atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#512: This just takes the cake.

This has been rattling around the Internet for several weeks now, but it took mention on Boortz's website for me to decide to comment on it.

Mainly I had just read the headlines and filed it under "the craziness that comes from communists", but reading Boortz's comments prompted me to comment.

If you don't want to click the link, here's what I'm talking about: the government of China is now requiring Buddhists to get governmental permission before they reincarnate.

But although it looks crazy to any reasonable inspection, there is a grain of sanity to the whole thing.

You see, there's the Tibet issue. China stomped all over Tibet years ago with its big communist hobnailed jackboots, taking over. They couldn't just liquidate the Buddhists, particularly not the Dalai Lama; that would have been a very bad move, politically, for any of a myraid reasons. But the Dalai Lama is getting on in years, and despite his status as one of the holiest men on Earth, he's still going to shuffle off his mortal coil. He can't avoid it.

The Dalai Lama is living in exile, of course, well outside of China's influence. And here, it seems, is China's plan: when he dies, China will declare that so-and-so from Tibet (who just happens to be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, of course! Just a coincidence! Nothing to see here!) is the new Dalai Lama.

In fact, of course, the new Dalai Lama will be whoever the new Dalai Lama actually is. I harbor a fair amount of skepticism that any organ of the Chinese government will speak honestly about this issue; unless the Buddhists accept it, I won't believe China. They can't even manufacture toys without freaking lead in them, for crying out loud, which should be a relatively simple prospect. Expecting an atheistic government not to cynically manipulate the most powerful religion in a subjugated country is too much for me to accept.

It comes across as crazy at first blush--but then once you think about it, you realize that they are engaging in a very clever form of spiritual judo: using the beliefs of the Buddhists against them.

But there is a problem, of course, with China's plan. Religion generally does not recognize temporal power--that is to say, whatever the political situation may be that a religion exists in, the faithful generally do not accept that the local government has any say in the spiritual matters.

Say, for example, that the FDA decided to regulate holy water. How would the FDA be able to test for the holiness content? What measure would you use? (Maybe test it on a vampire's skin. Then you'd have the problem of obtaining a vampire, of course. And, no doubt, Amnesty International would sue the FDA because the government was torturing the metabolically-challenged....) By what measure would the holiness of the water be evaluated?

China's attempt to regulate reincarnation is similar to that: assuming that Buddhists reincarnate (I am not prepared to argue that they don't) how the hell does the Chinese government propose to stop them? Or do they merely execute babies who they think reincarnated illegally? And what's to stop them from reincarnating again? And how can you tell that little Jang Huian, three days old, is the reincarnation of Xian Fua, the Buddhist monk who was denied permission to reincarnate?

In the end I think most Buddhists will not listen to the Chinese government when it tells them that so-and-so is the new Dalai Lama.

* * *

As for the religious aspect, I've got to clarify something. I'm a Christian; I was raised Methodist. I have pretty strong beliefs and consider myself reasonably devout.

But I differ from Christian orthodoxy in a few ways. First, I don't think Christianity has a monopsony on salvation; I think there are many paths to God. Second, I have great respect for other religions because I sure as hell don't think I have a monopsony on Truth. Finally, I don't make an effort to convert others. My way is good for me; it's not necessarily good for you or anyone else.

Regardless of my beliefs, I respect the Dalai Lama because he is the head of one of the world's major religions, and by most accounts it's a good religion, which--on balance--helps people cope with life in this cruel world and does good works.

Certainly I have never heard of Buddhists flying crowded airliners into office buildings, or strapping explosives to retarded children and sending them into crowded places to self-detonate. I'm sure there have been bad things done by Buddhists--no religion can claim a perfect human rights record--but as far as I can tell Buddhists don't believe in killing anyone who doesn't share their faith.

So, I'm a Protestant, but I have a great deal of respect for the Pope. I'm Christian but I have a great deal of respect for the Dalai Lama. A holy man is a holy man, and whether he is of my religion or not I think he deserves respect.

And in the end, I actually do think it's pretty silly for China to try to regulate reincarnation. What'll they do next? Make people take out licenses for transubstantiation?

I wouldn't put it past 'em.

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