The Great Transformation - Karen Armstrong

Finished this book last week, it was a history of religion book that
followed parallel development of Chinese philosophy/religion
(Confucius, Taoism, etc), Greek rationalism, Judaism (and then
Christianity and Islam), and Hinduism (and its offshoots Buddhism,
Jainism and a few others, Hinduism has way more variation than
Christianity for example), from deep history (like 5,000 BC but mostly
after 1,000 BC) and up to about 100 A.D. Most people on earth today
believe in something that came out of these four traditions. But
this period, 1000-0 BC, was an "Axial Age" in which the beliefs really
came into themselves.

Some insights:

- Most of the time, these people thought that your actions (from
rituals on down through variations on the golden rule) were much more
important than your belief in precise doctrine.

- There are lots of parallels between these faiths but not in the
superficial way people usually think (like "don't murder"). Instead,
they all aim at connecting people with something beyond themselves,
and at different times had very similar ideas about how to get there.

- They all change over time adapting to current circumstances, and
continually throw out stuff that doesn't work, and invent new things
that do work (or reinvent previously discarded ideas), all the while
usually pretending that they are practicing the original, most
fundamental version of the faith.

I think it really made me appreciate that people's beliefs, no matter
how odd they may seem to me or you, usually serve a purpose for them
or their community, and tell a story about the circumstances in which
those beliefs arose.

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