Belgium third EU nation to recognize Buddhism

“In Belgium, based on the Concordat of 1801 signed between Napoleon Bonaparte and Pope Pius VII, which has been preserved in the Belgian Constitution of 1830, the recognized religions benefit from government grants, the priests, rabbis, and other representatives of religions are on the payroll of the Ministry, as well as chaplains in prisons and the army. If the churches or other religious buildings need repairs, the provinces must pay the deficit if not enough funds are available. In the official education systems, these recognized convictions are part of the teaching (one or two hours a week) in the primary and secondary school. So once Buddhism is recognized, if parents tell the school that their children wish to get Buddhist teaching, the school will have to find teachers and it will be up to the Belgian Buddhist Union to appoint and form them.”

[…]

ebu general plan:

"The strategy for 2023 builds on the vision outlined above. We want to become more visible
in the public, attract more people to involve in our work and continue to get outside
funding. We will also put more energy into motivating those of our members who do not yet
involve in our work and projects to become active.
Only if the workload is shared by many people, the EBU will be able to contribute to society
in a sustainable way.

On the governance side, we hope to get the moving of the EBU to Brussels approved, since it
has substantial advantages versus our current registration in France."

EBU

Inner EcoDharma:

Online Webinar: Education for interreligious & Interconvictional dialogue

on Monday 27 March 2023 at 17:00 via zoom.

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Congratulations to the Buddhist community of Belgium, including Ayya Vimala who has been a part of this process. :pray:

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Unlike what the papers say … We’re not actually there yet. The Belgian political system is too complex for me to explain here but it still needs to go through some of the departments and voted on in parliament for the recognition to become official. Although we don’t expect too many issues with that, in theory it can still fall through.

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Post-secular development:

“Buddhism would be recognised as “a non-denominational philosophical organization” alongside organised secularism, recognised since 2002.”

https://tibet.net/belgium-to-become-second-eu-country-to-recognise-buddhism/

" in a post secular society, religious and secular perspectives are on even ground, meaning that the two theoretically share equal importance. Modern societies that have considered themselves fully secular until recently have to change their value systems accordingly as to properly accommodate this co-existence.[13]"

—Wikipedia

Historical recognition of religions & secularism in Belgium (one page):

Australian perspective:

“Some of the key research findings include the co-dependency of the secular and the postsecular and the demise of the secularisation thesis; and the changes to the experience of
religion and spirituality in individuals’ lives in contemporary Australia, as people develop
new ways of expressing spiritual, emotional and experiential meanings in their lives. The
research, in fact, indicates that a diverse field of religious and spiritual expressions has
emerged to challenge traditional secular understandings. These findings do not signify that
Australia has entered a post-secular era, but they do denote the existence of a growing
awareness of a deep process of change affecting structures of meaning in Australian society.”

—Saskia Ebejer

https://researchonline.nd.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1223&context=theses

Looking at the Austrian Buddhist Union website which was recognized by the government in 1983, it can be seen Buddhists will then assume considerable administrative responsibilities (I think it’s good):

And here the ebu projects:

As someone who grew up in the US, I find this somewhere between odd and disturbing. Why should government be involved in religion? Wouldn’t it be better time spent to get government disentangled from religion altogether?

I don’t ask this to criticize the hard work of the people involved. I’m just not sure why the government of any country should be supporting or not supporting private religious groups.

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It has to be accepted this ebu model is what is necessary at this stage of Buddhism’s expansion in the west- highly organized with an accent on teaching, interfaith relations, and eco awareness. This structure is required to effect a development beyond the privileged status of Christianity in western communities. There is a movement there towards recognition of the environment, and Buddhism as a nature-based doctrine will contribute to a pressing global need for a new understanding. This is why interfaith dialogue is targeted by ebu.

But isn’t the government privileging Christianity the very problem? I thought Christianity was in decline in Europe, at least as something people regularly participate in.

It is, but this is not easy to solve. Speaking for Germany here, but I think it’s similar in other European countries.

There exist treatises from centuries ago, when the two Christian churches handed over real estate to the state and for compensation were provided with a number of privileges that certainly don’t fit in our time any more.

The worst is that they are officially “entitled” to discriminate against certain groups of people, like those who have another faith or who belong to the LGBTQA community in the widest sense. People who belong to these groups will either not be employed by ecclesiastical organizations, or, when they keep their status secret, have to fear dismissal once it becomes known. The same applies to those who live with a partner without being married (in a church wedding, of course). This affects not just a few people, as ecclesiastical organisations are running child care or age care facilities, schools, hospitals, etc. As a doctor, I would have had no chance to work in such a facility, as I was neither Catholic nor Protestant, and I was clearly told that.

But up to this day, no politician dares to touch on these old treatises!

In recent times there has been some movement in Germany of “coming out” of LGBTQA people who are connected with the churches, and instead of negative consequences they got a rather positive resonance and the promise that none of them will lose their job. But all this is on a voluntary basis, and there is now law telling the churches they have to respect all people equally.

Another point is that up to this day, the state collects a “church tax” and hands it over to the churches. So they do not have to rely on donations, at least to some—now dwindling—degree.

No other religious community in Germany did ever have and will ever have a status comparable to what the Catholic and Protestant churches have!

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Correct, that was the secular stage, this is now the post-secular. The inclusion of Buddhism next to the other religions in the government view is proof of the reemergence of religion in a new format:

“In a post-secular environment, the disappearance of religion as foretold by the secularisation
thesis has not eventuated; instead, a ‘dynamic multi-religious society’ is evident. As Boeve
explains, these societies may host a number of ambiguous and conflicting beliefs. Secular
culture has not replaced the dominant belief system; instead, a range of belief options are
available alongside the traditional.”

—Saskia Ebejer

Yes, all of that only makes me feel stronger about my original point. To be clear, though, I would in no way claim the US to be an example of the proper place of religion in relationship to a government.

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So, to draw a parallel to U.S. politics, it’s kinda like the big defense contractors? The government collects a large amount of taxes for them, and because they’re so rich off said tax revenues, they can lobby effectively against any efforts to cut off the spigot. “How dare you disrespect our country’s martyrs and saints by suggesting a reduction in our budget!” Leading to a perpetual cycle… Is it something like that?

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If I recall correctly, it is in fact possible to opt out. And you do get to tell the govt which church you want your “donation” to go to. Is that correct?

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Every government minister, government department, prison, prisoner, police department, first responder, social worker, school, school teacher and school kid in the UK could do with more exposure to dhamma. They could all do with being trained into being kinder, gentler, more compassionate human beings. It would make for a happier, healthier society, which is what governments should be about, right?

I guess the questions are, how would you fund that and how would you break the barriers to entry. I would love to have learnt about Buddhism in school (I couldn’t even spell it) and I would gladly pay some extra taxes now to get Buddhism (more comprehensively) on the national curriculum so that my fellow citizens can enjoy the benefits of exposure to dhamma - to give them, at least a taste, that there is an alternative to greed and hatred. It certainly beats paying my taxes for say, weapons to destroy other people or to secure large bonuses for bankers when their businesses fail.

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Yes. Traditionally you are assigned to a church by your parents with the baptism that is done on children. When you grow up and earn money, you are subject to the church tax of your church. You can switch from one to the other if you want, or you can step out completely—which is what I did before it came to the point I earned any money. And which later was the reason why I could not apply for certain jobs.

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If only I could have opted out of my Ratheon and Lockheed Martin tithe! … :thinking: I guess in a way I did :joy:

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Fortunately Germany is a country with freedom of religion. So you can freely choose your religion, or choose to have no religion. My status is now that of having no religion because Buddhism doesn’t count as a religion in Germany. And, unlike Belgium, I doubt it ever will.

When I opted out it was still something rather unusual. But with all these scandals of sexual abuse by priests etc. that are coming up and are more discussed now in the general public as they used to be for decades, the churches are currently rapidly losing members, i.e. money. And the efforts for reform are rather dim. It very much looks like they are digging their own grave.

Privileging a religion as is the case with the Christian churches in Germany is certainly one extreme. Not recognizing any religion is perhaps the other extreme. If Buddhism is recognized in Belgium it will never have such sort of privileges as described here, but certain groups or organizations may get some support for the work they do for the benefit of society as a whole, which I would regard as justified.

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" As of 2021, approximately 42% of Germans are irreligious, with a significantly higher concentration of irreligious citizens in East Germany. Eastern Germany, which was historically Protestant,[1][2] is perhaps the least religious region in the world."

—Wikipedia

Just to chime in, in Norway it works the way that officially recognized religions get something like 130$ per member from the government. Anyone can apply to have a religion officially recognized, but there are some requirements that have to be met.

I am registered as a Buddhist, it doesn’t affect me in any way except some Buddhist organization in Norway (I’m not even 100% which one) gets some extra money.

Of course, I was automatically registered with the state church at birth even though I wasn’t baptized. The system seems a bit biased towards giving money to the state church even though most Norwegians probably don’t identify as believers in Christianity, though many like to e.g. get married in a church even though they don’t believe.

Back in 2016 the Catholic church in Norway got a big fine for fudging their membership lists to get more money from the government.

Bit of a weird system if you ask me but it doesn’t seem to be on the political agenda here so it’s probably remaining this way for the foreseeable future :person_shrugging:

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France to join European countries with euthanasia:

“Currently, active voluntary euthanasia is legal in four European countries: the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Spain. Assisted suicide has been permitted in Switzerland for decades, while Germany and Portugal are currently debating the issue. Other nations, such as Austria, have a system known as passive euthanasia under strict conditions, where physicians can stop medical treatment at the patient’s request.”