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Humanist's Guide to Religion: Judaism and Buddhism
Humanism and Religion
The purpose of this series is to develop a reference guide for how the various religions of the world rank against humanist values. Humanism for this purpose is a secular worldview that values human happiness, knowledge and physical wellbeing, exclusively in this life and this world. We will analyze religions according to their effect on three areas: the body (safety), the mind (knowledge, rationality), and the world (material goods).
The analysis uses as much quantification as possible. Each of the religions, cults and faith communities will be considered on the following criteria:
- Safety: deaths and violence caused for religious reasons; weighted as 50% of the total score
- Rigidity: openness to and support for rational inquiry, skepticism and doubt, including natural science and its findings; weighted as 30%
- Material wealth: income and GDP per capita; weighted as 20%
In this hub, we look at Buddhism and Judaism. For further details on the methodology, please see the first entry in the series, Humanist's Guide to Christianity.
BUDDHISM: Total Score=41%
- The Sri Lankan Civil War killed tens of thousands of non-Buddhists. Although the war was primarily ethnic and ideological in nature, it did carry an important religious undercurrent, marked by fanatical Buddhism. It is therefore justified to estimate at least 1,000 people were killed by Buddhists for religious reasons between 1990 and 2010. This results in an automatic weight of zero percent.
- The average Social Hostility Index (SHI) for countries where Buddhism is the majority: 25%
- Score: 30%
- Among American Buddhists:
- 74% of American Buddhists have completed at least some college.
- Absolutely certain God (or universal spirit) exists: 39%
- Seldom or never pray: 31%
- Holy text is written by men, not God: 67%
- Homosexuality should be accepted by society: 82%
- Buddhism places strong emphasis on the Buddha as the one who essentially discovered all the answers that everybody should accept. Doctrinally, there is little room for doubt, and notable authority is vested in priests, monks and other officials. Nevertheless, there are several dominant strains of Buddhist thought, accommodating some flexibility. Extra factor: 50%
- Score: 67%
- 56% of American Buddhists earn at least $50,000
- The average GDP per capita among countries where Buddhism is the majority religion: $14,300 which is 14.3% of $100,000
- Score: 31%
Note: The following countries are the ones with an at least nominal Buddhist majority: Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Bhutan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong.
JUDAISM: Total Score=66%
- Following are Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians (including settlers). Although not all caused for religious reasons, it is safe to assume so for the sake of calculations, because these statistics do not include dozens other Palestinian deaths that were very likely religiously-based (by soldiers, either official or unofficial).
- 1990-2000: About 83 Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians.
- 2000-2010: About 48 Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians.
- The SHI for Israel, the only country where Jews are a majority, is 50%, which is quite high
- Score: 72%
- Among American Jews:
- 78% of American Jews have completed at least some college education
- Absolutely certain God exists: 41%
- Seldom or never pray: 44%
- Holy text is written by men, not God: 53%
- Homosexuality should be accepted by society: 79%
- Modern Judaism encompasses a variety of conservative and liberal strains, decreasing rigidity. Adherents of Judaism figure prominently in many secular fields such as theater, entertainment, science, business and academia. Nevertheless, Judaism is characterized by a particularly heavy reliance on ancient texts, legal codes and practices, such as male circumcision. These contribute to rigidity. Extra factor: 40%
- Score: 68%
- 75% of American Jews earn $50,000 or more.
- The GDP per capita of Israel is $28,600, which is 29% of $100,000
- Score: 47%
*Note: It could be argued that the state of Israel would not exist without the religion of Judaism and its belief in the "promised land" for the Jews. Therefore almost all deaths caused by Israel are, essentially, religiously-inspired. This is not, however, the assumption being made here.
Buddhism appears as a somewhat humanist religion, but not as humanist as Christianity. Judaism, meanwhile, is the most humanist religion of all those considered in this survey.
Buddhism is dragged down by the Sri Lankan Civil War (which was laced with religious bigotry), as well as the poverty of many of the countries where it is dominant. On openness to skepticism and reason, however, Buddhism is one of the highest-ranking faith communities.
Judaism, the most humanistic major religion, still only comes two-thirds of the way toward full humanism. It enjoys superior scores on security and openness to reason/ skepticism, and scores fairly highly on material wealth, which is largely influenced by the GDP per capita of Israel. The importance of religious violence cannot be overstated from a humanist perspective: if there had been only a few religious killings, or a negligible amount, in the name of Judaism, instead of the roughly 130 accounted for here, then Judaism's final score would be around 75% or 77%, a significant ten points higher.