Buddhist Books Blog

Readings and writings on Buddhism, yoga, and contemplative science

Doublethink As the Door to Christian-Buddhism (Part 12 of a 13-Part Series)

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….  To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies… (George Orwell, 1984, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949, pp. 176-7). 

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it… (Ibid, p. 32). 

No, this is not a psychological profile of the younger George Bush; these are the sins of the true believer, the ideologue for whom faith is reality. 

Nobody has described the ideological mind better than George Orwell, and the above applies equally well to religious beliefs as political.  Consider how many assumptions underlying Christianity are directly contradicted by those in Buddhism; the Christian-Buddhist must either embrace all the essential tenets of both religions—resulting in cognitive dissonance and doublethink—or arbitrarily reject multiple beliefs of one or the other, to the point where their understanding of Buddhism and/or Christianity loses touch with reality and they devolve into terminal cases of intellectual dishonesty.  The following table offers examples of the Christian-Buddhist conundrum: 

Christian Article of Faith

Buddhist Response

There is only one God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8; John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:5-6; Galatians 4:8-9). The worldview of the Buddha and his contemporaries was polytheistic.  The most powerful god (Brahma) is even mocked when he believes he is the “only,” the “highest,” the “first.”  See the Kevaddha Sutta (D.11:80ff).
God is omniscient or “knows all things” (Acts 15:18; 1 John 3:20). In M.71:5 the Buddha denies his own omniscience, and says at M.90:8 that simultaneous knowing and seeing of everything is impossible.
God is omnipotent or “all powerful” (Psalm 115:3; Revelation 19:6). If God exists and is conscious he is subject to the moral law of karma; ipso facto he is not “all powerful.”  Also, I have written extensively on the moral conundrum that arises with this claim; an all-powerful and all-knowing God cannot, by definition, be good.  See here.
God is immutable. He does not change (James 1:17; Malachi 3:6; Isaiah 46:9-10). Sabbe sankhara anicca (Dh. 277).  “All formations are impermanent.”  In other words, all things that are supported by (sankhata) or support (sankhara) something else are impermanent.  God, as an agent in the world, cannot escape this law.  Its abrogation for the sake of God is a classic case of Christian-Buddhist doublethink.  The doublethink charge applies to mainstream Christians as well: God is sometimes angry, sometimes loving, sometimes jealous, does this and then that—in other words, gives every sign of being subject to shifting moods and thoughts.  What, pray tell, is immutable or changeless about that?
Jesus was sinless (1 Peter 2:22; Hebrews 4:15). (1) The only way this could be true was if he was an arhant, but the Gospel displays no knowledge of dependent arising, the insight knowledges, nibbana, or the Path stages.  (2) Jesus claimed to be the God of the Old Testament, whose behavior makes the randy and quarrelsome Olympian gods look like a bunch of saints.  (3) As it stands this statement is nothing more than a gratuitous assertion of faith, especially when you consider we only have a three or four year record of his thirty-three year life.  Asserting, for example, that he didn’t jerk off as a teenager is to indulge in a religious fantasy.
Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1, 14, 10:30-33, 20:28; Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 1:8). Was Jesus then Brahma?  Or perhaps Sakka?  The statement is not only meaningless in the Buddhist context, but in fact lowers Jesus since devas (the gods) were in general less advanced than human arhants, not to mention the Buddha.
Jesus is the only way to God the Father (John 14:6; Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22). The Buddha also taught the path to Brahma, the mightiest of the heavenly deities (D.13:40ff), but described it as a lesser goal.  Cf. M.97:38 where the Buddha actually scolds Sariputta for having taught the brahmin Dhananjani only the path to the Brahma world when he could have done more (i.e. could have led him to nibbana).  The “only way” to get there is the Eightfold Path (M.11:2).
Those who accept Jesus Christ, after they die, will live for eternity with Him (John 11:25, 26; 2 Corinthians 5:6). Two problems here: (1) the notion that a belief (ditthi) by itself can purify one is a view given up upon attainment of first path—sotapatti, and (2) again, the notion of some permanent state of existence (in this case heaven), directly contradicts the universal characteristic of anicca.
Those who reject Jesus Christ, after they die, will go to hell forever (Revelation 20:11-15, 21:8). Ditto above
Hell is eternal (Matthew 25:46). Ditto above

These examples could easily be multiplied many times over. 

The point I want to drive home is that to simultaneously give assent to Christian tenets and Buddhist ways of thinking is to dabble in doublethink.  It is an act of self-deception maintained either through insufficient understanding of the traditions or through their selective and idiosyncratic reinterpretation.  In both cases the self-deception is an effort to avoid cognitive dissonance, for a full and clear-eyed embrace of either tradition would render the other unpalatable or incoherent.  Needless to say, a person who maintains contradictory beliefs in this way is always hiding not only from the facts, but from himself.  The stress endured on this account can be considerable, and when people finally confront the lies they’ve been telling themselves (or have been told by others), a psycho-spiritual crisis is the usual result.  (I went through something very much like this at age 18, and know others who have experienced the same, so I’m not speaking from theory.)  Sometimes the crisis results in a breakthrough to greater depth and understanding, sometimes it results in a further flight to fantasy.  Read Leon Festinger’s classic work on cognitive dissonance, When Prophecy Fails, for a case study of the latter.  

The correct and healthy resolution to this situation is not usually the accumulation of more facts (though that can help, and did in my case) or even the exercise of logic and reason—which are typically hijacked to support the pre-existing belief system—but the development of a kind of meta-cognition, the ability to step out of oneself, to view one’s thought processes objectively and in a disinterested fashion.  Many otherwise average people—commonly known as “born skeptics”—possess this ability while even very intelligent and successful people do not; it is not a skill predicated on intellectual “processing power.”  Interestingly, it is precisely this nascent self-skepticism cum self-awareness that the Buddha enjoined his disciples to cultivate—in conjunction, of course, with a desire to test and find out for themselves.  The Dhamma, in fact, is the only major philosophy in history the very goal of which is to supersede and dispense with itself: 

In the same way, monks, I have taught the Dhamma compared to a raft, for the purpose of crossing over, not for the purpose of holding onto. Understanding the Dhamma as compared to a raft, you should let go even of Dhammas, to say nothing of non-Dhammas (M.22:13).


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