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Heathen's Progress

Can a religion survive being stripped of superstition?

There is no escaping the fact that Buddhism is, as the philosopher Owen Flanagan put it, full of “superstitious nonsense” and “hocus pocus”. Yet Flanagan has written a brilliant book in which he asks the question of what we have left if Buddhism is stripped of its supernatural elements, “naturalised, tamed, and made compatible with a philosophy that is empirically responsible, and that does not embrace the low epistemic standards that permit all manner of superstition and nonsense, sometimes moral evil as well, in the name of tolerance”. This would not be “authentic” Buddhism, and Flanagan says he doesn’t much care if we don’t call it Buddhism at all. But it could it be a coherent life-view nonetheless? Flanagan’s slightly tentative conclusion is that it can.

Latest in the Guardian Comment is Free Belief series

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