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Children of the Cool,
There are a couple of topics worth discussing with regard to Judaism.
The first is testimonial. Do you know people who are anti-Semitic? Is it a “thing” in your own family or other circles? Maybe your church has a specific view of the role of the Jews in the end-times; maybe you’ve heard conspiracy theories. Or maybe not.
Second, reflect if you will on the concept of there being a “chosen people.” Does this seem reasonable or likely to you, as a way God (if there is a god) would go about things? (The philosopher Bertrand Russell once said “How odd / of God / to choose / the Jews.” He was an atheist.
Third, Jews have long had what many of us have only acquired in the past few decades: an absolute obsession with figuring out our identity. Put your own identity in dialogue with the debates Jews have about it: is your identity religious? political? ethnic or racial? cultural? Who or what do you identify as? That is, distinguish what happens to be true of you, from what makes you be you. You *are* a Muslim; you happen to be from Alabama. You *are* pro-life, you happen to be African-American. You get the i dea.
I never know how much wind-shear it will be for students to first encounter Hinduism. The “Californication” of south and east Asian religions, whereby they all get the juicy bits picked over and Vitamixed together into a New Age spirituality, makes it hard to understand what these religions are in themselves, apart from our Western appropriation of them.
Let’s talk about a couple of things.
x) Every religion seems to have morally-awkward things about especially its history, yet religions have been and arguably still are the major channels for teaching morals and for bringing them up in public, especially in political contexts. So Muhammad fought, Christianity persecuted heretics and Jews violently; Yahweh seems to endorse ethnic cleansing in the oldest parts of the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. Hinduism says you deserve the horrors of your life: poverty, abuse, discrimination, etc. Given all of this–and I’m not saying atheism raises fewer problems, I’m just setting it aside for the moment–how do you think about Hinduism’s understanding of karma? If we *don’t* get everything we deserve, how can the universe be just? If it’s not, what’s the point of being moral? On the other hand, if we do, how would it make you feel, thinking about the circumstances of your own life, to realize that your own past actions set you up for the life you have had so far?
x) Americans can’t stay on a diet for two weeks. Is there a positive message about communal discipline and self-discipline that Hinduism could direct towards American society? What stands out to you?
Buddhism is both the most intellectually-challenging of the major world religions, and one with a strongly-appealing spiritual practice.
x) Both Shankara’s jnana-marga Hindu idea that I am a part of God–that there is only one Self in the universe–and the Buddha’s idea that I am an ephemeral event in the course of karmic history–that there are no selves in the universe–are quite different approaches to individuality and its connection to the whole than the Middle Eastern idea that there is exactly one me, but untold numbers of other “I”s which are more (other humans) or less (gods, aliens, animals, ghosts) like me. Does your experience of American individualism feel more like freedom or like loneliness? How might that feeling be impacted if you took first jnana-marga monism and then Buddhist emptiness on board?
x) What do you think about the Buddhist emphasis on contentment rather than success? That is, the Buddha says that the outcome you should be trying to achieve is peace–mostly within yourself, but also with everyone and everything else. He in fact says that attempting to achieve success is guaranteed to fail in one important way or another, and so is a quest doomed to suffering. Given our country’s current emphasis on success even in education, where does that leave you in terms of how you see it?
Our forum concerns Confucianism.
1) As a recipe for social order and harmony, some Westerners, and the current mainland Chinese government (if I understand their position correctly) see it as a system of ethics, but not a religion. What do you think? It seems that it can serve the functions of a religion, but is anything gained by calling it a religion, or lost by not calling it one? Buddhism is non-theistic because it is “non-self-ic” (I’m totally making up that word), and so some do not think of it as a religion. How do Confucianism and Buddhism affect the idea you had, coming into the course, about what a religion is?
2) Confucianism is portrayed as, and historically has functioned as, both a conservative and a radical force in (Chinese and Korean) society. In the West we seem to be exploring how far we can go in not having order and still have harmony. In your view, should we follow a more traditional or definite structure to society and relationships than the place we are in now? What about the revolutionary potential of telling someone they’re “doing it wrong”? Is that more a hopeful thing–“we can escape this horrid person over us”–or a threatening one–“good grief, anyone with a real or imagined axe to grind can throw anyone around them doing something they don’t like under the bus!”?
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