Chapter Seven: Negative Reaction to the Divine Message
Freedom of will is given to everyone. If they wish to follow the right path and become righteous, they have the ability to do so. If they wish to follow the path of wrong and become wicked, they have the ability to do so as well.
- Moses Maimonides (Sefer Hamada, Mishneh Torah)
This book has presented a multitude of shared theological and moral teachings from the various foundational texts of six world religions. We shall now examine the negative reaction to the Divine revelations found throughout human history. The trials and tribulations imposed on religious teachers and their followers are well known. The Buddha, Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad and Confucius all faced negative, violent responses to their timeless message of compassion and reform. There is a repeating occurrence of forceful, antagonistic reactions to the universal messages of compassion and reform, usually from the powerful elites of various human communities. This negative reaction to the Divine Message is warned of in each holy text and is rooted in the materialism, ignorance, and rebellion of evil within individuals. The similarity of the malicious reactions to the message of divinely-inspired human teachers is yet additional testimony to the fact that these sages taught a common message, from a common inspiration, to the various nations of humanity.
Controversies and conflicts between Jesus and the elites of Judea form a constant theme throughout the Gospels. Mainstream Jewish practice was becoming stale under Roman occupation. Rebels, both military and social, were killed while collaborators profited. Religion had become a tool for personal gain. Jesus' radical message of nonviolence and anti-materialism clashed with the stifling social structures he found himself in. Chapter fifteen, verses eighteen through twenty-two of the Gospel of John provide a warning from Jesus to his followers:
If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you.
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
But all these things will they do unto you for my name's sake, because they know not him that sent me.
Jesus warned his followers that they would face persecution on account of their uncompromising faith. Jesus' message, like that of all the religious founders, was rooted in an acknowledgement of spiritual realities, and a rejection of materialism. The “world" detests the warning of the Divine because of the universal admonitions found in this timeless message to turn away from corporeal lusts. Jesus invites his followers to escape the transient realm and take refuge in the Eternal through selfless actions and faith. Because of inherent greed and illusion, many people choose to reject such a message. Earthly authorities who do not want reform themselves will deride and abuse those who would rectify humanity’s ways. This oppression is a common reaction to sincere religion.
Furthermore, chapter eight, verses forty-three through forty-five of the same Gospel provide an example of Jesus' admonishments to the cynics who reject the Divine Message:
Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.
It is the innate qualities and chosen actions of the individual that determine their reaction to the Divine message. Materialists are deaf to the word of God, and this deafness is equated with an intimate relation to Satan. The corporeal illusion obscures comprehension of legitimate religious teachings. Parallels between this passage and relevant tracts of the Gita, Dhammapada, Tao te Ching, Analects and Qur'an (quoted in this chapter and the previous one) should be readily apparent. For example, the Dhammapada compares those who refute the inherent truth in Divine warnings to "spoons" that, although containing food, can never experience the sense of taste. Those who succumb to materialism will be unable to seek the unseen realities that compel an individual to trust in the Ever-Present and Eternal. They will not commune with the fundamental Truth that envelopes and resides within all reality. Instead, those who reject the universal message of compassion choose to follow their insatiable lusts, to the detriment of their higher nature. This is a warning found throughout all religious teachings.
The Prophet Muhammad and his coreligionists met violence, abuse, and suppression of the Divine Message. Persecution was so strong that to avoid the imminent threat of complete extinction the young Muslim community was forced to flee from Mecca to the settlement of Yathrib. Chapter fifteen, verses ten and eleven of the Qur'an speak of the universal phenomenon of negative reaction to the Divine Message:
We did send messengers before thee amongst the religious sects of old:
But never came a messenger to them but they mocked him.
Qur'an explicitly states a commonly observed historical outcome spoken of by each holy text; the greedy and oppressive have always ridiculed the Divine Warning. Note that these verses state that prophets have been sent to “the religious sects of old” – all spiritual traditions have received Transcendent inspiration, only for the timeless message to be rejected. Indeed, the Qur'an (similar to other holy texts) abounds with stories of prophets being rejected and abused by the people they are charged to warn, from Moses' pleadings with the Pharaoh through Jesus and on to Muhammad himself. But from wherein does this rejection stem? Verses thirty-four through thirty-six or sura thirty-four explain that:
Never did We send a warner to a population, but the wealthy ones among them said: "We believe not in the (Message) with which ye have been sent."
They said: 'We have more in wealth and in sons, and we cannot be punished.'
This passage thoroughly and succinctly describes the misguided nature of those who reject the teachings of their prophets. Firstly, they are usually the elites of society, who have the most to lose from embracing a doctrine of compassion and service to others. Secondly, they misplace their faith in material means. Finally, they outright reject the very possibility of supernatural retribution. The "wealthy ones" are those most inclined to reject the message of the Divine. One can observe this trend today. The most militant of atheists are often members of the upper classes of the richest nations. The very concept of not having a religion comes as a shock to the majority of people living in the Global South. Human beings are inclined to believe what they wish to be true. The depraved attitude of the wealthy described in these verses is that of trusting in their material faculties over faith and compassion. Because they do not want to believe in the timeless message taught by all the prophets, they refuse heed the intuitive warnings regarding the temporary nature of this world, and the inescapability of justice in the next.
A negative reaction from the materially-focused members of society found universally in the teachings of the six religions compared in this book. Section forty one of the Tao te Ching gives an explanation of the same trend:
When the best student hears about the way
He practices it assiduously;
When the average student hears about the way
It seems to him there one moment and gone the next;
When the worst student hears about the way
He laughs out loud.
If he did not laugh
It would be unworthy of being the way.
The words of Lao Tzu confirm the warnings of the other texts and explain the rejection of divine messengers by their compatriots. There is something fundamental in the nature of the Divine message itself that many people detest. Exhortations to be generous to the needy and to refrain from material lusts because of an invisible, ever-present, and inescapable system of cosmic justice are inevitably mocked by those who do not wish to change their ways. Warnings of the Divine Realities inspire derision in all base people who cannot have faith in what their eyes cannot see. Any teaching that does not meet with such ridicule is not part of the Divine Message. The rejection or misinterpretation of a holy scripture by the exploitative elites of a society can be seen as a very testament to the veracity of the common fundamental message taught by all religions. The repeatedly-negative reaction to the fundamental spirituality and morality experienced by all Divine messengers helps to confirm their universal truth.
The Bhagavad Gita contains several sections that are explicitly confirm the teachings about the negative reaction to the divine messengers found in the other holy texts. Those who reject the Divine missive give in to the ignorant, materialistic component of their nature. In chapter nine, verses eleven and twelve, Krishna gives an account of these blinded souls:
Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.
Those who are thus bewildered are attracted by demonic and atheistic views. In that deluded condition, their hopes for liberation, their fruitive activities, and their culture of knowledge are all defeated.
When the Godhead is manifested in a human being (the Hindu version of a divine prophet) the messenger is invariably mocked. This is because of the very nature of cynical humanity. Those who succumb to the fleeting pleasures of this world fail to follow the precepts of the Supersoul. Because they reject the Divine within themselves and others, these people will be "defeated" by the necessarily temporary realities of the material world. Note the similarities of these verses from the Gita with the passages from other holy texts quoted earlier in this chapter. Those who do not have the wisdom to surrender their base wills to the Ultimate Divine are blinded by their attachment to the material illusion. They allow the lustful, evil components of their nature to grow, to the ultimate detriment of their very souls. Therefore, ignorance and evil are one, and truth and morality are similarly united. It is the duty of each individual to seek the Eternal and find his or her true, everlasting, and all-compassionate nature. Far too many people choose to reject the Divine Message, and will seek to misinterpret, suppress, or even destroy the timeless warnings, which have been given to humanity throughout the ages. However, the fools who reject the Truth inherent in all creation are ultimately doomed to only harm themselves. Although humanity’s oldest teaching have been rejected and misused, their eternal warnings contain a truth that can never be undone.
In the Analects of Confucius there is a small passage from a larger historical narrative that reinforces the theme of this chapter. Confucius and his followers were almost killed by Hwan T'ûi, a government official in the district of Song who reacted poorly to Confucius' reformative mission. The Teacher and his cohorts, in order to escape with their lives, were forced to flee at short notice. However, as we see in chapter seven, verse twenty-three of the Analects, the Master was unfazed, telling his students:
"Heaven produced the virtue that is in me. Hwan T'ûi – what can he do to me?"
This story presents Confucius' claim of Divine inspiration and the violently negative reaction of his society's elites. This expression of faith is particularly striking because Confucius rarely spoke of supernatural order; he was more focused on rectifying humanity. Nevertheless, he attributed his moral power to the obligations of a Divine mission. Like all other truly holy sages, he put his trust in Heaven to overcome the abusive and powerful of this world. The Divine endowed Confucius with the knowledge that temporal violence can never overcome eternal virtue. Although his message was met with violence, Confucius, like all true prophets, sever swayed from his faith in the ultimate power of Truth over violence.
Similarly to Confucius, and all the other religious sages cited in this book, the Buddha's message of awareness and compassion met with persecution and trials. In response, the Dhammapada contains a verse specifically relating to those who deny the existence of a fundamentally-just and eternal supernatural order. Verse ten of chapter thirteen states:
For liars who have violated the one law, who hold in scorn the hereafter, there is no evil that they cannot do.
Although brief, this verse is manifold in its implications. The "one law" alluded to is usually interpreted by Buddhist scholars as the law of truthfulness. Individuals are fundamentally lying to themselves when they believe that there is no cosmic balance of good and bad deeds. Furthermore, this verse contains an important warning - such individuals are susceptible to committing great acts of evil. Undoubtedly, most contemporary atheists are not homicidal sociopaths. Nevertheless, the question must be asked: what can stop some profoundly misguided person (or group of people) from committing an act of great evil which authorities in this world will not or cannot punish? True faith in the universal warnings of Divine Justice should serve as a deterrent against grossly destructive actions. Despite the horrendous misuse of religion to justify violence the fact remains that far more human beings have murdered each other in political upheaval and nationalist wars than in spiritual conflicts. This warning from the Buddha mirrors a line from a passage of the Gita (quoted in Chapter Six) that describes the self-deceivers as engaging in works to destroy the world. In particularly vivid and alarming language, this passage from the Dhammapada confirms and reinforces the common story found throughout the five other texts. The powerful and violent members of all human societies perpetually reject divine warnings.
There will always be a rejection and suppression of the Divine Message. However, because of the inescapable potency of the Ultimate Source and Destination, those who willfully deny and seek to stamp out the Divine Message only harm themselves. As the Buddha said in chapter nine, verse twelve of the Dhammapada:
Whoever, on account of perverted views, reviles the Teaching of the Arahats, the Noble Ones of righteous life--that fool, like the bamboo, produces fruits only for self-destruction.
Those who are ensnared by their obsessions with material means and personal comfort and hate the Divine Message are ultimately self-injurious. The transient, not matter how strong, can never overcome the Eternal. Although the oppressive methods used by the evil and mighty in this world may seem relentless, there is an undying promise of complete justice. Those who embrace morality, attune their lives to the universal Divine Message, and act with constant morality, have nothing to fear. Although the message shall be rejected and persecuted, its fundamental truth will ensure an everlasting victory.
This chapter has shown that the revelations of Lao Tzu, the Prophet Muhammad, Krishna, Confucius, Jesus and the Buddha often met with a violent and negative response from their societies. The common testimony of compassion and anti-materialism preached by these sages elicited a common reaction of persecution and suppression. Unity of thought amongst the six world religions is evidenced by the similarities of the opposition they faced. Unfortunately, members of every faith have been guilty of repressing another religion at some point in history. Such misuse of spiritual ideals is a tremendous disservice to all humanity. Greater inter-religious understanding and universal human fraternity, as taught by all creeds, are the antidotes to this common malady.
The descriptions and warnings found in this chapter are perfectly understandable if we examine the contemporary situation of humanity. Every day we create more weapons capable of destroying entire nations. For the first time in our history, a handful of leaders have the power to completely wipe out all of humanity. Furthermore, our increasing material lusts are producing an unprecedented environmental crisis, which threatens our very survival as a species. We must seek the true essence that unites all spiritual thought in order to curb destructive materialism and senseless violence. To blithely dismiss the warnings found throughout all of our oldest teachings is a foolish, and possibly suicidal, proposition.