Religion: The Individual Endeavour for the Socialisation of Empathy
There is a definite historical parallel between social hardship and religious revelation. Whether this is ultimately climate driven or not, it is apparent that the process of revelation itself is driven in its details by the need to proselytise the expression of empathy as it applies in the culture of the religion's origin. This stimulates the "spiritual journey", through the individual contemplation of literature originally intended to nurture empathy. While racial prejudice, temperament bigotry, and other forms of internal contradiction may ultimately constitute the undoing of major religious systems in an intellectual sense, the initial intent to socialise empathy against all opposition and under protest if necessary, sets religious activity apart from later political causes and fundamentalist agendas that ultimately rationalise the opposition of social empathy for individuals.
A Light in the Darkness
Religion and philosophies generally share a common origin; that of their appearance at times that are universally harsh. Whether under the over energetic heel of expansionist oppressors, or under the universally devastating conditions imposed by cold and drought, hard times and cynicism inspire the empathy of those die-hard souls who are unwilling to give up their sympathy for others over the scraps from Winter's table or the far-flung favour of the emperor. Some become martyrs and some wander away into the night. Some are remembered, and some are largely forgotten. Jesus Christ and Giordano Bruno, Confucius and Mercury (See "The Messengers of God & Messianic Cyclicity"). However well or little known, however many or few names, all such people poured out their hearts and lives for others in spite of overwhelming risks. All indeed were lights in the darkness.
On closer examination, we can but speculate on what would drive any life-loving human being to give away everything for the betterment of others. Perhaps when there is nothing left to lose, one is freer to give of one's life in the hope that others, even by only minor imitation, may make the community liveable once more. Regardless the motives, the inspiration imposed by such souls speaks to contemplation of ways of life that are more fulfilling than the loneliness of the human zoo that civilisations eventually decay into; ways of life that are more certain than that society which, overgrown by the law of the jungle, is a society no more; and ways of life that are ultimately liberating - from compulsion, coercion, and deception.
On What Lies Illuminated
It is, in my view, crucially important never to lose sight of the fact that for every rose, there are many more thorns. So when we examine more closely those who inspire that empathy for others, that courage to be true to ourselves, and that liberty to explore any question we choose; we need nonetheless to keep those thorns in mind, lest their sharp points deprive us of the fragrant beauty we seek. No human being is perfect, and yet all human beings have a potential to exemplify such empathy as to move all who learn of it.
History has shown that Christ was mistaken to say, "On this rock shall I build my church"; that likewise Baha'u'llah was in abject error when for the sake of unity, he implemented the one religious concept that guarantees disunity; infallibility. According to the Qu'ran, Mohammed neglected to explicitly state a maxim, and of all religious founders, he is the only one to introduce so grave an error into the most widely accepted of his teachings. All this demonstrates is that these influential souls were all eminently fallible human beings, who nonetheless have contributed some of the most moving, profound, and beautiful contemplations to human philosophy.
The Journey is yours alone
So it is, when we take the journey of contemplation beyond ourselves, we may discover the spiritual through the eyes of others to learn new points of view and enrich our own perspectives. We may gaze back at the world through the eyes of the ancients and consider perspectives that our fore-fathers saw fit to hide from us. We may also look at the world through the eyes of our fore-fathers and seek out those truths they tried, perhaps too hard, to protect. Likewise, we may listen to those who disagree with us and learn to understand why they see the way they do, without necessarily becoming copies of them or having to agree with them.
At the end of time,
"The Kingdom" may well be God's
But thy faith is thine.
As our experiences are unique, so too is what we get from this journey. Although many may prefer the work of one author to another, all such works constitute our heritage, and represent the different countries of a very wide "spiritual world" we may yet travel while living in this life. However, the journey does not define us. That honour is for ourselves alone, through the choices we make in life. Our journey in both the spiritual and physical realm simply enriches the experience from which we extrapolate our indelibly unique beliefs.
Conclusion: the Common Law of the "Spiritual World"
What we learn on the spiritual journey of empathic contemplation, regardless which path we choose, is the necessary universality of empathy in the governance of our behaviour towards others. The rest are but details, embellishing the rich journey through diverse cultures and changing times that influenced the outcome of empathic contemplation in the circumstantial context of individual and social needs. The source of influence enshrined by the lives of those who most inspire us as human beings leads me to the conclusion that we are defined, neither by our thoughts, nor our words, nor even by our deeds; but by the measure of empathy that characterises our will and ultimately guides our choices. I believe that we are so defined; by the love that gives us life, the love with which we give life, and the love with which we live life. Yet the journey does not stop here, for there is no end to the methods by which we may empathise, nor ways by which we may love.