Common Distortions in Religious Thought


However widespread and familiar they may be, many presentations of religion are abbreviated and distorted versions of something of which the original is not known to current practitioners. The outlines can be discerned, more often than not, and examples of some parts of these are given later.

A regression to primitive thinking, and the desire for order, never far from the human mind and often (not always) useful, are the chief culprits.

Where the primitive feeling is allied to equally primitive logic, we get a familiar distortion: the belief that if things material are obstacles, then ‘killing or suppressing the material’ should lead to enlightenment. Yet this, far from being useful, is essentially magical thinking.

Omar Khayyam has pointed out this fallacy, when (echoing the foolish) he writes: ‘If wine is the enemy of religion, I shall devour the enemy of religion.’ Quite understandably, this phrase has been misinterpreted, due to the narrow mentality of literalists. They have imagined that Khayyam is himself deriding religion! The poet is a humorist: literalists often, perhaps always, lack this capacity.

Self-mortification, far from producing liberation from material things, is far more likely to cause either an unhinged mind, delusions or a masochistic taste for more suffering, experienced, of course, as joy.

Sufi Thought and Action

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