Beyond Religion

A non-grouper joins a group
A few months ago, I joined a book discussion group that had been in existence so long that none of the members could remember when it started. Currently there are about eleven members of which most show up twice a month to talk about an assigned reading that all had read prior to the meeting. The group had, apparently, concentrated primarily on Christian literature including the Bible, but were now studying short stories, and so I felt comfortable in joining the group at the invitation of one of the members.

My own agenda
Never having been a reader of short stories, I needed to find out more about what makes a short story different from other types of literature such as novels in particular as I wanted to explore whether I could use this form in my own writings.  The facilitator of the group who has been with them since the beginning is a brilliant theoretician who is also a published author.  By the time the group got tired of short stories, I had learned what I needed to know and could now drop out of the group if I wished, but decided to stick around at least through the next choice of discuss-able literature: Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.  I wanted to see how these friends of mine, all of whom I knew well from when I was still a Christian and active in their church congregation, would react to the remarks of this Buddhist member of a non-theist religion that has no belief in a divine creator.

No belief in a Creator
The non-theist religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and Ethical Humanism build their ethics of behavior on Dharma (The laws of nature) and Karma (Intentional action and the consequences of these actions). Each of these religions develops these ideas somewhat differently, but that is to be expected, I suppose.

A glimpse into my past
The first meeting of the book group discussing the Beyond Religion book was a bit disjointed since some members had read the material, and others had not been able to acquire the book as yet.  Nevertheless, the discussion did not disappoint. It was like I was getting a glimpse into my past when I too had struggled for years with what Christianity had taught me that I was supposed to believe, much of which had seemed utterly ridiculous even back then when I was trying so hard to be a true believer.

Looking outside one’s own ideology
(Ideology: the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movement, institution, class, or large group.)
A couple of members questioned whether or not the Dalai Lama was saying that religion was bad. (He was not.) One member said that the church meant so much to her that she found it hard to raise questions. Another was clearly upset at the thought of any sort of ethics that was not based on a belief in God. The question that was discussed for most of the rest of the session became “Is it possible to be an ethical person without having our behavior grounded in a belief in God?

Real concerns?
To those not having had the experience of being raised from childhood in any sort of faith tradition, these concerns may seem naive, uninformed, and even insulting.  Nevertheless, to those who have been indoctrinated into a faith tradition, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or another faith that demands strict adherence to certain beliefs, principles, and ways of behaving, these concerns are very real.

Please read Beyond Religion:Ethics for a Whole World by his holiness the Dalai Lama. Then leave your comments here so that I might take them back to the next meeting of this book group. I think your point of view might be very valuable to this group of good and ethical Christians.

Thanks so much.

R.Z. Halleson

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