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THE GREAT FORGETTINGS By daniel quinn I wonder if youve ever considered how strange it is that the educational and character-shaping structures of our culture expose us but a single time in our lives to the ideas of socrates, Plato, euclid, aristotle, herodotus, augustine, machiavelli, shakespeare, descartes, rousseau, and dousens of others of the same rank, but expose us annually, monthly, weekly, and even daily to the ideas of persons like jesus, moses, muhammad, and buddha,why is it, do you think, that we need quarterly lectures on charity, while a single lecture on the laws of thermodynamics is presumed to last us a lifetyme? Why is the meaning of christmas judged to be so difficult of comprehension that we must hear a dozen explinations of it, not once in a lifetime, but every single year, year after year after year? Perhaps even more to the point, why do the pios (who already know every word of whatever text they find holy) need to have it repeated to them week after week after week, and even day after day after day? I'll wager that if there are physicists reading this, you do not keep a copy of neutons principia on your bedside table. But you know very well that hundreds of millions of people thumb daily through holy books that will be read from cover to cover not a dozen times during a lifetime but a dozen dozen. Have you ever wondered why it is the duty of the clergy of so many sects to read the divine office-daily? Why the same affirmations of faith are repeated word for word in so many religious communities around the world daily? Is it so difficult to remember that allah is One or that christ died for our sins that it bust be reiterated at least once every day throught life? Of course we know that these things arent in the least difficult to remember. And we know that the pious dont go to church every sunday because theyve forgotten that jesus loves them but rather because theyve not forgotten that jesus loves them. They want to hear it again ang again and again and again. In some sence or other, they need to hear it again and again and again and again. They can live withought hearing the laws of thermodynamics ten thousand times, but for some reason, they can not live with out hearing the laws of their gods ten thousand times.
Anywhere in the world, East or West, you can walk up to a stranger and say,"Let me show you how to be saved," and youll be understood. you may not be believed or welcomed when you speak these words, but you will surely be understood. The fact that youll be understood should astonish you, but it doesnt, because youve been prepared from childhood by a hundred thousand voices-a million voices-to understand these words yourself. you know instantly what it means to be "saved," and it doesnt matter in the least wheather you believe in the salvation referred to. you know in addition, as a completely distinct matter, that being saved involves some method or other. the method might be a ritual-baptism, extreme unction, the sacrament of penance, the preformance of cerimonial works, or anything at all. it might, on the other hand, be an inner action of repentance, love, faith, or meditation. again in addition, and again in a completely distinct matter, you know that the method of salvation being proposed is universal: It can be used by everyone and works for everyone. yet again: you know that the method has not been discovered, developed, or tested in any scientific taboratory; eigther god has revealed it to someone or someone has discovered it in a supranormal state of consciousness. although initially recieved by divine means, the method is nonetheless transmittable by normal means, wich explains why its possible for a perfecyly ordinary individual to be offering the method to others. But all this barely scratches the surface of what is meant when someone says,"let me show you how to be saved." A complex and profound worldview is implicite in such a statement. according to this worldview, the human condition is such that everyone is born in an unsaved state and remains unsaved until the requisite ritual or inner action is preformed, and all who die in this state eigther lose their chance for eternal happiness with god or fail to escape the weary cycle of death and rebirth. Because weve been schooled from birth to understand all this, were not at all puzzled th hear someone say, "let me show you how to be saved." salvation is as plain and ordinary to us as sunrise or rainfall. but now try to imagine how these words would be recieved in a culture that had no notion that people were born in an unsaved state, that had no notion that people need to be saved. a statement like this, wich seems plain and ordinary to us, would be completely meaningless and incomprehensible to them, in part and in whole. Not a word of it would make sence to them. Imagine all the work youd have to do to prepare the people of this culture for your statement. youd have to persuade them that they (and indeed all humand) are born in a state in wich they require salvation. youd have to explain to them what being unsaved means- and what being saved means. youd have to pursuade them that achieving salvation is vitally important-indeed the most important thing in the world. youd have to convince them that you have a method that assures success. youd have to explain where the method came from and why it works. youd have to assure them that they can master this method, and that it will work as well for them as it does for you. If you can imagine the difficult you would encounter in this enterprise, you can imagine the difficulty i encounter every time i address an audience. its seldome possible for me to simply open my mouth and say the things that are on my mind. rather, i must begin by laying the groundwork for ideas that are obvious to me but fundimentaly alien to my listeners.