A Missionary’s Perspective-Animism and Buddhism
On a recent trip to the States I had the opportunity to teach about how Animism and Buddhism have influenced Mongolian culture. Mongolia, my home for the last six years, is a culture founded upon the ideas prevalent in Animism and Buddhism. This makes perceptions and communications in Mongolia very different from communications and perceptions in the West.
The Americans I speak with are fascinated by discussions about Mongolia and its Buddhist foundations. It comes as a great surprise for many to learn, through practical illustrations, how Animism and Buddhism have crafted the basic value system of Mongolians. In all of my talks I present the two most important differences between Buddhism and Christianity—suffering and love.
Buddhism fears suffering, Christianity redeems [through] suffering.
The whole idea of suffering, desire, and detachment in Buddhism has had an effect on Buddhist societies that most Buddhists themselves do not recognize. Buddhism not only fears suffering, but actually contributes to suffering. By emphasizing detachment and the elimination of personal desire, Buddhism puts an unnatural barrier on relationships that stifles the fullest possible expressions of mercy and sacrificial love.
Certainly there is love in Buddhism, but not the kind of love that we see in the demonstration of Jesus Christ on the cross. That is Buddhism’s greatest tragedy. It is from the Scriptures that we understand the fullest possible expression of love cannot be experienced without suffering and sacrifice. Buddhism fails to understand this, and thus it is a system that has an outward expression of love that is void of a truly impassioned heart.
- Buddhism has love without passion,
- Christianity loves passionately.
Nothing expresses love in the way that Jesus’ sacrifice for us does. Buddhism denies this truth. Buddhists must work for their version of “salvation”—non-existence! Buddhism is a philosophy where the living hope for an eternal death. But Christianity presents the spiritually dead with the hope of a joy-filled, conscious eternity.
There are no mediators in Buddhism to stand in for the sake of a person’s eternal destiny. But Christians have the joyful advantage of having salvation freely provided by a God who took their punishment in their place. Buddhism and Islam leave man alone to his own fate. Compare this to Christ who suffered our fate on our behalf, and gave us his fate (eternal life) as our own. Buddhism’s fears cannot compare to this expression of love in Jesus Christ.
In II Corinthians 5:18 the Apostle Paul said God “reconciled us to himself through Christ.” In American terms we think of the word “reconcile” as a coming together of people from opposite sides, or perhaps even enemies, to join them together. Mongolians also have the same view. We both think of reconciliation in terms of wiping away differences and making friends of people who are at odds. But the Greek word “reconcile” in this passage has nothing to do with this very modern concept.
“Reconcile” in the above passage was a purely financial term used by accountants in the ancient world to describe “an exchange of equal value.” This means that God was not simply trying to make peace with us through Christ by getting us to come to an agreement through compromise. God does not compromise with man! Rather, we can understand II Corinthians 5:18 like this:
“In Christ, God exchanged himself for us as if we were of equal value to him.“
There is nothing in Animism or Buddhism that begins to compare to this concept. The One, Holy, All-Powerful, Supreme Creator of the Universe exchanged himself for us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as if we were of equal value to the One. Holy, All-Powerful Supreme Creator of the Universe. No passionless expression in Buddhism can approach or match the full-on, no holds barred, fully-attached, completely committed expression of love found in the person of the Lord Jesus. Neither does Animism have anything that can compare to Christ. The expression of God’s love in Jesus Christ is unmatched anywhere, everywhere, and forever.
It is this message that is transforming lives in Mongolia at a rate 8 times faster than the so-called “Buddhist revival” the nation is experiencing. As one former Mongolian Buddhist said to me about why he finally rejected the futility of Buddhism in favor of Christ, “In Buddhism there is no love.”
Comparatively speaking, he is correct.