CNN: In 50 Years, Will People Still Believe in God? And More …

CNN: In 50
Years, will People Still Believe in God?

In US, a Pew Survey shows that there is an increase of people who doubt the existence of God.

2007: 83% never doubted

2012: 68% never doubted

Also discussed, “Playing Devil’s Advocate – Questioning the Existence of God”.

Stephen Hawkings – “There is no God”.

An interesting point mentioned was how many Americans are cultural Christians and Jews, meaning that they do not necessarily believe in the Bible or the Christian teachings, but would identify themselves as Christians and Jews anyway.  This may be similar to cultural Buddhists or Taoists in Singapore where one take on either religion simply because one is born into it.

Perhaps this may apply worldwide and have deeper implications as knowledge of the various beliefs and teachings become more readily available.

In the 80s, when Singapore Ministry of Education started a Religious Knowledge (RK) programme in its secondary school (middle school in US), it is later attributed by some to have led to a rise in Buddhism in the 1990 and 2000 census, when Buddhism rose from 27.0% in 1980 to 31.2 (1990) and later 42.5% (2000).  [1]

Could the recent drop to around 33% in 2010 census be due to a decline in interest in religion as a whole?  Or is this the after effect of the stop of the RK programme?  Buddhism has traditionally not made it mandatory for new Buddhists to attend foundational Dharma classes on Buddhists teachings, so there is a tendency that cultural Buddhists, or as I like to term them ‘form-Buddhists’ by virtue of the forms they fill in, identifying themselves as Buddhists, usually do not know enough about Buddhism to really benefit from its teachings.

Add to the fact that I’ve had devotees who has filed complaints with me about 1) driving instructor who preached to her about his religion for two hours, 2) colleagues who would share their faiths and pressure Buddhists at work  and 3) feedback about the press giving imbalanced coverage towards certain religion, to the extent of glorifying them.

Meanwhile, in the past few years, we’ve had at least two to three reported cases of attacks on Buddhism, either through distortion of its teachings or ridiculing it during some religious services.  And these are the reported ones.

There is probably no one single factor responsible nor one single solution to solve it all.  One area stands out, and it is publicity.

Buddhists who are active, may sometimes feel like that are (too) many talks and classes already, while nominal (form / cultural) Buddhists may feel like Buddhism only exist once or twice a year during Vesak and Ullambana month.

Even if they wish to know more about Buddhism, their parents, from whom they inherited Buddhism, may not be able to share with them what Buddhism is.  Consequently, they may be at a loss when it comes to taking that first step to know Buddhism.

We need to publicise our events to the general public.  And we need to do it beyond Buddhist society and temple notice boards.  We need to publicise outside of Buddhist magazines.  And we need to do it now.


Sharing of Dharma.  Coming soon.


~ 隨緣 According to conditions.

My motto in life is to put in place those conditions we can.~



Decline of Religions in the West

[1] Norway goes secular, removes Lutheran Church as state religion
OSLO – Norway, which is one of few developed countries to still have a state religion, passed a final hurdle Thursday to separate the Protestant Lutheran Church from the state, parliament said.

… …

In practice, the change will give the Church the authority to name its own bishops and deans, without having to bow to the government’s final say on such issues, as the situation stands today.

The current requirement for at least half of all government ministers to be members of the Church will also be scrapped, and even the minister of church affairs will no longer need to belong to the church.

In Singapore, the mass media regularly highlights the rise of Christianity both locally and overseas, meanwhile, in Europe and North America (United States and Canada), Christianity is waning.

Is the behaviour of society as a whole similar to that of a rebellious adolescent, unwilling to conform to the status quo, rebelling without a cause?  Do we have a tendency to choose what our parents are against or are there more reasons for it?  Is it true that Asians are embracing Christianity or is it just a selective bias that the media may unwittingly have?  Does such reports influence the receptiveness of it?

In post world war Europe, one of the school of thoughts to have gained traction was Existentialism.  At its forefront is Jean-Paul Sartre, a French Existentialist who said that “human beings have no essence before their existence because there is no Creator.” Thus: “existence precedes essence”. [2]

From a wikipage on Jean-Paul Sartre,

This forms the basis for his assertion that since one cannot explain their own actions and behaviour by referencing any specific human nature, they are necessarily fully responsible for those actions. “We are left alone, without excuse”.

Some suggest that the atrocities of the two world wars led people to doubt and question the existence of God, and divinity, for if there was an omnipotent and benevolent God, then how can such atrocities and suffering be allowed?

In a series of works, such as “The Trial of God” [3] a 1979 play by Elie Wiesel and “God on Trial” [4][5] a 2008 BBC/WGBH Boston television play by Frank Cottrell Boyce about Jewish prisoners who put God on trial in absentia for abandoning the Jewish people, such question and doubts are expressed.

While these are focused predominantly on the Abrahamic faiths, the same principle can be applied to any beliefs that espouses a divine being that is both omnipotent and benevolent.

And in David Hume’s (1711 – 1776) [6] formulation of the problem of evil in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1776) [7][8]

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

In Philosophy, Epicurus [7] [9] is generally credited with first expounding the problem of evil, the “Epicurean paradox”:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?  Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?  Then
he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?  Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?  Then why call him God?

In the Bible itself, we have Job put to the test of his devotion to God.  Job questions the reasons for his sufferings and is rebuked by God for questioning. [10] So this history of questioning and doubt is perhaps more ingrained in the Western society than mere reactionary behaviour to the world wars.

Perhaps all these boils down to the tendency for us to find a reason for our sufferings.  Despite our different beliefs, all human beings, sentient beings if you will, seek happiness and shun pain.  No one seek suffering.  Even a masochist derive satisfaction from pain, from self-mortification.

Making sense of this world, we try to find an answer to our experiences and encounters.  Anthropologists suggest that early or proto religions started as an answer to our ignorance of the natural world.  Consequently, earlier religions often centred around the worship of natural phenomena.  They worshipped life giving phenomena, such as the sun, the moon, the land, rain, river, spring, domesticated animals etc.  They also worshipped life threatening forces such as the lightning, the land (earthquakes), the river (flood), the sea (tsunami), the volcanoes, wild animals etc.  They worship the life giving sources in the hope that they may live, and they made sacrifices to the life-threatening ones hoping that they will be spared.

Such were the early religions.

These either developed into personifications of the various natural forces or get sub-planted by newer religions that overthrow these beliefs or assimilate them into their fold.

When man developed tools and technology to better cope with nature, we grew into more complex societies.  Religion evolved correspondingly and continued to be intertwined with its development.  For the longest time since recorded history, religion and monarchy rule maintained a symbiotic relationship.  The monarchy gave protection to the religion while the religion gave legitimacy to the monarchy.

From late 18th century to middle of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution dramatically changed the world.

In the words of Nobel Prize winner Robert E. Lucas, Jr., “For the first time in history, the living standards of the masses of ordinary people have begun to undergo sustained growth … Nothing remotely like this economic behavior has happened before“. [11]

The living standards increased not because of kings and monarchies, but because of science and its applications.  Machines operated not because of your beliefs, but because the very principles of the physical world was unravelled by the accumulated knowledge of countless man and woman who studied and observed the natural world and formulated principles beyond the religious texts of the day.

And in the next two centuries, religion began its gradual decline.

Today, we use technology and assume that things would work without necessarily appreciating the hardship our predecessors have gone through.  Sitting in my room, I can make a connection with someone at the other end of the globe, seeing and conversing in real time (barring lag due to connection speed).  This would have been seen as magic or supernatural just a century or two ago, and depending on whether the religious establishment is able to accept such technology, you may be heralded as a saint or condemned as a witch.

Flying through the air in the relative comfort of your plane seat, one may recall that we are living like the Greek Gods of ancient times or possess spiritual powers described by religions of Indian and Chinese origins.

And yet, all these do not require your belief in a religion or in Science for that matter.  In fact, if your ‘belief’ in science cause you to skip safety checks, then uncertainty and doubt make well
work better here.

Interestingly, the invention of the light bulb, candle, usage of flint stone for starting fire were each met with curiosity, amazement and perhaps even suspicion and denial.  Curiosity and amazement because it was previously thought to be impossible to make fire or produce light at will, and probably suspicion and denial as it challenges the status quo.

With each development, we discard the former and adopt the new.  Sometimes the old may evolve and adapt to the newer conditions, other times, it may linger on, and die a slow painful death.

Is religion on such a path?  Perhaps that is why the Western countries are dropping Christianity as to some, it may have failed to give reasons for our sufferings, from the world wars, to the last decade of disasters, ranging from SARS, two tsunamis, numerous hurricanes and earthquakes etc.

On the flip-side, is that also why some fundamentalist Christians [12] [13] in the bible-belt states in US are stating that disaster victims “die for their sins”?  Is this their way of making sense of human sufferings?

Do viruses really pick and choose victims based on their beliefs?  How about the various types of natural disasters?  Does the bombs and bullets differentiate its target if not for the person firing them?

So why are some Asians on the other hand dropping Asian religions to adopt something else?  While it is easy to attribute it to the aggressive tactics by evangelical groups, it may be helpful to consider other factors we have considered so far.  Perhaps the younger generations are attracted by the new age concert-style religious services, or perhaps it is also because they never had a chance to really know about the Asian religions.

I learnt from my Christian and Muslim friends that in their religions respectively, a person who wish to convert, has to undergo compulsory lessons before they can be given the conversion.  Those who are born into a Christian family would most likely receive Sunday school classes while muslims will attend Islamic studies as part of their education.  Meanwhile, there are no compulsory religious classes for Buddhists and Taoists alike.  This may explain why the younger generations are more susceptible to conversion attempts by evangelists.  (I’ll need to find out more from my counterparts from the other faiths, about how the younger folks or converts learn about their faiths).

Another factor is that many Buddhists are fence-sitters as far as religion for their spouse or children are concerned.

The Buddha taught lay couples who wish to see one another not only in the present life but also in the life to come, should be in tune in conviction (faith in the Triple Gem), virtue (morality / precepts), generosity and in discernment (wisdom) [14].  Further, the Buddha advised lay people to have conviction (faith in the Triple Gem) so that their descendents may prosper in terms of conviction, virtue, and discernment (wisdom) [15], so Buddhists should be more proactive in sharing the gift of the Dharma with their children, for their welfare and happiness.

The counter-argument from many Buddhist parents is that they wish to give their children freedom of choice.  It is admirable and comforting to know that Buddhists are not indoctrinating their children with Buddhism, dogma-style.  It is however important to note that choice is only meaningful if their children is making informed choices.  If their children do not get a chance to learn about Buddhism, and only get to hear half-truths and distortions from over-zealous evangelists, then what kind of choices are they subjecting their children to?

Further, do parents give their children choices when it comes to their education and all the enrichment classes that kids have to go through these days?  Buddhists owe it to themselves to learn about Buddhism and to share it with their
loved ones and friends.  If it is useful and beneficial to you, if it has made a difference in your life, why not share it?  When our children grow up, trust me, they will make their own choices even if you want it otherwise.  The difference is that they will be making an informed choice.

The door to the Deathless is open, the Path to True Happiness, the Cessation of Suffering has been discovered.  Ehi passiko.  “Come and see”.



Buddhism or Dhamma-Vinaya: Just Labels?

Below is a note I wrote back in mid 2011.  Reposted here for sharing.

Decided to put this as a note instead of a comment to a note [1] written by “Ehi Passiko”.  Last year (2010), I conducted a meditation retreat for this Jewish family with Jewish and Catholic members in their family house in Turin, Italy.

One recurring question that came up was how they can practise Buddhism while continuing their Jewish tradition.  I shared with them that it is not the Buddhist way to convert people wholesale, rather whatever aspects of our life that leads to greed, hatred and delusion should be given up.

For them, the Jewish tradition is more than a religion, it is a culture in its own.  It is akin to asking a Chinese to stop
being a Chinese because he wants to be a Buddhist.  hmmm … that may well explain why Chinese cultures and festives are practiced where possible without conflict within Buddhist communities and temples.

Having said that, if we assume that the Buddha was not into labels etc, we would be quite wrong.  The Buddha set down certain rules for the Sangha to maintain the distinction with the other ascetics.  While many concerns discipline pertaining to the practice, others concerned outer forms so that lay disciples would not confuse them with others.

If the teachings are taught, adopted by other religions, and practiced up to stream entry, sotapanna or even Arahant-hood, then there is no fear, for Ven. Susima [2] despite entering the order for the wrong reasons, upon penetrating into the truth, naturally gave up the wrong ways.  He would not continue what he and his counterparts had intended, to use the Dharma to get lay support but continue their own practices.

If other religions adopt the teachings and practices without attributing it to the Buddha’s discovery of it, and do not reach fruition, then a few things may happen.  Say a person with a god centric religion practices part of the Dharma, but maintains their holy scriptures.  If we say that labels are not important, then it is quite ok for Buddhists to then go to Churches to pray to God, interpreting God in a certain way in line with the Noble Eightfold Path.  In fact that is what some Jews, Catholics and Christians are doing.  But if they do not revise or review their scriptures, later generations may slowly get confused over the two, assuming that they are the same or end up assimilating the Dharma into theirs.  The trick is whether later generations will be interpreting their scriptures in line with the Noble Eightfold Path or the Noble Eightfold Path (and the Dharma) in line with their God-centric teachings.

Such two way assimilation has occurred in India, China and most countries where Buddhism is adopted as a major religion.  In some cases, such as India, Buddhism got so assimilated that it became indistinguishable, Buddha even became a manifestation of the Hindhu God.  The Buddhist teachings became more and more interpreted in line with Atman-centric, Brahman-centric teachings than in line with what the Buddhat taught.

In China, some would likewise argue that the one to two millenium of exchanges has integrated Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.  While the three are sometimes practiced unanimously in Chinese temples, the monastic tradition in China maintained a certain level of purity in the teachings while adopting localised changes to the facade and expressions of the teachings in terms of the language of the text, chanting, robes, etc.  This allows us today to bridge the Northern tradition with the Southern tradition through the teachings and discern that which is core Dharma practices or cultural practices.  I’m not an authority in Thai Buddhism to comment, but I wonder how much of Thai-Buddhist amulets are due to integration with indigenious religion or hindhu-brahministic practices or vajrayana practices.

Will dropping Buddhist labels lead to harmony and peace?  Take a look at countries and regions world wide that do not have Buddhist lables but has singular predominant religion in place.  I do not see much of harmony and peace.  Perhaps dropping all labels and practising the Noble Eightfold Path is key.  But will others drop their labels and do so?

I’ll keep my robes and label as a monk for the time being and practise the Noble Eightfold path.

Footnote: There is the teaching on the “Simile of the Raft”, where one should not cling onto the Dharma even as one do not cling onto the raft after crossing the river.  While we are unenlightened, we need the Dharma-Vinaya and the labels that points to and describes it.  If we discard it before we attain enlightenment, it would be like discarding the raft before crossing the river. *



Is Interfaith Harmony Feasible with Ingrained Conversion Efforts?

Someone ask me whether interfaith harmony is truly feasible, if some religion continue to hold the thinking that the conversion of others is right n holy.

I think it’s like saying the two persons can be good friends while the person is actively pursuing one’s beau or spouse!

Update – 10 April 2012

After reading some comments and having a discussion with a Dharma friend, here are some thoughts to share.

Consider a few scenarios below:

Scenario Parties Description
1 A & B are married.
C pursues B.
Under C’s pursuit, B falls for C and decides to have a divorce.  They go into a relationship and later got married.
2 A & B are married.
C tries to split them and recommend D
C poisons B into believing that A is a horrible choice.
B over time becomes convinced and divorces A in order to be with D, under C’s recommendation.B & D fall in love, goes into a relationship and later got married.
3 A & B are married.
B no longer feel for A.
B divorces A.
B meet other friends, dates and finally find C.  They fall in love and goes into a relationship and later got married.
4 A & B are married.B no longer feel for A. B divorces A.
C recommends to B, another person D.B & D fall in love, goes into a relationship and later got married.


In the above scenarios, person B ultimately filed for divorce and married another person.  The difference is the role that person C & D played.  In scenario #1 and #2, person C actively convince B to have a change of heart whereas in scenario #3 and #4, B voluntarily experience a change of heart and file for divorce, only meeting person C and D subsequently.

It is this difference that I see crucial in interfaith harmony.

The parallel in religion would be where a person decides that one
religion is not suitable and chooses another religion on his own accord (scenario #3 & #4) compared to where a third party would come on to actively persuade you to forsake your religion for theirs (scenario #1 & #2).

As in marriage, likewise in religion, choice is important.  Some culture believe in the sanctity of choice in marriage and religion, and may forbid people to change their choice.  But in this day and age, is that right?  In my opinion, changing one’s choice is not necessarily a wrong thing, but how it changed is important.

As illustrated above, active conversion attempts by third parties are distasteful.

In my discussion with different people, I realised that “conversion” has very broad connotations and can mean quite different things.  Somebody suggested that the Buddha “actively went against Brahmanism” and so was converting people as well.

Another person suggested that while Buddha and his disciples did not actively go out to seek the conversion of the other followers (Brahmins, Niganthas or otherwise), those followers from the other schools did “convert” to follow the Buddha’s teachings.  To the adherents of the other faiths, they may still look upon this as “conversion” nonetheless.

The irony is that the Buddha for the most part, was the target of conversion, where the other religious teachers or groups would send their best disciples to try to defeat him in debates.  In these debates, many became convinced by the Buddha’s sound teaching of the Truth and embraced the Buddha Dharma on their own accord.  Is that still termed conversion?

So again, perhaps it is important to highlight what conversion entail, and which type is inappropriate and not conducive for interfaith harmony.

In my analogy above, voluntary conversion driven by the affected party should not affect interfaith harmony.  If a person decides to change his faith and adopt another religion and its teachings, it is that person’s choice.  Whereas if any one religion actively seek out followers of other faiths to convert them to one’s own, it directly constitute an attempt to reduce, remove and ultimately replace the other religion.

If one religion is actively trying to convert, trying to reduce, remove and replace the other religion, can it still claim to respect the other religions or respect the choice of their followers?

As Buddhists, we welcome people from all walks of life to learn the Buddha’s teachings and benefit from it.  If believing in something makes one more incline to be kind, generous, loving and patience, we applaud that, regardless of the label of the religion or belief.

But if believing in something makes one more incline to greed, hatred and ignorance, more inclined towards violence and hatred towards those who have different religion, more inclined towards seeking the reduction, removal and replacement of other religion for no other reasons except that it is different, then one have to consider it wisely, is such a belief conducive for interfaith harmony?



London ~ Buddhists Surge by 74% in Britain

What we may not see often in the local Singapore news.  Buddhism is one of the fastest growing religion in Britain according to a research by the "House of Commons Library" in London.


Britain won't be Christian nation by 2030: Report

London, March 3 (IANS) Britain may no longer be a Christian country by 2030 as the number of non-believers is set to overtake the number of Christians, a media report said.

Christianity is losing more than half a million believers every year, while the count of atheists and agnostics is going up by almost
750,000 annually, the Daily Mail reported.

Research by the House of Commons Library found that while Christianity has declined, other religions have seen sharp increases.

In the last six years, the number of Muslims has surged by 37 percent to 2.6 million; Hindus by 43 percent and Buddhists by 74 percent. But the number of Sikhs and Jewish believers fell slightly, according to the Mail Friday.

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