A Friend with a problem...


One of Many
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Seattle, WA
Namaste all,

given the nature of the forum here, i thought that this would be the ideal place to ask a question and get some intelligent, honest opinions on something that's been on my mind recently.

a friend of mine has been having some "issues of faith" as it were recently and has asked to read some of my books on Buddhism. i believe that he is a Christian though if this is by choice or by upbringing i cannot say at this time. i realize that it makes a huge difference from a theological perspective, though that is not something that he and i, yet, have discussed.

i have a feeling that is going to change quite soon.

my inclination and my particular school of Buddhism hold that any spiritual path that teaches a moral and ethical path is a valid spiritual refuge. i say this because i often feel the need to explain that i consider Christianity to be a valid spiritual refuge, even though i don't happen to agree with it. this is difficult for some Christians to conceed, let alone believe.

having said that, my question is mainly directed towards the Chrisitans on this site, however, i'll welcome all discussion and opinions that are on point.

in all candor, i believe that my friend has let his emnity with his father, a Christian, influence his choice in a religion. i.e. since his father is a Christian, he will not be as a show of rebellion or to demonstrate to himself and those around him that he didn't grow up to be "just like his father."

i do not believe that he has honestly investigated Christianity to make an informed decision about this. it is very difficult to leave the religion that one has had inculcated since thier birth, for some people, even if they want to, they cannot leave. further, there is usually a cultural difference that makes some aspects of the other traditions difficult to understand without a proper understanding of the culture and traditions that existed at the time.

given this, my primary question is this, if you were in my position (that of the good friend with "spiritual" insight) what would you recommend? please understand that this man would define the word "skeptic" in the dictionary :)

as a secondary question.. realizing that i'm not a Chrisitan, would you know of a good book that isn't... how should i say this... condescending... that would be of some value in presenting Christianity to a "modern" world angry man?
Leave the institution.

I am a postgraduate Catholic, meaning no longer attached to Catholicism, but sympathetic to it for memory's sake.

Now I am a Christian but very liberal, maybe ultra-liberal.

I would tell your friend, Vaj, to consider that as my old catechism tells me, religion is a natural virtue inclining man's mind and heart to render the worship of God that is God's due.

Of course such a definition applies only to theistic religions. Maybe a non-theistic understanding of religion should be for me and recommended to your friend, a natural virtue inclining man's mind and heart to revere life and admire the universe of nature and the cosmos in awe.

Coming to your friend, he might be curious to try those two broad definitions of religion. Religion is a natural virtue, not an institution.

I think that he should first consider de- and dis- institutionalizing his present religious beliefs and sentiments and observances.

This means, do an exit from the institution of religion in his present religious world, and dismantle it into its separate ingredients.

After this step is done, then choose what ingredients of his erstwhile religion he finds acceptable to his present emotional and mental and intellectual development; or search also in other religions; or better think out his own and fashion them to his own tastes.

Then redact his own personal religion, and no need to owe any allegiance whatsoever to any founders of any religion, any religious beliefs and observances and practices.

In a broader context, I would remind him that the constitutional code of modern westernized society guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hence, if his religious beliefs and observances do not bring him life, liberty, and happiness, then he owes it to himself to do something about it. But of course in the process not to get in trouble with the law.

The only institution he should and must take seriously is the law of the political society, the state. And even then as a citizen in a democratic society he has a very strong say in that institution.

Take the virtue of religion indeed seriously, but not any particular religious institutions, and not the minutiae of religion, certainly not as dictated by anyone except from one's own mind and heart.

Susma Rio Sep
I am an ex-Christian turned atheist. My Christian friends tell me that they are better off believing in God/Jesus etc. using Pascal's Wager. If I am wrong-there are consequences, if they are wrong- there are no consequences.

I concede that argument to them and ask how does one simply turn on and off their faith in a particular religion? Do people simply wake up and say, "today I will be a devout Buddhist" and then the next day say "Today I will have faith in Christianity."

You cannot turn on and off your religious beliefs like a faucet. I tell them if you want me to believe in God- conduct an experiment which proves God exists. Then conduct an experiment which proves your God is the correct one as opposed to all others. So far I have had no takers.

I am not only an atheist, but a very proud atheist because I have rejected the religion of my fathers due to my own study and research. I have found much peace and happiness in that my mind is of my own making. Your friend sounds like he is about to be so lucky as to reject the religious thought which shackles and enslaves the mind and find his own path of enlightenment.

Virture is within every man. It has nothing to do with religion
Well if you truly feel that he is doing this out of spite then I would suggest that he study both religions and other ones. Hopefully he'll see the similarities between all of them and relies that they all have some truth to them. I have determined that we all basically worship the same thing just in different ways. If he hasn't really studied Christianity then I suggest that you suggest that he do so. I know this is to obvious but if he truly hasn't studied Christianity he should read The Bible front to back. I'm personally Attached to the New American Bible It is Catholic so I guess I‘m a bit partial but I feel that it translate Psalms well and the footnotes are very helpful. Tell him he should search through all of the denominations and if he doesn't like them it isn't necessary he belong to any of them. At the same time if he is drawn to Buddhism I'd give him the information on the religion. But most of all I'd suggest that he pray. Pray in any form he wishes. God will lead him to where he needs to be regardless if that is Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, or Wicca. If that is where he's truly lead he should stick with it unless he feels it no longer fulfils his spiritual needs and God/Whoever wishes him to move on. Who knows he could practice a number of different religions and end up right back where he is now but with a new respect for his religion.
Vajradhara said:
in all candor, i believe that my friend has let his emnity with his father, a Christian, influence his choice in a religion. i.e. since his father is a Christian, he will not be as a show of rebellion or to demonstrate to himself and those around him that he didn't grow up to be "just like his father."

Not to simplify things too much, but have you thought about just asking him if these are his motives? :rolleyes: Get to the point. I haven't been on this forum long but I'm sure you'll be able to handle the situation without a mountain of literature.

Maybe you could ask, "You're not just doing this to piss of your dad are you?" Or if there's something specific his father does/has done that aggravates him, bring it up and then say, "You know, not all Christians are like your dad." Then address the issue. Ask him what he thinks the true message of Christ is, and if the behavior of other Christians (even his dad) changes what Christ's message means for him.

Be honest about your concerns. Just explain to him that his motives are an extremely important part of his spiritual journey and that leaving Christianity out of *any* sort of spite is the wrong reason. If he's going to enter a new religion he should have higher goals in mind. Encourage him to be honest with himself, even if you don't think he's being totally honest with you. If there's any spite involved, he should stop what he's doing and seriously reconsider.

If he looks at you like you're crazy for thinking what you're thinking, don't be embarassed--be relieved. Whew! It's a good think you got that out of the way, isn't it?

My recommendation is to then change the subject. Don't continue talking about spiritual things, but before you leave (no matter what he has said in response to your concerns) remind him how important his motives are. You may have more of an influence on this individual than you think and it's important that he gives it some thought when he's on his own. Otherwise, he might not be able to be honest with himself.

Hope that helps some.

At the end of the day, we all have to make a decision as to what we believe in.

However, such a choice is not necessarily an inflexible end point, but perhaps also a journey of personal self-discovery and spiritual leanring.

You can only encourage that he finds his decision for himself. That is what a good friend needs do, yes? To try and make the decision for him will surely be doomed to failure?
a book recommendation

Interestingly, one reason I wound up perusing (and posting) on this site lately is because of a friends' spiritual dilemma. She was raised strict fundamentalist Baptist and I was raised in a non-religious household. It's very difficult to break through the faith we were inculcated with in our childhood, to say the least.

I wholeheartedly suggest to anyone who has spiritual yearnings and is confused about "which religion?" to read The Dalai Lama's "Ethics for a New Millenium". The Dalai Lama does not advocate for becoming a Buddhist. As he says (and I'm paraphrasing) "I'm a Tibetan Buddhist because I was born in Tibet. . ." He writes of the underlying ethics that he believes are at the heart of all religions. I know some may argue with that as a premise. . .

If anyone is interested, I posted on the Christianity site "Christian observance of Levitican Law" because of my friends' dilemma. I haven't gotten any responses yet. My friend is deeply troubled because she is a lesbian and thinks she is doomed to eternal damnation.

As an afterthought, I second the opinion stated above that your friend should investigate as many religions as he can. Though, in the end, I think most people seem to gravitate back to the religion of their childhood. The range of Christian belief systems is so varied; there is probably a place for your friend in some organized church, if that is what he is seeking. Most people, do, after all, need community.
I believe there are many paths to the same end. Sometimes our experiences make us choose a path that is more difficult (or maybe interesting) at first. I hope as your friend goes though his path that he will be able to get past the feelings he has for his father.

As I thought about this it made me realize that with all the heavy handed messages that we are bombarded with every day, we must keep an open mind to the truth behind the messages. What I'm trying to say is that just because the television evangelist really tics me off, I can't close my mind to the wonderfull truths of Christanity. Sometimes we need to get past the mesenger and/or members of a religious idea and focus on the message.
Namaste all,

thank you for the thoughtful, intelligent and sincere replies.

i shall ponder the advice given and hopefully select the most appropriate course of action for my friend.
Recommended reading:

Vajradhara said:
Namaste all,

as a secondary question.. realizing that i'm not a Chrisitan, would you know of a good book that isn't... how should i say this... condescending... that would be of some value in presenting Christianity to a "modern" world angry man?

I recall reading "The Cloud of Unknowing" by an unknown Christian mystic made a profound impression on my years ago... Also the Sermons of Meister Eckhart might be helpful....

- Art :)
Breaking from a life-long faith was difficult for me because of the fear of the unknown. Humans are social in nature, even those of us who tend to be reclusive. We come into this world with all kinds of chains. Buddhism talks about breaking them. Buddhism is good. I find Buddhism and Christianity to be alot alike with the exception of Buddhism's ability to function fully without the concept of a personal god/entity. But the ideals are pretty much the same to me.
JJM said something I thought was on point - studying Christianity. But if your friend is anything like Awaiting the Fifth, perhaps he has had enough of Christianity. :)
I keep reading this book called "The Religions of Mankind" by Hans-Joachim Shoeps. It's a 40 year-old book but it's still good. ;)
Im very aware that Im opening myself up to a flame fest by posting this... but I think I need to represent Christianity as I experience it and my knowledge of it..

The first mistake is to assume someone is a Christian if their parents are and they were brought up in that household. Being a Christian is a spiritual thing.. You have to accept Christ as your savior and acknowledge your sins. Willingly.

God is the one that calls us to that point. Without Him we would never be convicted of our sins and to know that we needed redemption.
I believe God allows young people their rebellion and anger because out of that bad.. comes good.. you grow spiritually.. It happened to me. I would not be fearful for your friend.. He needs to grow and experiencing other things or learning other things will not affect the final outcome if it is Gods plan to call your friend to Him.

If your friends father is a Christian I am most certain he is praying strongly for his child.. and that is the best thing that anyone can do.. there is no book that can help him.. unless God puts it in his path.. there is no advice to give unless God puts the words in the mouth of that advisor.

Gods perfect will and his perfect plan fits perfectly..

The Heavenly Father is just that... a father.. and when a child rebels against his earthly father he is rebelling against our Heavenly Father. Im not saying its a bad thing but a necessary thing. The Father knows the fathers pain and listens to him when he prays.

Remember the story of the prodigal son.. :)
Hi Vaj, I get the feeling that you may no longer be looking for advice about this, but I do have a book suggestion. I recommend The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. It takes a fairly progressive approach to Christianity and yet does not lose touch with the center of Christianity in Christ and the Bible. For those who struggle with the "I believes" of the creeds it can really open up one's mind and heart. It sure did mine.

But, having said that, I agree with Faithfulservant that there is probably little you could do or say that would really sway your friend one way or another. If he's interested in changing his path I would encourage him to investigate everything thoroughly for himself. We rarely know our own motivations as fully as we think or would like. :)

Dear Vajra,

The Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox is a wonderful book, as well as his Many Rivers One Well.

Matthew Fox is among those Christians who are taking a more ecumenical approach to Christianity today.