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Eureka: Religions of the world
by Jay Gutman
2016-12-08 11:55:57
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religion01Last year I undertook an interesting challenge: read every single religious scripture cover to cover at least once. That’s how I read and understood the Torah, the Talmud, the Christian Bible, the Quran, The Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Dhammapada and other more esoteric texts. I also did work on the ground trying to find out how different religions organize, and how those religious beliefs apply in the field.

So here’s a very brief overview of the different religions I encountered.

Judaism: As a side note both my parents are Jewish, but this is rather irrelevant. The main body of Jewish scriptures is the Torah, which contains five books, four of them dealing with the life of Moses. Moses tried to codify laws, including laws regarding health, marriage and trials. There’s a total of 613 such laws. Then there are two other collections of books that deal with the history of the early Kingdom of Israel, the different kings, epic stories and wars fought known as the book of Kings and the book of Prophets. The Talmud is a 6,000 page (depending on how you count) interpretation of the different scriptures, containing 10 volumes (depending on how you count) each with several books and subsections, including sections on the Sabbath, on the different holidays and on the justice system. Some Jews try their best to follow all the rules and are known in Hebrew as dati (religious) while others don’t really bother reading the scriptures and are known as chilnoni (Secular). 

Christianity: The 40 books of the Old Testament are completed by 26 books of the New Testament meaning there’s a total of 66 books in the Christian Bible. Unlike the Old Testament which was more tailored to the Jewish inhabitants of the Kingdom of Israel, the New Testament focuses more on celibacy, marriage for life, and proselytizing (the book of Acts). The Catholic Church is more strict in its interpretation of the New Testament, while different Protestant churches look to the Old Testament for interpretation, contradicting laws such as marriage for life.

Islam: If you live within a Muslim society (which I have) you will see that the virtues listed in the Quran such as patience and a slow pace of life are upheld. The Quran has complex laws when it comes to family and inheritance and believes that one should be fearful around God (Allah). Fearing God means an afterlife full of promise including virgins and wine that never makes you drunk, not fearing God or his principles leads to a Dante-like description of Hell. Heaven and Hell are very vividly described in the Quran, leading to Muslim societies often fearing God and rarely joking about religion.

Hinduism: The Bhagavad Gita describes Hindu society as a hierarchical society and Yoga as the path to follow, and Yoga has nothing to do with stretching. Yoga has more to do with careful speech, rituals and a life of scholarship. Relationships between the opposite sex are strictly defined and are not a theme to be joked about, and Hinduism insists on careful speech and only saying something when you’re absolutely sure it is correct.

Buddhism and Daoism: Both religions, though having different scriptures, insist that your body belongs to you but that everything else belongs to nature, basically meaning that you cannot control it. Desiring things that are not within your body frame is frowned upon, and so is having discussions trying to interpret the meaning of such tenets. Buddhist Monks in the West often complain that stone-slacking hipsters find the philosophy interesting, while Buddhist societies in Asia often interpret their religion as meaning minimalist material wealth and avoiding controlling anything that goes beyond their bodies, though recently many Buddhists in Asia have been praying for the material wealth of their children and families, when monks see a contradiction right there. Buddhists believe that when your body no longer craves anything from the outside world you achieve enlightenment.

Confucianism: Four books and five classics, insist on order, cleanliness and scholarship. Confucianism believes that everything should be placed at the right place, believes in Geomancy (meaning that the location of your house can say something about your personality, so does the location of your office and the placement of buildings and so on) and that interactions between people are highly ritualized. Relationships between parents, teachers and the king are hierarchical, and parents, teachers and kings have God-like status and are worshiped. Modern interpretations of Confucianism can cause confusion, as in Confucian societies the hierarchical nature of relationships between one and his elders, parents, kings and teachers means that in a lot of cases parents, teachers, kings and elders can get away with abuse, as in some strict interpretations it is said that you must worship your elders regardless of what they do. This means people in Confucian societies will often fear your if you’re older, but sometimes will try to crush you if you’re younger and not careful enough.

So much for religion. I would say that you have a lot to learn about society from reading the scriptures. The scriptures are sometimes tedious but you always recognize at least some parts of society in them.     

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Emanuel Paparella2016-12-08 13:58:57
One can study and compare the major religions of the world in a positivistic sociological mode, they way Comte would proceed; that is, analyze how their practice affects various societies; or one can take an historical-humanistic approach and explore why religions have been around from the beginning of humankind, what are their common concerns and aims, and what impact they have had on the destiny of humankind, the way a Jung proceeded. To stop at the first approach and ignore the second is to ultimately miss the common nature of all religions and their all-encompassing transcendent aspects (and they all have them, even Confucianism which happens to be more of a philosophy than a theology.

Emanuel Paparella2016-12-08 20:53:07

P.S. The above link leads to an article on religion in Modern Diplomacy, just out today, which may give the reader an idea on how religion can be explained going beyond the positivistic or the utilitarian approach and in the process arrive at a more holistic picture of what is its essence.

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