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Learning Religiously




Rustomji, Yezdi


















Zarathushtra thought about human affairs critically, he addressed them forthrightly, and lived a principled life. Nevertheless, he experienced such grievous evil in his society, he felt  the Soul of the Earth crying. Yet, never did he believe it was Ahura Mazda’s will. Instead, he sought Greater Wisdom – to become wiser, to teach Humanity  to save itself from itself when in error, to make the world better. Although  a Prophet, yet, to promulgate the Good Religion and to be able to stir Humanity to work for a perfected world, even he had  to learn much about how people affected society, and how society affected people. When we study the GATHAS – his discourses on religiosity, ethics, society

 - we recognize that  Zarathushtra’s Good Religion encompassed  proto-sociological, psychological, and  philosophical thought. Indeed, he is recognized as the first theologian who, nearly four millennia ago, governed by ASHA - questioned authoritarian mentalities, prohibited idolatrous customs, and did away with prejudicial traditions in his society: Thus, early, in human history, Zarathushtra struck a blow that was to continuously broaden  Human Freedoms.

Nowadays, the  essence of  Zarathushtra’s progressive wisdom is also discovered  studying the Humanities and the Social Sciences. As such, a modern day scholar, Erich Fromm, advises that intellectuals must maintain an attitude of Humanistic Radicalism - questioning  every idea, and every institution from the standpoint of whether it helps or hinders man’s capacity for greater aliveness and joy. Certainly, in the whole of Zarathushtra’s Gathas - particularly in Gatha Ushtavaiti,  The Questions to Ahura Mazdaone finds humanistic radicalism practiced. And, so, when, Vartan Gregorian, an intellectual, declares Hell is where nothing connects with nothing…and concludes-  education has to connect everything with everything in order to make an individual free, he echoes Jacques Duchesne-Guilliman’s realization that  Zarathushtra had thoughtfully so  established  the necessary link which unites the end of things with their beginning and the future existence with the present- being that his cosmogony is followed by an eschatology.

It is compelling revelation that an ancient Prophet and modern intellectuals fully agree that Humanity’s capacity for greater aliveness and joy - or hellish existence - has to do with being liberally learned or not. Today, wiser educators declare that the high  purpose of academe is to always educate citizenry to create greater opportunities  to  pursue happiness. Their view is astute, as much as societies are entirely technologically dependent, most educational institutions are compelled, today,  under such social fact and force, to turn out people societies immediately need, to  build, run and repair machinery. But, it is at  high cost of  not creating  a greater liberally learned   citizenry that will, above all,  enhance and conscientiously work at sustaining   human rights and civil liberties – such being the kind of citizens  societies deserve, always.  Zarathushtra had surmised so; and so while he had preached that humanity must become religious, he had also advocated that humanity is, also, liberally learned. And so, that is why Zarathushtra declared that The good dominion must be man’s choice;  to know what deeds ensure long duration of priceless existence – and so, consequently,  May good rulers, not bad ones rule over us- by the works of the good doctrine. Such liberal insight necessary to upholding a freeing social order societally,  has been passed on historically, so that today, John Dewey, could say-  If there is one conclusion to which human experience unmistakably points to it is that democratic ends demand democratic methods for their salvation.

It is most crucial that those Zarathushtrians who are primarily steeped in religious knowledge are, also, obligated to be  liberally  learned. Otherwise, as the World keeps progressing, unable to connect the dots, priests and laity who assume whatever mantle of  communal influence and authority, but who do not  possess a learned, liberal mentality – as much as they remain insufficiently informed - will fight against all progress. And so, they will  be, always, religiously intractable. They will function, always, as societies’ reactionaries. They will promulgate superstitions. They will be insistently authoritarian, and even preach  dogma of violence, to restrain societal progress.  They will preach intolerance as  religious conviction, thus,  so self-righteously, create hell for the many. And those who have to live under such imperialistic, theocracies always  suffer greatly, Yet, an institution that has always claimed to be of good intentions, is Religion: However, Joachim Wach  warns that the influence of religion, sociologically speaking, then, is twofold: there is a positive or integrating influence; and there is negative, destructive, disintegrating influence.  Thus, Zarathushtra, wholeheartedly condemned individual  irreligiousness and societal illiberality, as when he bewailed - When, O Wise One, shall devotion come from righteousness? For, have the false gods ever been good masters? 

Now, in our time, the corpus of the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences is available freely- and at our fingertips. And if humanistic radicalism is of consequence to fulfilling Zarathushtra’s Vision of the perfected world, all of us are to be required to be continually liberally learned.  But, if one believes  that in these progressive times, Zarathushtra’s  progressive  reformation  shall simply hold up; it may be well to remember that the most eminent Zarathushtrian  High Dastoor, M.N. Dhalla has warned that there will be people in all times - even Zarathushtrians - who will claim to be - ‘conserving’ traditional learning, but, in fact,  striving with fervour and  bigotry  to prevent inroads  of new knowledge…. They do not, Dastoor Dhalla cautioned, adapt themselves to the changed conditions and so prove a deterrent factor in the march of intellectual progress. 

But there is, though, reassurance as much as Dastoor Dhalla, -  a great man of religion - also declares  - Whereas education was formerly indoctrination, it is today aiming at the liberation of the mind. So, then, to keep refreshing Zarathushtra’s Vision –  to be always  stirred to  being progressive in Thought, Word, and Deed – Humanity  must keep Learning Religiously.

{Dec 31, 2002}