Monday, October 14, 2013

115. The success of theistic religion

 How have theistic religions, such as Christianity and the Islam, been so successful, persisting for so long?

My hunch is that this is because of a clever combination of the universal, eternal, pure, and Platonic, in a single God, or Allah, with the individual, specific, diverse, earthly, fragile, weak and human, in the form of a saviour or prophet, a Christ or Mohammed. Christ succumbs in suffering but is resurrected, re-connected with the eternal, and by his suffering offers the gift of salvation. The human need for recognition of earthly nuance, plurality, indviduality, the tragedy of contingency, and softness of compassion is satisfied but remains connected to the pure and transcendent, is reabsorbed in celestial universality and eternity.

Then, if that is correct, what about other religions or philosophies, such as Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism? They lacked the one or the other: the absolute and universal or the individual, the earthly nuance. Buddhism and Confucianism are wisdoms of life that have no absolutes of God. Taoism, by contrast, is oriented not to human tribulations but to the system of nature as a whole, in its harmony and perfection. As such it is like the God of Spinoza. It lacks nuance and tragic individuality.

The histories of these wisdoms are patchy, with intermissions and shifts, a thinning out, and their survival was precarious.
In attempts at synthesis between them, as in forms of neo-confucianism in China, is there a perspective for forging a unity of the supreme and absolute with earthly contingency, justice and individuality?

Totalitarian ideologies try to implement on earth the absolute and pure, of race or doctrine, and cannot tolerate the mellowness of nuance and tolerance. The craving for justice and compassion needs to be suppressed by terror. But sooner or later they will collapse for want of justice.

Theistic religions are not exempt from the need for terror to sustain the absolute, as exhibited in old Christian crusades and inquisition, and present Islamist fundamentalism, and terrorism, which have the appeal of returning to the purity of old, rejecting the niceties and decadence of democracy and diversity.

In Western society, Enlightenment ideals, inspired among others by Spinoza, have served to provide the pure, Platonic, and universal in reason and knowledge. In an earlier item in his blog (93) I noted the demise of the old culture of delving for the deep, the fundamental, the abstract, which is being replaced by the rush and race of the superficial. After that loss, what next will appear in order to satisfy the urge for the pure and perfect? Will there be a return to God, or a new ideology?

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