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Powerful beliefs are a fascination of humankind and have both motivated and enslaved us for longer than history records. As it’s an area of such great importance, it only makes sense for me to scrunch it down to a thousand words.
The earliest and surely the most numerous are what we today call pagan superstitions, because calling something a superstition obliges us to give it the least thought and consideration and is therefore saving of our time and energy. Since there are a lot of these ancient beliefs, I lump them into two groups for convenience. There is the literal pagan, who holds that a large something-or-other will either kick him/her to tarnation or reward for obeying the particular rules. The other type of pagan I call spiritual because they find spirits or motives in all things, especially natural. I had an uncle who believed there was a sprit in water. He’d help it along by adding Scotch. I’m not sure that’s the same thing, but it worked for him.
A feature I find highly appealing in some old-line paganism is the opportunity to save your immortal self by sacrificing others on the altar. You must admit it’s a swell thing to lighten your burden of transgression by transferring the fee to another. “O Great One, I’ve been bad. Here are two captives to pay for it.”
Many of us are most familiar with the Norse, Greek, and Roman god pantheon. (Pagans seem liberal by leaning toward multi rather than one-god rule.) There’s a basic clash among pagan believers whether a god like Mars is an actual being with an address on Olympus or an aspect of human spirit reflecting a warlike or hostile temperament. Some considerable battles were fought between the sides trying to prove their point. I imagine there are plenty today who are willing and able to prove their spiritual worth by bashing those who disagree. You don’t need much logic if your sword arm is strong.
I’m not familiar enough with Asiatic philosophies to speak with authority, but some such as Shinto and Confucianism have long records. Some might not consider Confucius a religious leader at all because his aim was a calm, well-regulated society. His goal plus a strong emphasis on virtue makes him wholly unsuited for modern politics. Asia is also home to Sikhism and Hinduism, neither of which I understand well enough other than to note that the Hindu system is highly colorful and diverse in forms far beyond anything the Norse or Greeks had going.
It’s likely that the largest of the Asian beliefs is found in forms of Buddhism. In high school I read about Zen with keen interest because I thirsted for enlightenment. Actually, at the time I had quite a few thirsts and hungers—too many and too demanding (it turned out) to be met by serene contemplation. A great many years later I took a second stab learning about Buddhism on a weekend course. I learned that when a Buddhist monk speaks of meditation via the “slow walk,” his definition of slow is different from mine. I was a half mile away before he took eight steps. I don’t think I’m proper Buddhist material.
I hope people from some of the Asian persuasions won’t take offense that I slighted them or ignored their particular slant entirely. It can’t be helped. I’d face the same trying to detail all the forms of Democrat or Republican. By the time I’d cover them all, we’d have slipped into sorry depression with consequences dire. I can’t have that many suicides on my conscience at this late stage of life. When I was younger, maybe, but not anymore. Besides, I have to save powder for what we might consider the major players on the field of belief, or is it the plane of culture or the arena of society? It’s hard to say for sure because beliefs have a persistent habit of coming up in other forms such as laws, which fruits are forbidden, etc.
For a great many on the planet, the hot spot of faith is the Middle East. At times this fact has made me wish I were Chinese so as to have some distance on the blessings, but alas. Of the primary surviving Middle East players, Judaism is first in seniority. Again, I don’t have a lot of opinion about a faith I know best from Moses and the Ten Commandments. There’s a lot more to it than that, I’m sure, but the traditional use of Hebrew makes it tricky for an outsider to form more than impressions. If you go by scientific achievement and Nobel prizes (a language I understand), Judaism has done well. My personal quarrel with the faith is with the Commandments. My thought is Ten Worthy Suggestions gets the idea across without being so pushy, but Commandments seems to have stuck.
The child, so to speak, of Judaism is Christianity. There’s been controversy from the start about whether Christ was the Messiah or not. Blood was spilled over the question, which pretty much proves the religious angle. I take a moderate approach. By that I mean I look at a teaching such as the Beatitudes and I’m OK with it. Of course I’m inclined to quibble here and there. How meek is too meek? I don’t want to end up a doormat. Easier for me to understand, Christian traditions on forgiveness and rebirth seem innocent or even constructive until bullied into rigid dogmas.
The most recent of the Middle Eastern religions is Islam, which is also one of the touchiest to talk about due to conflicting reports about the meaning of its name. Is it peace or is it submission? As with most things religious, it’s often difficult to pin a precise meaning, though I wonder if the amount of peace isn’t in direct proportion to your degree of submission.
So there in about a thousand words is religion according to me. I hope the Zoroastrians forgive me for leaving them out. Maybe next time if I survive this one.