The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions
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In the ninth century BCE, the peoples of four distinct
regions of the civilized world created the religious and
philosophical traditions that have continued to nourish
humanity to the present day: Confucianism and Daoism in
China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism in Israel,
and philosophical rationalism in Greece. Later generations
further developed these initial insights, but we have never
grown beyond them. Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam, for example, were all secondary flowerings of the
original Israelite vision. Now, in The Great Transformation,
Karen Armstrong reveals how the sages of this pivotal Ã¯Â¿Â½Axial
AgeÃ¯Â¿Â½ can speak clearly and helpfully to the violence and
desperation that we experience in our own times.
Armstrong traces the development of the Axial Age
chronologically, examining the contributions of such figures
as the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the
mystics of the Upanishads, Mencius, and Euripides. All of
the Axial Age faiths began in principled and visceral recoil
from the unprecedented violence of their time. Despite some
differences of emphasis, there was a remarkable consensus in
their call for an abandonment of selfishness and a
spirituality of compassion. With regard to dealing with
fear, despair, hatred, rage, and violence, the Axial sages
gave their people and give us, Armstrong says, two important
pieces of advice: first there must be personal
responsibility and self-criticism, and it must be followed
by practical, effective action.
In her introduction and concluding chapter, Armstrong urges
us to consider how these spiritualities challenge the way we
are religious today. In our various institutions, we
sometimes seem to be attempting to create exactly the kind
of religion that Axial sages and prophets had hoped to
eliminate. We often equate faith with doctrinal conformity,
but the traditions of the Axial Age were not about dogma.
All insisted on the primacy of compassion even in the midst
of suffering. In each Axial Age case, a disciplined
revulsion from violence and hatred proved to be the major
catalyst of spiritual change.
Charlie Rose - May 17, 2006
Talk of the Nation - March 28, 2006
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