Some time back a fellow named John Horgan wrote an article for Slate titled "Why I Ditched Buddhism." If you read this, most of you who have practiced dharma for awhile will recognize that Horgan did not ditch Buddhism. He ditched a simplistic, even infantile, misunderstanding of Buddhism.
He appeared to have little acquaintance with what the Buddha actually taught about anything. For example, he explained karma as "some cosmic judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with rebirth as a cockroach or as a saintly lama." He also wrote, "But what troubles me most about Buddhism is its implication that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation." I need to add that last one to my list of things people misunderstand about Buddhism.
So now he's back with a new essay, and after all these years he clings to his ignorance like a badge of honor. "Slate magazine, for some reason, just re-published a critique of Buddhism that I wrote eight years ago," he writes, "and once again Buddhists are berating me for my ignorance about their religion." But instead of getting a clue that perhaps what he dislikes about Buddhism isn't true of Buddhism, he launches into another ill-informed lecture proving that he had no idea what Buddhism even is.
Horgan is a science writer, so I assume he knows something about science. With that assumption in mind, here is a thought experiment for him:
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Someone walks up to you at a party and says, "They shouldn't teach evolution in schools. They never found the Missing Link. And, anyway, it's not science; it's just a theory." You:
(a) Respect his opinion as one based on legitimate objections about evolution science; or
(b) Marvel that anyone who thinks like this might be bright enough to tie his own shoes.
At a PTA meeting at your child's school, you overhear another parent say, "They proved vaccination causes autism, and probably cancer, so I'm not getting my kids vaccinated." You --
(a) Consider boycotting vaccinations for your kids, too;
(b) Wonder if the human species is putting itself at risk by letting stupid people reproduce.
You flip on your television and watch a conservative Senator explain why global warming is a hoax. We know it's a hoax because there have been record snowfalls in Texas, he says, and from a bunch of leaked emails. You:
(a) Appreciate the way news media enable a robust discussion of this serious issue.
(b) Despair that the planet is doomed.
My "b" answers might be slightly exaggerated for comic effect, but the point is that most people with an appreciation of science find it maddening to try to converse with people who have formed opinions about science based on ignorance.
This is not the same thing as saying you wouldn't appreciate and respect a criticism of evolution or climate theory that was based on sound science, right?
Well, Mr. Horgan, your comments on Buddhist teachings on the nature of existence, or the self, or karma, and a lot of other things, are in the same ball park as saying that evolution can't be true because it violates the laws of thermodynamics. I'm sure you've heard that one.
It's fine with me if you want to criticize Buddhism. But if you are going to criticize Buddhism criticize what Buddhism actually teaches, not some half-assed, kindergarten-level idea of what Buddhism teaches.
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Not that I expect him to listen.
I see that Horgan has some experience with Buddhism, but he was either very badly taught or he read the wrong books. Or perhaps he never fully appreciated how sophisticated and subtle a lot of these teachings really are, and assumed that whatever crude, beginner-level explanations he got were all there is to it.
I have run into this attitude before with people who claimed to be rational. When I try to explain their objections to Buddhism are not based on what is true of Buddhism, they usually retort that I'm only objecting to what they write because they don't believe the same things I do.
But in truth I don't give a hoo-haw what they believe, about Buddhism or anything else. I just want them to stop saying the equivalent of evolution being a hoax because nobody has ever seen a chimp turn into a human. Really.