Friday, March 26, 2010

An Orientation to Our Life

A book of mine published through is called An Orientation to Our Life. You can see it here and order it online. You may see a preview here. Check out the site for reviews. What follows is the introduction to the book.
I grew up asking questions. They were about all kinds of things my young mind could imagine. I still remember a funny question I asked my older sister when I was four or five years old. We had family prayer every morning, and I noticed that the Sun rose immediately after our morning prayer. I connected these two events, and asked, “Does the sun rise because of our prayer?” Instead of laughing at my stupidity, she patiently explained to me that although the two events happened one after the other, they did not have such a cause-effect relationship. I am thankful to my parents and my older brothers and sisters for patiently listening to my questions and encouraging me to keep on asking more and more questions.

Later I began to ask more important questions about life. I wanted to know the meaning of human existence. Search for the truth about life became a passion for me. I often found myself within the jungles of the competing belief systems, and finding my way out was not always easy. I wrote this book as a part of my own exploration of life. I gained much clarity of thought as a result of writing this. I sincerely believe this book might be of some help to those readers who find themselves in similar situations.

I was born and brought up in the Christian religious tradition, and my view of life is colored by my cultural matrix. However, this book is about the phenomenon of human existence. The beliefs that appear in these pages are my own personal beliefs. There is no claim to any authority or inerrancy. These beliefs do not constitute the official belief system of any one religious group, even that of the religion in which I was born and brought up. Although I speak through a pre-Christian, Jewish rabbi, the beliefs stated here are not necessarily the beliefs of Pre-Christian Judaism either. The author believes in religious pluralism, according to which, while one can stay in one’s own beliefs, one should have the openness and willingness to listen to the others. A peaceful co-existence is impossible without such an attitude.

This book consists of fifteen questions about life and my own answers to these questions. It takes the form of a conversation between a teacher and his students. I have created a setting that is common for the three major Semitic religious traditions in the world. The conversation happens in ancient Alexandria before Christ in a Jewish Synagogue between a Rabbi and some young people. This pre-Christian Judaism is the original river from which the three separate tributaries of present-day Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have originated. The Rabbi answers the questions of the young people with the help of the first three chapters of Genesis, which consists of the hymn of Creation and the story of Adam and Eve. This part of the Scriptures is commonly accepted by all the Semitic religions. Thus indirectly this book offers a commentary of this part of the scripture.

The rabbi uses religious scriptures and religious beliefs to answer the basic questions of existence. He doesn't teach religion for the sake of religion, nor does he teach religious beliefs as the only way of attaining salvation. He doesn't propagate Jewish religious faith as the monopoly of all truth. This approach of the rabbi represents my own approach of how religion should be related to human life.

One can see in these pages how the ancient Jewish world answered the basic questions of existence. It must guide us to formulate our own answers in a language familiar to us in our own time. In our world, where we are developing our own way of life, we should not slavishly adopt the language of the ancient Jewish culture to understand and explain the basic issues of human existence. For example, the metaphor of farm and farmer can be acceptable to us, but the metaphor of feudal lord and tenants sounds strange to the modern ears because we have pushed aside feudalism as an unjust economic system. We need to create metaphors that are familiar and impressive to the people of our times.

The well-being of the world is seen as the ideal state in this book. In order to have well-being, we need to know why we exist and how we should exist. It leads to further questions such as what we are and where we are. The attempt to answer these questions makes us see ourselves with a three-fold relationship-- among human beings, between the humankind and the world, and between the world we perceive and the real world. People around the world speak about these relationships using different symbols, metaphors, and concepts. In the following pages, these relationships are viewed and described in the language of Judaism before Christ.

Our age is characterized by the dominance of the faculty of rationality. Like the Sun, rationality is a light which is too bright, and in its light we, the moderns, have lost the ability to see the beautiful and meaningful multi-layered world our ancestors enjoyed. I believe that we are supposed to use our rational power as a tool, but we don’t want to be dominated by it. The rabbi in this book exemplifies such an approach to rationality. He uses his power of thinking as a tool, but he doesn’t let this power to take control of himself.

As the whole discussion is set in the ancient Mediterranean world, the questions related to science and technology are not dealt with directly. However, they are presented in an implicit manner. The question of Evolution or Creation is presented in the first few chapters. The argument presented here can be summarized as follows: It is a mistake to look for modern science in the Bible, or in any book written in ancient times; however, we may look in those books for the science of the times at which they were written. For example, we see the ideas of ancient Greek philosophers like Thales and Anaximender in the first chapter of Genesis. But it is a mistake to try to find the scientific knowledge of our times in the pages of the Bible.

This attempt of mine to present some thoughts of life will not be in vain if at least one person finds it worthwhile. If you are still reading this, you could be that one person. May God bless you!


Anonymous said...

The synopsis of the book makes me want to read it. I shall get hold of a copy as soon as possible and post my comments after my careful reading of its contents. Regards,

C. Alex Alexander

C. Alex Alexander said...

The book is very lucid to read and short in size and therefore it should be an excellent primer for youngsters who are curious to learn about human life, and its purpose, though it is explained within the limitations of an Abrahamic faith-framework. Its emphasis on educating the young folks using simple language and concepts in tackling many issues central to human existence is commendable. From that point of view, the author has succeeded in developing a good teaching tool.

The book should serve as a good primer for youngsters of Abrahamic faiths to understand the value of pluralism. But, I doubt very much whether the "orthodoxies" ingrained in the custodians of the churches, synagogues and mosques will allow a book like this to be used as a primer in educating their youth. Despite that reservation, my sincere congratulations to the author in producing a helpful book that can aid the youngsters of Abrahamic faiths to understand the purpose of human existence. The chapter on questions concerning "sex" skirts the burning issues of our times, especially as they impact on our youth, viz., adultery, divorce, abortions, sexually-transmitted diseases, homosexuality, same-sex cohabitations etc. I am assuming here that these issues were also prevalent in ancient times when the Rabbi was addressing his young audience.

The book's value would also have been enhanced in my view, if the Rabbi had also delved deeper into the wisdom literature of the eastern faiths such as Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Taoism etc to highlight the conceptual congruences between the Abrahamic faiths and other eastern religious tributaries that empty into the same and only "River of God". The latter's characterizations of heaven, hell, sex, purpose of human existence etc., would have been equally challenging for youngsters on this increasingly inter-dependent world to ponder over and see the syncretic features contained in all the great religions of the world. Nevertheless, the openness shown by the Rabbi to the spirit of pluralism as the underpinning needed for the preservation of a purposeful human community is indeed laudable.

C. Alex Alexander