Not much wisdom

Not much wisdom March 29, 2017

There’s this idea that even if you’re not a believer and you don’t see Holy Books as divinely dictated, still they’re a good source of wisdom.
I’m not convinced of that. There’s a lot of gorgeous language in the King James translation of the Bible, to be sure, and some of the remarks attributed to Jesus are pleasingly provocative, but I can think of a great number of better sources of wisdom without breaking a sweat. Religious “commandments” or rules or conditions of entry, for instance, are remarkably impoverished. Imagine you find yourself being a deity and you get to hand humanity a short crisp set of rules for how to be not so bad. What an opportunity! What a chance to tell your little subjects to have decent priorities and better instincts. Can you imagine throwing any of those rules away on shit like observing a “Sabbath”?
Look at the big ten:

  1. I’m your god; don’t have any other god.
  2. Don’t make any carvings or pictures of anything on earth or in the sky or the oceans.
  3. Don’t use my name for swearing.
  4. Make one day a week holy, and don’t do anything useful on that day, I don’t care if you’re starving.
  5. Be polite to your parents.
  6. Don’t murder.
  7. Don’t have sex outside marriage.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t lie.
  10. Don’t envy other people’s stuff, including their wives. I’m assuming you’re all male, of course. Women don’t have enough brains to envy anything.

What a waste. The first four are all about being nice to this God character, which seems silly when God is supposed to be perfect. God should be giving humans all the good things, not the other way around. And the rest – it’s just so desperately inadequate. It’s tragic that people think it’s worth fighting over putting that up on government property (as they do in the US) when it’s so worthless.
Let’s think of a better ten, shall we?

  1. Be kind
  2. Give help where it’s needed
  3. Take care of the earth
  4. Welcome strangers
  5. Be useful
  6. Learn to forgive
  7. Educate yourself and help educate others
  8. Be amusing
  9. Look beyond yourself
  10. Appreciate

Others would do a different version, but you get the idea – it’s about making the world a better place as opposed to being a selfish toad, which the Big Ten completely overlook. Not killing people is a good basic rule but it’s hardly enough, and in fact it would be better to urge people not to want to kill anyone in the first place.
Or what about the 5 Pillars? Are they any less stunted?
Via the BBC:

• Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith
• Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day
• Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy
• Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
• Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca

Zakat is an improvement on The Ten, which don’t bother to look beyond the family unit. But the rest? It’s nothing to do with being good to other people, it’s entirely about duties to the God-boss again. The duties are very demanding, too, so demanding that they must interfere with anyone’s ability to be good to other people or make the world a better place.
Let’s try a different 5 pillars:

  1. Think of others
  2. Teach
  3. Help
  4. Share
  5. Protect

Better, wouldn’t you say?
Isn’t it a pity that these people who came up with the “holy books” didn’t do a better job of constructing the rules?
Buddhism is somewhat better. The BBC again:

All Buddhists live by the Five Moral Precepts which are refraining from:
• harming living things
• taking what is not given
• sexual misconduct
• lying or gossip
• taking intoxicating substances eg drugs or drink

At least they get the first item right! Hippocrates and the Buddhists: first of all, don’t harm living things. I wonder if they mean sentient living things, because they have to harm at least some living things if they want to stay alive – rice, beans, berries, something. But then eating plants isn’t necessarily harming them, since it can spread their seeds.
But Buddhism is only better than the Big Monotheisms; that doesn’t mean it’s good. It still throws away two out of the five with puritan strictures about sex and drugs.
It’s all rather funny in a way, but it’s more tragic than funny. People have been living by these misdirected rules for many centuries, and a lot of people still do. Many millions of believers are still far more concerned with whether or not a woman hides her face than whether or not people are starving in the next town. Religion seems to operate as a device for sucking the compassion and concern out of people, rather than one for inspiring and motivating it.

Never mind the Holy Books. Read Keats’s Letters instead, read Montaigne’s essays, read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Read anything written by thinking people who gave a damn about others, and let The Rules go hang.

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  • Earl McGrew

    I have noticed that ever since I have decided to become a full blown atheist, I have somehow morphed into the (new 10) “commandments”.
    I suspect that once I decided to quit multi-taskING in my brain (religious beliefs vs. Reality ) I can see more clearly now. I’ve discovered that prayinG (begging a non-existing god to modify reality for only me) has never succeeded, also that praying to a god is the same as complaining to that god that I don’t like the way he has made everything operate.

  • remigius

    I have always preferred to follow ‘The One Commandment – Don’t be a Dick.’
    The feminine version is even more persuasive; though the neuter ‘Don’t be a Non-Gender-Specific Sexual Organ’ does have a certain ring to it.

  • Now we can replace both with “Don’t be a Trump.” So convenient.

  • Daz

    Call me a dick,
    Call me a buffoon,
    Call me a pus-filled zit on an elephant’s rump.
    Just take your pick,
    Call me arse or baboon,
    But I beg you, don’t ever compare me to Trump!

  • remigius

    “But I beg you, don’t ever compare me to Trump!”
    Shall I compare thee to a Donald Trump?
    Thou art more thoughtful and more compassionate.
    Rough hands did grope the darling butt of (Theresa) May,
    And Barack’s love gives way to Donald’s hate.

  • Daz

    Once more unto the breach, dear Trump, once more,
    Or close the wall up with xenophobes’ dread.

  • Stephen Mynett

    Re Buddhists, I read something years ago and still unsure of how reliable it was but it is still interesting. Despite being vegetarian one Buddhist sect is allowed to eat Oysters because the Oyster has no soul. Sounds about right for religious “thinking”.

  • They need to read The Walrus and the Carpenter.

  • Rob Andrews

    You would think that the authors of the Bible and Quran would say a few simple things to make people’s lives better. I mean these men where after all “divinly inspired.” It would’ve taken a few minutes after a sermon. He is said to be a “jelous god” by christians too.
    For instance:
    *Don’t persecute witches in my name.
    *Don’t war on members of other religions.
    *Remove waste water and bring clean water into cities-Romans are already doing this!
    *Learn to harness the power of steam; your lives will be so much easyer.
    “When one reads Bibles one is less surprised by what the Deity knows than what he doesn’t know”.–Mark Twain

  • StephenJP

    I guess it’s not too surprising that the 10C are as they are. They seem about par for the course for a fairly unsophisticated, tribal society, much like those that exist in places like New Guinea or the Amazon jungle. Remember, it’s only a few chapters after Mo delivered the tablets that Jahweh was commanding the Israelites to commit genocide, mass rape and slavery.
    Some splendid verses above! At this time of night I am not up to original composition; but I am reminded of the winning entry in a New Statesman limerick competition some decades ago:
    There was an Old Man with a beard
    Who said “I demand to be feared.
    So call me your God,
    And love me, you sod!”
    And Man did just that, which is weird

  • L.Long

    There is nothing in the buyBull that is worth the effort to read it. Anything in it that has any real worth is available in better books!

  • Smokey

    As usual, when people start talking about the bible, I recommend reading Harry Potter instead.
    It has many of the same elements, like the fight between good and evil, murder, torture, genocide, slavery, bigotry, even human sacrifice, death and resurrection. Much less rape, though.
    And so much better written.
    Funny thing: The big killers are God and Voldemort, while Satan and Dumbledore wants to spread knowledge and educate the world.

  • When people start recommending Harry Potter, I recommend reading The Once and Future King instead. It’s so much less simplistic, and so much better written.

  • Daz

    This may be akin to blasphemy to some, but IMO The Once and Future King is far better than Lord Of The Rings.
    Re: Swallows And Amazons. David Weber, the SF writer, was a reader of Ransome, growing up. There’s a large-scale map of his Safehold planet, and down by the south pole there’s a tiny little dot of land named Cormorant Island. Hardly Earth-shattering, but it brought a smile to my lips when I spotted it.

  • remigius

    When people start recommending The Once and Future King I usually put my thumbs in my ears and make a wet raspberry noise until they go away.
    Ford Maddox Ford is where it’s at. His Christopher Tietjens tetralogy is quite simply the greatest work of 20th Century English literature. Admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea – but a main character I could more than identify with.

  • Daz

    “His Christopher Tietjens tetralogy is quite simply the greatest work of 20th Century English literature”

    Clearly you’ve not read Biggles Of The Camel Squadron.

  • remigius

    Nope – but I read his The White Fokker. Totally not what I was expecting.

  • Daz

    “The White Fokker”

    Ah, Biggles Of 266. The first “proper” book (i.e., it didn’t have almost as many pictures as paragraphs) I ever read.

  • John the Drunkard

    Groups like ISIS call their extortion money ‘zakat,’ so that’s all right then….