The devil may have all the best tunes, but god certainly has all the best choral music. I was listening to a Byrd Magnificat on the way in to work last week and started thinking about the good things about religions.
So: choral music, from plainsong to gospel taking a diversion through Buddhist and Hindu chanting, is definitely one of the best things about religion.
Also the concept of stewardship. This is a Christian one really, the idea that we are answerable to a deity for how we look after and manage their creation. Unfortunately some interpretations of this concept assume that we have been given the rights to own the world rather than the duty to act as its caretakers. No creator worth believing in would just hand over a jewel like this planet of ours for us to to destroy in the way we are.
Reciprocity. Christianity is keen on reciprocity. Luke 6:31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. This is is an exhortation to pay attention to karma really, isn’t it? However, Christianity does not seem to be as hot on cause and effect as Buddhism and Taoism are, with the Great Big Escape Clause In The Sky offering to let you off the hook: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:15.
Meditation. Stilling the mind. One of the things I really like about eastern religions and philosophies is just how damn practical they are. They give clear instructions. Breathe in-two-three, breathe out-two-three-four-five-six. Look at the candle. In-two-three. And guess what? Their instructions work.
Parables. All the great religions have wonderful parables, metaphors and fables. Love ’em.
Architecture. Hard to beat a good medieval Cathedral in the impressive architecture stakes. Modern bridges do it, but not much else. Robes. Most good religions have impressive robes. Padded embroidery. Gold thread. I’m rather fond of the Orthodox tradition of long beard, square hat and fancy copes myself, though a mitre is very satisfactory in its own way and the red and orange robes of Buddhists are rather jolly. And ceremonial, there is something very calming about slow and measured movements which have been repeated for centuries and a good procession is always a pleasure to watch. And then there’s the smell of incense and the walking around with a censor so the smell of it gets everywhere. Ach, let’s face it: I’m a ritual-bunny.
But I think that’s about it. Good things about religions: choral singing, the concepts of reciprocity and cause and effect, instructions on how to meditate, a rag-bag of stories and metaphors, some neat buildings and robes and some soothing ceremonial. Mind you, any half decent military service should be able to deliver the goods in terms of costume and ceremony but they have a bad habit of doing it all to the sound of marching bands.
It’s not a long list, really, is it? And you are more than bright enough to know what I’d put on a list of things that are bad about religions. Me, I’m going to listen to that Byrd Magnificat