A Way of Life

It’s not a RELIGION! It’s a WAY OF LIFE!!1!1

I’ve heard this said about Shinto, Hinduism, and increasingly of Buddhism as well. Implicit in this exclamation is the assumption that religions cannot be “ways of life.” This is a very unfortunate assumption that takes as default the entirely modern, Western mode of relating to spirituality, in which religion is totally divorced from all other areas of life.

In the US, “The Separation of Church and State” is in fact Federal Law…indeed, it a founding law, and I don’t think any reasonable human being would argue that this is for the best. The centuries of religious warfare in all corners of the globe are pretty solid evidence that theocracies are just not a very good idea.

However, I find it problematic that “Eastern” religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism are so often dismissed, especially by Western pagans, as being “ways of life” rather than real religions, because – as stated earlier – it assumes as default that modern Western religions as they have been practiced in the past couple of centuries are how religion has to work.

Labeling Asian (as well as other non-Western) religions as lifestyles or ways of life frankly trivializes them, and also erases a vast swathe of European history when religion was very much a way of life. For better or worse, it has only been in the past few hundred years that it has become normal for religion to be stuffed away in private.

4 thoughts on “A Way of Life

  1. I’ve also heard that said of Christianity- it’s the “Spirituality = authentic personal & good vs. Religion= institutional, dogmatic & bad” meme once again. Seriously, whatever people, if you look them up in the dictionary, they mean about the same thing. In the case of Asian religions, I think Westerners who are alienated from Christianity romanticize them as being more freeform or whatever which is kinda funny considering how many rules some of them can have. They project their Orientalist fantasies onto it rather than seeing them in their own right.

  2. Well, I think you said it a lot better than I did. 🙂 There’s also a tendency to make Asian religions all love and light and sparkly rainbows – like you said, it’s that reaction to the Western models most of us have grown up with. Yet Buddhism is definitely NOT a happy, sparkly religion. It can be a very stark, pessimistic one…in fact, that’s by definition the Buddhist definition of life. It’s the First Noble Truth – “life is suffering.” What various Buddhist sects and denominations decide to DO about the First Noble Truth is often a defining feature in their theology.

    Hmmm….I think that would be a good blog post in its own right!

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