mostly I am evaluating Sam Harris claim that religions inform actions. He says that the difference between Islam and Buddhism produces vastly different outcomes, but at least the cases of Sri Lanka and Myanmar don’t seem to confirm his assumption
Surely we can blame Islam for the persecution in Myanmar? If muslims hadn’t conquered large swathes of Asia and persecuted all other religions then the Buddhists wouldn’t fear them and their pernicious ideology.
A little response based on some comments so far, if nobody minds a first-time poster jumping right in (and even if they do).
I’ve seen posed the questions (1) whether or not a person’s religion is likely to inform their behaviour, and (2) whether or not we should expect people who nominally belong to a religion to behave in the nice ways the religion suggests. One assumption seems to be that because a nation is ‘Buddhist’ or ‘Muslim’ (I’ve always found it bizarre that a group of people as large as a nation could truly be said to be linked under one belief system) the people of that nation will generally behave in ways typical of this religion/belief system. Another assumption is that Buddhism necessarily promotes peace and equality and other nice things.
A ‘real Buddhist’—whether Mahayana or Theravada, whatever or whatever—following the ancient teachings of Buddhism and her particular school, has studied the vast tradition of philosophy and psychology peculiar to Buddhism and likely spent a long time in one of many practices of meditation. She likely believes in peace, equanimity, compassion, and equality, among other things. The question we must ask is: are most people in “Buddhist countries” really ‘real Buddhists’? The answer must almost always be “No.”
The UK used to be a “Christian country”, and according to some still is, but very rarely through the last few hundred years of its history did the majority of the population have any access to study of the New Testament but through the clergy, let alone truly understand or practice what Jesus preached. So-called “Christian values” are still a major part of many European nations, but many of them are not founded in Christ’s teachings; indeed many traditional Christian values pretty much contradict what Jesus is believed to have preached (turning the other cheek?). And even if we accept that Christianity as it is known now is Christianity regardless of what Christ himself would say, we know that the majority of Christians still don’t truly practice the religion’s teachings in private. History is full of rape, adultery, murder, greed, etc, and the existence of Christianity didn’t ever wipe these human tendencies away.
Similarly, the majority of people in “Buddhist countries” have never been truly exposed to what we might think of as Buddhist teachings, and those who have are still not exempt from life (war, disease, government, making a living, etc) and human weakness getting in the way. We might expect nations in which the majority of the people claim Buddhism to be relatively peaceful, with some kind of democratic but rigid but not authoritarian hierarchies, and equality of gender and ethnicity, among other things. This is not the case. Places like Bhutan, Myanmar, and Cambodia are relatively recent democracies with debatable legitimacy and poor human rights records; Sri Lanka was hit by civil war until fairly recently; most majority-Buddhist nations are ranked low on the Gender Gap Report. And this might not be pertinent but in many of these places environmental responsibility is overshadowed by other concerns (Cambodia’s environment is getting totally fucked).
And, for a really interesting example from recent history, look at Japan from the late 1800s to the end of WWII. Zen played a massive role in the Japanese “holy war”—to the degree that many have claimed that some of the essential tenets of Zen Buddhism (in one form) actually encouraged Japanese militarism. Subservience to state, selflessness, lack of dogma, protection of hierarchy, etc. Quite importantly a notion common to many Buddhists and Hindus and others: that things are as they are, or, that in order to attain harmony or enlightenment one must accept reality as it is, warts and all. Really, though it is not talked about much, a (perverted?) form of Zen was at least partially responsible for the countless atrocities committed by the Japanese throughout much of Asia and North America.
The optimist in me believes that if current ‘Buddhist’ nations are able to finally pull themselves out of relative poverty, things will change. People I’ve met who’ve been to Buddhist SE Asia have little but praise for the people they’ve met—kindness, hospitality, etc. If people really read sutras and practiced Buddhism as the great Buddhist thinkers thought it, there would be no thought of genocide. But it’s not like that. People are poor, history hasn’t been kind, their governments are shit and their state religions have evolved into little more than draconian education systems. Very few actually practice ‘true Buddhism’.
Seems to methat the obvious answer to this is that the whole gimmick about actions being influenced by beliefs is a bunch of horseshit. When has it ever been measurably the case that religions with messages of peace lead to more peaceful populations? If that was the case christians would be pretty peaceful. They aren’t by any standard.
Religious beliefs may influence actions cosmetically. But ultimately people will interpret their religion and bend their beliefs to suit and justify their immediate needs. Just like they do with “facts and logic” unconsciously cherrypicking the facts that support their pre-existing beliefs much more than letting their beliefs being influenced my new facts. I’d have to find it but i remember reading a paper in neuro-psychology that showed that people mostly used their reasonning ability to build complex rationales to justify their own beliefs and almost never to change their beliefs. Once an opinion was acquired the subjects used their brain power tobuild arguments for this opinion, counterthe arguments of opposing propositions or deal with contradicting facts, but rarely integrated these contradicting facts in their actual understanding of the issues.
Religious scriptures simply provide people with “facts” to build on. Naturally they’ll use these facts” like any other fact, to justify what they already think. If they think muslims are a plague they’ll find justification in their scriptures to do to them whatever they feel comfortable doing to them to fix what they see as the poblem.