Religions offer salvation from each of the three kinds of estrangement -- from the physical conditions of life (nature), from each other, and from self.  Religions do this by promising an way out of suffering, by providing a sense of belonging, and by describing how to achieve a worthy selfhood. Religions face these mysteries of life with a trust that estrangement can be overcome. The next three chapters will take up those kinds of "salvations" one at a time.

Peace, Paradise, and Perfection:
The World as It Should Be

Primitive Salvation: An Unbothered Life
Archaic Salvation: An Idealized Life
   The Golden Age and the Fall
   The Millennium and Apocalypticism
   From Archaic to Historic Religion
       Paradise: Physical Perfection Beyond the World.
Historic Religion: Utter Perfection or Release
   Salvation through Cosmic Order
   Heaven Beyond Paradise
   Dualism of Matter and Spirit
   Salvation in India: Dissolution of Self

Every religious tradition acknowledges that life is not what we would like it to be, and offers means to make things all right.  Over centuries the hopes of humankind became gradually more idealized: primitive religions seek a good life in the existing world, archaic religions dream of a better life in this world either long ago or still to come, and historic religions seek to escape life's limitations into a perfect existence.

Primitive people accept the world as it is. Salvation for a primitive person consists mainly of preserving the stable order of the world. The original, proper tribal order is a bulwark against chaos. Magic can guard against the intrusion of spirits. Some primitive religions believe in an existence after death, but it typically does not occur to foraging people that life after death could be better than normal life.

One result of the more extensive knowledge of the world by town or city dwelling archaic people is the development of idealized dreams about life. Archaic society is more conscious that normal life is flawed than primitive society. This belief is often illustrated by stories or myths that describe an ancient time in which life was not flawed, until a mistake or evil deed made the world the way it is. This idealized past can be called a golden age. Archaic salvation sometimes includes belief in a coming millennium, a future ideal world. An example of this is apocalypticism, a belief that a sudden destruction of this world-order will lead to a new, perfect world-order.

From Archaic to Historic Religion
The transition from archaic belief in an idealized physical existence to a historic conception of salvation was marked by a middle stage dreaming of a perfect paradise beyond this world (and a horrible hell as the alternative). Eventually some historic religions sought salvation by rejecting anything like earthly existence at all.


Salvation through Cosmic Order
Some historic religions, Taoism in particular, do not look beyond this world but instead find salvation from suffering through conformity to the patterns of nature.

Heaven beyond Paradise and Matter/Spirit Dualism
Some historic religions eventually moved beyond the idea of a paradise for the whole person, a physical paradise where the body and spirit both existed. Instead, some historic religions began to perceive matter and spiritual essence to be distinctly separate. This led to a conception of salvation as a complete escape from material existence.

Salvation in India as Dissolution of the Self
The Hindu and Buddhist traditions of India have gone even beyond the matter/spirit distinction. Both Hindus and Buddhists say that to achieve salvation, one must escape not only from the material world but also from individual selfhood. This escape leads to a peaceful fading into a cosmic ultimate, free from having to be born again and again into the endless suffering of normal life.

End of notes on Ch. 5

This page last changed Friday April 02, 2004





In The Presence of Mystery