A Shallow, Self-Serving Comparison Between Christianity and Buddhism

Being a good Buddhist is just as hard as being a good Christian. You have to love/feel compassion for Donald Trump (or Barack Obama if you’re a Republican) and dedicate your life to dismantling your ego.

By the same token, being a bad Buddhist is just as easy as being a bad Christian; except in Buddhism no crucifixion, no propitiation, in fact, no god can save you from yourself.

The good news is that there’s no smiting in Buddhism, no flagellation.

After death, good Protestants enjoy the luxury of carte blanche expiation – complete and utter forgiveness –a get-out-of-hell-free card redeemable at the very last breath.[1] No matter the depth of depravity, no matter the severity of the sins committed, whether it is talking about your spouse behind her back, cheating on her, or even murdering and dismembering her, one size of forgiveness fits all as long as you accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior.

Then you get to spend the rest of eternity in bliss.

In Buddhism, on the other hand, what you get after death is reincarnation, which in the First World means the messy trauma of childbirth followed by the scrapping of knees, getting bullied/turned down for dates, the prelude to ultimately getting your increasingly not-so-tender heart-broken. So you drop out of college, say, find a job working 40+ hours a week in low-level management. You get married, commit adultery or get cheated on yourself, file for divorce, and suffer the subsequent finger wagging of offspring criticizing you for your blatant hypocrisy.

All the while, you’re undergoing the disheartening recession of your hairline or the accumulation of cellulite on the back of your dented thighs.

If you’re really unlucky and live too long of a life, you end up getting warehoused in some Kafkaesque facility with sadistic healthcare workers until it’s time to die alone in a sterile cubicle stinking of chemicals.

Then you get reincarnated and suffer all of it over again.

Of course, I don’t believe in reincarnation except in the sense that the matter that once constituted your body’s going to get recycled. Otherwise, my reckoning is that when you’re dead, you’re oblivious, i.e., no longer sentient, which, given the above four paragraphs, is fine and dandy by me.

One big advantage a believing Christian has over the Buddhist is the comforting idea of an astral parent who, despite his mysterious ways, supposedly loves you unconditionally (until you’re judged at the End Times and are perhaps cast into sulfurous perdition everlasting). Christians can communicate with God, ask for his guidance. During my wife’s three-years of terminal cancer, I thought more than once how nice it would be to be blessed with faith, but as far as I can tell, you either have it or not, and I don’t, nor did she, a woman whose stoicism might make Marcus Aurelius turn green with envy.

Buddhism does offer, however, a set of mental exercises designed to help you, not only to cope, but also enjoy the time you have by being cognizant of the wonder of it all. Buddhism reminds us that we’re riding on a swirling pebble revolving around a fleck of fire hurtling through a vacuum, but also teaches us how to calmly appreciate the painted bunting bathing in that birdbath on the edge of the marsh, an experience ultimately more meaningful than playing Grand Theft Auto or binge watching Season 2 of The Walking Dead.

Of course, Christians can co-opt these Buddhist exercises and meditate, and that would, it seems to me, to constitute the best of both worlds for those who possess the power to believe.

Although I’m a slackass Buddhist, meditation has helped me to cope calmly with the bad and appreciate the good. When I was young, I was jittery, as if Mexican jumping beans instead of blood pulsed through my veins. I was angry at the world in general and at that asshole talking too loud in line in particular. Now, I’m calmer, essentially anger free, and can stand or sit still. Sometimes I’m even able to free my consciousness from the spinning hamster wheel of daily concerns that tend to consume way too much of my fleeting existence.

If you haven’t tried meditating, you ought to.

[1] I’m not sure if US Catholics still believe in Purgatory, but there you do have to suffer for your misdeeds, “confined to fast in fires” until “the foul crimes done” in your life “are burnt and purged away.”

Whispers of Schadenfreude, Mike Pence Edition


As the self-proclaimed Jimmy Swaggart of Buddhism, I openly admit where I fall short of the ideal established by the Enlightened One, and certainly the cultivation of compassion is an area in which I fall way —make that — abysmally short.

I do sincerely wish that through meditation I could relax the tight little angry fist of my heart and show some empathy for those I dislike when they stumble, rather than luxuriating in a warm, soothing, spiteful bath of schadenfreude.

For example, rather than empathizing with Governor Mike Pence of Indiana as he made a gargantuan ass out of himself on national television, I smirked derisively, enjoying every drop of perspiration forming on his quivering upper lip as if they were karmic pearls bestowed upon me by a benevolent universe. Certainly, I’m no stranger to making a complete ass out of myself, though, of course, I haven’t had the opportunity as yet to elevate my asshoodness to a level worthy of the adjective gargantuan, never having been interviewed by a local broadcast reporter much less by George Stephanopoulous. However, given the chance, I think I’m capable of it.

And certainly, Pence is worthy of compassion if we consider wretches worthy of compassion. I suspect that Pence hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep since deep into last week. Perhaps his problem lay in his admittedly not-exactly-heroic condition of not being able to lie well extemporaneously.  In case you’re just now emerging from a coma, Pence refused to answer Stephanopolous’s yes-or-no question as to whether under Pence’s new Indiana Restoration of Religious Freedom Act, a florist (i.e., a business) could refuse to provide flowers for the wedding of a gay couple. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch an edited version here:

A more practiced liar would have hissed, “Of course, not,” but then again, I suspect that the bill’s raisin de etre is to have “the base” at least think fundamentalists can refuse to cater or provide flowers to gay weddings, coming as it does right after the SCOTUS nixed Indiana’s ban on gay marriage. So rather than telling a lie, he ineffectually tried to dodge the question, transforming himself from a possible presidential candidate to an international laughing stock, the plump bourgeoise target of many a comedian’s acid-laced arrows.

(Not to worry, he made up for his refusal to lie by providing a tractor trailer load in subsequent days)

And, of course, Indiana’s super-majority Republican government would have gotten away with it, as my native South Carolina did with its law, if it had not been for certain segments of corporate America, including NASCAR, deriding the law as bad for business, which just goes to show, as Bob Dylan pointed out lo so many years ago, “Money doesn’t talk; it screams.”

Well, perhaps this confession is a first, halting step from my detour from the golden 8th-fold path, or maybe not. I hear Pence made Letterman’s Top 10 list. Maybe I’ll check that out instead.