On the Faith of Secular Buddhists

Secular Buddhism, “like all ‘isms’…is at best a parody, at worst a constriction.” (Nick Land*)

I am working on a detailed critique of the Secular Buddhist movement in the West. The critique employs speculative non-buddhist theory. What it shows is that Secular Buddhism is beholden to the identical transcendental norm as the most flagrantly religious and conservatively orthodox forms of Buddhism.

In the meantime, I read Stephen Batchelor’s “A Secular Buddhist.” This short piece is being distributed in advance of a public discussion between Batchelor and Don Cupitt, a self-described “secular Christian,” at London Insight Meditation. (Link below.)

Here, I would like to offer a raw reader-response account of my reading of Batchelor’s statement. I know that his piece itself is too brief to base a broad criticism on. But there are two good reasons to attend closely to it. The first is that, according to the website, it represents Batchelor’s “outlining” of his vision “for a contemporary spirituality.” The second, and more important reason, is that it contains axiomatic features that are endemic to all writing on Secular Buddhism—whether in Batchelor’s numerous books or on the newly sprouting Secular Buddhist websites, blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. These features form the very foundation on which Secular Buddhism is currently building its house. I say that they are axiomatic because these features go unchallenged, indeed unquestioned, by Secular Buddhists of all stripes, including the secular-scientistic community around Jon Kabat-Zinn. These features, in short, constitute the faith at the heart of Secular Buddhism. It is a faith, moreover, that renders Secular Buddhism indistinguishable from every other system of religious belief. The grounding of an “ism” in faith is neither new nor interesting. It is, however, a serious—perhaps debilitating—weakness in one that claims to reach for the values encapsulated in the term “secular.” Continue reading “On the Faith of Secular Buddhists”