Thursday 18 January 2007

Secrets included

Where did I get the idea that God knows my ‘inner life’—what I’m thinking, my emotions that remain unexpressed, my lusts and temptations, my dreams. After all, it is counter-intuitive. I’d started to think that maybe I’d gleaned it from Romantic literature and the mystics rather than the Scriptures. But then I opened Matthew 6. Three times, Jesus recommends private religious activity—giving to the needy, praying, fasting—each time contrasting the reward received by displaying these activities before others with the ‘secret reward’ that God grants when these deeds are done for His eyes only.

“And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”, Jesus repeats after each instruction.

Without words such as these (and there are plenty more in Scripture, now that I’m thinking of it), there would be no basis for morality beyond public laws. None of my thoughts, feelings, inclinations, prayers, would matter in the slightest. But because of these words of Jesus, I am beholden to God for all that I am, inside and out.

It is an idea that supports the hope that in the end, true justice will be done by God, since God knows all, secrets included.

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Tuesday 16 January 2007

Proximate words

There is great wisdom in some Buddhist scriptures, but nothing that can reliably be traced back to the Buddha himself. This is the conclusion of Edward Conze, the translator and compiler of the Penguin selection of scriptures. In his introduction, he makes it clear that there is no "original gospel" (his words) in Buddhism. "All attempts to find it are based on mere surmise," he explains. The major reason for this is that many of the traditional texts were written down between 100-400 A.D. (Conze doesn't use C.E.), that is, 600-900 years after the Buddha's life. That is not to say that the words of the Buddha have not been preserved, just that at the moment we have no reliable way of finding them.

Christianity has its traditional texts, too, but it is much easier to identify the source of the traditions—the writings of the followers of Jesus, in particular the four 'biographies' (gospels) written within 70 years of Jesus' life on earth. There's potential for slippage there, too, but the proximity of Jesus' life to its earliest written records helps us to understand why Christians can hold the New Testament in such high regard as a genuine source of knowledge about their leader.

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