Monday, September 27, 2004

Religion & evil

There are different ways of classifying the major religions of the world. Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism are more otherworldly, while western religions like Islam and Judaism are worldlier.

One way of explaining the various religions of the world is to see them as offering and modeling different problem-solving strategies in relation to the problem of evil. Because they define the problem differently, they define the answer differently.

1. Eastern religion

For eastern religions, the sensible world is the problem. There is something wrong with the world.

i) In Hinduism, the problem with the world is that the world is "maya." The world is in some way unreal, whether illusory or delusive. If problem is epistemic and metaphysical, then the solution is psychological. If we can't change the world, we can change our economic relations.

The solution, then, is to achieve a state of enlightenment in which we penetrate the veil of perception and dissolve the alienation between the human subject and mundane object.

From a Christian standpoint, the solution is to see the world through the lens of Scripture.

ii) In Buddhism, the problem with the world is that the world is a source of frustration. We either can’t have what we want, or we lose what we love. If the problem is epistemic and emotional, then the solution is, again, psychological.

The solution, then, is to achieve a state of detachment. If we learn to be dispassionate, then we will no longer be at the mercy of our wayward passions.

From a Christian standpoint, the solution is to cultivate godly emotions, and leave our emotional healing to heavenly compensations.

In both these cases I’m talking about the more philosophical, and not the folk forms, of Eastern religion. The metaphysical problem in Hinduism gives rise to the moral problem in Buddhism. Because the sensible world is fleeting (Hinduism), it is a source of frustration (Buddhism), for the object of desire is fleeting. Change is the only constant.

And in both cases, life, not death, is a problem, for death merely reinitiates the life-cycle (reincarnation).

There are, of course, disagreements over the interpretation of "maya" in Indian thought. There can be no definitive answer, for Hindu and Buddhist dogmas derive from the subjective interpretation of mystical, ineffable, introspective states.

2. Western religion

For western religions, the sensible world is basically good. But there is something wrong with our economic relations.

i) In Islam, the problem is not so much with our morality, but our mortality. The problem is biological. The world is good, but we are mortal. Some day we each must take our leave of the sensible world. And when we depart the world, we face the peril of divine judgment.

The solution, then, is for the afterlife to be an extension and intensification of the world below. And the means of achieving paradise is through good works, viz., prayer, pilgrimage, fasting, alms-giving, jihad and martyrdom.

ii) In Judaism, the world is basically good, but we are sinners. If problem is ethical, then the solution is ethical--or even political. We must be devout law-keepers, and transform the world-at-large by our exemplary conduct.

Here I’m talking about Rabbinical Judaism, and not OT Yahwism, which was a religion of grace.

iii) Because they’re cognate, Christianity has the most in common with Islam and Judaism.

The world is basically good, but we are mortal, and we are mortal because we are sinners. Our alienation is not so much with the world, but with ourselves, and our neighbors, and our God.

If problem is spiritual, then the solution is spiritual. As sinners, we cannot save ourselves from ourselves, for we are the source of the problem, and not, therefore, the solution.

The problem is not with the world, and so the answer is not to be otherworldly. Even if we didn’t die, we would live as sinners. So the solution must come from God alone.

3. Occultism

In the occult, which is a global phenomenon, the world is the problem, and the problem with the world is that we are at the mercy of the future. The solution is to control the outcome, by either knowing the future (fortune-telling), and thereby dodging whatever bullets are coming our way--or else to directly manipulate the future (witchcraft), and thereby become the masters of our own destiny. Fortune-telling is reactive, whereas witchcraft is proactive.

As such, occultism is kin to fatalism. The trick is to either escape our fate or bend our fate to our own advantage.

From a Christian standpoint, the solution is to live by the Bible, and leave the outcome to God's good providence.

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