The Dalai Lama’s Secular Ethics, Beyond Religion

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama is wildly popular, and by all accounts a good and holy man. So who would want to disagree with him? I wouldn’t want to. But I do disagree– regarding the value of a secular ethics for today’s world.

The secular ethics that His Holiness outlines in the excerpt below, is itself an excerpt from his latest book “Beyond Religion”– and– full disclosure– I have not read the book. So it is possible that the Dalai Lama addresses my criticism– or some semblance of it– in his book. I hope he does.

To sum up the basic argument: His Holiness rightly points to the need for the development of “basic inner human values” in today’s contentious and violent world. He rejects science and– perhaps surprisingly– he rejects religion, too, as potential sources for these inner values. Religion, he says, fails on two counts in today’s world: first, many people do not adhere to a religion (so, a fortiori, religion cannot be a source of inner values for those people); second, different religions exist in close proximity, so a particular religion can not serve as the source of a universal ethic.

The Dalai Lama’s answer: a compassion for all, that transcends religion.

I’m not against a compassion that strives “for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings.” It’s not even the difficulty of cultivating such a compassion that brings me up short. No, what is missing here is an account of what author William Barrett (in an earlier age, before inclusive language) called “Irrational Man.” For all the hope we have put into the enlightened reason of humankind– a reason that was to free us from vengeance and bloodthirst– we are still creatures whose moral thinking must always account for the tribalism, fear of otherness, and anxiety-in-search-of-a-scapegoat, that remain strong motivators toward violence in today’s world.

The Dalai Lama’s secular ethic is highly rational– it reads to me like the optimistic view of Western Enlightenment thinkers, who were all for leaving benighted religion behind, and who envisioned the perfectibility of humanity– and the achievement of human goodness– through the use of reason. I think we are beyond such optimism.

Here is the Dalai Lama in his own words:

So what are we to do? Where are we to turn for help? Science, for all the benefits it has brought to our external world, has not yet provided scientific grounding for the development of the foundations of personal integrity — the basic inner human values that we appreciate in others and would do well to promote in ourselves. Perhaps we should seek inner values from religion, as people have done for millennia? Certainly religion has helped millions of people in the past, helps millions today and will continue to help millions in the future. But for all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, in today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all. In the past, when peoples lived in relative isolation from one another — as we Tibetans lived quite happily for many centuries behind our wall of mountains — the fact that groups pursued their own religiously based approaches to ethics posed no difficulties. Today, however, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values can never be universal, and so will be inadequate. What we need today is an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without: a secular ethics.

This statement may seem strange coming from someone who from a very early age has lived as a monk in robes. Yet I see no contradiction here. My faith enjoins me to strive for the welfare and benefit of all sentient beings, and reaching out beyond my own tradition, to those of other religions and those of none, is entirely in keeping with this.

via ‘Beyond Religion’: The Dalai Lama’s Secular Ethics EXCERPT.


Rep. John Lewis and the Power of Non-violence

Rep. John Lewis

The following excerpt is from an interview between Paul Brandeis Raushenbush of HuffPost Religion, and Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). The occasion is the release of Rep. Lewis’ new book about his experiences in the Civil Rights movement, and what lessons those experiences might have for us today.

Non-violence as a way for transformation works by raising the tension in a society high enough to provoke the society to make adaptive change, without raising the tension so high as to paralyze people. Violent action by those seeking change becomes an excuse for those in authority to respond likewise, and the possibility for change diminishes. Attack and counter-attack become a distraction, taking away the focused attention needed to overcome problems.

One way to understand the saving power of Christ is to see the Cross as God’s great refusal to participate in cycles of vengeance. This divine grace is offered, then, to us: as saving power over death, and as the way to the reconciliation of the whole world, here and now.

I have nothing but respect for the discipline and power of those who can practice non-violence in the face of great injustice. It is hard for me to imagine the deep and active trust in God that such practice involves. The tensions and anxieties in our society are increasing. What is the creative potential of that tension? What new life might come from societal forces that are in opposition today? Tension is not necessarily bad: the Way of Jesus is not to give us certainty, but rather to give us the openness to let new ways of life emerge. Non-violence is a practice of this Way.

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush:What prompted you to release this book right now?

Rep. John Lewis: It felt like the time was right to inspire another generation of individuals to come together and help move society along. Sometimes I feel that we are losing our way as a nation and this book may be able to point people towards another way of doing things.

We have traveled this path before. In another time, a coalition of people of conscience came together and used these lessons, steps, and methods to move society to a better place. We can get there! We have to have faith, and move with deliberate speed. But with love, action and perseverance we can get there — never give up, never give in, never give out.

Across That Bridge reads like a testimony meant to help other people to remember that we can make a way.

When I was growing up my mother, father and grandparents would sing in the church about making a way when there was no way, not getting lost in a sea of despair, and to be hopeful and grounded. Those of use who came through the early days of the movement were grounded in our faith, grounded in our beliefs that somehow and someway we would have a victory, that we would overcome, that we would be able to redeem society and create what Dr. King called the beloved community.

If that was the goal, then our method must be one of love, one of peace, and that’s why I believe so deeply in the philosophy and discipline of non-violence. For me it is one of those immutable principles that you cannot deviate from.

via World Religion News, Religious Views, Spirituality – HuffPost Religion.

A New Church for a New World

How Will the Church Evolve in this New World?

This isn’t news: we need a new church for a new world.

Yesterday at a meeting of local clergy, one of my colleagues enthusiastically extolled Diana Butler Bass’s thinking and writing on Christian churches in America today. What we have known as church is passing away. Our culture, while desperate to hang onto the trappings of Christianity, is increasingly indifferent to the message and meaning of the Christ. The challenge is to imagine what church will be, as we move into a different day. What, some 50 years ago, used to be the implicit support of the wider culture, is no longer support at all.

Some followers of Jesus are already practicing new ways of being the church, responding to the challenges of our time with imagination and faithfulness. These new ways aim to shed the weight of so-called traditions that have nothing to do with the gospel. For example, instead of spending energy on self-pre-occupied institutional maintenance, some renewed expressions of church explicitly and intentionally make sure that their energy is focused on serving others. Now there’s an idea to make church relevant again!

I love this Brian McLaren quotation: “If you have a new world, you need a new church. You have a new world.”

via YSOP- Youth Service Opportunities Project.