Hello, hello, hello! Man, it feels good to be click-clacketing away at this here keyboard. It feels like an eternity since I last wrote a post to XFA. I have a few life updates before I plunge into the icy depths of theological philosophy.
First off, there are certain opportunities that arise when you begin a blog. One such opportunity is to throw your content at random parts of the internet and see how people respond. For instance, I was like, “Hey Danny, what would happen if you chucked the post about your life being at Maximum Overdrive on Reddit?” Curiosity overwhelmed me, blessed readers. So I slapped that bad boy on the Berkeley subreddit with some crap about me wanting to see if other people felt like they too were pushing themselves to the limit. Really just whatever it took to make my post not look like a flagrant attempt at self-promotion, which it basically was.
Reddit responded exactly how you would expect: some schmeags tried flexing about their incredibly busy and impressive lives, others wrote self-deprecating posts about how they weren’t involved in anything, and many people took the sweet time out of their day to talk about how dumb I am and how cringy it is for someone to post about their attempts to “stroke their own ego” on reddit. The usual suspects. What’s really funny is that I’m probably going to do the exact same thing with this post. If you did come from Reddit, however, know that the question I posted is actually completely valid and is something I’m super curious about, so I’m not just making feeble attempts at self-promotion. You are, however, urged to like, comment, and subscribe because I need the validation of digital human beings to sooth my aching, angsty soul.
Now then, enough of that nonsense, let’s talk about religiosity, shall we? As some of you attentive readers may know, I’m currently in a history of religion class. This class is taught by Ethan Shagan, and my gosh, if there is one person who could convince me to leave my life as an emotionally conflicted STEM enthusiast, it’s my boi Shagan. This last week we talked about the origins of Hinduism (which is absolutely fascinating, btw. If you’re looking for some way to sooth your aching, angsty soul, look no further than the Rig Veda). While I could go on a variety of Hindu-based tangents, I will nobly hold myself back in a desperate attempt to actually follow through with my original purpose for this post. Instead of talking about the specifics of Hinduism, I’ll instead let you in on my super secret, super original epiphany: Christianity and Hinduism are surprisingly similar.
Danny, you may be asking, are you a mental nudibranch? How, in any way, are Hinduism and Christianity similar aside from the notion of a supernatural power? I have several responses to that query. First and foremost, nudibranchs are incredibly cool and beautiful creatures, and I would be honored to be compared to one such angelic entity. Secondly, while the claims and central tenants of these two religions are certainly different, the manner in which a human is instructed to interact with the supernatural is remarkably similar between the two traditions.
Before I go any further, I should probably add one caveat. Because my central focus has been on Christianity throughout my life, before college I hadn’t taken the time to productively grapple with the claims other religions made about the unknown/supernatural/divine. Since divorcing myself from my wholly unhealthy notion of Christianity, I’ve finally reached a place where I can properly examine the teachings of other religions and ask how I might apply such teachings to my own life. All that is to say, the similarities I’m seeing between Christianity and Hinduism reach far beyond these two particular religions.
What’s remarkably interesting is that so many religions emphasize the notion of sacrifice. Sacrifice comes in various forms: sure, you can slaughter a cow and offer it to Helios, but there are many other more subtle forms of sacrifice. For instance, many traditions of various religions (@Christianity) teach the notion that some biological impulses ought to be suppressed in order to achieve some greater connection with the divine. The archetypical “sex before marriage” comes to mind. In many ways, this act of giving up something intrinsic about yourself can very much be seen as an act of sacrifice.
And this, attentive readers, is where I see the similarity between Hinduism and Christianity.
To be specific, in class we discussed the importance of sacrifice in the earliest forms of Hinduism. I can’t remember off the top of my head if Prof. Shagan was referring to the early Vedic tradition or some of the later teachings, but somewhere in these texts, it is claimed that the pinnacle of existence is to live a life in perpetual sacrifice to Vishnu. I’m pretty sure it was Vishnu. Shoot. It also may have been Krishna. My apologies to anyone who may be more familiar with Hinduism than I and is actively scorning me. Anyway, this notion was very striking to me because of its similarities to Romans 12:1 in the Bible which states: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
This is like the exact same thing.
Such a similarity probably wouldn’t come as a surprise to someone like the catastrophically intelligent Ethan Shagan. Interestingly enough, Prof. Shagan actually made the claim that any tradition that can be called a “religion” is characterized by some notion of sacrifice.
Now then, it’s taken me three pages to get to this point, but this universality is incredibly interesting to me. The fact that two incredibly different religions like Hinduism and Christianity could possibly be characterized by such a staggering similarity is indicative of a deeper, more fundamental truth at play.
On the one hand, an argument could be made that regardless of the true nature of the supernatural, human beings have a deep notion of the zenith of a human life. Perhaps we are in fact the product of several incredibly random processes, and through eons of complexity-propagation and evolution, we humans all have the intrinsic notion that life is lived at its fullest when we live in a state of perpetual sacrifice. From the perspective of biology and game theory, this idea makes some level of sense: if one organism lives in a way that prioritizes the health of the group over that of the individual, a group of such organism would probably have a higher likelihood of survival than if each organism prioritized themselves over everything else. So then, perhaps religion is just a biological artifact that points to our fitness as a species.
However, there is another argument that can be made which I find to be a bit more exciting than the last paragraph. I call this…The Universal Conspiracy Conjecture. There’s no way in heck that this is an original thought, but hey, who ever cared about originality. Basically, the idea is this: what if everything in the last paragraph is true. So basically religion is just an artifact of evolution, and we’re the product of cold, hard game theory. However, let me gracefully add a simple caveat. What if some higher superintelligence created our universe specifically so that through a multi-billion-year process, the universe would produce a form of complexity (namely humans) that would fervently seek out the true nature of the superintelligence itself. To me, this is an incredibly compelling notion. Instead of us actively interacting with the superintelligence itself (which, btw, could just as easily be a god as a flying spaghetti monster), perhaps this superintelligence designed the fundamental physics of the universe in such a way that the highest form of complexity contained within the universe would achieve a greatest state of being by pursuing interaction with the superintelligence. Dang, I basically just said the same thing twice.
I probably could say quite a bit more about this idea, but the fact of the matter is that I’m about to hit five pages. The funny thing is that I just typed five pages in an hour, but I have a five-page paper due next Thursday (incidentally for History of Religion) that will probably take me several days of work. Amazing how we spend our time.
Anyway, I have some closing thoughts. For those of you who did stumble upon this because of Reddit, I am incredibly curious to hear your thoughts on the matter, and if you do end up responding to the post, I humbly ask that you would refrain from attacking me for my purported self-promotion and egotistical nature. We both already know I’m an egotistical basket-case, so that’s really quite boring to talk about. If you do want to rail against me, I certainly can’t stop you. In fact, go ahead. I can just be your internet punching bag. For the rest of you, we’re probably friends in real life, so if you find any of this interesting, maybe just text me? Or DM me? I won’t pretend to know the coolest trends in millennial communication these days. Shoot I just hit 6 pages. If you made it this far, you’re a true hero. May your path be free of bumbles, and your sight be free of briars. Tally ho!