I’ve been curious about this topic (reading and religions) for a while now. Most people get their beliefs from a set religion, unlike groups I joined recently, who are known as atheists and freethinkers. I find it odd how I am a religious person but I think like an atheist. So, I’ll explain.
Out of all the people I’ve met living in Ohio and the South, I find most of them are religious — so much so that they’re afraid to lose their church or mosque or the communities of people that surround them because they’re afraid they’ll lose everything dear to them. They live in fear, not liberation. The most tolerant and open-minded people I’ve come to know are atheist or free thinkers. Humanists. Like Todd Stiefel of the Free Thought Society, as well as John Dewey who was signed the Humanist Manifesto. I am religious but I am open-minded and respectful to people of different beliefs.
Why is it that the atheists are the ones who are the best with people? I feel like a key factor is how much they READ.
So I did a little research about the value of reading in a few common religions.
I started with Buddhism, then progressed to another Indian religion, Hinduism, the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), and the burgeoning Scientology.
The Early Indian Buddhism called Theravada, emphasizes reading and contemplating The Discourse That Sets the Wheel of Truth and other suttas. The goal is to study the 4 noble truths and put them into practice.
- Dukkha – all temporary things and states are unsatisfying
- Start of dukkha – yet we crave and cling to these things and states and therefore are continuously reborn
- End of dukkha – if we stop craving and clinging, we wont be reborn
- How to end dukkha – by following the Buddhist path — not behaving indecently, not acting on impulses, practicing mindfulness, and meditation, which helps with this selfcontrol
According to Nichiren Buddhism, which is based on the teachings of a Japanese teacher, Nichiren, arrogance and ignorance are two sufferings of the human desire. Buddhism believes that humans suffer because of the Attachment To Earthly Desires. People attain awakening by “listening” to the teachings of Buddha.
Buddhism has been compared to medicine. I thought the path of diagnosis and cure was interesting:
- The truth of dukkha: identifying the illness and the nature of the illness
- The truth of origin: identifying the causes of the illness
- The truth of cessation: identifying the cure for the illness (prognosis)
- The truth of the path: recommend a treatment for the illness that can bring about a cure (the prescription)
Hinduism doesn’t see human weakness as needing a cure, but warns of its dangers.
Hinduism is surprisingly more peaceful and thoughtful than I assumed. This is the 3rd largest religion in the world, behind Christianity and Islam. Growing up in a Pakistani household, I always felt Hindus were wrongfully guided polytheists and I was complacent enough not to look further into the religion because all the Hindu friends I had were friendly and non-zealous. My parents, specifically my mom, like most Pakistanis, growing up in a colonial country — with this fear of the other (British) power taking over, and the civil war in the 1940s that forced all the Muslims out of India influenced them to be very scared people. I was surprised to find that Hinduism believes that “desire” is the root cause of our suffering — much like many religions, including Islam. It believes the world is an illusion. Each soul is born again and again until it discovers its true nature and is united with God. God is responsible for everything that happens on earth, and when too many evils take over he comes in a form to destroy it and protect the weak, pious, and restore order.
I didn’t find anything in specific to the importance of reading in Hinduism, which leads me to believe Hinduism does not encourage its followers to read, just “feel” life and live by the teachings of Hinduism. If you know anything about what the religion says about reading, or if you are Hindu, feel free to comment down below!
I studied Classical Literature as a freshman in high school, and studying Literature in college. Based on my experiences I’ve learned reading is so important in the Christian religion. Most schools in the United States and across the world started as Christian schools to study the Bible. My mom’s Pakistani friend studied English in a Catholic Convent school growing up in Pakistan. In America, important figures like Jane Adams and Ellen Gates Starr, of the Hull House, taught reading to immigrants in Chicago.
However, historically, reading has always been selectively been for the religious. Like monks who read and studied scripture 1/3 of the day, praying 1/3, and manual labor the last 1/3. The St. Dionysis Monastery in Greece is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. I think of this when I think of I think of monastery. The picture above is another isolated, yet beautiful monastery called Tatev in southern Armenia.
I’ve worked in Islamic schools and done quite a bit of studying in this religion. I also happen to be Muslim. So I’ll give you as concise a response as possible. To start off, the first words to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by the angel Gabriel were “Read! In the name of your Lord.” Muhammad (PBUH) may have been illiterate however the religion made it an obligation to learn on every man and woman. Reading is not a stand alone. It is in conjunction with learning, asking questions, sitting in study circles. The Quran also commands a Muslim to seek knowledge of the universe, and in the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) encouraged a Muslim to seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave, as well as seeking knowledge even if you have to go across the world to China. Unless of course, you live in China, then you go to America, which would be across the world for you! 😀
The Jewish religion and culture always held a fascination to me, because the Jews are so much like Muslims in that they do not drink or eat pork. Two things Christians do, but Muslims are forbidden to. I grew up in a Muslim household so as a kid naturally I did what I was told. I really loved the Disney Channel TV movie Full Court Miracle. I thought Alex’s Rabbi teacher, was so peaceful and kind. Also the black coach who lived out of his car and taught basketball put diversity into the movie. Loved his character. He helped the Jewish school’s kids team to victory. I grew up to read The Chosen. A story about two Jewish boys who became friends regardless of their dads’ zealous attachment to their Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish traditions. Actually, Reuven’s dad was happy for him to be friends with Danny, it was Danny’s Hasidic family who didn’t want the two mixing, until much later in the book. Jewish characters like The Tragedy of Mariam (my name), and Shylock from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice also were quite interesting to read about but to me, the former really didn’t make a comment on reading one way or the other.
Jew figures in pop culture today don’t hold a lot of appeal to me, like The Fat Jew who is extremely comfortable with public nudity. Seinfeld is not bad, but I haven’t seen any full episodes, aside from the best of clips on YouTube, so I can’t say much about him, but in the Disney movie and classic literature by Chiam Potok they emphasized reading. Danny and Reuven were both serious about their Hebrew books and secular books. However, from my knowledge, in Judaism reading for women is not as important as for the men. It also seems that reading is for the religious clergy, unless you go to the Jewish school like Alex, Danny, and Reuven.
Another thing I really loved about the The Chosen and Full Court Miracle was the fact that the main characters both loved the American sports of baseball and basketball. They didn’t study all the time, they also liked to play. They seemed like real people.
The church of Scientology is gathering quite a following worldwide, including it is rumored, Will Smith and his family who denies it and says he respects all world religions, however he’s donated $70,000 to Scientology schools. Tom Cruise, on the other hand, is one of the more well-known people in the church of Scientology. I actually like Will Smith and his smart kids. He has entertained me since his days on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and chooses good movies to do, like Independence Day and The Pursuit of Happiness. His supposed religion, not too sure about. I checked out its website and learned it emphasizes humanitarian causes. Its central beliefs promote the study of mind and healing of mental illnesses. Its God forbids destroying its own kind, or the sanity of others. A lot is emphasized on the study of the mind. However to my understanding, there is no emphasis place on reading, or seeking knowledge of the religion on their own books. It’s more about listening, and following the teachings of its pastor.
After my brief study, I still believe atheists and free-thinkers are the most tolerant and good to people. Maybe I’m wrong, but through my experience it has been these people are the ones anybody would want to be around.
Overall, this was a fascinating post to write up! I hope you enjoyed it. If you happen to be of one of the above religions, feel free to let me know in the comments below how your religion promotes reading. I’ll be happy to read them and check out your blog if you have one!
That’s all I have for you as far as my thoughts on reading and religions for now! I hope you have a great Sunday and I’ll see you all tomorrow for a Making Up for Monday post!