Philosophy of Religion
~ Walking on a Mountain Path in Spring by Ma Yuan
1. Religion and superstition
Religion, for many, is not very much different from superstition. To have faith is to believe in the unlikely, the improbable, and the impossible. Examine the religious, do they not believe that by doing certain actions they will change their fate? Do they not believe that their worship and devotion can change their destiny? Do they not believe in miracles that defy the laws of nature?
Beware of superstition for they make fools out of the fortunate and prisoners out of the poor. Seneca said, “Superstition is an idiotic heresy: it fears those it should love: it dishonours those it worships. For what difference does it make whether you deny the gods or bring them into disrepute?”
There are numerous different religions in this world. All of them have their own Gods, their own miracles, and their own ways of worship. To choose one religion over the other is to believe that one religion is true and the other false. Such is the folly of man. Seneca said, “Truth lies open to everyone. There has yet to be a monopoly of truth.” Why should you believe one over the other when all religions point to the same direction?
To believe in a God or Creator is to believe in a being of omnipotent and omnipresent power. Hence, the future is already set in stone. Therefore Virgil said, “Give up hoping that your prayer can bring some change in the decisions of the Gods.”
A God that can be understood is not a God. For how can a mortal understand an immortal? Eternity and infinity are beyond the understanding of common man. Xenophanes was right, ‘we create our Gods in our own image.” The Gods of old were imbued with human emotions. They were jealous, vengeful, and easily angered. Yet with rational thinking and careful consideration, can you really believe a God with so many human weaknesses? Therefore, believe what you see not what you hear.
2. The fear of death
All men are mortal; all men must die. Charon waits for us all at the end of our journey. The thread of life is thin. Man’s existence is ephemeral and fragile. Death is like a great leap into the dark. It is a great leap into an abyss that one cannot fathom its depth and darkness. Hence, there is a fear of death even in the noblest of souls.
In the heart of every religion there is philosophy. The core of every religion is a path to salvation. Every religion advocates a journey that does not end in death but in an eternal afterlife. The most fervent and dedicated followers of religion are often the most selfish ones. They are good not for the sake of others but for the sake of themselves. They do good so that good will be bestowed upon them.
3. Death means nothing to us
The price of life is death. Dying is as natural as living. It is part of the process in the circle of life. Marcus Aurelius said, “In life I grow, and in death I rest. Life entails no gain nor death any loss.” Seneca said, “In the ashes, all men are levelled. We’ve born unequal we die equal.”
Epicurus said, “Death means nothing to us.” Death entails the cessation of sensations; hence, death cannot be painful. A Chinese proverb states, ‘ Look upon death as a going home.’ What perishes in this world does not leave this world. When we die, we simply return to nature from whence we came.
Death and life have their determined appointment. Virgil said, “I have lived; I have completed now the course that fortune long ago allotted me.” Look around you and you will find that nothing is permanent; everything has is season. Seneca said, “One thing I know: all the works of mortal man lie under sentence of mortality; we live among things that are destined to perish.”
4. The importance of the present
Marcus Aurelius, “Leave this life without regret. Life is here today, it is uncertain tomorrow.” While you are alive, cherish the little time you have with your family and friends, do what is practical, rectify your bad behaviour, and leave something behind worthy of remembrance. Seneca said, “Of this one thing make sure against your dying day – that your faults die before you do.”
Place your two feet firmly in the present. Remember that the past is a memory; the future is a mystery. The past will guide your actions; the future will determine your direction. Confucius said, “ While you are not able to serve men, how can you serve their spirits? While you do not know life, how can you know death?” Everything has its own time. Do not be overly concerned over a world you have not entered and neglect the world you are now living in.
Seneca said, “There’s nothing so very great about living – all your slaves and all the animals do it. What is, however, a great thing is to die in a manner which is honourable, enlightened, and courageous.” The zenith of philosophy is to learn to face death without fear. Learn to laugh at the inevitable. Socrates said at the time of his execution, “Be of good cheer and say you are burying my body only.”
5. The importance of the future
Art is long, life is short. The purpose of life is a life of purpose; a life of purpose is a live of passion. Spend your life producing something that will outlast you. When you think of the future, you will do what is right for the right reasons.
Life is a pilgrimage. Always look for the right results to determine your direction. Know what you want to achieve with your short life. There is but one possible path for each and every one of us. In the present, the future contains an infinite amount of possibilities. When you have a direction and destination, you can begin your journey to slowly get there. Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand li starts with a single step.”