Preventing holy wars, by consensus

Religious conflicts tend to be particularly nasty: whether holy wars that kill millions or flame wars on Buddhist internet forums.

When you have The One Whole Holy Truth, anyone with a different view must be absolutely wrong and wicked, and should be punished severely.

So, this is not news… The question is what to do about it.

One popular approach is to insist that all religions are essentially the same. To parody slightly:

“Religious differences are merely variations in cultural customs. Such differences are arbitrary and irrelevant; no one goes to war based on which side of the road you drive on. What really matters in all religions—their core values—are shared equally among all of them. When we recognize this, we can all join hands as one big happy family and sit in a circle singing Om Kumbaya.”

This is very nice. In fact, it is the essence of “niceness”: pretending that conflict does not exist, in order to pursue a hidden agenda.

Consensus Buddhism” is founded on this principle. According to the Consensus, all Buddhisms are essentially the same. Their seeming conflicts are merely differences in Asian cultural customs, which are irrelevant to the West.

“Therefore, there is no need for disagreement among Buddhists. This idea that we can, and should, and maybe have, achieved consensus about what all Buddhisms teach, is one of the reasons I describe the current Western mainstream as “Consensus Buddhism.”

Also, by consensus, we can mix Buddhism with other religions, because it is not essentially different from Christianity or Hinduism.

There are three problems here:

  1. It isn’t true. Different religions are not essentially the same. Different Buddhisms have incompatible principles, values, paths, and goals.
  2. It doesn’t work. Ignoring differences actually makes religious conflicts worse.
  3. It justifies totalitarianism. Whoever gets to say what is the “essential, shared core” of religions can define competitors out of existence—if that decree is accepted.

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