Not much wisdom
There’s this idea that even if you’re not a believer and you don’t see Holy Books as divinely dictated, still they’re a good source of wisdom.
I’m not convinced of that. There’s a lot of gorgeous language in the King James translation of the Bible, to be sure, and some of the remarks attributed to Jesus are pleasingly provocative, but I can think of a great number of better sources of wisdom without breaking a sweat. Religious “commandments” or rules or conditions of entry, for instance, are remarkably impoverished. Imagine you find yourself being a deity and you get to hand humanity a short crisp set of rules for how to be not so bad. What an opportunity! What a chance to tell your little subjects to have decent priorities and better instincts. Can you imagine throwing any of those rules away on shit like observing a “Sabbath”?
Look at the big ten:
- I’m your god; don’t have any other god.
- Don’t make any carvings or pictures of anything on earth or in the sky or the oceans.
- Don’t use my name for swearing.
- Make one day a week holy, and don’t do anything useful on that day, I don’t care if you’re starving.
- Be polite to your parents.
- Don’t murder.
- Don’t have sex outside marriage.
- Don’t steal.
- Don’t lie.
- Don’t envy other people’s stuff, including their wives. I’m assuming you’re all male, of course. Women don’t have enough brains to envy anything.
What a waste. The first four are all about being nice to this God character, which seems silly when God is supposed to be perfect. God should be giving humans all the good things, not the other way around. And the rest – it’s just so desperately inadequate. It’s tragic that people think it’s worth fighting over putting that up on government property (as they do in the US) when it’s so worthless.
Let’s think of a better ten, shall we?
- Be kind
- Give help where it’s needed
- Take care of the earth
- Welcome strangers
- Be useful
- Learn to forgive
- Educate yourself and help educate others
- Be amusing
- Look beyond yourself
Others would do a different version, but you get the idea – it’s about making the world a better place as opposed to being a selfish toad, which the Big Ten completely overlook. Not killing people is a good basic rule but it’s hardly enough, and in fact it would be better to urge people not to want to kill anyone in the first place.
Or what about the 5 Pillars? Are they any less stunted?
• Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith
• Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
• Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy
• Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
• Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca
Zakat is an improvement on The Ten, which don’t bother to look beyond the family unit. But the rest? It’s nothing to do with being good to other people, it’s entirely about duties to the God-boss again. The duties are very demanding, too, so demanding that they must interfere with anyone’s ability to be good to other people or make the world a better place.
Let’s try a different 5 pillars:
- Think of others
Better, wouldn’t you say?
Isn’t it a pity that these people who came up with the “holy books” didn’t do a better job of constructing the rules?
Buddhism is somewhat better. The BBC again:
All Buddhists live by the Five Moral Precepts which are refraining from:
• harming living things
• taking what is not given
• sexual misconduct
• lying or gossip
• taking intoxicating substances eg drugs or drink
At least they get the first item right! Hippocrates and the Buddhists: first of all, don’t harm living things. I wonder if they mean sentient living things, because they have to harm at least some living things if they want to stay alive – rice, beans, berries, something. But then eating plants isn’t necessarily harming them, since it can spread their seeds.
But Buddhism is only better than the Big Monotheisms; that doesn’t mean it’s good. It still throws away two out of the five with puritan strictures about sex and drugs.
It’s all rather funny in a way, but it’s more tragic than funny. People have been living by these misdirected rules for many centuries, and a lot of people still do. Many millions of believers are still far more concerned with whether or not a woman hides her face than whether or not people are starving in the next town. Religion seems to operate as a device for sucking the compassion and concern out of people, rather than one for inspiring and motivating it.
Never mind the Holy Books. Read Keats’s Letters instead, read Montaigne’s essays, read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Read anything written by thinking people who gave a damn about others, and let The Rules go hang.