Living in a Buddhist country for the last five years has given me a close look at Buddhism and religion in general, and nothing seems the same. The label "Thai Buddhism" hardly does justice to the multitude of activities, artifacts and attitudes revolving around monks and temples, much of it having little to do with the Buddha or his teachings. Even the term "religion" feels inadequate for defining what Thais do in their religious as opposed to their secular lives; there is no such division that I can see. As culture, it's fodder for anthropologists, but they too are often trapped by a terminology that wants to make distinctions that do not exist in Thailand.
the common understanding and practice of Buddhism remains animistic in the sense that merit-making is generally understood as a mechanism to ensure safety and auspiciousnes, and thus the institutionalized Buddhism of the masses has become a powerhouse for individual and communal protection.
podcast, makes a distinction between conventional and scientific language. The two are often confused by critics of religion. In order to construct and communicate meaning, we often speak poetically and metaphorically. "God," as an object of a cry for help, is not an ontological statement claiming metaphysical reality, but rather a way of speaking about what concerns us deeply (Paul Tillich understood this by defining faith as ultimate concern).
Religion in the west is a badge of identity, and conversion is a rite of passage. The buddhism I'm surrounded by in Thailand is not a style but a way of life. It encompasses all that Thai people do and believe. I'll never be able to inhabit it after a lifetime of analysis and cynicism, but I can appreciate it for what it offers the people and how it informs their lives. To do otherwise, is to toss the baby out with the bathwater.