Messengers, Followers, Teachers, Edifices, Divisions
If history is correct, humans have never been content to just live in the world. They have consistently yearned for some kind of meaning in their lives. Often that pursuit of meaning has expressed itself in the form of religion.
For those who have chosen to follow groups with any kind of religious or spiritual trademark, the pattern seems to be the same. When a religion begins, one person usually has an idea or believes he (historically, mostly male) has the right message, the truth, or has a special message, powers, insights, given to him from an exterior divinity.
In ancient times spiritual teachers were often wanderers or lived in small villages or towns. Small groups gathered to hear these teachers. Over time, followers began to expand beyond these villages. Official teachings were established based on the words purported to have been said by the founders or, in some traditions, messages or rules given or spoken to an official messenger (or inspired messengers) by an exterior divinity. ( Who becomes an official messenger after the first messengers die often depends on the rules of lineage)
It didn’t take long before religious organizations began to sprout up all over the world. Centuries-old edifices and sacred centers are still standing as testaments of humans’ need for spiritual roots.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, all seem to have followed this pattern. Continue reading
Roman Catholicism and the Marian Miracles
I grew up in a 1950s Roman Catholic culture in which I was taught that a virgin gave birth to Christ. I was later told that, several centuries later, the same virgin, Mary, appeared to a select group of barely literate, impoverished Portuguese children at a place called Fatima. Secrets were to have been revealed to these children, the specifics of which, to the best of my recollection, neither my elementary school teachers, nor my pastor ever revealed.
The dogma of the virgin birth was complemented by the infallible ruling of a nineteenth century pope that Mary was taken to heaven, body and soul. This dogma is celebrated in the church as the feast of the Assumption.
The Catholic Church, an untiring supporter of these Marian miracles, added to the repository of these mysterious events by claiming that Mary was to have been conceived without sin (the Immaculate Conception) and that she was to have received a visit by an angel announcing to her that she would be the mother of Christ, the Messiah (the Annunciation). Continue reading
“Abandon holiness,” says Lao Tsu. and “See with original purity.”
Although these lines are just fragments of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching, they are typical of the ancient thinker’s radical take on reality.
Who, for example, would “abandon holiness”? After all, Western culture prides itself on Christian values, especially those values gleaned from the Old and New Testament, saintly teachings, and church pronouncements. And, for those who believe in an afterlife, heaven, the “holiest” of places, is the ultimate goal of those on a Christian journey of virtue and sinlessness.
Lao Tsu challenges us, however, to give up the pursuit of the holy, for it is a goal fraught with other people’s notion of what holiness is. It is also a journey that can be riddled with self-righteousness and arrogance. And it can be a path that will often distract us from paying attention to what is in front of us. Continue reading