Practicality in Religion

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Religion is a very sensitive subject. Sometimes, you wonder how long you can go talking about it without having it erupt into violence these days. Is there a god up there or out there? If so, why is there evil in the world? If not, why isn’t there nothing but evil? The list of questions only gets bigger and more convoluted from there.

But whether or not you believe that there’s an otherworldly power governing the universe, you have to admit that religion–any religion–teaches important life lessons, some more practical than others.

For example, in the Bible, therein is the tale of a man named Joseph. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s the story of a man who goes from hardship to crazy hardship and ultimately ends up as the grand vizier of Egypt and the key to reconciliation and reunion of his Hebrew family. But one part of it sticks out to me in a more practical sense: his economic policy in times of plenty and famine. Most people are inclined to spend and consume what they have in times of plenty on just about all the creature comforts they can think of but try to hoard what little they have left in times of scarcity. Joseph implemented the opposite: during the seven years of plenty, he suggested that the people stockpile everything they could spare, so when the seven years of famine came along, the people of Egypt had more than enough to eat–so much more, in fact, that the empire turned out huge profits from selling its excess to starving outsiders, including Joseph’s family.

Another example is the 1922 novel, Sidhartha, the tale of a spiritual journey of self-discovery in the time of the Gautama Buddha. About halfway through the story, the titular character has become a rich man and consummate lover, but even after gaining all that he could ask for, he feels so empty that he is almost driven to suicide–a sadly common fate among celebrities and other upper class people. Only when he realizes that his life still has meaning–something that no amount of wealth can give him–does he stop himself and resume his personal journey.

Now, all of this seems silly, I’m sure, but look beyond the controversy and senseless jargon and you just might see how much better we can all be if we stop and listen beyond what we know.

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