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Religious “Wisdom”

The religion page in our local paper features a  section called “Wisdom,” which is a collection of quotes from religious texts.  I’ve been reading it each week hoping to find some actual wisdom.  No luck yet.  Here is a quick sample of what they’ve printed  lately.  Tell me what you think.

Jewish: “God spoke all these words, saying; I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides me.” (Exodus 20:1-3)  Note that the text does not say that the Lord (Yahweh) is the only god, just that other gods should not be worshiped.   The passage was probably written when most Israelites were monolatrous and not strictly speaking monotheists.  Interesting from a historical perspective but it doesn’t count as wisdom.  And please don’t tell me it’s a passage about God’s opposition to slavery.   He let the Israelites hang on to their own slaves.

Muslim: “As to the Righteous (they will be) in a position of security.  among Gardens and Springs; dressed in fine silk and in rich brocade, they will face each other.” (Surah 44:51-53)  Says who?  Just because the Prophet says he spoke to Allah, we’re supposed to believe him.  Also note that paradise is described n a way that would be very attractive to people living in a desert.   The divine origin of the text would be more convincing if paradise didn’t sound so much like an oasis.  So strike two for wisdom.

Sikh: Truth is the highest of all Virtues; but higher still is the living of Truth. (Sri Rag) OK, at least this one sounds a little more like a wise saying.  But it’s really just a platitude, which is what most religious wisdom boils down to.  Like “love your neighbor as yourself.”   That’s not mind-blowing wisdom.  It’s just common sense if you want to go through this life with at least a few friends.

I’m pretty sure, however, that I did encounter some wisdom the other night when I got to hear a lecture by the eminent biologist E.O Wilson who was speaking about his latest book, “The Social Conquest of the Earth.”   I already tweeted this quote, but it’s worth repeating:  “We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”  Now that’s what wisdom should sound like–something your mind can ponder for a while and can make you see things in a new way.


  1. adtz
    April 18, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I don’t disagree with your comments. However, most wisdom is platitudes when looked at from a certain perspective. The fact that mankind’s technology is outracing our ability to cope is not news. The book “Future Shock” pointed this out at least as far back as the 70’s. Wisdom comes from looking at platitudes and seeing how they apply in a new way to our current state. If the statement broadens your view of reality, than it probably contains some form of wisdom for *you*. If it doesn’t, it’s just some much BS.

    • April 18, 2012 at 10:07 pm

      Well said, and thanks for sharing! Yes, platitudes have clearly served some purpose over the years, or else they still wouldn’t be around. At its best religion became a vehicle for codifying and transmitting altruistic values that long predated religion. Of course, religion has transmitted a lot of bad values too…

  2. April 28, 2012 at 6:25 am

    well i remember a quote from mahatma gandhi , who said no god is above then truth .
    as far as religious concerns i think humanity is above then any religion .

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