Science and religion have often been at odds. But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts.
The surprise my colleagues and I felt when we saw evidence of religion’s benefits was a sign of our hubris, born of a common notion among scientists: All of religion is superstition and, therefore, could have little practical benefit. I’ll admit that we’re unlikely to learn much about the nature of the universe or the biology of disease from religion. But when it comes to finding ways to help people deal with issues surrounding birth and death, morality and meaning, grief and loss, it would be strange if thousands of years of religious thought didn’t have something to offer.
In any case, the idea that Buddhism is necessarily a pacifist religion is to a great extent a Western fantasy. Much of the genealogy is rooted in Schopenhauer’s interpretations. Though Schopenhauer’s interpretations are as good as anyone’s, they tend to cast Indian religion generally in ethereal mystical terms at strong variance with how they manifest in cultures where they have been ascendant.
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