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Fri, 16 Jul 2010:

Religious books are works of fiction.

At least, they were meant to be (yes, Mr. Tom Cruise).

I've read every religious book in English I could find, before I was twenty. Partly because I wanted to get a hang of religion, but mostly because some of the books made entertaining reading. I'm not going to repeat my issues with religion here, but if you do care - I agree a lot with George Carlin. But I didn't come here to dig a shallow grave for religion & its fan club, I came here to praise the writings it has preserved over the ages.

There is a passage of the Bible, I read often. Hidden in a history book of who begat who, is a passage of pure undiluted philosophical gold. Ecclesiastes - The book of the Preacher. The words, said to be those of King Solomon, inherited from the Talmud.


  And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: 
  I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit. 
  For in much wisdom is much grief: 
  and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

As I read on, the world made more sense.


  Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. 

  The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: 
  and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. 
  Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; 
  and why was I then more wise? 
  Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. 
  For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; 
  seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. 
  And how dieth the wise man? as the fool.

  Therefore I hated life; 
  because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me:
  for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 
  Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: 
  because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

  And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? 
  Yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, 
  and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. 
  This is also vanity. 
  Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair
  of all the labour which I took under the sun. 
  For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and 
  in knowledge, and in equity; 
  Yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion.
  This also is vanity and a great evil. 
  Therefore I hated life; 

For all the days I questioned my purpose, here was a man from ages beyond who was at the very same threshold of questioning his. To hate life because it takes away from you what you possess, to what end? To know that the world that gets your precious wisdom and labour, does not deserve it. That I'm creating a better world to only leave it behind to someone who never deserved it, because he was not as wise, as hard working, as worthy of it. But in my vanity, I choose to think all my wisdom was mine. And there in lies my pain and vexation of spirit (sic).

Very rarely, does the Bible not talk about human beings as being the pinnacle of creation. This book deviates from that course and does indeed ask the question whether it is vanity to assume our superiority over the beast. Indeed does ask you to enjoy your time on earth and your good deeds, instead of a promise of a glorious afterlife. There'd be a better world today

Ecc 3-19
  For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; 
  even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; 
  yea, they have all one breath; 
  so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 
  All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 
  Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, 
  and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? 
  Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works;
  for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?

In a very definite departure from the general tone of religious texts, the book of the preacher is very pragamatic and rarely invokes hopes or promises of a better life once you are through this one. And reciprocal altruism finds its way into an ancient book (move over Robert Trivers, Talmud just took your case).

Ecc 11-1:
  Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. 
  Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; 
  for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

  He that observeth the wind shall not sow;
  and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

  In the morning sow thy seed, 
  and in the evening withhold not thine hand.

For those who might recognize, this is the same sentiment of action that the Gita begins with. To hold the courage to do, without heed to circumstance.

  Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: 

  But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; 
  yet let him remember the days of darkness; 
  for they shall be many.

And I shall.

Only as a work of religion would this text have survived millenia, without change and through thoughtful translations. And for that, I'm thankful.

Vanity is so secure in the heart of man that everyone wants to be admired: even I who write this, and you who read this.
      -- Blaise Pascal.

posted at: 20:01 | path: /philosophy | permalink | Tags: , ,