“It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world. What benefits he will carry out; what does not benefit men he will leave alone” – Mo Di, 5th century BC
Mohism was a philosophical school founded by Mo Di (also referred to as Mo Zi, Master Mo) that for 700 years rivaled Confucianism in what would become China. Though the whole ‘school’ of Mohist thought covers a lot of area (as does Confucianism), one principle, and the one I wish to focus on here is that of Jianai: “impartial caring” or universal benevolence.
Mohists believed that all people deserve benevolence, versus the teaching of Confucius that loyalty to hierarchical commitments such as parent, boss and ruler was most important. Mohists were less interested in ceremony and ritual and believed that goodwill must be universal in nature. It is not enough—in fact it is wrong to just love your family, tribe, or nation (or then, kingdom) but your compassion must be universal. “The benefit of all under heaven,” and that everyone, no matter class, status or ethnicity deserved heaven’s (Tian) blessings.
The Mohists of that time were rather ascetic: They were not fans of luxury or even musical performances, saying such efforts are better directed towards feeding and clothing of the populace. They opposed aggressive war, but volunteered as warriors for states being attacked. Remember, this was during the historical period called “Warring States” in China.
Asia would likely be quite different had Mohism not died out—quite literally it seems, in the Qin dynasty when scholars were buried alive and books were burned. Like Confucianism, it was more of a philosophy than a religion.
Beyond anything else, the central tenet of Mohism remains true today.
“It is the business of the benevolent man to seek to promote what is beneficial to the world and to eliminate what is harmful, and to provide a model for the world.”
According to Biblical lore, the rabbi Yeshua (Jesus) traveled to the great Jewish Temple at Jerusalem with his entourage to celebrate Pesach (Passover). This is where the Christian Passion narrative then takes place. The word in Spanish for Easter is Pascua, also similar to the word in many Romance languages based on Latin. The word comes from Greek & Latin Pashca which is from the Hebrew Pesach – Passover.
The English word Easter comes from the pagan goddess Eostre – a manifestation of the Goddess of the Dawn. The date of Easter was established by decree of the Roman Emperor after convening the First Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The decree mandates that Easter is on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March Equinox. Eastern Christianity (the Orthodox churches of Greece, Russia, Serbia, Ethiopia, etc.) bases its Easter on the Gregorian calendar.
The consumption of ham comes from the Spanish Inquisition. During this time, the Catholic church along with the Spanish Government under Queen Isabella and King Fernando would torture or expel Jewish or Muslim subjects from the Iberian Peninsula. Many of the muslims were expelled to North Africa, many of the Jews resettled in Poland. The way that one would prove one’s Christianity to the inquisitors was to eat ham; since pork is neither Kosher or Halal, Jews and Muslims would be religiously proscribed from consuming it. The eating of ham was considered a declaration of one’s Christianity.
Image: “Pagan Antiquities, New Grange, Co. Meath” copper engraved print published in Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England and Wales, 1786.
No doubt, we live in interesting times, and 2020 isn’t shaping up like anyone predicted. Around the world, we have been ordered, cajoled, or beseeched to isolate ourselves in our homes, or whatever spaces we might find ourselves occupying.
If you are like me, you don’t like being unproductive. For me, a good day is one where I feel I have made progress, accomplished something, helped someone…and learned something.
Here are three of my favorites, available in traditional, Kindle e-Book, or my favorite, Audiobook.
The End is Always Near—podcasting deity Dan Carlin released his first book late last year, almost prophetically. In the book, he talks us through so many case studies in history when civilizations have collapsed, completely in the case of Nineveh, for example, or partially such as during so many earlier pandemics: The Black Death, Bubonic Plague, Smallpox.
Though Dan is a great storyteller, he is also a good teacher, and a mental provocateur. As a bonus, audiobook listeners get to hear the book read by Dan in his inimitable voice.
21 Lessons For The 21st Century—Historian, philosopher and social critic Yuval Noah Hariri published this forward looking book several years ago, but it is still absolutely timely. As we are already well into the 21st Century, living in a world inconceivable only halfway through the last, how must we adapt as a species, a civilization; how do we build on lessons learned from the past rather than repeat the same bloody mistakes?
Man’s Search For Meaning—It was Friedrich Nietzsche who said “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” but it took Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl to demonstrate it through his own life experience and then apply his observations to create his own discipline of psychotherapy called “Logotherapy.”
But this book is no dry psychobabble. The first half of the book is Frankl’s autobiographical recount of his time in concentration camps. Not in the way of “this happened to me, then that happened,” but rather his observations into human nature. What extreme conditions bring out in people, both good and bad. Then he attempts to understand “why? Why do we behave the way we do? What are the predictors and triggers?”
The book is not long. The audio version is less than 5 hours. In the latter part he then describes, for a non-specialist, what his “Logotherapy” is. Different from most psychological therapies, it is not necessarily for neurotic or mentally ill people. Unlike other forms of psychotherapy such as psychoanalysis, Frankl explains how it is useful for many people, perfectly mentally healthy, but who may be facing challenges coping or adjusting to life’s events…perhaps such as a viral pandemic and simultaneous economic recession.
If you want an escape into the world of fiction, try “The Lottery in Babylon” by Jorge Luis Borges. The short, provocative story, only a few minutes in length, will challenge your notions of fortune and luck. While right now, you may be worried whether your number will be called when it comes to a viral infection. Maybe you have been infected. This book is not about viruses or sickness, but it is very much about “your number being called,” literally. Read it. You will never forget it. The short story is now in the public domain and you can download it right here.
Do the current times have you down? Steven Pinker makes the case for optimism in his seminal work “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” One of today’s greatest living psychological researchers deviates from the subject matter of his previous works such as “How The Mind Works” and “The Stuff of Thought” to state the case that human civilization overall is getting better, that we are becoming less violent, less warlike, and more enlightened; even though news and social media seems like it is trying to convince us otherwise.
What are your recommendations? What did you think of these? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Thomas Paine, a deist and one of the American founding revolutionaries after Ben Franklin invited him to immigrate to the restive colonies, in this book pillories organized religion.
He does so by dissecting both old and new testaments of the bible and pointing out the hypocrisy of the established clergy. The book was very controversial in its time and landed the publishers in hot water.
Paine, like Thomas Jefferson, was no atheist but had no use for organized religion or its doctrine. The book makes a perfect gift, and I recommend it to everyone, especially teenagers and young adults in the process of figuring out what they believe.