Byzantine Marian icon Orthodox ChristianPhoto Credit: неизвестен

In Eastern Christianity and other icon-painting Christian traditions, the icon is generally a flat panel painting depicting a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, Saints, Angels, or the cross.  Icons may also be cast in metal, carved in stone, embroidered on cloth, painted on wood, done in mosaic or fresco work, printed on paper or metal, etc.  Creating free-standing, three-dimensional sculptures of holy figures was resisted by Christians for many centuries, out of the belief that daimones inhabited pagan sculptures, and also to make a clear distinction between Christian and pagan art.  To this day, in obedience to the commandment not to make “graven images”, Orthodox icons may never be more than three-quarter bas relief.


typically, though not entirely, Islamic art has focused on the depiction of patterns and Arabic calligraphy, rather than on figures, because it is feared by many Muslims that the depiction of the human form is idolatry and thereby a sin against God, forbidden in the Qur’an.  Human portrayals can be found in all eras of Islamic art, above all in the more private form of miniatures, where their absence is rare.  Human representation for the purpose of worship is considered idolatry and is duly forbidden in Islamic law, known as Sharia law.

Kalyan Mosque Bukhara Uzbekistan

Photo Credit: dalbera

These beliefs have led to beautiful works of art and architecture, and I believe this to be a positive consequence of religion.  So instead of becoming the source of conflict, why don’t we celebrate this religious diversity and let it benefit society?

When I first thought of this post, I wasn’t aware of someone else’s thoughts on this matter.  But apparently the French political thinker Montesquieu has something to say on this subject in Book XXIV of his The Spirit of Laws (of which I am not entirely in agreement with by the way):

19.–That it is not so much the Truth or Falsity of a Doctrine which renders it useful or pernicious to men in civil Government, as the Use or Abuse of it

The most true and holy doctrines may be attended with the very worst consequences, when they are not connected with the principles of society; and on the contrary, doctrines the most false may be attended with excellent consequences, when contrived so as to be connected with these principles…


…The laws of religion should never inspire an aversion to anything but vice, and above all they should never estrange man from a love and tenderness for his own species.

Polly Ann Reed present from Mother Lucy to Eliza Ann Taylor 1851 Shaker folk artPhoto Credit:

Because aren’t we all going to believe what we want to believe in anyway?  What would fighting over religious differences be productive of then?

That is why I believe that religion should be viewed as merely guidelines.  If we allow religious differences to become the basis for conflicts, we deprive society from reaping the positive consequences of various religious guidelines.

The religious beliefs of the Shaker sect of Christianity have such positive consequences as they believed in cleanliness, honesty and hard work.  Mother Ann Lee, the most influential leader of the community, had these admonitions about work and cleanliness:

“Good spirits will not live where there is dirt.”
“Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.”
“Put your hands to work, and your heart to God.”
“Labor to make the way of God your own; let it be your inheritance, your treasure, your occupation, your daily calling.”

“Mother Ann also cautioned them against getting into debt.”

Life of the Diligent ShakerPhoto Credit:

Because of these principles:

the communality of the Believers was an economic success, and their cleanliness, honesty and frugality received the highest praise.  All Shaker villages ran farms, using the latest scientific methods in agriculture.  They raised most of their own food, so farming, and preserving the produce required to feed them through the winter, had to be priorities.  Their livestock was fat and healthy, and their barns were commended for convenience and efficiency.

When not doing farm work, Shaker brethren pursued a variety of trades and hand crafts, many documented by Isaac N. Youngs.  When not doing housework, Shaker sisters did likewise, spinning, weaving, sewing, and making sale goods.

Shakers ran a variety of businesses to support their communities.  Many Shaker villages had their own tanneries, sold baskets, brushes, bonnets, brooms, fancy goods, and homespun fabric that was known for high quality, but were more famous for their medicinal herbs, garden seeds, apple-sauce, and knitted garments (Canterbury).

The Shakers harvesting their famous herbsPhoto Credit:


the Shakers’ dedication to hard work and perfection has resulted in a unique range of architecture, furniture and handicraft styles.  They designed their furniture with care, believing that making something well was in itself, “an act of prayer.”…

…Their industry brought about many inventions like Babbitt metal, the rotary harrow, the circular saw, the clothespin, the Shaker peg, the flat broom, the wheel-driven washing machine, a machine for setting teeth in textile cards, a threshing machine, metal pens, a new type of fire engine, a machine for matching boards, numerous innovations in waterworks, planing machinery, a hernia truss, silk reeling machinery, small looms for weaving palm leaf, machines for processing broom corn, ball-and-socket tilters for chair legs, and a number of other useful inventions…

Shaker student desk

Photo Credit: Doug Coldwell

These benefits are consequences of a non-mainstream religion.   And because their guidelines are, as Montesquieu puts it, “connected with the principles of society”, they contributed to it.  So if we connect our varying religious guidelines with the principles of society, it seems to me that we will not only have peace, but prosperity as well.

Hannah Cohoon Tree of Life Blazing 1845Photo Credit:


This entry was posted in Classical/Enlightenment Thoughts, Foedus Pacificum and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Guidelines

  1. Gede Prama says:

    This is beautiful and you are amazing!!!! Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful words and for such a wonderful response…:)

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