Religions As Expressions of Emotions
At some level – true Christianity is nothing but the expression of the feeling of love – love for other
humans and love for the larger, intelligent side of reality which we are all part of. After all, Jesus himself said there were only two commandments from which all else follows – “love thy neighbor and love God.” Every thing else is a matter of trying to follow through effectively and sincerely from that motivation. A full and sincere appreciation of the “sacred heart” is an important part of the heritage of all of humanity.
It is easier, in a way, for an honest person outside the Bible Belt to be a pure, true Christian than a person inside it. A person outside the Bible Belt can focus on this core feeling, without being distracted by the power structures and theories and local adaptations and even perversions which have grown up in many local “Christian” communities. A pure Christian is one who gives way completely to the spiritual power of love, so that it animates all of his or her life, and pushes aside all barnacles which block the strong stream of pure feeling and of its expression. I am not a pure Christian, since this is only one aspect of my life, but it is an important aspect of my life – and of the life of any fully self-aware human.
Perhaps the core of Buddhism is also an emotion – the
feeling that we are all too overwhelmed by useless trivia, by self-inflicted
pain and silly, petty things, of illusory and fleeting reality, and the strong
impulse to rise above such things, to see reality from a larger and detached
point of view, the impulse to refocus the core of one’s being beyond all the
small things, to seek peace of mind, and root oneself in a much larger reality.
In June 2007, in visiting
The next day, back in
At the next temple, in
By the way, the fifth and final temple we visited this time was Tiger Hill. I tend to believe that the leaning tall pagoda there was the original inspiration for a scene in the great classic Journey to the West. There is a scene where Monkey disguises himself as a temple, and his tail as a tall pagoda, but it leaned too much…
But what about Moses and Mohammed? In my view, Moses and Mohammed both represent approximately the same emotion – the impulse to try to lay down the law when life gets messy and bloody and out of control, the impulse for Order over Chaos. (And Rumi is to Mohammed what Jesus is to Moses. One of the greatest losses of Islam today is the lack of sufficient respect for Rumi, and for his role in the greatest glories of Islamic civilization.)
Certainly I had a Moses moment later in June 2007, when the
Senate voted 70-30 against a bill recommended by the Senate Finance Committee,
which would have redirected a small part of the recent new tax breaks to the
oil companies (about $3 billion/year of them) to far more useful tax incentives
favoring renewable energy, hybrid cars and plug-in hybrids. The press basically
reported “the oil companies in Congress decided this was an unacceptable use of
their (government) money.” And I did remember Moses’ twelve curses, and how
much rain and death it took before Pharaoh was said to wake up. And I wondered
what happens when the next big hurricane hits the
As for Order and Chaos – well, this is where the Daoist yin-yang symbol comes to mind. Absolute Order and Absolute Chaos are like ice and fire. They represent well-known extremes in the mathematics of nonlinear dynamical systems, the lifeless states of point attractors and the random “heat death.” A challenge for the political class is to build the kinds of laws and order which can exist in harmony with life and change – a balance of order and chaos, not a choice of one or the other. The ancient and elaborate systems of rules laid down by the followers of Moses (Talmud) and the lawyers of the corrupt Abbasid Emperors (shariyah) are not compatible even with stability and survival in the complex world we now live in. A new and better follow-up on the original emotions is needed, and many of the ancient barnacles need to be swept aside, in order for humans to continue to live at all on this endangered planet.
Just as Mohammed re-expressed the same emotion that Moses expressed… perhaps world culture and religion now needs a stronger, clearer expression of the kind of emotion that Buddha expressed. From simple detachment… to utter Rationality, the expression of (harmonious) Order within the mind itself.
Do you believe what I am saying about the history of these religions? For a brief account – the most honest and well-informed account I know, based on an objective and sympathetic understanding of hundreds of primary sources, is the text World History by William McNeill. (I have used many other sources myself to form this picture… but it all fits with what he says.)