Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Golden Rule

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Karen Armstrong (History of God, among other brilliant books) was on Charlie Rose last night pushing her newest book, The Great Transformation : The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions. The book looks at the Axial Age as the origin of all the world's major religious traditions. Karl Jaspers named the period from 800 BCE to 200 BCE the Axial Age because during this one period, all of the major religious traditions flowered.

From Wikipedia:
The word axial in the phrase Axial Age means pivotal. The name comes from the German word Achse, which means both "axis" and "pivot". Due to a mistranslation, the term axial has become standard.

The term axial or pivotal is appropriate as ancient Greek philosophy which grounds the politics of the West and additionally via the Platonic strain is with the Bible one of the legs on which Christian theology stands flourished during this era. Rome which, of course, has had a large impact on the West took the Greece of this era as a model. Buddhism which had and has a large impact on world history was founded by Siddhartha Guatama who lived during this period. Confucianism, too, arose during this era. Confucianism was the dominant Chinese worldview until the advent of Communism and arguably still is.

Hinduism also flourishied at his time, as well as the beginning of Taosim and Jainism. The origin of the monotheistic tradition also stems from this period.

Armstrong's new book traces the development of all of this, and I'm guessing she looks at what conditions may have contributed to this flowering of faith.

One thing she mentioned in the interview was that all of these religions developed in reaction to a perceived violence in the given culture. Each of these traditions was a reaction against a violent world, and each religion has at its core one simple teaching.

She used this story:

A pagan approached a Rabbi and said, "I will convert to your religion if you can state the entire teachings of your faith while standing on one foot." The Rabbi stood on one foot and said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary."
The Golden Rule. It's that simple, says Armstrong.

She argues that this is the core teaching of all the world's major religions, no matter how differently it might be stated by each one.

What do you think?

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