Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To Respond or Not Respond

A curious young man from Sarah's church asked me a question about Buddhism. It was a standard, curious sort of question -- do we worship Buddha like a god? I gave him a brief answer and his curiosity seemed satisfied.

A few days later, I was confronted publicly by the boy's grandmother. "Zack doesn't need to worry about anything," she hissed at me, "Except what they teach him here at the methodist church." Witnesses began to study the floor tiles.

It's a shame that this happens, but it does, all the time. A very smart, curious young man is in the care of people who regard intellectual curiosity as a dangerous and bad thing. The underlying issue isn't about Christianity or Buddhism.

The local paper ran an editorial denying climate change, and I felt compelled to respond. The falsehoods were brazen and shameless, to the point that they actually did not make sense even from a skeptic's perspective. It is one thing to be a skeptic about this or that datum; it is one thing to have a political preference with respect to the issue; denying material facts is quite another thing. With respect to the accelerating rate of warming trends and melting ice, the issue is a matter of life and death for human beings around the world over the rest of my lifetime, and my son's. Silence in the face of dangerous lies seemed inappropriate, so I wrote in.

Yet I feel no compulsion to respond to Ann Coulter's misrepresentation of Buddhism. Not sure why, I just don't. Somehow it is not a life and death matter. Anyone truly curious about Buddhism will investigate it for themselves and will see for themselves that Brit Hume and Ann Coulter have no idea what they are talking about and are not even interested. Buddhism is under no threat from hacks like them.

It is a shame, however, that print space, bandwidth, and air time is used by these showmen to misinform, and to discourage intellectual curiosity, just like the inquisitive young man who asked me a question because he was curious about the world.

The trend in our modern media landscape is to discourage people from actively engaging in the world around them. So it is small wonder that Buddhism, a tradition that stresses an intimate study of our interaction with life, would get short shrift there. If there were more of us, the attacks would be worse. After all, look at the campaigns to discredit, redefine, or condemn science.

If you can train the public to respond to an opinion world rather than reality, it is much easier to sell them products and to govern them. An opinion world can be shaped and edited far more easily than the earth.


Kelly said...

You know, there are always going to be people in the world like that boy's grandmother. I'm reminded of the lyrics in an old Genesis song (I think it was theirs)...something about "we hate what we fear and we fear what we don't understand".

As for our world being an "opinion world".... well, we all know about opinions and what they're like. I'm just glad I live in a country where I'm allowed to express mine.

quid said...

It's just Ann. It's just his grandmother. Tip of the iceberg. How visual.


Debby said...

I have never understood why people are so afraid of thinking. Thinking! I grew up in a home where everyone had to think the same way. No veering off onto your own path. I veered off into my own path, lost pretty much my whole family, and long story short, my kids grew up in a home where everyone had a right to think their own thoughts.