The Christian, whose inward eyes and ears are touched by God discerns the coming of Christ, hears the sound of his chariot wheels and the voice of his trumpet, when no other perceives them. He discerns the Savior’s advent in the dawning of a higher truth on the world, … in more enlightened and intense consecration of the Christian to the cause of humanity, freedom, and religion. — William Ellery Channing, Works

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Review: The Dalai Lama’s “Beyond Religion”

Author/Title: The Dalai Lama. Beyond Religion.
Format: Audio (Unabridged)
Rating (of 5): 2.7

Honestly, I think the idea behind the book has some merit: reach out to those folks to whom the very notion of religion is a turnoff and begin talking to them about behaving ethically and considering “deeper” matters when going about the world around them. The problem though is that groundless ethics are, well, groundless. I personally floundered for quite some time with the idea that morals were relative to the culture around me. To be honest, I still have problems with it — especially in the workplace and especially when I am in California. For all its good intentions, California seems to have decided not so much that “anything goes”, but that all pressure is wrong. This feels the same way to me. It’s fine to urge everyone to behave in the right way, but I think you have to give them a reason why that is the right thing. Ethics, which can certainly provide a roadmap towards better treatment of the world and those within it, can be tricked quite well when there is no base structure behind it. As Kant pointed out in his own struggles, even something as simple as “keep your promises” can be fraught with difficulties in the wrong situations.

So, I’m going to say: if you’re already a moral relativist, you will like this book, but it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. If you’re spiritual in any way, you will feel that the Dalai Lama has gone far out on a limb to extend an olive branch to a world who, let’s face it, has had ample opportunity to take it already. I don’t think this really gets us closer to having even more relativists on board.

If read for the nicety of what things could be like if folks were “ethical”, it paints a great picture though and so has value in the “what could be” even if the road to getting there has some seriously soft shoulders.

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