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Generally, Christianity, Judaism and Islam are exemplary of a modern conception of "western" faith, in contrast to "eastern" disciplines. Older "western" religious traditions, those being the pagan traditions of Norse, Celtic, Germanic and other generally European peoples, the polytheistic traditions of Greece and Rome, and New World animistic aboriginal practices, seem to have largely died out in developed areas, notwithstanding a minor contemporary revival of such observances as DruidisM? and WiccA?.

In contrast, the oldest "eastern" disciplines anyone has been able to detect are still in practice within their original geographical regions today.

Why would that be?

A cursory glance immediately reveals a marked difference in the nature of the use of authority between "eastern" and "western" belief systems. Where the Sons of Abraham, in all their various stripes, tend toward authoritarianism and exclusivity with regard to religious rites, the various eastern traditions tend toward democracy and inclusiveness. One will not find in eastern religious thought a single threat of damnation, nor claim to sole possession of all and every religious truth. Nor will one find in western traditional religious scripture the slightest hint that other belief than the one at issue could be be given the slightest credence. Add to this the fact that Catholicism historically had government sanction, power of taxation, military might and punitive authority for a substantial block of time in history, and one can begin to see how an interesting paradox developed.

Western religionists, being authoritarian, exclusive, and having military might, tended to stamp out their competition through slaughter or threat thereof, while eastern religionists have enjoyed governmental favor from time to time, but have not historically converted their fellow man at sword point. By geographic coincidence, mechanization and its resulting period of "enlightenment" proceeded more quickly and broadly in the west than in the east.
Inquiry in the physical sciences, fomented by the forces of mechanization, laid the groundwork for objective observation and its resulting egalitarian views, all the way back to early Greek philosophers.

As a result, democratic societies grew up in largely Christian areas, though Christianity is undemocratic; and totalitarian societies (save middle-east theocracies) tend to be anti-religious or to co-exist with the eastern observances which pre-dated them, though eastern religious thought and political democracy are a perfect match. The devout eastern student has learned tolerance, non-resistance, cooperation, disavowal of material wealth; and such principles as that revenge is base and unseemly, given that evil and corruption contain their own punishment. So he is more easily held down under an authoritarian scheme. Western scripture contains exhortations to rise up and smite non-believers and the unjust, to convert others to the one proper faith, and that various misdeeds should be remedied by putting the miscreant to death. Western believers, therefore, are able to justify their faith in forceful conversion and slaughter.

The remnants of this paradoxical dichotomy still color the world political landscape. It is the religious fundamentalists, those whom one would most quickly identify with moral uprightness, who are popularly seen as least charitable, least forgiving, and most rigid, vengeful, and intolerant. For instance, they support prohibitory laws on moral grounds, harsh punishments for moral crimes, war to defend religious ideals and holy places, and sanction the institutional killing of human beings, in keeping with scripture. The left, commonly the target of epithets regarding hedonism, license and moral decay, nonetheless turn out the be the champions of inclusion, equality, open government and common rights.

Go figure. -- AyeSpy

The above is not to assign a value judgment one way or the other as to which type of system is "right" or even "best," but merely an observation from where I sit in the cheap seats...-- AyeSpy

I should say that I'm not a very widely read student of faith, and I'm certainly anything but religious, but I must say the above is one of the more profound insights I've read in a long time... It makes me wonder:

Western society tends to be much less forgiving of immoral actions than of anti-authority ones. In eastern society, is this reversed? For instance, that Clinton had sex out of wedlock was a scandal, but that protestors heckled Bush's inauguration is kinda considered par for the course and essentially ignored since "it's normal." In eastern society, would the reactions have been reversed? Would sexual picadillos be considered a mild curiousity, but a public denouncement of the authority be considered the scandal?

Second, I wonder if the contrasting ways are, in a sense, required for the society to function? I.e., humans must have both fluid freedom and firm structure, and those can be in either politics or religion, but the situation is not stable if both are fluid or both are firm?

-- BryceHarrington

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Last edited February 13, 2001 1:09 am by AyeSpy (diff)