Thursday, May 06, 2021

What would a "Buddhist kind of" Christianity look like?

I keep playing with the idea of a "Buddhist kind of" Christianity. This comes from my experience of dynamic Buddhist groups that are thriving and growing in a western context. Sure, those Buddhist groups are never going to grow so that they are the majority (or anywhere near) in a country like Wales. But I have no doubt that they will remain a growing, dynamic, minority. 

And so I think - what is it that Buddhists are doing that Christians aren't? And what would it mean if Christians did those things? And yes, generalisations are hard, and Buddhism is a very diverse thing, so I'm really just speaking out of my own experience, rather than from doing an in-depth survey. 

This is not a well-thought through list (this blog is really for thoughts-in-progress) but here's what I think a "Buddhist kind of" Christianity would look like:

  • There would be an emphasis on practice. Rather than seeing the point as being attendance at a church, or self-identification as a Christian, or signing up to a creed, the emphasis would be on a path and practice: here is the thing you do every day. That doesn't mean there isn't a place for community, but the primary invitation would be the taking on of a daily personal practice. This wouldn't be seen as a thing for "advanced" Christians like monks or nuns, but the first thing new Christians would be invited to do.
  • There would be a shift from talking about sin and salvation to talking about enlightenment. Instead of trying to convince people of a worldview and a problem no one thinks they have, Christians would offer something beautiful to people without first trying to convince them they are a sinner. (Contemporary Evangelical evangelism has to convince people of a series of unconvincing metaphysical truths before they can present "good news". First you have to be convinced that (a) you're a bad person who's done bad things, then you have to be convinced that (b) there is some sort of cosmic punishment for this (but - why would there be?) and then you have to convince them that (c) Jesus has magically taken away the cosmic punishment that you never knew about in any case. But if you never convince people of (a) and (b) then you can't convince them of (c).)
  • Following on from that, this kind of Christianity would offer an existential difference to people's lives. Look at any Buddhist leaflet you pick up anywhere they will say something like "this practice gives a deeper sense of inner peace, and helps you to become more compassionate". What if that was the offer of Christian practice? Why shouldn't it be? Can't Christian practice offer inner peace and cultivate compassion? Of course it can! But this is rarely seen as the "offer" to non-Christians.
  • It would have less (or zero) emphasis on buildings and "congregations" or "churches". There are Buddhist groups with thousands of members that have something like three buildings in whole the country. While probably smaller Welsh non-conformist denominations have to deal with hundreds of creaking old chapels. A Buddhist-like Christianity would put you on a path of personal practice and plug you into a group of ten others that probably meet in somebody's living room.
  • It would see Jesus as exemplar to follow more than saviour to worship. In being inspired by Jesus it would see the purpose of the Christian path as cultivating the Christ-within, and becoming more Christ-like. It would connect us with our Christ-natures.
  • It would be unashamed of the ancient and the ritualistic. This is of course very difficult to generalise because it differs so vastly across Buddhism and Christianity. But the kind of "Buddhist like" Christianity I'm envisioning would not be attempting to be modern or playing down the ancient and exotic. Rather it would embrace and celebrate the fact that its pathway goes way back to ancient times. It would be deeply inspired by different traditions of monasticism going back to the desert fathers and mothers and it may well embrace practices of icons, incense, chanting, other languages, and of course the deep deep practices of prayer. 

Maybe there's more things to put on the list, but this is what I'm thinking so far.

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