Liberal Arts Blog — Are All the World’s Great Religions the Same at Their Core or Different?
Liberal Arts Blog — Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Culture, and Religion Day
Today’s Topic — Are all the world’s great religions the same at their core or different?
All questions are not created equal. Nor are all answers. Who is qualified to judge which questions are the most important ones and which answers are the best? Can these questions be avoided? Whose job is it to answer these questions? These are not theoretical questions. They are extremely practical, important, and urgent questions. But they are not even being asked. However they are being answered. But implicitly not explicitly. Any curriculum embodies answers to these questions in its allocation of time and resources. My vision is of a world where these questions are answered explicitly. Without explicit answers there is no accountability. Lack of accountability is very appealing to most humans. It does not serve the interests of students. Today, my candidate for the most important question worth asking and the best answer ever given. Please reciprocate. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? the three stories common to all religions
1. Humans have been asking this simple question every where in the world since the beginning of time.
2. The world’s great religions are great because they have had the best answers to this question as measured by the number of humans who have embraced them.
3. The answers they have given have a common structure. They tell three stories: the story of the beginning and the end of time (eschatology and etiology), the story of how to live (ethics), and the story of us (an ethnic history). The first and the third stories vary in many ways and are the source of endless fascination. The second story is essentially the same. Like our DNA.
THE COMMON ETHICAL CORE: two principles, three warnings, and the plan
1. Two principles: a.) praise the lord! (aka piety). In secular terms: gratitude, positivity. b.) be nice (aka love, kindness, the Golden Rule). The order is not random. Piety (gratitude) comes first. If you don’t wake up grateful, you are not going to be nice. In the words of Cicero: “Gratitude is not only the first of the virtues, it’s the parent of all the others.
2. Three Warnings: the principles are easy to state, but hard to live by for three reasons: a.) people can be very mean — eg. hit you, insult you, murder a friend of family member. How can you be grateful or kin under such circumstances? b.) bad stuff happens for no reasons (think the story of Job), c.) you wake up in a bad mood and you’re the bad guy.
3. The Plan: we’re here to help. The plans have (surprise, surprise) three parts. a.) the prayer thing: x times per day, y special ways per week, z special ways per year or per life time or stage of life b.) obey your priest, rabbi, mullah, teacher, guru. In secular terms, the experts;” c.) donate as much money and time as possible to your church, temple, mosque. In secular terms: your charity or community service organization.
WHY NOT TAUGHT, THE CONSEQUENCES, THE BIG FOOTNOTE
1.) This most important of all questions is not being given the priority it deserves because no one feels that they are qualified to do so. Heads of schools and universities do not consider this part of their job description. The result is that the most important job in education is not being done.
2. This is especially so in public schools where every since the school prayer cases of the 1960s, religious instruction has been banned with the consequence that the baby of morality has been thrown out with the bath water of religion.
3. The Big Footnote: just as the ethical core of all religions has been the same, so has been a historical pattern of institutional religions violating those principles in consistent ways. Yes, each religion has its history of noble deeds but also a history of cynical abuse of power and resistance to the advances of science. Religions have not been exempt from the first rule of politics: that all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And there is no power more absolute than that over the human soul.
NB: Remember the words of Seneca, Hoffer, and Marx. Seneca: “Religion is true to the people, false to philosophers, and useful to politicians.” Hoffer: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and ends up a racket.” Marx: “Religion is the opium of the people.” More humans have been killed in the name of “God” than in the name of any other (unless it be “the people” or “justice”). And more children abused.
IMAGES: Gauguin’s “D’ou venons nous?” (Where are we from?); Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule,” and Sanchez, “The Suicide of Seneca.”
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Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to words, language, literature, religion, culture. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to Words, Language, Literature (eg. quotes, poetry, vocabulary) that you have not yet shared.
This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.