A long time ago, mankind must have in a rudderless state of nature. At that time, some philosophers probably thought that it may be useful to create Noble Lies. If implemented with finesse, such lies – being lies on a grand scale – could underpin self-restrained, collaborative societies and reduce chaos.
While Plato is attributed with creating the concept of Noble Lie, this idea strongly underpins Hindu thought. Hindu mythology has been consciously created to explain the philosophy of the Vedas to the common man. More directly, Kautilya asks kings (in Arthashastra) to choreograph ghosts and spirits in order to keep the population under control. Hindu philosophers understood the need to create mythology and ghosts for a social purpose.
Once created, these Noble Lies take on a life of their own, with good or bad consequences.
There is a very good probability that the following four are examples of deliberate Noble Lies:
a) Hinduism: that there is rebirth (which underpins the karma theory and caste system)
b) Judaism: that Moses got ten commandments from God
c) Christianity: that Christ was not just an ordinary Jew with nice thoughts
d) Islam: that Mohammed received special information from God.
These not Noble Truths (as opposed to Noble Lies) because truth can always be confirmed. But there is no known method to confirm the veracity of these statements, which we must take on faith, and not question.
The range of such Lies is enormous: in every tribal society, in every corner of the world. The Egyptian Pharoahs, for example, built such Lies about themselves. Every king in India created Lies to link himself to divine origins. Without such Lies there would be no mythology, no drama, no poetry. EACH work of fiction is a lie. Works of fiction created for a social purpose are Noble Lies.
To the extent believers of these religions/ myths undertake moral acts, I have nothing to say. People are welcome to their own justifications for moral acts.
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Buddhism and Advaita
Having said that, two religious perspectives may have some scientific merit: (a) Buddhism and (b) Advaita.
Both these are LOGICAL religions and their hypotheses are subject to personal experience. In neither case is one expected to believe; in both there is an expectation that the seeker will experience, and thereby test his belief. Buddhism, of course, dispenses entirely with the idea of God. Vedanta allows for an intuitive experience of stillness. Both are firmly based on meditation and inward exploration.
I was reading S.L.Joshi's article, "Hinduism and Intercultural Contacts" (The Journal of Religion, Jan, 1934), and was reminded of the vitality of Hindu philosophical thought.
All religions have collided with India and fallen to the wayside, with the Hindu humouring other religions as interesting stories; nice Noble Lies: no more.
As S.L.Joshi notes: "India … will never accept the exclusive claim of any religion to be the absolute religion. … The claim of Christianity or of Islam to be the final revelation of God to man is regarded … as wholly unphilosophical, since men cannot set limits in time to such a process of divine revelation".
Note that Joshi calls these claims "unphilosophical", not "untrue". That is because the Indian/Hindu philosophical tradition (to which I suspect I belong, having imbibed such an approach through osmosis), is a philosophy, not religion. It does not deal with truth through people. It focuses on meaning, on possibilities. (Stories about people are conduits to meaning. Not the meaning itself.)
It is based, at its deepest level (e.g. Advaita) on PURE reason.
The Hindu can therefore readily appreciate all religious beliefs as valid stories to illustrate important points, but doesn't see why these beliefs must spoil the point by claiming to be "THE" truth.
As S.L.Joshi points out, "The Hindu emphasises the nature of philosophy on the side of spiritual insight, and dialectic is secondary; hence the fact that the Sanskrit word for the different schools of Hindu philosophy [which include atheism] is the word 'Darshana', which means 'a vision of reality'."
All peoples have their visions of reality. We must not take these visions too seriously but focus on the underlying meaning.
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