Over the course of the twentieth century, Buddhism came to be associated widely with peace, tolerance, and calm detachment in the Western popular imagination. This association was created in opposition to depictions of Christianity as violent, intolerant, and irrational. Buddhism, as the imagined perfect Other, held considerable appeal for counterculture seekers disenchanted with mainstream cultures. While many Buddhist groups played upon these stereotypes to enhance their image and support recruitment, one new Buddhist movement—the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order—went further, employing ritualized “therapeutic blasphemy” to eradicate Christian conditioning in their members and critique mainstream society. Such actions baffled many other Buddhists, but make sense when seen as efforts to heighten in-group solidarity, proclaim distinctive identity, and take the assumption of Buddhism’s superiority over Christianity to its ultimate conclusion. This article attempts to explain why Buddhists might develop intolerant practices, and to assess the costs and benefits of such practices.

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