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By Ty H. Phillips

As a Buddhist, it is usually shocking for people to hear or see me criticize something that others may hold sacred.

As an engaged Buddhist, it is often common to be involved in issues like civil rights, global warming and animal welfare, yet, we seem to stop when it comes to addressing issues of moral lapse in religious traditions. After all, people hold these ideas as sacred and base their lives on them.

Somehow, we don’t see how connected these very ideas are to the rest of our decisions on civil rights and political discourse.

We would never expect to hear the Dalai Lama criticize a central theme of Islam, or mention his distaste for the idea of blood god cults and their notions of scapegoating. It is hard to be a world leader when half of the world is mad at you for stating that something is immoral in any other context.

Sam Harris, the left political party’s favorite atheist to misquote and malign said, “If you say a prayer over your pancakes and believe that they are turning into the flesh of Elvis, you’re crazy; if you do this in church with a cracker, you’re just Catholic.”

We draw distinctions for everything we love as somehow separate from everything we don’t love. When looked at through the outsider test of faith, designed so brilliantly by John Loftus, we can easily dismiss views like Satanism, Paganism, Hinduism, Buddhism and the like, with little thought or remorse for finding them foolish.

When we put our own views under this same microscope, we are blinded by cognitive dissonance.

In this vein of thinking, we as a culture—a politically correct culture—has lost most credibility in terms of rational argument. We toss out terms like racist and phobe, and make our statement disingenuous. Sadly, at least half of the audience who reads or sees these trigger words, will form their opinions automatically without taking into serious consideration what is actually being said.

I could spend countless pages criticizing Christianity and not a single person would toss out the idea of me being racist, Christianaphobe, or some other nonsense into the ring of discourse. We can add and subtract countless other views into the ring and again, I would not be seen as Newageaphobe, Paganaphobe, Satanaphobe, or racist if my remarks on these other ways of thought are heavily critical.

This sadly is where the argument ends.

When I direct the lens of scrutiny to the religion of Islam, grenades begin to be tossed—literally and figuratively. I am automatically assumed to be an Islamaphobe. Never has a more disingenuous term been created. By simply stating that a set of ideas is immoral or wrong, I am labeled a racist.

A curious notion.

How can criticizing a set of ideas be racist? Clearly, as shown in my list of derogatory labels above, we have no problem criticizing the ideas of other traditions. Yet, all credulity ends when it comes to Islam. The Left has grabbed this cause with both hands and a rabid fervor, running about with its new golden child, maligning all who disagree.

A whole set of public intellectuals have been misquoted and removed from ‘polite conversation’ because they dare tread on a path that makes us uncomfortable. How else do we learn? We have all seen the political cartoonists showing two doors—one labeled with Truth and the other marked Comforting Lies—only one side with a line of people behind it.

The Right is not blameless in this nonsense.

Dare I mention the apartheid state of Israel? Already I see hackles raised and my inbox filling with claims of me being anti-semitic—an odd notion given that my wife is Jewish. Yet, again, a critical eye is placed on a political and religious ideology that is governing the actions of thousands, and lo and behold, I am racist, anti-semitic and conversation closed.

There is a need for criticism.

Imagine if we never had the renaissance, the protestant reformation, the Buddha’s disavowal of the caste system, MLK’s civil rights’ marches and speeches that would never have taken place. All of these were based on a criticism of ideas of the time.

What if Copernicus had never criticized the widely held belief of an earth-centered universe. Would we still be teaching that the sun revolved around the earth in science class? Criticism cannot be overlooked just because it makes us uncomfortable. We cannot randomly toss out words like racist and phobe because we lack an ability to partake in an uncomfortable discourse.

These fall back tactics are at best grossly incompetent and at worst, a willingness to fight from the position of willful ignorance.

Criticism of a set of ideas (because that is really all that our beliefs are) is not racism. It is not Islamaphobia, it is not Anti-Semitism. It is simply a criticism of ideas. We would do well to remember this.

The Buddha himself was critical of then currently held beliefs.

This put him under the target of many a religious teacher in his day. Yet, his intent was not to be racist or to begin a wide-spread phobia, but to shed light on irrational and poorly held views and expose the truth.

Critical thinking is the path of truth, while evasive ideology is the path of cowardice. If we cannot open the door to self inspection of both our actions and cherished ideas, we will lose the opportunity to grow.

Walk through the door.

 

Photo: landofcool/tumblr

Editor: Dana Gornall

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Ty Phillips

Ty Phillips is the co-founder and director of The Tattooed Buddha. A former big city bouncer, now pacifist Buddhist minister, and writer he spends his time counseling youth and hard to reach adults in peaceful and engaged means. Using his past as an example, he is able to engage those who would otherwise probably not seek out and relate to dharma teachers. Ty is a contributing author for The Good Men Project, Rebelle, BeliefNet, Patheos and The Petoskey News. He is a long term Buddhist and a lineage holder, as well as a father to three amazing girls and a tiny dog named Fuzz. You can see his writing at The Good Men Project, BeliefNet, Rebelle Society.
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