The absolute value of individuals lies in the fact that they share with God an innate capacity for creative work and love.
The relative value of individuals depends on the level they have reached in their spiritual ascent, on the sum of efforts—both their own and Providence’s—spent on the attainment of that level, and on the degree to which they manifest in their lives those gifts for divine creative work and love…
The older religions judged the relative value of individuals by the degree to which they obeyed the prescriptions of a given religious-moral code. Religions with ascetic leanings believed the highest stage to be sainthood, defining it as either pure monastic service or as martyrdom for one’s faith. In so doing they relegated love to the background. A monk’s or martyr’s self-denial were performed not out of love for humanity or for all living beings but out of a yearning to merge with God and to avoid the torments of hell. I am, of course, referring here to the predominant tendency, the prevalent attitude, and not to such astonishing individual apostles of love as St. Francis of Assisi, Ramajuna, or Milarepa.
Monstrous though it may seem to us, even the eternal suffering of sinners in hell did not arouse in the majority of adepts of those religions the desire to enlighten the world’s laws, including the law of retribution, or karma. Eternal punishment for temporal sins appeared to them a just act of God or in any case (as in Brahmanism) an unalterable and absolutely immutable law. Buddha burned like a torch with the flame of compassion, but he, too, taught only how to free oneself from the wheel of iron laws and not how to enlighten and transform those laws. As for creative work, its intrinsic nature was not recognized at all—such a concept did not even exist—while little importance was attached to concrete forms of creative work accessible to ordinary people, with the exception of religious works in the narrow sense of the word: acts of charity, theology, missionary service, church architecture, and religious service.
Other religions that are not given to asceticism, such as Islam and Protestantism, modified the ideal of sanctity, broadening it and, at the same time, lowering it, making it more accessible, more popular, even going so far as to require the observance of commandments vis-a-vis God, the state, one’s neighbor, one’s family, and, lastly, oneself. It should be emphasized that neither one nor the other group of religions set themselves the task of transforming society, let alone nature.
It was only natural that such tasks were finally advocated by secular teachings, though in an extremely simplistic form. (more…)