Buddhism has many sects — all with varying beliefs and practices. Many of these beliefs and practices contradict each other boldly — for instance: Pure Land Buddhism offer faith-based one-the-spot (sudden) salvation schemes surprisingly similar to Christianity while Soto Zen describes enlightenment as gradual. Both have very different visions of reality and yet consider themselves Buddhist.
In spite of these huge differences, contradictory Buddhists groups all still embrace the simple Buddhist creed of taking refuge in the “Triple Jewel“:
“I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dharma. I take refuge in the Sangha.”
The Nicene Creed of Christians likewise unifies various denominations who otherwise disagree with each other on interpretations of the creed. Muslims have their Shahadah –“There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet”– which must be chanted when a non-Muslim wishes to convert to Islam and which is used in daily Muslim prayers to signal membership. Yet blaring doctrinal contradictions exist between the various sects of Islam who are in deadly combat with each other even today as they chant the same creed. History is replete with similar deadly battles between those who share the same creed.
Though sharing the same creeds as a signal of their faith, the contradictory sects of these faiths use all sorts of theological and philosophical twists to interpret the meaning of their creeds so that they can still use the orthodox creeds to fit their own particular theology. Thus the people who originally agreed upon those creeds probably never envisioned people twisting their creeds so cleverly. Those who wrote the creeds were probably trying to protect against the type of new religions created by those who now chant the creeds with their new idea-spins.
I can understand the traditional reflex to preserve the creed even if the religion is changing. These creeds can give a sense of unity and of belongingness. “Belongingness” is a small price to pay for a little self-deception. For the unity the believer feels with the past and with all believers in the faith by using the creed is strong motivation to maintain it.
An example of twisting words to be able to feel justified in using a creed: Progressive Christians may use narrative hermeneutics to continue to talk about a real resurrection of Jesus by transforming the word “resurrection” into a principle of social transformation so they can use the creeds while actually not believing that a guy named Jesus walked out of his grave. But the creators of the Nicene creed would have condemned such heresy. Modern Buddhists can take refuge in the Buddha but tell themselves that the “Buddha” only means the deep universal principle of wisdom, not that particular guy and his culturally limited teachings. Thus they can let go of all the other stuff the historical Buddha said when they see fit. People often take great efforts to preserve tradition.
Self-deception is adaptively at the core of the human mind. Self-deception is very helpful at instilling confidence, sincerity and other valuable emotions. The irony is that understanding the self-deception can sometimes rob you of the power of the trick. So if, on one hand, you want to say you understand what you are doing while continuing to declare your creed, on the other hand, in order to keep the creed effective, your mind has to build yet another layer of justification in the form of subtle philosophical/mental twists.
Heck, we even have secular examples of diverse use of creeds and their deceptive illusion of belongingness: In the USA, the pledge of allegiance is sort of like a creed. I never say the pledge, but I will uncomfortably stand while others do. I get what they are doing — Democrats and Republicans alike each have very different notions of what patriotism really means.