This is my own research, so if I got it wrong, it is my own error. Please let me know where you see mistakes questionable interpretations.
All religions are based in texts. Religious texts are sacred and claim unique authority. Some believers see sacred texts as directly authored by divinities or through prophets chosen by the divine. Others see sacred texts as crystalized compilations of human experience and yearning. The internal struggle of believers over whose god is real and which texts are true can be traced over the history of the last two melania and is active at this moment, the dawn of the 21st century.
I don’t have a concise definition of religion. I do have a set of attributes that I think are true of religions in general (if you find any of these erroneous, please let me know).
Religions always have central or sacred texts.
Religions provide accounts of the creation of the world/universe. Religions give accounts of the origins of human beings.
Religions offer a conception of what happens to us after we die.
Religions give metaphysical descriptions of how the world/universe operates.
Religions distinguish between the apparent world and the true hidden world.
Religions tell us how we should go about seeking truth.
Religions tell us what we should and should not do.
Religions seek community and relationships between believers.
Religions organize around extraordinary individuals who have revelations, messages, or insights for the rest of us.
- Religions do not always have a deity to be worshiped.
- Religions do not always involve punishments and rewards.
- Religions do not always seek to convert others.
- Religions always have some believers who reject violence and force on principle.
- Religions do not always claim to be “the only way.”
Lastly I note this very important fact: All religions are complex and diverse, both across the faiths and within any particular faith. Any attempt to simplify a religious idea, practice, or tradition within a single description is certainly oversimplified. The effective way to better understand other faiths is to talk with people of those faiths. You can almost always find people in your community who will answer questions; just ask to attend a service. Another way is to read from the sacred or central texts. From those works you can get a sense of the tone and direction of the thinking, even if you don’t recognize all of the ideas.
I approach sacred texts with deep respect. Without revealing my own biases, let me maintain that
I approach sacred texts from Egyptian, Vedic, Taoist, Hebrew, Buddhist, Christian, Gnostic, Islamic, Native American, Mormon, Scientological, and others with rapt fascination. I know that this is not the same as being a believer. I cannot be a believer in all of the sacred texts because some of them are mutually exclusive concerning believer status. You might be a believer. I respect that, and I want to express my aim. I have no intent whatever to diminish your faith. Indeed, if my teaching resulted in a loss of faith in anyone, I’d consider my efforts a failure.
My intent is to open avenues to thinking philosophically about religious concepts and texts. I am a philosopher. I look at religion philosophically. I read sacred texts philosophically. I think they have a great deal to tell us. I worry that conflicts over religion have obscured the knowledge and wisdom that sacred texts give to us. I worry that people who are committed to specific faiths may ignore the confirmation of other faiths. I worry that people who reject religion because of the contradictions they see in it, will lose contact with the wisdom that thousands of years of human experience proffer. With that in mind, I give to you a philosophically minded comparison of the wisdom traditions of some major religions.
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Luke 16:13)
One way is to gain, the other is to nirvana; knowing this fact, students of Buddha should not take pleasure in being honored, but should practice detachment. (Dhammapada, 5.16)
Fame or integrity: which is more important? Money or happiness: which is more valuable? Success or failure: which is more destructive? If you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you. (Lao Tzu)
The mutual rivalry for piling up of worldly things diverts you, (Quran 102:1)
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6.19)
Let the wise man do righteousness: A treasure that others can nor share, which no thief can steal; a treasure which does not pass away. (Khuddakapatha 8.9)
Even gold and jade fill your hall;
You will not be able to keep them safe. (Tao Te Ching 77)
For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land. (Deuteronomy 15.11)
If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. (Matthew 19.21)
From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. (Luke 6.30)
The avaricious do not go to heaven, the foolish do not extol charity. The wise one, however, rejoicing in charity, becomes happy in the beyond. (Dhammda 13.11)
You cannot attain to righteousness unless you spend (in charity) out of what you love.” (Qu’ran 3.92)
They give food, out of love for Him (Allah), to the poor, the orphan, and the slave, saying: We feed you only for Allah’s pleasure – we desire from you neither reward nor thanks. (Qur’an 76.8,9)
Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love. (Lao Tzu)
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your neighbor. Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19.18)
Keep to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant. And if it should happen that a prompting from Satan stirs thee up to anger, seek refuge with Allah: behold, He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. (Qur’an 42.43)
And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious who spend [in His way] in time of plenty and in time of hardship, and hold in check their anger, and pardon their fellow men because God loves the doers of good… (Qur’an 3.133-136)
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11.25)
In those who harbor such thoughts: “He reviled me, he beat me, he overpowered me, he robbed me,” anger is never stilled…Hatred never ceases by hatred in this world. Through loving kindness it comes to an end. This is an ancient Law. (A.P. Buddhadatta, trans. Dhammapadam: An Anthology of the Sayings of the Buddha. 2)
At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called the LORD’s release. (Deuteronomy 15.1-2)
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness of sins. (Tao Te Ching)
You shall keep relationship with one who cut it off from you, you shall give one who disappointed you, and you shall pardon one who oppressed you. (Fazle Karim, trans Al-Hadis, Vol. 1, No. 45) see Rye, p.26
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you…. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. (Luke 6.27-30)
Repel (evil) with what is better. Then will he, between whom and thee was hatred, become as it were thy friend and intimate. And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint. (Qur’an 41.34-35)
Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go into its streets and say; Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest of you. (Luke 10.10-11)
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6.14-15)
The wise man does not befriend the faithless, the avaricious, and the slanderous, or the one who stirs up strife; the wise avoid the wicked. (Udanavarga 25.1)
O ye who believe! When ye meet the Unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them. (Qur’an 8:15)
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. (Matthew 13.31)
Do not underestimate good, thinking that it will not affect you. Dripping water can fill a pitcher, drop by drop; one who is wise is filled with good, even if it accumulates it little by little. (Dhammapada 9.7)
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche, and within it a lamp; the Lamp enclosed in Glass; the glass a brilliant star, lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive neither of the East nor of the West whose Oil is well-nigh luminous though fire scarce touched it. Light upon Light! God doth guide whom He will to His Light.
Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness. Therefore consider whether the light in you is not darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, with no part of it in darkness, it will be be as full of light as when a lamp gives you rays with its light. (Luke 11.34-36)
As a man with eyes who carries a lamp sees all objects, so too with one who has heard the Moral
Law. He will become perfectly wise. (Udanavarga 22.4)
And not alike are the good and the evil. Repel (evil) with what is best,
When lo! He between whom and thee is enmity would be as if he were A warm friend. (Qur’an 41
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5.43-44)
Hatreds do not cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth….Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good. Overcome the liar by truth. (Dhammapada 1.5, 17.3)
“What is evil? Killing is evil, lying is evil, slandering is evil, abuse is evil, gossip is evil: envy is evil, hatred is evil, to cling to false doctrine is evil; all these things are evil. And what is the root of evil? Desire is the root of evil, illusion is the root of evil.” Buddha
Thou shalt first bind up the wound of thy brother and correct the mistakes in thine own household before ye can see the sore on the body of your friend, or the error in the household of thy neighbour. Rastafarian. Book of Athlyi, 3.7
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Matthew, 7.3-5.
The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own; the faults of others are easily seen, for they are sifted like cgaff, but one’s own faults are hard to see. This is like the cheat who hides his dice and shows the dice of his opponent, calling attention to the other’s shortcommings, continually thinking of accusing him. Udanavarga, 27.1.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace and salutations be upon him) said, “ Should you become eager to mention another’s faults, recall your own. “ (Ar-Rafi)