I was walking down Washington St. near Polk a few years back, and passed a small church that had been taken over by the Chinese. An elderly gentleman standing in front asked me “do you know Jesus?” My answer was “do you know Kuan Yin?”
The life of an American Buddhist. I almost envy this immigrant population who could so easily toss their cultural heritage on the scrap heap to accept whatever was being sold to them as part of “being an American.” Do they envy me being born into a Christian culture and indoctrinated for 14 years? Probably they simply envy me being born an American, something like winning the Birth Lottery. I suppose they wouldn’t envy my 30 years of floating before finding my “true faith.”
14 years old is a long ways back; late sixties, living in San Diego. That would be when I read “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts. No big transformation or sudden “enlightenment,” just not much interested in going to our Presbyterian Church anymore. I read more in Buddhism over the next 10 years, but also read through the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita (yes, I had to look up the spelling on that), the Tao Te Ching and most other religious texts that came my way.
It was “The Three Pillars of Zen” by Phillip Kapleau that put me back onto that “Buddhism kick,” as my mother liked to call it. It was more than a book explaining Buddhist ideas or history. It was by an American who had truly become a Buddhist. It spoke to me directly, as I’m sure Roshi Kapleau had intended. I started a meditation practice in my tiny college apartment and considered traveling to Rochester to train.
“Consider” was most of what I did. Life not changed, collegiate drinking binges not avoided; just a bit more thoughtful about it all. It was ten years later that everything fell together at once. Living in Los Angeles with a career in the traveling entertainment business (OK, I was a Roadie) and a burgeoning cocaine habit, it all changed at once.
For over 30 years a small faction of radicals, along with their gullible followers, have hijacked the title of “Christian” in America. For money and power they’ve led their “flock” far away from the teachings of Christ towards a new world of greed and hate. They have allied themselves with the worst of Conservative thinkers with the ultimate (stated) aim of outright Theocracy.
Yes, the United States is a Majority Christian country. These grifters have used that fact to claim that they represent that Majority. I’ve waited for years for “Real Christians” to stand up and say “NO, these people in no way represent our Faith and our Beliefs!” I have, it seems, waited in vain.
So where are the “Real Christians?” Not the “Born Again” crowd, but the “Ye shall know them by their fruits” and the “Faith, hope, charity” Christians. Where are the Christians that have read the words of Christ and Paul for themselves and gotten a message of love and goodwill to all? And why should I have to look for them?
I am no Christian. I am a practicing American Buddhist. But, as the Pew Foundation found when they simply asked, we Buddhists, agnostics and atheists seem to know more about the Christian Religion than professed Christians. Perhaps we’re living through a counter-reformation. 53% of American Protestants could not identify Martin Luther. How many understand that the Reformation had as a basic tenet that Christians could approach their own Faith without the mediation of Priests? Do these sad followers of James Dobson, John Hagee, et. al. understand that they are giving away that precious gift: to decide for yourself in Spiritual matters?
Clearly I should not be the one to tell them. The Christian Community of the United States needs to speak out. Or maybe they just don’t exist. Maybe Christianity is dead.
Here’s a “not so optimistic” piece from Chris Hedges: