Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby shel » Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:26 am

mudra wrote:
shel wrote:
Luke wrote:Just like we wouldn't criticize a fat person for walking instead of running because this was the best he could do at the time and it's certainly better than doing nothing at all.

Although those of us who are more traditional in our Buddhist views might get irritated with someone who got stuck in the "Stephen Batchelor phase," I do agree that it's probably better than no Dharma at all.

I think you're missing the point, Luke. Eckhard Tolle, Deepak Chopra, the Secret, Chicken Soup for the Soul, etc etc, are not claiming to be Buddhist. The title of the book is Buddhism Without Beliefs.

Luke has already answered this, and I must concur with the sentiment Luke expresses above.

So I was thinking, how about we suggest to Stephen Batchelor that he just adds a question mark to his title?

Regardless of what Luke and yourself think no doubt many view Mr. Batchelor as a Buddhist and what he teaches as Buddhism. I'm sure it is appealing for many people. By endorsing what Batchelor teaches you are promoting "Buddhism without Beliefs" as true or valid Buddhist teaching.

I do agree that it's probably better than no Dharma at all.

False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism? I can think of a lot of beliefs that are worse than no Buddhism, like Nazism for instance. Seems like you guys don't really think what Batchelor teaches is significantly un-Buddhist.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Anders » Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:27 am

The main problem with Bachelor is the he presents his ideas as agnostic. When in fact they are not agnostic, but actively (and revisionally) reductionist.

Imo, Agnostisicism is completely a-oh-kay with Buddhism in these regards. But for it to be have been properly agnostic, Bachelor should have written the book "Buddhism with Tentative Beliefs" instead of "Buddhism without Beliefs".
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:41 am

Anders Honore wrote:The main problem with Bachelor is the he presents his ideas as agnostic. When in fact they are not agnostic, but actively (and revisionally) reductionist.

Imo, Agnostisicism is completely a-oh-kay with Buddhism in these regards. But for it to be have been properly agnostic, Bachelor should have written the book "Buddhism with Tentative Beliefs" instead of "Buddhism without Beliefs".


善哉,善哉! Well said!
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat Jun 12, 2010 5:41 am

Astus wrote: To answer your question specifically, I say it is best to learn vipassana meditation. Because through that one can learn to actually observe the meaning of the above teachings, and of course a lot more. By seeing for himself that the Buddha's teaching is true it is easy to accept even so called supernatural things too.


Interesting! That was my answer too.

If my friend was in the US, I'd probably point him/her in the direction of Insight Meditation Society or any of Joseph Goldstein's dharma talks. Goldstein, actually, is a great example because he followed exactly the path you describe -- he started off as a skeptic, saw for himself the truth of the teachings, and then was able to accept the full range of them.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby mudra » Sat Jun 12, 2010 6:15 am

Regardless of what Luke and yourself think no doubt many view Mr. Batchelor as a Buddhist and what he teaches as Buddhism. I'm sure it is appealing for many people. By endorsing what Batchelor teaches you are promoting "Buddhism without Beliefs" as true or valid Buddhist teaching.

I do agree that it's probably better than no Dharma at all.

False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism? I can think of a lot of beliefs that are worse than no Buddhism, like Nazism for instance. Seems like you guys don't really think what Batchelor teaches is significantly un-Buddhist.


Whoa Shel, calm down.

First of all, I think my position is very clear as to what I think being a Buddhist is, and so is Luke's. In fact in one of my very recent posts I do differentiate between being Buddhist and simply subscribing to some Buddhist ideas. In the quote above I am simply saying that what Stephen Batchelor has done is perhaps provide an opening to people. And yes I think some dharma is better than none, but I categorically did not endorse what he teaches as Buddhism. Also I made the crack that Mr Batchelor should add a question mark to his title, as in "BUDDHISM WITHOUT BELIEFS?"

Secondly, if someone gets some principles but not all, it isn't necessarily false dharma. It is a beginning. It becomes false dharma only at the point when one claims that partial amount is all that the Buddha taught, the rest (eg karma, rebirth, enlightenment) is not true, etc. This really doesn't have anything to do with Nazism... :thinking:

Peace...
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby shel » Sat Jun 12, 2010 7:38 am

mudra wrote:I categorically did not endorse what he teaches as Buddhism.

You would not recommend what Batchelor teaches as a "stepping stone" then?

Secondly, if someone gets some principles but not all, it isn't necessarily false dharma.

The book is not titled "A little Buddhism," it's called "Buddhism without Beliefs (Buddhist nihilism)."
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Luke » Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:37 am

shel wrote:False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism?

In some cases, yes. For example, if a man had been an angry person previously who had created a lot of suffering in the world, and then he became a Hindu and began meditating and pacifying his mind, became a vegetarian, and dedicated himself to nonviolence and to helping others, these are all positive steps which are in accord with Buddhist teachings. On the other hand, a Hindu would be stuck with other limiting concepts, such as an atman, the idea of Hindu deities being real in an absolute sense, and the caste system, which would prevent full realization.

shel wrote:I can think of a lot of beliefs that are worse than no Buddhism, like Nazism for instance.

Sure, some beliefs are worse than having no beliefs and some are better--What's your point?

You keep asking us the same questions and we keep giving the same answers. I think just about everything has been said already.

shel wrote:By endorsing what Batchelor teaches you are promoting "Buddhism without Beliefs" as true or valid Buddhist teaching.

Partial similarity does not imply total similarity. Both bears and dogs have two ears, fur, and four paws, but this doesn't make a dog a bear!
Last edited by Luke on Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:47 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Yogicfire » Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:44 am

Anders Honore wrote:The main problem with Bachelor is the he presents his ideas as agnostic. When in fact they are not agnostic, but actively (and revisionally) reductionist.

Imo, Agnostisicism is completely a-oh-kay with Buddhism in these regards. But for it to be have been properly agnostic, Bachelor should have written the book "Buddhism with Tentative Beliefs" instead of "Buddhism without Beliefs".


Well put. I am not sure about the phrase "tentative" beliefs, though. I think if I had a stab at the title it would be "Buddhism with Appropriate Beliefs".
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Yogicfire » Sat Jun 12, 2010 8:58 am

I enjoyed reading your post, Mudra. Some good points that make a lot of sense. Breaking it down:

But what puzzles me is why the insistence on being acknowledged as a full fledged Buddhist when you don't want to accept it in total? So why not take those elements and just create another thing and define it as such? Is it a question of Buddhism having good brand recognition?


Yes, but this is a classic traditionalist stance. Why are they thinking that way? Why are they doing that, and not doing this? This is the proper way to do things!! I don't have a lot of time for that kind of thinking personally. OK, if you have certain cults or outlandish behaviour going on under the name of Buddhism then we make a stand, and we make it clear that it is not acceptable. But, for someone who takes refuge, accepts all the Buddhist teachings, but happens to have certain "doubts" over things such as rebirth, then you don't turn them away, or refuse to believe that they are Buddhist. Too much for me, anyway!

Please let's not get lost in this "In Zen there is no need for concepts" rubbish because the very fact that there are terms like Zazen, Roshi, Koan, "here and now" etc points to concepts. They work with the concept that less is more.


You can feel relieved to know that I readily accept that zen does have concepts, rules, scriptures, and it is not all about sudden awakening, and living forever in the here and now!
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Luke » Sat Jun 12, 2010 9:07 am

Yogicfire wrote:Well put. I am not sure about the phrase "tentative" beliefs, though. I think if I had a stab at the title it would be "Buddhism with Appropriate Beliefs".

But the next question is "appropriate for what?" "Appropriate" so that one doesn't embarrass himself in front of his modern friends who have undergone decades of schooling in which they were indoctrinated in a Western, materialistic world-view? "Appropriate" enough that one doesn't stand out from the crowd in modern society?

If a person only pursues the small slice of spirituality that most economics professors and science professors wouldn't roll their eyes at, that will be a small slice indeed.

Yogicfire wrote:But, for someone who takes refuge, accepts all the Buddhist teachings, but happens to have certain "doubts" over things such as rebirth, then you don't turn them away, or refuse to believe that they are Buddhist.

I agree, but there is a big difference between "doubts" and explicit denials and outright rejections of core Buddhist teachings such as karma and rebirth.

If somebody said outright, "I think karma and rebirth are a bunch of crap," then I certainly could not consider them a Buddhist, nor would I understand why they even desired the label "Buddhist."
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Yogicfire » Sat Jun 12, 2010 9:36 am

based on the statements made by who? Modern representatives of either Soto or Rinzai


I gave an example. You say that you debate with teachers, roshis and reverends, and dispute their ideas concerning the heavy emphasis on the here and now. While I accept that you have your own opinions, it has to be said that these are not just people off the street, they are learned masters in their own tradition, with vast experience and knowledge. Could it be that they simply have a different take on things regarding Buddhist teaching? What is so tough to take about that?

I am not going to try to create a new theory to explain this contradiction. I don't believe in rebirth and yet, I don't negate it. There is no basis to believe or negate it. What I can say for sure is, "I don't know." The important thing for me is to practice in this lifetime as the Buddha instructed in the Dhammapada, "To refrain from anything bad and practice everything good. Purify your mind.

Anyone from any religion can purify their minds, but without right view it is all futile. One might achieve the highest peak of existence in the arupa-loka, but the ultimate result is falling back down onto the rougher side of the wheel of life.


Again, to suggest that he (like many that you have spoken to) does not live according to right view is highly humorous to me!

In any case, dwelling on how you're wandering through a forest and how remarkable such a spiritual path of uncertainty is your freedom, but don't expect me to be sympathetic towards such sentimental nonsense. The Buddhadharma if properly understood is an almost mechanical process that functions as a therapy where the problem of suffering is addressed and the cure is prescribed through various means which are explained in detail without hesitation.

Abiding in a "forest" and feeling wonder at your own uncertainty while praising others own doubtful attitudes is hardly a reasonable and rational approach towards the disease of samsara. What you describe is more like a visit to judgement-free self-help session than an actual methodology to end suffering.


I am not abiding in the forest. I am walking through it. I don't understand the buddhadharma to be mechanical myself, but I can understand that some people would - and there are many vehicles and ways to understand things that we can utilise.... I don't think you give that proper consideration.

I am also not talking about hippy self-help sessions, or not being serious about the undertaking at hand - release from suffering. It does requite right view and right effort and all the other things. But, for other people to tightly and rigidly outline exactly what right view and right effort entails is not part of the buddhist way in my -humble- view! We have enough on our own plate....
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Anders » Sat Jun 12, 2010 11:15 am

Yogicfire wrote:
Anders Honore wrote:The main problem with Bachelor is the he presents his ideas as agnostic. When in fact they are not agnostic, but actively (and revisionally) reductionist.

Imo, Agnostisicism is completely a-oh-kay with Buddhism in these regards. But for it to be have been properly agnostic, Bachelor should have written the book "Buddhism with Tentative Beliefs" instead of "Buddhism without Beliefs".


Well put. I am not sure about the phrase "tentative" beliefs, though. I think if I had a stab at the title it would be "Buddhism with Appropriate Beliefs".


How do you connect agnosticism with appropriateness? I connect tentative beliefs with it because I reckon someone who has genuine doubts about things like rebirth & karma, but nonetheless retains an open mind about thhe possibility of it, can still work with them as tentative hypotheses (which may prove appropriate to hold for other reasons than their factuality in such a case) for people who genuinely do not wantto commit to the verity of any given belief system.

I've said in many a philosophy discussion that pragmatism is the logical outcome of skepticism and I think the same can be applied here. Maybe that's how you figure appropriateness into the picture? At any rate, I think the tentativeness of a belief would be more paramount to the dedicated agnostic (at least on a personally level) than the appropriateness of it.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Sat Jun 12, 2010 3:47 pm

Yogicfire wrote:
I gave an example. You say that you debate with teachers, roshis and reverends, and dispute their ideas concerning the heavy emphasis on the here and now. While I accept that you have your own opinions, it has to be said that these are not just people off the street, they are learned masters in their own tradition, with vast experience and knowledge. Could it be that they simply have a different take on things regarding Buddhist teaching? What is so tough to take about that?



I said I debate with Zen priests -- I never mentioned roshis. There is a difference. Within Soto Zen there are varying opinions: some naturally affirm rebirth, others deny it.

I met this one priest who told me Buddha was agnostic about rebirth. The word in Japanese he emphasized is muki (無記) which is from the ancient Chinese translation of the Āgama literature.

The original passage:

《雜阿含經》卷34:「俱迦那言:「云何?阿難!如來死後有耶?」
阿難答言:「世尊所說,此是無記。」」(CBETA, T02, no. 99, p. 248, b20-22)

Kokanuda said, "How so? Ananda! Is the Tathāgata existent after death?"
Ananda replied saying, "Of what the World Honoured has taught, this has not been stated."

Basically, the matter of life after death for the Tathāgata or Buddha in this context was not commented upon. This doesn't mean at all early Buddhists were agnostic towards rebirth. In fact liberation from cyclic existence was and always has been the primary purpose of Buddhism. In this scripture the afterlife of the Tathāgata is not commented upon, but that is just in reference to the Tathāgata's post-mortem state and not all that of sentient beings.

My colleague said himself to be sceptical towards rebirth, but then even so I was surprised at his lack of understanding of something which is really common knowledge in Buddhism. I've also heard that this misunderstanding is even taught in some classrooms at university. It is either just plain misunderstanding or modern day materialists attempting to reconfigure Buddhism to suit their worldview.

Whether it is an elderly old priest or a young one proposing such a view, I'll challenge them on it. Age doesn't excuse one from criticism.



Again, to suggest that he (like many that you have spoken to) does not live according to right view is highly humorous to me!


Right view includes the middle path between sassatavada (eternal existence) and ucchedavada (the belief in annhilation following death). Anyone who does not affirm rebirth is not holding a right view.

It is really quite simple.

I am not abiding in the forest. I am walking through it. I don't understand the buddhadharma to be mechanical myself, but I can understand that some people would - and there are many vehicles and ways to understand things that we can utilise.... I don't think you give that proper consideration.


The Buddhadharma is not just whatever you think it is. There are qualifications to be met for one to consider something saddharma or not. Just as you cannot claim to be a chemist after dabbling in medieval alchemy, so with Buddhism there are qualifications to be met.

I am also not talking about hippy self-help sessions, or not being serious about the undertaking at hand - release from suffering. It does requite right view and right effort and all the other things. But, for other people to tightly and rigidly outline exactly what right view and right effort entails is not part of the buddhist way in my -humble- view! We have enough on our own plate....


We look to the words of the Buddha to define what is right view. To deny rebirth (or to not affirm it) constitutes a wrong view. This is not merely my own personal opinion -- it is based on what the Buddha said and taught.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby shel » Sat Jun 12, 2010 4:39 pm

Luke wrote:You keep asking us the same questions and we keep giving the same answers. I think just about everything has been said already.

Sorry for my persistence. You can ignore if you like. It's just that you're haven't really directly addressed my point. Take the following for example:
Luke wrote:
shel wrote:False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism?

In some cases, yes. For example, if a man had been an angry person previously who had created a lot of suffering in the world, and then he became a Hindu and began meditating and pacifying his mind, became a vegetarian, and dedicated himself to nonviolence and to helping others, these are all positive steps which are in accord with Buddhist teachings. On the other hand, a Hindu would be stuck with other limiting concepts, such as an atman, the idea of Hindu deities being real in an absolute sense, and the caste system, which would prevent full realization.

I don't think you're doing this intentionally but your example here sidesteps the issue. It's not like someone practicing Hinduism, and that being better than the way they were previously living. It's like someone practicing something that is called Buddhism but what they are practicing, and believing in, is actually Hinduism.

So it's like you would be ok with someone practicing Buddhism (that was actually Hinduism) as a stepping stone for Buddhism.

There are non-religious meditation techniques, an entire branch of psychological medicine, and secular ethics. Is there really any need to endorse Buddhist practice that's not Buddhist practice as a stepping stone to Buddhist practice?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby zengammon » Sat Jun 12, 2010 5:08 pm

Two things:

One: It seems to me that saying "Buddhism without Beliefs" is the same as saying "Buddhism."

Two: "Throughout beginningless aeons, you have lived believing the body to be the self." Master Kusan, from "The Way of Korean Zen."
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Luke » Sat Jun 12, 2010 6:28 pm

shel wrote:So it's like you would be ok with someone practicing Buddhism (that was actually Hinduism) as a stepping stone for Buddhism.

I look at the content of a faith or a philosophy, not the label. I regard anything partially similar to real Buddhism (which by my definition means the authentic Buddhist schools which believe in the Four Noble Truths, rebirth, and karma) as at least partially good. This includes Hinduism, Jainism, yoga, etc. And I might include Batchelor's Buddhist-influenced agnosticism in this category as well, although the fact that I feel it misrepresents Buddhism makes me less positive about it.

The opposite of this is modern Bön (the native religion of Tibet), whose content is almost identical to Tibetan Buddhism, even though it doesn't use the label "Buddhism."

For example, I'd much rather be with a kind, funny, relaxed, generous person who doesn't follow any formal religion than with a mean, humourless, tense, selfish person who proclaims loudly that he or she is a Buddhist.

In any case, I'm not quite sure why you care so much about my opinion. I'm not the Dalai Lama or anything. I'm just a stupid guy who's had a lama for two years.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby shel » Sat Jun 12, 2010 9:44 pm

Luke wrote:
shel wrote:So it's like you would be ok with someone practicing Buddhism (that was actually Hinduism) as a stepping stone for Buddhism.

I look at the content of a faith or a philosophy, not the label. I regard anything partially similar to real Buddhism (which by my definition means the authentic Buddhist schools which believe in the Four Noble Truths, rebirth, and karma) as at least partially good. This includes Hinduism, Jainism, yoga, etc. And I might include Batchelor's Buddhist-influenced agnosticism in this category as well, although the fact that I feel it misrepresents Buddhism makes me less positive about it.

In other words you don't think that a belief in eternalism (Hinduism) or annihilationism (Batchelor) plays any significant role in Buddhist practice? They are as you say, just labels.

In any case, I'm not quite sure why you care so much about my opinion.

You're endorsing Batchelor's annihilationism as Buddhism. Do I even need to say how wrong that is?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby mudra » Sun Jun 13, 2010 12:16 am

shel wrote:
mudra wrote:I categorically did not endorse what he teaches as Buddhism.

You would not recommend what Batchelor teaches as a "stepping stone" then?

Secondly, if someone gets some principles but not all, it isn't necessarily false dharma.

The book is not titled "A little Buddhism," it's called "Buddhism without Beliefs (Buddhist nihilism)."


Hi Shel,

There are all kinds of stepping stones to get where we are and where we might go. To be honest many of these are not even "conscious". For example there are not a few people who read Lobsang Rampa thinking they were all true, but eventually came to Tibetan Buddhism that way.

I think that Stephen Batchelor's book could very easily/likely be a stepping stone, and it is certainly a much better one than Lobsang Rampa. But I would not recommend the book to someone, but neither will I seek to have it banned etc. In this day and age people are caught up with all kinds of destructive ideas, and yes some dharma is better than none. We can't control what goes out into the world, we can barely control our own minds.

As to the statement that getting some principles of dharma is better than none, I stand by that. But you aren't really playing fair, that statement was made in answer to yours:
False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism? I can think of a lot of beliefs that are worse than no Buddhism, like Nazism for instance. Seems like you guys don't really think what Batchelor teaches is significantly un-Buddhist.

It was not in reference to the title of Batchelor's book.

Just as an ironic footnote, I first read "Bodhicaryavatara" in Batchelor's translation, it was the only one available at the time. Since then there have been better versions, but still you see many 'traditional buddhists' too have benefited from Mr Batchelor's work.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby shel » Sun Jun 13, 2010 4:29 am

mudra wrote:I would not recommend the book to someone...

Ah!

In this day and age people are caught up with all kinds of destructive ideas...

Hmmm..... in this day and age? and this with the word nazism only inches away. :tongue: But perhaps you mean ages long past that were loving and idyllic, like the crusades maybe.

As to the statement that getting some principles of dharma is better than none, I stand by that. But you aren't really playing fair, that statement was made in answer to yours:
False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism? I can think of a lot of beliefs that are worse than no Buddhism, like Nazism for instance. Seems like you guys don't really think what Batchelor teaches is significantly un-Buddhist.

It was not in reference to the title of Batchelor's book.

The contents of the book teach annihilationism. Is that a principle you stand by?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby mudra » Sun Jun 13, 2010 5:58 am

shel wrote:
mudra wrote:]As to the statement that getting some principles of dharma is better than none, I stand by that. But you aren't really playing fair, that statement was made in answer to yours:
False Buddhism is better than no Buddhism? I can think of a lot of beliefs that are worse than no Buddhism, like Nazism for instance. Seems like you guys don't really think what Batchelor teaches is significantly un-Buddhist.

It was not in reference to the title of Batchelor's book.

The contents of the book teach annihilationism. Is that a principle you stand by?


This horse has gotta be dead by now...

If you don't understand that I don't stand by the principle of nihilism by now then you can't have been paying attention. But this seems to be getting more personal than about the reality of there being many roads to Rome. This is getting kind of like "if you aren't with us you're agin us.."

Where we started out was a question of definitions not allegiances.
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