The world’s great religions offer what millions of people want: a sensible, straightforward path to life. That’s why those religions are the victors in the Darwinian struggle of religion versus religion, worldview versus worldview, philosophy versus philosophy.
The basic logic of Confucianism is simplicity itself. Each social class, and each person (man, woman, and child) within that class, has a role to play. “We shall have harmony,” so a famous Confucian text reads, “when each prince acts like a prince, each minister acts like a minister, each father acts like a father, and each son acts like a son.”
Nothing complicated there: just do your job, everyone else does his or hers, and society gets along nicely.
The basic logic of Hinduism is simplicity itself. In the standard version, each social class, and each person (man, woman, and child) within that class, has a role to play. That’s your dharma, your duty, your rule of life. Play it well and, in the similar logic of a video game, you will “level up” and, in your soul’s next incarnation, you will enjoy a higher form of existence. Eventually, all going well, you will enjoy a happy outcome in a Hindu heaven…until the credits (or karma) you have banked with all your good deeds eventually run out…and you start again.
Play your role badly, however, and you level down. The universe metes out justice automatically, as it metes out physics. Do the right thing, and right things occur. Do the wrong thing, and you’ll pay for it.
The basic logic of Islam, to pick one more example, is simplicity itself. Here there isn’t a focus on social classes, but on each individual (man, woman, and child). Each believer is to learn to read God’s Word, to follow the duties of the religion according to the pattern laid down by the great prophet Muhammad, and to expect to be judged fairly—indeed, with some compassion—by God after one’s death.
Those who do well will enjoy an eternal paradise—pictured in the Qur’an as a superlative oasis. Those who do evil will be punished by God in a fiery hell. Be good, get good. Be evil, get evil. No wonder Islam keeps making converts.
This weekend, however, the Great Exception celebrates its highest holy days. Christianity is not simplicity itself. In fact, at its most basic level, it trades in mysteries—or contradictions, depending how you see things.
It starts reasonably enough. We human beings have gotten ourselves into a terrible mess from which we evidently cannot extricate ourselves. This mess has at least three dimensions.
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