Sunday, June 19, 2011

14 Elements of Every Religious Worldview

Huston Smith ends his autobiography, "Tales of Wonder," with 14 points that comprise a “universal language” of religious worldview. (analogous to Noam Chomsky’s universal grammar of languages).

1. Reality is infinite.
2. “The Infinite includes the finite or we would be left with infinitude-plus-finitude and the Infinite would not be what it claims to be.”
3. The contents of finitude are hierarchically ordered—the Great Chain of Being, from the “meagerest kind of existence through every possible grade up to the boundless Infinite.”
4. Causation is from the top down, from the Infinite down through the descending degrees of reality.
5. Singularity becomes multiplicity. “In descending to the finite, the singularity of the Infinite splays out into multiplicity. The One becomes the many…The foundational virtue is existence.” India says primary virtues are “sat, chit, ananda—being, consciousness, bliss. The West’s ternary is the good, the true, and the beautiful, and these beginnings open out into creativity, compassion, and love until we arrive at Islam’s Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God.”
6. As ascend Great Chain of Being distinctions fade between virtues. “Teilhard de Chardin said that ‘Everything that rises must converge.’”
7. At the top of the Chain, where all becomes One, absolute perfection reigns.
8. Te Hermetic Principle, “As above, so below.” “Everything that is outside us is also inside us—‘the Kingdom of God is within you.’”
9. Human beings cannot fully know the Infinite.
10. Religious people write texts and these need to be interpreted.
11. Fundamentalism makes the error of thinking these texts can be taken literally.
12. Two distinct ways of knowing: rational and intuitive. “In Hinduism, the knowledge that effects union with God is not discursive; it has the immediacy of direct vision, or sight.”
13. Religions have two parts: an outer, exoteric, concrete, and representational form, and an inner, esoteric, abstract core.
14. Our knowledge is extremely limited. “We are born in ignorance, we live in ignorance, and we die in ignorance.”

These are just my summaries of course. Interestingly, as the points progressed Huston needed more and more words to explain them. The first point is made with just a few words, and point 2 uses only a few more than what I quoted above. But by the time you get to points 13 and 14 the explanation took a page or more.

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