(Another old thread recycled, but again I've only just read it.)
Professor Gombrich is very liberal and his points are all valid. Apart from his separation of ritual and ethical intention which is no more than a convenient academic categorisation.'...the point of ritual lies in doing, not in intending. Therefore ritual can have no moral or spiritual value.' Ritual without some intention is impossible, and indeed religious rituals could be argued to be simply a vehicle for intention. In this way they can be imbued with moral and spiritual value, in common with all actions.
Aside from this rather nonsensical theory Professor Gombrich has also made one or two more concrete errors. Firstly, in his interpretation of the role of the Sangha in worldly affairs. 'I put it to you that it is their duty to advise political leaders on the moral principles which must guide how they govern, and even how they make war, if that cannot be avoided. Why should Buddhist principles, under that name, be kept out of government and politics? Buddhism is not some kind of frivolous game or pastime: it is there to be applied to the whole of life.' This view is essentially that of post-Christian Europe with its long history of politicised religion. Conversely in Asia, monks should not be involved in politics, even in an advisory capacity. In this argument he is conflating the very different paths of laypeople and monks. The former may apply the Dhamma as best they can to their worldly lives, whereas the latter must renounce the world entirely.
Secondly, in his comments on menstruation and female impurity he appears to distort his own reasoning,'...the Buddha ignored menstruation as irrelevant to his teaching.' In the same paragraph he concludes, '...for Buddhism, female impurity does not exist – as it did not for the Buddha.' Regardless of the merits of his argument, it is clear that ignoring and denying are not the same thing.
Lastly, on the subject of the Bhikkhuni lineage he writes, 'What does it matter that the continuity of the ordination ritual has been interrupted?'. This is a continuation of his proposition that ritual and intention are somehow separate. In fact, the cumulative volition of a spiritual lineage does matter in the same way that a snowball which has been rolling down a mountainside for a long time has more substance than one newly-made.