Recently, a radio talk show host accused me (off the air) of credulity and stupidity for suggesting that the categories "eastern religions" and "western religions" are incoherent, and that these adjectives are better employed to describe directions, not ideas. He failed to ask what I meant, or why I think that way. But let me explain, anyway:
(1) All the main "western" religions arose in the "Middle East." (You can stop there, if you like.)
(2) What does Africa belong to, West or East? Why? If you don't know, is that because the world's second-most populous continent is not important?
(3) Most Christians today live OUTSIDE of Europe and North America.
(4) What do you mean by "east?" Just India? India and China? India and China and Tibet and Japan and Korea? All those, plus the thousands of tribes scattered around Asia? Plus the what, 700 million Muslims of Asia? Or do we leave those out, even though the founder of Islam was born in the "Middle East?" And do we leave Asia's hundreds of millions of Christians out, even though Christ was also born in the "Middle East," his birth heralded by astrologers from the same tribe that trekked the Silk Road with the Gospel 600 years later?
(5) What are the teachings of Confucius, Lao Zi, the Rig Veda, the Upanishads, Buddha, and Mozi supposed to have in common?
(6) If "Eastern Religion" means pantheism, why not say pantheism?
(7) Except that most Asians disbelieve in pantheism?
(8) And some Europeans have believed in it, all the way back to the ancient Greeks?
(9) Also reincarnation.
(10) The world has six continents. Australia and Asia (including Siberia) are in the East. Africa and Europe are in the middle. North and South America are in the West. So what, Australians and Siberians are half again as pantheistic as Africans, and twice as much as Indians in the Amazon rain forest? Who says?
(11) Or if these familiar terms are unrelated to geography, why use such terms?
(12) The assumption seems to be that Christianity and Islam are similar to one another. Are they? Granted, both say God created the world. But one tells us to follow (at least) the best person who ever lived. The other tells us the greatest prophet of God was a fellow who couldn't keep his hands off women, threatened them with hell if they talked back, assassinated his critics, raped, enslaved, started wars, and murdered those he suspected of imperfect loyalty en masse.
(13) Buddha, by contrast, at least preached compassion. (Whatever he meant by that.)
(14) Confucius, who also believed in God, also seemed to practice compassion. He was also looking for a savior, a lot like Jesus. What if I think he was more like Jesus, in a limited but important ways, than Mohammed was? Confucius lived way over near the eastern seashore of China, in a province called "East Mountain," or "East of the Mountain."
(15) Lao Zi, from the same neck of the woods, also hinted at something like forgiving one's enemies. I also see him as a theist. More "Eastern Religion?"
(16) Many tribes along the western shore of the Pacific Ocean, including the Polynesians, the Koreans, and the Chinese, had a strong and sometimes fairly personal notion of a Supreme God. So did many Australian and Southeast Asian tribes. Eastern religion, again?
(16) "I'm really into Eastern Religion" usually means, "I'm into pot-smoking, faux Native Americana, American and European and Indian gurus who know squat about real Asian religions but sound cool, and 60s like, radical stuff."
(17) Your typical Asian would look at your typical "I'm into Eastern Religion" hippy and say, "These westerners are so weird."