I watched a TV program on Sunday night – which featured the Dali Lama and several Christians who advocate a sympathetic stance toward Buddhism – and was struck by the language used by the Dali Lama in much of his discussion – words such as “love,” “compassion,” “kindness,” were very prominent. The one word which was, however, conspicuous by its absence was the word “God.”
This lead me off on the following chain of reflection – (which may be entirely off the mark, but I’d appreciate people’s responses);
First, given that cultural and religious influences are never a one-way street, it must be the case that those forms of Buddhism which have greatest contact with the West also have been most greatly influenced by Western values and ideology. In particular, it seems likely to be the case that the Buddhism of the Dali Lama is to some extent “westernised” — which means influenced to some extent by western notions of what constitutes “religious values” — which, given that the predominant religious influence in the west has been Christianity, means that the Buddhism of the Dali Lama has been influenced to some degree by what are loosely describable as “Christian values” (and, indeed, the Dali Lama himself recognizes this to be the case).
So, on the one hand we have a subtle tendance of the residual Christian religious impulses of the west to subvert Buddhism in the direction of “secular western Christianity” (I’ll explain what I mean by this in a minute).
Second, given that the Dali Lama (like Western missionaries in non-Christian contexts) seeks to promote Buddhism in the west, he is obviously going to seek terms which resonate with the western mind – basic missiological principles applied “the other way,” so to speak. Now, again, due to the historical influence of Christianity, the sort of words which the Dali Lama is going to use to convey his message are going to be religious terms of the sort which Christians would likely have made common coinage.
So, on the other hand we have a deliberate appropriation of western religious terms (i.e. “christian” language) to describe Buddhist religious concepts.
Third, add to the mix the current western antipathy toward things metaphysical (a consequence of our secular world-view) and the fact that one of the major points of difference between Christianity and Buddhism is their respective metaphysical descriptions of reality. Or, at least this should be a major difference, but unfortunately western Christianity itself has become increasingly a non-spiritual or secular world-view which uses “god talk” as a cover for a religion which consists, primarily, of emotional, psychological and ethical factors (i.e. “secular western Christianity”).
And, fourth, add to this the fact that our own apologetic/evangelistic concerns have driven us to speak about our faith in terms sympathetic to the culture in which we live (i.e. a western secular culture).
The implication of all this is that when we compare “Buddhism” and “Christianity” we are actually comparing “western secular Buddhism” with “western secular Christianity.” And I’d suggest that almost any two religions which have been shorn of their metaphysical distinctives and forced to present themselves using the same religious/ethical terminology for consumption by a society which makes its decisions not on the basis of considered reflection, but on the basis of thirty-second media sound bytes, are going to appear very, very similar.
[A thoughtful Baptist. Name withheld]