If you ask Rick Santorum he’d say no, because Christianity is the only true way a human should live — there is no “good alternative” to the truth. And if you ask a devout Buddhist which is better, Eastern or Western, he’ll affirm his own faith, because karma is manifest in all our actions, and this life we have is one of many, for our true purpose is to attain enlightenment, a feat accomplished only after many lifetimes—reincarnation, then, is a real phenomenon. But if you were to ask me, an atheist, I would have to answer under the presumption that neither shows us the one true way to live. But if I think neither religion is “true”, on what basis could I say one is “better” than the other?
One way is to point out the sort of practices each endorses, because beliefs and actions have direct consequences for our psychological well-being. In Christianity we are commanded to love, and also to fear, a being who—without justification—may torture us as he pleases. We are told to pray, to worship, to beg for forgiveness, and to imagine ourselves as being constantly watched, judged, and scrutinized. Buddhism, however, seems to stress not much else but mental discipline. It’s a very difficult, particular way of life to be sure—but there’s no coercion, no threat by some eternal Father. Buddhism is a doctrine more of invitation rather than obligation—of choice, rather than compulsion. The Buddha merely offers a way to live; God, however, demands that you live “His” way.
Brian Gallagher is a fourth-year philosophy major.
When one sees all the objections to Christianity, Judaism and Islam (in all their forms) that are piled to the rafters by secularists, it is very common to look to other religious traditions. Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism are the most common, though if you are a Hollywood icon, you might prefer Kabbalah (which is an adherence to only a small range of Jewish texts) or Scientology (which is a way to dispose of excess dollars).
But these people are wildly off the mark. If you think that it is better to abandon the crazy you know to try on the crazy you don’t, you’re not being intellectually honest with yourself. Each individual decision to think before you believe is a tiny skirmish in the elemental battle between the forces of rationality and supernaturalism, between atheism and theism. I’m talking wizards vs. biologists, and no matter what color dragon you choose to ride into the fray, it still doesn’t exist.
In the end, of course you are a better person than the homophobic jerk, or the person who refuses to read enough to understand evolution, or the religiously-motivated terrorist, or the child-abuser who doesn’t treat their kids with medicine. You are better than a lot of people! Congratulations.
So call yourself “spiritual,” or believe in reincarnation and karma, or yin and yang balance, or Chinese astrology. But someone who believes first and asks questions later will believe and do anything, good or bad, moral or immoral. They are the yoke around humanity’s neck.
Connor Oakes is a fourth-year political science major.
While all religions share the premise of basing reality on revealed “truths” rather than science and logic, not all religions are equal. Some contradict science and logic more than others, and some have superior moral philosophies to others. It is possible that on some points Hinduism, Buddhism, or other Eastern religions are superior to Christianity, Islam, or Judaism and vice versa. However, Eastern religions are not true alternatives since concepts like reincarnation, karma, and nirvana have no more basis in reality than heaven and the apocalypse. This lack of critical thinking often results in questionable and illiberal morals that are common to most religions. The concept of karma and reincarnation bolask sters the caste system because being an “untouchable” is just punishment for sins in one’s past life.
The value given to fictional stories also leads to pointless conflicts. An example of this are the religious riots that took place in India in 1992 over a mosque that was built in 1557. The Babri Mosque was claimed by Hindu nationalists to be on the site of a temple dedicated to the fictional Hindu god Lord Rama. This was reason enough for the destruction of the mosque and subsequent killings. Buddhism doesn’t escape these vices either. Most of the history of pre-Chinese Tibet was based on the religious establishment keeping people in an oppressive feudal system by using fear and superstition. So, if you are a future rock star looking for spiritual enlightenment, I recommend against going to your local guru.
Zoltan Mester is a graduate student of chemical engineering at UCSB.