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E . Lessons to be Learned

There surely are lessons to be learned from the history of each of these great religions, whether they are Eastern or Western in nature. For the purpose of these essays, I will lump the three primary branches of Christianity (Orthodox, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism) together under the single name of Christianity, and I will also refer to the multitude of Hindu and Buddhist sects with the term Eastern religions. The remaining "great" religion (measured as having 100 million or more adherents) is a vast morass of ethnic and "folk" religions, of which Chinese "folk" religions (considered as "Eastern") and "New Age" cults (considered as "Western") are the most recognizable subdivisions. This leaves Christianity, Islam, Judaism and "New Age" cults as the Western religions,54 although this should not be confused with the fact that Christianity is the only true religion of Western Civilization.55

It can be seen that each of the five great religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which comprise the Eastern and Western religious systems) is based upon certain fundamental values that are to a large degree common among all religious systems, either explicitly or implicitly.56 What each religion has done is to take those basic values and surround them with a certain mystic aura that is supposed to give them more force and cause them to be followed more rigorously.

An honest agnostic would probably classify Buddhism as the most tolerant of the great religions.57 An appropriately ordered list for modern times would then proceed through Hinduism,58 Christianity,59 and Judaism60 in order to arrive at Islam as the least tolerant of these religions.61 So, where should the Agnostic Church seek to fit itself into the aforementioned list? The appropriate location would seem to be the spot between Christianity and Judaism. A religion, especially a new religion, cannot afford to be tolerant of other religions to the point of failing to attempt conversions of the supposed believers in other religions. This is the essential weakness of modern mainstream Christianity, which is losing members everywhere among civilized communities because "force of habit" simply does not motivate believers to show up for church services. But conversions should be by force of intellect rather than by force of arms. Like Christianity, the Agnostic Church cannot be true to its own belief system if it condones the forceful conversion of non-believers. On the other hand, one of the essential beliefs of the Agnostic Church is that there ought to be a unity between the civil law and religious law to the extent that they cover the same subject matter. However, it is neither necessary (nor rational) to force compliance with religious law regarding subjects that the civil law has no business addressing. Those subjects are within the zone of privacy of the individual, and the individual should be free to practice whatever beliefs bring happiness to the individual. Thus, the day selected for the Sabbath day, as well as what is done on that day, are of no concern to the civil law. Murder is clearly a subject for both civil and religious law, and thus ritual sacrifice of humans will not be tolerated. The distinctions between what will be tolerated and what will not be tolerated is the question of what harm befalls others due to the practice or belief in question. If there is no significant or non-consensual harm to others,62 then the practice or belief ought to be tolerated by the civil law. The difficulty is that, due to a lack of understanding of the basic beliefs of Western Civilization by its citizens, the civil law of most Western nations does not incorporate the concept that the individual should be left alone so long as no non-consensual and unacceptable harm is perpetrated upon others.

No religion that is now practiced by a significant multitude of individuals has ever preserved the originals of their holy texts.63 Each holy text as known today is a copy of a writing that recorded an oral tradition. Thus, the early days of most religions resulted in the creation of several versions of each text, which the scholars of that religion attempted to reconcile into some "accepted" text.64 This gave each religion a certain vitality in its early days, when the texts were being discussed, but that process tended to lock each religion into a static form once the "accepted" text was actually "set into stone" by the followers.65 Since it is now possible to ensure the long term preservation of even the earliest writings66 of any new religious leader, the Agnostic Church must adopt some other scheme in order to ensure that the church is not "still born" by the immediate freezing of the religious texts. One goal of this plan is to maintain a "religious text vitality" for as long as the Agnostic Church continues to exist by refusing to ever "freeze" the "holy texts" of the Agnostic Church. This is a unique concept among religions: no "frozen" "holy text."
Most previous religions depended upon the religious "revelation" to a single individual (or alternatively, to a series of single individuals), who then transmitted the revelation (usually orally) to one or more of the immediate followers of that individual, which followers were responsible for the recording and preservation of the "true text" of the revelation.67 Since the tradition of each such religion has a number of "wise men" responsible for the collection and preservation of the holy texts, it must be presumed that any great error(s) of the original religious philosopher would be detected and corrected by these "wise men." They would justify any alteration as correcting an erroneous recording, as opposed to ever entertaining the thought that the original words of the great source of the revelation could possibly have been erroneous in the first place. However, it is clear that even the greatest of original thinkers can make mistakes, even if they are acting under divine inspiration. Thus, for all prior religions, "errors" in the "holy texts" are virtually assured for all eternity.
Accordingly, one of the key concepts for the Agnostic Church is to first acknowledge that most of the concepts promulgated as "gospel" by the church actually originate with some previous source of religious thought (who usually did not have an opportunity to actually revise the holy texts themselves), and to then acknowledge that not all great thinkers lived in the past. Some great thinkers must live in the future. The Agnostic Church expects to continue to grow and develop, as a vital force for all individuals, by continuing to accept holy teachings that originate in the future. The lesson from the past which the Agnostic Church has learned is to not discard the religious thought of the greatest thinkers of your time simply because they were born after the point in time when the religious texts were finally settled by the scholars devoted to that function. Because this concept is a great break with the tradition of how religions and civilizations are formed and operate, the expectation of the Agnostic Church is that this will result in the formation of a civilization which will last for far longer than the 1000 years predicted by Spengler. In fact, the hope is that this will result in the final civilization for planet Earth and its solar system, which will last until the great Diaspora to the stars, which should occur in the fullness of time.68

Another lesson to be learned from prior religions is the advisability of maintaining a central organization that is responsible for coordination of doctrinal teachings, including the contents of this bible.69 The overall force of any church in society as a whole is greatly magnified if some central headquarters can speak for all believers, even though the actual control over the organization is fairly loose.70 However, to maintain the vitality of the church, the central control should not be so rigid that it will stifle the development of new doctrine.71 For that reason, the Agnostic Church explicitly solicits developments in its doctrine through the portion of this bible that contains the "Great Debates." Accordingly, while the central church hierarchy will explicitly control each debate, that hierarchy should not foreordain the outcome of the debate. If a new doctrine seems right to the vast majority of the members,72 whether they express themselves directly or through their elected representatives, nothing should prevent its adoption by the Agnostic Church.

The principal moral teachings of each of the previous great religions have been incorporated into the Bible of the Agnostic Church to the extent that those teachings can make sense to our future population. That population can expect to be grounded in the essentials of Western Civilization, including an advanced technology and a humanistic world-view.73 Before anyone gets upset over the morality of adopting beliefs from another religion, that individual should recall certain historical facts. The conquering Romans virtually adopted all of the Greek religious system, changing only the names of the Greek gods to suit themselves better. Christianity totally plagiarized Judaism by simply adopting large portions of Jewish scripture as the Old Testament of the Christian bible. Islam makes extensive references in its holy writings to various concepts espoused by Jesus Christ and a number of Jewish prophets, beginning with Abraham as the father of all three religions. Hinduism and Buddhism have clearly drawn upon one another over the ages (in addition to their common Vedic heritage), to the point that each have Tantric sects which are founded upon the concept of making equivalent modifications to the underlying belief systems.74
There is simply no reason whatsoever why the Agnostic Church should not take any concept or teaching from any other religious or philosophical system of thought whenever the Agnostic Church finds that concept or teaching to be valuable within the system of philosophy espoused by this Bible. This can be easily called "learning by experience," a concept which all will acknowledge as valid. The basic rule is the rule for all scholars: it is only plagiarism if you do not acknowledge the source (when you do acknowledge the source, that constitutes "research," but only if you have enough different sources to show that you are not merely copying the work of someone else).

One reason some people dislike Jews is that they are too smug about being the chosen people of God. The lesson from this is to promote humility and modesty so that, even if you are great, people will still like you.
One problem with Islam is a tendency to react to relatively minor problems with a threat or display of violence. This occurs partly because the Koran stresses rewards to those who die in a jihad (holy war). So, far too many Muslims are far too eager to proclaim jihad (holy war) to reap that reward. The lessons here are to beware of the "Law of Unintended Consequences," and to appropriately apportion any response(s).
One problem with Christianity is a tendency to react with pacifism against a threat or display of violence. This pacifism not only confuses the enemy into thinking that Christians are a "push over," which they sometimes are (the classic example being Vietnam), but it also confuses the Christians who mostly preach non-violence. They may mostly practice violence, so long as the violence is "justified" by either the need for self-defense or the need for saving the lives of others (such as the 1994 invasion of Haiti). But Christians always want to be seen as non-violent people.
Buddhism does not have a well thought out idea of when violence is acceptable (usually only for self defense) and when it is not (practically all other times). Both Hinduism and Buddhism have values to offer, but Westerners ought not to become too enamored with the novelty of Eastern religions they will never truly understand.75
Finally, we need to recognize the fundamental need for rational thought in support of religion, rather than against it. History proves that mankind needs religion. The history of religion proves that it needs some control by rational thoughts.

54 Lumping them together in this fashion does make some since because all three of the main religions each worship the God of Abraham, and each derives its religious authority from the common foundation of Judaism at the time of Jesus Christ. "New Age" cults are difficult to classify, but are clearly of Western origin.

55 Christianity would be far more predominant in Western countries today (like the percentage of Muslims in Islamic nations) if it had not forced itself to confront the fundamental conflict between a concept of religious conversions by force of arms (which were quite popular in the early centuries of Western Civilization) and the concepts of peace and tolerance as preached by Jesus Christ.

56 Both Judaism and Christianity recognize the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20, verse 12) to honor your parents. Buddhism does not contain a similar commandment as one of the precepts, probably because ancestor worship was inherently a part of the civilization as it existed in the first place, and thus no further reinforcement by religious commandment was necessary. The lesson here is that not all fundamental values are to be found as explicitly stated religious commandments. Many may be found in the study of the culture as a whole.

57 Buddhists believe all great religions are different manifestations of the one great truth, and each individual is free to seek individual salvation by following any path that makes sense to that individual. Buddhists also believe that if any path does not actually lead to salvation, the individual will learn a necessary lesson and do better in a future life. Also, Buddhists avoid all extreme thoughts, including hatred for anything so arbitrary as a religion.

58 Hinduism, with a large number of sects propounding a great variety of beliefs, must be tolerant of variances in religious thought. The only intolerance of Hinduism would manifest itself at the failure of others to respect the religious beliefs of the Hindus. Thus, those who proselytize for Christianity by ridiculing Hinduism are looked upon with disfavor.

59 Christianity began as a "secret" sect, practiced only furtively to avoid repression by the Romans. From about the 8th through 14th centuries CE, Christianity practiced religious conversions by force of arms, although the usual stated goal was conquest of territory. But conquest of territory brought with it the civil government of the conqueror, and that government required Christianity. However, the inconsistency of that practice with the teachings of Jesus Christ eventually came home to roost, and by the last half of the twentieth century, mainstream Christianity preaches tolerance for all great religions. Religious conversions are reserved for places populated by "pagan" (backward) cultures, where Christians can set up religious schools to teach Christianity as an essential component of individual knowledge. Only the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Jesus movements are active in attempting to convert other believers in other religions to their particular sects without being seen by the mainstream of society as simply recruiting followers for some nasty cult.

60 The Jews, as the chosen people of God, have never believed it necessary to convert others to their beliefs. Accordingly, prior to the creation of Israel in 1947, Jews were fairly content to just live their lives apart from the rest of humanity, and believed in tolerance as sort of a quid pro quo (the Jews will leave you alone if you leave them alone). As part of a reaction to the pogroms of Adolph Hitler, Jews have expressed extreme intolerance for anything that is the least bit critical of anything Jewish, branding it anti-Semitism. Also, within Israel itself, the religious leaders have a great deal of control over the civil government, ensuring that many secular activities of government are performed in accordance with religious law. Orthodox Jews in Israel have been known to stone non-believers who dared to do something which is prohibited by Jewish law, and thus the true intolerance of at least the fundamentalist Orthodox sects of Judaism becomes obvious to all.

61 The list is ordered according to the approximate force of the belief that the civil law ought to force compliance (or punish non-compliance) with strictly religious principles. None of the great religions would tolerate a murderer, so murder cannot be used as a distinguishing factor. Islam is ranked as the least tolerant of the religions primarily because of the proliferation of Islamic law in the civil law of various countries. The Orthodox Jews and the Islamic fundamentalists are very close to one another in their intolerance. The difference which prompts listing Islam as the least tolerant of the great religions is the concept of using a jihad, or "holy war," to correct what amounts to a political injustice to some identified group of individuals, rather than working in some more peaceful (and less divisive) way to achieve a just result. A jihad admits of no possible compromise short of total victory, and thus flies in the face of what most individuals now admit is an absolute fact, that compromise is a necessary element of civilized behavior.

62 The law will not tolerate any significant harm to any individual, including the willful killing, mutilating (by severing or making inoperable one or more basic organs or limbs of the body), and/or torturing of an intelligent individual, regardless of consent. There are some exceptions to this statement. For example, the law should recognize a right to assisted suicide under certain circumstances, and thus this cannot be allowed to conflict with the proscription against willful killing. The exceptions are limited to those circumstances where the balance defined by the Utilitarian Dogma weighs in favor of allowing the exception to the fundamental rule.

63 Muslims believe that the original of the Koran exists in Heaven, and that revelation of that text to Mohammed provided a translation into Arabic of the one true holy book of God. The Mormon church has a similar belief regarding the revelation to Joseph Smith of the golden plates that contained the Book of Mormon. However, the Mormons are an exception to the general discussion of this essay because at least Joseph Smith was able to have his writings published, using modern printing methods, and thus there do exist copies of his original work.

64 While the scholars of each religion would probably deny this statement, it also seems certain that the texts of each religion were to some degree "polished" by the process of disputing the alleged "accuracy" of a particular transcription. An unpolished text would be attributed to an inaccurate transcription. The Islamic Koran, for example, was carried as an oral tradition for three to five decades before the first attempt was made to collect together a complete written text. The earliest known texts of the Christian New Testament date from several decades to several centuries after they were first "written." For Christianity, many texts are not even preserved in their original language (almost certainly Hebrew for all significant speeches of Jesus), but were seemingly first recorded in a version of Greek that did not lend itself to accurately preserving the original thoughts.

65 The most vital form of Christianity today is probably the fundamentalist movement, which is variously referred to as Charismatic Christianity, or the Jesus movement. It is a sort of "back to basics" Christianity which is generating a lot of creativity in the form of books and other forms of presentations of the proposed theology. What gives vitality to this movement is not so much revisions of the basic texts (which are occurring to some small degree), but rather the revision of the interpretations of the basic texts. Thus these believers seek to create a new belief system, based upon the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ, but revised with new thinking about the interpretations and meanings of those teachings.

66 Or of even an oral tradition, in the form of audio and/or videotapes.

67 This seems indisputably true for Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity. It also seems true for most of the Jewish prophets as well. The earliest books of Judaism and Hinduism were preserved as an essentially oral tradition for so long that descriptions of the original origins of the texts are all but lost, and that loss prevents similar statements for those religions.

68 Somebody recently wrote that it would appear an asteroid would strike the Earth and cause major destruction in 100,000 to 1 million years. In any event, our Sun should explode in about 5 billion years. We need to be off this planet, either partially or entirely, before some great disaster wipes out all (or even most) life on this planet. Thus, if mankind is to survive as a species for any really long amount of time, we must be prepared to emigrate to the stars.

69 This would be equivalent to the Vatican for the Roman Catholic Church, or the leadership in Salt Lake City for the Mormons. Each of these gets extensive press coverage "for free" simply due to the number of total followers each has.

70 Again, this is explicitly intended to emulate the Vatican. All news media around the world pays attention to Papal activities. Other heads of churches receive only occasional mention in the press. This is true in spite of the fact that the Pope has little real control over the operation of each group of churches. What control there is by the Pope is mainly exercised by the power to appoint the Bishops and Cardinals to run each local diocese. The only other real power possessed by the Pope is to excommunicate those who have committed grave transgressions against the church and to issue teachings of various kinds, each of which kinds of teaching has a varying degree of moral compulsion attached to it (by tradition, more than for any other reason).

71 If the Catholic Church dies a rapid death, the reason will probably be the unwillingness of the Vatican to accept needed changes in church doctrine, thus causing the church to become more and more irrelevant to the needs of its followers. The Jews and Muslims have the same problem (an inability of church leaders to make needed alterations in doctrine), but neither of those religions has a belief system that is really attractive to an educated Westerner in any case. The fascination of Westerners for Eastern religions seems to derive more from the spiritual vacuum which now exists in Western Civilization and the fact that so many sects exist of the two main Eastern religions will keep a Westerner really busy seeking the "one true religion," which basically cannot be found in Eastern religion because the ultimate goal of Eastern religions (a final death) is not really attractive to Westerners. The bottom line is that no religion except the Catholic Church has enough of a centralized control over things to mount a significant fight against the Agnostic Church, and the Catholic Church has no doctrinal flexibility to persuade Catholics not to convert. Thus, conversions to the Agnostic Church ought to be directly proportional to the overall intelligence of the individuals who are solicited for membership, leading to an eventual monopoly on intelligent individuals by the Agnostic Church.

72 A two-thirds majority vote by delegates at a doctrinal convention (or perhaps, two consecutive conventions) called periodically for the purpose of resolving issues raised by the Great Debates would seem to be the appropriate procedure to follow to ensure orderly change in doctrine without being offensive to the majority of the members. On the other hand, a one-third minority vote at this same periodic convention ought to be enough to establish a Great Debate, which the church hierarchy is then responsible for managing (for the purpose of reaching a consensus as to the proper church position on the issue by the aforementioned two-thirds vote).

73 Buddhism grew out of a spirit of self-denial of pleasure and happiness in return for a consequent avoidance of pain and sorrow during life, along with "salvation" after death (where "salvation" was defined as breaking the chain of continuous death followed by re-birth). The central value of Western Civilization is the concept of Utility, which is concerned with causing the maximum amount of happiness for the maximum number of people, and much of happiness is directly related to pleasure. It is very unrealistic to expect individuals raised with a Western value system to be at all attracted to the moral code of Buddhism unless they would be equally predisposed towards one of the Roman Catholic religious orders which also preach an avoidance of material well being as part of the path to salvation.

74 So-called "Modern" Hinduism is sometimes seen as a reaction to the "reforms" of Buddhism.

75 It is pretty silly for a citizen schooled in our modern education system to "convert" to some Eastern religious sect. You should not convert to a religion that you do not understand, and most people from the West will NEVER understand Eastern culture well enough to truly give an "informed consent" to a religious conversion to any Eastern religion.

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