Anyone studying the religions of the world will encounter from time to time the notion that all religion is somehow fundamentally anti-human; all religion seems to denounce and find fault with life-on-planet-Earth.
Are there any religions that do not reject our earthly existence?
The translation of the title (above) is: “The World, the Flesh and the Devil”
My students thought this should be an easy question to answer: ‘Are there any religions that do not reject our earthly existence?’
But to the disappointment of the entire class, I had to answer that all religions seem to contain an artist’s blend of celebration and rejection of life on this planet.
A correct path in the land of the lost
Whether finding fault with our existence or emphasizing a fault with our perception of ourselves, all religions seem to assume that our natural existence lacks direction and needs correcting. … as a path to happiness
It is possible that each religion has its own unique ‘anthropology’, and that these diverse views of humanity cannot be accurately summed up in a single notion. But ‘world-denial’ can be found to some extent in all religions.
The history of both religion and philosophy are dominated by assumptions of a pure and good ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’, stuck in a less than desirable earthly existence.
The student of religion must keep in mind that the favor of a god or gods – or spiritual favor – is very often interpreted as manifest by material wealth and health.
Lest the devil, the world, and the flesh deceive us.
A case could be made that historically, the majority of religious thinkers and philosophers have written and spoken adamantly against the ‘enemies of the soul’. Correcting our natural existence seems to be at the heart of the last 4000 years of our musing in all philosophy and religion.
In the Christian scriptures, the New Testament, in a letter attributed to John the Evangelist, the believer is told quite emphatically: ‘do not love the world!’
And Paul writes in 1Cor. 9 “I keep my body under control, and bring it into subjection, lest while preaching to others, I myself should become a degenerate.”
It is important to note that the believer, the adherent of any one religion, most often sees the majority of humanity (the world) as non-religious.
Over and against the fact that religion has dominated human history, and still has a majority vote in human affairs, the individual adherent is taught, and believes that religion and faith are rare. Much of this comes from the world-denying teachings of our religions.
And again from Christianity, the conflict is presented in the rhetorical question: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet lose their soul?”
The term ‘soul’ is meant to indicate one’s ‘true self’, which is described as if in direct conflict with your body, your needs, your identity, your ‘ego’, etc.
When stated this way, the sentiment of worldliness vs. other-worldliness is recognizable in all of our religions.
A few examples from various religious texts follow below.
“Attachment leads to suffering.”
–– Dhammapada, Gautama Buddha.
“A mind undisturbed by vacillating fortune, free from sorrow, cleansed of defilements, free from fear; this is the greatest blessing”
–– Tripitaka, Gautama Buddha.
“… every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” (says god)
–– B’Reyshith (Genesis) 8:21
“Listen, my child, and be wise, and guide your heart in the way. Do not be one of those forever drinking wine or one of those who gorge themselves with meat; for the drunkard and glutton impoverish themselves, and sleepiness is clothed in rags.”
–– Mishlei Shlomo (Proverbs) 23:19-21
“For the flesh craves anything that opposes the spirit and the spirit craves whatever opposes the flesh, and they both are contrary one to another, lest you would be doing whatever you want.”
–– Galatians 5:17
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
–– 1 John 2:15-17
“When the body is filled with ego and selfishness, the cycle of birth and death does not end”
–– Sri Guru Granth Sahib : 126
“As long as the tongue does not chant the Name of God, the person continues coming and going in reincarnation, crying out in pain”
–– Sri Guru Granth Sahib : 325
“The siddha perceives and knows all. The siddha, beyond comparison, is essence without form …. it is not sound, not color, not smell, not taste, not touch or anything of that kind. Thus I say.”
–– Jain Acaranga Sutra
“[The gods] said, ‘When this man has lived in the world with merit, he will follow us by means of sacrifice and good deeds and asceticism. Let us therefore act so that he will not follow us. Let us put evil in him.’ They put evil in him: sleep, laziness, anger, hunger, love of dice, desire for sex. These are the evils that assail a man in this world.”
–– Jaiminiya Brahmana 1, 97
Taoism and Confucianism:
“The five colors make one blind in the eyes
The five sounds make one deaf in the ears
The five flavors make one tasteless in the mouth.”
–– Tao Te Ching
“Now there is no end of the things by which man is affected; and when his liking and disliking are not subject to regulation (from within), he is changed into the nature of things as they come before him; that is, he stifles the voice of Heavenly principle within, and gives the utmost indulgence to the desires by which men may be possessed. On this we have the rebellious and deceitful heart, with licentious and violent disorder.”
–– Analects, bk. xvii, sect . i ,v.11,12
“Despiser of the body, lover of God.”
–– Manichaean Psalter
“The end of life is to be like God, and the soul following God will be like Him. The fewer our wants, the more we resemble the gods.”