Zen Again

I’m close to finishing Hitchens’ “God is not Great” and come to a few important points – minor points really in terms of disagreeing with his otherwise convincing words, but worth recording to clarify my own position.

Ironically, having just mentioned Chris Locke in the earlier Euan Semple related post, that there is some content in GING in common with a response to Chris I have sitting in draft in WordPress. In warning against “Eastern” alternatives to the monotheist big-three, Hitchens (like Locke) cites Brian Victoria’s “Zen at War” amongst many other examples of Buddhist perversions leading to human wickedness. There are two points here from one such as myself prepared to defend Zen philosophical thinking in its place.

  • One is that these are examples of religion as “organized religion”, where the religion itself has “interests” and those interests become hitched to political authority. Buddhism and Hinduism are no different there. Which sane persons would defend that ?
  • The other is the “shoes and minds must be left at the gate” meme. So easy to parody the idea of leaving the “mind” out of sane considerations and reduce it to the idea that Zen “despises” intellect. Of course like so much koan-like rhetoric, it’s meant to be thought-provoking, deliberately breaking easy logic to encourage the need to “think” differently. Rhetoric is only a pejorative term if you choose it to be – the meaning doesn’t have to be in the content. Intellect has become too tightly associated for its own good with the received wisdom of objective rationality, and a little loosening opens the mind. Surely, only bad for a mind that mind is under the authority of organized religion.

Different subject but Hitchens protests too much again with his straw-men in the chapter on “original sins”. He makes a distinction between “Love thy neighbour as thyself” being an impossible to obey “order” whereas the golden rule “treat others as you would have them treat you” as a helpful “enjoinder”. I can’t believe such linguistic pedantry was ever in the minds of anyone uttering such sentiments. Anyway, all ideas evolve, so what matters is are they any good in their current state of evolution. Who cares whether “do as you would be done by” is a Christian sentiment or not, if it is a useful adage for any human (humanist or otherwise). The primary reason to reject it as Christian thought is the organized religious authority angle, not the thought itself ?

And a small surprise – the chapter “Is Religion Child Abuse ?” opens with a memorable quote from Dostoyevsky’s Karamazov, but includes no Dawkins reference – maybe Dawkins didn’t coin that phrase after all. Anyway, a convincing chapter.

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