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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Non-Theism, Buddhism and God.

Nontheism (a.k.a. non-theism) is defined as the Oxford English Dictionary as: "... not having or involving a belief in God, especially as a being who reveals himself to humanity." The author Pema Chödrön, when writing about Buddhism, states:

"The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God. ... Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there's some hand to hold. ... Non-theism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. ... Nontheism is finally realizing there is no babysitter you can count on."
James: I am of the belief that any sense of a "god" is merely an impersonal force that is made up of all things living and not living, which makes up what we define as the "Universe" experiencing itself in myriad and changing forms. Buddha reportedly said that the Universe is, "So large that is has no exterior, and so small that it has no interior."

I personally believe that sometimes a belief in a Creator God can be more of a hindrance and impediment than not. This is because the belief in this "God" often becomes the center of a person's life instead of the center being life itself. It means another attachment, which leads to obsession that says that one's life is basically meaningless without someone to give you purpose. This kind of obsession and subservience can lead some believers into living their life in a constant state of fear, guilt, shame, anger and resentment. Buddhists experience the same emotions but don't see it as punishment of who they are but rather a choice, which leads to a logical effect.

It means that you're in a constant state of worry because life doesn't just unfold as it will but instead is dependent upon the confusing whims and actions of this "God." It gives one a feeling that we have control over our lives but when our prayers don't work (because there is no "God" in my view) then we assume that we must be bad people for that can be the only reason that "God" would not answer our prayers. In Buddhism as there is no "God" or "Satan" then suffering and happiness just happen as a natural state of cause and effect. There is no mystery anymore and no fear as to why bad things happen to good people except to say that such is this existence.

---End of Transmission---

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Uku said...

Good post, James.

I agree with your ideas. Sun is shining when it's storming. The importance of daily practice.

Take care, Dharmabro,

Douglas Dobbins said...

Hey James. I agree with many of your observations and conclusions regarding some theists. I would, however, disagree that the Christian God is an impersonal force. Jesus is our God. He is a person, and, moreover, a human.

That is not my fundamental concern with your post. Foremost, I would say that some Buddhists and some Christians live lives of happiness and others, in both camps, live lives of unhappiness. Some live lives of worry, others live lives without worry. The question, in my view, is not whether or not some belief system helps someone have a better day. Rather, the ultimate question is which one is true. Did Jesus rise from the dead? I believe so; if I didn't, there would be little reason to remain a Christian. For me, being a Christian is not about having a worldview which helps feel a desired way. Rather, being a Christian is about the crucified and resurrected Messiah, who's nail pierced hand could be tangibly held, and how this man loved me and gave himself for my sins - my actual sins. Knowing Jesus, Israel's true King, and the Universe's only Lord. This is Christianity. And it all comes down, not to existential experience - whether that experience be theistic or non-theistic, but it comes down, in the end, to whether or not three days after Jesus was crucified, did He rise from the dead in his physical body.

Thanks James. I'm feeling a bit fond of Christ at the moment, and it is coming out! I didn't mean to ramble. Thanks for your post; as always, quite thought provoking. Peace.

Anonymous said...

The difference between believing that a God will reward virtuous actions and performing vituous actions for virtue's sake (or one's own sake) is significant.

I try to do good and conform to society's (and my own) ethical standards for many reasons but never out of obedience to some supernatural policeman referred to as God.

James, you mentioned your idea of God being an impersonal force (I too follow this line of thought).
I believe you'll quite enjoy this blog:


- Haiku

They call him James Ure said...


Thank-you. Yeah none of us are perfect so we just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I wanted to go into non-theism a bit and explain why I don't believe in the traditional Judeo-Christian "God."

As well as explain why I think that such a belief is often (of course not always) a recipe for suffering and division.


Yeah I understand Christianity pretty well myself. I was one for 20 some years and it just seems completely implausable to me. And believe me I studied every scripture and verse.

However, I do understand your excitement. While I don't believe in Jesus or the Christian God I'm just as happy with Buddhism as you are with Christianity. I'm glad that you found a belief system that works for you. :)


Thanks for recommending that blog. I'll check it out. Yeah I just don't think a person need believe in a supernatural being in order to be a good person.

Anonymous said...


Yep. It's a wonderful blog by a guy called Gurudev. His main interest is the Hindu vedas, but since they're related to Buddhism I think you may like it. He explains "God" as an impersonal force as opposed to a personal, "thinking" god.

By the way, I meant to sign my name Haikool, not Haiku. I told you I had misgivings about that name... I can't even get it right! I'm also having a hard time signing in, so I'll stay anonymous. Or just call me Dan.

simmie said...

"Nontheism is finally realizing there is no babysitter you can count on." I'm not sure I agree with this comment. I don't think all theists see God as a 'babysitter'. Some people surely see God that way, but certainly, it is possible to have an idea of 'God' which is not a babysitter. And, I think this statement tends to underestimate the importance of the assistance of others in Buddhism. In Theravada, there is reliance on (taking refuge in) the Buddha; in Mahayana, there is reliance on the Bodhisattvas; in Vajrayana, there is reliance on the guru/lama. If the Buddhas, Boddhisattvas and Lamas are not babysitters, why should we presume God must be?

Personally, I think "God" (as Christians mean it) is a Western concept, which is alien to the world of traditional Buddhism, and so Buddhism has only recently seriously grappled with. I think, if you look for the Christian idea of God in Buddhism, it isn't there, and it just doesn't fit in either. But, if we understand the Christian idea as performing multiple roles and incorporating multiple ideas, then maybe we can find the same elements expressed in Buddhism, albeit differently expressed, and spread out across multiple concepts rather than unified in a single one. And when we see the variety of different ideas of "God" (theist, deist, pantheist, etc.), maybe whether God is in Buddhism depends on how we choose to define the word "God".

Peace, simmie

Tom said...


Excellent issue. Excellent post and comment thread.

I have to be with Chödrön that "babysitting" is a fair metaphor. The Christians I am living among these days very much do use God/Jesus to comfort them, and I have to believe it is an egoic delusion -- an invisible friend, really a subpersonality created on-the-spot, to tell them what they want to hear OR that tells them what can't easily tell themself.

I, too, think that this anthropomorphic God is a hindrance. Once a Christian buys into the "all you need do is believe" idea, that becomes the dead end of one's spiritual quest. [btw, this despite the vital call to Love in 1st Corinthians 13 and to do good deeds in James 2 and to improve your heart in the Book of Matthew.]

They call him James Ure said...


Yeah I agree that it can be a crutch to avoid reality. However I also agree that there are some good teachings in the Christian scriptures. And that not all Christians use the concept of a Creator God as a crutch.

They call him James Ure said...


I agree that not all Christians see it that way. However, the difference between relying upon teachers in Buddhism is that the teachers discourage attaching to them.

Whereas most Christianity encourages attachment to their "god."

Joyadip (Dhammadipa) said...

Interesting post james,

I was born in a Buddhist famili, but grew up very much among Muslim friends and society and went to a christian school. Just like my parents I too believed of the Buddha a God, who would grant us anything if we pray to him. But after coming to Sri lanka and learning and reading more on buddhism, I know that How Wrong was I. "Every man is for himself", I thing it is right. It is us who can help ourselves, not God.

Thanks for this post.

Joyadip (Dhammmadipa)

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