Buddhism

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

Clerical sex abuse is not just a Catholic problem. I know this from personal experience

As a goodly number of sentient beings are by now surely aware, the Roman Catholic Church is mired in yet another near-global, clerical sex-abuse and institutional cover-up meltdown. How it unfolds will undoubtedly alter the church’s future trajectory. Whether that will be for better or worse remains to be seen.

But this post is not primarily about the Catholic hierarchy’s serious and pervasive failings. Rather, it's my attempt to remind readers that such failings are far more about the human condition than any particular faith group.

I know this because, though I am not Catholic, I was also a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

In my case, it happened when I was about 11 in the basement of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the New York City borough of Queens, where I grew up.

This was the synagogue that my parents trusted to provide me with a grounding in religious Judaism. Instead, the trauma of my experience distanced me from the faith — actually, all faiths — for decades to come.

I never told my parents about any of this, out of shame and fear, so they went to their graves ignorant of what happened. All they knew was that I refused to ever return to that synagogue, not even for my needed Bar Mitzvah lessons. (Both the lessons and the actual Bar Mitzvah took place elsewhere.)

Synagogue clerical sex was most likely one of my earliest experiences of adult hypocrisy — not counting what I experienced in my own family, of course. Who knows? Perhaps it was the trauma that led me to become a journalist.

Because if adult hypocrisy angers you, where better to uncover it than in the arenas of human endeavor — politics, the so-called justice system, the business world, and as I now know, institutional religion and even journalism — that one continually encounters as a reporter?

I'd say working as a journalist is a damn good way to learn about the world as it truly is, warts and all.

Before preceding further, let me state that sharing my experience here is in no way meant to provide comfort to those many Catholics desperate for such institutional comfort. That’s for you to find, or to cease searching for, on your own.

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It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's time for an update on the inseparably braided political and religious goings-on in two key Muslim nations; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and site of the recently concluded hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

As you may expect, it’s not good news.

Moreover, it’s news that’s in danger of going under-appreciated because of the undeniably more alluring headlines -- for American news junkies, at least -- related to the Catholic Church’s sexual corruption cover up, and the Trump administration’s equally crumbling cover up of sexual, financial and all-around political corruption.

Let’s start with Indonesia, which once enjoyed, and capitalized on, a reputation for being one of the most politically moderate and religiously open-minded of Muslim nations.

These two pieces provide a refresher, should you require it. The first is a news report from Reuterswhile the second is a previous GetReligion analysis by editor Terry Mattingly ("That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?"

Now, it seems, the situation in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has gone from bad to worse, and perhaps to the absurd.

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

A Buddhist woman’s conviction this week on blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia who were already worried about the erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


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This is not a generic prayer story: A flooded cave, 12 Thai boys and a former Buddhist monk

This is not a generic prayer story: A flooded cave, 12 Thai boys and a former Buddhist monk

When it comes to emails from GetReligion readers, the notes I have received about the ongoing drama in the flooded Thai cave have been quite predictable.

Of course, people are concerned. Of course, readers are following the dramatic developments in the efforts to rescue the 12 young members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach. Click here for an evolving CNN time line of the rescue.

But there is a rather logical question that people are asking, one that goes something like this: We keep reading about people praying for the boys. What kind of prayers are we talking about?

Ah, another case of generic-prayers syndrome.

Actually, there have been a few interesting religion-angle stories written about this drama, with the Associated Press offering a feature that must have run in some publications (we can hope). Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

However, here is a piece of a rather typical faith-free news report -- care of the New York Times -- similar to those being read by many news consumers.

Many family members have spent every day and night at the command center near the cave, praying for the boys to come out alive.

Relatives said they were not angry with the coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, for taking the boys into the cave. Instead, they praised his efforts to keep them alive during the ordeal.

“He loves the children,” said Nopparat Khanthawong, the team’s head coach. “He would do anything for them.”

The boys got trapped in the cave on June 23 after they biked there with Mr. Ekkapol after practice. The vast cave complex was mostly dry when they entered. But the cave is, in essence, a seasonal underground river, and rain began falling soon after they arrived. Within hours, they were trapped by rising water.

You can see a similar story at The Los Angeles Times, only with zero references to faith.

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Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

What’s the biggest religion news story currently percolating in China?

Your answer probably depends upon your religious worldview.

If you're evangelical Protestant -- or any other sort of Christian, for that matter -- it's probably the rapid spread of Christianity across China, and Beijing’s effort to control the phenomena.

This piece from The Atlantic makes clear that Chinese authorities have their hands full maintaining the smothering control they prefer to have over all nongovernmental groups, religious or otherwise.

If you’re Christian and Roman Catholic, the Vatican’s effort to reach some sort of recognition compromise with Beijing may be your preferred story. Here’s a recent piece from Crux on the issue.

If you're a Buddhist, you're likely focused on China’s effort to suppress Tibetan-style Buddhism so as to limit international support for Tibetan independence, or even limited self-rule. A major part of China’s effort is to try to undercut support for the Dalai Lama, the global Buddhist religious celebrity who leads Buddhism’s Vajrayana wing, the form dominant in Tibet and other areas of Central Asia.

This recent New York Times story details how China’s campaign to maintain its imperial hold on Tibet bleeds into its political and economic dealings with India, though India is far from alone in this.

If you're Muslim, however, the following story about the forced and brutal reeducation of Chinese Muslims is likely to be the religion story in China that most concerns you. (In case you don’t know, both pork and alcohol are banned in traditional Islam.)

Muslims were detained for re-education by China‘s government and made to eat pork and drink alcohol, according to a former internment camp inmate.

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Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Every now and then, a magazine like The Atlantic Monthly -- a must-read publication, no matter what one's cultural worldview -- publishes a cover story that transforms how thinking people think about an important issue. At least, that's true if lots of members of the thinking classes are open to thinking about information that may make them uncomfortable.

This was certainly the case in October, 2002, when historian Philip Jenkins published a massive Atlantic cover story that ran with this provocative headline: "The Next Christianity." For those with an even longer attention span, there was the book, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity."

Now, before I hit you with a key passage from that important Atlantic piece, let me tell you where we are going in this Sunday think package.

Jenkins was writing about a wave of global change in pews and pulpits, as the face of Christianity moved -- statistically speaking -- from Europe and North America to the multicultural reality that is the Global South. Thus, if you are looking for a "typical" Christian in the world today, it is probably an African woman in an evangelical Anglican (or maybe Methodist) congregation. She is probably a charismatic believer, too.

Now, I thought about that Jenkins piece when reading an amazing new Bloomberg essay by Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter, addressing the media storm surrounding that bizarre New Yorker sermon about You Know What (click here for my most recent piece, and podcast, on this hot topic). Here is the dramatic double-decker headline on the Carter piece:

The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A's Christianity

The fast-food chain's "infiltration" of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness

What's the connection here, between Jenkins and Carter?

Hint: Demographics is destiny (and doctrine is important, too). Here is a famous (and long) summary paragraph from the 2002 Atlantic essay:

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress.

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Real dangers in India, Indonesia and Brazil as the religious pendulum swings way right

Real dangers in India, Indonesia and Brazil as the religious pendulum swings way right

Human history may be explained as a pendulum that swings, uninterrupted, between religious and political extremes that have profound consequences for those affected. Our limited time here is no different.

This metaphor for perpetual change is currently swinging to the right in much of the world. A prime reason why, is that the most recent political and religious pull to the left failed to deliver on its promises of economic justice, political equality, and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of inner security and calm craved by all.

Impatient and needy creatures that we are, such failures inevitably shift the underlying gravitational momentum that sets the pendulum in motion. When liberal (pluralistic in outlook, government and rationalism viewed as essentially positive forces) views fail us, large numbers inevitably swing to the right. A similar dynamic occurs when right-leaning ideas (top-down tribalism, traditionalist “cures” for society's ills) leave us dissatisfied and feeling threatened.

The hope is always the same, of course; finding a quick, earthly salvation to get us through the day.

In recent days, several elite media stories about events in India, Indonesia and Brazil have illustrated the problematic impacts of the current global shift to the right. (I’m covering lots of ground here so rather than use wordy block quotes, please click on the links provided to better understand my point.)

All concern religious freedom issues. All illustrate how religious, and ethnic, minorities have been treated miserably by majorities who use religious and political dominance to trample the rights of the powerless.

You could argue that none of this is new, that it’s just more of the pendulum at work. And you’d be correct.

But I cite them here not because they're new under the sun, but simply as a reminder that the human desire to dominate those who are different -- religiously or otherwise -- continues to wreck havoc on the weakest among us.

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Was Buddha God or human? Small 'g'? Capital 'G'? One of many?

 Was Buddha God or human? Small 'g'? Capital 'G'? One of many?

THE QUESTION IN HEADLINE:

It's a headline at the Website of Tricycle, a U.S. Buddhist magazine.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Tricycle magazine is “unaffiliated with any particular teacher, sect, or lineage” and spans all forms of Buddhism with authority and style. The question above that it poses is quite pertinent since the online buddhanet, among others, states that Buddhists do not believe in any god because the Buddha “did not believe in a god” and he himself “was not, nor did he claim to be,” a god.

This agnostic or atheistic version of Buddhism is popular among seekers in western countries. But is it authentic?

Tricycle turned to two noted authors to jointly address this important question: Professors Robert E. Buswell Jr., director of UCLA’s Center for Buddhist Studies, and Donald S. Lopez Jr. at the University of Michigan. The article was part of their online series about the top 10 “misconceptions about Buddhism.” What follows is largely based on their explanations.

Without question, Buddhism does not believe in the capital-G God, that is, the one unique and all-powerful Creator of the universe who is worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

However, the two scholars assert that it’s wrong to say “Buddhism has no gods” because “it has not one but many.” The religion believes in an elaborate pantheon of celestial beings designated by the same root word as the English “divinities.” Also, hosts of advanced spiritual beings called “bodhisattvas” and “buddhas” exist in the 27 sectors within the realm of rebirth.

Buddhist divinities lack the attributes of those other three religions’ one God, and are not regarded as eternal. But, importantly, they exercise powers beyond those of mere humans, are beseeched for favors, and “respond to the prayers of the devout.”

Turning to the Buddha himself, he was a human being named Siddhartha Gautama.

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Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

It’s no where near as widespread as the vicious attacks against Buddhist Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, but a similar inter-religious clash is currently roiling Sri Lanka.

If you're not current with the breaking situation, this Reuters news piece will help. So will this analysis from Britain’s The Independent.

There are two takeaways here that journalists need to understand.

First, some majority Buddhist nations -- all of them in Asia -- are reacting to the growth of Islam in their midst in similar fashion to the reaction of some European countries, not to mention a large number of American Christians (religious and cultural) and others.

That is to say, with much alarm; fear of Islamic terrorism being a prime motivator. A second motivator is cultural in nature; the fear of losing one’s historical national dominance as global demographics shift. Call this the tribal component.

This New York Times analysis explains what I mean in far greater detail. Its’s headlined: “Why Are We Surprised When Buddhists Are Violent?” Here’s a taste of it.

Most adherents of the world’s religions claim that their traditions place a premium on virtues like love, compassion and forgiveness, and that the state toward which they aim is one of universal peace. History has shown us, however, that religious traditions are human affairs, and that no matter how noble they may be in their aspirations, they display a full range of both human virtues and human failings.
While few sophisticated observers are shocked, then, by the occurrence of religious violence, there is one notable exception in this regard; there remains a persistent and widespread belief that Buddhist societies really are peaceful and harmonious. This presumption is evident in the reactions of astonishment many people have to events like those taking place in Myanmar. How, many wonder, could a Buddhist society — especially Buddhist monks! — have anything to do with something so monstrously violent as the ethnic cleansing now being perpetrated on Myanmar’s long-beleaguered Rohingya minority? Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate and pacifist?

I know this is on the longish side, but allow me to also quote this part of the Times essay. It's illuminating, as is the entire article.

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New York Times writer: The most sympathetic sources may lie -- even Rohingya refugees

New York Times writer: The most sympathetic sources may lie -- even Rohingya refugees

One of journalism’s abiding truisms is that you’re only as good as your sources. Here’s exhibit A from the dawn of my own career, which is to say the mid-1960s.

My first newspaper job was as a glorified copy boy at Newsday, then headquartered in the New York City suburb of Garden City, Long Island. I say glorified because in addition to doing a lot of fetching I also wrote a spate of local obits when no one else was available.

I worked the overnight shift and it was on one such occasion that I called the home of a local man that a funeral home reported had died of natural causes.

Yeah, we did that, ignoring the intrusiveness of it all.

If we were lucky a relative or friend of the deceased would answer. To my surprise, the widow picked up the phone. She not only agreed to provide a few details of her husband’s life but sounded cheerful in the process. I took that to be odd but did not ask her why she sounded as she did out of my newbie reticence.

The following day, instead of running my three- or four-graph obit, the paper ran a lengthier piece on its prime news pages that carried the byline of a police beat reporter. My ebullient widow had been arrested on suspicion of murdering her husband.

Oh well, live and learn. Not every source is reliable.

I relate this (at the time, highly embarrassing) personal story as a lead in to a remarkable New York Times piece written by its Southeast Asia bureau chief Hannah Beech, who I've praised before.

In addition to filing the expected stories on Buddhist Myanmar’s genocidal attacks on it's Rohingya Muslim minority, Beech ably provides keen insight into how the media influences the conflict. She does so with great sensitivity. That makes her the perfect GetReligion subject, in my book.

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