XIII. Diversity and Generalization

It follows that, at many points, generalization concerning religion is not easy: whilst a phenomenon, readily designated as “religion” is recognized, what has to be admitted is the considerable diversity, on many issues, among the numerous specimens within the genus. Westerners concerned with religion are not uncommonly victims of (often unconscious) prejudices derived from the Christian tradition, but once such prejudices are set aside, it becomes evident that many of the concrete items which, on the basis of the Christian model, might be supposed to be sine qua non of religion, are, in fact, not to be found in other systems. Thus, in the foregoing inventory, allusion to a supreme being is avoided, since for Theravada Buddhists (and for many Mahayana Buddhists) that concept has no validity. Worship, which is referred to above, has very different implications for Buddhists from those assumed by Christians, and even within Christianity there is wide diversity of apprehensions about worship among such different denominations as Catholics, Calvinists, Christian Scientists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The inventory makes no reference specifically to creeds, which have been of peculiar importance in the history of Christianity, but of much less importance in many other religions, where orthopraxis had often been of greater moment than orthodoxy. There is no mention of the soul, central as is that item in orthodox Christianity, because that concept is of somewhat dubious applicability in Judaism, and has been explicitly denied by some Christian dissenting bodies (e.g. by Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, each of which has now millions of adherents throughout the world, and by Christadelphians and those Puritans, including John Milton, who were known as “mortalists” i.e. as believers who denied the existence of an immortal soul). Nor does the inventory mention hell, since this is another item missing in Judaism. The abstract concept of afterlife is alluded to in both the singular and the plural as a way of accommodating the two variant conceptions within Christianity, namely of transmigration of the soul, and of resurrection of the body, as well as the somewhat different accounts of reincarnation in Buddhism and Hinduism. Thus, the inventory seeks both to indicate items at a high level of abstraction but also to be practical in facilitating the identification of concerns typically characteristic of what is comprised by a religion.

XIV. Diversity among Religions: Buddhism