So I finally picked up the book and I am glad I did, so far. The first section deals with Hinduism and it is extremely interesting. The very idea of self as godhead is interesting, especially to me as an atheist. I can be my own god and work towards enlightenment and bliss. I will write more about my thoughts on the book when I am done reading it. Or maybe after each section. We’ll see.
So I finished the section on Hinduism. I must say that of any religion that I have ever examined this one is thus far the winner. I can relate to it and its ideals a whole lot more than I can to some of the more popular Western Religions. Acceptance, empathy and a lust for life are the basic ideas that stand out in this religion. Not sure how I feel about the whole reincarnation thing though. The one thing that I really do like is the thought of self as godhead. Working towards enlightenment and becoming one with the Universe are basic tenets that I already hold. I am the Universe contemplating/examining Itself. After all, we are all stardust.
The next section was on Buddhism and I must say that it is one wacky religion, especially as practiced by the Zen Buddhists in Japan . It seems like it started out as basically Hinduism by the Buddha himself, but then after his death it branched off into various sects. It was subsumed by Hinduism eventually but the offshoots went far and wide. I won’t go into them in detail (Read the book) but will just say that in its present guises it does not much resemble the Buddha.
Now I am reading the section on Confucianism. I will write about that when I am done.
UPDATE 2: and the last update on this book.
To continue with the Confucianism part: I still don’t see what makes this a “religion” and not an ethic. It comes across, at least in this book, as more of a guide for ethical and moral living than a religion per se. It seems that Confucius was a mere man, not a prophet or religious leader. I think that it doesn’t help my opinion any that here in the US there have been “Confucius say…” jokes at least since I was a kid. But even after reading the whole section about him and the legacy that he left behind I just can’t wrap my mind around this as a religion. Sorry to any of you Confucians our there. Please feel free to set me straight in the comments section below.
Taoism (pronounced Dowism) comes next in the book. This is more familiar territory for you than you realize. The ying/yang symbol that so many Westerners tattoo on themselves nowadays is a Taoist symbol. Bet you didn’t know that. Neither did I so we’re even. This religion revolves around the Tao Te Ching, effectively their bible. Tao is literally translated as “the way” or “the path” and while there are three main types of Taoism they are all following the path, in their own way. I am not going to go into the variants but the main premise is that there is “a path” that everything, everything, follows. Taoism is China’s path. Path to enlightenment, path of the human, path of the universe, path to understanding, path to the “ultimate reality.” Some fairly interesting stuff in here. Definitely worth a more in depth look at some future time.
Okay. All ye Merry Christians and Zealotized Republicans, hold onto your hats. This next section is liable to get your back hair up. I promise that it won’t hurt as bad as you think. This is not your section, Christianity. I will come to that but first we must deal with:
Oh boy wasn’t that scary? okay enough sarcasm, for now. Let’s get on with destroying everything you thought knew about Islam… but assuming and knowing are not the same. And we all know what they say about ‘assume’ right?
Okay. Deep breath.
Islam is founded on the belief that Allah spoke through The Prophet Muhammad. Interesting to note here that the word Islam is derived from the root s-l-m which has two meanings: peace and surrender. Not surrender like a bank robber surrenders to the cops. Surrender as in the religious sense…umm… giving of oneself totally, that type of surrender. The full meaning of the word Islam is “the peace that comes when one’s life is surrendered to God.” (direct quote from the book)
To say that Islam began with Muhammad is wrong. The Muslims themselves say that Islam began with God, Allah. Since I like word origins and the like I will add here, as did Mr, Smith, that if you drop the masculine plural ending im from Elohim, Hebrew for God, the two sound very similar. I, and Carl Jung, don’t believe in coincidences.
Islam does not begin as a religion of its own but as a continuation of the ancient Hebraic. Both Judaism and Islam claim Abraham as a significant character. And it is important to note that it is not a different version of Abraham. The same person. In fact, and here is where it gets scary for you Christians, Abraham’s son by Hagar was named Ishmael. The descendants of Ishmael went on to become Muslims and the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s other son by his wife Sarah, went on to become the Jews. Up till this point the two religions are equal.
Muhammad became the Islam Prophet of Allah. Now just because the two religions diverged after Abraham does not mean that Islam is ignorant of, nor dismissive of, Jesus. They recognize him as a very important Prophet. I know, I know. You are jumping up and down and screaming at your screens right now that
“HE WAS NOT A PROPHET!!! HE WAS THE SON OF GOD!!! HE WAS GOD INCARNATE COME TO DIE FOR ALL OUR SINS THAT WE MAY GAIN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN!!!”
whew I am out of breath after that tirade. Now that you are likewise out of breath I can continue.
Jesus, if you know your Bible at all, never claimed to be God Incarnate. Or one third of God for that matter. That has been added into the theology LONG after and not because the Bible tells you so. It just isn’t there.
Continuing… So we have Islam recognizing the importance of Jesus and worshiping the same God albeit by a different name, Allah. The God. Muhammad was the receiver of Allah’s message, The Koran. Did you know that Muhammad was virtually illiterate? It is true. The only miracle that he ever claimed was The Koran. And it was not his miracle per se but a miracle worked by Allah through him. Very interesting. He was also a soldier, politician, husband many times over, father and even an orphan. He led quite a life and his example and teachings are felt even today, about 1,500 years after he died.
My point in describing Islam to you is not to juudge it as better or worse than any other religion but to show the similarities and clarify for you what Islam is all about. It is no more defined by its Zealots, Fundamentalists, and Extremists than the Christian religion is defined by its own. There are strong emotions and sometimes violent tendencies in both. One should not judge an entire religion based on the actions of a few.
I know that I said this would be the last update but I still have Judaism, Christianity and the ‘primal religions’ to write about. Going to have to take a break for now and post another update soon.
UPDATE 3: and the last update on this book.
On now to Judaism. This is a religion of severe loss and persecution but also one of perseverance. No one could ever say that the Jewish people are not long suffering and committed. For most Christians the Judaic belief system is more than a little familiar. The Christian Bible contains the Old Testament which is at the center of Jewish belief.
At a time when most religions were polytheistic the Jews started a brand new religion centered on the singular God. When their neighbors were worshiping the Sun and Storm gods and rain gods, they came to believe in a single, all powerful God. This was unique in its day and it is a testament to the religion itself that we think little of the concept of a single deity. The Jewish God is an all consuming, all encompassing God. He is the God of love and Maker of the World and the World reflects Gods majesty and love and beauty. One hell of a concept for the times that the early Jews were living in.
The first five books of the Bible are known to the Jews as the Torah. You can think of this as the manual for life, The Law. One of the beliefs of Judaism is that Jews are The Chosen people. They were chosen by God. This has led to many an outsider to see the Jewish faith as being one of favoritism but the basic tenets of Judaism preclude this idea. All are chosen by God to live a life that is Holy, that reflects the holiness of God.
Since the 1950s things have gotten a lot more complicated when it comes to Jews, Judaism, Jerusalem and the Nation of Israel. There is so much fighting and death revolving around such a small area of land that one can’t help but ask if the combatants really understand the roots of their respective religions, namely Judaism and Islam. They are not diametrically opposed religions. They are more a sort of cousins. Perhaps one day things will straighten themselves out and they can get on with being Holy instead of killing each other.
Now comes Christianity. I am not going to dwell on this one for too terribly long mostly because it is a religion that just depresses the hell out of me. Agape, Love, is such a central tenet in Christianity and yet it has been used in such hatred as to make wars, persecution of unbelievers and other niceties. I don’t want to outline the entire religion since its most basic beliefs are common knowledge to many. Instead I would like to point out some of the misconceptions and some of the similarities to other religions.
Founded as a result of the teachings, parables and actions of Jesus this is the youngest religion that is in the book but its influence is huge. There are so many variations on the core religion that in effect are the same at the core but vastly different in practice. You have to understand here that the entire volume of knowledge that we have about Jesus is over the span of only a few years. To call him an inspirational, charismatic teacher/prophet/miracle worker is something of an understatement.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Christianity is that its central character, Jesus, proclaimed to be the embodiment of God. I know that some of you are reaching for your Bibles right now to show me how wrong I am. Go on. I’ll wait. Couldn’t find anything could you? But that is what you have been taught, some of you since youth. Here’s another one for you. Islam mentions Jesus more than the Bible does. Perhaps no one’s name has ever been invoked for a wider range of actions than that of Jesus. He was most likely born about 4B.C. and it is highly unlikely that he was born on December 25th. Scholars put his birth month all over the calendar. Where Judaism sought to keep themselves as “The Chosen” Jesus wanted to open up God for all. This did little to ingratiate him to the Judaic status quo and his teaching of an almighty God didn’t help him the Romans. He was doomed to die at the hands of one side or the other and as it turns out he died at the hands of both.
The last section of the book was on the so called “primal religions” which are best symbolized by Australia’s Aborigines and others like them. They are among the oldest surviving religions but are not so much centered on a divinity as they are on nature and our place in it. Think Native American here and you will get the idea. We are not the overlords of nature but a part of it.
I know that I seem to have thrown the last two sections together rather sloppily but I may come back and revisit this post to flesh out Judaism, Christianity and the primals at some future date.