toxic thought waste site

Theological whimsy, metaphysical larks, and other spiritually radioactive waste products.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Great Transformation: Chap 10 - The Way Forward

The final chapter shows where the various faiths end up going after the highs of their various Axial Age accomplishments and then points the direction for a new sorely needed modern Axial Age.

The first things the Chinese do when their country gets a little bit stable is to burn all the books that don't agree with the official view of things. I know I love books too much but it always pains me to read something like that. Interestingly the Chinese philosophies (were any of these systems religions?) become very inclusive and it common for people to espouse different systems at different times of their life and in their different roles.

After a 500+ year dark age the Indians return to a less lofty religion with the popularization of physical representation of the various gods. Rituals and beliefs have been "McDonald"-ized so all the common man can partake fast food style in a spiritual life without having to commit large amount of their time and resources to being a monk.

The Jews continue to emphasize the golden rule as the main message of their scriptures (seemingly in spite of the actual contents of their scriptures). But I have to admit I'm won over by some of the rabbinical teachings and anecdotes. In one case an argument is raging between two rabbis and God's own voice booms down in favor of one of the two speakers. The other speaker basically informs the voice that his own opinion is just as valid. For me that is the best part of Judaism, when Abraham or Moses or others basically respond to God with a "What-you-talkin-bout-Willis" and try to get reasons for his commands or fight for a more ethical policy (e.g. Lot and Soddom and Gemorah). If there is a God and he cares about our affairs, then this is the type I could believe in.

As footnotes to Judaism, Christianity and Islam are quickly discussed. She does a great job of making Christianity out to be an almost Buddhist type metaphysical thing based on compassion and extreme humility. I wish I could meet one of these early Christians some time and get them to spread a little of their faith around in the present. They seem like a reasonable sort of cult.

You could write entire books on what I don't know about Islam and certainly people have. Including Karen Armstrong. Her view of Islam is one of compassion and humility so different from the picture presented by Sam Harris. So I guess I'll have to read her biography of Muhammad some time.

The Axial Age sages are united in thinking that life is tough but if you discipline yourself to follow the golden rule and eradicate egotism you can advance to a higher level of humanity. Or in Karen's words, "The practice of disciplined sympathy would itself yield intimations of transcendence". Sounds good, sign me up. I've always wanted an intimation of transcendence.

Important principles for achieving the above are: (1) unflinching self-criticism and (2) practical action over dogmatism or a retreat from the world.

And, so, there you go.



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