Are we just wasting our time?
September 9, 2006 5:46 PM   Subscribe

What do the various religions around the world suggest we should be doing with our time?

Sometimes I feel like I am just wasting my life away and was wondering what exactly the major religions say or suggest us humans should do with our time on this planet?
posted by randomthoughts to Society & Culture (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Well, a fairly simplistic Buddhist belief would be that the goal is to move closer to enlightenment in every life. There's not really an end result, since its regarded as extremely improbable that your life will be the one to achieve enlightenment. But you're getting closer, and that's what matters.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:16 PM on September 9, 2006

In particular, read about samsara & bodhi if you want to know more about this angle. Not that wikipedia is a great source on Buddhism, but it'll get you started.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:19 PM on September 9, 2006

i thought it was just be good to your fellow man, however you can. i got this out of everything i've ever read about christianity AND buddhism. and i've read alot.
posted by amethysts at 6:23 PM on September 9, 2006

There are plenty of snarky answers to a question like this. plenty of beliefs think you should spend your time converting others to the belief as this is just a gateway to the next step.

I hold more respect for those that advocate we should spend our efforts in addressing real social injustices. But really there are many many things religious leaders want us to do. If you feel you are wasting your time find something worthwhile to do, find something that you feel passionate about, or that you think will make a difference. There are many many things to do.
posted by edgeways at 6:28 PM on September 9, 2006

Tzedakah, or charity, is a major tenet of Judaism. It's what I love about Judaism, that much of the religion is about improving the world we live in rather than thinking about another world to come.

A traditional interpretation of tzedakah is to give financially to those who are in need, but it's also about volunteering time for worthy causes or anything you view as just or fair. One might go so far as to consider political activism tzedakah, just as volunteering for a hospital, educational institution or soup kitchen is tzedakah.

(This is one of three major acts in Judaism that is supposed to redeem a person. It is considered by some to be the most important tenet of the religion.)

In essence, what everyone else said.
posted by brina at 6:42 PM on September 9, 2006

posted by Kickstart70 at 6:58 PM on September 9, 2006

One interpretation of Hinduism claims that you should spend much of your time occupied in suitable work: work that suits your temperament, personality, and interests; work that supplies your necessities; work consonant with any moral obligations you may owe; work that ultimately contributes to the larger community.

You should pursue this work disinterestedly. That is, you should never become too emotionally attached to the work or its results (be they financial reward, fame, a change in the world, or whatever). You may be concerned, even intensely concerned, with your work, but you should never be so identified with it or its results that you become emotionally enslaved to it, happy only when it goes well, crushed when it doesn't. You should work mainly because it will calm your mind and give you long-lasting joy, not for external reasons.
posted by shivohum at 7:28 PM on September 9, 2006

Save souls, not lives.
posted by Falconetti at 7:30 PM on September 9, 2006

I think most religious persons would give you a list of things that your not supposed to with your time (careless sex, killing people, eating other humans, etc, etc). So, a good place to start may be with the don't DOs.

I can tell you that no matter what your situation, we all have the right to choose to love other's more than ourselves and always try our bests to express that self-sacrificial love.

I can't remember if it was Victor Frankl or that Maslow fellow that was in the concentration camp, but whichever it was, they came to the conclusion that no one could take away the individual's right to feel content with his life, no matter how difficult the situation.

So basically, do what you want, but strive for self-sacrificing love and contentment in everything you do. I know, it's an ideal... but what do you have to lose?

"It's not what you do, it's how you do it." Religions can tell you the steps of the "how to do it" (love, patience, kindness, etc, etc) and it can also tell you the steps of the "how not to do it" ... Approach what you do, from whichever direction suites your personality most.
posted by eli_d at 7:48 PM on September 9, 2006

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

- Micah 6:8
posted by 4ster at 8:08 PM on September 9, 2006

Matthew 2:16-21 --

For starters, do not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie. Also for starters, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself. But to go the extra mile, sell your possessions, give all the money to the poor, and devote the rest of your life to serving others.
posted by salvia at 8:10 PM on September 9, 2006

Falconetti: "Save souls, not lives."

Indeed. Every religion I know of goes out of its way to insist that there is something more valuable than merely continuing to exist. In fact, I would go so far as to say that religion exists to teach us that. It shouldn't be surprising that religion should urge us to preserve all of the things that humans really care about, which religions group under the term 'soul,' even to the detriment of the mere condition of those things, our 'lives.' That is why religion is the specific domain of people who believe that certain things are worth dying for.

In answer to the question: the western religions are moral teachings-- they tell people to live rightly, and try to give guidelines for doing so-- but they go beyond moral teaching. Each of the three religions in the west gives a broad motivation for that moral teaching, generally known as "charity," "love," or "justice," and points out that that motivation exists only to lead to something higher. They point this out by stating that simple moral uprightness is not enough; that a 'submission' or a 'rebirth' or a 'covenant' is the only thing that can lead higher. That higher thing is, interestingly enough, described very similarly in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: it is finding the truth, meeting God, attaining salvation. It's difficult to say what exactly it is, and life itself is generally beyond words, but I have a feeling that that thing is more familiar than any of us realize.

That's just my take, anyhow. YMMV.
posted by koeselitz at 8:25 PM on September 9, 2006

Oh, fuck it, I should give a better answer than that tendentious-sounding shit I just wrote. Even though I agree with it, I made it sound awful.

Look, lots of people, everybody religious and everybody not religious, will tell you: "helping other people. That's it, that's what were here for." Well, that's bullshit. If you spend your life trying to save the world, you die knowing you simply failed. I think people say that nowadays because they see how awful the world is, and they feel really alone.

That's not to deny that the most important part of life is our interaction with other people. I really think that we feel most fulfilled when we're looking into the eyes of other human beings and understanding their thoughts. But you take that enjoyment, that fulfillment, you savor it, you try to do what you can for people out of gratitude, and then you be content. It's poison to feel a deep moral obligation to help everyone constantly, because that's ultimately borne out of shame.

What I was trying to say before was: I really think that 'enjoy life first, help people second' is at the core of all the religions I know of, even Christianity. Christ said, "I came that you might have life, and have it to the full." Enjoy the fucker. If you spend all day feeling guilty that you're allowed to enjoy it, or feeling like you have some obligation to save people or something, it means nothing. Just live, treat everyone around you as well as you can, and die. It's all any of us can do, and it's damned nice.
posted by koeselitz at 8:37 PM on September 9, 2006 [26 favorites]

Selfishness is the source of all sin,
Selflessness is the source of all virtue.

Figure out what that means to you, and do it. Repeat as necessary.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:01 PM on September 9, 2006

I understand that the purpose of life is to help other people.

What I don't understand is what all those other people are for :-)
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 PM on September 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

"Be excellent to one another."
posted by kindall at 9:35 PM on September 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I feel like I am just wasting my life away

In my church they teach us that love, play, sex, and fun are what brings meaning to life. Try to laugh, and enjoy yourself, and make those around you feel loved and happy. Do it now, today - there is a very finite time for you, don't waste it.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:39 PM on September 9, 2006

If you can alleviate just *some* of the suffering in the world, you have not failed. Buddha and Jesus agreed that you can't get rid of all the bad things in the world, but you can do nice things to help others have less suffering. Furthermore they agreed that you have to start by doing something about your own suffering. Furthermore, both agreed on the value of sitting down, shutting your mouth, and stopping the radio of the mind. But Jesus said it was waiting on the Word of God and Buddha said it was waiting for Enlightenment.

Yes I know some of this was an oversimplification. You can't compress the Four Noble Truths *and* the Gospel according to Matthew into one paragraph. I mean, if you want it to make sense when you're done. Inasmuch as Jesus was a Jew who is venerated but not worshipped by Moslems and Buddha was a Hindu, I think I've got the five major religions of the world covered here!
posted by ilsa at 9:50 PM on September 9, 2006

Good church, Meatbomb. Which?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:32 PM on September 9, 2006

Islam has five basic requirements, four of which aren't much use to you out of the context of the faith itself: worship Allah, do the pilgrimage to Mecca, pray 5 times a day, and observe Ramadan.

The fifth, however, is basically just "be charitable to those less fortunate than yourself, in proportion to your wealth". It's simple and practical. Even if your wealth is zero, you can still volunteer a few hours a week, but if you're Bill Gates, you need to do more.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 11:51 PM on September 9, 2006

Meatbomb is another of those ridiculous Unitarian Universalists.
posted by Gnatcho at 1:14 AM on September 10, 2006

Meh, UU is no more ridiculous than any other congregation of community, doctrine and dogma, and less ridiculous than most.

I'm a fan of doing good to yourself, then doing the most good by the most people, most of the time. Everything you do has an effect, so think about the consequences of your actions. And preparing to be oil for future generations (but I'm not aware of any religious traditions that don't have an afterlife - am I wrong?).
posted by goo at 2:37 AM on September 10, 2006

A church where atheist, liberals and buddhist principles are all respected? Sounds pretty good to me, tbh.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 3:05 AM on September 10, 2006

I was raised Catholic. The church seems to emphasize how you spend your time, not what you spend it doing. It seems most simply put in the 6th question of the Baltimore Catechism: "God made us to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next." But then, there's been a fair bit of disagreement over how those three things are best done.
posted by klarck at 6:21 AM on September 10, 2006

Be here now?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 3:41 PM on September 10, 2006

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