Has Modern Theravada become rebirth denial, i.e., secular buddhism? I see posts from members at DW who deny the rebirth teachings of the Buddha. I know EBT monks like Sujato and Brahmali accept (literal) rebirth, as do most monastics, but among the lay people it appears secular buddhism in increasing in popularity. Or is it just that these members post frequently and give the appearance that it is increasing in popularity?
So just for fun, I borrowed Elon Musk’s meme (his was on politics) to adapt to my position possibly changing due to this shift in the goalposts.
I think there probably have been some real changes. The meme is actually an excellent analogy. Similar to how political views change over time (the original meme), the same goes with religion. And just like liberalism, which is more dynamic in its values than the more static conservatism, modern theravada is more susceptible to changes than classical theravada.
Modern Theravada is based on this notion that what is preserved in Theravada contains a lot of inaccuracies, and that modern scholars must weed out the added superstition to get to “early Buddhism”. However, what is “additional stuff” is very subjective, and most people insert thier own modern values/beliefs into the equation when deciding whats an addition or not.
An example of this. The 8 Garudhammas are found in basically every version of the texts, so it meets the EBT criteria as probably legit. Yet modern scholars largely reject it, mostly because it contradicts thier own confirmation biases about womens equality that we have in the modern world. However, if scholars looked at it 200 years ago, or even 100 years ago, when women just barely got the right to vote. Everyone would look at it and be like, oh yeah, that makes sense given the time and place the Buddha was living in.
Because modern Theravada is based on rejecting certain texts/beliefs based on subjective criteria, what is rejected will change along with people’s ever changing beliefs and values. As the world came to value gender equality more, the seemingly sexist remarks made by the Buddha were rejected as fake even tho they made perfect sense given his time period. In the same way, as the world becomes more scientifically oriented and secular, its inevitable modern theravadins will move toward rejecting things that dont align with thier pre-existing beliefs like devas and rebirth.
TBH, with the rise of anti-caste discrimination laws in the West. I wouldnt be shocked of modern Theravadins eventually start anachronistically rejecting texts about the Buddha saying the warrior caste is higher than the brahmin caste or pali blessings that say stuff like “may you be reborn into a high caste” or ideas that caste is the result of karma, rather than simply accepting that the values/beliefs of 2040 AD America or whatever are not the ultimate value system of all of existence and that you have to contextualize the different values found in 500 BC rather than saying texts that dont align with your modern values are fake.