It's amazing, isn't it, how one person's passionately held belief can seem so foolish and wrong-headed to another? We've seen evidence of this in The Buddha Diaries recently: I confess I find it virtually impossible to "understand"--or even accept--the thinking of those who profess a certain kind of Christianity; what I broadly refer to as the fundamentalist kind. These folk embrace positions that seem profoundly un-Christian to me, who was brought up in the Anglican version of the Christian faith. Take, for example, their rejection of evolutionary theory and their hatred of homosexuality.
These thoughts are promoted, this morning, by a conversation at dinner last night with a friend--a good, right-thinking, and likely religiously skeptical liberal like myself--whose twin sister is a right-wing, evangelical, fundamentalist republican. They have, our friend reports, a very loving relationship, but they have learned to avoid certain topics in their conversations. Amazing! That twin sisters should hold such diametrically-opposed beliefs. Their shared wisdom, of course, lies in their mutual tolerance, their tacit agreement to disagree.
I have to tell you that I find it extremely hard to practice such tolerance. It's work for my struggling intellect. Not necessarily because my beliefs are passionately held or intolerant, but because I find it hard--along with most of us, I think--to maintain a healthy separation between belief and reason. But then, I know that there are those who question the validity of reason. Is it not possible that new scientific evidence, two hundred years hence, let's say, will modify our current understanding of Darwinian theory? Of course it is. There were those whose reason led them to believe, not so very long ago, that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around us.
One of the reasons I'm so attracted to Buddhism is that it's founded in an essential pragmatism. It's not about belief so much as what works--and what doesn't work--in my life as I progress from day to day. It's not so much a suspension of disbelief (Coleridge's famous formulation) as a suspension of belief. When we look around the world today, it's impossible not to conclude that passionately-held beliefs cause a lot more problems than they solve. (I guess that's MY belief!) From the absurd stalemate in our own government to the disastrous crises in the Middle East, is it not all about one side not being able to imagine--let alone tolerate--the other's view? I recall that wonderful artwork that I saw in Munich--the neon blue lettering installed on the facade of a venerable old building: you can imagine the opposite. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
Would that we all could.