very friendly and welcoming so I was polite in return and resisted the urge to say, "Yeah, I don't think you're gonna see me again either."

"How did you hear about our church?" one woman asked.

"Well, I was actually looking for the Society of Friends," I told her.

"Oh, yeah, they used to meet down the hall from here, but they haven't been here for a couple of years." Drat.

They had a table with some books laid out for lending. Titles like The Biblical Approach to Discipline, Raising Your Son to Be a Godly Man and Marriage the Lord's Way.  One title particularly caught me off guard: Psychology Debunked. Did you know that mental illnesses are just an invention of the pharmaceutical industry to make money? The real problem is sin and the answers are all in the Bible. From their website: "Every major psychological theory is anti-Christian at its core." (Emphasis theirs.) Could that be because the brand of Christianity you're espousing is not conducive to good mental health? And while I agree that medications for the treatment of psychological problems are overprescribed, I think they're less harmful than fundamentalism!

If there's one message I took away from this experience it's this: All churches are not created equal! Sorry, Mr. Dalai Lama.

Oh, how I missed my liberal Episcopalians!

An observation I made, almost all of the members of Calvary Chapel seemed like they could easily fit in with the People of Walmart. There's a definite difference in education level and socio-economic standing between them and the crowd at the Episcopal church. I think it would be interesting to see how strong the correlation is between income/education and how "liberal" one's religion is across several congregations and geographical regions and look into possible causes. Is there something about fundamentalism that appeals to lower-income people, or do fundamentalists feel more strongly about eschewing worldly wealth and honor? Totally speculating here, but that's a study I'd like to do.

So, I'm back with the Episcopalians until I can surmount my phone phobia and see what's up with the local Quakers. I went this morning. Some days I can suspend belief and go along with it and some days I can't. This morning I couldn't. We'll see how it goes next week.

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43 comments:

  1. Wow. Did you stay for bible study?

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  2. Oh gods. Psychology debunked? Thank you Christians. We could be generations ahead in science if it wasn't for the Christians specifically. I love psychology, and in the last 10 years it has made some amazing leaps in discovering how and why our minds do things. I agree with your "fundamentalism mindset theory." Actually, I accept it.

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  3. j-dog, I love psychology too. That's part of why it pissed me off so much to see a book claiming that it's all bunk! That's not misguided but benign; that's dangerous and destructive.

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  4. I looked at their website and wow, I thought Mormons were bad when it comes to guilt, but at least I've never come away from the LDS church feeling like I'm so guilty that I deserve to DIE.

    I had a similar observation about the demographics of the UU church that I sometimes attend... It is VERY white, educated, and middle class. Even more so than my LDS ward.

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  5. Yeah, I have to agree with you. I just finished the book *Sundays in America* where the author visits a spectrum of Protestant churches across the country. So many of the ministers in the churches she visited seemed intent on tearing down their congregations. Of course, they always thought they were in the right, doing it "for their own good," so they could be built up again in collusion with a certain philosophy. At one time I would have agreed with the Dalai Lama about religions having the same intent and the same potential for goodness, but I just don't believe that anymore. Some churches really won't accomplish much that is positive because they're too focused on building barriers and making people feel bad about themselves.

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  6. philomytha, I have heard about a negative correlation between education level and religiosity (i.e. in general, the more educated you are, the less religious you are) but there are always exceptions. My mother is a very intelligent woman and holds a master's degree in nursing, but she still believes that the Adam and Eve story is factual and holds many other fundamentalist beliefs. I find it astounding, actually.

    I visited our local UUs and the members there seemed to span a fairly wide range of income levels. Still very white, but well, Fargo is a very white place.

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  7. @ Leah
    You are absolutely right, all religions are not the same. But then each religions is composed of many different components - some are reprehensible, some parochial, some rigid but some parts are actually commendable.

    The Dalai Lama's quote said, "...On this level ...",
    I think, since he is trying to push for peace, he is recognizing the commendable aspects of religion and trying to focus on those.

    I think he would agree with your insight though you disagreed with his wording. But the misunderstanding served as fuel for your good post. Good luck finding a nearby Quaker group that still meets.

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  8. Chandelle, I experienced a lot of that "tough love" and "cruel to be kind" in the LDS Church. It's absolutely harmful and gets in the way of anything helpful.

    Sabio, I do understand the Dalai Lama's intent. I chose my title mostly as an attention-getter so people would click through to read the rest of what I had to say. :-)

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  9. leah, i wish you lived in salt lake city; then we could hang out.

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  10. Hey, I'm phone-phobic, too! Interesting.

    Oh, and that stuff about mental illness? Tom Cruise TOTALLY already knew that :)

    One more thing... I'd venture a guess that it's less your socio-economic status and more your level of education (which thereafter determines said socio-economic status) that correlates with your level of religious CRAZY.

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  11. Clearly the Dali Lama hasn't had time in his schedule to meet with Fred Phelps. My guess is that even he would be driven to slap the man =)

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  12. Michelle, glad it's not just me with the phone phobia. :-)

    Rhacodactylus, LOL! Fred Phelps could use a slap. Tom Cruise too.

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  13. The Dalai Lama is not talking in a literal sense. Buddhists often have to use similes for people to understand and relate to their own experience. People often get stuck with a fixed perception (influenced by ignorance) of how the truth should be instead of realizing how the truth actually is. Therefore, sometimes a simile is the best way to teach people because they will relate to their personal experience and interpretation instead of trying to argue with another fixed perception. The point is that we assume all religions want the same thing: to bring peace, happiness, to put and end to stress and suffering, etc. It's like saying: the top of the mountain is very peaceful but there are many roads that can take people to the top. Regardless of how complicated or simple a road may be, it will take people to the top if it is followed in a proper manner and with the appropriate preparations. However, it is also true that some paths will only go around the mountain without ever getting to the top, or they make take a person to endless loops without a specific destination. It is also possible that some people will also give wrong instructions on how to get to the top of the mountain simply because they have never been there, but they just think they know how to get there. So it's not that all religions are identical in their organizational structures or ideas, but we hope all religions are the same in the sense of having the goal of putting and end to stress and suffering.

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  14. Leah -- Your comments about the anti-psychology pamphlet stirred a memory. I knew a man who earned a psychology degree before becoming a born-again Christian. After his conversion, he disdained psychology, saying that everything he needed to know about the human mind was in the Bible (!). I wonder how widespread this anti-psychology current is throughout fundamentalist Christianity.

    Speaking anecdotally, most of the Christians I know are middle-class and college-educated. The highly conservative Christians I've met tend to be middle or working class with lower levels of education (although this is not a hard and fast rule). I definitely think there's a correlation between education, socio-economic status, and types of religiousity.

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  15. What is also important to consider is that all views arise either on dependence on another person's words or through one's own inappropriate attention. What is important is to realize that all views are fabricated, conditioned, subject to change, impermanent. Anything that is conditioned, subject to change, and impermanent, will always contain an element of stress because it will never be able to provide a constant and permanent satisfaction to the mind. So anybody who clings to a set of views/ideas will be clinging to that very stress. However, a person who knows views, their origin, their cessation, their allure, and their drawbacks, will be able to realize the escape from views.

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  16. I have seen some of your outfits, Leah, so don't be too hasty with the "People of Walmart" stuff....;)

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  17. I seriously disagree on the implied assertion that how religious you are is related to intelligence/socio-economic status. It isn't like all atheists are well educated, monied people, neither are all ultra conservative members of any religion automatically among the working classes. I think, in America especially, it is wrong to make such a broad assumption. People's personal experiences may differ, but there is no hard and fast rule that you can quote on this theory.

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  18. Regarding the comments, Anonymous 4:41 said what I was thinking. I don't care for the use of broad brushes, in any context, but especially in the realm of religious belief. It seems to me that if you substitute "women," "men," or "blacks," in the place of "fundamentalism" it seems much more distasteful in the reading.

    My experience too, is that the more humble the financial resources, the more apt a person is to reach into their pocket and help another poor soul out, which is exactly what Christ calls us to do. Maybe I'm painting with too broad a brush, tho.

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  19. Ahab, I find it very disturbing when people abandon evidence-based knowledge in favor of scripture. I took to opposite journey, abandoning scripture in favor of evidence.

    Anonymous 1 & 2 (I know who you are 'cause you sent me a message), thank you very much for your thoughtful perspective. I know you know a lot more about Buddhism than I do, and I like your analogy about different paths leading to the same destination. I seriously meant no disrespect toward the Dalai Lama or Buddhist beliefs. I do tend towards sarcasm and flippancy, which perhaps doesn't come across over the internet.

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  20. Anonymous 3, I do not dress like People of Walmart, and you better hope I don't find out who you are. ;-)

    Anonymous 4, I was not intending to made a broad assumption (though I don't understand why that would be more wrong in America than elsewhere?). I was commenting on an observation I made about two very specific congregations and wondering how widespread this correlation is. And I said nothing about intelligence.

    Babs, again, I wasn't meaning to generalize or claim I have statistics to back up my observation. And I've known generous and stingy people from all income levels.

    Perhaps we are all somewhat biased toward seeing what we want to see, myself included.

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  21. I bristled a bit, too, on the question of socioeconomic status related to fundamentalism. (And I can't tell you how much I detest that People of Walmart site. Even if I do plenty of my own judging because it seems like every time I go there I see some kid being beaten by his mother.)

    Still, if I step aside from emotion it does seem that Quakers tend to be well-educated, white, and middle class (or higher); same with the UU congregation I visited in Utah (though that probably says something about Utah rather than UU). Studies indicate that Buddhism in the West appeals mostly to this set as well.

    I'm not sure if the correlation to this is that poor, high school-educated people of color are more likely to be fundamentalist, but I don't think it can be denied that liberal religions tend to attract those who are most likely to be liberal, and that's generally white, educated people who are not poor. I think.

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  22. Due to comments, I went and looked at the Walmart site. Wow, memories. I use to live in a Pennsylvania town of 5,000 folks and Walmart was our only choice, I often spoke of the horror of child beatings I saw there and the obesity.

    I re-read Leah's comments of Social-economic status and religious sect and it seemed clearly sociological to me without generalizing. Sorry, demographics don't lie unless you falsely generalize with them. She was pointing at probabilities and frequency -- sorry if those seem politically incorrect to anyone. Go to Epiphenom if you want the data.

    But now a suggestion to Leah: About using the Dalai Lama quote. If you are being facetious to grab readers, then later in the article, you should clarify that so as to avoid comments. Just a thought.

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  23. "
    I'm not sure if the correlation to this is that poor, high school-educated people of color are more likely to be fundamentalist, but I don't think it can be denied that liberal religions tend to attract those who are most likely to be liberal, and that's generally white, educated people who are not poor. I think. "

    This absolutely can be denied and I am sure every one who is reading these comments can think of someone in their lives who does not conform to such a broad statement. Also, it would be helpful if "liberal" was not such a subjective term. I know some who think the Catholic Church is liberal compared to their creed, for example.

    C.S. Lewis was a white, well educated man who believed implicitly in Christ.

    Bertrand Russell was a white, well educated man who believed implicitly in atheism.

    Was one more intelligent than the other? Who can say? And simply basing opinions like this on such vague boundaries as "wealth" or "not poor"(who defines this?) or education (does that only refer to Ivy League?)....there are too many contradictions and too many people in evidence on both sides to make a statement that cannot be "denied". Of course it can be denied. There is no real general trend here. There are only uncomfortable, classcist, elitist stereotypes. That is a hindrance to any assertion. Let's move on from that and get back to the real basis for this discussion.

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  24. PS- @ Sabio-My argument was directed not at Leah, but specifically to the assertions of Michelle and Phylomytha and Chandelle in the last post. Where appropriate, I quoted the part I was concerned about.

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  25. Leah- I was teasing about Wal-Mart....never thought you'd post it....;)

    It's Mara, btw.....

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  26. Mara! You're unbelievable! Haha!

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  27. Regarding the last few Anonymous comments, I debated about publishing them because I have a feeling a ruckus may ensue, but they do fit my policy of discussing ideas and not attacking people, so I put them through. But I gotta go to bed, so I can't reply right now. I will get to it!

    In the future though, when commenting please select Name/URL from the menu and leave at least a name or a pseudonym, makes it easier to address specific comments. I'm probably going to use Disqus when I upgrade my site.

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  28. Yep, how to treat psychology is a debate between various sides of Christianity. Evangelical conservatives and fundamentalists will tell you that all counseling and psychology should be done with the Bible alone - scripture is sufficient.

    Some of those are my relatives. :)
    I plan on being a counselor.

    So that tells you where I stand on the issue. I'm all about psychology and counseling, though of course just as with any science, there is bad science and good science being done within the psychology field.

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  29. Argh. Seriously?? Shocking how the more science makes people lean on religion less the more religions try to make science out to be evil. One of my least favorite aspects of some Christian denominations is the idea that psychology is just a way to make sin not your fault, part of that EVIL liberal secular humanist agenda! It would be funny if it weren't so freaking sad.

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  30. "This absolutely can be denied and I am sure every one who is reading these comments can think of someone in their lives who does not conform to such a broad statement."

    That is entirely true. I'm speaking only demographically. The demographics on Buddhism in the West, for example, conform to my statement.

    'Also, it would be helpful if "liberal" was not such a subjective term. I know some who think the Catholic Church is liberal compared to their creed, for example.'

    Also true. However, a religion can be, to a certain extent, quantified as "liberal" or "conservative" by studying their creed and seeing how it aligns with those philosophies. For example, acceptance of openly gay members: easily classified as liberal. Belief in the inerrant word of the Bible: conservative. I believe that several theologians have done this work already. I probably shouldn't say that since I don't have a link right in front of me, but throw a stone at Google and you'll probably find something.

    '"Was one more intelligent than the other? Who can say? And simply basing opinions like this on such vague boundaries as "wealth" or "not poor" (who defines this?) or education (does that only refer to Ivy League?)....there are too many contradictions and too many people in evidence on both sides to make a statement that cannot be "denied."'

    I am completely sympathetic to your argument here. Speaking personally, I would not classify intelligence based on level of education; I don't consider them to be related. But in the study of demographics, parameters such as levels of education and income CAN be identified, and then correlations drawn to religious activity. Poverty, for example, can definitely be classified based on cost of living in a particular area.

    I also agree that we're treading in some seriously dangerous territory, so I'm happy to let this discussion rest. I just wanted to point out that I'm not making off-the-cuff classist arguments here. I care about such issues deeply. I have wondered myself, though, if it IS possible to broadly make statements about the connection between one's income or education level (not so much race) and religious activity. I'm not saying that it IS possible - just that I find it an interesting question.

    The first time I wondered about this was when I was looking into "prosperity gospel." I wondered, who would this philosophy tend to attract? People living below the poverty line who hope to incur favor with God to raise their income level? Or people who are already wealthy and feel they owe it to God? I'm curious about this, as a person who has always struggled financially and felt, at one time, that it was because God was mad at me. :)

    And that's all I'll say about it. Thanks for hosting the discussion, Leah.

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  31. Kacie, I agree that there's good science and bad science within psychology, but it's unfortunate that some can't see that the solution for bad science is better science, not throwing out science in favor of scripture. I would imagine you feel the same way.

    Carla Sue, I think the demonizing of science is coming mostly from fundamentalists.

    And Chandelle and Anonymous, I think I'm going to have to write up a post specifically addressing fundamentalism, because I think there's been some misunderstanding. C.S. Lewis, for example, absolutely was not a fundamentalist, and while I suppose it's possible to take a fundamentalist approach to Catholicism, I wouldn't say that Catholicism is fundamentalist at its core.

    And I agree that education and intelligence are two separate things, and of course there are exceptions to every generalization.

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  32. Leah,

    Just a quick correction- I didn't say C.S. Lewis was a fundamentalist....I was using him as an example of a well-educated Christian. Also, I did not refer to the Catholic Church as fundamentalist....I simply said that compared to some other denominations, it could be considered quite structured and severe. I remember attending a religious service (Methodist) with a Baptist friend and, being Catholic at the time, saying to her "My goodness, this is loose and unstructured" and she said "I was just thinking how rigid this is!" True story.

    The things I said about these two point were in rebuttal to the contentious, non-religious territory of economic/class/education issues which were being lumped into religious parameters. I hate to correct you, but go back and re-read and you'll see I did not say the Church was fundamental or C.S. Lewis either. However, a blog on fundamentalism would be interesting.

    Chandelle, thanks for your clarifications. Well-thought out and I understand you much more clearly. This got a little heated, but I think it was an interesting discussion and I am grateful to Leah for hosting it.

    Oh, and Leah....all the Anonymous (except for you-know-who) have been me. :)

    Mara

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  33. @Leah-

    This article was well written.

    You have some anthropological and sociological insights... and I totally agree that a massive study involving income, level of education, liberal tendencies, and even experience traveling abroad or living in other countries would be a very interesting study to do.

    Especially when comparing believers and nonbelievers as well as the different sorts in-between.

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  34. I'm late to the party I see.

    I was raised in a church called Calvary Chapel which was a standalone church, but seems to resemble your Calvary Chapel pretty accurately. Thankfully, I went all gay and moved out of the country to get an education so I'm not even welcome there anymore.

    I love the UU church. I find the people interesting, regardless of the congretation. I'm in New Hampshire, so it's not surprising that the congregants are generally upper middle class, educated, and white.

    Regarding broad statements about socioeconomic status, I don't feel like you've been unreasonable describing what you see as a trend within your own experience. You're not claiming "all of these people are like this." I think it would warrant an interesting study, as the only examples given here are purely anecdotal, both yours and those who claim you're wrong. I am the only person in my family who is not religious. I am also the only person in my family with more than one year of college. Is this a trend, or is this because I come from a Mennonite town where post secondary education is not prioritized? Furthermore, does a life of financial hardship inspire one to seek comfort in definite answers about god and the afterlife? Does a college education provide so many opportunities to question your own religious beliefs that religious young people emerge as more liberal?

    These are things that psychology and sociology might be able to delve into, which is the real reason for "Psychology Debunked." Nobody wants to find out that their deeply held beliefs are easily explained away by science.

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  35. I just wanted to point out that while all CHURCHES are most certainly different, I think it can be said that all RELIGIONS at the heart have the same goals: to be uplifting and a guide through this crazy life. Of course we as a species are evolving past the need for religion, imho, and haven't figured out a way to ween ourselves off of it [yet?] But that's a whole other argument...

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  36. I'm late to the party I see.

    I was raised in a church called Calvary Chapel which was a standalone church, but seems to resemble your Calvary Chapel pretty accurately. Thankfully, I went all gay and moved out of the country to get an education so I'm not even welcome there anymore.

    I love the UU church. I find the people interesting, regardless of the congretation. I'm in New Hampshire, so it's not surprising that the congregants are generally upper middle class, educated, and white.

    Regarding broad statements about socioeconomic status, I don't feel like you've been unreasonable describing what you see as a trend within your own experience. You're not claiming "all of these people are like this." I think it would warrant an interesting study, as the only examples given here are purely anecdotal, both yours and those who claim you're wrong. I am the only person in my family who is not religious. I am also the only person in my family with more than one year of college. Is this a trend, or is this because I come from a Mennonite town where post secondary education is not prioritized? Furthermore, does a life of financial hardship inspire one to seek comfort in definite answers about god and the afterlife? Does a college education provide so many opportunities to question your own religious beliefs that religious young people emerge as more liberal?

    These are things that psychology and sociology might be able to delve into, which is the real reason for "Psychology Debunked." Nobody wants to find out that their deeply held beliefs are easily explained away by science.

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  37. Leah,

    Just a quick correction- I didn't say C.S. Lewis was a fundamentalist....I was using him as an example of a well-educated Christian. Also, I did not refer to the Catholic Church as fundamentalist....I simply said that compared to some other denominations, it could be considered quite structured and severe. I remember attending a religious service (Methodist) with a Baptist friend and, being Catholic at the time, saying to her "My goodness, this is loose and unstructured" and she said "I was just thinking how rigid this is!" True story.

    The things I said about these two point were in rebuttal to the contentious, non-religious territory of economic/class/education issues which were being lumped into religious parameters. I hate to correct you, but go back and re-read and you'll see I did not say the Church was fundamental or C.S. Lewis either. However, a blog on fundamentalism would be interesting.

    Chandelle, thanks for your clarifications. Well-thought out and I understand you much more clearly. This got a little heated, but I think it was an interesting discussion and I am grateful to Leah for hosting it.

    Oh, and Leah....all the Anonymous (except for you-know-who) have been me. :)

    Mara

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  38. Anonymous 3, I do not dress like People of Walmart, and you better hope I don't find out who you are. ;-)

    Anonymous 4, I was not intending to made a broad assumption (though I don't understand why that would be more wrong in America than elsewhere?). I was commenting on an observation I made about two very specific congregations and wondering how widespread this correlation is. And I said nothing about intelligence.

    Babs, again, I wasn't meaning to generalize or claim I have statistics to back up my observation. And I've known generous and stingy people from all income levels.

    Perhaps we are all somewhat biased toward seeing what we want to see, myself included.

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  39. What is also important to consider is that all views arise either on dependence on another person's words or through one's own inappropriate attention. What is important is to realize that all views are fabricated, conditioned, subject to change, impermanent. Anything that is conditioned, subject to change, and impermanent, will always contain an element of stress because it will never be able to provide a constant and permanent satisfaction to the mind. So anybody who clings to a set of views/ideas will be clinging to that very stress. However, a person who knows views, their origin, their cessation, their allure, and their drawbacks, will be able to realize the escape from views.

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  40. The Dalai Lama is not talking in a literal sense. Buddhists often have to use similes for people to understand and relate to their own experience. People often get stuck with a fixed perception (influenced by ignorance) of how the truth should be instead of realizing how the truth actually is. Therefore, sometimes a simile is the best way to teach people because they will relate to their personal experience and interpretation instead of trying to argue with another fixed perception. The point is that we assume all religions want the same thing: to bring peace, happiness, to put and end to stress and suffering, etc. It's like saying: the top of the mountain is very peaceful but there are many roads that can take people to the top. Regardless of how complicated or simple a road may be, it will take people to the top if it is followed in a proper manner and with the appropriate preparations. However, it is also true that some paths will only go around the mountain without ever getting to the top, or they make take a person to endless loops without a specific destination. It is also possible that some people will also give wrong instructions on how to get to the top of the mountain simply because they have never been there, but they just think they know how to get there. So it's not that all religions are identical in their organizational structures or ideas, but we hope all religions are the same in the sense of having the goal of putting and end to stress and suffering.

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  41. Yeah, I have to agree with you. I just finished the book *Sundays in America* where the author visits a spectrum of Protestant churches across the country. So many of the ministers in the churches she visited seemed intent on tearing down their congregations. Of course, they always thought they were in the right, doing it "for their own good," so they could be built up again in collusion with a certain philosophy. At one time I would have agreed with the Dalai Lama about religions having the same intent and the same potential for goodness, but I just don't believe that anymore. Some churches really won't accomplish much that is positive because they're too focused on building barriers and making people feel bad about themselves.

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Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism