The task of applying criteria of validity to the doctrines and beliefs of the various world religions in order to separate the true from the false and the purely secular will not only be long and difficult, but also extremely controversial. The mere fact that it is undertaken at all will be bitterly resented by those religious authorities and their steadfast followers who regard their doctrines as emanations from the Deity, and any questions or doubts as sacrilege. But this is a task that must be carried out sooner or later, and the findings of this work have laid the foundations for such a project.
It is generally recognized that the essential doctrines of all religions have been overlaid with a large number of non-essential additions, but the distinction between the two classifications has been subject to much difference of opinion, and as Arnold Toynbee comments, the “task of trying to distinguish the accretions from the essence [is] a delicate one.”384 A more important point is that a separation on this basis does not accomplish the real objective. An item may be an accretion, something that has been added to the doctrines laid down by the founder of the religion, and also non-essential; but even so, it may contribute something worthwhile to the religious structure that justifies its retention. What is really needed is not to eliminate the accretions or non-essentials, but to eliminate the non-religious items. This is obviously impossible as long as any assertion or belief is, by definition, religious if it is part of the creed of any organized religion. But when we set up the requirement that an item must have some relevance to Sector 3 existence in order to qualify as religious, we are able to identify those that are inherently non-religious.
After these non-religious items have been eliminated, or at least identified as secular accompaniments of the religious doctrines, the next task will be an inquiry into the validity of these doctrines. The limitations that have to be placed on the scope of the present work make it impossible to pursue an analysis of this kind into any considerable detail, but since the foundations for the development of criteria for distinguishing valid from invalid products of intuitive processes have been laid in the preceding pages, it will be appropriate to go one step farther and illustrate how such criteria apply to some of the general classes of religious beliefs.
According to the findings that have been described, the assertions of the major religions with respect to relatively simple religious matters should be essentially correct, inasmuch as the recipients of authentic revelations should have been adequately prepared to understand whatever information of this character they may have received. The principal items included in this category are the reality of metaphysical existence, the presence of a component related to that existence in the human personality, the status of the revelation process as a form of communication from metaphysical sources, and the basic elements of the moral code. If we compare the teachings of the major religions, we should therefore find substantial agreement in these areas, whereas we could expect to find a wide divergence of views concerning any inherently non-religious items that have been incorporated into the religious doctrines, as well as with respect to the more complex and recondite moral and metaphysical questions.
In this chapter, we will examine some of the similarities and differences between the major religions in the light of the foregoing theoretical expectations. The conclusions that have been reached as to the locations where divergence can be expected apply even to closely related religious systems, but the points of conflict are more clearly defined where the differences are greater. As it happens, the evolution of religious thought has followed a much different pattern in the far East than in the West, and for that reason, the most significant comparison that we can make is between the Eastern and Western religions.
The most striking agreement between East and West is that with respect to the moral code. As pointed out in Chapter 18, the general moral principle known as the Golden Rule is contained, explicitly or implicitly, in the moral teachings of all of the major religions. The detailed instructions and admonitions of the various creeds show more divergence, but even here the differences are mainly in the respective areas of coverage, rather than in the assertions as to the proper conduct in given circumstances. Each code was originally developed for application to the special situation existing in the place and at the time the religion was established, and the subjects that are emphasized, especially in the sacred writings of the various religions, are strongly influenced by the geographical and temporal settings.
All of the major religions also agree as to the reality of some kind of metaphysical existence that has a relation to human life. Here the agreement is less obvious than in the case of the moral code because each religion attempts to go beyond mere reality and to say something about the nature and attributes of the metaphysical existence, and the conclusions that are reached in these respects are widely divergent, ranging all the way from the paradise of Islam, in which earthly pleasures are experienced in greatly enhanced degree (by the males at least), to the nirvana of Mahayana Buddhism, which has been described as a “passionless peace.” The test of agreement between the Eastern and Western religions, the East-West test, we may call it, thus supports our finding that there definitely is a metaphysical existence of some kind, and a related aspect of the human personality, but that the characteristics of the metaphysical existence are, for the most part, uncertain.
There is general agreement that the provisions of the moral code originate in the metaphysical region, but the conflicting beliefs with respect to the characteristics of the metaphysical existence lead to differences in the identification of the authority on which the code rests. The Western religions regard the provisions of the code as commandments emanating from a Deity. In some of the eastern religions, on the other hand, the code is self-sufficient. “In Buddhism and Jainism,” says T. R. V. Murti, “the moral law is perfectly autonomous… . The deities only reveal and uphold this order; they do not create the order.”385 In either case, there must be communication between the metaphysical agencies and the human race in order to define the details of the code, and both East and West agree that there is a significant amount of this communication, covering a broad range of subjects in addition to the moral code.
Summarizing the foregoing paragraphs, we can say that the East-West test, the test of agreement between the assertions of the major religions of the East and those of the major religions of the West, definitely confirms the four principal religious assertions specified in Chapter 23 as having been verified in the earlier pages of this work on the basis of reasoning from totally different premises. We will now turn our attention to the points of disagreement to see what conclusions can be drawn from them. According to our previous findings, disagreement can be expected (1) where authentic revelations have not actually been received by all, (2) where the revelations, as received, were not clear enough to all recipients to enable them to be expressed in similar terms in the different religious systems, and (3) where the information alleged to have been received through revelations, whether valid or invalid, is not inherently religious; that is, it deals with matters that have no relevance to Sector 3.
The points of disagreement included in categories 1 and 2 are closely related to a major difference between the Eastern and Western concepts of human existence that results from their differing views as to the nature of knowledge. “It is usual to divide East and West on the basis of the difference between intuition and intellect,”386 says P. T. Raju. But this is not the whole story. Indeed, intuition and intellect are not directly comparable. Information is obtained from metaphysical sources by means of intuition, but intellect or reason is merely a tool that can be used to process information and put it into usable form. It is true that since the ultimate source of the information derived from intuition is the metaphysical existence, the intuition itself is merely a transmission mechanism. But so far as the human individual is concerned, it is the only thing with which he deals. In a sense, therefore, it is a source of information: an intermediate source, we may say. A person who is confronted with a simple ethical problem needs nothing more than intuition to obtain the answer. If he is confronted with a simple physical problem, however, he cannot get an answer from reason alone. Reason must have some information on which to operate. In order to arrive at the desired answer, this individual must first obtain relevant data from empirical sources. He can then apply reason to these data and ultimately reach some conclusions.
It does not necessarily follow that reason is applicable to the processing of empirical information only. It can equally well be applied to the examination or extension of information derived originally from intuition. The methods of verification of the assertions of religious revelation that were discussed in Chapter 10 are examples of the application of reason to intuitive data. Whenever a scientist undertakes to verify, by means of the standard procedures of science, an idea that he has obtained in a “flash of insight,” he is likewise applying reason to information derived from an intuitive source. Nevertheless, in actual practice, reason has not been applied to information from intuitive sources in anywhere near the degree that has been the rule in the empirical field. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps the most significant is the authoritarian nature of religious revelations. In theory, the Eastern attitude toward revelation is not authoritarian. “Everyone can have the revelation,” says Raju; “Everyone can become a Buddha.”387 But in practice, this author admits, the particular revelation ascribed to the founder of the religion is accepted as authoritative. Buddhists in general are not guided by their own revelations, if they receive any. They accept the teachings of Buddhism, and as Raju says, “Buddhism is Buddha’s religion.”388 The Western religions take the authoritarian attitude from the start. Each claims that its revelation is unique and ultimate. Application of reasoning to an authoritative revelation is, by definition, presumptuous and serves no useful purpose.
The fact that reason does not enter into the conception of an intuitive or revelatory idea likewise discourages the application of reasoning to the examination of such ideas. Conversely, where the source of the information is empirical, reasoning is essential in order to put the raw data into a form in which it can be used. Its employment for this purpose as a matter of necessity then fosters a tendency to extend its application to an examination of revelatory pronouncements as well. The extent to which reason is applied to the extension and elaboration of religious ideas thus depends largely on the magnitude of the empirical content of those ideas. The philosophical outlook has been an important factor here. All of the major religions and philosophies rely upon revelation (intuition) for at least some of their basic ideas, but Western philosophy is primarily concerned with information derived from empirical sources, and this philosophical attitude has had a profound effect on the Western religious views.
Oriental philosophies, on the other hand, rely just as strongly on intuition as the corresponding religions. In fact, philosophy is not differentiated from religion to anywhere near the same extent as in the West. Indian philosophy has a pronounced religious character, so much so that “foreigners find it difficult to say whether Indian philosophers are discussing philosophy or religion.”387 In China this situation is reversed, and the religions are more like philosophies. There is a long-standing difference of opinion as to whether Confucianism is a religion or a philosophy. Taoism, one of the other indigenous Chinese religions, is described by Raju in these words: “Taoism is a kind of nature mysticism, understanding nature in the sense of human nature or some ultimate natural principle in human nature, not physical nature.”389
Application of reason to any body of subject matter ultimately involves going beyond the immediately apprehended elements of the situation under consideration and into an unseen realm known only by inference and deduction. Physical science, for example, deals largely with abstract concepts such as forces and fields which are accessible only by way of reasoned inferences. Reasoning in the philosophical and religious fields in the West has produced similar results, and the basic assertions of the Western religions are mainly concerned with the unseen world: the “spiritual forces and fields,” we might say. On the other hand, the Eastern religions are primarily concerned with that which is immediately accessible, either to the senses or by intuition. As expressed by F. S. C. Northrop, the Orientals “consistently restrict themselves to the immediately apprehended, branding all logically inferred, theoretically designated reality as illusory.”390 “To know reality,” says Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, “one must have an actual experience of it,”391 and he views reason as having only a limited capability:
There is a higher way of knowing reality, beyond the reach of reason, namely the direct perception or experience of the ultimate reality, which cannot be known by reason in any of its forms. Reason can demonstrate the truth, but reason cannot discover or reach the truth.392
On this Oriental basis, the metaphysical and religious realities, whatever they may be, are operating within the immediately apprehended universe. In religious language, they are immanent. The extension of religious thought by reasoned inference in the West has transferred the ultimate religious realities into the realm beyond the reach of immediate apprehension, where they are said to be transcendent. (In some Western thinking, they are both immanent and transcendent.) This transcendental nature of the Western religions leads to a perception of human life as a progression along a one-way path toward a higher, or more advanced, existence, and to the characterization of these religions as linear. The Eastern religions, which see all human existence as bound up in the immediately apprehended universe, regard human life as a never-ending cycle, symbolized by the wheel in both Hinduism and Buddhism. For this reason they are classified as cyclical religions.
While it would seem, on first consideration, that there is a direct conflict here, a closer analysis shows that these different views are both consistent, in the religious areas to which they are applicable, with the findings set forth in the preceding pages of this work. Religion, we find, deals with certain aspects of Sector 3 existence. One of the manifestations of that existence is the non-physical component of the human personality: Level 3 of human life, as we have called it. Any concept of ultimate reality that restricts itself to the immediately apprehended in the manner indicated by Northrop and Radhakrishnan limits its view of the metaphysical sector, Sector 3, to the manifestation of this sector in the human Level 3. From this viewpoint, the religious realities, like the physical realities, are seen as wholly contained within the physical universe. Inasmuch as the development of the Reciprocal System of theory has now identified the physical universe as a cyclical entity, it follows that the cyclical view of the ultimate reality that is common to the Eastern religions is correct as far as it goes. Thus the revelations from which this view was derived were, in this respect, authentic.
Meanwhile, the Western religions, by the application of reason to the information derived from their authentic revelations, together with that derived from experience, have extended their view of religious reality into the metaphysical region. On the basis of this broader viewpoint, they have arrived at an interpretation of the religious aspect of human life as a one-way progression toward higher levels that are independent of the physical universe. This, too, is in agreement with the findings of the preceding pages. The apparent disagreement between East and West is due to the fact that each is concentrating its attention on a different part of existence as a whole. By rejecting, or at least minimizing, abstract theoretical inquiry into religious subjects, the people of the Orient have restricted the scope of their religious understanding in much the same way that they have, until very recently, limited the extent of their advances in scientific and other physical fields. On the other hand, the people of the West have been, to some extent, carried away by their enthusiasm over the discovery of the transcendental reality, and have tended to concentrate their attention on the hereafter, at the expense of the religious aspects of the here and now—a self-defeating policy, inasmuch as the only way by which sustained progress can be made toward the ultimate goal is through experience in dealing with the problems of earthly life.
One of the significant results of the difference between the cyclical and linear concepts of human destiny is a strong contrast between the attitudes of the Eastern and Western religions toward the human condition. Western religious thought recognizes that the world is full of unpleasant and undesirable things, but nevertheless regards human life, on the whole, as a reasonably enjoyable experience. One of the primary human objectives, as seen from this standpoint, is to make this experience still more rewarding. Eastern religious thought, on the contrary, regards human life, on the whole, as difficult and disagreeable, and emphasizes the existence of widespread suffering. The “First Noble Truth” of Buddhism is the existence of suffering; the second of these noble truths is that the suffering is due to man’s desires; the remaining two stress the repression of these desires as the way of release from suffering. Similarly, for the Hindu, “the good… is not to be gained by manipulating nature, altering society, or seeking pleasure for ourselves.”393
There is no indication that the actual conditions of life for the ordinary individual during the time when the major religions were in the process of formation were significantly different in one part of the world than in another. But the linear view is inherently optimistic. The religions of the West have diluted this optimism to some extent by raising the specter of a Final Judgment, but even so, the individual has a certain amount of control over his ultimate destiny, and can at least see some promise of a better future. The cyclical outlook, on the contrary, is inherently pessimistic:
To be endlessly bound to an endless wheel, to be ground upon the road of life not once, or twice, or a thousand times, but repeatedly and forever, with all responsibility, fault, and error ceaselessly accumulating to one’s discredit, is not a pleasant prospect.394 (Frederic Spiegelberg)
With this kind of a prospect facing him, the most that a person can hope for is some kind of a release mechanism that will liberate him from the perpetual cycle. Such a release was the original goal of the major Eastern religions:
The goal of life in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism is essentially the same. Moksa (liberation) is the ultimate objective for Hinduism and Jainism, and nirvana is the goal in Buddhism. The precise meanings of liberation vary among the different schools, even among those within the framework of Buddhism and Hinduism, but the essential meaning of both moksa and nirvana is emancipation or liberation from turmoil and suffering and freedom from rebirth.395 (S. Radhakrishnan)
The only escape route that is fully consistent with the cyclical theory of existence is extinction of the human personality, either by total annihilation or by absorption into some kind of a cosmic essence, and some of the Eastern beliefs, particularly the earlier ones, and those, such as Hinayana Buddhism, that have maintained the earlier doctrines relatively unchanged, define their nirvana or moksa in terms that amount to, or approximate, annihilation. But this is not an attractive prospect, and as a result of the general desire for a more acceptable alternative, together with the influence of contact with the linear religions of the West, the earlier views of the human fate have been modified in most of the current versions of the Eastern religions. The nirvana of Mahayana Buddhism, for example, is described by Spiegelberg as a state of “wonderful heavenly bliss.”396 On the question of human destiny, then, the East-West test is inconclusive because of the basic difference between the linear and cyclic viewpoints. This question will be examined in more detail in Chapter 28.
This basic conceptual difference likewise accounts, in large part, for the wide discrepancies between the teachings of the different religions with respect to the existence of a Deity, and the nature thereof, where the existence is asserted. All of the major religions, except the earliest versions of Jainism and Buddhism, are theistic, at least in the sense that worship of something or someone is a religious requirement, but there is a bewildering diversity of views as to the number, the nature, and the powers of the Deities. The tendency to deify the founder of the religion is very marked, and extends even to those cases where the founder explicitly denied any such status. Like the theoretical development in this present work, the East-West test leaves all questions in this area unanswered.
East and West agree that there is something in human life that is physically indestructible. It is also agreed that there is some kind of a relationship between this indestructible human characteristic and the inherently metaphysical existences. There is no consensus as to the nature and extent of that relationship, but the amount of agreement that does exist is sufficient to confirm the theoretical conclusion that there is a non-physical component of the human personality.
All the religions of the world have the teaching that the spiritual life of the human individual continues beyond physical death. However, the various religions differ widely concerning the details in their picture of the future life, and even concerning the desirability of a future life.397 (R. E. Hume)
A similar lack of consensus is seen in the attitudes toward evil. Some religions see little evil in the world; others regard it as inherent in physical and human existence and mainly beyond human power to modify; still others regard evil as an antagonist against which religion must continually do battle. The concept of “sin,” which is closely related to evil in Christian thought, is not so correlated in most other religions. Hume points out that neither Buddhism, which sees evil in all existence, nor Hinduism, which regards evil as illusory, concedes the existence of sin, in the Christian sense.398 Thus the Christian concept of the essential sinfulness of man and the need for some kind of an expiatory action, either by himself or by a surrogate, to achieve harmony with the higher existence gets no support from the East-West test. The same is true of the “problem of evil” that looms so large in the thinking of Western people. “To many,” says John Hick, “the most powerful positive objection to belief in God is the fact of evil.”399 But none of the Eastern religions accepts the premises in terms of which this problem is stated in the West.
The third of the categories with respect to which disagreement between the Eastern and Western religions can be expected, the inherently non-religious category, has a special significance in our analysis, as the findings of this work enable us to distinguish between religious and non-religious subjects on an objective basis, something that has not heretofore been possible. This is particularly helpful when we undertake to examine one of the most frequently emphasized differences between East and West: the prevailing attitudes toward the satisfaction of human desires. As expressed by Titus:
In the West there is a tendency to emphasize desires and the need to satisfy them… . In the East, on the other hand, there is greater emphasis on discipline, self-control, moderation, detachment, and even renunciation.393
The existence of these differences in viewpoint cannot be denied. The question is whether they are religious differences. It is true that both the Buddha and Confucius laid more stress on the need to curtail desires than Western religious leaders have done, but our theoretical findings indicate that, to the extent that the “desires” which the Eastern religions want to suppress involve violations of the moral code common to East and West, there is no conflict. The Western religions do not countenance deviations from the code. To the extent that these desires are not contrary to the moral code, which apparently is true in general, as indicated by the repeated charge that the West is too much interested in “the comforts and pleasures of this world” (which, as we saw in Chapter 21, have no moral implications), the difference in viewpoint is not religious. Each community is simply exercising its privilege of economic and social choice. Whether one chooses to put forth more effort in order to obtain more physical goods, or to devote less effort to production and more time to contemplation, has no relevance to religion. If it could be shown that a contemplative life under adverse economic conditions is more conducive to development of the ethical personality than a more active and comfortable life, this statement might have to be qualified, but the evidence thus far available does not support such a contention.
An unfortunate result of the confusion between religious and non-religious matters in the doctrines and activities of religious institutions is that these extraneous issues have obscured the true status of the religious code of conduct: the moral code. It is this confusion that has fostered the growth of “ethical relativism” and subjective ethics, which contend that “whatever an individual or group thinks or feels to be good is good—for him or it.”400 As emphasized in the preceding pages, our findings are that these views are completely erroneous. The moral code is an integral part of the structure of law that governs Sector 3. It is fixed and unchanging, just as the biological laws and the physical laws are in their respective fields. It is the same everywhere and at all times.
Much of the argument in favor of ethical relativism is based on the finding of modern anthropology with respect to the ethical notions of primitive people. Intuitionism, the theory that ethical knowledge is obtainable through direct moral insight, is the strongest antagonist that the ethical relativists have heretofore had to face, aside from the authoritarian dicta of the organized religions, and it has been singled out for severe attack. It is argued by the supporters of ethical relativism that if intuitionism were valid there could be no serious disagreement as to moral judgments between people of different eras and different cultures. Scientific investigation has found that this is not even approximately correct; that the moral rules and standards of the various existing primitive peoples differ widely from each other, and are, in many respects, totally inconsistent with the prevailing consensus in the more advanced societies. Furthermore, these findings indicate that few of the primitive people regard their moral standards as universally applicable, and some ethicists regard this as even more damaging to intuitionism than the differences in the standards. Alexander Macbeath, for instance, has this to say:
Few, if any, primitive people regard their moral rules as universal in the sense that they apply to all men. Some of them do not regard all their moral rules as applicable to all, even of those to whom some of them are applicable.401
The conclusion reached in this work, that intuition is not a source of ethical information but a means whereby such information is obtained from its source, revolutionizes the entire logical situation, and gives the anthropological data a totally different significance. On this basis, knowledge in the ethical field has exactly the same status as knowledge in the physical field. It is available at the source, complete and in full detail. But the human race is not capable of acquiring a full understanding of any major aspect of existence from this source without going through a long step-by-step process of learning. Experience in physical science, currently the most advanced of all branches of human knowledge, gives us a clear picture of what can be expected in the less advanced areas, including morality. During almost the entire range of human history, progress toward understanding of the physical world was limited to the acquisition of individual, mostly unrelated, physical facts. Not until about three thousand years ago was there any systematic attempt to assemble and to codify these individual items and to derive some general relationships. Even today, the workers in this field are continually confronted with phenomena that are totally unexpected, and extremely difficult to fit into the existing structure of thought.
In the light of this experience, it is evident that the findings of the anthropologists are right in line with the concept of continuing ethical development that we have derived from our investigation. On this basis, primitive people cannot be expected to have clear and consistent moral principles. Their ideas in all fields are still confused and often contradictory. Nor could it be expected that their moral principles would agree with the prevailing thought of the more advanced societies, which has had the benefit of thousands of years of painstaking search for the truth. However minuscule the results of that search have been when compared to the great task that still lies ahead, it has nevertheless carried moral understanding far beyond the confused and inconsistent ideas of the primitive tribes. Contrary to what the ethical relativists contend, the evidence from anthropology and from history shows that the human race is moving slowly, but surely, in the direction of higher ethical standards. Our problem is that we have an immense distance yet to cover.
The situation with respect to economic, political, and social issues is altogether different. Where definite and specific answers to problems in these non-religious fields do exist, they are, as a rule, relative to the prevailing circumstances. For example, a decision as to whether to make a certain expenditure for a non-essential purpose should depend largely on whether the community has any surplus resources. Likewise, a nation’s choice of political institutions should depend primarily on what the people of the nation happen to want. The striking differences between the social customs of the Eastern peoples and those of their Western counterparts, therefore, have no relevance to the East-West test that is the subject of the discussion in this chapter. They are not religious differences, even though many of them may be deeply imbedded in the traditions or practices of the organized religions.