Ecclesiastes: The Wisest Book of All Time?

EcclesiastesI want to write about Ecclesiastes this week.  It is one of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible.  It is among the canonical Wisdom Books in the Old Testament that can be found in most Christian Bibles.  It has been called by some a book of skepticism.  Others see it as one of the most profound and erudite books that has ever been written.  Much of the writing in this book reminds me of the Shakespeare passage in Macbeth wherein he says:

“Out, out, brief candle!  Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  ― William ShakespeareMacbeth

vanities“Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity,” says the Preacher at the beginning of Ecclesiastes.  In some sense echoing the same sentiments as Macbeth, Ecclesiastes tells us of the folly of wealth, riches, power, fame and even wisdom.  Herein lies the great paradox in EcclesiastesEcclesiastes is a book of wisdom which has the audacity and temerity to decry the power of wisdom.  Whereas most tomes praise the power of wisdom to solve all the evils of the world, to Ecclesiastes, wisdom is also just another vanity.

“I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.  I perceived that this also is but striving after the wind.”  — Ecclesiastes

dissipationIf power, riches, fame and wisdom are folly to pursue, that would seem to leave us with only pleasure left as a goal of life.  A sybaritic existence of hedonistic pursuits measured by the wine, women and song we have endured.  Epicurus said: It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly.  And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.”  The Hedonist position has often been criticized starting with Socrates and Plato who felt that a Hedonist was endorsing a doctrine that was contradictory to right living (see Plato’s Gorgias).

Just when it might seem we have a goal in life that can be mutually satisfying for everyone, Ecclesiastes says:  “I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.  But behold, this also was vanity.”

Everything is vanity.  If Saint Ignatius was right in proclaiming that “ingratitude” is the fountain of all sins, Ecclesiastes shows us that the other side of the coin is vanity.  Rich or poor, wise man or fool, famous or obscure, death will take us all and care not one whit about our history.  “How the wise man dies just like the fool!” – Ecclesiastes

Another book which I think has a great deal in common with Ecclesiastes was written by Max Stirner and is called “The Ego and Its Own.”  Stirner (a 19th Century German philosopher) has been labeled a nihilist for the pessimism he exudes in this book.  For instance, Stirner says:

Man, your head is haunted; you have wheels in your head! You imagine great things, and depict to yourself a whole world of gods that has an existence for you, a spirit-realm to which you suppose yourself to be called, an ideal that beckons to you. You have a fixed idea!  Do not think that I am jesting or speaking figuratively when I regard those persons who cling to the Higher, and (because the vast majority belongs under this head) almost the whole world of men, as veritable fools, fools in a madhouse.” — (The Ego and Its Own, New York 1907, p. 54)

You may well ask “what is the difference between nihilism and skepticism?”  One answer to this question which I found on the Internet is as follows:

“Skepticism is a critical attitude, orientation or outlook towards a proposition or a thesis.  It typically is characterized by doubt about, or at least dubiousness towards, its substantive truth value.”

nihilism“Nihilism, on the other hand is an attitude, orientation or outlook of indifference towards a proposition or thesis.  The nihilist refuses to engage in an epistemological process of examination, discovery or analysis into its truth value.”

These definitions and more about the differences between these two concepts can be found at http://phenomenologicalpsychology.com/2011/03/what-is-the-difference-between-skepticism-and-nihilism/

Ecclesiastes skepticalTo sum the differences up in my own words, skeptics doubt everything while nihilists do not give a damn about anything.  Some would describe nihilism as extreme skepticism.  Hence, reading the works I noted above might lead you down either path.  You could decide that nothing is worth doing since there is no truth or value in anything we can accomplish so why bother.  Or else you could decide that you simply do not care about the world so why bother with any of its myriad blandishments.  I somehow think both paths might ultimately bring you to the same place.

meaninglessThere are many people who believe that the world is nothing but a mad house and that we are all inmates in one large global asylum.  My father often said that heaven and hell were both on earth and that it was our choice which one we lived in.  As Yoda noted in Star Wars we make a choice whether to go to the dark side or the light side.  Of course, a determinist would say we have no choice, that fate or life has already determined which choice we have to make.  I am constantly at odds with a good friend of mine who has staked this position out for his life and decisions.  In some ways, it is very difficult to refute.  I can refute all of his arguments but at the same time, I can refute all of my arguments against his arguments.  This leads me to the inexorable conclusion that life is more complex than I can explain or understand.  My trying to understand it is my own particular brand of vanity and folly.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” –YODA, (Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace)

If we do have a choice, then I think we have two coins to choose between.  We can choose a coin of ingratitude and vanity, perhaps this is the dark side or we can also choose a coin of gratitude and humility. Is this latter choice, the light side?  Jesus said:

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

It is kind of amazing when you think about it how many people today are guilty of unbridled arrogance and hubris.  Does that mean that more people are choosing the dark side than the light side?  My friend would argue that they have no choice.

prideWhen I was young I was taught that “Pride goes before a fall.”  It would seem to be an aphorism that too many of our leaders and people in positions of power have forgotten.  Some people believe that this lack of humility comes because we have forgotten God.  It reminds me of the stories in the Bible about the Israelites in the desert who had to be taught again and again that it was God who was the instrument of their salvation.  As soon as a little time went by, they would forget the help that they had been given and begin to ignore God and act arrogantly.  You don’t have to believe in a God to have this problem.

money is meaninglessWe are all much like the Israelites.  We forget the little people that helped us.  We forget the people that looked out for us or assisted us when we were in need.  We begin to think that we are smarter, stronger, wiser and better than other people.  We develop a mythology that attributes all of our success to our own self-discipline and hard work.  It is true that even Thomas Jefferson believed that luck comes from hard work, but it is also true that all the things that we will ever attain in life can be at least partially attributed to the support we have received from other people.  The Beatles set it well with their song:

I get by with a little help from my friends.  (Click here to hear the entire song)

So what would Ecclesiastes say about the folly of arrogance and pride?  I borrow from my wife’s Revised Standard Version of the Bible dated 1952 for the following:

“In my vain life I have seen everything; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evil doing.  Be not righteous overmuch and do not make yourself over wise; why should you destroy yourself?  Be not wicked overmuch, neither be a fool; why should you die before your time.”  Ecclesiastes 7:15-17

This passage was from Karen’s confirmation Bible which she received when she was 13 years old.  She still has the Bible and has highlighted, annotated and nearly worn the binding out from much usage.  I am proud to say that my wife is one Christian who reads the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelations and everything in between.  We often have discussions on the meaning of certain passages and I respect her belief in Christianity as she respects my agnosticism.  We both respect Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Buddha and many other prophets whose wise words have guided us in our lives.

I conclude with some advice knowing full well the old adage “Never give advice. Wise men don’t need it and fools will not heed it.”  Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in my breast and I must break with the aforementioned sage advice to offer the following:

  1. Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see. Our senses are deceiving.
  2. Take science and religion both with a grain of salt. Today’s wisdom will be tomorrow’s folly.
  3. Regard both the expert and the idiot with a healthy bit of skepticism.

Time for Questions:

Have you ever read Ecclesiastes?  What is your view of this book?  What wisdom in it do you pay attention to in your life?  What follies do you fall prey to?  Have you found a way to avoid vanity?  How do you do so?  What advice from this book would you give others?

Life is just beginning.

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  — Martin Luther King, Jr.
 

Experts and Know It All’s, or why you are stupid and dumb and they know everything!

argumentsThere is a saying that goes “The young know everything, the middle aged suspect everything and the elderly believe everything.”  I really can’t say I find much truth in this saying.  I find far too many people young, middle aged and old people alike, who still know everything.   They aggravate the hell out of me.  They correct you on history, dates, politics, philosophy, truth, knowledge, weather forecasts, directions, word spellings and word pronunciations.  They lecture you about things you might know more than them about, but they are oblivious to your opinions.  To add insult to injury, they are right every time.  They are like Mr. Science on PBS; “they know more than you do.”  They may have a degree, TV or some friends who told them everything they believe.  More likely they are relying on some “expert” who they passionately believe in and no amount of expertise on your part or expert witnesses you can muster will put even a small dent in their beliefs.  They remain adamant that you are wrong and they are right.  Their experts trump your experts.  Their degrees trump your degrees.  Their experience trumps your experience.

Karen and I always enjoyed going to Hmong and Vietnamese restaurants and there were many in St. Paul on University Avenue.  One of our favorite winter dishes was a large bowl of soup named Pho.  It came in many different varieties.  We loved this soup.  Now I can’t honestly tell you that I can pronounce the word Pho as my Hmong friends did.  Nevertheless, they generally figured out what I was talking about when I pointed to the menu and said “Number 37 with squid please.”  It came to pass that some friends of ours went to visit a family in Vietnam.  Shortly after they came back from Vietnam, we all went to a Vietnamese restaurant for some Pho.  Of course, now that the wife had been in Vietnam, she was an expert on pronouncing Vietnamese words.  She told us how to correctly pronounce Pho.  I would have been all right with this except that it did not sound like the same word any of the waiters in the restaurant were using.  I guess they just forgot how to pronounce their own language.  I hate it when people correct my word pronunciations!  Why, because I have found that there are often many different ways to pronounce a word.  Some are undoubtedly wrong, but who knows?  Of course, the “expert” knows the right pronunciation.

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”  — Isaac Asimov

Do I have a big character quirk?  Why do these people annoy me so much?  I love Socrates because he did not know everything.  I am agitated by people who correct me.  I don’t mind it if you have your opinions.  I don’t mind it if you have your experts.  I also don’t mind it if you read it in a book someplace.  However, has it ever occurred to you that I might have a different opinion?  I might have read a different book?  I might have heard a different expert?  Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill or is this problem getting worse?  It seems to me there are more know-it-alls on the web and internet and TV then there were before.  It sometimes seems like there are more experts out there than there are people on the face of the earth.  Every day we are bombarded with experts telling us what to eat, how to exercise, what to invest in, what to believe, what not to believe.  I sometimes feel that we need a “War on Experts.”

We must be so careful of setting ourselves up as people who set others straight. There is a fine line of encouraging and being a know it all.  — Unknown quote

To make it worse, you cannot escape this war online.  Every day there are arguments on different chat groups and websites where it is clear that each side is totally ignoring what the other side is saying.  Here is one example from Facebook, I recently experienced.  I will refrain from using the actual names of the parties concerned.  It involves a disagreement over the use of Electroshock Therapy for patients in a mental health facility.  A friend posted his comments noting a wide range of experts who thought that such treatments were abusive and no longer useful.  He was immediately “jumped” on by an “expert” who disagreed and cited their extensive history and experience in a facility where Electroshock Therapy was used.  Apparently in his perspective, the patients needed it and loved it.  When asked to produce some evidence as to his experience or expertise, he fell back on the old “Trust Me” I know argument.  No amount of persuasion could convince the “expert” that other “experts” might not agree with him.

Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.  — Denis Waitley

Here is a verbatim discussion from another Facebook group online that is for “Intellectual Discussions.”  I have left the names out.  The discussion started with the posting of a picture that appeared to some as “offensive.”  The picture dealt with slavery.

  • Disgusting part of our history that we should never forget.
  • Can we move away from posting statements and more towards questions which will foster discussion?
  • I’m sure we all know of the atrocities that happened to those poor people, but there isn’t much more we can say on this point other than having a circle jerk to see who can be the most apologetic and remorseful for the ways of whitey.
  • Can we just post whatever we want? Otherwise bring it up with admin for a questions
  • I don’t see a problem with this, although it will probably fall to the bottom of the page pretty quickly. The nature of debate is someone offers a stance, and then people will either agree or offer an opposing stance. There is nothing wrong with debating your point of view. I can’t see how somebody would disagree with the above in this case, but the nature of racism is certainly a valid topic.
  • My only point was this offers very little to discuss, which one would assume is the point of the group. i have nothing against discussing this topic, but this is just a depressing statement with a depressing pic, it’s not really a topic or point of contention which will inspire any discussion.
  • Yeah I agree this won’t generate much of a discussion. I don’t think any of the admins here would want to ban this however, seems a bit draconian to me. You don’t want to create an environment where people are hesitant to post things because of a police like environment.
  • I found that this fact brought up many, many issues to discuss, intellectually.
  • Linking articles in this manner is lazy and attributes to spam.
  • Shuvit,
  • Who’s lazy now?
  • Be cool, man, you don’t have to be like that .
  • Spam = selling something.
  • No one, who is intelligent, in the group Intellectual Discussion is going to stand for unwarranted aggression or name calling. Be careful with your words, they are very powerful, “You just might write a check, you can’t cash….Anywhere.”
  •  Nobody here has been name calling. Chill out people . . . everyone please.
  • THIS IS WHY WE CAN”T HAVE NICE THINGS
  • That was good!
  • Shuv-it I don’t understand why you would disrespect my name, and in the same breath condone name calling.
  •  And to this white guilt shame stirring understand it has zero effect on me – for a couple of reasons; first is relevance. Law which doesn’t exist.

arguments 2This same story repeats itself endlessly on the web and elsewhere.  You post something.  Some body disagrees with it.  Someone takes offense at it.  Some expert rebuts it.  Someone does not think you should have said it.  It is not much different elsewhere.  You say something in a coffee shop.  Some expert rebuts it.  You are at a party and make a comment.  Some expert rebuts it.  Where are all the Socrates?  Where are all the truly wise people who know that they know nothing?  Why are we surrounded by experts?  What if more of us were like Socrates and at least not so sure of what we know?

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”  — Socrates

I find myself wondering about the old rules of rhetoric and debate.  The rules we learned in school.  Was anyone ever convinced of anything by facts, experts and argument?  I see little evidence of this online or anywhere else.  Perhaps it works in court where people come without a bias to begin with.  Perhaps not!  Of one thing, I am fairly certain; I have experienced few if any arguments where I was a witness to a change of mind.  Thus, most arguments go around in a circle and the victor is often the most obtuse or the one with the most stomach for hyperbole, rigmarole, obfuscation, pedantry and insults.  You win when the other side quits.  Is there a solution?  I think there might be.

What about a set of rules for disagreeing with other people?   What if we agreed on certain principles that were more designed to illicit the truth then to prove ourselves right and the other side wrong?  It would be more like win-win bargaining then win-lose bargaining.  Both sides would try to find the truth or at least the Golden Mean.  This would probably never work in court, but it might work in arguments between people or at least between friends.  Thus, I propose the following rules:

  1. Start with admitting that you do not know everything.
  2. Admit that you might not have all the facts and that what facts you have are not necessarily true.
  3. Agree that the truth between your side and the other side might be in-between.
  4. Do not insult, slander, belittle or ridicule the other side.
  5. Ask questions and seek facts together?  Ask what is missing in the evidence that would make the truth more obvious?
  6. Celebrate finding the truth and not a victory over the other side.

What do you think?  Would these rules make discourse more civil? Am I being naïve? 

As an experiment, I posted these rules and a short prologue to them on a few websites (Five websites dealing with discussion and debate). I waited a few days to update this article and to include any insights I received from this experiment.  Here are some interesting comments that people left in response to my posting:

  • I was convinced, through logical debate alone, that I live in a permanently determined universe even though my direct experience will never reflect that fact. This was one of a few MAJOR shifts in perception/worldview I have had in my life, which had an impact on every part of my life. It literally turned my entire belief system on its head at the time. It happened while having a conversation on a forum online. The (logical) truth alone can be transformative if you honor it over your emotional preferences and attachments. It’s not easy to let go of false beliefs and ideas, so most of us choose instead to desperately cling to them out of fear, and that becomes the hidden driver for various dishonest techniques like information filtering and distortion, that destroy our capacity to be moved by logic and by truth. Logic and truth are not to blame – human dishonesty and unclear motive is to blame. You need to become the kind of person who has thought about everything so much, that you delight in the idea of someone proving you wrong, you seek it out and look for it because you are bored to death with having figured everything out.
  •  You are describing having an open mind – it takes discipline and practice- and maybe a referee. People find it hard not to either take comments personally, or to make personal attacks.
  •  All 6 points mentioned above sound logical and reasonable. The problem is for one to transfer them from the theoretical stage to the practical one. If one can adopt and apply in his daily communication the outlined 6 points then in my opinion he is a “man of enormous wisdom”.
  •  Yes. And like all people that hold various perceptions of various paradigms (i.e., religion, government, etc.,), they come in all levels of perception. Some are easier than others to converse with. We ALL have different learning curves, molded by different experiences, histories, etc.  There are those, out there, that ENDEAVOR to have an open mind and question.
  •  What you are proposing is dialogue instead of debate. When you want to find the truth, dialogue is the way to go. Sometimes judgments have to be made in absence of absolute certainty, debate is useful in these situations (and yes pathos is huge in debates), but should ideally be avoided by finding the truth.
  • I was warned against the fallacy of moderation (or the mean) when I learnt rhetoric and that the truth rarely lies between two opposite positions.

argument-against-argumentsConclusions:

Karen asked me when the “experiment” was over whether people agreed with me or not.  Well, like most of life, there was no black and white answer to this question.  Most people agree we need civility but most did not seem to think it likely that people could control their emotional responses in respect to an argument or concept that they felt strongly about.  Rules or no rules, I am constrained to accept the possibility that:

  1. There often may be no middle ground for compromise
  2. Conflict is inevitable in some circumstances
  3. People are emotional and bring emotional baggage to many discussions
  4. People can change their minds but it will not be an easy task to break anyone out of their pre-existing frameworks
  5. We need to make more of an effort to find the “Golden Mean”
  6. We need to show more respect for opinions we disagree with

Time for Questions:

 Are there too many experts in the world?  Why have the amount of “talking heads” proliferated?  Are you tired of hearing experts tell you what you should know and think?  How can we have more agreeable conversations?  Is it possible to avoid conflict and look for the truth rather than try to prove ourselves right?  Are you a “know it all”?  What do we have to do to be more open minded?

Life is just beginning

 

 

 

Gandhi’s Sixth Social Sin: Worship Without Sacrifice

I find it surprising that I am writing about Gandhi and his ideas.  Surprising in that while growing up I was as far from a non-violent philosophy as anyone could be.  Sometimes it seemed like my whole life was violence, anger and fighting.  I joined the military out of high school and hoped to kill as many “commies” as I could.  I continued my violent ways for many years and to be honest I am still no pacifist.  I would not turn the other cheek once if you hit me, never mind 40 times. I am still on the border line about capital punishment.  One day I think Capital Punishment is terribly useless institution made even worse by its ineffectiveness at deterring crime. The next day I read of some horrendous crime that I feel can only be rectified by punishments that go well beyond the heinousness of legal murder.  If Gandhi were my father, he would surely disown me. 

Gandhi is one of those heroic icons who cannot be ignored.  Whether you believe in his ideas or not, you cannot deny that he tried to live according to his beliefs.  More important was that he lived to help others have a better life.  Everything Gandhi did paid evidence to his ideology that humans could be better than they were.  I know many people who think that educators, psychologists, social workers and other “human service” workers are just a waste of taxpayer money.  These same people are continually on the front line for more prisons and more military hardware.  It is evident to such people that humans can not improve and thus the only betterment of humanity lies in more weapons, more police, more military and more guns.  Gandhi would have professed the exact opposite and worked to create a world that was non-violent and where disputes could be resolved by civil discourse.

Years ago, I dropped my belief in God and in religions.  I came to the conclusion that the first did not exist and the second was evil. It seemed to me that much of the misery on the earth came from one or the other of the major religions.  The crusades, the inquisition, the Protestant Catholic wars, the wars against “Pagans” all showed me conclusively that religions did more harm than good. When I joined the military, I would not speak to any clergy and when they came around; I always avoided them.  I was even rude to them at times as I regarded them as hypocrites.  My first wife and I did not practice any religion together but I did bring my daughter around to several different religious venues as I wanted to at least expose her to them.  My second marriage was to a more deeply religious woman who practices her faith regularly by participating in church affairs and helping out at many church functions.  I often kid her about some of these events but I have come to a different point in my life regarding their benefit to the world.  I am somewhat less judgmental about religions and people then I was in my younger days. 

What does this mean for me about religions and how I regard them today?  I can say with sincerity that I still see much evil that comes out of religion, not to mention its ongoing hypocrisy (for instance where were all the churches and ministers when we invaded Iraq both the first and second times?).  However, I also see many good things that they now do, from supporting health care for poor people to championing efforts to feed people both domestically and abroad.  There are many other examples of good things that are done by churches and religious leaders.  So what does Gandhi mean by “Worship without Sacrifice?”  Is Gandhi against organized religion?  Here is the description from the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence that summarizes Gandhi’s ideas in respect to his Sixth Social Sin: 

“Worship without Sacrifice: One person’s faith is another person’s fantasy because religion has been reduced to meaningless rituals practiced mindlessly. Temples, churches, synagogues, mosques and those entrusted with the duty of interpreting religion to lay people seek to control through fear of hell, damnation, and purgatory. In the name of God they have spawned more hate and violence than any government. True religion is based on spirituality, love, compassion, understanding, and appreciation of each other whatever our beliefs may be — Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Agnostics or whatever. Gandhi believed whatever labels we put on our faith; ultimately all of us worship Truth because Truth is God. Superficially we may be very devout believers and make a tremendous public show of our worship, but if that belief, understanding, compassion, love and appreciation is not translated into our lives, prayers will have no meaning. True worship demands sacrifice not just in terms of the number of times a day we say our prayers but in how sincere we are in translating those prayers into life styles. In the 1930’s many Christian and Muslim clergy flocked into India to convert the millions who were oppressed as untouchables. The Christian clergy stood on street corners loudly denouncing Hinduism and proclaiming the virtues of Christianity. Months went by without a single convert accepting the offer. Frustrated, one priest asked Grandfather: After all the oppression and discrimination that the ‘untouchables’ suffer under Hinduism, why is it they do not accept our offer of a better life under Christianity? Grandfather replied: When you stop telling them how good Christianity is and start living it, you will find more converts than you can cope with. These words of wisdom apply to all religions of the world. We want to shout from roof-tops the virtues of our beliefs and not translate them into our lives.”

Gandhi’s words remind me of a comment by Sitting Bull. When asked what he thought of Christianity he replied:   “From what I have read it is an admirable religion, however I do not see any white people practicing it.”  From a Native American perspective, the only thing the conquerors religions offered was a destruction of their habitats and lifestyles.  Witness the coming of the Spanish to the “New World” and the systematic destruction of the culture and religions that already existed by the Spanish military and their allied missionaries.  The genocidal destruction of indigenous peoples throughout the world is full of pompous and pretentious efforts to “convert” and save them from their evil ways.  In reality, religion only provided an expedient excuse to separate them from their lands and gold.  We have in much of the history of organized religion a clear example of what Gandhi meant by Worship without Sacrifice.

Perhaps surprising to some though, true Christianity is firm that Worship without Sacrifice is worthless: 

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and be well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

 

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  

 

You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

 

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?  Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.  And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend.  You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.”

                    James 2:14-26- New International Version

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for his religious beliefs. This is Worship with Sacrifice.  Going to church on Sunday or simply reading the Bible is Worship without Sacrifice.  When Jesus said that the two most important Commandments were Love God and Love Everyone, he meant you had to practice your faith by helping others who were less fortunate.  This has made it very difficult for most of humankind to be his followers in deed as well as in professed belief.  It is far easier to say “I am a Christian, then to “Sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  It is much easier to pray, worship, and read the Bible than to actually practice what Jesus was saying.  Think for a minute what it would mean if all would be Christians really practiced the “Love Everyone Commandment?  A short list of the consequences of this would mean:

  • No religious wars
  • No Jihads
  • No terrorism
  • No murders
  • No rapes
  • No assaults
  • NO WARS PERIOD

Can you imagine a world without these problems?  This is the world we would have if everyone practiced their religions by deeds and not just words.  However, this would require sacrifice and too many people are not really willing to sacrifice for their religion, for Jesus or for God.  Sacrifice means giving up something to help others, not giving up something to gain something for you.  Those who blow up their bodies to attain paradise with 40 vestal virgins are not sacrificing for others; they are simply trying to take a shortcut to attain what other greedy people already have.  Any religion that terrorizes others in the name of “whoever” or “whatever” is evil regardless of what it calls itself.  This raises the question that might be phased as “What is the purpose of religion.”  Searching the web it is easy to find that many have condemned organized religion because of the atrocities associated with it. Great thinkers from Plato to Thomas Jefferson to Bertrand Russell have had little good to say about religions.  However, I like the following comment from WaheguruNet regarding what positive role religion could and indeed should play in society:

“Religion has and continues to impact almost every aspect of human civilization in both positive and negative ways. The great spiritual masters from all traditions have taught that we need to adopt and develop higher qualities of love, mercy, generosity, kindness and so on. These higher qualities are a natural byproduct of developing a deeper connection with our spiritual nature and so in this respect religion can be thought of as a vehicle to support our spiritual development and our re-connection with divinity.  In this way, human beings will be better at working together to create a better and more harmonious world.”

You will notice that in this purpose there is nothing mentioned about doom and destruction  or about going to hell and suffering for the rest of your life or about your neighbor who is a hypocrite and unlike you is destined for fire and brimstone.  The purpose of religion is to help us become better people. To help us find our connection to our inner spirit and to help guide us in living a more just and moral life.  This purpose must be followed by actions and deeds as well as pious readings and professed beliefs. There is no room Gandhi’s religion or Jesus’s religion for bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, hatred, intolerance and destruction of others or their belief systems.   

Time for Questions:

What can we do to practice good deeds as well as good thoughts? What sacrifices are you willing to make to help others?  Are we making a true sacrifice by telling others how hard we worked and that they can be what we are if they only try?  Should we simply tell others to pull themselves up by their boot straps?  Are all people really created equal in the sense that everyone has an equal chance at health and happiness?  Can we help make it so by sharing what we have with others?  

Life is just beginning.

 

 

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