Tuesday, March 6, 2007

My dogma ran over your karma or I ain't got no reincarnation

I always loved that quote "my karma ran over your dogma," although I don't think it actually means anything (if interpreted it could, but whoever wrote it or said it first probably just liked the car in karma and the dog in dogma). But anyways I switched it around so that it would better fit what I think. I believe in Christian dogma but not in karma. In this world where people are constantly saying there's no real difference in religions I'd like to point out the difference between my beliefs and others and I'd like to explain why and explore this.
I'm a Christian, and while some maintain Christians are not inherintly different from Buddhists/Hindus who believe in karma, I'd say there is a big difference between karma and forgiveness, especially since karma involves reincarnation and the Christian ideal of forgiveness involves Purgatory, Heaven and Hell (some might say that Buddhism isn't really about reincarnation, but you should be careful about the word "really," it implies that those who don't believe that are not truly Buddhist, it's fine if you say your belief in Buddhism doesn't include reincarnation or even that the correct interpretation of Buddhism is no reincarnation, but people shouldn't deny that those who believe in reincarnation don't belong to schools within the Buddhist range of thought (it's like the fact that I'm Catholic, but I recognize Protestants are also Catholic, even though I think Catholics are the best branch of Christianity). Those people tend to be Westerners (and I'm not refering to my friends who may have embraced some form of Buddhism, most of them understand that they simply believe in one variant and that there are others) whose exposure to Buddhism is highly limited (very few have actually read the Buddhist texts (and yes there are Buddhist texts, the basic ones are called the Tripitaka), I'm not saying I'm an expert, but I'm saying most of the people who claim to "really" understand Buddhism are not experts either). More importantly karma is sort of an exchange, you exchange a good act for a bad one, you balance your sins with your good deeds, what you do good comes back to you and what you do bad comes back to you so you have to do more good than bad with your life or in your next life. Forgiveness doesn't work like that. Forgiveness operates instantaneously, it means suddenly your sins are gone. It means that your evil deeds are washed away by the love of God. Yes there is often an obligation to do some act because of your sins but such acts are to improve one spiritually not to balance the scales. And while there is a Purgatory open for cleansing of the soul, there are no extra life times in Christianity, at least in most of the varients I'm familiar with.
Is this an important difference? Yes. Because it determines whether you value yourself based on your actions or based on your soul, it determines whether you try to make up for past deeds or simply try to live well in the future. It also makes a difference in focus between focusing on how you treat the external world instead of focusing on how you treat your soul. I'm not necessarily saying that Buddhists/Hindus are bad and although I think they are wrong they have a right to their views and honestly their views are pretty well developed and well thought through. Of the different belief systems out there Buddhism and Hinduism are pretty good ones, at least most variants are. All religions tend to have some bad variants out there and some bad, sometimes horrificly bad interpretations.
There is also another element to the karma versus forgiveness debate. This is more in the case in Buddhism and some less formalized religious beliefs than in Hinduism, but even Hinduism has it to some degree, especially in some sects, but karma does not require a deity to make it work. It can function in a purely mechanical universe. A certain mixture of good and bad deeds cause this or that to happen. On the other hand, divine forgiveness usually requires someone to forgive, and thus requires a God or gods. Of course, you can forgive yourself and leave it at that as well, but if you feel that good and bad have to do with something greater than humanity, you're probably going to need something greater than humanity to forgive. Of course, there are other reasons for belief in a higher spiritual power, but I won't get too much into that now.
My point is that there is a fundemental difference between karma and forgiveness as a means to dealing with sins and bad deeds. That difference guides our lives and because of that we should understand that difference. I think forgiveness is the superior school of thought and that's why I believe in it, but even if you believe in karma you must understand in what karma means. Of course, then again, people themselves often mix and match religious concepts, even ones so different as karma and forgiveness (even though sometimes their mixes don't quite make sense, but sometimes they create some pretty fancy systems of belief), but then you're creating a third way, which is neither one or the other. Yes, Virginia, there is a difference between religions, and you should understand where you stand, because where you stand should be how you understand your morality, which should be how you deal with your life.

That's enough for now. So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

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