America seems to have a love affair with the Dalai Lama. By all accounts he is a man of great personal magnetism and charm. One journalist described him as a combination of Ghandi and Groucho Marx, exhibiting the considerable wit of both. He is a renowned proponent of pacifist philosophy, a Buddhist monk who is sometimes referred to as the "god-king." He claims to be the 14th reincarnation of a 14th century monk who was recognized as the first Dalai Lama and Buddhists celebrate him as the epitome of enlightenment and compassion. Until 1959 he was not only the spiritual leader of Tibet but also its political head. As the Chinese, who had invaded the country in 1949, took control of its government, the Dalai Lama escaped on a yak and made his way to India from where he has continued his campaign to liberate his homeland.
One can understand why Western liberal democracies would show an interest in his cause. He is a constant thorn in the side of Communist China and he stands for the rights of a downtrodden people who have lost their independence to their aggressive super-power neighbor. On those grounds, he has been a welcome guest in many Western countries.
However, the Dalai Lama is not merely a political or Tibetan nationalist figure. He is a religious figure. I know that we are told that strictly speaking, Buddhism is not a religion but a series of philosophies of life. But any "philosophy" that claims to deal in ultimate reality is by definition religious. The claim that the Dalai Lama is the 14th incarnation of a 14th century monk is a religious claim. The popular title "the god-king" is a religious title. The Dalai Lama's claim to be the spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists makes him a religious figure. So when he comes to America he should be subject to the same restrictions placed on other religions, and especially on Christianity. Right? Wrong! In Bloomington, Indiana, local authorities removed a display of the Ten Commandments but they had no trouble erecting statues of Buddha in the City Hall in honor of the Dalai Lama's visit. So Buddha is in and the Bible is out.
Another place that has honored the Dalai Lama is Emory University. Emory started life as a Methodist school. So far has it strayed from its Christian founding principles that it has just appointed the Dalai Lama as a Distinguished Professor. According to Christian doctrine, Buddhism is a false religion and the Dalai Lama's personality, however attractive, does not alter that. But nowadays Christianity does not find much of a welcome in either official or academic America.