A couple of days ago I wrote, "I like Stephen Batchelor's take on Buddhism."
In that blog post I said that after I listened to the end of Batchelor's lengthy discussion with Sam Harris that Harris shared on his Waking Up iPhone app, I'd share anything interesting that I heard.
Well, what I heard Batchelor say in the last five minutes does strike me as both interesting and highly debatable.
Harris asked a good question of Batchelor: currently, what are your most important disagreements with Buddhist doctrine?
To his credit, Batchelor started off by saying that he can't stand dogmatic assertions by Buddhist practitioners. Since Harris had mentioned rebirth/reincarnation as a tenet that Batchelor probably disagreed with, I figured that Batchelor would agree with Harris.
Instead, Batchelor said he wasn't at all interested in the truth claims of Buddhism. Rather, what concerned him was: "How does your belief in reincarnation help you live better?" That was the central question for him.
OK. I can sort of understand where Batchelor was coming from. His focus is on practicality, not theology. If a religious belief has a practical benefit, then it gets a thumbs-up from Batchelor.
Not from me, though, not automatically.
If a religious belief isn't true -- and almost certainly rebirth/reincarnation is a fantasy -- that strikes me as a big argument against accepting it, no matter how it makes someone feel. Harris also sounded surprised at Batchelor's casual attitude toward the truth claims of Buddhism.
Sure, an argument can be made that if a religious person finds satisfaction in an untrue belief, and the belief helps them to live better, there's no harm in this.
I'd agree, so long as the belief remains private and personal. But this isn't how religious beliefs operate. They become dogmatic assertions that have real effects in the real world.
For example, reincarnation has been used as an argument for India's caste system, vestiges of which still exist in that country. (Maybe more than "vestiges.")
Likewise, a related belief in karma that extends over multiple lives can lead to an uncompassionate they deserve what they're getting attitude toward the less fortunate members of a society. So I hope Batchelor rethinks his view that it doesn't matter if a religious belief is true or not, so long as it appeals to the believer.
On a lighter note...