01 June 2012

Feasts of fancy

Lately I have been toying around with the idea of likening religion, philosophy, and ideology to food and diet. The various world religions and philosophies are all quite different, but the ones which succeed have common ingredients, common virtues. For instance, most religions place a great deal of emphasis on love, and most have some kind of contemplative practice -- meditation in the east, prayer in the west. Just as we cannot prescribe a perfect diet to anyone by referring to specific foods, but only to generalities (the perfect diet must include the various nutrients humans need, for instance) so to we can we not prescribe to a perfect way of living by referring to any one philosophy or religion, even those we are partial to.  We can only refer to the generalities that we need, or can use -- again, morality and contemplation.  Like food, we are drawn to some religions and philosophies because they have ideas we find sustenance in....but like food, we are drawn to others that have attractors that aren't necessarily good for us. We do like sugar and alcohol, for instance, but too much of either is harmful to our health.  The obsession some religious 'diets' have with having an exclusive hold on truth -- fundamentalist Christianity and Islam, for instance -- is like sugar.  It tastes good to our minds -- how we love being Right! -- but that taste doesn't mean the substance is good for us.

In this view, moral and intellectual life is a banquet. I for one intend to sample as many dishes as I can, to learn from all -- to enjoy the particular tastes that people throughout the centuries and globe have created. For this reason, I think of myself as a universalist -- not because I believe "everyone goes to heaven", since I give no place to the supernatural -- but because I believe all humans can and have contributed something to the pool of human moral, intellectual, cultural, and pleasurable wealth.