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On Other Peoples' Theology
A young man I once knew, the teen-age brother of my early-20's girl friend, was very much a disciple of his father's fundamentalist evangelism.
When I countered some of his jingoistic religious sentiments by asking if he actually knew anything about any other religion...say, Buddhism...his reply was swift and curt.
"No. And I don't want to."
At the time I was appalled by his wholesale rejection of everything outside of his own narrow dogma. Fifty years later I am still appalled, but I understand it better.
At age 16 or 17 he felt no obligation to explore beyond what served him comfortably as an ideology. I thought he was short-changing himself abysmally. Though I may have been right, I have no evidence that exploration of alternative faiths and belief systems may not just have confused him and ultimately made him a worse human being than he was.
Left alone, he was probably destined to be only intolerant.
For myself, these many decades down the line, I find I have reached somewhat the same attitude as that brash young fundamentalist.
I feel myself under no obligation to explore any specific metaphysical system upon its own terms...which is of course the only way to learn anything specific about any or all of them.
I claim one mark of intellectual superiority over my youthful acquaintance. I have spent some time exploring metaphysical theory -- both in general and in specific -- and I form my opinions from rather more information than he.
I am therefore more tolerant of the great diversity of belief which infects the human race; somewhat more willing to "live and let live."
But I have no intention of wasting what little time I have left as a sentient being exploring the arcane alleys of any “orthodox” belief system in hope of finding some eternal verity which will carry me through my final hours.
Although all the great religions have rich and complex theologies, capable of absorbing the intellectual energies of the most brilliant minds the species can produce, the end result of such a dedicated lifetime of faithful seeking is ... what?
If all that study of arcana, all that intellectual effort and dedication did nothing more than get you to that final moment with dignity and acceptance? Well, it may have been worth it. For you.
For me it would have been a huge waste of time.
Despite the many differences in the specific elements of dogma which separate the world's belief systems, they are all remarkably similar in the general.
On those general grounds I find them all irrelevant, and I am under no obligation to try to grasp their specifics.
A late 20th Century public television program explored the nature of faith...specifically religious faith...through an extended interview with a brilliant theological philosopher who...although he personally cleaves to a certain Protestant Christian belief... has explored the specifics of most of the world's major religions.
The whole point of this multi-session, multi-evening exercise was to demonstrate how similar all the great belief systems are while also illuminating some of the mutually-exclusive elements which this philosopher has found helpful or instructive in building his own version of his particular sect.
But, you see, I find none of this revealing or profound. Therefore I was able to watch very little of this probably extremely valuable effort by public television to demonstrate to its audience the universality of diversity.
This very wise man has spent his lifetime building a complex but sturdy philosophy of belief.
I, probably not nearly so wise, and certainly much less dedicated, took a short cut above the confusing mass of dogma through which this man so willingly waded and reached similar conclusions decades ahead of him.
Furthermore, I never had to perform any intellectual gymnastics to make my own philosophies fit with what I have learned of others'.
My inherent laziness has saved me a lot of time, over the years; and short-circuited a lot of possible confusion.
I don't have to know exactly what everybody believes.
I know why they believe it.
I don't have to chop my way through a jungle of coded mysteries and ritualistic practices to arrive at some Ultimate Truth. I can cut to the chase and inspect Nirvana from the outside; under a microscope. (It's hollow)
This does not make my life superior to that of Gotama, Christ, Mohammed, or any of their myriad followers.
It does make it a lot less complicated. That makes me comfortable. And it frees my mind for other things.