Ancient Words

Kindness.  Humility.  Compassion.  Forgiveness.

 

These are more than mere words.  They are virtues; moral concepts that, for whatever reason open for debate, have formed the basis for our definition of good.  These words, and those like them, have served as the towering pillars of all of our world’s major religions, and have surely formed the basis of all those built to last.  Though rivers of blood may have been shed in the name of such religions, if one studies them closely, those four words lie at the heart of every major creed on this Earth.  All of it, every angry word and ill-meaning post, every hateful glare, every deep-seeded resentment and unjust law and terribly unjust war, all somehow arose from the simple notion of being kind to one another.

And yet, in spite of all our differences, those who adhere to the core tenets of these ideas, those who cling stubbornly to the four pillars, endure.  They stand in front of the rifles and tanks.  They defy taboos, embrace the rejected, minister to the sick.  They bridge the gap with open hands, because they believe that being kind to one another, not hating those who are different, forms the solid foundation of a life lived properly.

Many, of course, believe these things because they were taught to.  From a young age, they were told that they were loved by someone who had never met them, that they were part of something greater, that boundless rewards awaited those who gave all they had to others, asking nothing in return.  As children, they sat wide-eyed at the feet of wise men, who read heavy strains from dusty texts that had been translated and retranslated for millennia.  Historians would argue that much of these texts has lost its meaning; that the original intent of the writers is open to debate.  Yet to those who built their lives upon ancient words, the debate over the words is over.  The debate over what they mean in their lives is meaningless.  The debate over what it means today, in our society, is just beginning.

Today, in our world, religion is dying.  It is not a matter of debate or opinion, it is true, substantiated by studies and surveys, all of which have shown that modern humans have difficulty resolving our modern scientific understanding with the ancient words.  And yet, the ancient words remain.  They are still read, still cherished, still understood.  They are still debated, at times perverted, yet most often upheld by those kind spirits who stubbornly believe that these words retain their value, even now.  Now, perhaps more than ever, in a society that seems increasingly amoral, cruel, pitiless.  These brave few lead not by proselytizing, but through example.  They cast off the trappings of the modern world, live in poverty, treat all others as equals, smile and teach.  By offering love instead of hate, welcoming instead of evangelizing, they struggle to prove that their ancient words still ring true.

Kindness.  Humility.  Compassion.  Forgiveness.

These four words became the foundation of every major religion because they are not Christian ideas, or Muslim, or Hindu, or Jewish, or Buddhist, or belonging to any one other creed.  These ideas are human.  For many of us who were raised on the ancient words, this is an important time of year.  It is a time to celebrate rebirth, yes, but also sacrifice.  It is a celebration of selflessness, of loving others without pausing to consider their worthiness.  Now, perhaps more than ever, we must stop and remind ourselves that the virtues our lives are based on are universal, shared by every man and woman on Earth, as they have been since time immemorial.  We are called upon to love one another, to be kind and gracious, to help the helpless and teach the powerful.  We have come so far, grown beyond what the ancient scribes could ever have imagined.  Yet even now, perhaps more than ever, the ancient words hold value.  There are still meek voices in the darkness trying to teach us.  We owe it to ourselves, and all mankind, to listen.

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