Biblia Vulgata: Si autem Christus non resurrexit, inanis est ergo praedicatio nostra, inanis est et fides vestra.
King James: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
Orthodox* Christianity stands and falls with a contingent historical fact, the fact of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If he rose from the dead, he is who is said he was and can deliver on his promises. If not, then the faith of the Christian inanis est. It is vain, void, empty, delusional.
Compare Buddhism. It too promises salvation of a sort. But the salvation it promises is not a promise by its founder that rests on the existence of the founder or on anything he did. For Christianity, history is essential, for Buddhism inessential. The historical Buddha is not a savior, but merely an example of a man of whom it is related that he saved himself by realizing his inherent Buddha-nature. The idea of the Buddha is enough as far as we are concerned; his historical existence unnecessary. 'Buddha,' like 'Christ,' is a title: it means 'the Enlightened One.' Buddhism does not depend either on the existence of Siddartha, the man who is said to have become the Buddha, or on Siddartha's becoming the Buddha. Suppose that Siddartha never existed, or existed but didn't attain enlightenment. We would still have the idea of a man attaining enlightenment/salvation by his own efforts. The idea would suffice. (One might wonder, however, whether the real possibility of enlightenment needs attestation by someone's actually having achieved it -- which would drag us back into the realm of historical fact -- or whether the mere conceivability of it entails, or perhaps provides good evidence for, its real possibility.)
Hence the Zen saying, "If you see the Buddha, kill him." I take that to mean that one does not need the historical Buddha, and that cherishing any piety towards him may prove more hindrance than help. Non-attachment extends to the Buddha and his teachings. Buddhism, as the ultimate religion of self-help, enjoins each to become a lamp unto himself. What is essential is the enlightenment that one either achieves or fails to achieve on one's own, an enlightenment which is a natural possibility of all. If one works diligently enough, one can extricate oneself from the labyrinth of samsara. One can achieve the ultimate goal on one's own, by one's own power. There is no need for supernatural assistance. If Buddhism is a religion of self-help, Christianity is most assuredly a religion of other-help. On the latter one cannot drag oneself from the dreck by one's own power.
Trouble is, how many attain the Buddhist goal? And if only a few renunciates ever attain it, how does that help the rest of us poor schleps? By contrast, in Christianity, God, in the person of the Word (Logos) made flesh, does the work for us. Unable ultimately to help ourselves, we are helped by Another. And the help is available to all despite their skills in metaphysics and meditation. As Maurice Blondel observes, . . . if there is a salvation it cannot be tied to the learned solution of an obscure problem. . . It can only be offered clearly to all. (Action, p. 14) (By "do the work for us," I of course do not mean to suggest the sola fide extremism of some Protestants.)
I remain open to Christianity's claims because I doubt the justification of Buddhistic self-help optimism. Try to hoe the Buddhist row and see how far you get. One works and works on oneself but makes little progress. That one needs help is clear. That one can supply it from within one's own resources is unclear. I know of no enlightened persons. But I know of plenty of frauds, spiritual hustlers, and mountebanks. I have encountered Buddhists who become very upset indeed if you challenge their dogmas such as the anatman ('No Self') doctrine. The ego they deny is alive and well in them and angry at having the doctrine to which their nonexistent egos are attached questioned.
Both Buddhism and Christianity are life-denying religions in that they both reject the ultimacy and satisfactoriness of this life taken as end-all and be-all. But while Christianity denies this life for the sake of a higher life elsewhere and elsewhen, Buddhism denies this life for the sake of Nirvanic extinction. The solution to the problem of suffering is to so attenuate desire and aversion that one comes to the realization that one never existed in the first place. Some solution! And yet there is much to learn from Buddhism and its practices. Mindfulness exercises and other practices can be usefully employed by Christians. Christianity and Buddhism are the two highest religions. The two lowest are the religions of spiritual materialism, Judaism and Islam, with Islam at the very bottom of the hierarchy of great religions.
Islam is shockingly crude, as crude as Buddhism is over-refined. The Muslim is promised all the crass material pleasures on the far side that he is forbidden here, as if salvation consists of eating and drinking and endless bouts of sexual intercourse. Hence my term 'spiritual materialism.' 'Spiritual positivism' is also worth considering. The Buddhist is no positivist but a nihilist: salvation through annihilation. What Christianity promises, it must be admitted by the intellectually honest, is very difficult to make rational sense of. For example, one's resurrection as a spiritual body. What does that mean? How is it possible? For an introduction to the problem, see Romano Guardini, The Last Things, "The Spiritual Body," pp. 61-72.
Admittedly, my rank ordering of the great religions is quick and dirty, but it is important to cut to the bone of the matter from time to time with no mincing of words. And, as usual, political correctness be damned. For details on Buddhism see my Buddhism category.
I should say that I take Buddhism very seriously indeed. It is deep and sophisticated with a rich tradition of philosophical commentary. Many of the sutras are beautiful and ennobling. Apart from its mystical branch, Sufism, I cannot take Islam seriously -- except as a grave threat to other religions and indeed to civilization itself. An interesting and important question is whether Muslims are better off with their religion as opposed to having no religion at all. The question does not arise with respect to the other great religions, or if you say it does, then I say it has an easy answer.
There are some affinities between Christianity and Buddhism. One is explored in The Christian 'Anatta Doctrine' of Lorenzo Scupoli.
As for why I am not a Buddhist, I give one reason in Buddhism on Suffering and One Reason I am not a Buddhist. Others are in the Buddhism category.
Here is something for lefties to think about. While there are are some terrorists who are socioculturally Buddhist in that they were raised and acculturated in Buddhist lands, are there any Buddhists who terrorize from Buddhist doctrine?
*By 'orthodox' I do not have in mind Eastern Orthodoxy, but a Christianity that is not mystically interpreted, a Christianity in which, for example, the resurrection is not interpreted to mean the attainment of Christ-consciousness or the realization of Christ-nature.